POEM: The Meaning of Vex Lex

In a universe beyond apprehension
She caught herself
Vexing once again
Is there meaning?
Looking above
The stars just winked
Looking below
The grass said
“How can you stand it?”
Looking forward
Her next meal said
“Eat me.”
Looking back
She grasped so many broken peaces
Looking in
She divined an unfathomable whole
On her look out
Giving weigh
Too eternal vigilantes
Buy passing awe
The enduring
Rejoined her
Instead fast
As kin
Neighboring on
Know ledge
And good will
In solid-air-ity
With lonely
A stout bored
For a pair a docks
To weigh anchor
In what was meant
For sailing
Weather a loan
Or going on and on
Con currently
Now and again
Making head weigh
When put to see
Awe to gather

This poem was inspired by a facebook post asking, “Is it the human curse to be constantly seeking meaning in life when there really isn’t any?”  This poem is for you, Polly, and all of angst-ridden humanity.  Of course, looking for ultimate meaning on facebook may be analogous to looking for love in all the wrong places.  Joking aside, I feel the existential pain of such questioning.  My conservative Christian college roommate warned that I shouldn’t take the philosophy course: Existentialism.  In a display of prudent Calvinistic theology, he said this is a place you shouldn’t go.  I was raised to question and explore.  One surefire way to raise my curiosity is to say you shouldn’t go there!  Banned books should probably well populate our reading list.  I never seriously questioned not taking the class.  Existentialism, nihilism, and the oft-elusive quest for meaning are frequent themes in my poetry and associated rants.  I would never say to not go there.  I would suggest that you not build a home there.  The profound freedom expounded upon by existential philosophers bids us travel widely and put scarce stock in a cozy number of questions or answers.

Rather than giving another pages-long rant on existentialism, or an extensive apologetic on meaning, I will let my poem due most of the work.  I will point out that I find some humor in this most serious of questions.  This poem launches with a series of anthropomorphisms, the stars, the grass, even your next meal, begging some equal standing with you to answer your question.  This is meant to be funny in multiple ways.  I find funniness a particularly good antidote to excessive seriousness.  However, for you philosophical types, projecting human qualities onto inanimate or “less animate” nature is often a first line of critique on the question of God.  I would agree that limiting your search for the supernatural in nature is setting the bar too low.  The mismatch in the adequacy of question to answer makes for a laughable pair of foolishnesses: looking to dirt to enlighten us and considering ourselves to be just dirt (albeit very complicated dirt).

Surely, we can fill a lifetime with learning about nature and its wonders, but we should look up the proverbial food chain rather than down it to find higher meaning.  Or, at a minimum, we should focus on the apparently most evolved life on earth, human beings.  If by happenstance humans are the most evolved conscious beings in our known universe, are we reduced to permutations of cannibalism, or is there some higher power to nourish us?  I find the metaphor of cannibalism as quite apt, since the first monarch of existentialist philosophers, John Paul Sartre, spoke forcefully and eloquently about two subjects never being able to connect, forever trapped in alternately being a subject and making the other an object, then being reduced to an object by the other.  Of course, any philosopher that claims that two subjects can never connect as subjects, besides permanently disabling human relationships, certainly precludes any human-God relationship (subject-Subject).   It is worth noting that later existentialist philosophers claimed that subjects can actually connect without reducing the other subject to a mere object.  Not to get caught in intractable discussions of God, it will suffice to say that I believe this, that subjects can connect with one another.  First, this recognizes that human relationships are the everyday stuff of subjective beings living out their nature.  This seems to imply that human community is foundational for human fulfillment.  More provocatively, this opens up the possibility, dare I say hope, that we can connect with some higher power (Subject) to facilitate our spiritual evolution and find greater meaning than that which can be deduced from mere facts/objects of the physical world/nature (or intuited from individual human subjects).

