Last weekend I spent a few days in and around Joshua Tree National Park. I planned the trip several months ago, before I knew that the U.S. government would be in the midst of one of the stupidest shutdowns in geological history.
Fortunately, the park was mostly open during my visit (despite the apparent flood of assholes that had spilled into the park throughout the previous weeks), and none of my flights were delayed by security or air traffic issues. But that didn’t stop Trump’s tantrum from casting a pall, especially with the Mexico border just a few miles south. There was a sense of dread hanging in the air (much like the botulistic haze of the Salton Sea, another toxic testament to American superiority and great fodder for #ruinporn). This must be how the villagers in the Dark Ages felt whenever the king came down to the town square and publicly executed another editor from the Failing New York Times.
This constant, latent dread adds the suspicion of superfluity to intellectual exercise. What’s the point of reading a book, asking a question, suggesting an idea, or sparking a conversation, if the garrote twists tighter around the throat of common sense every fresh day? What’s the point of feeding the mind if sensibility, like history, becomes nothing more than a myth agreed upon?
Exercise is about knowledge, and in dark times, knowledge is the lodestar. Even if the accrual of knowledge leads to the revelation that true knowledge is unattainable, it at least teaches us towards humility, which some say is where wisdom begins.
That’s Proverbs, by the way. From the Bible, which has more to say about where wisdom begins but less to say about where it ends. Which brings us to the beginning of this week’s #linkdump:
“Famous last words” are the cornerstone of a romantic vision of death—one that falsely promises a final burst of lucidity and meaning before a person passes. “The process of dying is still very profound, but it’s a very different kind of profoundness,” says Bob Parker, the chief compliance officer of the home health agency Intrepid USA. “Last words—it doesn’t happen like the movies. That’s not how patients die.” We are beginning to understand that final interactions, if they happen at all, will look and sound very different. (Read the whole, fascinating essay in The Atlantic.)