Thursday, July 13, 2017

Noise


I live, and have spent the vast majority of my life, in Southwestern Ohio. Ohio is often called (by the state government) the “crossroads of America” because of the interstate highways that pass through it, or, as I like to call it, “The state of ubiquitous and pervasive traffic noise.”

The entire eastern seaboard is like this, and that is why I have been accustomed to hearing traffic noise my entire life. No matter how deep I go into the woods, or how far I drive within the small radius in which I am confined — that is, how far one can drive on a weekend and still be back for work on Monday — I hear it. Traffic noise. The distant dry echo of cars speeding over pavement. It’s not unbearable, of course; I’m not in constant agony. It’s just… there is literally nowhere you can go, save inside of buildings, where you won’t hear it. Standing in the woods, listening to the birds and bugs, you can still hear the cars. Always. Day or night, it’s there.

Perhaps it’s due to a desire to be modest and not complain too much, a desire to be positive and avoid revealing my oversensitivity, but in all honesty, I have slowly come to hate that noise. Yeah, yeah, I’m a whiney oversensitive millennial precious snowflake blah blah blah shut up. People didn’t have to deal with this a century ago, and forgive me for wanting some frickin’ peace and quiet in which to, I don’t know, think a little? Solitude is an important part of thinking. You need to be alone, to feel alone, in order to really think about anything, and the constant reminder that you’re in the middle of a giant ant-hill pullulating with mankind tends to screw that up just a tad. “Well, it doesn’t bother me!” That’s because you either have repressed it, or you don’t ever go outside, or you’re the kind of person who doesn’t mind a lot of noise because you don’t think very often. No, it’s not because you’re so tough. Spare me.

I realized just how much this bothered me when I found myself websearching for noise maps of the United States and noting the quiet places for future vacations and/or habitation.

It’s not just traffic noise, either. It’s not even just noise. It’s constant distraction. As I write this, I have no fewer than three devices designed to make noise and deliver electronic messages to me within arm’s reach - and they’re all things that I need in order to function. I can’t pay any bills without this computer (nobody my age uses checks) and I can’t wake up without that alarm clock and there is no way in Hell I could navigate today’s world without this phone. Like everyone else, I am so tangled up in this system that I need to be jabbed and assaulted by noise several dozen times a day in order to know what I need to do later this week.

I can remember fifteen years ago, when few people had cellphones. If you called someone and they weren’t at home, well, tough - you’d have to wait and try and catch them at home. Now that everyone has cellphones, it’s taken as a given that you can reach anyone at any time - and they have an obligation to pick up their phone. Common wisdom has it that it is irresponsible of everyone else not to be at my beck and call every waking hour of their lives, and it has been this way for fewer than twenty years. Solitude is not just rare, it’s actually suspicious; if you turn off your phone, you are clearly either committing a crime or masturbating. How does anyone manage to sit and think for a friggin’ minute?

(During all this, I have my air conditioner on - not because it’s hot here, but because it makes a constant low-level noise that blocks out everything else.)

Is it any wonder that so many people suffer from anxiety now? Is it any wonder that so many people have panic attacks on a regular basis? Is it any wonder that people are so distractable that the only way to catch their attention is to write something under 140 characters on Twitter or make a YouTube video no longer than 30 seconds? Is it any wonder that people are hypersensitive and distraught, that we’re all neurotic basket cases? Is it any wonder that psychological stability and healthy ipseity are rapidly becoming a thing of the past? I am not at all surprised that my state, the state of ubiquitous and (sadistically) pervasive traffic noise, is also the opioid capital of the country. Dayton, my present city of residence, is literally the worst city in the country for this kind of drug. Why is that? No doubt a depressed economy is the main factor, but I think that our ADHD-afflicted modern lifestyle doesn’t help. It’s no wonder people dope themselves with hydrocodone and morphine and heroin and fentanyl. The noise is probably much more tolerable when you’re doped out of your mind on a chemical that makes the world feel like a giant fluffy pillow.

I’m not sure how to end this rant, and it is a rant, as I haven’t got much of a point beyond the usual “modernity is bad” message. All I can say is that I hope to God I eventually can make a living online, from home, so I can move to some idyllic mountain valley with no highways, and I won’t have to leave that valley except once in a blue moon for groceries or whatever. There will still be the occasional plane, of course, but I can deal with that because those beautiful aeons-old stone ramparts, giants standing on the edges of old stories and songs, will block out ALL THAT FUCKING TRAFFIC NOISE.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Cultural Hypocrisy

I have often thought that, whenever a culture seems to abhor and revile certain personal defects, you will find that that culture displays those exact faults. Perhaps not everyone in the culture does, but the culture as a whole falls prey to those exact sins that it claims to hate.

Take ancient Persia. Ancient Persian culture idolizes, or at least, seems to idolize, the truth. A common prefix for Persian kings was “arta,” meaning “the true” or “the legitimate.” So there was a ruler named Xerxes, and another ruler named Artaxerxes. Herodotus said of the Persians, “Persians educate their boys to ride well, shoot straight, and speak the truth.” And yet, the ancient Persians were no stranger to bribery and deception in warfare. Indeed, the Corinthian war in ancient Greece was initiated at the behest of a Persian satrap and his coin. And historically, internecine conflict was not unknown there.

Or, for that matter, take the ancient Roman culture and its valuation of discipline. Roman culture viewed self-indulgence as “womanish” and weak. And yet, when Roman satirists wanted to skewer Roman culture, they did so by pointing out its hedonism and amorality. The idea of decadent Romans gorging themselves to excess is not a modern invention - even contemporary writers commented on it, for example in Satyricon.

Roman culture despised self-indulgence, particularly in sexual matters.

Speaking of which, one can learn quite a bit about the sins of a culture from satirical and critical writers. For example, Germanic cultures, from Germany up to the Scandinavian countries and even England, seem to have a thoroughgoing regard for humility and not thinking of oneself too much or praising oneself too much. And yet, Schopenhauer, writing in 19th century Germany, had no qualms about writing a lot of spiteful invective toward his countrymen and their apparent over-concern for other people’s opinions of them. You see this during the British Empire as well, where it was taken as common wisdom that one ought not to take oneself too seriously - and we all know about the pomp and grandiosity of Imperial Britain. William Golding, a British novelist, notes this dryly in Lord of the Flies, where he has one of his characters say something like, “We’re English, and the English are best at everything.” And contemporary Sweden has something of the same issue - a cultural ideal of individual humility, together with an unshakable conviction that Swedish culture is superior and best for everyone. For that matter, look at Russian culture, where absorption in one’s own minutiae is considered to be weakness and selfishness. And yet, every great Russian novel seems to mostly consist of the main character brooding.

And my own country?

American culture values, or claims to value, humanity, fair play, and civilized behavior. And to see how this works out, we can look to Frank Zappa, one of the cultural satirists of the 20th century:

I got a cheerleader here wants to help with my paper
Let her do all the work 'n' maybe later I'll rape her
Oh God I am the American dream
I do not think I'm too extreme
An' I'm a handsome sonofabitch
I'm gonna get a good job 'n' be real rich
And I’ll do anything to get ahead…

I tend to accept this as simply how the world works. Might doesn’t make right, but it does let you make the rules. And I’d rather be the rule-maker than the rule-follower. Perhaps it’s symptomatic of this phenomenon that, in addition to having this mindset myself, I don’t see any problem with it. Then again, that doesn’t make me wrong.