August 24, 2006

Purple Rain

Alternatively titled: A Peek Into My World or It Sucks To Be Pub

Predestination versus Free Will. That's what I've been dwelling on as of late. Unless this is your first time here or you don't know much about the divide between the two camps then you probably guessed I fall firmly on the Free Will side of life.

Why this topic instead of guns? Well despite my internet & to some extent real life reputation I'm not a one trick pony. I have one & a half tricks thank you very much. Something has been going on lately of a very personal nature that has caused much reflection on several topics, none of them gun.

The Free Will thing is probably the easiest & least personal to discuss.

Gun topics will return at some point, probably the very next post. So don't worry - the Brady's haven't slipped me any Kool-aid & I'm not beating anything into a ploughshare - well except maybe my forehead.

My mother passed a while back. It happens. Death is part of life & from everything I understand about it it's much better for the parents to precede the children into the afterlife. Not that their loss doesn't hurt or make us sad, but it's something we usually have to accept.

When she was dying I went to see her. There wasn't much I could do for her but there were a few things I tried to. This trying didn't help with the grief or sadness, but it prevented a totally & utterly helpless feeling. I couldn't take the cancer for her, though I would have gladly. I couldn't take away her pain or doubts or uncertainty. I couldn't tell her she didn't have to die when she cried out that she didn't want to. What I could do was be in the room with her. I could talk to her. I could let her squeeze my hand when she couldn't talk. I could swab her lips so they wouldn't chafe when she was comatose. It didn't prevent her death, but it gave me something - anything to do.

That helpless feeling is the source of my ponderings about Free Will & Predestination.

Right now there's something I can do absolutely nothing about. & that grieves me to no end.

A little about me:

I’m in my mid 30’s. I was raised by my paternal grandparents (for reasons I’m not even totally sure of) & I spent most of my life immersed in the Scots-Irish & Southern Black cultures.

What this did was age me. I mean really – you try translating redneck to jive sometime.

I grew up with old people all around & I learned from them. I learned a lot actually cause they had much to teach & I was always hungry for knowledge, especially as a kid. Not that I was ever a model student (though there was this one model back in Myrtle Beach…) but I wanted to learn.

The Scots-Irish influence came from some relatives, some friends & damn near half the population where I grew up & gallivanted around. The Southern Black influence came from the other half of the people I hung out with, played for & played with.

All that is to say that certain values seemed to be shared between the two cultural groups & the different age groups. The old folks really tried to impress this on me but it was also prevalent in my surroundings.

One of those things was loyalty. Mix it in with a sense of honor or pride & you have something that will cause you a lot of grief if you’re not careful.

See because of my upbringing I learned quickly to choose my friends very carefully. I know a lot of people. Hell, I can still walk into some bars in the south & a lot of folks remember me though I wouldn’t have the foggiest who they are. Working your ass off in good bands that travel a lot will do that for ya.

But the way I was taught is that a friend is something that you respect no matter what. That friendship, those bonds once given are very hard to revoke & should be honored despite the cost.

So despite knowing a lot of folks I have only a few friends. We may fight & argue & scrap & fuss & not speak to each other for years, but if anything was ever required of the other then we’d have broken our respective necks to provide.

Pride or honor – depending upon how you view it – was another important factor. See doing anything you can for a friend is easy if you don’t think you can do anything. But my friends & I sincerely believe that anything physically possible for a human to do is within our grasp. Of course we were wrong about that & probably know it deep down someplace, but that never really stopped us before so it doesn’t usually slow us down much now. Walk a mile & a half on a broken ankle to escort a young lady home? No biggie. Take on 5 guys all bigger than you because they were picking on your pal? They’re all wimps, besides band aids are cheap anyways. Work 20 hours straight in a southern summer digging up a yard by hand to help a buddy finish a contract on time? Pass the Gatorade & make fun of anyone who takes a break first - & passing out is taking a break. That’s the way we were growing up – impossible wasn’t an excuse & neither was pain. You just refuse to believe the former & learn to not mind the latter. Not that we were fearless, we were just that stubborn. Besides, it would have been bad etiquette to admit mortality, so part of that package was not offering gripes about the help you’d provide. By all means you could bitch about anything else or everything else, but what you were doing to help was off limits & never to be brought up again.

