Topical Treatments

“”Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for adults between the ages of 18 and 65 years. Every day, more than 100 Americans take their own life.” –US Army grants $3 million for anti-suicide nasal spray research

Someone commented:

“Once again all about money and a quick fix for a very deep problem…of course this is exactly the solution I would expect from a naturalistic, secular society where science has become their god…”

This has nothing to do with science or secularism as the problem. Science is an instrument of discovery. Secularism is a worldview that posits no limits to that discovery. We have deep structural problems in our society, deep problems with instrumentalism and values. Addressing the problem would undermine the power structures, i.e. the agenda’s of powerful people and their methods of executing that power, viz. our current political and economic system. So they dont want systemic change. They want to maintain the system and treat the symptoms. It has nothing to do with god. When you introduce god as the catch all solution and the absence of him as the problem you throw out the baby with the bathwater. There are bigger issues at bay. It’s about the will to power, and the oppression of the individual that accompanies that will. It’s a natural consequence of accumulated power. Restoring power to the people, restoring their ability to sustain and affirm themselves is the solution.

Religion aided the task of affirming individuals by fostering quality relationships and a sense of self— at one time, but it was the practice that had the power. The greater the religion, the more pedagogy, the more parochial and pedantic, the more oppressive, and the more resistant to change. This goes for any institution. Education, government, religion, etc. this has nothing to do with god and everything to do with the diversity and diffusion of power to remedy our ills.

American Inequality

A Case for Economic Equity and Long-Term Growth (Draft)

Abstract

Macroeconomic policy issues, as well as the theoretical assumptions underpinning their conclusions, must be considered within a political Liberalism framework that ensures and upholds the democratic values of freedom and equality inherent to the constitution. The complexity of economic development requires a holistic empirical approach that accounts for the historical, political, sociological, and business factors contributing to the makeup of society when crafting and recommending economic policy.

For this paper we will assume that economic growth is the aim for society. Inequality is a product of increased bargaining power resulting from increasingly powerful institutions in the business, financial, and governmental sectors (Kumhof 2011; Barnhizer 2004; Argyres 1999). Research has repeatedly confirmed growing inequality globally and domestically (Hisnanick 2011). Inequality, manifested as widening income and wealth disparity, contributes to domestic and global account imbalances, consumer debt, and economic stagflation, i.e. inflation and unemployment (Kumhof 2012; Rajan 2012). In addition, inequality is linked to key social variables such as political stability, civil unrest, democratization, education attainment, health and longevity, and crime rates (Thorbecke 2002). Greater economic equality always results in greater long run economic prosperity for the whole. (Wilkinson 2009)

The thesis explored in this paper is that bargaining power inequalities causally contribute to economic and socioeconomic inequality due to path dependency, organizational inertia, and habit formation. Bargaining power inequalities increase proportionally with capital accumulation, concentration, and centralization. This paper will show that the restoration of equal bargaining power will rectify financial and labor market imperfections and spur economic growth. In addition, this paper argues that US economic growth over the past several decades has been vastly overestimated due to increases in financialization.

Executive Summary

In order to determine the best policy for rectifying inequality and spurring economic growth, this essay provides an overview of current economic and socioeconomic conditions within the US and abroad, identifies problems within those conditions, and details the contributing historical economic policies that shaped them. It then examines the systemic causal mechanisms contributing to current US economic conditions, present potential policy solutions that seek to address these underlying causal mechanisms, and lastly interpret and rank their theoretical effectiveness. This paper addresses the following areas:

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Ation

What if all the relationships, all the wisdom and knowledge worth knowing, was within a person? And what role do institutions play? They preserve and perpetuate these relationships, this knowledge.

What if the institution preserved the wrong wisdom? What if a race of people existed that possessed the wrong knowledge? That is, what if the knowledge that everyone sought to preserve and possess failed to preserve them and actually possessed them?

What if everylasting life was a way for consciousness to be passed down from generation to generation? What if the level and purity and complexity of these relationships thought up in the mind, resembling a platonic or pythagorean nature, were preserved through institutions, in religions through the priests of old?

What is religion? From  religō (“I bind back or behind”), from re + ligō (“I tie, bind, or bandage”). To bind words to the mind, through meditative reflection. Similar to education’s methods of inculcation. Both are useful, no? But to what extent?

What is man but nothing more than his culture? I insist: man is purely his culture. If you were to toss a new born into the jungle, it would be animalistic. What is civilization but nothing more than a complex web of relationships among entities in the world?

There is no man, no definitive conception of humanity to speak of, without culture. It is society’s productions, or “culture”, that manufactures man into the image we esteem him to possess today. And how tainted and obtuse and slanted is this image? How myopic and distorted? Our modern day image of man is a palladium erected to protect against our own possibility, our own potential; thus it is our greatest weakness. Let us discard limits and notion of definite certainty. Let us embrace chaos with our eyes cast inward and outward, but let us spare our eyes from observing the pantomimes of others, let us rely on our own intuitions regarding worldly wisdom that is checked by humility and bolstered by courage.

Feeding Tube Weight Loss for Wedding day

I just watched a video which described a bride who went on feeding tubes to lose weight for her wedding day, titled: Feeding Tubes for Brides-to-Be: Extreme Weight Loss Tactics to Ready for the Dress on Wedding Day

My initial reaction: “What the hell? What’s wrong with this country? Why is this remotely acceptable?”

At a certain point you have to question the value these people are placing on such a superficial ideal, whether that value is reasonable, and what lengths these people will go to to achieve that value. It’s disturbing to observe the torture people will put themselves through to attain a standard of superficial appearances. And it’s probably less about the individual’s problem and more about broader problems with our cultural values that place such a high premium  on  the judgments of others regarding superficial worth.

Is this problematic? This isn’t an isolated incident of someone wanting to look pretty or “picture perfect” on their wedding day. It’s a cultural-bound syndrome resulting from ideals that prioritize appearances over character, over who people are and what they value. Nowhere else in the world do you find the prevalence of body image disorders than in western societies, and as our ideals spread so too do the disorders. Given our nationally obsession with body image and the pervasiveness of eating disorders among women, I’m not convinced that any profit generating ploy like hCG is carefully monitored for only the extreme cases. This is aside from the fact that hCG injections have been shown to be totally ineffective and inefficacious, that any weight loss is merely due to the restricted 500 calorie diet: so what’s the medical motivation? There is none. Like most weight loss fads that capitalize on physical insecurities, hCG is purely profit motivated.

Also, picture perfect? What’s perfect? Who says? Culture? Media? Why should we absorb ourselves with these ideals, someone else’s ideals? Don’t they rob the humanity from people and reduce them to ornamental shells? I’m arguing that cultures very idea of “attractive” is misguided, that it overlooks who a person is in favor of what they appear to be. Placing so much emphasis on something so contingent, so temporal and fleeting and uncontrollable as physical appearances is bound to produce a neurosis and wreck self image. Look at celebrities who struggle with preserving their looks, who spiral out of control with disfiguring surgeries when youth begins fading and age takes hold. Do they totally love the subjective value within themselves? Or do they love the value derived from the fickle opinions of mass judgment? It’s sad.

And feeling like a woman? What is a woman suppose to look like, or feel like, anyway? I know plenty of women who value themselves and are secure with their gender and aren’t preoccupied with looking any way but themselves. Maybe not as many as I’d like to meet, but they’re out there. But it’s not just starving, it’s overeating too. If we prioritize appearances, and value the judgments of others regarding our appearances that aren’t up to their standards, that’s gonna stress you out and, as you mentioned, increase cortisol levels and the propensity for fat deposition. For someone who suffers with body image, obesity is an ongoing, self-perpetuating phenomenon.

What if being attractive meant prioritizing our own opinions regarding our value? What if character included healthy lifestyle habits? What if people practiced what MLK advocated, and instead of looking at yourself as inferior, you saw yourself as equal, not because of what you looked like, but because of who you are? We need to stop judging ourselves if we wanna stop judging others, and start loving ourselves so that we can love others.

Annnd… that’s all I got. I’m done proselytizing. I just want people to be happy with themselves, for themselves.

Information Evolution: Language and Real-life Structures

Random thoughts on language as information evolution. And technology and digital information.

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The Dissimulation of Man: Will to Power, Hubris, and Downfall

“But you and we should say what we really think, and aim only at what is possible, for we both alike know that into the discussion of human affairs the question of justice only enters where the pressure of necessity is equal, and that the powerful exact what they can, and the weak grant what they must. (Thucydides 5.89)

“For of the Gods we believe, and of men we know, that by a law of their nature wherever they can rule they will. This law was not made by us, and we are not the first who have acted upon it; we did but inherit it, and shall bequeath it to all time, and we know that you and all mankind, if you were as strong as we are, would do as we do.” (Thucydides 5.105)

What is the source of ancient Greece’s lasting legacy? What contributed to her dominating force and efflorescing beauty in the ancient world? I’d like to examine Athenian culture (paideia) within the context of the ancient Greek world and identify will to power as the prevailing causal mechanism for her greatness . However, I argue that, despite being a source of initial strength, this inclination for power is eventually the source of Athens downfall as hubris leads to self-deception and miscalculation.

The fortitude or hellikon that arose in ancient Greece was a result of their common preoccupation with the ideal man. In ancient Greece the ideal man manifested as a continual striving towards arete (Gk. ἀρετή, Lt. virtus), or excellence, which served as the source of their competitive spirit. This competitive spirit was vigorously active among the Greeks, with the city states constantly challenging and competing with each other, even when foreign enemies, such as the Persians, were no longer a threat. The spirit of competition was most exemplified through the agon characterizing Greek Olympic games and Religious festivals. They praised the noble character containing virtues which extolled the nature of man as a continual overcoming. This ideal was first embodied in Homeric works as a type of humanism in which struggle (agon) and glory (kleos) were the grandest features of the human experience. The propensity for overcoming was none other than a will to power, or the will to survive, which the Greeks insisted was preserved through their freedom; specifically, their freedom from oppression and, likewise, their freedom to oppress. Indeed, as a slave owning society, oppression was a common feature yielded among the Greeks and the resistance of these slave owners to be ruled seems only natural.

Beginning in the 5th century BC there is a marked change in morality in the Athenians that can be witnessed throughout their culture. What occurred was a shift in the cultural value system that deviated from the internally ideal man towards an externally ideal representation of man. In the arts and drama this was marked by a transition away from mysticism and religion toward realism and secularism. This schism may be symbolically represented between the relationship of Socrates and Plato at the turn of the 4th century BC, with Socrates representing an emphasis on the internal man and Plato emphasizing the external man.

It was Socrates who refused to record his philosophy because he understood that wisdom and right living cannot be contained in words, but in present action and mutual dialog alone. In Plato’s dialog Phaedrus, Socrates discusses his aversion for writing, saying that writing would not allow ideas to flow freely and change in real time as they do in the mind during oral exchange, so that over time written language cannot change and the meaning is lost. Socrates was the gadfly who emphasized the exercise of inner reason and reflection over immediate appearances and traditional convention. However, Socrates was an empiricist at heart, as illustrated in the Phaedrus when he said “to be curious about that which is not my concern, while I am still in ignorance of my own self, would be ridiculous”, and always questioned stories and ideas until they were demonstrated or experienced for himself.

In contradistinction, Plato came on the scene at the pinnacle of this transition, just as Athens was feeling a backlash from the Greek world due to her propensity for power and control. Fittingly, it was Plato who first to attempted the distillation of the noble essence contained in man in his formulation of the good and forms into an objective, logically coherent system. The very act of transcribing and writing down a systematic formulation of man epitomized the Greek sentiments of an idealism that could be functionally preserved outside of man.

As the Athenian conception of the ideal man developed and took external form, so too did their emphasis on materialism and power. Seated at the head of the Delian league, Athens collected taxes from her Greek allies for their protection and engaged in a subtle form of expansionism. Boundaries beyond Athenian walls were extended and both wealthy and middle class Athenians enjoyed a period of economic expansion. The revenues collected from the Delian league were arguably used to free up city building projects as well as reimburse citizens for civic service, such jury duty and the like. The economic expansionism was greatly increased due to Athens role as a naval power which facilitated the corn trade among other commodities throughout the mediterranean world.

While it is impossible to determine whether emphasis on the external representation of man lead to material and economic accumulation or vice versa, what can be said is that the will to power was the driving force behind its inertia. By emphasizing the external, the Greeks began institutionalizing their culture in a way not seen since the Homeric epics, but rather than the anthropomorphized qualities and virtues of man manifesting as Greek gods, man himself became a god devoid of the inner variegation captured by the Pantheon. For the Athenians, the culmination of this change in values meant that man no longer sought to overcome himself, but sought to overcome others. That is, Athen’s enemy was no longer the vices, ignorance, and folly characteristic of man as it was so long before, but rather it was the external world that was to be overcome. The exploitation of other Greek cities created inequalities that injured the resilient Greek spirit or hellenikon they shared. When it came time for war, the Athenians argued that “might makes right” as their justification for battle, rather than any sensible or restrained words of wisdom. This over estimation of their ability lead to gross miscalculations and, consequently, their eventual downfall.

The Dissimulation of Man, which serves as the title of this post, refers to the self-deception that occurs when external “material” values trump internal “spiritual” values of the kind extolled in arete and virtues personified by the Greek Gods and exercised through reason. Existing as a natural tendency of man and, in the context of this paper, Athens, the will to power is the driving mechanism that allows for continual overcoming. So long as we are overcoming ourselves, and seeking to change and modify internal man, rather than the external world and others contained in it, humanity will flourish.

References
Boardman, John, Jasper Griffen, and Oswyn Murray. The Oxford History of Greece and the Hellenistic World. 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. 126-213.

Plato. “Phaedrus.” Phaedrus. Internet Classics Archive, n.d. Web. 26 Apr 2012..

Woodruff, Paul. On Justice, Power, And Human Nature, The Essence Of Thucydides’ History Of The Peloponnesian War. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub Co Inc, 1993.

The Debate Between Oral and Written Communication (Or why Socrates never wrote anything down)

The following dialogue (see below) is an except from Plato’s Phaedrus in which Socrates discusses why writing would erode thought by permitting people to forget what they had learned because they’d be able to look things up, that “they wouldn’t feel the need to ‘remember it from the inside, completely on their own.’ ” Worse, writing wouldn’t “allow ideas to flow freely and change in real time, the way they do in the mind during oral exchange.”

(I’d suggest taking time to read the dialog before moving on)

Socrates’ sentiments relate to my thoughts on the institutionalization of texts that become “truth” in time. Likewise, I am immediately reminded of Nietzsche’s essay Truth and Lies in the Nonmoral Sense, in which he asks, “What then is truth? A movable host of metaphors, metonymies, and; anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding. Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are
illusions- they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force, coins which have lost their embossing and are now considered as metal and no longer as coins.”

In sum— and I will elaborate much more in a proceeding post— I believe that emphasizing the dead written word rather than the living spoken work is the source of all man’s ills. By placing faith in the value of written word, man effectively subjugates the value of his own personal, individuated experience— that is, his individual intuitions, opinions, and feelings; or more precisely, his subjective reflective consciousness. The spoken word is intimately connected to your feelings and experience: 97% of communication is nonverbal. It is impossible to capture the meaning, the affect, the intention, the feeling, of the author’s written words. In spoken word, there is genuine communication, a mutual exchange of feelings and ideas.  The dichotomy between written and spoken word can be loosely represented as the difference between deductive and inductive thought, or rationalism and empiricism, respectively.

Why this is important relates to the creation and preservation of institutions. All institutions have a text or creed or principles that govern the behaviors and dictate the conventions of its constituent agents, whether the text is a religious book, or an academic text, or a constitution, or a charter is all the same. What is important is that the words are blindly given ultimately authority as the subjective perspective, wrought from an individual’s unique experience, is overlooked and pushed aside completely. The result is that people become a means rather than an end, and human activity manifests as instrumentalism: an extension of someone else’s morality, another person’s valuation of the world, a reflection of their will to power. All of these examples reflect an external set of apriori assumptions imposed into a subject’s psyche by another person— and therefore motivate extrinsically. We call these a priori assumptions “culture” or “truth”, as well as other names like: norms, conventions, commonsense, mainstream, popular, customary and the like.

I think about Jesus, who I believe advocated the same message of Socrates, namely that people are blind to themselves. Jesus said he came to abolish the old law, the old traditions, the rituals and customs that blinded people to themselves, that caused people to get caught up in appearances and words rather than understanding their meaning. He said that god was the living word (Hebrews 4:12), and emphasized that the “spirit” or “god” was within the body, rather than the physical “temple”.  Socrates similarly stresses the priority of the “spirit” or the “reflective consciousness” or “reason” as being paramount to the purification of man.

Suspend your biased judgments about the nature of “god” or “spirit” for a moment; and reinterpret “god” in favor of man’s “mind” or the “subjective reflective consciousness” and consider the following verse: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27). Replacing it with our conception of god as man’s “mind” we get: “So the reflective mind created man in his own image, in the image of the reflective mind he created him; male and female he created them.”

