Europe :: November -- December, 1996

Subject: sample drivel part one
Date: Tue, 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
Patrick,
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?".

TODD

 

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 the remark:

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 both.
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 DEC 96

...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 creating.

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 of learning.

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.'
  graphical element Bob Geldof,
commenting on his efforts at forming Band Aid
From his autobiography, Is That It?

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