Friday, July 3, 2015

"relative," my ass!

An old army buddy of mine, William B. McKechnie III, now dead, once observed that the sole usefulness of the Internet lay in its ability to share humor with others. And it was in  keeping with that suggestion that I passed the following along to several others after receiving it yesterday:
In keeping with the ridiculous aspects I had intended to transmit, my sister flashed back in an instant: "The next time I rob a bank I will refuse to give any identification!!" But another recipient took a different tack: "It is all relative, isn't it ... ??" he wrote.

For some reason, this latter response set off a flash of irritation in my mental skies. So smooth, so freighted with WASP-y savoir-kool, so with-it-dontcha-know ... as if one more easily-mouthed philosophical fortune cookie could sum or make manageable the onslaught of life's rambling and raucous offerings.

It's all relative ... go suck an egg!

The carefully-manicured distances of "it's all relative" are understandable, I'd say. If every bit of incoming information in this life were treated with equal care and equal attention and equal fervor, how the hell could anyone sort things out? how the hell could they proceed? how could the accomplish? There would be too much to swallow, let alone digest, if the mind did not do some high-stepping triage. It would be overwhelming and somehow frightening if things didn't get parsed and boxed and controlled with lines like "it's all relative."

Perhaps the necessity of asserting a distance is the focal point of "it's all relative." The alternative to distance would be to drown. The upside of distance is an imagined salvation and safety.

But trouble with slick distances is that life doesn't work like that. In any given moment -- even when robbing a bank -- there is no relativity. This -- from a cup of coffee to a sneeze to bitter tears or fall-down laughter ... this is IT. Trying to hold life at bay -- to mold and shape it, to perform triage -- means that life is held at bay ... and it doesn't work.

And, worse than that, even the slickest, most-philosophically-inclined fortune-cookie addict knows it doesn't work: I do my best to control what I know cannot be controlled. It is an unsatisfactory way of life, edgy-making and second-hand and stale: When I hit my thumb with a hammer, check out the 'relativity.' When the sorrow comes calling, check out the tears. Where laughter fills the mind, what else could there possibly be?

It's a koan without the Buddhists to make up the koan: Information needs to be processed and made orderly and no one can make order in that which defies a well-shaped order.

What then of the fear that arises -- the one that inspires the wispy, WASP-y nostrums? Am I simply a smudge on some cosmic windshield?

Nah. That's too self-centered, too self-referential, too protective and whine-y.

The only way I can figure out to whittle away the smug nostrums is to learn to enjoy things more and demand less of them. The enjoyment is there for the taking. The demands are too second-hand, too distant, too moribund from the get-go.

Everything is relative?

Go suck an egg!

And rob a bank with care.


  1. Touche (e-acute).

  2. Einstein said everything is relative, and Freud said those relatives were your parents. Misusing things can be humor or stupidity, relative to your abilities. Some things bend me out of shape, but that's my problem with the things. The things are just there for me to screw up.