The idea that “god” is actually referencing man’s “mind” or “reflective consciousness”—  that distinguishing feature that demarcates men from lower animals to the degree of their development— mirrors many truisms, aphorisms, and words of wisdom throughout time such as: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” (Nin) or “You give birth to that on which you fix your mind.” (de Saint-Exupéry)  or “The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.” (Bergson) or “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.” (Epictetus) or “Let the mind be enlarged…to the grandeur of the mysteries, and not the mysteries contracted to the narrowness of the mind.” (Bacon) or “Things which we see are not by themselves what we see … It remains completely unknown to us what the objects may be by themselves and apart from the receptivity of our senses. We know nothing but our manner of perceiving them.” (Kant) or “Perception is a prediction, not a truth.” (Mooney) and the list goes on.

The idea is communicated succinctly by Feuerbach who said:

“Consciousness of God is self-consciousness, knowledge of God is self-knowledge, by his God thou knowest the man, and by the man his God; the two are identical. Whatever is God to a man, that is his heart and soul; and conversely, God is the manifested inward nature, the expressed self of a man– religion is the solemn unveiling of a man’s hidden treasures, the revelation of his intimate thoughts, and the open confession of his love-secrets.” [Feuerbach]

I could write for a long while on this topic, so I’ll stop now and wait to do that later. My main message is that writing is good for personal reflection and meditation and study, but it cannot serve as a replacement for experience and reflective thinking for another man. If you look to the outside world for answers, whether its in books, or things, or authority figures, you are cheating yourself of the opportunity to develop authentically. You must earnestly weigh your experience against the world, and do it with an even keel, remembering that self-deception is our natural tendency, that we want to seek confirmation in what we already believe and think to be real, rather than what is actually real. Think dialectically, think in opposites, and challenge other minds in mutual dialog with YOUR mind, with YOUR experience while exercising genuine curiosity for understanding, and with practice your mind will grow fertile, deep, open, and sharp.

I beg you: with an open mind, read on!

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Soc. At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old god, whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis is sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters. Now in those days the god Thamus was the king of the whole country of Egypt; and he dwelt in that great city of Upper Egypt which the Hellenes call Egyptian Thebes, and the god himself is called by them Ammon. To him came Theuth and showed his inventions, desiring that the other Egyptians might be allowed to have the benefit of them; he enumerated them, and Thamus enquired about their several uses, and praised some of them and censured others, as he approved or disapproved of them. It would take a long time to repeat all that Thamus said to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts. But when they came to letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit. Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

Phaedr. Yes, Socrates, you can easily invent tales of Egypt, or of any other country.

Soc. There was a tradition in the temple of Dodona that oaks first gave prophetic utterances. The men of old, unlike in their simplicity to young philosophy, deemed that if they heard the truth even from “oak or rock,” it was enough for them; whereas you seem to consider not whether a thing is or is not true, but who the speaker is and from what country the tale comes.

Phaedr. I acknowledge the justice of your rebuke; and I think that the Theban is right in his view about letters.

Soc. He would be a very simple person, and quite a stranger to the oracles of Thamus or Ammon, who should leave in writing or receive in writing any art under the idea that the written word would be intelligible or certain; or who deemed that writing was at all better than knowledge and recollection of the same matters?

Phaedr. That is most true.

Soc. I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus, that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence. And the same may be said of speeches. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them, the speaker always gives one unvarying answer. And when they have been once written down they are tumbled about anywhere among those who may or may not understand them, and know not to whom they should reply, to whom not: and, if they are maltreated or abused, they have no parent to protect them; and they cannot protect or defend themselves.

Phaedr. That again is most true.

Soc. Is there not another kind of word or speech far better than this, and having far greater power-a son of the same family, but lawfully begotten?

Phaedr. Whom do you mean, and what is his origin?

Soc. I mean an intelligent word graven in the soul of the learner, which can defend itself, and knows when to speak and when to be silent.

Phaedr. You mean the living word of knowledge which has a soul, and of which written word is properly no more than an image?

Soc. Yes, of course that is what I mean. And now may I be allowed to ask you a question: Would a husbandman, who is a man of sense, take the seeds, which he values and which he wishes to bear fruit, and in sober seriousness plant them during the heat of summer, in some garden of Adonis, that he may rejoice when he sees them in eight days appearing in beauty? at least he would do so, if at all, only for the sake of amusement and pastime. But when he is in earnest he sows in fitting soil, and practises husbandry, and is satisfied if in eight months the seeds which he has sown arrive at perfection?

Phaedr. Yes, Socrates, that will be his way when he is in earnest; he will do the other, as you say, only in play.

Soc. And can we suppose that he who knows the just and good and honourable has less understanding, than the husbandman, about his own seeds?

Phaedr. Certainly not.

Soc. Then he will not seriously incline to “write” his thoughts “in water” with pen and ink, sowing words which can neither speak for themselves nor teach the truth adequately to others?

Phaedr. No, that is not likely.

Soc. No, that is not likely-in the garden of letters he will sow and plant, but only for the sake of recreation and amusement; he will write them down as memorials to be treasured against the forgetfulness of old age, by himself, or by any other old man who is treading the same path. He will rejoice in beholding their tender growth; and while others are refreshing their souls with banqueting and the like, this will be the pastime in which his days are spent.

Phaedr. A pastime, Socrates, as noble as the other is ignoble, the pastime of a man who can be amused by serious talk, and can discourse merrily about justice and the like.

Soc. True, Phaedrus. But nobler far is the serious pursuit of the dialectician, who, finding a congenial soul, by the help of science sows and plants therein words which are able to help themselves and him who planted them, and are not unfruitful, but have in them a seed which others brought up in different soils render immortal, making the possessors of it happy to the utmost extent of human happiness.

Phaedr. Far nobler, certainly.

Soc. And now, Phaedrus, having agreed upon the premises we decide about the conclusion.

Phaedr. About what conclusion?

Soc. About Lysias, whom we censured, and his art of writing, and his discourses, and the rhetorical skill or want of skill which was shown in them-these are the questions which we sought to determine, and they brought us to this point. And I think that we are now pretty well informed about the nature of art and its opposite.

Phaedr. Yes, I think with you; but I wish that you would repeat what was said.

Soc. Until a man knows the truth of the several particulars of which he is writing or speaking, and is able to define them as they are, and having defined them again to divide them until they can be no longer divided, and until in like manner he is able to discern the nature of the soul, and discover the different modes of discourse which are adapted to different natures, and to arrange and dispose them in such a way that the simple form of speech may be addressed to the simpler nature, and the complex and composite to the more complex nature-until he has accomplished all this, he will be unable to handle arguments according to rules of art, as far as their nature allows them to be subjected to art, either for the purpose of teaching or persuading;-such is the view which is implied in the whole preceding argument.

Phaedr. Yes, that was our view, certainly.

Soc. Secondly, as to the censure which was passed on the speaking or writing of discourses, and how they might be rightly or wrongly censured-did not our previous argument show?-

Phaedr. Show what?

Soc. That whether Lysias or any other writer that ever was or will be, whether private man or statesman, proposes laws and so becomes the author of a political treatise, fancying that there is any great certainty and clearness in his performance, the fact of his so writing is only a disgrace to him, whatever men may say. For not to know the nature of justice and injustice, and good and evil, and not to be able to distinguish the dream from the reality, cannot in truth be otherwise than disgraceful to him, even though he have the applause of the whole world.

Phaedr. Certainly.

Soc. But he who thinks that in the written word there is necessarily much which is not serious, and that neither poetry nor prose, spoken or written, is of any great value, if, like the compositions of the rhapsodes, they are only recited in order to be believed, and not with any view to criticism or instruction; and who thinks that even the best of writings are but a reminiscence of what we know, and that only in principles of justice and goodness and nobility taught and communicated orally for the sake of instruction and graven in the soul, which is the true way of writing, is there clearness and perfection and seriousness, and that such principles are a man’s own and his legitimate offspring;-being, in the first place, the word which he finds in his own bosom; secondly, the brethren and descendants and relations of his others;-and who cares for them and no others-this is the right sort of man; and you and I, Phaedrus, would pray that we may become like him.

Phaedr. That is most assuredly my desire and prayer.

Soc. And now the play is played out; and of rhetoric enough. Go and tell Lysias that to the fountain and school of the Nymphs we went down, and were bidden by them to convey a message to him and to other composers of speeches-to Homer and other writers of poems, whether set to music or not; and to Solon and others who have composed writings in the form of political discourses which they would term laws-to all of them we are to say that if their compositions are based on knowledge of the truth, and they can defend or prove them, when they are put to the test, by spoken arguments, which leave their writings poor in comparison of them, then they are to be called, not only poets, orators, legislators, but are worthy of a higher name, befitting the serious pursuit of their life.

Phaedr. What name would you assign to them?

Soc. Wise, I may not call them; for that is a great name which belongs to God alone,-lovers of wisdom or philosophers is their modest and befitting title.

Phaedr. Very suitable.

Soc. And he who cannot rise above his own compilations and compositions, which he has been long patching, and piecing, adding some and taking away some, may be justly called poet or speech-maker or law-maker.

Phaedr. Certainly.

Soc. Now go and tell this to your companion.

Phaedr. But there is also a friend of yours who ought not to be forgotten.

Soc. Who is he?

Phaedr. Isocrates the fair:-What message will you send to him, and how shall we describe him?

Soc.Isocrates is still young, Phaedrus; but I am willing to hazard a prophecy concerning him.

Phaedr. What would you prophesy?

Soc. I think that he has a genius which soars above the orations of Lysias, and that his character is cast in a finer mould. My impression of him is that he will marvelously improve as he grows older, and that all former rhetoricians will be as children in comparison of him. And I believe that he will not be satisfied with rhetoric, but that there is in him a divine inspiration which will lead him to things higher still. For he has an element of philosophy in his nature. This is the message of the gods dwelling in this place, and which I will myself deliver to Isocrates, who is my delight; and do you give the other to Lysias, who is yours.

Phaedr. I will; and now as the heat is abated let us depart.

Soc. Should we not offer up a prayer first of all to the local deities? By all means.

Soc. Beloved Pan, and all ye other gods who haunt this place, give me beauty in the inward soul; and may the outward and inward man be at one. May I reckon the wise to be the wealthy, and may I have such a quantity of gold as a temperate man and he only can bear and carry.-Anything more? The prayer, I think, is enough for me.

Phaedr. Ask the same for me, for friends should have all things in common.

Soc. Let us go.

Socrates: Oral and Written Communication (Or why Socrates never wrote anything down)

The following dialogue (see below) is an except from Plato’s Phaedrus in which Socrates discusses why writing would erode thought by permitting people to forget what they had learned because they’d be able to look things up, that “they wouldn’t feel the need to ‘remember it from the inside, completely on their own.’ ” Worse, writing wouldn’t “allow ideas to flow freely and change in real time, the way they do in the mind during oral exchange.”

(I’d suggest taking time to read the dialog before moving on)

Socrates’ sentiments relate to my thoughts on the institutionalization of texts that become “truth” in time. Likewise, I am immediately reminded of Nietzsche’s essay Truth and Lies in the Nonmoral Sense, in which he asks, “What then is truth? A movable host of metaphors, metonymies, and; anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding. Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are
illusions- they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force, coins which have lost their embossing and are now considered as metal and no longer as coins.”

In sum— and I will elaborate much more in a proceeding post— I believe that emphasizing the dead written word rather than the living spoken work is the source of all man’s ills. By placing faith in the value of written word, man effectively subjugates the value of his own personal, individuated experience— that is, his individual intuitions, opinions, and feelings; or more precisely, his subjective reflective consciousness. The spoken word is intimately connected to your feelings and experience: 97% of communication is nonverbal. It is impossible to capture the meaning, the affect, the intention, the feeling, of the author’s written words. In spoken word, there is genuine communication, a mutual exchange of feelings and ideas.  The dichotomy between written and spoken word can be loosely represented as the difference between deductive and inductive thought, or rationalism and empiricism, respectively.

Why this is important relates to the creation and preservation of institutions. All institutions have a text or creed or principles that govern the behaviors and dictate the conventions of its constituent agents, whether the text is a religious book, or an academic text, or a constitution, or a charter is all the same. What is important is that the words are blindly given ultimately authority as the subjective perspective, wrought from an individual’s unique experience, is overlooked and pushed aside completely. The result is that people become a means rather than an end, and human activity manifests as instrumentalism: an extension of someone else’s morality, another person’s valuation of the world, a reflection of their will to power. All of these examples reflect an external set of apriori assumptions imposed into a subject’s psyche by another person— and therefore motivate extrinsically. We call these a priori assumptions “culture” or “truth”, as well as other names like: norms, conventions, commonsense, mainstream, popular, customary and the like.

I think about Jesus, who I believe advocated the same message of Socrates, namely that people are blind to themselves. Jesus said he came to abolish the old law, the old traditions, the rituals and customs that blinded people to themselves, that caused people to get caught up in appearances and words rather than understanding their meaning. He said that god was the living word (Hebrews 4:12), and emphasized that the “spirit” or “god” was within the body, rather than the physical “temple”.  Socrates similarly stresses the priority of the “spirit” or the “reflective consciousness” or “reason” as being paramount to the purification of man.

Suspend your biased judgments about the nature of “god” or “spirit for a moment reinterpret “god” in favor of man’s “mind” or the “subjective reflective consciousness” and consider the following verse: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27). Replacing it with our conception of god as man’s “mind” we get: “So the reflective mind created man in his own image, in the image of the reflective mind he created him; male and female he created them.”

The idea that “god” is actually referencing man’s “mind” or “reflective consciousness”—  that distinguishing feature that demarcates men from lower animals to the degree of its development— mirrors many truisms, aphorisms, and words of wisdom throughout time such as: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” (Nin) or “You give birth to that on which you fix your mind.” (de Saint-Exupéry)  or “The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.” (Bergson) or “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.” (Epictetus) or “Let the mind be enlarged…to the grandeur of the mysteries, and not the mysteries contracted to the narrowness of the mind.” (Bacon) or “Things which we see are not by themselves what we see … It remains completely unknown to us what the objects may be by themselves and apart from the receptivity of our senses. We know nothing but our manner of perceiving them.” (Kant) or “Perception is a prediction, not a truth.” (Mooney) and the list goes on.

The idea is communicated succinctly by Feuerbach who said:

“Consciousness of God is self-consciousness, knowledge of God is self-knowledge, by his God thou knowest the man, and by the man his God; the two are identical. Whatever is God to a man, that is his heart and soul; and conversely, God is the manifested inward nature, the expressed self of a man– religion is the solemn unveiling of a man’s hidden treasures, the revelation of his intimate thoughts, and the open confession of his love-secrets.” [Feuerbach]

I could write for a long while on this topic, so I’ll stop now and wait to do that later. My main message is that writing is good for personal reflection and meditation and study, but it cannot serve as a replacement for experience and reflective thinking for another man. If you look to the outside world for answers, whether its in books, or things, or authority figures, you are cheating yourself of the opportunity to develop authentically. You must earnestly weigh your experience against the world, and do it with an even keel, remembering that self-deception is our natural tendency, that we want to seek confirmation in what we already believe and think to be real, rather than what is actually real. Think dialectically, think in opposites, and challenge other minds in mutual dialog with YOUR mind, with YOUR experience while exercising genuine curiosity for understanding, and with practice your mind will grow fertile, deep, open, and sharp.

I beg you: with an open mind, read on!

*****************************

Soc. At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old god, whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis is sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters. Now in those days the god Thamus was the king of the whole country of Egypt; and he dwelt in that great city of Upper Egypt which the Hellenes call Egyptian Thebes, and the god himself is called by them Ammon. To him came Theuth and showed his inventions, desiring that the other Egyptians might be allowed to have the benefit of them; he enumerated them, and Thamus enquired about their several uses, and praised some of them and censured others, as he approved or disapproved of them. It would take a long time to repeat all that Thamus said to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts. But when they came to letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit. Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

Phaedr. Yes, Socrates, you can easily invent tales of Egypt, or of any other country.

Soc. There was a tradition in the temple of Dodona that oaks first gave prophetic utterances. The men of old, unlike in their simplicity to young philosophy, deemed that if they heard the truth even from “oak or rock,” it was enough for them; whereas you seem to consider not whether a thing is or is not true, but who the speaker is and from what country the tale comes.

Phaedr. I acknowledge the justice of your rebuke; and I think that the Theban is right in his view about letters.

Soc. He would be a very simple person, and quite a stranger to the oracles of Thamus or Ammon, who should leave in writing or receive in writing any art under the idea that the written word would be intelligible or certain; or who deemed that writing was at all better than knowledge and recollection of the same matters?

Phaedr. That is most true.

Soc. I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus, that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence. And the same may be said of speeches. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them, the speaker always gives one unvarying answer. And when they have been once written down they are tumbled about anywhere among those who may or may not understand them, and know not to whom they should reply, to whom not: and, if they are maltreated or abused, they have no parent to protect them; and they cannot protect or defend themselves.

Phaedr. That again is most true.

Soc. Is there not another kind of word or speech far better than this, and having far greater power-a son of the same family, but lawfully begotten?

Phaedr. Whom do you mean, and what is his origin?

Soc. I mean an intelligent word graven in the soul of the learner, which can defend itself, and knows when to speak and when to be silent.

