Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Ragged-Looking Man in a Thick Coat

A Ragged-Looking Man in a Thick Coat

Standing at the bus stop, the same time as I stood at the bus stop every day, Monday through Friday, I let my eyes wander to the people around me.  The same people I saw every single weekday.  Oh, some might have different names, but they’re all the same.  These people shuffled about their lives, day after day, riding the bus to wherever they have to go and some don’t come back.  A thin black man coughed roughly into his hands and, as I glanced at him, I felt a horrible disdain for the world.  But mostly for the bus stop.  Deep gloom wrapped around every part of every person I could see and the people didn’t shuffle quite as fast as they normally did.
The day was cold.  I hate the cold.

On the bus, I saw more people.  Irritated at how many there were, I tried to keep my eyes on the back of the seat in front of me.  Invariably,  a woman with a lazy eye or a wrinkled man covered in liver spots would find his way next to my third row.  Left side.  Window seat.  Feet crossed.  Staring at… there it is.  A ragged-looking man in a thick coat sat softly beside me, but, thankfully, I couldn’t feel him there.  I thought, perhaps, if I hadn’t been looking, I wouldn’t have even known he was there.  Bus wheels squeaked as we stopped, squeaked as we went.  For the cold, we might as well have been outside.
I hate the damn cold.
The ragged-looking man in a thick coat turned and smiled at me, his eyes blaring.  The man’s teeth were rather clean.  Quite remarkable, actually.  I wondered how long he’d been so ragged.  I tried to ignore the man’s smile, but I couldn’t look away from him.  And the bastard wouldn’t stop!  Sure, he let his mouth close and his lips turn back to normal.  Hell, he even looked straight ahead, but he wouldn’t stop smiling at me!  Gritting my not-so-perfect teeth together, while my nose wrinkled slightly from the irritation, I thought about how many days I rode this bus and how many people I’d seen and no one had ever been this rude to me.
My mama always said, though, that I was supposed to forgive others when they were rude.  So, I turned away and looked outside to watch the lines go by.  One-two-three-four-five, while the buses engine rumbled against the back of my seat and my eardrums.  When I blinked, it took a little longer than normal.  My brain felt heavy.  I blinked at the road once and, when I opened my eyes again, there were different people on the bus.  The driver opened and shut the door at the stop.  People shuffled, always shuffling.  I’m glad people change sometimes when I close my eyes.  In my lull, I figured I’d look around to see if the people noticed each other, but I didn’t get to.
He was smiling again.  The only one who didn’t change when I closed my eyes.  He should change.  As he helped a young woman put her bag on the racks fly over our heads, he smiled at me.  Right through his back and that ragged coat of his.  People shared conversation on the bus… everyone shared conversation, but I couldn’t hear it.  I couldn’t hear the words they were saying.  The only thing I could hear was the bus and, since I knew they were talking, they must be whispering.  You only whisper when you have something to hide.  You only hide something when you don’t want anyone else to know.  I’m not talking.  No one’s talking to me.  Are they keeping it from me?  
Why would they do that?
Many more blocks passed outside.  The block with the buildings.  The block with the trees.  The block with the people who smell like grease.  The block where I decided everyone should change again.  Everyone did, except a smiling, ragged-looking man in a thick coat, who was leaning his head back against the seat, his eyes gently closed.  The door opened and closed, the cold air rushing in once again, stinging my hands and ears and nose and eyes.  I jerked away from the cold as it grabbed onto me and looked at the ragged-looking man in a thick coat.
I bet he hates the cold.

The bus driver and I knew each other well.  We weren’t friends.  I tried to ignore her enough and not bother her.  I tried not to even talk while I was around her, but that didn’t seem to matter to her.  I was on the bus and she told me not to be there anymore. That’s how things worked.  Today, though, it was different.  She didn’t tell me to get off the bus.  She told him.  She bothered to tell him to get off the bus.  She’d pointed at our seat, but she pointed at him, not me, and told him to get off the bus.  I knew what to do every single day.  Stand in the cold, get on the bus in the cold, ride the bus in the cold and get off the bus in the cold.  Even in the summer, when people didn’t wear their thick coats anymore it was still cold.  But, she didn’t tell me to get off the bus in the cold, she told him.
She told him to get off the bus in the cold.
He smiled larger than ever.  I thought I heard him laugh in that pitiful groan of his as he stood up and his joints popped.  He’s just so lazy that he sat on this bus all day long, smiling at me and talking with everyone to where I couldn’t hear it.  In the cold!  And, then, the bus driver tells this ragged-looking man in a thick coat to get off her bus into the cold, while he’s smiling and laughing and whispering and cracking and moving and shifting in his very thick coat.
I’ll get off your bus.  I’ll get off your bus.
The ragged-looking man in a thick coat moved slowly toward the exit.  So did I.  I was going to get off the bus.  Not the ragged-looking man in a thick coat.  Me.  He talked to the bus driver before he turned onto the steps to get off into the cold at the bus stop that was the bus stop that I stood at in the cold every day, Monday through Friday.
“Thank you for the ride,” he coughed out and smiled as he read her name tag aloud, “Katrina.”
“You’re welcome, dear,”  the bus driver said as she smiled back, looking like she was waiting for something.
The ragged-looking man in a thick coat coughed again.  This time several times, before squeezing out, “Jeff.”
“Have a good night, Jeff,” the bus driver said, still smiling as he got off the bus into the cold.
At least they aren’t smiling at me.