Ya see how that’d get tricky if you didn’t choose wisely? If I had that sort of self imposed obligation with everyone I’ve slammed a drink or twelve down with over the years I’d have been dead a long time ago.

In fact one of my best friends I haven’t talked to in 3 years or so. I’ve known him since we were 10 & we were as close as I think two different people can be. He & I would literally pass out before we’d let ourselves be out-worked by the other one, which occasionally happened (I think he’s got me 4-3 but he was looking mighty sleepy before I lost consciousness that one time). But he got caught up with crack a few years back & is doing some serious time. I still talk with his ex-wife every now & then to see how she & their kid are doing & if they need anything. I’ve tried to write him a number of times over the years, but it always gets to be this confused mix of, “I love ya & really miss having you around & I’ll do anything I can for ya but I hope you don’t get out till you’re 40� so we haven’t really communicated. & when he gets out I’ll cuss him & we’ll probably slap each other around a bit. But then anything he needs I’d try to help him with.

So I was taught from an early age that you do anything you can to help someone who is a friend even if it causes you ill consequences, you don’t complain about it or hold it against them later & you choose friends real damn carefully.

But getting back to it, I couldn’t do anything to help my mother’s condition. I could do a few things but they were of incidental help to her. Still it gave me something to do. With my friend that’s in the big house I can’t do anything for him right now. When he gets out if he tries to get back on his feet then I’ll be there, but that’s a ways off.

Which brings us to the current situation. I can do nothing about it. Absolutely nothing. What’s worse is if I wanted to tell you what the situation was I couldn’t. Not because I’m sworn to secrecy (though I might as well be – we regarded keeping our mouths shut about our friend’s business as damned near holy) but because I don’t know what’s going on.

It involves a missed appointment, an unexplained & unusual absence & too many variables to tie anything together with more than that.

So I have found myself faced with the worst dilemma that I can face – ignorance & inaction.

To say I’m frustrated is an understatement. For me it’s not too different than if you walked into an operating room & had all the tools to save the fellows life that’s on the table but had no clue what’s wrong with him, how to determine what’s wrong with him & not having the skill or knowledge to make him well again.

Now add to the mix the person on the table is one of the few folks you truly regard as a friend the way I have explained it above.

& this is where the Predestination folks have it all over us Free-willers.

If I believed in Predestination I could just try to be patient & have some comfort in The Lord or some higher power or whatever you’d believe determines things having a plan & this being just a part of it.

I don’t believe that.

Personally I’m – well I spent 30 or so years as a Christian. Now I’m agnostic on the divinity of Christ, I really don’t trust anything that Paul wrote & I’m damned certain that whatever I believe about God (though I still believe in God in the Judea-Christian sense) won’t be right.

One of the things I hang onto though is the idea of self determination. That necessitates Free Will. You can’t very well pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you’re predestined to lie on your back now can ya?

Part of why I write about firearms is that they can really help with the self determination thing. After all how free is your will to better yourself if you have a burglar maiming you or a government enslaving you? Another reason I write is because it gives me something to do that I think is worthwhile to some extent. But that’s another subject.

So I think very sincerely that fate determines nothing. It’s something to make us feel better when we don’t achieve what we wish. I believe that God can influence us. Actually I believe He could make us do anything He wished, but He doesn’t.

My concept of God is that he didn’t wish for us to be automons. He wanted us to have choices & make choices. That is the gift we call Free Will & in my view it’s just as if not more precious than the gift of Life itself. After all, if you believe the Bible then you’ll see that Angels were given life as well as other creatures. But man seems to be unique in that we can choose for ourselves what to do or not do.

