Noam Chomsky helped me get though HSC English. My 17 year old brain was wired to do better at maths and science, so linguist (and philosopher) Chomsky’s generative grammar, or what we knew as transformational grammar, a logical system that enables the evaluation and construction of ‘sensible’ sentences, allowed me spend a term of English applying Chomsky’s principles to develop answers in a humanities subject that were either right or wrong. Woohoo.
Over the weekend I listened to an aging Chomsky give a lecture on the changing contours of the global order. He was in Australia recently, and although there was apparently no advertising of his visit, social media on its own meant 5000 turned out for his lecture at Deakin Uni. Whether or not you agree with his radical left analysis, I reckon the man is a genius. His hour-long monologue includes no introduction or conclusion, no emotion, no overarching narrative … and yet is riveting via the clarity and profundity of the historical observations.
This month’s Slow TV also included a near two hour conversation between Robert Mann and Paul Keating. I commonly find arrogance off-putting, and Keating has it in spades. However, the man’s ability to rise above the minutia and articulate a course toward a future for Australia in the world is impressive in comparison with the political leadership that has been our lot in the last 15 years. The interview should have been conducted by someone who was less complimentary than Mann, but stirring stuff nonetheless.
Oh how we need thinkers of the calibre of Chomsky and Keating. Mind you we need them on the conservative side as well so the rest if us can get drawn toward greater wisdom. I am genuinely energised by ideas to the extent that I feel my pulse quicken. But I am in love with contrast. No, that’s not even true. It’s the value of alternative perspectives that I appreciate. So, in contract to Chomsky’s thesis, I re-listened, this time online, to Mikey Smith, who’s talk was a highlight for me at the Do Lectures. Mickey’s story is of a hard-knocks upbringing on the coast of Cornwell. As Do Lectures’ Andy Middleton (@gringreen) tweeted, “beautiful life affirming stuff”. Do yourself a favour and listen to his talk, especially if you love the ocean and the waves.
Mickey’s exhortation is to live on the edge of reasonableness. Smile a lot. Remember things with a ‘photo or a scar’. His vision is not the stuff of grand theories but of grand living.
I enjoy the different modes of life. I immerse myself in the opportunities of the organisations I work with, helping them to do things better and do better things; engage deeply, explore, create, think, resolve, liberate. Switch mode: I revel in the ordinariness of the domestic routine. Family, food, home, cleaning, weeding, sleeping, exercising. Switch mode again: I bask in the wisdom of others via books, talks, TV, internet and other media. Giants of thought leadership who relentlessly inspire me to live, think, believe and act with greater integrity and insight. Switch: Oh how I love the hammocks of life. Stop worrying about doing, don’t have to justify pointless domestic pottering; just be. Sit on the back veranda, stay a bit longer. Hook up the caravan and leave town for a few weeks. Don’t listen to the news. Turn off the phone.
Noam or Mickey?
We’ve only got one life, but that doesn’t mean we have to live it all in one mode. Switching modes is an underrated skill. When you walk through the front door can you stop thinking about work? Do you care if you are offline? I’ve written about addiction on this blog before … we’re addicted when we can’t choose not to. Popular media quarantines addiction to drugs, alcohol and gambling. But social media, consuming/shopping, work and yes, even exercise are addictions that are readily observable anywhere you look, at least in my world. Are all addictions bad? Wrong question. We can be addicted to good things, but if we can’t chose to stop then our ability to switch modes is very limited and we are owned by them and lose our freedom.
Noam or Mickey? Wrong question. Better to ask, how can I live life to the full. A dose of ‘Noam’ and plenty of ‘Mickey’ will do me just fine. And this is not about balance. Balance is a crap concept. Balance implies that to really do a ‘Mickey’ you’ve got to reduce the dose of ‘Noam’. Not so. A much better concept is harmony.
A good life is one that has a range of modes that go together in harmony … they fit together, complement each other, and can cover extreme contracts. Striving for balance ends up with mediocrity. Finding modes of life that go together in loud and compelling harmony is real living.