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I will not be going to the USA next week. My partner and I had been planning on making the trip, but following the events of the past few weeks and the President’s Executive Order (EO) regarding immigration and refugees, we will instead be keeping the trip domestic.

We’ll be heading from Toronto to Saskatchewan, because Sab is beginning a 6-week contract as a nurse in a small community there. She will need the car while she’s there, and thus we thought it best to drive out together and then have me fly back home once she’s settled in.

When we were planning this last month, we thought it would be a great opportunity to do some fun things along the way: see some friends in Windsor, catch a hockey game in Detroit during the last season of Joe Louis Arena, visit the Field of Dreams in Iowa, and then head up to Sask. We didn’t think much of it – flash our passports at the border, and the gas would be cheaper, it would be a bit quicker, and the risk of severe weather would be slightly lessened.

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Google Maps – Toronto to Saskatchewan via Detroit and Dubuque, Iowa

However, last week after the travel ban was announced, things changed for both of us. We weren’t together at the time (I was working out of town for a few days), but when we saw each other for five minutes mid-week, she mentioned that she wanted to talk. When she said “I was thinking, about the trip…”, I said without bothering to wait for the business end of her sentence “Yep, completely agree – we should go through Canada instead.” Immediate agreement. Neither of us felt comfortable going through the US anymore.

At the time, for me, it was partly due to the uncertainty surrounding travel to the country in general in the days following the issuance of the EO – if the former Prime Minister of Norway was being detained at the border, it didn’t seem entirely certain that we would make it through unscathed. It was also partly a solidarity issue – if thousands of law-abiding, good people were being barred from entering the United States for no reason other than the country in which they happened to be born, then I wasn’t going to go either. (There is also the ever-present threat of millions and millions of guns spread out among members of the population, but that is a topic for another time).

In the time since, I’ve been reflecting. I share a few points on which to meditate:

  • Economics. Of course, the few hundred dollars that we would’ve spent in the US aren’t enough to register on any sort of scale – couple hundred for Red Wings tickets, couple hundred on gas, and a couple hundred on hotels and food. No one is really going to miss that. But start to multiply that out, and there may be an impact. The CBC reported that there were markedly fewer searches on flight-finding websites for flights from Canada to the US in the previous weeks. Maybe, in the long run, an economic trend will start to appear that will be difficult for American policy-makers to ignore.
  • Ethics. Is it wrong to take an eye for an eye? Does refusing to engage with the US only increase international divisions and tensions? Or does the fact that we were born with the privileges of being both white and holding Canadian passports mean that our gestures ring hollow? The answer may be yes, and I don’t know that I will know for sure until we’ve made the trip and had a chance to consider it in retrospect. However, at the end of the day, it feels simply wrong to willingly travel to the United States at this moment in time. And that is enough for both of us.
  • The Future. This is an incredibly uncertain time – the new President is attempting to put his stamp on his country, and is doing so with great haste and seemingly a lack of care for stability or concern for the collateral damage his decisions may cause. Of course, in broad strokes he is correct – the USA must protect its borders, and it is his job as commander-in-chief to provide security for all Americans. With that being said, I believe that the President is being fundamentally unfair and unnecessarily unkind. There are many things that the President could do in his quest to “Make America Great Again”, and as the duly-elected President he has the right to do them. But part of the reason I admire America is that it preaches freedom and opportunity to all.

The Statue of Liberty implores “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” The America that the President seems to believe in doesn’t currently embody this ethos.

To conclude the thought on The Future – America can certainly be great again. It can do so by being kind again – there is room to work between a slavish devotion to security, and continuing to allow for the liberty and opportunity on which the country’s greatness was built to begin with. In the great philosopher Viktor E. Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning”, he describes the need for a Statue of Responsibility to counterbalance the Statue of Liberty:

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From: AZQuotes.com

The thought of the burden of responsibility as a counterbalance to the right to liberty is an interesting one, and one that the new President would be well-served to consider. It is my hope that the United States will again become the type of place that I would like to visit. For now, however, we will be watching Canadian hockey games, visiting Canadian historic sites, driving through the Canadian wilderness, and visiting friends in Thunder Bay rather than Windsor. We will be buying Canadian gas, staying in Canadian lodging, and eating Canadian food. And we feel much better about it.

