sample drivel part one
24 Dec 1996 18:27:18
Subject: Where from here?
Date: Thu, 18 Apr 1996 20:41:21
From: TODD MIRABELLA
To: feedback at synaptic.bc.ca
The question for me has never been, "Where am
I from?". I have always wondered if the places I have been are
worth the things I have been through; (I am also a graduate of R.I.T.).
I do not intend to over analyze the question here. Only, it seems to
me that there has to be more purpose than nomadic existence. I too have
traveled the world extensively in search of something. In search of
what? It would be myopic to think of your continual evolution, be it
a geographical or an internal one, to be a synopsis for balance. It
appears to me that your question should be, "Where are you going?".
09:10 The Mill; Padbury, Buckinghamshire -- England ::
13 NOV 96
The email quoted above came in response to the biography
on my website. There I answer the questions, "Patrick, where are you
from?" and "Patrick, what do you do?" These two questions are typical
small-talk fodder, but this is so only because the answers to them are
also typical: the name of a place of residence or origin, and a job-description
or professional title. But my answer is "I am a nomad both in space
and spirit and so hail from no one place and occupy myself primarily
with no one activity." Depending on who you're talking to, it can take
some time to explain this answer.
Now the question "Patrick, where are you going?" well, uhh,
that's another matter. This question has long been a favourite of mine
in a slightly different form, "What are you going to be when you grow
up?" I've long been curious about other people's paths. So, it's a bit
of a surprise such a long time elapsed before I started getting around
to answering the same question when asked of me. You see, I'm inclined
to reply with "I don't know." That is quite plainly not a satisfactory
answer, even though it is absolutely accurate. It's going to take some
time to explain why this is so, but the short answer is that, once again,
the question as stated does not fit the context of my life.
05:50 Brussels, Belgium :: 29 NOV 96
Yesterday brought the question, "What is paradise?" I thought
about this for a while and began to think, paradise is discovering who
you are and maintaining the confidence to be that person. This is not
a prescription for happiness, by any means. But shit happens even in
Kublai Kahn's pleasure dome and I'm sure Robinson Crusoe has something
to say about that more typically fantasized paradise. Seek your paradise
within and, to whatever extent possible, rework the external circumstances
to fit. It's not an absolute that self-knowledge--half of paradise--arises
through conscious self-examination. The Socratic dictum that the unexamined
life is not worth living is a circular argument. John Stuart Mill's
qualification of this dictum indicates the source of the circularity.
I have to paraphrase here, but Mill staked out the difference between
his Utilitarianism and Jeremy Bentham's more hedonistic variety with
It is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool
satisfied, better to be a man dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; and
if the fool and the pig are of a different mind it is because they know
only the one side of the matter while the philosopher and the man know
The problems begin with the pejorative assumption: the unexamined
life is the life of a fool. The position itself is tautological, self-fulfilling,
circular. In a pique of smug superiority, Mill then compounds the error
by claiming to know both sides of the issue. Such hubris has always been
the place of philosophers. Can he, or anyone, know the side of the fool,
or of the pig, or of those possessing a confident self-knowledge that
comes through means other than the examined life? To know that other side
the examiner must remove from their being all tendency and desire to examine.
And I marvel no one seems to ever have observed that Socrates was something
of an extraordinary fellow, leaving open the question, is it better to
be Socrates dissatisfied than a man satisfied?
The unexamined life is not worth living if you believe the
act of examination the primary purpose of existence. Many cultures describe
an individual's being for them; self-knowledge comes not through self-discovery
but through instruction and example. These cultures may well render
self-doubt something of an unknowable quantity, at least in the context
that those prone to Socratic examination experience it. For example,
in such cultures there is typically no question as to an individual's
purpose in life from the moment of their birth--even sooner in some
cultures. How can one question an absolute condition of existence?