So whatever is happening in the situation I cryptically described is not a compass point on the map of destiny. Norns didn’t craft the runes to determine these events. Zuess didn’t turn his back on Hera & wake up to find this happening. God didn’t say that this must come to pass via a prophet. Hell it wasn’t even a song by Billy Scott & the Georgia Prophets (they’re both still playing btw & Billy is a helluva nice guy).

Whatever is happening is the result of choices. Those choices were made by people. What comes of this will again be the result of choices which again are made by people. Now which people I have no clue. I know myself & one other person may be able to influence things. It could be that a few more or even a few dozen more can influence things one way or the other. It’s even possible that some choice of mine heavily influenced this situation (though I’m clueless as to how or why). But It is choice that has brought me & my friend here & choice that will determine the outcome, if an outcome is ever determined.

Which presents me with the problem I have currently.

As I said the person that is the object of the situation is a friend. One of the newer friends in my world but one of the dearest for some unknown reason. I have my limits but they are few. Without getting poetic all on ya (climb the highest mountain, swim the widest sea, etc...) my body would be severely broken before I stopped trying to provide any assistance I could. My ears would fall off long after I stopped listening if it’d help. My hands would waste away before I’d stop offering support. If my absence would help then I’d miss this person till my death & my heart would have long turned to dust before I stopped having compassion for this person.

Invade a small country by myself to perform a rescue? No problem. Walk into a packed biker bar out in the sticks & start a brawl while the person makes a getaway? Color me bloody distraction. Spend hours or days or weeks or months holding a hand in a hospital & telling dirty jokes till someone wakes up? I didn’t have anything important planned anyway & I have a few that would make Red Foxx blush.

But I don’t know which country to invade, or which biker bar to brawl in (I should note some of the best folks I know are bikers so no disrespect intended) or which hospital to camp at. I don’t even know a hospital is involved (though I fear it might but I have no way of knowing).

See where Free Will has its drawbacks?

That person made a choice, perhaps several choices. Those choices were possibly colored by choices I made & choices others made. But whatever the cause I have no choices available. I do not know the situation in enough detail to even hazard a guess at which choice is the least harmful, let alone the best.

If I were of the other theological camp I could lay back & pray & trust & believe that God would have the situation under control. I could tell myself that even if things didn’t work out as I wished that it was part of an overall plan & good would come of it, if not for me then perhaps for my friend. I would find a great deal of comfort in that as I did when I was younger & did believe those things.

So Predestination is the easier to believe in when times are hard or even unbearable.

But like Ike & Tina, Publicola don’t do nothing nice & easy.

Despite the advantages it would bring (especially now) I simply cannot believe that our fate is determined by anything other than our own actions with some random variables thrown in. Often our actions produce unintended consequences but that does not mean that anything other than those actions are at play (again with the random variables previously mentioned).

I’ll go one farther; for me to believe in Predestination right now with my current views on the subject would be an insult to God. It would be throwing away the gift He gave us that was so precious that we are its only recipients & doing so while He’s watching. Despite all the grand talk of the things I would do for a friend (fighting angels or demons bare handed, building mountains & tearing them down etc.) going against God is out of the question. See those old folks I learned so much from? Well they knew they were real close to seeing the Big Guy for themselves & warned often of youthful arrogance not going over well with anyone on the other side.

So theology offers me no comfort right now. What I believe, what I must believe is that God won’t step in pragmatically. Not because He can’t, but because He won’t. Don’t get me wrong; I do feel comfort from God, but not in the sense that He’s going to step in & make things alright. It’s more like having a shoulder to cry on than a superman to save the day.

