If you’re a persnickety stickler for grammar like me, you may be looking at the title of this post and thinking, “Shouldn’t it be: Has Everyone Lost His or Her Mind?” The answer to your question is probably yes, but in the interest of being politically–versus grammatically–correct you can sometimes wear out even your own attention span in these fragmented times, so I thought it best to go with the shorter alternative, even if it grates against my grammarian’s nerves.
(For a funny disquisition on the above question, see Julian Barnes’ irresistible page-turner, Talking It Over, a deftly-written love triangle that moves among first-person accounts of the three principal characters. I wasn’t able to put it down until I’d finished reading it; my eyes were Krazy-Glued to the narrative from start to finish, although they kept miraculously moving until I was done, at which time they froze permanently in one position, so I now look like the late Baghwan Shree Rashneesh, alias Osho, he of the Oregonian commune of yore, a man who was supposedly chauffeured around the grounds in one of eighty rotating Rolls Royces, and who also is said to have never blinked, or blunk. At least I thunk so. I now live in Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum with a wick rising from my head. As the Wicked Witch of the West would say, “I’m melting!” For those of you who’ve yet to see the film alluded to in that sentence, sorry about the failure to provide you with a spoiler alert.
Since I live in an Asian country (Korea), and I like reading books on Buddhism, which frequently favor the first person plural pronoun “we” as opposed to the second person in general “you” or the arrogant “I” that stands like a phallic philistine, so sure of him- or herself in spite of the storm it embodies from birth to death*, the title gives a fortuitous nod to what’s traditionally been a group culture. This in spite of Koreans being doggedly invididualistic (if that’s even a word) in certain ways, which accounts in large part for their considerable charm. When I lived in Japan many years ago, my students would often introduce a comment with the phrase “We Japanese,” which I always found curious, as I would never have thought to say “We Americans”, “We men”, “We idiots”, “We wankers”, or even “We humans”.
I guess it must provide some solace for people to automatically ally themselves with a group, but it’s never been something I’ve been anything less than ambivalent about. I don’t want to lose myself in a sea of collectively diluted identities, unless I’m attending a particularly wild party at a rave club (sorry to say I’ve never been to one; though it sounds like** it would be fun; going to one at my age would feel particularly ridiculous, however; and my ears would probably ring forever afterwards; it already sounds as if I have a parade of hare krishnas living inside my head).
The idea of everyone in the world having the same mind is grotesque and horrifying to me, despite what Carl Jung said about a collective unconscious. Apart from the loneliness, confusion, and misunderstanding it wreaks on all of us, it’s still better for everyone to have his (or her–or their, if you want to get fussy about it) own mind, even though, if you agree with Sam Harris’ persuasive argument in his book Free Will, none of us really owns her mind anyway (sorry to leave you guys out with my choice of possessive pronoun; I thought I’d be a gentleman for a change by saying “Ladies first”; after all, the anagram of “ladies” is “ideals”, a revelation that was no surprise when I stumbled on it and one that, despite the rigors of a protracted unfulfilling marriage to someone who’d also probably be better off without me, still holds true, as long as I have eyes to behold the myriad displays of feminine beauty all around me and ears to hear the smooth, soothing voices of women chattering on their cell phones over the din of built-in hare krishnas rattling their teeny tambourines).
By now you’re probably saying to yourself, “Get to the point already!” Okay, I will. And, as Polonius, the long-winded busybody in Hamlet would say, I will be brief. Since I have to get ready to go to work in a few minutes anyway, I have no choice.
Yesterday morning I was running a little late for work, not that that made me hurry on my way to catch the bus. It was too hot to hurry, and I’d made the mistake of wearing my black corduroy sport jacket in addition to a navy blue tie adorned with raining white terriers in profile, no doubt the ghostly offspring of my childhood family dog. Sometimes it’s hard to tell how hot or cold it is outside from within my apartment on the third floor, even after opening the window, so dressing appropriately for the weather is often a challenge. Checking the temperature online would help, then converting it from Celsius to Fahrenheit, yada yada yada.
Two days before I’d had to arrive at the workplace twenty minutes earlier, at eight o’clock sharp, which was a pain in the ass as I’m not a morning person, but coffee makes everything possible until either exhaustion sets in or the bladder explodes.
The problem with having those extra twenty minutes to get ready was it was just long enough to guarantee immersion in rush-hour traffic, both within and without the bus I ended up taking. I had to stand near the front, close to a pretty young woman who had the good sense to ignore me. At the stop after mine, more people got on, including an older woman who had to stand right next to the hydraulically operated front door. I didn’t feel like reading my book and had no electronic apparatus to occupy the time, so I just stood there stewing in the heat as the cars in front of us stood still too and the hands on the clock gave everyone the finger(s) on their way around the combination merry-go-round and roller coaster in hell, a ride that’s simultaneously complicated and monotonous, as well as maddeningly predictable.
When the driver finally came to a stop and opened the front door, he nearly crushed the poor older woman I mentioned in the last paragraph. As a favor to her, I climbed off the bus so she could move into my space, intending to get right back on. The driver proceeded to close the door, which pinched my hand and held on, pinning me in place. I pounded on the door with my left hand to avoid being dragged off into the sunset, and the son of a bitch finally opened it, letting me back on.
“You fucking destroyed my hand!” I yelled in English. “Jesus Christ!”
The driver mumbled something that sounded more defensive than apologetic. It didn’t really make sense to blame him, but I’ve become accustomed to feeling like a victim lately, due in part to my wife’s own combative character (which includes the requisite martyr complex, along with a tendency to feel slighted by store clerks and restaurant servers when they’ve done nothing wrong), and also to her pious refusal to share certain gifts with me (hence the intensified allure of other women).
Hurt enough at the moment to feel indignant, I muttered “pabo” under my breath, the Korean word for “idiot”, but I don’t think the driver heard me, which is just as well, since I might as well have been talking about myself.
The bus crawled along for another ten minutes or so, the driver finally having turned on the air conditioner so I was able to close the window I’d opened earlier and spare everyone an influx of carbon monoxide fumes.
Korean people can be good at complaining to those they’re more familiar with, but strangers tend to be stoical, which made me feel like that much more of an ugly American for my little self-righteous outburst, not that I was about to apologize, since I still felt wronged, not by the driver, necessarily, but by life itself, which is such a stupid fucking exercise in futility so much of the time that it almost makes the alternative seem scintillating–that in spite of my having had it much easier than most of the other people decorating this planet (make that re-decorating).
Still, I have to admit that there’s something disconcerting about seeing so many otherwise intelligent people so preoccupied with these ever-so-fascinating hand-held gadgets and avoiding interaction with one another, which might make us feel more human. Has it gotten this bad in the U. S. too? Have we all lost our minds?
I know I have; how about you?
(Not to sound too cruel or misanthropic, but at the rate things are moving at, one of these days “I” might have to pen a blog entry whose title is “Has Everything Lost Its Mind?” “I” certainly hope not, as I miss feeling more like a part of nature, as I did a long time ago, and still do whenever I’m lucky enough to make love, which is about once a millennium.
These days I might as well just be part of a vast and giant machine. It’s only a matter of time before the whole thing goes kaput. Luckily for the battered ball of the earth, nature will survive, with or without our spectacularly special species.)
* a metaphor I owe to Sam Harris; he uses it in his book Free Will (not to be confused with the film Free Willie)
* * fellow grammar-sticklers may bristle at this erroneously used preposition; the more correct choice is “as if”.