You may note that I consider subjects/subjectivity in the realm of the supernatural, transcending the natural (not negating it).  As confirmed by quantum physics, observers (subjects) influence and change the natural world without any evident contradictions in the deterministic aspects of the scientific world.  In short, at least some form of transcendence of the merely physical/deterministic world is allowed; in fact, necessary to account for quantum physical evidence.  Of course, this brings us full circle to where we began, leaving open the question of the nature of the indeterminate (e.g., free will) and determinate (e.g., physical) aspects of reality.  Basically, the accepted convention of modern science is that the indeterminate has no nature, which is represented by the concept of “randomness.”  Randomness is an indispensable component of the current understanding of Darwin’s evolution of species.  A relationship with nothing is necessary to stir up possibilities allowing for new configurations of life-forms [I don’t think that it was an accident that Sartre’s foundational work was titled, Being and Nothingness].  If evolution was fully determined then some form of God as a first cause with a specific nature would be necessary, and there could only be one outcome, the present reality.  I think this sort of view is rightly rejected as a poor representation of life as experienced and as any notion of God.  However comfortable you feel with the notion of randomness, evolution, as presently expounded, does a masterful job of explaining the origin of species.  However, evolution is silent, even impotent (which is key in any theory so thoroughly wrapped up in reproduction), in accounting for the origin of life itself.  This concept of randomness strikes me at least as problematic as assuming that there is any nature within the realm of indeterminacy.  While the concept of something coming from nothing has often been used to mock those of a spiritual inclination, this is an essential conundrum of modern physics, both in quantum indeterminacy and in a unifying theory for quantum physics, Newtonian physics, and the theory of general relativity which applies to astronomical scales.  The assumption that all truth lies within reductionistic science has been disproved by Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, which is a mathematical proof that there are always predicates (true statements or facts) that lie outside any possible mathematical or rational system.  Those positing some form of metaphysics (spirituality) simply claim that there is some nature outside of facts and truths that can be ascertained by reductionistic science and assembled into any rational system.  Further, many claim that we can ascertain truths about the nature of reality through subjective experience, not fully verifiable by science.  This connection to other subjective/indeterminate realities can bring about a fuller understanding of reality.  In such ethereal undertakings, I seek in solidarity with others to incarnate such realities in our lives, thus making our lives fuller, more congruent with reality.

I posit that life itself encompasses the subjective, and that there is a nature to nature, a nature that transcends and lovingly gives birth to countless wonders.  Transcendent.  Loving.  Giving birth.  Wonder full.  This is the God I seek.  We need not leap from essential uncertainty to an abyss of meaninglessness.  We need not build arbitrary prisons to some cruel god of logic, while others walk and explore a world brimming with life and meaning.  Nor do we shrink from visiting those in the darkest of places, for even God overflows there.  I seek to worship a God that cannot fit in any box anyone can construct.  I leave such gods to the dustbin. The present is evident, even if the future is not.  Life is a gift.  Pass it on.  This is the nature of life.

For those of you who waded through my rantings, or those who were wise enough to read the last paragraph first, you are now titled to learn the meaning of vex lex.  Vex lex is a takeoff on rex lex, which means “Law is king.”  Vex, of course, means to distress or bother.  Thus, vex lex means to be distressed or bothered by the prospect of law ruling our lives as our ultimate authority.  Most of us recognize that legalism often strangles life.  The law can be government or any system of thought (ideology).  We are born to be free.  Our room to grow is unending…which can be vexing.  Game on!



