Lost in the Cosmos

One of the coolest books I have ever read is Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book by Walker Percy.

Contrary to its title, it is a parody of a self-help book. It does, however, challenge one to go deeper than mere self-help. There are a lot of scenarios, multiple choice questions, deep thoughts and explanations of what it means to be a self. If one were looking for answers from the book, then one would actually come away with more questions.

It’s been a while since I read it, but it was a comfort(?) for me at a certain point in my life where I knew that I could never go back to where I came from because I had come so far. And that where I came from was no longer the place that it was.

It’s a philosophically dense book, written in a light literary style, with many laugh out loud moments. Some of the subject matter is very much of its time and place – the US literary scene of the early 80s – so it is somewhat dated, and perhaps full of now obscure references which many modern readers might miss. Well worth reading, nonetheless.

Walker Percy was a rather remarkable person, being a Catholic writer from the American South, and his work is steeped in Stoicism and Existentialism. He was a master of the craft of writing. I admit that I’ve only read two more of his books, but I enjoyed seeing a prose master at work.

The reason I’ve been thinking about Lost in the Cosmos is that the anti-Brexit march of yesterday had me thinking about the different types of people in the world.

I see those who are anti-Brexit as very much driven by fear, and view their own imprisonment as freedom – in fact, they seem to be oblivious to the cages that have been built around them. They are afraid of what they don’t know, and cannot see the world being any other way than what it is right now. They fear liberty and, I suspect, accountability.

They believe any Brexit scare story, no matter how ridiculous, fed to them by The Powers That Be because they are under the mistaken impression that The Powers That Be really care about them.

I view those who are pro-Brexit as perhaps less afraid and more willing to face whatever consequences there are, seeing advantages over the status quo, and potential opportunity and freedom. (And the opportunity to give Johnny Foreigner what-for.)

(Sort of the r/K selection theory applied to humans, I guess. With Remainers being r-selected, and Leavers being K-selected.)

Lost in the Cosmos takes one through several scenarios followed by multiple choice questions, culminating in the two final scenarios. (As I recall them.)

Scenario 1 illustrates the opportunity to take part in a space colonisation project where the goal is to ensure perpetual peace and understanding amongst the participants in order to create a new culture for humans. All needs will be taken care of, but the participants must subject themselves to discipline and must essentially do everything with the good of the community in mind. World Peace is guaranteed. As long as they follow the rules to a T then they shall be taken care of. It’s basically Star Trek.

Scenario 2 illustrates the people who will be left behind on earth. It is a hard-scrabble subsistence life. Anarchic. But people tend to be free to do what they want to do, with the attendant consequences such a life entails – death, lost limbs, etc.. A hillbilly-like existence circa 1900, where people work all day and party in the evening making music or telling stories.

Percy asks the reader to choose which world they would rather live in.

I suspect anti-Brexiters would choose the first one and be horrified by the second one. (In fact, one ‘friend’ that I presented these scenarios to opted for Scenario 1. You can read about him here.)

For me, I would choose Scenario 2. It sounds like Heaven on earth to me.

How about you?

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