Saturday, May 03, 2008

Breaking News: Universe Benevolent

Sometimes I think it would be nice to have an adjective coined for me. (If I can’t get an adjective named for me, I’d like a syndrome.) David Cronenberg has said that he is proud of the term “Cronenbergian” and J.G. Ballard seems happy with “Ballardian”. I have no idea how they worked it out when they collaborated on the film version of Crash; was it Cronenbergian or Ballardian? Or can you even apply the adjective to the person? It seems a bit silly to say that Hitchcock made movies that were Hitchcockian. And it seems too obvious to say that Kafka’s stories were Kafkaesque.

And what if you feel limited by the adjective? Certainly, Freud didn’t think highly of many Freudians, and Marx actually said that he didn’t consider himself to be a Marxist. Rousseau’s writings were generally Rousseaunean, but it’s easy to feel bad for Machiavelli, whose writings aren’t really as Machiavellian as they’re supposed to be. Rubens was a painter, but no paintings are called Rubenesque, although women of a certain shape are. It’s hardest to sympathize with Major Vidkun Quisling, who really was a quisling.

I think I feel the most sympathy for Thomas Hobbes. Dick Cheney has said that his own worldview is essentially Hobbesian, which might lead a reasonable person to burn Hobbes. It’s also not entirely fair. When people talk about a Hobbesean philosophy, they basically mean a certain view of humanity in which human beings in a state of nature are in a war of all against all, and their life is therefore nasty, brutish, and short. Therefore, in order to have order in societies, governments need to be willing to use force to keep these savages from running amok. I’m not sure how this would play out in Iraq. It’s also not exactly what Hobbes was saying in Leviathan, although it's close: Hobbes really wasn’t as Hobbesean as Cheney.

I’m not particularly Hobbesean either. Oh, I have my moments of despair about humanity, which certainly was made of crooked timber, and particularly when I see Lou Dobbs, but overall, I have to say that people really aren’t too bad. It has occurred to me that, with as absentminded and autistic as I am, I really should be dead by now, having wandered out into traffic, stepped under a falling safe, or forgotten where my house was and frozen to death. However, I have always relied on the kindness of strangers.

This went through my mind last night, after I locked my keys in my room. After looking around, I found that the proprietress was on vacation. The French, of course, tend to go on vacation during all odd-numbered months. Being completely unable to get into the room, I tried to “jimmy” the lock (which I don’t doubt was invented by someone named Dave and not Jim), and quickly realized that I have no idea how to do this. Also yesterday I wasn’t wearing my shoes that have the skeleton key in the hollowed-out heel. So, no luck.

Thinking fast, I decided to sleep in the bathroom in the hall. This plan failed as soon as a neighbor showed up to smoke in the bathroom. He tracked down a cleaning woman, who did not have the spare key, but whose husband and brother thought they could jimmy the lock with items they had around the house. So the three of us went to work on the door with an x-ray, a paper clip, and part of a pen. After about thirty minutes, we had decided that none of us were criminal masterminds. I briefly considered tunneling under the door. (I’ve been planning in general to do more tunneling.)

Anyway, finally someone found the proprietress’s son. He didn’t have a key either, nor could he contact his mother. But he had the crazy idea of climbing onto the roof via a skylight and sort of swinging down to my window, which was open. Anyway, I was terrified by that idea, as I live on the seventh floor- technically, the eighth. But Batman here swears he’s done it many times before and, sure enough, he has no trouble. He lets me inside and I swear to keep the key with me whenever I go out. It turns out that the three of us cat burglars damaged the lock and now it’s actually impossible to unlock it using the key, but that problem is for another day.

Anyway, I don’t get the sense that most people are innately brutal. Sure, there are some assholes out there and even the occasional psychopath, and I wouldn’t say I have a Rousseaunean view of humanity (innately good, but corrupted by society). But, last night, as I fell asleep, in my own room, thanks to the combined efforts of the entire building, I had the overwhelming sense that the vast majority of people are kind, nature is not to red in tooth or claw, and that the universe is ultimately benevolent. Except for Dick Cheney.


Hiromi said...

Dick Cheney is a soulless golem.

I grew up Buddhist, and was taught that all people have in them the potential for good, but whether or not they fulfill that potential is their choice.

Then I went through a sort of dark stage in my life when I believed that people were for the most part worthless assholes.

Now I'm back to my original beliefs. On a day to day basis, I see more people both choosing to be good (or at least benign) than those choosing to be assholes. It's just that the assholes are more memorable, but if you pay attention, I think you'll see most people are aight.

Rufus said...

That is funny too- you'll have like 20 people be nice to you in an average day and then maybe one who's a jerk at like 7-11, and you'll go home worring about the jerk all night. I do that all the time.