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Google Maps – Toronto to Saskatchewan via Thunder Bay, ON

“Baseball has gone away, its tail-lights receding in the woods and then winking off around the bend.” – Roger Angell, “Gonezo”, November 5, 2015, The New Yorker

As the Toronto Blue Jays’ season came to an end on Wednesday night, the radio clicking off as Troy Tulowitzki’s foul pop-up found its way into first baseman Carlos Santana’s mitt, I felt a familiar compulsion – to call in to Jays Talk, the Fan 590’s post game phone-in show. I often wonder why I feel that strong urge. Partly, I think that it is out of a sense of duty to protect Mike Wilner, the host, from the abuse and the inane arguments of the median caller – to raise the level of rhetoric above the whining and griping usually heard on the show.

The other part of the compulsion is that doing so forces me to organise my thoughts – I spend a lot of time thinking about baseball, and every now and again it’s nice to put something concrete on the record. In this instance, I was lucky enough to be the first caller of the night, and as such I wanted to take the opportunity to say something meaningful, to set the tone for my fellow Jays fans and to try and figure out why this had happened and to make it all feel OK. But what I ended up with was a meandering quest for meaning in the face of the end of a should-have-been-longer post-season run.

At the end of the call, I mentioned to Wilner that I wished that Roger Angell would eulogize this team, as I was longing for the type of closure to a baseball season that only he can provide. As I biked home, considering my call to Jays Talk and realizing that it had failed to result in me feeling as though my thoughts about the game had been fully organised and put in the proper order, it occurred to me to attempt to write myself the Roger Angell article that I was unrealistically hoping would show up on my Twitter feed.

Writers like Dickens, Thoreau, and Kierkegaard would spend hours a day walking – to observe, to contemplate, and to be inspired. I’m not usually one to do such a thing, but I felt like going for a run, and anyway, I had received a new Dodgers hat from my girlfriend for my birthday that needed a good sweat in it to start the break-in process. So off I went, thinking about how I was going to pull off writing an article like Roger Angell, the preeminent baseball writer of the past 50+ years.

After the run, here’s what I came up with.

***

At 3 in the morning, several hours after the final out was made in the final game of the Blue Jays season, it began to rain. Where the morning of game 5 appeared with golden sunlight and the promise of something joyful, the following days have been damp and wet and gray the way that the days after can often be – it really does seem like the end of the baseball season. The leaves are rapidly abandoning the trees, and this is it. The hopes and dreams of a World Series in Toronto are dead and gone for another year.

It all seemed so promising. Last year’s tyrannical march to the playoffs, stopped only by a hoodoo Kansas City Royals team, had steeled the team’s nerves for this year’s kick at the can. With even better pitching and largely the same corp of hitters, success seemed even more likely than the last year. And at first it all went so swimmingly – a cuticle-gnashing play-in game with the best possible ending, followed by a thorough demolition of a swagger-filled Texas Rangers team. The final play in that series a shrewd baserunning decision by our MVP – that it was allowed to happen due to an error by the offensively odorous Texas second baseman, all the better.

And then, the bats went cold. Save for a small ejaculation of offense with their backs against the fence in game 4, they stayed that way. Whether against a pitcher dripping more blood from his hand than an Episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead, or a guy making his second career major league start, the Blue Jays boppers couldn’t muster the run support to match the stellar pitching performances they received through all five games of the series. Double plays grounded intothe saddest of possible words, Lindor to Kipnis to Sant – brought forth expletives, unleashed loudly from the top of a ladder into the October breeze.

A loss of this magnitude, and you sit by Lake Ontario and you wonder – what was it all for? Why are our emotions so tied up in these grown adult men playing a silly game? After all, these men (who are in fact not the heroes or demigods that we would at times like to believe, but just people who enjoy chicken hot dogs, are occasionally mean to Barry Davis, and who may sometimes in fact behave quite badly) may not even be on our team next year for another run at October glory. Are there not greater issues to live and die with? Do we not have better things to do than to spend our time cheering for laundry?

Of course, it’s absurd. As Sisyphus heaved his rock up the hill and up again, the players alternate back and forth between batting and defense, in an endless, summer-long ballet of meaningless struggle and futility. In a life where humankind searches for meaning and guidance in a world that seems devoid of such objective truths, philosopher Albert Camus proposed three choices, courses of action, when encountering the absurd – to escape existence, to turn to spiritual beliefs, or to recognize and accept the absurd.

