Sunday, November 17, 2019

Rules of the game: The Truths

Just mumbling at the keyboard today as I navigate the rocks and shoals of my particular voyage through life. I'm thinking in particular of various sayings and phrases designed (it seems to me) to help the individual fallen ape-lizard break out of an immediate fixation and get back to the whole living thing. Such sayings and phrases are touchstones which are anchored to the bedrock of universal Truth.

Rereading that paragraph I'm afraid that today's missive will feature a lot of mixed metaphors.

I guess what I mean to say, in more plain language, is that I always have a choice in where and how I journey -- physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually -- as I navigate through the day. It's very easy to get in a non-productive rut when emotions run high, and it's pretty much impossible for me to win out alone against the frustrated and angry ape-lizard buried deep inside of my core.

As a bonus, the me I long ago chose to be is a rather stoic fellow. One of the greatest and most joyful life truths I was introduced to by my beloved United States Navy (which I usually render undercased as "navy" because reasons) is that I personally have enormous and nearly unimaginable resources available within my body and mind, and tapping these resources allows me to do really hard stuff. Try to imagine my delight when I discovered in the cold, wet, and gritty arena of beach runs and timed swims and obstacle courses that I have the ability to execute physical and mental challenges that make tough, mid-19'70's two-a-day football practices look like a five year old's tea party! So the path I chose was to ever rely on self and embrace challenges, the harder the better. It's great stuff, and even as a presently partly crippled sexagenarian (we put the SEX in sexagenarian 😈) I routinely astonish onlookers (in particular pretty girls) with my manly prowess.

Which is great, but no man is an island, and that's another Truth. Even with all of my vaunted superpowers, I can seldom win out alone when the ape-lizard is driving. At those times my stoicism and self reliance are usually double the trouble. The beautiful thing is that everyone else in the world has superpowers too, and I can't begin to count the times that someone has whipped a bit of superpower truth mojo on me with a simple phrase, instantly dethroning the ape-lizard. For instance, "You can love them anyway." And that, my friends, is every bit as delightful as being supersquid.

One of the things that popped into my mind as I sat down to compose this thing is a scene from Jack Campbell's Lost Fleet Series. In this particular scene the Old Guy running the fleet is trying to show a particular point of view to a warship captain who can't quite grasp it. The Old Guy, who has been miraculously resurrected from suspended animation in a survival pod a century after his ship was destroyed in the opening battle of a still-raging war, is explaining why it's vital to rescue enemy civilians even at great risk to his own forces.

"What is the Third Truth?" he asks.

"Only those who show mercy can expect to receive mercy," replies Captain Desjani. "It's been a long time since I've heard the Truths recited."

It's an interesting universe John Hemry designed. Full disclosure; Hemry is a retired Commander, USN, Plank Owner in USS Spruance (DD-963), and a USNA grad, so I'm clearly biased toward his work, even though it stands on its own merit imo. Anyway, the religion of the time is a kind of ancestor/universe worship which resonates strongly with me, probably because it seems to be based on what I believe are the exact touchstones of Truth which I embrace.

At a slight tangent, it seems rather popular today to look down on the Western Judeo-Christian tradition from whence many of my Truths seem to have sprung. I believe that some of the problems presently besetting my family are in part due to many of the members allowing themselves to be brainwashed, in a sense, by the constant media/entertainment/interwebz bombardment of the popular postmodern/neocommunist/intersectional dogma. I believe that having never had occasion or reason to develop any real, personal foundational philosophy, they are extremely susceptible to the siren song and happily willing to accept the proposition that whatever is good for them in the immediate moment is right and proper, and anything that is not personally wonderful and completely fulfilling is the fault of vicious enemies who must be, in essence, exterminated. By someone else of course, probably like sojers and oinkers, who as sub-humans to begin with, are supposed to do the dirty work anyway.

Hope that doesn't come across as only judgmental. It seems very likely to me that this has become the instinctive viewpoint of nearly everyone I meet who has not found a way to anchor themselves to the bedrock of civilization. It's not that individuals are bad, but they certainly often act in a bad fashion, and they really don't understand that they are primed and ready to join the cast of Lord of the Flies the moment the opportunity arises.

