Fly on the Wall—Mental Manacles and Turfin’ Our Old Skin

The Eternal Cultural Present May Be The Last Place that Critical Thinking Begin

Fly on the Wall—Mental Manacles and Turfin’ Our Old Skin

Education teaches the practical skills of critical thinking but a sense of humor helps as well.  Take summer heat; it can make studying an exercise in Lawrence of Arabia futility or it can test our mettle and produce a more tempered intellectual product: our AU selves!

Knowing that learning is a matter of perspective, I paused with fascinated mental ear to the ground upon hearing a local suggestion that, to avoid that mixed bane and boon of summer, those hot temperatures and their ambivalence-inducing tendency to lead people to pine for anything other than their present condition, a great plan was to hit the Costco to enjoy the industrial air-conditioning.  Never did a subject and a predicate seem so far away to me; but hey, it’s never too hot to shop, right?

How does a hot summer day translate into a trip to a big box store?  Reflecting on my return to education I realized how much it changed my reality to have more to do on the weekend than merely go shopping.  At the turn of the millennium a Walmart opened a mere 20 minute drive from my rural study abode.  I remember the grand opening well because suddenly a young Fly on the Wall had to fend off, usually with poor results, the impetus of others to have him take ‘em shopping on a sunny Saturday afternoon.  License to thrill, indeed.  It was tough to outlive those times, but I did, and by the time I came around to AU’s vast and glorious digital campus I was a changed man entirely.

Friedrich Nietzsche might have understood what now seems like a pretty snowflakey plight; that Teutonic Bard of unrequited love and syphilitic horse adoration once claimed that “the snake which cannot cast its skin has to die.  As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.” (Nietzsche, online).  Yet, changing with the times is not the same as evolving based on our own mind.  Education transcends topics of any current event year and ceases to be meaningful when we live in an eternal present dictated to us by the mass media or our peers.

There’s a reason news junkies can’t claim university diplomas by believing everything they hear on tv or read online.  Reading, writing, and the sublime arithmetic of perceptual absorption, and—if we get lucky—occasional, straight as an arrow academic erudition, take time at a desk with textbooks and notes and all that fun stuff.  At AU, the world is at our fingertips and yet the global community seems accessible to everyone nowadays.

The Consumerist Nightmare: Ideas on a Shelf and Off of a Container Ship of Fools (It’s Not Their Fault!)

What’s needed, maybe, is a sense of humour’s importance when we consider that our studies may not translate to wisdom in the eyes of others or reality.  Culture tends to be more of a mall or a superhighway than a library.

Maybe culture’s about dancing or singing or something in a college town far removed from online rural education?  After all, if saying no to a shopping trip is your biggest problem after your bi-weekly payday as a nineteen-year-old then you probably better give your head a shake.  Some folks can’t shop till they drop because they are in mortal danger every day of their lives.  The world is not just emotions for many human beings; war is not a battle of memes and whining.  To mature is to grow and learn away from our younger epistemological assumptions, no matter the good intentions implied.  Too often these trends involve just absorbing trends and sales and simple answers.

It Was The Best Of Times, It Was….It Was A Time

Our times, it would yet seem, are rife with obsessive and painful assessments of self and other, history and persona, such that no cheap tee-shirt could capture with witticism.  A slogan such as Science is a Verb Now does little to capture the failed jouissance, the lost ecstatic pleasure, of treasuring trauma and guilt and sanctimony all in one frail little soul-pillow of a self.  Traum is a German word for Dream, by the way.  Meanwhile, Chuang Tzu/Zhuangzhi, who was philosophically and textually introduced to me through the outstanding (though tragically discontinued) AU course titled East Meets West, once quoted a bard of activism arriving at the consequences of her (or his, it’s hard to say) actions:

“What you are engaged in, sir, are human affairs.  When the son of heaven, the feudal lords, the grand masters, and the common people, these four classes, correct themselves, we have the beauty of order.  But when these four classes leave their proper positions, there is no greater disorder.” (Zhuangzhi, 319) 122 BCE).

We students can easily get off track from learning the crucial skills of assessing with heart and mind the reality of our times.  The pop culture bandwagon that puts feelings ahead of analysis doesn’t help.  Arguably, it’s all based on the business model of inducing desires.  I think we all know and consider that reality at some level.

Consumerism drives a desire to identify with possessions, which can be perhaps ideas and perhaps emotional badges of victimhood and honour, or both. Protesting and shopping actually combine when we remember that our identities are cultural constructs in how we enact them.  Shoppers, in culture and in beliefs, believe that their ideas are special, unique, and their own—then they will happily and ironically congregate en masse, perhaps destructively, to proclaim this most contradictory of feats.  Can you belong and think for yourself?  Well, destroying things helps one ignore any lingering ambiguity, because simple answers make the whole world a nail and you some sort of divine hammer.

Thinking it Through Means Thinking as You

We cannot belong and be individuals at once without compromise; our conscious selves depend on the ability to think our own thoughts.  Yet, our ideas are farmed and forged and shepherded all the time by our social surroundings.  The poet William Blake once noted that if we ruminate enough, like cows or sheep, we run the risk of a lot of misery by living restrained by “‘mind-forg’d manacles” (Blake, online).

But there’s a way out.  There always is, just ask any paramecium!  And AU is part of the solution for anyone suffering from the syndrome of feeling miserable about our times, in so many ways, while also feeling driven to do something, anything! Furthering our education may yield a sense of understanding about the world and our place in it that we could never have imagined.  To stop reacting and start studying is an action in itself.


Blake, W.  In Tallis, R.  (2021).  ‘Thinking About Thinking’.  Philosophy Now.  Retrieved from

Chuang Tzu (Zhuangzhi).  (1994).  Wandering on the Way: Early Taoist Tales and Parables of Chuang Tzu.  Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Heath, J.  & Potter, A.  (2005).  The Rebel Sell: Why Our Culture Can’t Be Jammed.  Retrieved from

Nietzsche, F.  (2021).  ‘Quotes’.  Retrieved from