Now here comes the tricky part - & you atheists please pardon me for a few – how much influence does God (or some higher power) have? It’s not exactly the focus of this post but it is a relevant question when considering the Free Will versus Predestination thing. If we have Free Will does that negate the Big Guy giving us a nudge every now & then? Even if we’re free to ignore it? There have been times when I’ve had decisions to make with no clear idea of which was best, or sometimes with an idea of which was best. Sometimes I’d get a hunch or some kind of indication to pick one or the other. Nothing explicable, just a feeling if you will. Most of the time those decisions would have been best served by following that feeling. Though a few times it wouldn’t & a few it’s uncertain. & despite all my aspirations of making Spock seem like a manic-depressive there have been times when logic let me down & emotions should have been given consideration & I ignored a feeling or hunch that that was the case (in fact being Mr. Responsible I’ve been kicking myself for over a year over just such an occurrence, which I feel is the root of the current problem, but that’s yet another subject).

But as I said that’s a question to ponder. In fact this whole post is full of questions that may not be answered in this world.

But for me, my hands are tied. Actually not even tied, just unable to do anything concrete. & it pains me to no end, both for myself & the concern I have for the friend. My wit, my mind, my body, my faith - all the things I’ve always relied on - can do nothing to materially help. At the moment I can’t even determine what there is that I can do nothing about aside from the brief sketch I outlined a few paragraphs back.

So I ponder the big picture & know that I won’t know if I’m right or wrong till long after this crisis passes, if it passes. I also know that I’ve chosen a hard path & I’m cool with that because I believe it’s the right one. That doesn’t mean I like the results or that I’m not tempted to reconsider my beliefs. It just means that it’s not always easy to believe in something.

& yes I’m hating life for those concerned. But I’m tough & though it’s been a while I’ve been through worse at some point & I’ll be okay one way or a’tother. I’m more concerned about my friend than myself at this point & I only mentioned the situation to explain the context of this not so normal post of mine.

I had another friend in the mountains of NC (in fact she reminds me a bit of this current friend I’ve been typing about). Whenever I was upset by some thing (usually some girl who I thought I loved or vice versa) I’d go to see her. I learned to find some kind of comfort in the mountains. So what I’m going to do now is burn a CD & take a drive up into the Rockies & not think about things or think about things or a mix of both. (We often underestimate how much music can mean to us; if we didn’t there wouldn’t be any good but underworked/underpaid musicians would there? Course maybe it’s just me). So if you see someone driving way North of Boulder & he’s singing badly or just looking contemplative it could very well be your friendly neighborhood Publicola. (& no; the drive won't materially help nor would I be able to accomplsih anything about the situation no matter where I drove to, but sometimes it helps just the same to feel like you're moving. Least to an old road dog such as myself.)

Normal programming will resume at some point. In the mean time if anything major happens in the gun world gimme a holler.

Posted by Publicola at August 24, 2006 03:35 AM | TrackBack

Man, sounds like a tough time. I don't really have any advice besides "aim for the center" and "buy low, sell high".

I don't think losses of family or friends ever "get better". For what it's worth, it sounds like you've done your best in the situations you mentioned. Sometimes you do your best and it still doesn't feel like nearly enough.

Posted by: Steve at August 24, 2006 05:05 PM

I don't know it this would help the situation, but if you would like to have a complete stranger intervene, let me know.

Godd luck getting through.

Posted by: USCitizen at August 24, 2006 08:11 PM

This won't help at all but the only way "choice" enters into the free will versus predestination debate is if free will is the correct paradigm.

If predestination is correct then your (and everyone else's) beliefs are "predetermined" -- even if that belief is in free will. Any "choice" you make is just an illusion -- your "choice" was predetermined.

If free will is correct and you belive in predestination then that belief was a choice and you are responsible for the results. Even the results of doing nothing if you did nothing because you "chose" to do nothing as a result of the believing in predestination.

It seems to me that the only rational "choice" is to believe in free will and behave accordingly. Even if predestination is correct, you really have no other choice -- by definition.

As for me, I choose free will.

As I said at the start, this is not much comfort when faced with a problem. Kind of like those "proofs" that proof something is possible but that do nothing to show what the solution is -- just that one must exist.

Posted by: Bob at August 28, 2006 11:51 AM