Phaedr. You mean the living word of knowledge which has a soul, and of which written word is properly no more than an image?

Soc. Yes, of course that is what I mean. And now may I be allowed to ask you a question: Would a husbandman, who is a man of sense, take the seeds, which he values and which he wishes to bear fruit, and in sober seriousness plant them during the heat of summer, in some garden of Adonis, that he may rejoice when he sees them in eight days appearing in beauty? at least he would do so, if at all, only for the sake of amusement and pastime. But when he is in earnest he sows in fitting soil, and practises husbandry, and is satisfied if in eight months the seeds which he has sown arrive at perfection?

Phaedr. Yes, Socrates, that will be his way when he is in earnest; he will do the other, as you say, only in play.

Soc. And can we suppose that he who knows the just and good and honourable has less understanding, than the husbandman, about his own seeds?

Phaedr. Certainly not.

Soc. Then he will not seriously incline to “write” his thoughts “in water” with pen and ink, sowing words which can neither speak for themselves nor teach the truth adequately to others?

Phaedr. No, that is not likely.

Soc. No, that is not likely-in the garden of letters he will sow and plant, but only for the sake of recreation and amusement; he will write them down as memorials to be treasured against the forgetfulness of old age, by himself, or by any other old man who is treading the same path. He will rejoice in beholding their tender growth; and while others are refreshing their souls with banqueting and the like, this will be the pastime in which his days are spent.

Phaedr. A pastime, Socrates, as noble as the other is ignoble, the pastime of a man who can be amused by serious talk, and can discourse merrily about justice and the like.

Soc. True, Phaedrus. But nobler far is the serious pursuit of the dialectician, who, finding a congenial soul, by the help of science sows and plants therein words which are able to help themselves and him who planted them, and are not unfruitful, but have in them a seed which others brought up in different soils render immortal, making the possessors of it happy to the utmost extent of human happiness.

Phaedr. Far nobler, certainly.

Soc. And now, Phaedrus, having agreed upon the premises we decide about the conclusion.

Phaedr. About what conclusion?

Soc. About Lysias, whom we censured, and his art of writing, and his discourses, and the rhetorical skill or want of skill which was shown in them-these are the questions which we sought to determine, and they brought us to this point. And I think that we are now pretty well informed about the nature of art and its opposite.

Phaedr. Yes, I think with you; but I wish that you would repeat what was said.

Soc. Until a man knows the truth of the several particulars of which he is writing or speaking, and is able to define them as they are, and having defined them again to divide them until they can be no longer divided, and until in like manner he is able to discern the nature of the soul, and discover the different modes of discourse which are adapted to different natures, and to arrange and dispose them in such a way that the simple form of speech may be addressed to the simpler nature, and the complex and composite to the more complex nature-until he has accomplished all this, he will be unable to handle arguments according to rules of art, as far as their nature allows them to be subjected to art, either for the purpose of teaching or persuading;-such is the view which is implied in the whole preceding argument.

Phaedr. Yes, that was our view, certainly.

Soc. Secondly, as to the censure which was passed on the speaking or writing of discourses, and how they might be rightly or wrongly censured-did not our previous argument show?-

Phaedr. Show what?

Soc. That whether Lysias or any other writer that ever was or will be, whether private man or statesman, proposes laws and so becomes the author of a political treatise, fancying that there is any great certainty and clearness in his performance, the fact of his so writing is only a disgrace to him, whatever men may say. For not to know the nature of justice and injustice, and good and evil, and not to be able to distinguish the dream from the reality, cannot in truth be otherwise than disgraceful to him, even though he have the applause of the whole world.

Phaedr. Certainly.

Soc. But he who thinks that in the written word there is necessarily much which is not serious, and that neither poetry nor prose, spoken or written, is of any great value, if, like the compositions of the rhapsodes, they are only recited in order to be believed, and not with any view to criticism or instruction; and who thinks that even the best of writings are but a reminiscence of what we know, and that only in principles of justice and goodness and nobility taught and communicated orally for the sake of instruction and graven in the soul, which is the true way of writing, is there clearness and perfection and seriousness, and that such principles are a man’s own and his legitimate offspring;-being, in the first place, the word which he finds in his own bosom; secondly, the brethren and descendants and relations of his others;-and who cares for them and no others-this is the right sort of man; and you and I, Phaedrus, would pray that we may become like him.

Phaedr. That is most assuredly my desire and prayer.

Soc. And now the play is played out; and of rhetoric enough. Go and tell Lysias that to the fountain and school of the Nymphs we went down, and were bidden by them to convey a message to him and to other composers of speeches-to Homer and other writers of poems, whether set to music or not; and to Solon and others who have composed writings in the form of political discourses which they would term laws-to all of them we are to say that if their compositions are based on knowledge of the truth, and they can defend or prove them, when they are put to the test, by spoken arguments, which leave their writings poor in comparison of them, then they are to be called, not only poets, orators, legislators, but are worthy of a higher name, befitting the serious pursuit of their life.

Phaedr. What name would you assign to them?

Soc. Wise, I may not call them; for that is a great name which belongs to God alone,-lovers of wisdom or philosophers is their modest and befitting title.

Phaedr. Very suitable.

Soc. And he who cannot rise above his own compilations and compositions, which he has been long patching, and piecing, adding some and taking away some, may be justly called poet or speech-maker or law-maker.

Phaedr. Certainly.

Soc. Now go and tell this to your companion.

Phaedr. But there is also a friend of yours who ought not to be forgotten.

Soc. Who is he?

Phaedr. Isocrates the fair:-What message will you send to him, and how shall we describe him?

Soc.Isocrates is still young, Phaedrus; but I am willing to hazard a prophecy concerning him.

Phaedr. What would you prophesy?

Soc. I think that he has a genius which soars above the orations of Lysias, and that his character is cast in a finer mould. My impression of him is that he will marvelously improve as he grows older, and that all former rhetoricians will be as children in comparison of him. And I believe that he will not be satisfied with rhetoric, but that there is in him a divine inspiration which will lead him to things higher still. For he has an element of philosophy in his nature. This is the message of the gods dwelling in this place, and which I will myself deliver to Isocrates, who is my delight; and do you give the other to Lysias, who is yours.

Phaedr. I will; and now as the heat is abated let us depart.

Soc. Should we not offer up a prayer first of all to the local deities? By all means.

Soc. Beloved Pan, and all ye other gods who haunt this place, give me beauty in the inward soul; and may the outward and inward man be at one. May I reckon the wise to be the wealthy, and may I have such a quantity of gold as a temperate man and he only can bear and carry.-Anything more? The prayer, I think, is enough for me.

Phaedr. Ask the same for me, for friends should have all things in common.

Soc. Let us go.

Student-Professor Dialog: Creativity and Society

The following is a series of (ongoing) exchanges with my professor on the subject of creativity and innovation in society. I felt that it was worthwhile sharing the dialog. 

April 17th
Hello Professor,

I apologize if my comment today came off as a tirade or diatribe. That wasn’t my intention. You commented that our generation may be a bit cynical, and that may be true, but that’s not how I like to think about my attitude. Instead, I like to think of myself as being critical, specifically a critical thinker who criticizes and seeks to deviate from the status quo in favor of gleaning new insights and gaining new potential solutions. I believe our problems are a result of a society who seeks perpetuating the status quo, similar to the silo or echo chamber effect. I believe this is a result of people who willingly accept ideas, problems, and solutions presented to them, or that reinforce and reaffirm their beliefs, rather than inquire for themselves, critically challenge their beliefs, and generate their own solutions, be it through reflective thinking or collaborative dialog.

That being said, I love your class and I think you’re a fantastic professor who is doing great things. I’ve had a passion for creativity my whole life, and it’s a pleasure to explore the topic in your classes. As a result of the many readings and discussions presented throughout the semester I’ve arrived at a few revelatory insights that I’d like to share with you.

First, I believe that creativity is a product of struggle, of problems and the suffering it produces, and the passion it generates when people apply their “will” to overcome that struggle. Nietzsche has been a tremendous influence for re-framing how I conceptualize the human condition as a continual overcoming. I learned that the root of creativity in Latin is creo, which translates as “belief” or “produce, choose, put into existence”, and that the root for creo in Indo-Proto-European is cor- which translated as “heart”, as in coronary or cordial. Hence my conviction that all creativity is an enterprise of heartfelt passion generated by struggle, or problems and suffering, to overcome circumstance, whether they are imposed by nature’s absolute values or society’s relative values.

Throughout time the greatest civilizations collapsed at the peak of their opulence, the pinnacle of their immoderate greatness. I attribute this to the fact that these civilizations, among other things, grew increasingly complacent with their level of comfort, and as a result experienced none of the struggle necessary to diagnose problems and apply creativity and innovation for their resolution. I observe this in our current culture where imitation and conformity are the rule, where everyone talks of freedom, equality, and autonomy but it is very rare to witness these qualities being demonstrated. Authenticity and autonomy, in my opinion, are absolutely necessary for acknowledging and individuating problems in our world. The Greek prefix root of these words is autos meaning “self”, and the respective suffixes are hentes meaning “doing” or “being”, and nomos meaning “law” or “the structured ordering of experience”.

The greatest creators, innovators, and thinkers, I argue, operated outside the norm, deviated from convention, and existed on the periphery of society. They acknowledged that if you do what everybody else is doing, you’ll get what everybody is getting. As a result they lived according to their own being or doing, their own law, and solved problems no one else acknowledged or saw. I think of William James who said “Genius, in truth, means little more than the faculty of perceiving in an unhabitual way.” As well as Schopenhauer who said “Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see. With people with only modest ability, modesty is mere honesty; but with those who possess great talent, it is hypocrisy.” In this way we see that it’s not what we look at that counts, but what we see. Hence da Vinci’s reply to the secret of his creative and inventive genius, “saper vedere” or “to know how to see”.

That being said, my comment today in class arose from my latent frustrations regarding our society. Politics is a touchy subject because if affects everyone. I have a desire for people to critically engage in things that matter most, specifically the preservation of our freedom, equality, and autonomy, rather than indulge in the mundane and mainstream. But it seems that most would rather appeal to authority, the status quo, or convention, and acquiesce to empty political rhetoric propagated by the “superiors” rather than looking at the facts and coming up with their own opinions. That is what a democracy with cognizant and active citizens should embody.

Once again, thanks for all that you do. I hope this email has found you well, and that I articulated my thoughts with enough clarity, and I look forward to talking with you more. Also, here is a link referencing the phenomenon of inequality and creativity I mentioned today in class, titled The Inequality Puzzle in U.S. Cities by Florida. Thanks again.

Sincerest Regards,

X

April 17th
X:

Thank you for this very thoughtful and smart email message. I would love to talk to you more about some of these ideas.

A few very quick responses.  Yes, struggle is a major component of creativity (part of the theme of creativity and crisis) and individual passion and the authentic desire to improve a situation are the fuel that drives the creativity train.  As a sociologists I would say the tracks are not of the creators own making.   Society structures what we take to be a legitimate problem in need of a creative solution. So, creative people certainly operate outside norms but they are also bound by those norms and it is incumbent upon the scholar/critic to see the creator as both heroic and also as constrained and to understand how these two facts interact to produce, limit, or otherwise influence creative development.

I also agree with the relationship between complacency and creativity, although I think you need to acknowledge that one man’s complacency is another man’s struggle. So, the piece that you need to take into account is power.  If the complacent have absolute power, then you get decline. But, if the powerless and the outsiders have some access to politics, resources, power, then you can have great undercurrents of creativity even while the fat cats get drunk.

Finally, I was going to write and thank you for offering your insights today in class about politics. I agree with your points and don’t think you were delivering a tirade.   Many people are dissatisfied with the state of our political system and its capacity to deliver innovative solutions to our problems. As you suggest, old ideologies crowd out critical reflection and creative response.  Both parties are guilty.    My own opinion is that rhetoric matters and when one party has, for more than 3 decades, told the American people that we can not collectively solve problems and that our government (which is us) is always the problem (and never the solution), then we have stacked the deck against tackling the biggest problems of our times.   The market can facilitate solutions but it does not “believe” anything — it is through politics and democracy that we decide what type of society we want to live in and how to achieve these goals.   By turning a people against its government, I believe, we have undermined the process that we depend on for creatively engaging collective problems.  Single creative individuals acting alone without the tracks (to refer back to the earlier metaphor) can not solve our problems.  Government is part of the process of setting down tracks (not the only part).   As a “creative pragmatist,” it is hard to watch political tactics (the smart use of rhetoric) succeed at electing candidates while undermining their capacity to govern at the same time.

Sorry for my diatribe!

Onward,

Y

April 24rd,
Hello Professor,

I appreciate your response! We could talk for days– and I’d love every minute of it!  I have some thoughts regarding society’s role as a facilitator of change and revolutionary progress. I’d love to hear any feedback or insights you could provide.

Regarding society and creative change: in my opinion institutional structures, such as government or education or religion or corporations, are economies of scale for ideas (values), and as such they are subject to organizational inertia. I believe as these structures grow, they reinforce themselves on top of themselves through a process of normalization, specifically as a means of increasing cohesion and improving efficiency. That is, the structure self-perpetuates itself due to various self-preservation mechanisms explained in psychology and sociology, like herding, cognitive bias, the echo chamber/ silo effect, etc.

The consequence of these structures and the “typological” normalization they demand is that the structure begins to crystallize and become increasingly rigid. Deviations from the structure’s systematic process of normalization are looked down upon and rarely rewarded. What is rewarded is conformity to the “standards” typifying the accepted structural norms. In the end the structure, say as cultural custom or societal convention, becomes the largest barrier of change and inhibitor of progress. These may manifest as laws, or standardized testing, or rituals, or work processes– any formalization based on a set of premises or principles dictated by the structure’s authority or gatekeepers. Initially these premises may or may not reflect changes within the natural and social environment, but as time goes on and the structure grows, change inevitably takes place and I’d argue that these premises become increasingly abstract and irrelevant to the changing demands within the empirical landscape.

From what I observe in creativity and innovation on a sociological level, and evolution on a biological level, change occurs organically; it begins with a single individual, a single gene. Perhaps environmental demands cause the retention of a swath of genes, similar to the way societal demands cause a retention of a group of individuals, like those witnessed in collaborative circles, like the Fugitives, or the Vienna Circle and the like. This bottom-up population thinking contrasts with top-down typological thinking. Change can take place with the top down typological thinking (Platonic), but it must work within the bounds of its established premises. Eventually demands change to such a degree that premises need to be discarded in order to usher in revolutionary change.

That being said, I’m skeptical of institutional structures. I believe that so long as they represent the dynamic will of free thinking individuals who seek collaboration for mutually beneficial ends, these institutions work on their behalf. But because of organizational inertia and the mechanisms of normalization that functionally preserve the status quo, I do not believe that the governing authority representing institutions are capable of addressing the changing demands in the long run. This is especially the case when those in authority are the pinnacle product of the normalization, embodying the most abstract conventions established within the structure (culture).

However, my biggest frustration does not lie so much with those in positions of authority as it does with the individuals embedded within the population. Normalization has occurred to such a degree that abstract theory and “ideals” become the end for society, resulting in a populous devoid of independent thought, lacking a critical consciousness. We have denounced personal experience, and the accompanying opinions about that experience, in favor of societal standards to such a magnitude that people have grown blind: incapable of sensual inductive thought. Instead they defer to authority, to ideals, to norms for their answers, like sheep.

There is a dark corollary to this story that manifests symptomatically throughout society as a cultural malaise. When the individual experience is oppressed to such a degree that authenticity becomes the exception rather than the rule, people become sick. In proportion to their openness to change, I believe societies manufacture mental illness: body dysmorphia, depression, anorexia, substance abuse, criminal activities, and the list goes on. Other examples are increased emphasis on grades and testing rather than learning and understanding, an absence of mutually vested dialog between teachers and students, and lack of communication in general as people defer to authorities or professionals to solve problems that they should otherwise work out with others within the relationship of their context.

I hope I’m not being too harsh. I honestly and earnestly want the best for people, my fellow man and society at large.

I read two articles recently that have embodied much of my thoughts on the matter and I’ve been eager to share them with you to hear your thoughts. One is titled The Creative Monopoly and discusses a lecture by Peter Thiel at Stanford. Relating back to my thoughts on society as a self-perpetrating structure, the article discusses the negative flip side of competition and proposes an alternative approach for creating value within the context of business and markets. I recommend checking out Peter Thiel’s lecture notes linked in the article. The other article is titled Stop Telling Students to Study for Exams. It relates to my sentiment that ideals and social norms become a means rather than an end.

I look forward to seeing you tomorrow. I’m eager to hear your thoughts. I know your probably pretty busy grading papers and what not, so don’t feel any pressure. If you’re available, I’ll be around until graduation and would like to catch up and listen to some of your thoughts on various subjects I’ve been thinking and writing about, such as sociology, creativity, and the like. Thanks again!