Anyway, a fun fact about Hemry's (sorry, pen name is Jack Campbell) non-enumerated Truths is that the Third Truth -- the only one cited in the series -- echoes what I believe anchors the New Testament, The Beatitudes. Among them, "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy."

Kinda cool, huh?

Now where in the world am I going with this thing?

Okay. So for me, the Truths are touchstones. They have a magical property. Touch them, and the bedrock principle of living as a civilized human is revealed in as much of its glory as we fallen ape-lizards can endure. When I touch the touchstones, open my eyes fully and look around, I can clearly see the proper path. It shines like a diamond in a goat's ass but does not obscure any of the wrong paths. Which way to go is always my choice, but the proper path is always there and always clearly marked. And almost always, the proper path looks to be the more difficult way to go. None of that is hidden from view. "Take it or don't take it, Supersquid, the choice is yours, and the path is ever present should you change your Supersquid mind."

Now the bedrock principle. All men are created equal and endowed with unalienable natural rights.

And the short version of the proper path is simply the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Or if you prefer the non-religious choice, as I really do, Kant put it nicely in his Categorical Imperative. 1) "Always act so that you may also wish that the maxim of your action become a universal law." 2) "Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means."

Do the right thing, and the right thing is based on the proposition that you treat others always as you would yourself be treated.

It should go without saying that while we fallen ape-lizards should always act this way, we do not always act this way. That's why there are touchstones, Truths, and the always-illuminated path.

Other touchstones and Truths illuminate the proper path of being in those parts of life which don't include direct interaction with our fellows.

In my life, I spend a great deal of time outside in nature's elements. Nature arranges things to suit her and not me. She deals what I think of as perfect days only rarely, and the rest of the time she serves up conditions which range from mildly irritating to fully formed misery. And here again I have a choice. I can't avoid the irritation or the misery. It just is. But I can also recognize and embrace the flavor and majesty of nature's creation. As Henry David Thoreau put it,

"Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each."

And of course one of my most cherished touchstones, today a mix of old squid and new squid, "Embrace the suck and drive on."

At the end of the day though, all of the "away from other human" truths are based on the foundational principle and the illuminated proper path. All men are sovereign and their existence is precious. Shit is always going sideways, and unimaginable horror exists in the world, nearly always driven by sovereign and precious human beings consciously taking the path of evil behavior, which is, in a nutshell, treating people as things rather than as people.

All the words in the world are just representations of human thought. My touchstones are no different. In my life, the pitons which anchor my existence to foundational bedrock are experiential; real world occasions where foundational truth has been undeniably and clearly illustrated.

Way, way back in the days when the Iranians were our friends and allies, I had been parked temporarily at Naval Regional Medical Center Portsmouth, Virginia. I was there to paint rocks while the calendar counted down to the first day of school for a new class clear down in Pensacola, Florida. Just why I was parked in Portsmouth shall ever be a mystery. But there's just a chance that BUPERS stashed me there so that I could have the following simple experience.

I wasn't really there to paint rocks. I was utilized properly as a basic Hospital Corpsman and assigned to the Gastroenterology Clinic up on 11-C. It was a very cool experience and I learned a lot and enjoyed my time there. I was also on the hospital watchbill, standing duty as a runner in the OOD (Officer of the Day) office. IIRC, it was remarkably easy, basically sitting in the office shooting the shit from 1600-2400 once every three days. On weekends it was 0700-2400. The Horror! Occasionally I'd have to do the runner thing. Go fetch this, drive 😇 these messages over to the comm center (gray navy AMC Gremlin, what a hoot, you could hit sixty in second if you had no fear of flying pistons and connecting rods), run this sample over to the lab in Building One.

This is 25 minutes but might be worth your time.

That last example -- a duty "runner's" run to Building One (brisk walk of course, actual running in non-athletic uniform is (was?) forbidden) -- was far from infrequent. Building One was "The Old Hospital," built way back before the Civil War as a Naval Hospital. It was taken by the Confederates early in the war, and IIRC, occupied by them all the way to Appomattox Day. Building One was in fact the very first US Naval Hospital, and the place which is today called Naval Medical Center Portsmouth continues to identify itself as "First and Finest." YMMV, of course! 😲
OOD Office precisely where the pin denotes Portsmouth Naval Clinic. Building One at upper right, fronting Hospital Point Park.