I followed the ragged-looking man in a thick coat for a while, in the cold.  He just kept walking, but for the first time, I didn’t feel him smiling at me.  We walked into the downtown part of the city.  The place with buildings and trees.  It was dark.  I forgot it was dark.  It’s always dark when I get off the bus.  And always cold.  I followed the ragged-looking man in a thick coat into the park.  The place with the trees and the water.   I don’t come here on the bus.
There weren’t many people in the place with the buildings and the trees.  I could only see the ragged-looking man in the thick coat in the place with the trees and the water, so I kept following him.  He might be going to tell people about the bus.
I saw him pass a thin man and some lady.  Then he fell down.
He does hate the cold.
I smiled.  I didn’t remember the last time I smiled and I turned to walk away as the two people reached into their pockets to hand the ragged-looking man in a thick coat some things.  I walked, I heard noises of some cars in the distance and some other loud things.  Things can be loud at night, too, I decided.  I thought about the ragged-looking man in a thick coat riding the bus tomorrow. The bus driver could tell us both to get off the bus tomorrow.
Maybe everyone hates the cold.

This is actually a prequel of another story that I wrote. I may or may not post that one. Haven't decided, yet. The main reason I wanted to post this one was just because of the strangeness of the main character. I often ponder what goes on in people's heads. I wonder, then, if there is anybody in the world who actually thinks like this man.


Sunday, September 11, 2011


We all make mistakes and one of those is to demand or even expect others to forgive us for making them.

The Need for a Recovery of Philosophy

This is a response paper from my Philosophy senior seminar at the University of South Carolina. It is untouched and unedited from its original format, so I apologize for any potential errors.

1. “This need and principle… is the necessity of a deliberate control of policies by the method of intelligence, an intelligence which is not the faculty of intellect honored in text-books and neglected elsewhere, but which is the sum-total of impulses, habits, emotions, records, and discoveries which forecast what is desirable and undesirable in future possibilities, and which contrive ingeniously in behalf of imagined good.  Our life has no background of sanctified categories which we bay fall back; we rely upon precedent as authority only to our own undoing….”
-John Dewey, “The Need For a Recovery of Philosophy, pg 231 of Pragmatism, edited by Louis Menand

2.   Dewey is drawing the distinction here between a text-book philosophy and a real-word philosophy.  It is one thing to take one (or more, but less than the total) aspect of the intelligence or the human experience and raise it above all others in an attempt to explain human intelligence and function in terms of that one (or more) aspect.  Instead, human intelligence should be understood as an amalgamation of a variety of things, not subject to such distilling and, indeed, not limited by the past understandings or dogmas held by (supposed) thinking men.  Truly, this conglomeration should include every aspect of the human experience and every human discovery in order for this human intelligence to make cogent hypotheses about the world and, following that, in making the best decisions in all areas of human life, be they government, religion, education or whatever other endeavor human beings partake in.  If humans merely rely on the past as an answer to the future, at least according to Dewey, it will lead “to our own undoing….”

3.   When Dewey speaks of “the need for a recovery of philosophy,” it is not so much that he is saying that humans need to pick philosophy up again as a practice (although, if by philosophy it is meant “better philosophy,” then perhaps he is), but that the current state (in his time) of philosophy was such that philosophers had concerned themselves with things that did not necessarily matter to anything outside their discipline of taking dead men’s ideas on test drives and trying to apply outdated systems of thought to modern problems without thought of what that means in reality. 

What Dewey would mean by reality is what actually happens… and all things actually happen.  He says, “While all that happens is equally real-- since it really happens-- happenings are not of equal worth.”  What defines their worth are the importance human beings place on them, perhaps out of necessity to their existence or merely by convention (such as the use of money as a means of trade).  To speak of a reality (or consequences of that reality)  that is somehow greater than the reality that human beings directly experience is to speak of something which humans have no apprehension of and actually draws human attention away from the issues at hand, whatever they may be.  Philosophy then, need be concerned with those things which are of direct interest of humanity: that which happens.