Acceptance of the absurdity of the game of baseball can free us to enjoy it. The knowledge that it is indeed “just a silly game”  grants us the opportunity to suspend our cynicism and disbelief, and settle in to a pseudo-spiritual relationship with the game. To enjoy it, despite being aware of the fact that you’re essentially watching a long series of glorified coin-flips. To yearn so badly for the strikeout when the other guys have runners on, threatening. To believe that Toronto batters managing batting averages less than half the Mendoza line could muster a cluster of hits off of the top relief pitcher of this series, of this season. And to hope against all hope that Jose, Josh, and Edwin could work a miracle off of the Cleveland closer (alas, like the Mudville nine’s Mighty Casey, the ending of our story was not as we’d hoped, dared to expect).

To remember back to your childhood, watching from the 500 level as Craig Grebeck plays shortstop and discussing with your dad whether there’s a hole in the ground between second and third base because he looks far too short compared to the rest of the players to possibly be standing on level ground. Or the time that my brother, my dad, and I were driving down to a game, and heard on the radio through the cadenced din of the windshield wipers that the match had been postponed – not because of the downpour occurring at the time (thank God for the dome!), but because a panel of the stadium roof had crashed to the field during batting practice (Goddamn dome…).

Baseball is a game, more than most others, with an intimate tie to memory and memories. The players remember the pitch they saw last time they were down 1-2, whether the runner took off with two strikes on the batter the last time he was on base. It’s also that game of memory for the fans. I remember being in Jill Guerra’s basement 10 years ago this week, watching Carlos Beltran strike out looking to end the NLCS with the tying run on second base. Being there again two weeks later, this time for a halloween party, and watching Adam Wainwright punch out another batter, this time with a slider, this time with the tying run at first, and this time to win it all. These memories are foggy, but they’re there.

Some memories are even foggier – like an old song lyric that you know you know, but can’t sing at the moment. That game that was on while you made dinner one night, or the sound of baseball in the background on the dock at the cottage. Driving somewhere on a summer evening with ESPN Sunday Night Baseball to keep you company. Nodding off to sleep as an 8-year old with a transistor radio under your pillow and the play-by-play man whispering lullabies to you, one half-inning at a time.

Where does that leave us? To watch the other Championship Series with muted interest – rooting for the Dodgers to vanquish the cubs, a decision made on a whim. And then a World Series, watched with the interest of a scorned lover curious about what their ex is up to now and whether they’ll have success (you hope they don’t). And then, once the Series is won and the parade is over, what? To do like Rogers Hornsby – spend the winter staring out the window, waiting for spring.

In this season of loss – preeminent Canadian baseball writer WP Kinsella choosing to end his own life via doctor assisted death, Jose Fernandez meeting a terrible and terribly early end at the age of only 24 in a boating accident, and long-long-long-time Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully signing off for the last time – we are faced with another. Not on the scale of death or tragedy, or even saying goodbye to a legend, but a loss nonetheless. In his piece on the end of the Mets’ season last year, Roger Angell relayed that former MLB commissioner Bart Giamatti always told us that baseball is meant to break our hearts, but that he never said what to do with the pieces.¹

Angell has a suggestion for those pieces:

“Ah, well. What you do is take out the dog and bring in the mail on the way back. Give a little good thought to the Royals—you were great, guys, no kidding—and think of Zack Wheeler ready to join the rotation for us next year. Meantime, thanks, Grandy; tough darts, Murph, and have a heart also for all the other Mets players, who are feeling this much more than we are, believe it or not—out in the woods in their hunting gear at last, or home for dinner with the kids for a change—and, like us, wondering what to do with their evenings if not quite their lives.”

Indeed.

I like synthesis. I understand the value in isolating variables for close and careful consideration, but at the end of the day, it’s all gotta come together for me. This is why I like philosophy – you can talk about the smallest little thing, but then in the same class discussion talk about something as big as the essence of our being.

Martin Heidegger is a tough SOB to read. Writing in German, he has a habit of making up words, stringing together several words with hyphens, and using the word “being” about 7 times in every sentence. Oh yeah, and then this is all translated into English.

One passage from his text “The Question Concerning Technology” is as follows:

“Technology comes to presence in the realm where revealing and unconcealment take place, where aletheia, truth, happens”

What Heidegger is saying here, is that modern technology frames the way in which we reveal for ourselves true meanings of existence. To explain the notion of “revealing true meanings”, consider the case of a beautiful cathedral. Perhaps for an atheist, the essence of the cathedral is its architectural beauty. For a Catholic, however, the essence of the cathedral may be it’s divine holiness. In this way, Heidegger believes that modern technology presents another frame through which to view the essence of different things.

