13 March 2011

Everything is meaningless, says the teacher

Another morning, another day of bad news in Japan.

My wife, as many of you know, is a Christian and has been reading the Bible regularly--a new bilingual one that a friend gave her. Today, I came downstairs in the darkness to make myself some porridge and coffee, weigh my body, and have an hour of peace before everyone woke up. When I turned on the light in the dining room, the Bible laid open on the table to the first chapter of Ecclesiastes: Meaningless, everything is meaningless. 

I am not, I don't think, a particularly patriotic person, which serves me well in the life that I lead. If you're really into America, you probably stay in America. I could take it or leave it: it doesn't mean much to me and I don't find much identity, explicitly, in my national identity. Of course, tactility, it dominants how others view me in the UK (and previously in Japan) and if I'm honest with myself, how I view others. I'm not saying that I am not an American in any respect, but I'm not the guy out there waving a flag talking about how great America is and I tend to feel less patriotic the more others around me grow more patriotic: the metaphorical rain cloud on over the metaphorical parade. I got in a lot of trouble with my parents and an ex-boss after making some comments right after September 11th about how probably our foreign policy in the Middle East incites anger against us. Apparently you can tell only part of the truth during times like that.

Inversely, there has been a lot of praising of the Japanese national character the last couple of days and I think, that if I was Japanese, this would be something that I could feel genuinely proud about it. It is unique, in a real way. You hear politicians talk about 'uniquely American' things that are obviously basic human values, but the Japanese austerity, stoicism, and strength in the face of disaster is actually unique and I commend and accept their pride over it.

Pride aside, tens of thousands of people are missing and likely dead and several places are teetering on the edge of nuclear disaster which I guess is ultimately not that much of a disaster in terms of lives lost, at least in comparison to the tsunami.

Nietzsche looks at nature and humans in nature with a sort of stoicism that I think is useful. He is angry, yes, and defiant, yes, but ultimately resigned to it. I have blogged before about the difficulty of animating an all-loving, imminent conception of god at times like these, and the narrative apparatus needed to patch all the logical holes in it. It's bulky and frustrating, nowhere close to sufficient. Without that conception, without the narrative apparatus of god, you don't ask why: you can only accept it as it is. This is something that happens.

I walked to the store with my daughter at dusk last night--she held my hand and we talked about what she wanted to buy, half in English, half in Japanese. It was nothing special: the regular sort of thing we might do on a Saturday to give Yoko a very brief break. Yesterday, however, I appreciated it much more. 12 March 2011, one day out of my life, but one good day where we had what we needed and we appreciated having each other, without any guarantee of the future. Yes, everything is meaningless, but that doesn't mean it can't sometimes be good.
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