Thursday, September 04, 2003

For Lack of Anything Better to Say . . . An Old Email

Dear _____,

I went for a drive tonight for a couple of reasons. For one, it was a beautiful dark-blue night -- like driving into the deep sea. The traffic was minimal, and the only thing I was missing was a destination. But, the more I thought about, do any of us ever know any of our destinations. Sure, we have our plans -- X marks the spot -- to go from point A to point B, perhaps indulging in circuitous scenic routes or nomadic fruit stands along the way, but the reality of life is that plans exist to fail.

In essence, when we plan to do something, we, by definition and often unconsciously, plan NOT to do some other set of alternative actions that would otherwise prevent what we would like to accomplish. This is all well and good, and I would think provides the impetus for most of the things that actually get done in life, but the shocking reality is that things rarely ever go as planned. Planes are generally either early or late. No two road trips ever takes exactly the same amount of time. The things that we often think are set in stone are perhaps only written in chalk.

The reason for this is simple: We interact on a nearly infinitesimal level with other people and their plans. Some of these plans coincide with ours, others don't; all of them, however, directly or indirectly, play a role in the development, promotion, or subversion of each of our plans. One decision may not appear to affect another, but on closer inspection -- that is, interestingly, by stepping back -- we see that most human circumstances are created by human decisions, or humans working toward a (unconscious or conscious, unintentional or intentional [whatever either of those words really mean]) plan.

It is not so much a puzzle, as this is far too static an image, as it is a bivouac of ants. When a colony of ants is on the march, they set up headquarters by forming a nest composed entirely of their own bodies. A few ants will anchor themselves by their legs to the bottom of a fallen tree. Other ants hook onto the first ones, then more, then more, until they begin to form long, wiggling brown ropes. As more and more ants join, the ropes merge into an enormous thicket. It may contain hundreds of thousands of individual ants. Inside are tunnels and chambers and galleries through which ants carry food, tend to the queen and her brood, and fuss with the endless chores of maintaining the bivouac.

The point of all this, simply enough, is to say that what looks like, from a distance, a single 'something' is actually a complex collection of 'somethings'! The same would appear to be true with human circumstances. Nothing we do is done is our own. We often make plans that are congruent with societal norms, norms that are constructed by a community's prevailing majority and not necessarily representative of an individual creation. Sometimes these societal norms are internal compulsions, other times they are external -- neither can be said to be any more or less malevolent because of where its compulsive power resides. Furthermore, the very actions in which we engage ourselves are connected with other plans on the outside that work against the success of our own. In sum, our plans are merely that -- ours. Yours are not mine; mine are not yours. In fact, your plans two weeks ago for tomorrow may not reflect your goals now for that same day. Therefore, not only are our plans 'ours,' but they are 'ours' only on the most banal (though necessary) of existential levels. That is, they are our plans in-the-now, if such a time can rightfully be said to exist -- the moment you appeal to it, it is has passed.

Plans are perhaps not things to which we appeal, as we attempt to give our life its parameters or its shape, but simply the product of lives lived in response to the free-floating, surface-level chaos that comprise the matrix of the human condition. Should we plan? I think so: To live is to plan, for all human decisions necessitate a plan of action -- do this, don't do this; to plan is to (often) fail; to fail is to live (and learn, so the maxim goes). And so the cycle goes. To not plan doesn't avoid the 'problem,' if you want to call it that. It, in fact, shows how wed we are to its reality, because it itself is a plan of action. One, I hasten to add, we have already failed to achieve.

To conclude, I said I had couple of reasons for my drive this evening, but the most important was that I was hungry.