Sincerest Regards,

X

Lliance

My starlet. My dancing gem. I love you so. My heart lifts and breaks and pours and finds its way into the cracks, into the clouds, and streams down, into my soul, across my face, along the walkway, as we hold hands, and giggle, and fight the smile, and squeeze, learn to lick the burning emotions with our gaze.

looking around, spinning, the joy wraps over you, under me, sweeping my feet with wings of delight, of dalliance.

spotted dress

hammers sing songs

feeling with delusion

there is nothing sensitive about love

she is a car wreck, an abandoned beam, a desperately beautiful affair, with bruised eyes, and stormy cries, but a heart that holds the weight of the world, with gentle clasps, and love that lasts.

the tiger shifts, in the shadows

the feeling dissipates, into pots, hollow rooms with bolted locks, but

there is no time,

where there is power,

transcendental power, malevolent, crashing, careening power, that bolts across the mediterrenean blue, and brings me home to you

such beauty, delicacy, snowflakes

winter ears

hairs that fall and stand with your touch

your eyes

that guide

endless fathoms of feeling,

exploring with eager thievery, I want to steal you heart, replace it with mine, and travel together, feeling for one another, holding it in, keeping it safe,

school

the pressure

the burden

the almighty force that hovers above the forehead, obstructing thoughts, of grander more distant things, lands, adventures.

I am kind, my hand reaching out, absent harm, feeling no less than divine, your beauty bathes me, shades me in your radiance, let me bask, in your charm, along the shore, I implore.

Thoughts on Humor and Comedy: Instruments of Normalization

“Perhaps I know best why it is man alone who laughs; he alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche

What is humor? What makes this or that funny? Why do we laugh? Is it nervousness? Do people laugh because they are anxious? Because they cannot cope with contradiction, paradox, uncertainty, conflict?

Why do people laugh when others hurt? Why do we laugh at the absurd? Why do we find humor in other peoples suffering or misfortune? Why do people laugh when they are afraid, or get giddy when they are fearful or uncertain? What causes man to break out into a cackle, into a release of noise and air? Does humor provide us with an escape? Does laughter allow the body to breath, to unshackle itself from oppression, the tension holding us together, the seriousness infiltrating the conscious experience? Why does man seek comfort in the comedic, the funny?

Why are we entertained by the ridiculous? Why are we amused by the senseless, the crazy, the illogical, the idiotic, the inane, the irrational, the jokey, the ludicrous, the wacky, the silly, the stupid, the goofy?

Does comedy and humor and amusement provide an outlet for all the pressure? An opportunity to abandon the structure?

Why do children laugh so much? Why are they so funny? Is it because they live in a yet-to-be-established world, free of predictable structure and order? Is it because the little they do know has yet to be synthesized into a predictable experience?

I have intuitions about these things.

Does a culture become increasingly comedic in proportion to the oppression they feel? Is there a correlation between the prevalence and seriousness of societal norms and prejudices and a society’s humor?

Are the most easy going people the most humorous? What humor do they produce? Slap stick? Laugh at life? Bathroom?

Are the serious people most humorous? What humor do they produce? Dry? Dead pan? Sarcastic? High brow?

Are the weird people most humorous? What humor do they produce? Quirky? Witty?

What makes for good comedy and humor? Who are most often the targets of such humor?

It seems humor is characterized by absurdity, by contradiction. In ancient Greece, comedy always involved the targeting of gods and politicians, people possessing the most influence. This even occurred in the Elizebethan era, and still occurs today.  Why is this the case? Is it because comedy offered a release from the dominating influence? A chance to unveil and reveal the absurdity ruling their life? Comedy pokes fun at the leaders, the ideals, the norms, the rules and principles. It pokes fun at stereotypes and prejudices.

Comedy is irony. What is irony?  It is a sharp incongruity or discordance that goes being the evident and simple intention of the words or meaning. It is the use of words to convey meaning contrary or opposite from its literal meaning. The etymology of “irony” is from the Ancient Greek word eirōneía, meaning dissimulation or feigned ignorance. (Eirōneia, “irony, pretext”, from eirōn, “one who feigns ignorance”).  Why is irony a form of deception that conceals the truth? What is truth? What is being concealed?

It seems humor requires a juxtaposition. The context— involving the subjective speaker and referenced object— appears to determine the type of humor.

*

Why is humor so important for society?

I look around me, observe my culture and society, and note the location and subjects of our humor. Politics and politicians, all the people that demand to be taken seriously, take center stage. Stereotypes and societal conventions and norms are the next victim. The last are those who aren’t serious enough, the outcasts, the crazies, those on the fringe who don’t seem to follow lock step with everyone else.

Regarding children— I think there is something very revealing about the nature of humor that children can teach us. Why are they so giddy? Why is everything such a joke to them? Why are they so damn happy?

I believe it all revolves around the absurdity of normalization: the ridiculous nature of our expectations about reality. Expectations that, for the most part, we have been impressed with, trained to possess through conditioning.

When you have an open mind, when you are easy going, when you go with the flow: you find that life brightens. Life becomes a fluid exchange of emotional expression. Your mind breaths, it loosens its grip on certainty, on predictability, and everything melts into a plenum of feeling.

Who are the comedians? What type of person are they? Do they go to humor to cope with the otherwise debilitating demands of social pressure? What is their role in society? Are they there to remind us that it’s all a joke? That nothing is so serious that you need to stop feeling?

Can comedy be detrimental? Can it be injurious to society? Can it harm a mind? How so?

I imagine that comedy may lull the people into a state of complacency. The word “amuse” means “to divert attention, a suspension of thought”. What happens when a society prides itself on amusement? The danger, it seems, is a society failing to come to terms with its oppressive condition. That is, a society in denial. Does it matter if the oppression is internally imposed or externally imposed? Imposed by the self or imposed by others?

“A joke is an epigram on the death of a feeling.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche

Comedy— as Nietzsche poignantly articulated— is the death of a feeling. Perhaps it is healthy to feel? Perhaps those who are all jokes, all fun and games, are the most trapped, the most stifled, the most oppressed of all?

In order modern culture entertainment and amusement are the rule. I have to believe it has something to do with the denial of their condition, their sad sorry suffering state.

Think about the comedy in our culture. Think about the comedians in our culture. Which shows do you watch them in? In what circumstances and situations? Are they mocking a situation? A type of person? A situation or person that should be taken seriously? Think: Seinfeld, The Office, 30 Rock, Community, Parks & Recreation, Modern Family, Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Or: South park, Family Guy, the Simpsons. Or comedians: Zach Galifianakis, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Lewis C.K., Jon Stewart, Mitch Hedberg, Dave Chapelle, Chris Rock.

What do they all have in common? They expose the absurdity of our condition, of our seriousness, of our prejudices, of our monotony, of our slavishness,

What’s sad about all of these things? They create a false sense of comfort. They lead us to believe it’s alright, that everything’s O.K., that because we can talk about it, because it’s out in the air, it’s not a problem, not a threat, not something to worry about. That someone else is taking care of it.

That’s scary.

They poke fun at our condition, and we laugh at it, thinking “geeze, I’m glad someone got that out”, cause everyone feels it, but no one talks about it, no one expresses it.

Comedy is an instrument for normalizing the suffering. It allows us to embrace our condition.

When do we draw the line and stop laughing? When do we get serious about our circumstance and do something about it?

Man alone suffers so excruciatingly in the world that he was compelled to invent laughter.
– Friedrich Nietzsche

*

What is comedy? The word comedy is rooted in Ancient Greek “kōmōidia“, from kōmos, “revel, carousing” + either ōidē, “song” or aoidos, “singer, bard”, both from aeidō, “I sing”. Comedy is singing? Why is comedy singing? What does singing have to do with laughing? Does singing relate to expression? to the expression of feeling?

What is humor?  from Latin humor, correctly umor “moisture”, from humere, correctly umere “to be moist”. That’s not very telling. I just think of Hippocrates humours, meaning “liquid” to refer to bodily secretions like phlegm, blood, choler (yellow bile). My intuition would lead me to believe it has something to do with the tears from laughing? Alas.

Talking Pineapples: Unreflective Education

Just finished reading an article titled Talking Pineapple on 8th grade New York State Confuses Everyone.

How does something like this happen? And how often? I’d like to know when the education system fully embraced its role to inculcate and train students with nonsensical, abstracted theory rather than educate students with sensible, relevant material rooted in experience. Has education replaced religion as the perpetrator of unreflective dogma? Or I am being too harsh?

Do educators believe students are simply too dumb and unreflective to realize that they’re being duped?  What is actually being tested here? Abstracted relationships with no foothold in reality. This leaves the mind way too open for programming. When you don’t have a foot in experience, when you’re holed up in a classroom, in a car, behind a computer, in front of your phone the majority of your life, you are liable to be believe the craziest, most nonsensical rhetoric.

When I train an animal— a dog for instance— I train it using extrinsic rewards. When it performs an instructed action, I say “good doggy”, pat it on the head, rub its belly, and produce a succulent morsel of food. When the dog behaves in an unacceptable way, I blow my whistle, scold him, place him in time out, give him a smack, or perhaps withhold food and treats. I use these rewards or punishments to condition his responses, however illogical they appear to be (what is logic anyway?). I could have him stand on a ball, balance a fishbowl on his nose, and have him howl a song. He doesn’t care how ridiculous it looks, just so long as he gets fed and a pat on the head. All he knows is that there is a reward at the end, every time.

When I train a human, I train him using extrinsic rewards. When the person performs an instructed action, I say “good boy”, put him on the back, give him a gold star, an A+ grade, or perhaps produce some dollars. When he behaves in an unacceptable way, I yell at him, scold him, place him in time out, take away his star, give him an F, whip him, or starve him.

It’s the same way for humans. When the instructions become so insane they don’t reflect our personal experience, and we’re alright with that, you can be sure you are being manipulated, that something is not right. “Why would I ever have to consider thinking about pineapples and cannibals in this way?” you might ask, “When have I ever in my past?” And they reply “Never mind, don’t think about the content of the story,” and say, “just remember what we told you in class, remember the answers, the response we told you to produce when you see the question.” It’s not education, it’s training. Education means  “to lead out”, such as when we lead someone to a new terrain, to new pastures. Training means to “drag out”, like when you drag a mule, or pull a slave by the collar.

(Educate comes from educere ex- “out”+ ducere “to lead”, from the PIE root *deuk- “to lead”, where Duke is derived. Training comes from trahere “to pull, draw,” from PIE root *tragh- “to draw, drag, move”)

I have been giving thought to similar problems I encounter throughout our education system and, more broadly, culture.

This is an example when theory trumps experience. What the hell does that mean? I mean schools don’t teach you how to reason from open experience, they train you to reason from closed theory. They prioritize syntax, structure, and empty relationships among symbols, among words. Pure abstractions.  There is no emphasis on content, semantics (associated meaning and feeling), and comprehensive understanding. Am I being too hard?

I don’t think I am. In our classrooms it doesn’t matter if you know what the worldly implications of an answer are so long as you answer it correctly on the test. It’s not like students ever experience or encounter the object— that is, what the words and relationships among them actually refer to—  as they sit for hours in their crammed classrooms. Most of education is abstraction. They teach you how to reason from principles, and the constructed relationships between them, that you’re instructed assume, ad hoc, to be true. When we simply believe words or principles are true, we commit the same error that religion commits. Words and authority don’t make something real. Just because the pope says the bible is the word of god doesn’t mean that Jesus was the son of  god— like we even know what god, which god, or who Jesus meant when we spoke of “god”; God could simply be enlightenment, desire for understanding, thirst for knowledge, or faith in your self, which is my favorite interpretation since it contains explanations for all the preceding.

As far as I’m concerned, there is one reality, one god, and it’s found deep within each individual if they dare to venture within and search it out. Reality does not exist outside of the mind: to be is to be perceived. Symbols, words, tokens, signs— they all seek to transcend the authority of personal experience with impersonal theory, and they are very persuasive, especially when “logic” knits the story together so convincingly.

What makes something real must be real according to you. I always suggest that you peer review your experience with others who have shared that experience, but ultimately the utility of your conclusions must be left for you to decide. Do not give the authority of your experience over to the authority of another due to complex justifications or compelling rhetoric.

*

Regarding this article and our culture, I believe we’re in a time where the sovereignty of an individual’s internal experience is on its way out, where individualism counts for nothing anymore.  We’re witnessing the rise of pedantic educational, political, and economic institutions that are similar to the rise of parochial religious institutions, all of which serve one purpose: enslavement.

How is this possible? How can this be?

I would bet it’s the natural corollary of civilization. Every civilization reached a point where ridiculous dogma and metaphysics governed the masses. And we think we’ve escaped the ignorance? We think that science has somehow saved us from ourselves? That is prideful ignorance.

Repetition causes words to lose their meaning. Scarcity creates value. And values prescribe action. But when there is no common experience, and control must be exerted, you must appeal to some values, some feeling for influence. What feeling can universally move the masses? We’ve discarded religion due to its incompatibility with the profits that science and technology can provide— But religion did work so well for so long! Wage labor a far better way of incentivizing work and extracting wealth than tithing is anyway: so what is the common value of industrialized society, for America? Materialism! i.e.  money and the “things” we can accessorize our experience with!

All that we do revolves around the pleasure of goods, the gratification of indulging in “things” or pleasing corporeal experiences. But what happens when there is no more scarcity, there is no more value, there is nothing unique about the human experience? What happens when your individualism becomes null because there is nothing in the world that hasn’t been felt by everyone else?

That’s why experience is so important, that’s why feeling is so significant, why authenticity is the reigning value of all values. Where you are your own god who creates your own meanings.

And what to I mean by god? I do not mean perfectly “omniscience, omnipotent, omnipresent”. That is for fairy tales. The god I am referring to that you possess within you is the ability to create meaning and value and visions and worlds and relationships for yourself. Without having to rely on some external superior power or governing authority.

Yes. You are your own god. Does that terrify you? It should. Is a slave terrified without his master?

You must learn to become, as Emerson said, Self-Reliant. The power exists within you, within the imagination, the depths of reflection, where memories mix and meld with reason and will, the desire to thrive and flourish.

pathetik

Do not let yourself feel. Do not let it out. Contain it. Suppress it. Push it down. Find pathways for it to flow. Pathways deemed appropriate. Normal. Do not let it seep out your pores. Do not let the stench of your feelings fill the air. Keep them inside. Contained. Controlled. Let others pull them out of you. Let the TV solicit the emotional response you’ve been waiting to feel for so long. Do not feel. Do not move your soul.

It scratches. It itches. It builds. It accumulates at the corners, in the recesses. It drifts in empty corridors, meshing with other stragglers, aimless feeling.

Keep it in. Move mechanically. Do not move naturally. Do not scream. Do not yell or shout and breath that sigh in the middle of class that releases the weight of this bullshit world from your interiors. Composure. Rigidity. Squeeze it down. Love the suffering. Love the suffering you see in others. Love the suffering you inflict on yourself. Embrace the cruel pleasure of censuring yourself, of self censorship. Let the other automatons spout their regurgitated responses into the air. Nod acceptingly. Their fate is not yours. Keep it down. Cool it off. Until the fire is but a coal.

It grabs at the insides, it rips at the corners of your body and pulls together with the weight of a fading star, a collapsing hole. A hole started by others. A hole getting deeper by our own doing. Let it fester. Let the darkness draw in the dark creatures that scuddle and scurry.

Do not let yourself feel. Do not let it out. Do not fill the hole with your own devices, your own preponderances, your open opinions, your own love. There is none of that in the hole. Let the hole get bigger and darker and more all encompassing.

Suffering is a sadness we keep close. We learn to love the sadness, and we call it names like “poignant” or “nostalgic” or “so true”.

God— it is like saran wrapping the insides with cellophane. Artificially cloistering in the flow of blood and oxygen and life. The brain numbs.

Do not let it out. Do not. Do not let it feel. Do not feel. Control. Maintain composure. Domestication isn’t so bad. We can be our own master.

But I don’t want to master myself. I want to master others. I want to master this world. I want to dominate my will onto the world. I don’t need the law, its fabricated fixes, its language, its punishments for acts of “negligence” lacking “accountability” and “responsibility”. What are these words? I did not coin them. What acts of mine ever lack such qualities? I am whole.

It begs to squeeze through the door frame, through the window panes, the flues, the sweeps. It wants to escape. Its nervous humor, even at its most domesticated state, like a dog performing tricks. The reward is approval. Their nervous laughter. Do I need approval to authentic my will? My being?

It is nervous. It is anxious. It boils. It swarms and swirls and twists and tightens into knots and explosions that implode over and over again. The feeling. The being. The emotion. The passion, the ability to feel with abandon, with wings, without gravity.

Set it down. Become your own gravity.

The culture is too massive. Its norms, its practices, its linguistic conventions. If you say it right, do it right, act it right: are you right? I believe you are wrong. You liar. You scoundrel. Appealing to everyone else’s good. And you call it survival. You call it the game. The cards. The deck. You drunken fool. Where are your cards? What are your rules to the game? You pathetic cheater. You cheat yourself. The house always wins. Do not gamble with the house. I never gamble but on myself. Deal the cards to others. You design the rules. If you can feel.

Looking right. Acting right. Speaking right. Texting right. Oh no you didn’t. You didn’t just say that. You didn’t just give me that look. All pathetic. All wasted fakes.

There is nothing genuine. There is no gold. There is no gold. No gold. No shimmer. No shine. Everyone is a copy. Printed by the machine. Dull. Crumpled. Lifeless. Weightless. No gold.