It follows, then, that any attempt to magnify one aspect of the human experience above all the others will, of course, skew this purpose of philosophy, because it will not allow the fullness of reality to come to bear on human intelligence, but merely a caricature of reality in which the artist has taken a feature which he has noticed more than others and expanded it so that when other men look at the picture he has drawn, they can initially see nothing but the enormously deformed feature and will come to judge all other things in the picture they eventually stumble across.  

For Dewey, the creation of a view of intelligence (an it’s application) which considers all these things will lead to “our salvation.”  It is not to say that all people will be willing (or even perhaps able) to think and operate in such a manner, but what is important here is that philosophers strive to create such a reality and foster the growth and articulation of such a thing. 

4. Within the scope of Pragmatism as a whole, many things have been considered: Peirce discussed “meaning,” James considered “truth,” and, here, Dewey speaks of “intelligence” and “knowledge.”  For the most part (with James being a slight exception), the three men have really been shooting at the same target.  Peirce’s “meaning” concerned itself with the proper defining of the terms which people so easily throw around; definitions not in terms of other words but in terms of reality.  James’ “truth” is really a way of talking about belief, in which the “truth” of things to people is reliant primarily upon the idea “working” for them in a given situation.  

What that will be taken to mean, in the light of these two other pragmatists’ ideas (and for the sake of consistency) is that something “works” in that it is the logical conclusion of all pre-existent ideas within the person, e.g.- “Daddy loves me,” “the floor is solid,” “I am hungry,” etc.  However, just because it is the logical conclusion of all the pre-existent ideas within the person, it doesn’t make it true (at least not in the sense Peirce or Dewey would put it), but it does allow the person to live effectively within their surroundings.  It is a giant puzzle (in which the puzzle is reality), in which not all of the pieces are present, and it forces the person to imagine the remainder of the picture in light of the pieces which he does have.  Even false ideas about reality are part of reality, so they would count as pieces of the whole, but that is really just mentioned in passing and it of no importance for the remainder of this discussion. 

Dewey, then, when he speaks of “knowledge” and “intelligence” speaks primarily about the discovery of the remainder of reality’s picture.  It means an open-minded (not being held back by pre-suppositions or the fear of being wrong) look at the world around man and creating a developing (and developing is key) world-view founded upon the observations, interactions, and thoughts of human beings and bringing the full weight of all those things upon man’s perception of reality, which will, point to what Peirce calls “the one true conclusion,” also called “the way things really are,” or “reality.”   What both these men are considering is a situation where human experience, expanding in all direction ad infinitum finally comes to the ultimate conclusion, which is reality.  This is not the same thing as an ultimate conclusion about reality, because that conclusion would have to be included in itself.  It is instead, absolute understanding of reality or knowledge of reality.  

The question here is this: Has Philosophy made the recovery that Dewey so eloquently pleaded for?  The answer is a resounding, “Maybe.”  The fact that papers are being written, classes being given, and conversations being had regarding this issue is definitely a plus.  It is less and less that philosophers are arguing with each other over things of no consequence and more and more that they are discussing things, defining terms, and struggling to come to agreement, instead of coming to a victory in debate.  Philosophers in a variety of fields of philosophy are coming to conclusions based on the very terms on which Peirce and Dewey talked about.  However, while there are some very good things happening, there also exist the “point-counterpoint” arguments of those unwilling to seek greater levels of understanding (as if the point and counterpoint were the only two options!), endless rehashings of ancient systems of thought without consideration of what they really mean in the grand scheme of things, and the general unquestioned acceptance of ideas based upon things like religion or political party-lines.  A resounding, “Maybe.”

What then, is the next course of action?  To seek truth without bias, of course; for things to be said as they really are meant (which is to say, the meaning of what one is saying); and the laying of all ideas, discoveries, thoughts, and the like out upon the table so that the current conception of “things as they really are” can be as clear as possible.  Of course this conception may change upon the formulation of new ideas or upon the having of new experiences, but that is part of the process.  It is a steady maturing of humanity’s  conception of reality, where each new idea or experience point more and more to “the one true conclusion.”

Pretty Red Fox

Pretty red fox
In a magnolia tree,
Please come down
And lie next to me.

Little red fox,
The wonder of you.
Is it your wish
To be with me, too?

Lovely red fox,
With eyes all aglow,
Do not be afraid,
You are welcome below.

And if you come down,
I promise you this.
I will stroke your soft fur
And give you a kiss.