Around the world and throughout history countless cultures
and sub-cultures successfully operated and continue to operate in complete
ignorance of the examination proposed by the likes of Socrates, Mill
and the rest of the Western tradition. When I consider the points made
in the preceeding paragraph it is as easy to think of an individual
living today in the small, remote rural community of Anybackwater, USA,
or Goombungee, Australia , as an Aboriginal Australian living in the
millenia before the arrival of James Cook. Of the Aboriginals Cook wrote
in his log,
They appear to be in reality far more happier than
we Europeans; being wholy unacquainted not only with the superfluous
but the necessary Conveniences so much sought after in Europe, they
are happy in not knowing the use of them. They live in Tranquility which
is not disturb'd by the inequality of Condition; the Earth and sea of
their own accord furnishes them with all things necessary for life,
they covet not Magnificent Houses, Household-stuff etc., they live in
warm and fine Climate and enjoy a very wholesome Air, so that they have
very little need of clothing. . . . In short they seem'd to set no Value
upon anything we gave them. . . .
17:08 Lexington Building, Fairfield Rd; Bow, London
-- England :: 04 DEC 96
All that said, my paradise is the examined life. I am nearly
to the point, I think, where it's no longer important to understand
why this is so. Curiosity--about most everything--is simply an element
of my character, one of the more important elements. The short answer
to "Patrick, why do you travel?" is, simply, out of curiosity. This
inquisitiveness extends as much to my own culture as to those of the
places I visit. If you're travelling with a thoughtful eye, you'll encounter
as many new insights into your own culture as in the foreign places
you travel to. In a sense, contemplative curiosity is what I am and
what I do. I'm always seeking a better understanding of what increasingly
appears to be incomprehensible.
Another character trait accompanies curiosity: the desire
to express myself. I've been a bit troubled by this one so trying to
understand why it's necessary to raise my voice remains important. Looking
back at my teens presents the image of an angry young man with all the
answers. Expression then was limited to conversation, verbal debate.
I hated writing, or rather the process of writing....
14:13 #4 Fontwell Close; Maidenhead -- England :: 06
...So we have this energized post-adolescent with all these
ideas running around in his head and only verbal release for them, that
and the isolated contemplative simmer. He's got something to prove,
and ideas on how to prove it but, really, no means for expressing the
proof outside of verbal jousts. Add to this a real fear of failing in
the attempt to acquire the means and you've got one self-made pariah.
I carried this desire to let everyone know how smart I was
for a long time. It's still all too easy to fall back into the modes
picked up in those verbal joust days. Without acquiring the skill and
patience for writing, I'd no doubt still be proving just how stupid
I can be. The skill came through learning to compose complex software
directly at the keyboard without first writing out the logarithms in
longhand. The result was more than virtuoso word processor technique:
I became adept at assembling, manipulating and organising not just text
and programming language syntax, but also concepts.
The patience to write effectively came with forays into online
discussion groups. BillG@Microsoft.com would've fired me if he'd known
how much of my day was spent proving how smart/stupid I was to the scads
of other microserfs spending inordinate amounts of time prattling on
and on about gun control, American Libertarianism, feminism and anything
else under the sun except the 'cool' software we were employed to be
More often than I enjoy admitting, I got crucified in those
forums. Particularly early on my knee jerked so hard it was a constant
struggle to keep my Nikes out of my mouth. Meanwhile, I learned alot
about how other people think, how to construct well-formed arguments,
how to look for the first-principles causing a high-level difference
of opinion, and how to recognize when misapplied or misapprehended language
resulted in a perceived difference. But the most important bit of insight
came with the recognition that trying to prove how smart I was made
me quite stupid. 'Winning' arguments tended to induce 'combatants' to
prop up weak positions, ignore inconvenient evidence, apply tactics
of debate rather than methods of inquiry. In short, I engaged in hubristic
warfare rather than insightful discussion. It took a while to recognize
that while learning how to effectively argue was fine and well, winning
a debate hardly represents laudable conduct if the winning conclusion
is bogus. The process is long and ongoing but the less I am inclined
to establish my intelligence, the more likely the discussions I engage
in are to establish if not consensus then at least understanding. That
is, discussion transformed from a tool of self-aggrandisement to one
Also, those discussion groups were something of a coming out
party. While I'd talk ad-infinitum with anyone and everyone about anything
and everything, online discussion provided the first public forum loaded
with anonymous minds ready to contradict. I'm not sure why it's different
than putting the same ideas forward at a party, but there's a sense
of being naked in the open when your ideas, and so, your very self,
are out there in a public forum. My definition of high-anxiety is seeing
email in your inbox from the guy you just mercilessly flamed.
