Friday, June 13, 2008

John McCain: Confused?

Is John McCain confused? Is there anything he can do about it?

The working assumption these days is that John McCain's thoughts are very muddled. For some hyper-partisans, this is something to celebrate; each stumble, each gaffe, each sad slip he makes is seized on as evidence that he is not up to the job of president. For others, those who are more humane, this is something to mourn, as we know our quality of life depends so much on keeping our faculties, mental abilities, and reason. Anytime that slips away, all of us are poorer.

But as much as we may mourn reality, we also need to face facts. There's no enduring value in denying reality, which ironically would suggest we also were slipping, giving way to atrophied sense, and becoming confused. No, as long as we have sense we need to use it. Life is precious but nothing lasts forever. We pass from the scene, the future is upon us, a younger generation takes our place, and we're left to wither away, hopefully with grace, dignity, and nurses aides who are well-trained, discreet, and empathetic enough to use air freshener on our ward.

What is happening to John McCain is what will happen to all of us. Time brings its ravages. We can think back and, whatever our age, identify with him. Scientists tell us the human brain isn't fully functioning until age 25. So, in those years prior to that, we are incomplete. Our minds are a mush, a constant interplay of lucidity and confusion. This is why children get into so much trouble. Their little brains are confused. They don't know the difference between right and wrong. Check out each day's "Dennis the Menace" comic for all the proof you need.

But when we reach the magical age of 25, suddenly we're able to function in a clear way for the first time in our lives. And yet all is not well, because we soon hit 26, and the downward spiral begins in earnest.

Each year then after 26 makes things worse until you hit another magic number, somewhere between 70 and 75 -- at 71 or 72 it's really pronounced, which just happens to be where John McCain is. Why that age in particular? It's a place called the "Senility Threshold," because you suddenly have the awareness of what is happening; your mind is straddling two realities; you get the sudden sense of it, but it's too late. Very dangerous! As the natural response of a cornered animal is to fight its way out, so the natural response at the Senility Threshold is to deny, bob, weave, or try to overcome it by force of will. We think of erectile dysfunction as very common at this age, but the problem is not physiological -- the "junk in your trunk" is just fine -- but mental; too much of your mind is focused on this hopeless mental fight. Some try to overcome it with risky ventures -- marrying much younger women, gambling sprees, or running for president.

John McCain is at the most dangerous point of his life. He doesn't know up from down. Yet he's putting up a heroic fight, a terrific struggle. The biggest downside is we know precisely how it will end, in a mental defeat, a resolution, which would be called the stage of acceptance if there were "anyone home" finally to accept it. In just a few years, then, he'll be at a nice place. On his table will be a 16-piece puzzle which he will attempt to work. Just getting the straight edges right will bring well deserved praise from the nursing staff. His time will be divided up for him and given over to pleasant activities such as Current Events ("Iraq is still a quagmire"), Trivia ("Who was the first black president?"), and Bingo with bananas for prizes. At this point, psychologically a second childhood, he will consider it fun to cover and uncover his eyes and say "Peek-a-boo."

That's life. Sentience is never something we can take for granted. In the vast virtual infinity of life's darkness, our consciousness is a tiny blip of light, quickly emitted and instantly extinguished. If you look into the research, say, The Origins and History of Consciousness by Erich Neumann, you see this, and you find that you literally do not have enough light, enough consciousness to get past the preface. That may be an exaggeration, but it is no exaggeration to say that Neumann had to have written this book somewhere between his 25th and 26th birthdays, and most likely in his first three months after turning 25. No other time is available. But when those few lucid moments were there, Neumann realized and set down the limits of consciousness. Then he turned 26 and his surmises were proven by firsthand experience, although unfortunately by then it was too late to say "I told you so."

Yes, John McCain is confused. And it is with a great deal of sadness that we say it will only get worse.

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