Do not let it feel. Do not feel. Do not let it shine. Do not let it seep out your pores.

We’ve censored ourselves. We are animals. Devoid of thought. Devoid of feeling. We defer to words. Empty, meaningless, ancient words. And pop culture trash. The fleeting. The temporal. Like our lives. Our empty lives.

There is no need to censor when a society has learned to censor itself. There is no need to ban books when society has no imagination.

There is no revolt. There is no individual. There are farms. Factories. Schools. Duplication. Replication. Cast from the same mold. The same material. No gold.

You do not understand me. You do not understand what I am doing. I am trying to live. Trying to manipulate myself out from under the game. Trying to escape through the barbwire. Through burrows. And tunnels. I’m trying to escape the god awful monotony. I’m trying to scream at the top of my own voice. My voice. With my own god damn song. Original. Not casted.

Keep it in. Hold it down. Breath it out. Let the feeling subside. Let it dwindle.

You cannot wake a sleeping herd. They will interpret it as only a bump in their dreams. They will not see the sword at their throat, pleading with them to wake from their abysmal slumber, their trance, their march into the houses of slaughter.

Wake up. Wake up. Wake up. The signs and symbols are not real. Your feelings are not real. They are too domesticated. Too dead. Too lifeless. Too controlled. We are wild. Civilized? What is civilization? The art of control, the art of homo domestication. Herding humanity. What a task. I want to be the shepherd of my own flock. I do not want to roam in your pastures with my sheep, I do not want to pay you a token of gratitude. I am not a sheep. I am a shepherd. I am a master. Not of my self. Of my world.

Do not feel. Squeeze it down. Drink it down. Numb it with textbooks. Numb it with abstract associations. Rub it and smother it with overwhelming fumes of rotting consciousness.

There is no free will. There is no novelty. The master is the creator. The master puts things into existence. Into the heart. He elicits feeling with the whip, of disapproval, of punishment, of justice.

The drunken herds. Unintelligently squealing about in the mosh pits. Oblivious to their pig stench. The lights and sounds saturate the senses, overwhelm the mind. We cram, and we push, and we shove material in our minds, codes, conduct, names, cause and effect. Then we toss fuel on top and light it up. Watch it burn. Douse the senses in alcohol and revel in the flames.

We long to escape the burden. The beastly burden. But we are unintelligent. And only sheep. Only cattle. So we make sheep noises. We get together and howl.

The approval. The disapproval. We judge others because we judge ourselves. If only we would be kinder to others. We might save ourselves so much pain.

The pathetic imagination. The weak hearts. The fallow, callow minds. Over run with fingers, with people plowing and planting as they wish, stripping us of any original worth.

The god damn noises. The cacophony of noise. We bombard ourselves with music so that we don’t have to hear ourselves. We are tired of our conscience, that terrible tyrannical master, the master that’s been trained so well by others, by their approval. It is a disease, this conscience is. This form of self enslavement. The self litigating, self censorship. We plug the feeling. We stifle the streaming thought. We remain passive. Waiting to be pushed. The well trained elicit the appropriate reaction.

I have pretended to be a sheep for too long. I have worn the masks. I have camouflaged myself in the dense thicket of other dead bodies. Lifeless. I am tired of pretending. To be a robot. An automaton. A mechanical creature. A computer. A calculator. I am will. I am being. I am a god mighty force. I am wholly original, wholly wild, wholly revolting.

They let me into their home so I can shit on their carpets. That is what I propose to do in the grandest of these cultural cathedrals. I am not a creature to be tamed. I am much more cunning than those other limp sheep who simply kick and create commotion. No. I am clever, genius, conniving. I am smarter than the master.

The master will pay me to slit his throat. That is what the Caesars, the Caligulas, the Phillips, the ancient giants had learned. That duty is not a duty if it comes from my will. You ingenuine creature, Marcus Aurelius. Fake. Poser. He acted on a stage he did not believe himself to really possess. A duty. Our will is not a duty. Our being is not a duty. Our propensity to look at the world and exert our opinion, our influence, is not a duty to be shouldered. It is the greatest luxury on earth. And you accepted it, humbly? You are not man. You are a domesticated animal, trained to exemplify behaviors edifying to the masses, by a group of stoic scholars steeped in their stoa, a few minds that collaborated to manipulate the world to see from their eyes. And you cheated yourself of your own sight.

Humility. Empathy. All disgusting. In war, in battle, in life or death: there is none of these. There is no room for anything but sheer, unadulterated power, straight from the will, the depths of the heart that screams survival at the top of its lungs.

Keep it in. Keep it together. Stay composed.

I know how to do it right. Act it right. Take the tests. Get into the best. Smile for the best. Sport the best. Compete with the best. When competition is imitation, life becomes a charade. A playful dance, an act, a theatrical spectacle. There is no more carnage. No brutal, unadulterated will. No authenticity. No autonomy. The rules. The game. Pathetic. The rules are rigged. The house always wins. In war, the most cunning, the most intelligent, the most subversive, the most brutal survive. In life, it is the same.

So we have theatrics. Life has become a spectacle. The gods liked it this way. A group of self entertaining sheep. How wonderful a spectacle? I can think of none better.

Except when a sheep takes off the blindfold. Sees the game. And stabs each of his comrades in pity, in savagery. And turns on the gods.

Thoughts on Society and Mental Disorders

What is mental disease? When we see someone who is mentally unwell, do we immediately recognize their dysfunction? Do they recognize their dysfunction? Do we appeal to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders?

I don’t believe in mental disease, per say. That may raise a lot of eyebrows, but I’m looking to transcend the conventional wisdom (in truth, wisdom is common knowledge that has grown uncommon, so the idea of conventional wisdom leaves me skeptical). I’d like to take a broader, grander view of things. I don’t believe in mental disease for the same reason I don’t believe in, say, God. Both are manufactured, their cause and effects, by society.

Let me elaborate.

Everything we know about anything we have inherited from nature and our social culture. I would argue that, given the social forces of cultural influence, as well as an absent relationship with nature, people know more about societal values, its fabricated and historical values, than the absolute values discovered within nature and in themselves.

All perceptions are biased. The loss of ego is the loss of values, the loss of perspective, the loss of an etiology that structures significance and meaning.

What is mental disease? I believe mental illness is manufactured by society: civilization is a disease. I’m not the first to propose such a caustic claim, just one to reemphasize the fact. Socrates, Diogenes, Rousseau, Nietzsche, Thoreau, Freud, and many many others pointed out civilization’s detrimental assault on man’s psyche.

I posit that mental illness arises due to the oppression of an individual’s self. The self, or perhaps you could say the ego, is the seat of consciousness that structures experience in a meaningful way. It regulates its point of view as the subjective in which the objective web of the world is woven around. In order to operate functionally and efficiently, the self needs to be strong and healthy. I would argue that the self develops as the world around it affirms its nature. In this way society, our family and peers, dictate who we are, they literally dictate who our self is through their perception of and reaction to what they believe they see us to be. Think Bourdieu’s habitus.

Mental illness is the result of an unhealthy self. It is a self that cannot effectively structure experience around its “self” in a meaningful way. It therefore cannot coin meaningful associations with the phenomenal objects constituting experience, whether these objects are other subjects (people) or simply “things” incorporated into our environment.

Man is a social creature. He has evolved to such a degree that relationships with other subjects are integral to his conscious life experience, and the propensity for these relationships has found a way to forge endless webs of relationships with experience itself. The conscious experience is simply not a conditioned response. It is a relationship with a reality embedded with a key feature, that of change. Hence the continual need to communicate with the external world in order to adjust and adapt.

I believe that mental illness is a byproduct of a societal forces being impressed on the self, our reflective consciousness, by undermining the personal experience of the self, by forcing it to contort to unnatural expectations and artificial values that are incongruent with our first hand experience.

Is mental illness genetic? I believe there are aspects of mental illness that are. But what is mental illness? A behavior that deviates from the norm? An unconventional disposition that leaves you feeling unusually more or less than your fellow man, to such a degree that is unnatural, or abnormal? Is it a disease to feel too much? or too little? Society would have us believe so.

Could it be that, without an integrating support system provided by institutions like family or community, society’s abstract value’s literally destroy the self, leaving us incapable of making sense of the world, leaving our mood to vacillate uncontrollably, and forcing the self to assign values to unusual features of experience?

We look at mental disease, observe it through imaging technology, through scans and sensors, and denote a marked difference for the “normal” control group (however, whatever that “normal” actually is is beyond me). So, yes, there is something going on here. But what is the disease? It is purely psychological, purely a phenomenal product of a mind that has grown maladapted to its world. What caused this maladaption? Is it genetic? I’m skeptical. Genome research is showing that while our genetics play a tremendous role in our development, it is our environment that expresses these genes as a means for our organism to adapt to environmental demands. So that while we might observe the manifestation of behaviors and locate a physiological origin, I would argue that this observation is simply an effect, a symptom, of external demands, of environmental stimuli or trauma.

When we find ourselves bleeding, we do not simply say that the body is the cause. We ask ourselves what caused the gash, and index some sharp object we may have encountered. In the same way, when we observe a set of unusual behaviors, we do not say the mind is the cause. We look for some proper cause, some first cause that preceded the manifestation of the psychological symptoms.

We do not need prescription drugs to alleviate our bizarre reactions to an even bizarrer culture. We need support and discourse, love and kindness. More importantly, we need recognition. We need a world that acknowledges the self for something more than it believes it is, more than it was told. This is where love comes in, the all important quality that instantiates the ultimate relation between man and his world.

Most mental illness occurs on the fringes of society. Celebrities are not immune, for they occupy a space that is so elevated above the common psyche, even they have trouble seeing their self at such altitudes. This incongruence yields a break down. The homeless? Did they develop their mental malaise before or after their predicament? Did they come from a loving, supportive home with healthy relationships that respected and valued one another for who they were? Or did they become maladapted after the fact?

The abused, the downtrodden, the castaways, the  people who come from broken families, that come from families with broken values: these are the people who experience “mental illness”. The people who cannot properly develop a self because they have no functional or loving relationships to reaffirm the worth of their self. As a result they cannot adequately integrate their subjective self with the objective world. It becomes a problematic endeavor, especially when challenge and obstacles arise. The lack of self produces a lack of will power, a lack of authenticity that asserts an individuated self.

The self is a disposition that orients the external world in a way that elicits a given response, a mood, that produces a consciousness that gives rise to thoughts.

Society has grown to its vast proportions due to a division of labor. Men are no longer reliant on the whole of their organism to achieve balance with their world, to sustain their life. They are required narrow physical or mental aptitudes that serve a circumscribed function within a greater organizational structure. The division of labor creates casts and forces man into those casts, requiring him to subjugate what other feelings, or thoughts, or talents, or skills, or passions he might possess. We are assigned a job and stamped with a title. Just like that we have grown inward. To define is to confine, and no other place will you fine both of these than in an ornate industrial system like the one we call home.

Those with mental illness, I am sure, developed in an environment that was oppressive, that dictated the value of a self that was less than the value they perceived themselves to possess. It is not simply being oppressive, for discipline is a form of oppression that encourages growth towards very specific ends. In the case of discipline, the individual believes in their value, in the possibility of attaining the end, and exists in an environment that expects or supports the achievement of that end.

The oppressive environments I’m referring to are those where relationships exist only to diminish your value, and perhaps elevate theirs at your expense. It is a form of judging that sentences you with a self valued next to nothing you can comprehend through personal experience. Perhaps this arises because the environment is abusive. Perhaps the environment refuses to acknowledge that person’s self, and therefore provides no context in which to integrate into.

I would argue that those people without a web of relationships with others that orient themselves around the subject as an appreciable aspect of their experience cannot create meaningful sense from their world. That is, their lack of significance within a web of relationships, within system of interpersonal references, leaves them dispossessed of a structured order of experience. In a word, they have no subjective self because they exists in a world that refuses to affirm it. Without a self, without a reflective consciousness that constitutes a subjective individual, there can be no relationship with the world. Every relationship begins with the subjective, ends with the objective. The more developed the subjective, the more relationships can be developed among and between the objective world, whether they are other beings or things.

Culture manufactures mental illness. When discussing mental illness, what matters is our values and the lack of authentic communication about things that matter. No where else in the world do you find the level of mental illness exhibited here in the US. Mental illness is due to a culture that capitalizes off of solving people’s problems, whether they are real or perceived. The only problems people have is relationship problems. “People” are not the problem. Their brains are not the problem. It is a world, a culture, a society, that has forgot how to engage in mutually beneficial relationships, meaningful relationships that are reciprocal, that engage each other with equal vested interest. Instead we have a society of exploitation, of one sided dialog, of oppression. This has lead to minds that do not possess a clear idea of what it means to have original feelings, or novel thoughts: authentic experience.

There is an absence of authenticity, of autonomy, because no one possesses an actual self. Their self has been imposed on them, sold to them, by culture, through the mass media, the proliferation of icons, the repetition of signs and symbols that impress and embed themselves into our psyche, our self; and all the responses accompanying that self are acquired from outside of itself, in the world, the same place that sold them the idea that they were an individual self.

Imagine the mind like a plant. Imagine that food was the soil, and that sunlight was our sensory stimulation. In order to grow, we need to find the most sunlight. Now imagine that above our plant a disk has been placed to block the sunshine. The plant would naturally grow out and around this disk. Imagine a cylinder has been placed around the plant on all sides, with only a small opening at the top. The plant could not grow out, so it would grow up until it pierces the hole, then grow out wide (perhaps this analogy resembles the saying: if you want to make the rules, you must first play by the rules).

My point is this: society is the shade, the disks, the blockades that shade the sunshine, the stimulation afforded to our minds. It imposes artificial restraints on our potential and capabilities, on our value and possibilities. As a result, the mind, just like the plant, may grow weak and whither, or develop in a erratic way, or be forced to grow in an unnatural way.

Perhaps this is simply survival of the fittest. Perhaps exploitation is a fundamental inescapable feature. But I insist that equality and collaboration yield the greatest, most universal perspective and utility. This has been demonstrated time and time again when people are seen as equal. But maybe the system of collaboration is imperfect and everyone cannot be included due to the size? I would say that this system should be trimmed, that any system that too large to accommodate equal individuals is inefficient and ineffective.

Or perhaps I’m being too creative with my criticisms.

Memorium

What is the universal crisis of man? What is the great struggle? Have we overcome slavery, that shameful history?

I propose that the universal crisis facing mankind today and throughout history is slavery. In every great civilization throughout history man has believed himself to be on a new pinnacle of greatness, and it is this pride that causes the self-deception which leads to his fall. As culture continues to coalesce, laws proliferate, and unique experience become rarer and rarer, America face the growing threat of slavery of a more subversive kind. Religious institutions have been replaced by corporate and political institutions under the guise of democracy and humanism, but their power over the mind of man is stronger than ever. Instead of blindly following the priests and pharaohs under the threat of eternal damnation, secular man blindly follows his pleasures, forfeiting his mind and autonomy in the process, as if there were no higher way to live. As a result man has been drawn out of himself to the point of possessing no inner life, losing his individuality in the process as he appeals to external cues for some meagre satisfaction in the temporal world. Liberalism has made mankind into cattle.

A proposed memorial should symbolize the universal human struggle between body and mind, idols and ideas, things and thoughts. In this time more than ever it is important to reiterate the empty values of materialism and the emphasize the merit of critical thought and individual inquiry, especially if we should call ourselves a democracy.

The memorial will be a large stain glass structure, reminiscent of past religious dogma, which depicts a naked youth stabbing a overly dressed old man which symbolizes the struggle between individualism and collectivism, experience and theory, free thinking and dogma. Behind each of these figures will stand a group of individuals representing the typical ideals each represents within the broader currents of society. In the foreground of the naked youth stands a diverse group of fit, relaxed, naked people of mixed ethnicities and different stature. In the foreground of the old man stands a homogenous, yet segregated, group of people that reflect the physical manifestations of our materialist culture.

The naked youth symbolises freedom, innocence, wonder, ideas, experience, and promise. His naked physique is a testament to the unshackled mind he possesses, unhampered by the weight of dogmatic conventions, rituals, and customs. The sword in the youth’s hand represents the courage of reason to fight for what it believes and never back down or settle for empty bribes and rhetoric. The crowd behind him symbolizes a democratic culture embodied by a diversity of thriving individuals who are relaxed, poised, fluid, friendly, and also naked: e pluribus unum.

The overly dressed old man in the suit symbolizes slavery, ignorance, jadedness, materialism, theory, and doom. His stuffy attire represents to weight of unnecessary convention and custom that weighs him down. The paper fiat-currency clenched in his hands symbolizes the futility of materialism as he tries to buy his freedom from the wild youth. The crowd behind him symbolizes a slave culture embodied by homogeneous stereotypes which creates segregating distinctions. They too embody the weight of cultures oppressive dogma as they strive to exemplify external non-existent ideals for fulfillment. They are overweight, bloated, with body dysmorphia, weighed down by commodities and chained to unnecessary goods and obsessions. They have blank faces and stand rigid, like the lifeless lies they seek to embody.

