Since I was a sponge seeking to soak up everything, and to echo Holly's "thirst for knowledge" quote, I was particularly susceptible to all forms and types of philosophical-theological thought.
Kahlil Gibran was a Lebanese poet, writer and artist and rather than go into a long tortured biography I will leave it to you to explore on your own if you so choose. There are probably better ways to spend your time, but I was surprised to see that he is the third best selling poet behind Shakespeare and Lao-Tzu of Chinese fame. Not so surprising I guess when you corner the Arab and Chinese markets, respectively.
His The Prophet was one of my first purchases when I was a freshman, and I read it often. It was a series of inspirational writings, kind of spiritual and not so unlike the stuff you see on Facebook every so often when a friend will cheer you up with one of those nifty little sayings that energize you for 14 seconds before fading from memory. Here are some examples of Gibran's nutshell wisdom:
- In one drop of water are found all the secrets of all of he oceans; in one aspect of You are found all the aspects of existence.
- We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them.
- Hearts united in pain and sorrow will not be separated by joy and happiness. Bonds that are woven in sadness are stronger than the ties of joy and pleasure. Love that is washed by tears will remain eternally pure and faithful.
- One day you will ask me which is more important my life or yours. I will say mine and you will walk away not knowing you are my life.
Okay, kind of get the feel for old Kahlil? By the way his name is rightly Khalil, but immigration officials screwed it up, so, there you are. It stuck. Before you get the mistaken impression that I am putting down Gibran for his peppy little quips, let me say that Gibran and The Prophet was my first indoctrination with a kind of philosophical thought. He was important to me for a brief time, and that time was to usher me into philosophy, but not just the field itself. He was the first to show me how to read philosophy. And that is an important distinction. Today I find Gibran kind of a freshman phase thingy, a springboard to deeper, greater thought, but in that time, in that instant, he is indeed a great great writer.
The Report From Iron Mountain was a short paperback given to me by Ivan Ewing, a fellow IWC student who also hails from Seaton. In it it describes in detail a formation of a government panel that was supposed to meet in secrecy (Iron Mountain, Michigan) and whose findings were never intended for public consumption. The panel came to a conclusion that in order to remain influential and powerful, nations had to create war or at least a credible substitute. Now, here's the thing: to this day no one really knows if it was real or a hoax, or at least that is what the continuing controversy and allure of the book is. Its stated conclusion is that peace is not conducive to a lasting peace. LBJ was, according to US News And World Report (11-20-1967) told that it had leaked and supposedly "hit the roof" and ordered its perpetual suppression.
To this day, which by the way, is still being passed around on college campuses and conspiracy theorists, no one knows for sure if it was real or fiction. Either easy, it paints a 20th century blueprint for another way of looking at the nation-state, along with Plato's The Republic.
It is available in PDF form and if interested you can download it here: Download the file
You can, no doubt see the intrigue and allure of this book to a dumb college kid straight out of high school. Like a sponge I again soaked it up with relish.
The third initial influence was the book by Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Another short book, hmmm, we have a trend here. Apparently beer at the West Side couldn't wait for longer reads.
In short, Jonatham a seagull is tired of fighting for food all day, every day. He wants more. So he takes to flight and goes on long journeys, perfecting his skills. The flock outcast him because he won't conform. He is met by two other gulls who teach him that there is a "higher plane of existence", and that there is no heaven, where food is always readily available, but that life itself can become richly rewarding by itself through knowledge.
Once transcended he then returns to help other outcasts find their way to their higher existence. Man, I'm getting goosebumps just typing this. See, Philosophy! This little book has it all: friendships, struggle, waste of materialism, higher beings, you name it. This little bird got it going.
The social phenomenon was huge at the time and spawned a movie and Neil Diamond did the soundtrack. I listened to it all the time. (Psst, I still have it.) Good music that holds up well even today.
Here's just one of my favorites from that album, Dear Father.
Hopefully it will work for you, otherwise go to YouTube and type in song title.
So there you go. Some early influences that got me curious, hungry and thirsty for more. From these readings and listenings, would come other philosophers, thinkers, avenues and pursuits. Mssrs. Gibran and Bach and Iron Mountain opened the door for me to peek around and question. To see the world no longer from small town eyes. To look at the broader realities, the burgeoning amount of things to read. So I went into philosophy and theology. I read Socrates, Hegel, Keirkegaard and the usual troops too many to mention here; ushered out like parade soldiers being inspected by a foreign diplomat. And I loved it, for better or worse. If I had it to do all over again, I would have become an electrician.
They provided a stepping stone, an impetus to wonder...and while they seem small and irrelevant today from my perspective, for a few months a long time ago, they were giants.