Reflections of a Deliver Driver: Robinson Crusoe

So, I deliver maple syrup.

I wake up at 4:00 am and head to the sugar house. The van is waiting for me, list of delivery locations on the seat and about a metric ton of maple products in the back.

When I first started, I was just listening to a lot of NPR and scanning the different local stations as I drove around the state, hoping to find something cool to listen to. I started devouring the library’s collection of audiobooks once I realized that Listening to news all day is depressing.

This means that I’m now going through a great work of literature about every week. This is awesome, as it’s been a while since I’ve had a routine that exposes me to new and challenging ideas through literature, but I want to do this well. After all, these are writers whose work has remained relevant for decades, even centuries, due to their unique insight into the human experience. If there’s one thing that I’m into above all else, it’s that experience. I don’t want to treat these conversations with great minds like idle chit chat.

And so a new routine is born. I want to take the time to unravel the thoughts I have while listening to these works so that I can better apply their truths to my life. I figured writing these thoughts down would help me to keep track of them. They’ll be in no particular order.

So, Robinson Crusoe.

Daniel Defoe wrote it in 1719. It’s about a fairly privileged young man who leaves the security of his family to live the more exciting, and more dangerous, life of a sailor. He get’s stranded on a tropical island and ends up having to  make his way for about twenty years by essentially retracing nearly every technological accomplishment of human beings. Starting out by hunting, he then ends up farming grains, taming livestock, making bread, drying fruit, weaving baskets, and making fired pottery. It’s a pretty sweet situation.

The book is essentially about a man’s relationship with himself and his relationship with God. In the author’s perspective, there’s not really a difference. Crusoe’s God is a mixture of providence and ethics, to be thanked for his luck in surviving so many close calls and to be obeyed in matters that call up his ethical conscience.

There’s a particular section that sparked an interesting thought. Crusoe is spending another day tending to his systems of survival and remarks at the beauty of his settings. While feeling like complimenting his surroundings, he begins to wonder about creation and existence. “Who is the maker of all this?” he asks himself. He immediately answers, “It must be God.”

This is more a point of defining what God is to him than it is forming any kind of creation story. There is existence and whatever is responsible for that existence is what he will address as God. The second summary quickly follows. “Then God must also be the governor of it all.” This leads off to an internal debate about the nature of free will and suffering.

It’s the initial juxtaposition of these statements is what interests me, though.

If you create something, you control it.

This pattern is easy enough to see everywhere. You raise seedlings to control their growth and dictate where they’ll grow. You build an engine to run it. You bear a child to raise it. This is more than just a way of creating, but a general expectation of creation. The creator often feels cheated if their creation goes against their will. “I made you and I can erase you.”

Now, take creativity into account.

This is a word associated with art, which has become less associated with utility. While I don’t agree with this dissociation, it’s there and there’s no use in denying it. Don’t make art, get a job. Don’t get a job, make art. I say make all your work art. That’s another conversation, though.

Is it that a purer art just doesn’t fit into the utilitarian mindset? Why would you make something just for the sake of beauty? Art is the photo negative of communication: it creates different meanings for different people based on their differing perspectives and experiences with it. In this sense, the artist relinquishes control.

I’m not going to make any statements regarding creationism theory, but I do think that bringing this perspective to the table changes the discussion slightly. Maybe utility is only a mortal faculty.

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