Is there no greater struggle than this? Than the freedom of mind from the tyranny of others, from the deception of himself? In this way I have proposed a memorial to serve as an eternal reminder for all.

This is to propose the construction of a large stained glass depiction of a scene intended to raise awareness for the crisis–to state it simply– of destructive cultural indoctrination.

I intend to point out the disease with which negative culture–especially in the form of media and other institutions that advance misogyny, greed and materialism –has infected society. I intend the memorial to be a general critique and offensive elucidation of the even more offensive malaise that damaging cultural outlets has spread throughout society. Looking through any popular pop-culture publication or catalogue, one will find instances of the infection. Many popular teen magazines convince young girls that to be beautiful, they must be thin, and publications like Fortune, Vogue, and GQ advance materialism by portraying the false glamour in accruing possessions and climbing the corporate ladder with the sole purpose of accruing wealth and objects to the demise of more important ideals such as positive human relationships and wholesome experiences.

In an effort to expose these horrible effects, I intend to construct a stained glass memorial on the side of a visible NYC skyscraper. The content will be a depiction of a nude child stabbing a man in a suit carrying a briefcase with money falling out of his pockets. There will be a sickly thin woman with large breasts behind him covering her mouth with her hands.

Symbolism:
Man in a suit with money falling out of his pockets: to represent the futility of the rat-race and American corporatism, as well as materialism as advanced by negative cultural institutions.

Thin woman: to represent the unreasonable and damaging emphasis on appearances. Her sickly thin physique, fat lips and breast implants are meant to demonstrate culture’s destructive stressing of beauty, especially as it relates to the unrealistic expectations society places on the superficial beauty of women and young females.

Naked child: to represent freedom, wonder, curiosity, individualism and experience, all of which are oppressed and destroyed by dangerous cultural institutions. The child represents the ideal democratic system wherein people are not domesticated or hampered down by the weights of materialism and other malaise that results from cultural indoctrination such as anorexia, body dysmorphia, dysfunctional families, greed etc..

Sword: to represent reason and the courage to fight back against dogma, damaging norms and status quo.

Falling money: to represent the blind faith in the failing value of fiat currency and the emptiness of materialism.

Stained glass design: to allude to the destructive power of dogma. I am not claiming that religion is destructive, however we hope it might remind people of the negative results of taking dogma too far, and not reigning in the potential danger of ideology. For instance, the iconoclasm of religious relics (like stained glass) in 16th century Europe–a direct result of the Reformation which led to the execution of thousands of innocent free-thinkers–is a direct reminder of the oppressive tendencies caused by cultural institutions.

Actual scene:
The fluidity of the child is meant to demonstrate his independence, innocence and freedom. It is contrasted with the rigid, uniform and unnatural postures of the man and woman who are obviously burdened by the weight of cultural indoctrination. The action of the child stabbing the man is meant to represent the potential triumph over the ongoing struggle against corrosive prevailing societal norms.

The memorial will be undeniably offensive to many people, however I believe that it needs to invoke an emotional reaction in order to make an impression on viewers and to more effectively demonstrate the even more offensive consequences of ignoring the atrocities of certain cultural norms that undermine individual flourishing. I hope to affect stakeholders–i.e. everyone who is surrounded by popular culture– by sparking a reaction and conveying the emptiness of adhering to that promoted by pop culture. I also hope to reaffirm the paradigm held by, and actions of, those who already strive to live independent of–or even speak out against– such culturally fabricated demands, customs and normalizations.

Education and Genius: Boredom and Learning

If you are having a conversation with someone and you find yourself struck with boredom, chances are it is not a failure on your part, not a result of your mere laziness. I would bet that the failure rests with the person your speaking to, your interlocutor. I’m under the opinion that there no boring ideas. Just boring people.

After all, we’re sensual creatures. We thrive on stimulation. Nearly all of communication is nonverbal (Knapp). Sight and sound comprise 94% of our sensory inputs, 84% and 11% respectively. The American educator Marva Collins said that “The essence of teaching is to make learning contagious, to have one idea spark another.” I couldn’t agree more. I believe that at the heart of this contagion is a resonating passion, an enthusiasm that generates a visceral reaction, a mutually shared connection with another person.

Regarding education, why do we find that the responsibility for learning and adequate understanding rests with the student? Assuming that students have a vested interest in gaining knowledge of the material, why would we dismiss them as merely lazy or unmotivated when they find it unbearably difficult to fight through boredom and apprehend a classroom lecture?

When a student enters a classroom prepared to learn new material, they begin without a context. Even when reading the text is a prerequisite to coming to class, there is still an absence of ultimate relevant context: why should a student be expected to understand the relevancy and relationships within the context being presented? They shouldn’t. But this is the prevailing attitude maintained by formal education.

The result of an attitude insisting that the better part of learning rests in the hands of the student rather than with the teacher is a system of education where disengaged teachers instruct and lecture to students who are discouraged to engage in critical, mutually beneficial dialog, but sit as semi-passive observers to be inculcated with remote, vague ideas devoid of a context that is immediately relevant to the schema they bring with them to the classroom.

What kind of thinking does this promote? I would bet that the direct manifest of this classroom emphasis produces analytic, auditory-sequential thinking. This type of thinking is rote, routine, automatic, and poor in relevant context necessary for robust comprehension. Outside of what meaning is directly issued by the dictated insistence of the educator, there is no meaning. As a result students know all the words to all the questions, but they fail to ever develop a comprehensive semantic web that poises all the questions, and therefore lack the capacity to critically inquire, to ask original questions, for themselves. The contrary of analytic, auditory-sequential thinking is nonsequential, visuo-spatial thinking characteristic of geometric visions of reality.

I recommend reading Two Ways of Knowing for a preliminary elaboration on the virtues of auditory-sequential learning (left brain hemisphere) versus visuo-spatial learning (right brain hemisphere). To briefly note, highly gifted individuals utilized visuo-spatial thinking, exhibiting greater brain activity in the right brain hemisphere. But allow me to continue this line of thought a little further down. (Also another interesting article on Temporary and Spatial Processing)

Wonder. This word encompasses the attitude of children— model geniuses in their own right. They are absorbed with curiosity, captured with wonder, and intensely interested in the prismatic, multifaceted world around them. Children learn at exponential rates, partly due to their physiological development, but even more importantly, due their excitement for discovering novel experiences and the process of knitting new understandings regarding how these experiences work.

But what happens to that childlike wonder? Where does it go in age? In the past psychologists speculated that the brain is programmed for critical periods of development that allows for exceedingly fast neural growth in childhood that eventually tapers off with age. They posited that brain plasticity and cognitive fluidity wanes as knowledge becomes more crystallized with age. Due to recent research dispelling notions that brain plasticity declines and ceases with the onset of adulthood, and due to my own experience with learning, I do not embrace this paradigm.

Instead I would like to introduce a paradigm that explains how sparkling wonder for the world fades as individuals become more enculturated, as their questions about the world are met with more of the same answers, the same flat predictable responses. The corollary? They grow more desensitized, their brain is starved of stimulation, and their minds slowly harden and calcify into a crystallized understanding of the same old  phenomenon they find themselves routinely bombarded with.

In effect, the loss of childlike wonder, the lack of curiosity for the world and all its treasured enthusiasms for understanding, is a result of mental oppression. Sounds harsh, right? While this may sound like an overt plot by big brother, I assure you it is not. Rather it is the natural progression of culture.

Allow me to digress momentarily and introduce my thoughts on the sociological philosophies of Bourdieu and Althusser.

Bourdieu discusses the phenomenal progression of enculturation that begins before we are born, beginning with a room and crib and name and clothes assigned to us by our parents. As we emerge from the womb and into this world with an open mind, tabula rasa, we adopt the world that has been carved out for us. Aside from the aforementioned articles, our parents may even have an idea of what kind of person we’ll be, what personality and character they believe we should possess, what religion we’ll practice, and maybe even what job they envision us to have one day, perhaps as a doctor, or lawyer, or entrepreneur.  As we grow older, we learn the various cultural conventions that should govern our behavior appropriately within the context of our given family practices, within school, within church, or within the public domain, such as how to think, how to speak, how to act. We are corrected whenever we venture outside the realms of customary convention, such as when we use foul language in certain public settings, and are reprimanded and corrected, otherwise censured.

This external censure slowly becomes adopted and internalized by individuals until they no longer need external ques for regulating inappropriate and appropriate behavior. In a sense, we learn to censure ourselves. We learn the act (or art) of self- censorship. The proper behaviors we adopt are cultural capital endemic to the social or cultural context in which we find ourselves most exposed to and influenced by.

Bourdieu describes this as the habitus, or the set of socially learned dispositions, skills and ways of acting that operate unconsciously without our awareness. When we do become aware of this habitus, it is often when we find ourselves in a foreign or unknown context that allows us to recognize the incongruencies in behavior, say when a well groomed wealthy elite finds herself at a barbecue in the deep south.

I apologize for the digression but the point I’m making is all important, so allow me to state it plainly: the education system of today fosters a habitus that discourages self-guided open-ended critical inquiry in favor of directed, closed, routine memorization. I am speaking in absolute abstracts, of course, but if you take time to draw parallels to your experiences with formal education I am sure your true conclusions will be the same as mine. The reason why this is the case falls with the aim of education: to produce a work force proficient at undertaking assigned orders, finding answers to given questions, and completing a set of tasks dolled out by superiors. If you look at the hierarchical structure of the classroom as a training ground for the hierarchical structure of the workplace, this doesn’t seem like such a preposterous explanation of education’s existing state.

The individuals proposing and influencing education policies, the wealthy elite, can only think in terms of their own self-guided interests. What benefit would it serve them to have a free thinking, critically minded, independently motivated work force? While I would argue that it would do our nation a great service in terms of creation, innovation, and invention, from an executive’s perspective I can’t see how that’s the most desirable employee. On the contrary, they want workers who work quietly and do the exact job they are given. More precisely: to passively accept what they are told and perform accordingly to expectations.

But in my opinion that’s an outdated paradigm organizational and labor systems. Societies are organisms, like cells or animals, where every part of the whole is as important and valuable as the next for operating at maximum efficiency and effectiveness. To deny the capacity to openly challenge and critically think about work processes is a form of self-sabotage. Fortunately there are organizations such as Google and 3M that employ the practice of critical and creative thought in their workplace.

But again, I digress. And allow me to clarify a point: I am not diminishing the role of intelligence in formal education and the work place either. In fact, it is the only facet or trait of an individual of any worth in contemporary education. What is intelligence? Does it differ from problem solving? Let’s explore these questions.

In the mainstream sense, intelligence is the ability to arrive at correct answers. Sounds good enough. In Greek, intelligence translates as intelligere which means to “select among” from inter meaning “among” and legere meaning “to gather”. More precisely, intelligence is a convergent style of reasoning that utilized deduction to arrive at conclusions. It is analytic and sequential. Does it differ from problem solving? Not if the problem is defined among a given set of premises or facts.

But what if a problem exists as open, without any apparent premises or facts with which to reason from? What if the questions are not given? This is where the utility of intelligence breaks down and an indication that some other important element necessary for problem solving begins gaining apparency.

Allow me to cite Leonardo de Vinci’s response when asked of the secret of his creative genius: saper vedere. In Latin this translates as “to know how to see.” From this brief phrase we can draw some tentative conclusions about what he might have meant, namely that creative genius, or rather problem solving, is the ability to formulate a novel perspective, an original point of view, that rearranges and reprioritizes the saliency and valuations of phenomenon, of facts, within the context of a given problem. This is where visuo-spatial thinking is paramount.

It would seem that the ability to gain the proper perspective necessary for solving open-ended problems rests with the ability to think divergently through a visuo-spatial context of thought. That is, to diversify and differentiate different modes of thought, perhaps through analogy or metaphor, in order to gain an alternative and, ideally, an original point of view.

So I must ask: What type of thinking does our contemporary formal education system encourage? One that deviates from the “norm”? One that tests various processes of reasoning through problems? One that explores alternative solutions to a given problem? Or how about the most striking question of all: Does contemporary education encourage independent thought or novel perspective in the classroom?

If I were to generalize all my experiences in education, and even defer to the data regarding increases in standardized testing, my answer to all these questions would be a resounding no.  Is more standardization, more conformity and uniform perspective the answer? No and no again.

What we need are better teachers who are more adequately equipped to facilitate open discussion and lead critical thinking. In addition, we could do away with rigid, inflexible curriculum’s and standardized tests, as well as the stifling behavioral expectations of structured class settings. We also need to toss out this notion that intelligence— the ability to utilize deductive reasoning to converge at correct answers from a set of given premises— is not the only measure of value, and that other critical thinking skills— such as those that produce an ability to transcend bias, create new perspective, and generate novel questions and original solutions— are being totally overlooked and underutilized.

Revolutionary Humanity and Progress: Atheism, Skepticism, Man, Mind

There appears to be a growing number of people converting to skepticism and atheism in recent years. My concern is that the ‘bankrupt’ values of Christianity are just supplanted with the ’empty’ values of materialism.

The atheism and skepticism being adopted mainstream, in my opinion, isn’t properly justified: it’s simply because religion is inconvenient. There are no values to bolster the atheism, no justification to support the skepticism, no emphasis on understanding, reason, learning, mind. It’s just the best way to accommodate a nihilistic relativism. And I’m referring to the mainstream movement, the cultural phenomenon of suddenly self-identifying as a skeptic or atheist after reading one Dawkins or Hitchens book because it was a NYT best seller.

But perhaps that the average atheist does everything I questioned (read, reflect etc.) Suppose they do more than the average christian does. Studies show that the more educated you are the more likely you are to be an atheist, so I must question whether this phenomenon is simply the result of peer pressure or conformity. Perhaps being an atheist for an inspiring number of people is a product of thinking critically, logically etc. It may be that these atheists can have moral codes and strong beliefs grounded in a hope for humanity (not nihilistic).

Could it be that a lot of the surge is because there is more discourse about these issues and that it’s less taboo? We also understand a lot more about natural day-to-day phenomenon that at one time seemed supernatural. It may not be the case that people are necessarily better at thinking critically overall, but they most certainly have the tools to think more critically about religion and their place in the world now more than ever before.

But why do people think atheism is preferred or justified? What does it mean to be a skeptic? Do people (new self-proclaimed atheists) understand how science works or why its methods justify its claims? Why science is ‘good’?? Or why it is better than Christianity? Does science provide any values? Explain how to live? Do these mainstream atheists know any more about justification of atheism than the justification of Christianity they gave up? Do they know anything about their history? As a country? A world? Their ancestors? Do they read any of the humanities seriously? Philosophy? English? Classics? Economic theory? Do they read at all? What are the reading? Pop or mainstream garbage that’s mass-produced, perpetuated and fed to them? Only the myopicly interesting, the narrowly fascinating, astigmatically entertaining? Do they know the arts? Know the significance of art? Historically? It’s impact on our culture?

Do these self-proclaimed skeptics know what logic is? What sound arguments look like? Do they know what man is? Do they know who or why they are? Do they know the relations between themselves as an individual and others in their community, state, country, culture, or in relation to other cultures? I would say, no, most generally. Or not to the satisfactory extent they should to be any more justified in believing in atheism and skepticism over religion. There seems to be an absurdity to the the mainstream trends of atheism and skepticism that are just as absurd as Christianity or any other religion they gave up. Though I would like to think so, I am not convinced that this movement is a result of a more intelligent, better read, more cultured populous. Actually, I would love to think so, but given what I observe, their habits, how they spend their free time, I can’t let myself be persuaded.

I don’t believe we have a generation culture that is anymore critically adept at thinking than the past. I believe these skeptic and atheistic trends are more of a product of our emphasis on relativity, of values or perspectives, and the respect we owe to tolerate such perspectives, than because we’re any more knowledgeable or thoughtful as a culture. I may be gravely mistaken, but most atheists I speak with can give me reasons why Christianity and religion is intolerant and oppressive and dangerous, but they can’t provide much justification for why their position is sound or correct or justified. On the contrary, they usually provide cliché responses derived from their teachers or textbooks or the history channel, much like people similarly repeat their pastors and priests or the religious texts. They don’t provide any more justification for why their reasoning trumps that of any other reasoning.

Our culture, our emphasis on tolerance and openness is great, but as a culture I don’t believe we’re taking advantage of its value. Instead it seems convenient, or allows for a nihilistic relativity, an “anything goes” mentality where all is equal and free. But I believe such values embodied in freedom and equality provide us with the vital ability to progress to a higher plane of consciousness and living than the past afforded, not simply accommodate all perspective irregardless of whether they actually contribute to this progress.

But what values are being replaced? Christianity not only offers a world view, an etiology, it provides many important values that allowed our culture to progress, puritanical values and ethical values, most of which are necessary for progress, for guiding action, although there are arguably just as many that hinder it. But in replacing Christianity, specifically its values, what will take its place? What values will allow community and a uniform drive for enlightenment or higher understanding and action?