His concern here is that this lens of modern technology may become the dominant (or even the only) lens through which we look to reveal the essence of different beings. So, where a farmer prior to the industrial revolution may have seen his herd of cattle in many different ways (their monetary value at market, their importance to feed his family, even perhaps their aesthetic beauty while grazing in the pasture), the modern farmer may only see the monetary value of his cow-units.

If you were waiting for the moment of synthesis, it’s coming soon.

I spent last summer in British Colombia, and it sure is beautiful, as pictures will attest. Furthermore, lots of the friends that I made out there have been traversing the globe, seeing amazing things, and often taking pictures while doing it. Some write blogs, and I talk to others “in person” via Skype, or through old-fashioned emails. The bottom line, is that technology has played a leading role in shaping my worldview over the past many months.

While corresponding with one friend of mine, we considered the issue of why certain places become oh so “touristy”, and whether that process in turn leads to a loss of appeal for that place. I think that Heidegger would have a lot to say about this. How, for example, do we perceive Angkor Wat? For many many people, I would wager that if you asked them what the essence of the beautiful temples at Angkor Wat is, they might say something vague about its beauty. But if pressed further, they might admit that it’s “a sweet place to take a picture to post on my facebook/blog/instagram etc.” Whether you’re traveling or just taking pictures of the dinner you just made, technology is increasingly becoming the predominant (or, as stated above, only) lens through which we determine the essential “being” of the things around us.

It really happens - http://bit.ly/Agn74W

You may think that Heidegger would respond to this by shunning all technological advances. But if you did, you would be wrong. Heidegger accepts that these technologies are part of history, and are here to stay. He advises that the danger lies in allowing these technologies to dominate the lenses through which we view life.

So, to conclude, I’ll  do some synthesizing.

First, regarding people taking pictures. If you are a person who takes pictures of meals you’ve made, ask yourself. Did you make that meal knowing that you would take a picture of it? Did you think to yourself “I’m gonna make quinoa because it’s the coolest thing that everyone’s eating right now, and when I take a picture of it people are gonna think that I’m soo coool.”? I’ll admit it, I’ve done it. And I don’t think Heidegger would necessarily call this a bad thing. But what he’s cautioning is coming to view meals only as the picture of it, that you fully plan on posting for all of the internet to see.

Secondly, to speak vaguely to the title of this post. To get the essence of what I’m trying to say with this title, imagine it being said by a crotchety old person who has just been bumped-into by a teenager with his nose buried in their cellphone. It doesn’t take much looking these days to find someone maligning the role of modern technology in our society. And I think Heidegger would likely be one of those people if he were around today to see the current state of affairs. Yet, his reaction would likely differ from those of contemporary curmudgeons. The common refrain seems to speak of banning cell phones in schools, and restricting their use to only those who “are mature enough to use them”. I suspect that Heidegger would laugh in these peoples’ faces.

Sure, it’s likely dangerous (in the sense that Heidegger uses the word Danger) for society to be raising children whose primary lens through which they view the world is a series of screens, short-form sentences, and smileys. Yet,  the solution suggested by Heidegger isn’t to limit, restrict or abolish technologies. It is to allow them to be used to come to a fuller understanding of the essence of various beings around us.

So while Angkor Wat may be a prime setting for a killer facebook profile pic, Heidegger would want us to fully consider the temples through as many lenses as possible, to come to the most “truths” about Angkor Wat – their aesthetic value, the work that went into their construction, the beliefs of those who constructed them, etc. And while that quinoa salad that you made for dinner might be the trendiest thing on a plate right now, Heidegger would hope that you actually enjoyeating it, and that you recognize as much about your food as possible – where it came from, the effort that went into getting it to you, and the nutrients that it will provide (to name only a few ways in which you could perceive of the essence of a quinoa salad).

How does this relate to synthesis? I’ve been trying to engage with friends through as many technologies as possible, to give myself a most-complete understanding of what their essence currently is. Read the blogs, check out the photos, send e-mails back and forth, and hopefully even get the chance to chat via Skype from time to time. This technology stuff can be overwhelming, but Heidegger would say that life is overwhelming – whether we experience it through facebook, television or person-to-person interaction.

So take charge, use all the lenses we’ve got, and see the truths around us!