Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Hermeneutic of Superstition

Would be a great band name. I think it might also work as a philosophy for life.

So, I'm watching "Dawn of the Dead," like ya do, and I start thinking about my phone. My ring is Stevie Wonder's "Superstition," and people (well, Steve and E!) sometimes tease me about the message I'm sending when I answer every call with a superstitious wink. But... like casuistry (the application of general, ethical reasoning to particular situations--or--the recognition and application of contingency), superstition (depending on the source, mostly definitions of superstition read something like this: overly zealous and irrational beliefs, especially having to do with religion--emphasis on lack of thought and irrationality) has gotten a bad rap--mainly because of its reliance, it seems, on things outside classical reason.

But it's interesting to think about the outside-rational significance of little moments, the strange connections between our thoughts, our actions, and the particular events that make up our lives.

One example: today I was talking with a friend about the therapeutic effects of teaching. He had been thinking about a certain recent crisis in his life, and, on the day in question, class discussion just happened to include that exact situation as a theoretical point, a way to analyze and explore the topic of the day. As he was teaching the class, he said, he had to pause a couple of times--keeping the theoretical discussion and the actual situation separate in his head was more challenging a task than he had thought it would be. And that wasn't such a bad thing, he said. It kind of helped him understand the theory and the moment more clearly. The hermeneutic of superstition, in this case, allowed for a clarifying dip into both theory and practice.

Another example? A couple of weeks ago, I went to an AA meeting with my sister. It's called an "open source" meeting. Most AA meetings are closed, designed to increase and accentuate the feeling of safety-in-community for which AA is so lauded. But open speaker sessions welcome any and every person interested in learning more about the warp and woof of addiction. Anyway, the speaker that day was this cool lady, probably in her forties, talking about her life pre-, during, and post-realization that she is an alcoholic. Coincidentally, earlier that day, my sister and I had just been talking about some of the topics the speaker addressed (the differences between social and addictive drinking, the various definitions of "party" and "problem," the difficulties of "hanging out" in a culture so centered on mind-altering substances). The speaker's story, like many of the stories one hears from and about addiction, revolved around loss and redemption, failure and success--as well as the issues my sister and I had been talking about earlier.

These stories, these moments of clarity, are reasonable, at times. They are often, after the fact, easily designated as instances of rationality and enlightenment. But the mechanisms of the connections, the links between moments of clarity and our interpretation/reception of those moments, is not always a rational, causal thing. Sometimes, it's a mystery, and mystery--as much as it gets suspicioned and ogled and sliced out of our enlightened, reasonable world--can be a situation-saver... keeping us, perched as we are on the edge of the abyss, sane... mostly.

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