Anyway, back where I started this story, "Way, way back in the days when the Iranians were our friends and allies," there were lots and lots of Iranians around the US Naval Service. Many were learning to be ace fighter crews, and the steed they would take into combat was the Grumman F-14A. Many others were learning to drive and fight what would later become the Kidd Class DDG's, but were at the time the Kouroush Class, named after Cyrus the Great, surprisingly (at least to me.) Anyway, you couldn't swing a cat without hitting an officer of the Imperial Iranian Navy at the time. A heck of a lot of those guys brought their families. I never formally met any of these folks, but they were present and you saw them around, even at a naval hospital.

So one fine duty day I was tasked with taking a sample over to the lab in Building One. No worries. But the Chief Hospitalman who was OOD that day sat me down for a serious talk first. He had been the senior IDC (Independent Duty Corpsman) in USS Belknap (CG-26) on November 22, 1975. He'd been there and done that.

The "sample" was actually the remains of a very premature infant which unfortunately had congenital anencephalus. It was the stillborn child of an Iranian couple.

The round trip from the OOD Office to the Building One Lab was about a mile. It was a very quiet mile that day. The simple, plain paper bag I carried seemed impossibly small and far too light to contain the remains of a human being. Yet it did.

Another experience springs to mind.

On another day some years later, myself and several shipmates were stumbling around in the frigid swamp that makes up much of Navy Dare in North Carolina. We were there on this cold and cheerless pre-Christmas day to collect the remains of two Naval Aviators who had died there the night before. It was my second trip to the place in only a few hours. When we had finished with collecting and placing the remains in body bags, we had to carry them out. It was an arduous task. Our respect for the dignity of the fallen ran headlong into the reality of the physics of the problem. I will never forget what it felt like to fling body bags containing fallen shipmates across small creeks and over fallen trees as we made our way out of the thick and clinging swamp.

These and other experiences are some of the pitons which anchor my being to foundational bedrock, and are part of the reason why I know with certainty that all men are indeed created equal.

Once again, I didn't really intend to arrive here, but I'm glad I did.

As always, here's hoping you kind readers are well and enjoying the blessings of Liberty.


  1. Some heavy stuff there Shaun, but well written and meaningful to those ready to learn.

    Being human is hard sometimes.

    1. Thanks Sarge.

      If it's never hard it can't be much of a life. The cream of wheat existence.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  2. Deep thinking required. Life's not all beer and skittles, especially when you wear the uniform.
    Good examples.
    I just hope that your treating others as you would wish to be treated is (or will eventually be) appreciated by those receiving treatment. If not, good on ya for trying your best anyway.
    John Blackshoe

    1. Thanks John. It's all part of the adventure. I'm blessed to be able to mumble my thoughts straight at the keyboard and have such great feedback. I kind of feel that I'd be badly amiss if I looked for a quid pro quo paid in appreciation. It's a goofy area and tough to navigate, but if my motives are selfish then I'm really not treating others the way I would be treated. Seems that way to me anyway.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  3. May I assume that these are some of the thoughts that swirl around in your head as you go about doing your daily chores? You have never specifically mentioned, but I would enjoy seeing a list of some of the books, and other things, that you have read which have influenced your thoughts. Some are obvious, but what you write suggests that you have read a wide range of things.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

    1. You may correctly so assume. If you were to don a cow suit and hang out with the bovines on the ranch you would get an earful of it. Which might be instructional and worth the effort. I'm pretty sure Red would put you back in if you tried to leave, though, so there's that.

      I've read and read and read, ever since first grade. I seldom memorize stuff though, I just let the sense of it wash over me and work its way into my world view. I could probably come up with a very incomplete list if I tried hard enough. I guess I'd suggest revisiting the obvious things and then follow your interests. The interwbz can be your friend!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting Paul!

  4. Replies
    1. It's kind of a scattered mishmash of thoughts and ideas. Almost as bad as reading Kant!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting Brig!

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