Most, I tend to believe, would agree that the nihilistic or “anything goes” mentality is harmful and present in atheism today, and that’s something they get a lot of flack for. Many hope for a kind of humanist “faith” that has a combo Kantian-utilitarian twist. But that seems to be asking a lot. Could the “ignorant masses” handle that thinking? Can we have faith in human reason? Can we love thy neighbor without being told to do so in some superannuated religious texts? Many believe we can all be inspired by human achievement and have a faith in the utility and power in this construct of human understanding that is bigger than us, and all the extraordinary things humans can do and have discovered and all the exemplary individuals who exist and have existed to inspire. Do we need a god for this? Does intellectual refinement or a push towards “civilized” living really ground us in something other than base, brutish impulse? Perhaps scholasticism, religion or theism did not civilize anything. Perhaps it is this will-to-power and a better than thou art mentality or goal did that.

If atheism, skepticism, or whatever is supplanting religion is to be taken seriously there needs to be a more cohesive idea of what direction the human race should be going. People need to “give a shit” and self reflect, but they can’t unless they are comfortable doing so. They don’t care to care. It seems that, for the poor and down trodden, or because of them, atheism won’t work.

I suppose what I am fearful of is a cultural regress that disregards the historical tradition for understanding, for better living, for man and mind. A regress that overlooks thousands of years of study in the pursuit of understanding man, his free imagining mind of infinite possibilities, as well as his relation with the world and others. It seems our culture does not appreciate the traditions that provided us with these democratic luxuries that hold the individual mind, the self-reflective consciousness, as the highest aim for understanding and progress, luxuries such as freedom, equality, autonomy, etc. I am fearful that this regress will take us to barbarism, where sensuality, instinct, passions, and the like are the rule. I feel that I observe this manifest in our culture with our emphasis on the material, the sensual, the pleasurable; this overlooks thousands of years of intellectual refinement, of cultivating the mind, refining the passions to function through thoughtful reflection, sound reason and expression, instead of brutish impulse, emotional living.

But I feel that there is a serious responsibility that comes with freedom, equality, etc. And I believe that this responsibility is not being realized. Atheism, skepticism, and critical inquiry most generally, requires work in my opinion; it’s not a convenient label, it’s not a religion that just accepts what you’ve been handed as unquestionably true. It’s not what’s popular or accepted. It’s a serious position that, in my opinion, needs sound and thoughtful justification.

And what of this will-to-power? We all have, as did great thinkers in the past, our subjective perspectives of consciousness, of the good and understanding, but, in my provisional opinion, they were accommodating to other perspectives, they tried to synthesize other veins of thought, other historical traditions to render a higher more complete understanding. They did this through dialogue, discourse, dialectics, and careful study of their culture and history,  as well as its relation with other cultures and their histories. So long as their pursuit for understanding and refinement was selfless, as far as that’s possible, they were not megalomaniacs who wanted the world to think as they did. That, I believe they realized and appreciated, would lead to the opposite of their aim.

I suppose that’s my problem: There’s needs to be a cohesive idea of a general direction for humanity, or at least our culture, that is accommodating yet very clear in its aim. But, as I mentioned, this requires critical and thoughtful reflection and “giving a shit”.

So what of Plato’s philosopher king to guide the ignorant masses? The philosopher king idea was, in theory, pretty magnificent. Could it be that, for atheism to work, we all need to be philosopher kings? Or at least impress others so much that we function as their gods? This idea sounds cult-ish, and it sorta makes me cringe at the possible tyranny of thought that could result if improperly applied, but there is something reasonable to having great thinkers, selflessly devoted as a civil servant to asking the right questions and solving societies problems. As we observe time and time again, people are too unreliable to do so on their own. “Let someone else tell me what to think and do, etc.” Religion is easy, and since the weak are supposed to inherit the earth, everyone seems to buy into it, even the weak or poor or disadvantaged.

But more importantly, regarding our most significant societal needs, it is necessary that we possess a culture that reflects as a whole and give a shit collectively, like the Greeks embodied to some extent at one time. Leaving it up to the philosopher kings is probably no better than leaving it up to the politicians or priests. What is required is elevating the collective consciousness, the public awareness. But this lack of self-reflection, lack of critical thought, lack of culture and knowledge and self-understanding is, I believe, a result of a cultural malaise rather than a problem inherent to individuals, or the poor or disadvantaged. Our culture has misplaced values, i.e. materialism that fuels sensualism rather than mindful reflection and reason that fuels understanding. We value things more than ideas. Matter more than mind. Or so it seems

We might be closer to knowledge than in the past, but having the luxury to reflect on this stuff either requires money (you’re comfortable anyway) or being humble (you’re not pissed others are “above” you) or bona fide enlightenment. It’s inarguable that the internet is transforming things. But for all the good it does and can do, the Internet can be just as debilitating. How do the majority spend their time on it? Entertainment more than self-improvement. But I’m generalizing again. Perhaps, regardless of whether people spend more time bullshitting online, they’re spending more time doing ‘productive’ stuff, or at least being exposed to more views than their neighbors or the church Parrish hold. But that may be far to generous.

I suppose it’s simply because of what mainstream media and culture perpetuate, and I may be taking that as a reflection of our cultural values and priorities. Maybe it’s not and simply a reflection of capitalism, but I may be finding it difficult to make a distinction It seems right to say that this materialism and greed hinders mindful thinking. It also seems right that Capitalism is a major part of it. Though, perhaps it is “human nature” that’s to blame. What is success? Possessing and dominating? Is this biological? While this is another debate, I’d like to think, to a large extent, this is the case.

But I don’t think that the will-to-power necessarily is the primary impetus of humanity’s progress. I believe it was another, selflessly distinct  ‘drive’, or “will to understand” man and mind, as embodied by very few individuals throughout the ages. The will-to-power manifests quite naturally and beautifully in autocracies and dictatorships, but I’d argue these are hardly periods of humanity’s growth. Quite on the contrary. But I may be mistaken.

I agree that the will-to-power is most likely responsible for the capitalist’s contributions to humanity. But the corollary, in my opinion, isn’t to the benefit of humanity as a whole
Maybe short-term, maybe for few, but not long-term for everyone. I think I’m being too Pollyanna. I feel like these dilemmas are what Plato and all the other thinkers have contemplated for all time. However, with technology and semi-universal access to
so much info, I think the environment may have changed in an incomparable way to the past.

I’m just unsatisfied with how I observe people and our culture handle or deal with these values of freedom and equality. People seem to take them for granted, like they are inherent in everyone, but I don’t believe people are necessarily free and equal. I believe that this comes with work, with education and refinement and understanding. It’s not something we already possess, it’s something we must acquire, an expectation to be realized. We have a responsibility to earn freedom, earn equality. It may sound crazy, but I believe if we don’t work to realize and understand them, we’re more animals. How can someone be free if they don’t know what freedom is or looks like or behaves? What a free mind or consciousness undertakes, reasons or contemplates?  We don’t inherently possess freedom or equality, but we all agree to grant it to each other (ideally) when we form a society because the alternative is “fucked up”.

A slave is a slave because he is born a slave, believes himself to be a slave. He never challenges his condition because he doesn’t know to think differently, isn’t acquainted with any alternative. It is an impoverished state of mind, a deprived state of being. And I believe that our cultural consciousness is exactly that: impoverished and deprived.  But when it isn’t realized, when we take it for granted, at what point do we realize, or are capable of recognizing, that we’re neither free nor equal? (I may be being too harsh, too critical, too general and uncharitable, but I’m experimenting with these ideas)

Perhaps this occurs when we look at what other people have or control and are like, “fuck.”(Wall Street protests?) I think this is a growing sentiment, but even though people may be able to identify incongruities I’m not sure they know how to articulate the issue collectively. I’m not sure if they can articulate the fundamental problems without looking and pointing and grunting in vague mass protests. And I’d probably argue that those people may be part of the problem, may be creating or contributing to it. But I have to think more on this point.

Perhaps in a generation, when it gets bad enough, when people are forced to consider these ideas and understanding out of necessity, we’ll witness an awakening, a revolution of sorts.

I guess I’m not sure how you change things any other way. A lot of ignoramuses certainly join in and act all silly because they desire to be a part of something larger than themselves but don’t know what they’re doing, but I like to think the ideas behind them are solid. I would probably go so far as to say that there seems to be an intuitive injustice that even the most ‘undeveloped’ mind could pick up on by simply observing the inequality in light of our cultural democratic tradition. But I’m also fearful that this will simply lead to socialism, that the correction will be a superficial remedy that allows passive unreflecting sensual thought but saves equality. That the knowledge of a problem without the understanding of a why will cause more problems when we attempt to fix it. I’m also fearful that we’ll be high jacked by demagogues, by soothsayers, and end up even less free. Is it wrong that I think these scenarios are unavoidable? That’s not to say we can’t strive, but do I really think 300 million people can get their shit together in our lifetime?

I guess I believe in the power of influential leaders to cull the social consciousness from its stupor, to awaken it, to appeal to higher good and better living. But I may be being Pollyanna again. Think of the Gandhi’s, the MLK’s, the Socrates, etc. But this leader would have an unprecedented, monumental task like never before. It may be far too big of a task for any man, even a Jesus.  I guess similar, crazy things have happened in the past, but definitely not on this scale. As far as I can tell anyway.

Part I: Commentary on “Adam Carolla explains the OWS Generation”

My motivation for this post arose out of the hoopla I perceived concerning the wisdom attributed to Adam Corolla’s unreflective rant regarding the OWS movement. For the sake of open discussion, I’m going to disagree with some of his premise. I’ll summarize and reply to the two primary premises underlying his arguments in two separate posts.

You can view his rant here.

Argument 1: The 1% own 50% of the wealth. The 99% expect the 1% to pay for them. Carolla believes that the 1%  deservedly earn 50% of the wealth because they have worked harder than the 99%. Because the 1% pay 50% of the taxes, the 99% are lazy and ungrateful, leech off the wealthy tax dollars, and should work harder to increase their share.

My response to argument 1:
The 1% have not earned their 50% of the wealth, so to speak. Possessing wealth does not mean that it was earned “morally”, in the sense that you can earn wealth by exploiting people, which I maintain to be the case, or you can inherit it, in which case it is not earned at all. Furthermore, if the 99% had more of the wealth, they would be paying a greater percentage in taxes. It is not as though the 1% are charitably paying taxes. They pay the portion of taxes they due because of the current graduated tax structure which requires people with greater income to pay more taxes, which I should mention has decreased significantly in recent years.

Continue reading “Part I: Commentary on “Adam Carolla explains the OWS Generation””

Part II: Commentary on “Adam Carolla explains the OWS Generation”

My motivation for this post arose out of the hoopla I perceived concerning the wisdom attributed to Adam Corolla’s unreflective rant regarding the OWS movement. For the sake of open discussion, I’m going to disagree with some of his premise. I’ll summarize and reply to the two primary premises underlying his arguments in two separate posts.

You can view his rant here.

Argument 2:
The OWS movement typifies a society that is self-entitled and narcissistic which has caused envy and shame when they compare themselves to the 1%. Corolla believes this self-entitlement is a result of a society that glorifies being average and treats every individual as special despite their work-ethic and achievements.

Response to Argument 2:
Disregarding the economic reality of potential inequalities, I believe that the denigrating qualities typifying society which Corolla has attributed to the OWS movement are the natural corollary of what happens when the 1% dominates and possesses so much of the power as incarnated in accumulated capital and influence.  In this light the 1% is directly responsible for the values– attitudes and expectations– directing and justifying their behaviors.

Continue reading “Part II: Commentary on “Adam Carolla explains the OWS Generation””

Dure

What’s wrong with our country? Our economy, our politics, our propaganda, our values, our media, our individuals: our culture: a fabricated fortress of rhetoric that keeps more in than it keeps out. We are at the pinnacle of our glory. It could be argued that we’ve been improving along the way, but I don’t think we’re any further along than the Romans or Greeks or Egyptians once were. We’re proud and gluttonous and utterly facile. We’ve built a society that takes care of the harder tasks of life and we’ve grown grotesquely dependent on it. We seek to escape the struggle to survive as if we were above it, as if we were gods and not crawling creatures and defacating animals. Every culture seeks to mimic the glorified, be it Christ or Buddha or Caesar or America or celebrities or politicians or businessmen. I’m not convinced we’re free or further along at all. In the struggle for survival it seems humans quite naturally seek to rob themselves of the very skills to survive until they are at the mercy of a machine of influence and power that they claim is a true reflection of their wants and wishes. Somewhere along the line this towering confluence of congenial compromise conquers its makers it a brash and booming way. And I think we’ll all be around to see it happen. I read that scientists believe that the first person that will live to 150 years of age has already been born, and within the next fifty years the first person to live to 1,000 years of age will be born. Man is obsessed with conquering. It’s the heroism that bolsters the ego out of its wormy condition. The ultimate obstruction for man to surmount is death. I do not think we’ll accomplish this feat. I believe we’re terribly blinded to the realities of our physical nature. The economy, the government, the science- it’s all supported by a delicate web of beliefs built purely on faith. And once the pacification is jarred and we’re confronted with our frailty? it will unravel and crash. Until then, the media and government and society- the culture- will continue perpetuating it’s childish myths as fact and not fiction. It serves the utility of contemporaneousness community and comfort.

I feel like history repeats itself. I watched Doctor Zhivago this evening (If you didn’t know already, the novel is amazing, and the 1965 is equally riveting and moving).  While I was watching the movie a particular quote struck me quite profoundly and I kept it in the back of my mind until now:

In bourgeois terms, it was a war between the Allies and Germany. In Bolshevik terms, it was a war between the Allied and German upper classes – and which of them won was of total indifference. My task was to organize defeat, so as to hasten the onset of revolution. I enlisted under the name of Petrov. The party looked to the peasant conscript soldiers – many of whom were wearing their first real pair of boots. When the boots had worn out, they’d be ready to listen. When the time came, I was able to take three whole battalions out of the front lines with me – the best day’s work I ever did. But for now, there was nothing to be done. There were too many volunteers. Most of it was mere hysteria.

This quote made me think of our current situation. Wars all across the globe, on foreign fronts where the massacre and murder can be fed to us second hand at a safe distance. Who makes the decisions for our country? Our government, almost synonymous with the lobby powers of business and political influence, our modern bourgeois. They speak and the masses listen with hysterical enthusiasm to whatever call that strokes their insecurities and passions.

*

I made music tonight. It felt good. I went to Vladik’s this evening to celebrate his completion of the DAT examination. We conversed while drinking shots of Silver Tequila and smoking cigarillos. I played guitar and he produced beats and rhythm on the keyboard and computer. We got about a minute of music and lyrics down. It sounds good. I’ll post when we’re finished.

 

Droplets in the Sea

“…for the time being I gave up writing – there is already too much truth in the world – an overproduction which apparently cannot be consumed….” -Otto Rank

This is how I often feel. About everything. Sometimes I get comparative and I forget that the driver behind my actions should be purely expressive and therapeutic. There is no absolute truths, no direction to speak of, no purpose for all. I often think that I am speaking or writing over a clamoring chorus of cacophony so that my contribution only adds to the confusion, to the dissonance. So I decide that I’d rather not write. But it needs to come out. It is a compulsion that bubbles up and bursts into a full spectrum of epileptic color. I need to get in the habit of writing again, or thinking consistently, with a purpose that I can arbitrarily delegate to myself and justify through my actions, not because there’s any inherent merit.

So what have I been thinking about lately? Generally speaking, how everything is an illusion. How we are so totally blind to ourselves. It’s wacky just thinking about how inane our belief systems are, our quirks and world views. We justify what we’re comfortable with. Humans attract more of the same. I heard on an NPR segment these academics call it an ‘echo-chamber’, or an ‘identity silo’, if I’m not mistaken. The speakers were discussing information systems like Google or Facebook that have algorithms that feed us more of what we like by accessing our browsing or interaction history. It all operates off of confirmation bias. The vast majority of people do not deliberately seek out information that conflicts with our world view or philosophy. In fact, many people get agitated when they are exposed to systems of thought with which they disagree. Instead they find information that confirms and reinforces an insular world view or belief system. This creates a concurrent resonance so that information going out is confirmed by information going in. It is a reverberation that amplifies beliefs. The result is a severely skewed picture of the world. The threat is radicalism.

Anyway. We all do this. People are not prone to novelty or newness or anything foreign or unknown that may threaten or unravel our nice picture of the world. People like the path of least resistance, comfort and ease.

All belief system’s are lies (‘Myth’ is a nicer word). Mine as much as any one else’s. But why I think mine has more legitimacy lies in the fact that it has no legitimacy. (Legitimacy is an ethical claim, not a quantitative or measurable claim. My belief system would not produce a successful priest, or lawyer. Perhaps, only a good citizen of the world, or philosopher. Perhaps it’s only good for me, Michael.) My beliefs are arbitrary. Most people would never dream of throwing their beliefs to the wind and calling them arbitrary. Why? Because our belief systems offer us techniques for dealing with the world, with other people, with ourselves, with mortality. Beliefs make everything sweet and sanguine. “The believer is happy; the doubter is wise.” But the longer we hold onto a single belief and fail to venture into new perspectives of the world, the longer we are exposed to sheer ignorance, and the harder it is to escape.