POEM: Impartiality

Judge Stamper was renown
For his impartiality
Still thinking
Nothing of
Stepping on others
Rather than being stepped upon
A justice so becoming
A courting to a void
Deputizing peons
Siding with minute ordnances
Backed up by deferential canons
Allege paper-thin
Untoward the tramped
His honor
Like a frozen statute
Without peers
A connoisseur of contrived generosity
More accustomed to threat than promise
Of a gavel from above
An arbiter of grievances
A master of small sells
To captive audiences
Gleaning threadbare
Take away messages
A requiem of dis interest
Overseers in black dress
Annunciating your last rights
Offering little chance of success
Unless over
A game of squash

This poem is a reflection on the criminal justice system, which is sometimes criminal.  The alleged impartiality is a convenient notion for those doing the judging.  Though if you look impartially at the effects of such a criminal justice system, you’d be hard pressed to say it is fair.  The poor are the most likely to experience injustice at the hands of the criminal justice system.  The same is true for people of color.  The rich are the most likely to have the criminal justice system protect them, or punish their opponents.  One only need look at who is in prison to see that prejudice is rampant, though noting who isn’t in prison surely cements the case.  White collar criminals are much less likely than “common” criminals to be convicted.  Also, if convicted, they receive much less punishment relative to the harm to society.

Well engineered legalisms often bear little resemblance to the truth.  Biases are institutionalized, blind to the injustice they create.  The veneer of objectivity helps shield unconscionable acts from their true effects.  Innocent until proven guilty is often reduced to he’s probably guilty if he was convicted.  This sad state of affairs seems to fit under the moniker of the banality of evil.  In an impersonal system, where human judgment is minimized and legalisms rule, personal responsibility is easily avoided.  The most palpable confrontation with this reality was during the Nuremberg Trials, following the horrors of Nazi Germany in World War II, which gave rise to a famous principle: It is not an acceptable excuse to say “I was just following my superior’s orders.”

The banality of evil is not limited to war crimes, nor international crimes.  The shifting of personal responsibility to an impersonal system is endemic in modern Western civilization.  This is an everyday experience for many, if not most, people.  Such experiences usually take one of the many forms of “I am just following the rules.” The real question should be: “Am I just, following the rules?”

POEM: Eying Them Apples

Eying Them Apples

From his firm bed rock
Of unassailable logic
However earnest
He couldn’t quite grasp love
At home in more gossamer venues
Teasingly just
Out of reach
Not able to pick up
Love’s plucky de-meaner
From afar
Only willing
To confer
Its first fruits freely
In an uncertain intimacy
Beyond accost
Of logic’s gripping tail
As if
To shake down some dog
Only to get
It all backwards
As his skepticism had made him
Hard for so long
Until he could know longer
Get it
Up sow
Bye and bye
As the apple of his eye
Disembarks his safety zone
Leaving him in his
Out of his tree
Her bounty
Mere droppings
Too his unyielding countenance
For baring
To be
Sow full of crop
Aura leased
Beckoning his wallow
His Adam’s apple
Like an overzealous bobby
Robbing him
As swill be the case
Of reel nourishment
While fishing on dry land
Where pomes unsurprising
Are all rotting
And naught
For giving
Worming one’s heart
Arboring thoughts
So shady
When looking up
As some things are
Between you and the stars
Sheerly facing
Unremitting awning
And sow what

This is yet another poem addressing my common themes of the head versus the heart, logic sequestering itself from love.  Unassailable logic, at the expense of love, seems to fit aptly with this poem’s prime metaphor, from the Bible: picking the apple from the tree of knowledge, setting off perpetual tension and confusion regarding different “fields” of knowledge.  The many fruits from the garden of Eden may still be available, but we have become to smart or clever for our own good.  A fixation on logic and its inevitable legalisms locks us out from accessing these higher fruits.  We end up refusing to trade up the seeming certainty and safety of our water-tight legalistic systems for the supra-rational fruits of the spirit: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)  Gracefully, legalisms bind themselves up an self-destruct, not being rooted in the life-giving forces of the spirit.  Unfortunately, the crumbling of legalistic systems can still be very dangerous as they fall.  This is often made worse by last-ditch efforts to keep patching such systems with ever-more sophisticated legalisms.  Nonetheless, as they fall, and we can’t take it anymore, we may just hear the perennial call from the spirit world: Sow what gives…