Or at least, it was. Since I've been out on the net for millions
of people to see--and I'm not so worried about appearing so smart--attacks,
abuse and people who think I'm stupid, or say my ideas are (and plenty
of people send this kind of feedback), well...I'm not moved anymore
except to alter my opinion when someone successfully points out one
of the many stupidities residing in my journals (which also happens
pretty frequently). Sometimes the stupidity is harmful enough that I'll
re-edit the entry to remove the potential harm, but if it's just me
being stupid, and no one else is likely to get hurt or mislead, I'll
leave it. Who knows, perhaps someone else will explain why that particular
stupidity is, in fact, quite brilliant after all.
13:22 Lexington Building, Fairfield Rd; Bow, London
-- England :: 03 DEC 96
But let's get back to Cook's observation of the Aboriginals,
which should remind with implicit clarity that it is not necessary to
be going anywhere in order to achieve a meaningful existence. The question,
"Where are you going?" presupposes that it is important to go somewhere,
that life consists of articulating an achievable goal and attaining
it, that some thing out there exists for us to discover. It presupposes
a known destination and an itinerary for reaching it.
Most people from western countries travel this way, both in
the sense of a few weeks in Europe and in the greater adventure, life
itself. We tend to research destinations and book ahead, lay the whole
journey out on the map so when people ask us "Where are you going?"
we are able not only to tell them where but when and how.
I don't travel this way, not in either sense. My itinerary
for the first journey told in this ejournal began as "3 weeks in Australia,
3 weeks in New Zealand and 3.5 months spread through SE Asia". That
was all the detail of it, and even this much I developed only because
the multi-stop airfare required initial dates. Needless to say, I couldn't
stay in the lines of even this loose sketch. I never intended to, though
the radicalness of the departure from basic plan surprised even me.
When committed to our itineraries we fail to act on or even
notice the opportunities that come our way. Two days ago I met a vintner
from Porto, Portugal who operates Niepoort. Last night I received email
announcing that a friend will be in Paris and Holland during December.
This morning I discovered the ley lines of England which connect so
many of the countyside's ancient monuments. It is all I can do to plan
out the next week, let alone the next year, decade or what I'll be doing
in my old age.
Journeying through life has been much the same. How to describe
what I'm seeking through all this information gathering and contemplation
other than a better understanding of myself and all the stuff happening
around me, whether it's possible to influence that stuff or not. I don't
know if enlightenment is possible, and if it is how to get there and
what form an enlightened being acquires. Certainly there's scant wisdom
in planning a detailed itinerary for points unknown. There are so many
enlightenments, and so little time to explore them all. For the time
being, I choose the most interesting ones from the departure board.
So when I answer the question, "Patrick, where are you going?"
with "I don't know." it's not being evasive.
~~~ Responses Sought ~~~
One journalist, writing in Life magazine, captured
the unlikeliness of the whole affair of the whole image. God had come
down from heaven to find someone to undertake the task of alerting the
world to the holocaust which was sweeping the continent of Africa. But
this god, like the deities of old, bore the strength of fallibility
and knocked at the wrong door. It was answered by Bob Geldof. 'Who the
hell is he?' thought God. 'Oh, never mind, he'll do.'
|| Bob Geldof,
commenting on his efforts at forming Band Aid
From his autobiography, Is That It?