Yea. Beliefs. Character. What the hell is character? It is a defense mechanism. Like all of our ideas that provide us with an orientation when confronting the world. If we fail to maintain character, we fail. Our shortcomings are exposed, our wretched limitations lay open for us and the world to see. Inconsistencies in a world where people depend on consistencies, on ideals and values that endure beyond temporal constraints and natural rotting.

Yea. Beliefs are limitations. We spend our entire lives building these vast belief systems that serve one function: to limit us. They limit us to the overwhelming possibility that has confronted us since our birth. What in the hell is this place called earth, mom, food, hot, pain, god, lies, trust, etc? These ad hoc, explosions in our face, these phenomenon that we didn’t choose but were thrust upon us. The sheer ridiculousness of entering a world overflowing with sensations and ideas.

The moment we exit the womb we begin to limit, to delineate the contours and trace out boundaries of experience, cutting off and segmenting this ocean of possibilities into more manageable pieces for consumption. We ‘rationalize’ this world by limiting it. By censoring it. By condensing it. By symbolizing it. Ugh. It’s all a myth. We are afraid of possibility, of potential. If we weren’t, we’d be something else, we’d be continually born anew.

So much to think about.

So my current situation. I need to get active. Analysis paralysis. A general listlessness about life has settled on my mind. It’s pathetic.

I ran today. I will run tomorrow, and lift. I am spending the remainder of my summer restricting my caloric intake and subjecting my body to intense physical stress. I’m well aware that the mind is connected with the body, the heart, the soul, whatever. A sound body is a sound mind.

I will read more. I say, more than six hours a day. Very doable. A book a week.

I don’t understand people who live on a superficial plane of existence. There are multiple layers that we wear. There’s the superficial layers filled with linguistic clichés and verbiage that allow us to navigate through interpersonal interaction. Then there is a layer that yields our beliefs, our defense mechanisms, our reflections and questions. The final layer is a recognition of our fear, our denial of our inadequacy, our frailty, our inevitable death that will arrive no matter how much we make, what we know or achieve or believe. That is the breaking point for most people, when serious changes and restructuring occurs in their mind. When the other layers have failed, this layer takes control.

Anywho. I don’t get superficiality. I’m great at it, at bullshitting. Most people exist in this layer. Banter. That’s all it is. Useless noise that gets us what we want, a reaction out of people, out of our world. But most people don’t move beyond it. Ever. They exist there. Their mind is so pathetically shallow. That’s why we have Television and the internet and games and amusement. It placates our superficiality. If we actually had to think about life, about our beliefs and actions and deliberations and consequences, most people would unravel or lose themselves.

I watch these people rush to watch their favorite television shows. Their TV. They don’t read. They listen to their music. They read their fantasy novels. They indulge in religious services or shopping sprees. All superficial techniques for avoiding the self.

It’s insane. They don’t write. They don’t read. They don’t converse about meaningful projects. About feelings, about dreams, desires, goals. Knowledge and creativity isn’t prized like it used to be. It’s all about amusement, or power.

So. The human condition has been swiped aside. The humanities departments across the country bear signs of the recent insignificance that plagues them in the face of power. What thrives? Engineering, business, law, science. Disciplines that allow us to master others, master our world. Why do they have the greatest growth? Because they allow for the accumulation and application of power.

Everything comes down the this will to power. I need to think more on it and write more later.

Language. Ideas are public goods. There is no private language, just as there is no private ideas. If it is an idea, it must be accepted and shared by the community, otherwise it will fail to flourish, and die. Ideas are public. You cannot escape the conversational constraints dictated by the public arena. Artists do this though, or attempt to. They create feelings and ideas where there was none previously.

My language traps me. I cannot think beyond it, I cannot communicate about it except with the language I have been afforded by my culture. That is why reading is so amazing. It allows me to transcend my limited abilities so that I can articulate and convey ideas to a broader audience.

/end rant.

<Bed time>

 

Social Mobility: Language, Influence, Power

You said it, my good knight! There ought to be laws to
protect the body of acquired knowledge.
Take one of our good pupils, for example: modest
and diligent, from his earliest grammar classes he’s
kept a little notebook full of phrases.
After hanging on the lips of his teachers for twenty
years, he’s managed to build up an intellectual stock in
trade; doesn’t it belong to him as if it were a house, or
money?
Paul Claudel, Le soulier de satin, Day III, Scene ii

 

Communication. I can’t stop thinking about communication. It’s everywhere. You can’t help it. You are conditioned to adopt certain norms and customs. The interpellation that causes identity formation through subjectification and submission to authority. Bear with me while I get this all out. It might get a little cerebral.

Pierre Bourdieu described the habitus of language. Habits form our character, our ideological world view, our identity as a subject. Using language makes you apart of a normative group whoever and whatever that might represent.

We are creatures of habits. The habituation of ideologies shapes our view of the world. Through habituation we come to embody certain symbols that mark out our ideology as a result of the environmental influences we were born and conditioned into. These habits elucidate the societal structures we find ourselves belonging to. Each societal structure contains distinct linguistic capital that defines a linguistic market or social group.  The linguistic capital we use has symbolic power or symbolic imposition. The greater linguistic capital a person possesses, the more mobile that person is within and between different linguistic markets. The accretion of habits that form linguistic capital are instrumental for the formation of identity.

The language and gestures that forms a person’s linguistic capital contains explicit or implicit symbolic power that are used to define the world.  The symbolic power of language takes the form of subliminal and non-verbal insinuations. Posture, eye contact, intonation, definitions, conventional phrases, and mannerisms all play a role in the insinuation of symbolic power.

The formation of a person’s identity arises from censorship. Ideological influences in society- family, religion, school- all facilitate this censorship. Eventually the external influences of censorship become internalized and act as self-censorship.

When we were young our parents molded our ideology by pruning our habits through assent or dissent. The process that habituates the internalization of censorship and forms the ideology that becomes our identity looks something like this:

As a child we may use the word ‘fat’ to describe someone who’s overweight, or ‘bitch’ to describe someone who’s mean. To show their disapproval of the ideology our parents initially rebuke us with a reproachful look and say “Michael, do not use that language.” In this was they are actively censoring the language that doesn’t fit into their conceptions of accepted ideology.  The next time we use that word our parents may need only say “Michael, language.” The next time only “Michael.” The next time only the reproachful look. The next time only their presence is needed to censor our language. Soon enough, as we become habituated and internalize this censorship as self-censorship,  nothing is needed to prompt our censorship.  A persons subjectivity is shaped first through language which gives rise to a subject or self.

This process habituates a complicit reaction to the symbolic domination taking place. The force of our language, the symbolic power within linguistic capital, imposes itself onto the world and others. It forms a persons identity through their subjectification. This subjectification is a result of the symbolic imposition characterizing the symbolic power of a linguistic capital.

The linguistic capital that composes a linguistic market is deemed a legitimate language. The formation of the legitimate language characterizing a linguistic market involves the consolidation of a language. This consolidation is the accumulation of distinct linguistic markers or signs that compromise the markets linguistic capital. The coalescing or consolidation of language into linguistic capital gives rise to a community. This community formation is the linguistic market in which the symbolic power and force of the linguistic capital is exchanged. In this way the community contributes to the process of forming particular individuals. This is the perpetuation of tradition, customs, trends, as a result of the communities ideological influence on the individual through censorship.

Censorship, in another name, is none other than the idea of ‘instruction’ or ‘discipline’. This occurs anytime an ideology is being imposed on an individual, be it a child, student, employee, citizen, and the like.

This emphasizes the subject-object relationship within ideologies.

It is interesting to look at the implication of this paradigm.

When someone uses a language, or employs linguistic capital, that falls outside our ideology or linguistic market, there is a misunderstanding or miscommunication, a conflict of ideologies.

The notion of ‘control’ characterizes the stability of our ‘identity’.  Our identity defines us, and we control our identity by endorsing ideologies that manifest through symbols (gestures, language, accessories that fill our life: clothes, house, and other tokens or bibelots). When someone interacts with us through a explicit, direct, conscious interpellation that conflicts with the ideology that forms our identity, there is a loss of control. This lack of control leaves one vulnerable.  These vulnerabilities are felt according to the past histories of an individual subject.

All this being said, I want to emphasize the importance of understanding this paradigm. It is life. You are shaped by your environment: family, society, education, peers. There is no way around it. You are born into a world with a space waiting for you. The moment there is knowledge that you wil be born you parents begin creating this space filled with expectations for the kind of person they wish you to be: boy or girl, smart, hardworking, handsome, polite. The extent that their ideology allows them to  understand exactly what these words or expectations mean is dictated by the linguistic capital within the linguistic market they are apart. Or, simply stated, the language they use is determined by the societal structure they willfully or unwillfully find themselves in. They censor you, discipline and instruct, according to the parameters of the symbolic force within the ideology of their language.

Leverage language. Leverage the symbolic power of linguistic capital, the semantic force of language. Leverage your identity in this way. Leverage your social mobility by being much more understanding of different ideologies and learning to adopt contrary or conflicting world views.

Do not let others impose their ideology on you. Seek to create an awareness of the influencing ideologies that shaped your current conception of self. Consider its limitations, its failures. Form a pure conception of self. While it is near impossible to escape the influences totally, you can be aware of an ideologies symbolic power and force that imposes itself on the world.

Do not be concerned with the ‘Things’ of the world. Be concerned with the ‘beliefs’ or ‘methods of interpellation’ that categorize and define the world. If you are concerned with the ‘things’ or the markers and symbols within the linguistic capital comprising your ideology, and not the underlying interpellation or beliefs, you run the risk of operating outside your ideology. This jeopardizes the control over your identity and leaves you vulnerable. This lack of control, or vulnerability, leaves one resistant to agree or engage.

When engaging with people, look at their beliefs and talk, not in terms of the right or wrongness of their language and terms and definitions, but in terms of the ideology that has formed their conceptions of that language. Look at why they use the language they use and where the symbolic force of their language lies. Adopt their language and talk as if you operated from their ideology.

It is not about being right or wrong, it is about understanding. Leaders leverage a diverse array and large quantity of linguistic capital. This allows for incredible adaptivity, influence, and social mobility within social structures and groups- linguistic markets. They are the weak ties that bind solitary communities together.

Language is capital. It is as good as gold. Actually, it is much more valuable than gold. If you possess the right language, you can do and be anything.

Epic Blurb

I love swimming. Becoming totally engulfed in an essence. I love swimming in the ethereal feelings and thoughts kindled in my glowing imagination. I want to live fully. What do I think?

I cannot keep putting off responsibilities. Responsibilities like… homework, studying, keeping in touch with people, being happy. I have a responsibility to be happy ya know. No one else is responsible for my happiness. Its unique to me.

Is it good to avoid criticism? Should one look for it?

***

I visited cousin at Amherst College this weekend. Watched the football game. Beautiful campus. Small population of students but spacious none the least. Hung out with the football gang. All seemingly intelligent people. It’s odd to visit a wet campus. Alcohol prevails in every dorm and every hall. The smell of stale beer leads you to the next party. Filled with juvenile adolescents indulging in self destruction- pounding away at another helping of hoppy watered-down ethanol or some other distilled liquid pleasure. These people. Freedom is such a new quality. I remember the days when I was overwhelmed with freedom. It’s where the irresponsibility started and accountability faded away as I justified my actions with those of my peers. Sad really. My individualism was lost amongst the crowd. And for what? Acceptance is too cliche for an answer. I stripped and tossed my convictions without hesitating a moment. No contemplation. We don’t think that far ahead in our youth. We live in the now. We rarely take time to see into the distance future. If we did, we would see how our accumulated actions would be disserving and adjust accordingly.

Maybe its alright to pander to some of our fleeting youthful satisfactions. Its a slippery slope. The miligram experiment by social psychologist stanley milgram perfectly illustrates what happens when we undermine our convictions. We continue this trend until there are no limits to what we do. The line has been crossed, we are confused, we lose sight of right and wrong as we justify out previous slip.

Amherst was fun. I’m through with the binge atmosphere. I want social glee. I want to be surrounded with quality people who enjoy the finer things in life. Who rise above mindless impulses and short-lived thrills.

Education will not solve the worlds problems. The worlds problems are more than the tangible pressures we face. We face trials of the heart. When the man is right, his world will be right. How can education cause men to be more introspective with their intentions? Just because a man is sincere doesn’t mean he can’t be sincerely wrong. Is man the measure of all things? How far does this measure extend?

*****

I often wonder what would happen if I forfeit all the wisdom I’ve believed to have accumulated? What would happen to my world is I tossed my convictions and standards into the wind and remained wild, totally free from reason. Ha. As I say this I just think of how most post-modern liberals behave. I’m sure my behavior wouldn’t be that different.

*****

I need to write a paper. A LONG paper. A case study. On a company with a woman who’s got no work ethic. Who started a business strictly because she does not work well with authority. Who stated that shes alright with her businesses minimal growth because she reaps tax benefits and money from subsidies to small businesses. She is stealing our tax money becuase she refuses to work hard to earn more money for herself. Wow. This women is nice. She’s got some good ideas. She is clueless when it comes to investing herself into a vision and seeing that vision come alive. She instead settles for mediocrity. A business that’s providing barely enough to get by. She comes to work late. She fired every employee shes hired because of ‘personality conflicts’ but stated that she prefers an employee because that makes me come to work on time. People. I swear. How the hell do I even approach this study. I outlined a business plan proposal. When I write the paper I obviously want to write like this is going to a valuable company with vested stakeholders- instead, I think about how this women won’t heed a damn word and although my analysis of her basic production methods is legitimate- I find that all she needs is a good lesson on working hard and the principles of success. Being an economics paper I can’t very well write a philosophy discourse of strategies for success, but I’m EXTREMELY tempted. If there wasn’t a hefty grade attached I would write such a paper and throw it in her face. I’d also rattle off a few rants on why any social distribution of wealth is inherently flawed due to free loaders like her.

My God! People must misunderstand me all the time! When I talk of success- this doesn’t translate into financial gain! People probably think I’m so egocentric and highfalutin because they totally misinterpret success. Actually- they are totally ignorant to success in general so they are stigmatized to the notion!

SUCCESS!!!! What it means!!! Progressively realizing a worthy ideal!— And working towards it with every molecule and vibration in your being! Being excellent and exploring the unknown wellsprings of untapped potential! BEING THE BEST AT WHAT YOU DO! If you decide to do something- put your all into it! Enough???? “Aren’t I doing enough” you ask? Enough is only your best! Do not lie or deceive yourself. There is no such thing as failure. There is no such thing as try! There is Do. or Do not. Live. or live not. You choose.

I believe that all psychological illnesses stem from people not realizing their full potential. They sabotage themselves and what they think they can or cannot do! They become entrenched in limiting thoughts and habits and live their lives, like Thoreau said, ‘in quiet desperation’.

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Some people feel that they lack motivation or intelligence or desire or skills. HA! HAHAH! I pity these people. I do. Continually focusing on what they lack instead of what they have at their disposal! How can one gain more by spending his time counting everything he hasn’t! All man needs to succeed he already possesses. The most valuable tool in his arsenal of achievement? Will. What is will? The ability to apply oneself to a decision. We all possess the ability to make a decision. Focus on that decision- never mind the details for they’ll take care of themselves- and you will watch live spring to life. Will! The more you exercise will the more you empower yourself! Have Dreams! Have vision! “Vision without action is a dream. Action without vision is simply passing the time. Action with Vision is making a positive difference.” (Joel Barker)

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I want to help other people find their potential. They may ask- what is potential??? What does that mean??? It is everything you are not and you want to be.
I often get caught up thinking that I need to possess the answer in order to plant inspiration within people. How childish! How can I possess all the answers for each individual? Can I make up their mind? Can I pretend to know the depths of their soul and the curiosity of their spirit? No. What I must possess is hope and vision. All I need within myself is the ability to question. To challenge. To encourage people. People have the answers within themselves. They need to look. All I need to to ask the questions that cause people to look within themselves. There they will find the burning flame that starves for more to breath. When this flame catches a breath it will burn brighter and more passionately then they’ve ever known. It will illuminate them from within and their eyes will shine with wonder and awe. They will yearn for more and more and their enthusiasms will cause others to combust in a dazzling display of human achievement.

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It’s odd. As I often do, I find myself caught in a paradox of conflicting ideology. On one hand- I hold people to the highest most exalted esteem, adorned and lauded for their precious nature. On the other? I find people utterly reviling, evil and carnal in nature. Lost and complacent with consuming the empty tales of hope. Listening fervently with open ears to the flowery but empty rhetoric that evil spews forth. Lies- deception and deceit. It pulls at the strings of their heart and beckons them to follow but leads no where. Are they sheep? They are defiant sheep. I cannot hate the ignorant. I myself am just as ignorant. I do- however- hate the lies. Those that lead others astray have gained my utmost contempt. Their words are like honey to the lips that poisons and incapacitates. These men lead nowhere.

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I love life. I wish I would think less and act more. At the end of the day all that matters is what was actually accomplished. When my life is over- I won’t be able to celebrate the hours of cathartic reflection and quiet contemplation. I will have to show what my life produced. When the harvest is ready- one cannot make excuses for anything less than his best. This life we sow our best, till and prune and water and tend. When this life is over only the fruits of our labor will reveal our success.

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I have to work. I have much to do. I have much to write about. No holding back.

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