Power Structures and Gender Theory

Why does society look and function the way it does? What impact does industrialization and social development have on humans, on an individual and social level?

Testosterone is the hormone responsible for many male characteristics. It can be increased through physical activity, or any kind of assertive or dominating gestures or power postures.

Prolactin is an essential neurotransmitter responsible for learning. Stimulant medications such as Adderall affect the dopaminergic pathways that facilitate the release Prolactin, with concentrations naturally higher in females due to their production in the mammary glands.

“Highly elevated levels of prolactin decrease the levels of sex hormones — estrogen in women and testosterone in men.[6] The effects of mildly elevated levels of prolactin are much more variable, in women both substantial increase or decrease of estrogen levels may result.” -Wikipedia, Prolactin, Sept. 10, 2012

Does the passage above provide insight into why developed nations have lower birth rates than undeveloped nations?

“Prolactin levels may be checked as part of a sex hormone workup, as elevated prolactin secretion can suppress the secretion of FSH and GnRH, leading to hypogonadism, and sometimes causing erectile dysfunction in men.” -Wikipedia, Prolactin, Sept. 10, 2012

From an evolutionary perspective, I wonder if females contain more Prolactin because they evolved to mirror social information and other group behavior necessary for establishing communal norms. The process of mirroring is more passive, as it requires reflecting back information rather than asserting or creating totally new information apart from preexisting contexts.

Does the suppression of testosterone increase Prolactin and the ability to learn?

“During pregnancy, high circulating concentrations of estrogen increase prolactin levels by 10- to 20-fold. ” -Wikipedia, Prolactin, Sept. 10, 2012

Prolactin promotes neurogenesis in maternal and foetal brains.[10][11] -Wikipedia, Prolactin, Sept. 10, 2012

Does this explain why females are increasingly found to flourish in academic settings, such as academic institutions?

Does a society with ever growing and increasingly complex norms, conventions and collective practices produce more androgynous people? By emphasizing the kind of passive, non-engaging learning put forth in modern day formal education, are we effectively increasing the demand for those with greater Prolactin, or effeminacy, and decreasing the demand for testosterone , or assertive declarations?

Which hormone produces more individuality? Which facilitates greater creativity? Which facilitates greater conformity?

Do imposing social norms and other oppressive social structures increase Prolactin?

“High prolactin levels can also contribute to mental health issues.”  -Wikipedia, Prolactin, Sept. 10, 2012

Does this explain the higher level of mental health issues in developed or industrial societies? Or is it simply that these countries have developed a lexicon extensive enough to index a greater number of psychological phenomena?

In countries with more stringent social norms, do we find more androgyny? more homosexuality? more uniformity? I can’t help but think of the many stereotypes belonging to Asian cultures.

More thoughts later.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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

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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.

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.

Streaking Canopy

I can’t sleep. Insomnia has plagued me. Not insomia, per say, more of a total lack of diligence. I’ve been observing myself from afar the past few months, and I can’t help but think I’ve degenerated into a raving lunatic. There’s something of a compensatory malaise that’s settled on me, a disease of the imagination, one of the heart. I’ve succumbed to old vices, justified desultory behaviors, yielded to impulse, all in the name of fulfillment. And while I can’t say I’m in a state worth complaining about, I’m not exactly sure I feel any more fulfilled because of it.

Where is the self-discipline? I rationalize my passions, these unpredictable tyrants, with aphorisms like “reason must be a slave to the passions” and other nonsensical speak. What is balance? Before the structured society, nature imposed her rule, through time, the seasons, the setting sun. I’ve lambasted society’s strict structure as a pathetic excuse to escape responsibility from her order, all in the name of wildness. But am I an animal? Where is my personal narrative, my imagination? Why can I not call on a thread of story to sow meaning back into my life? I find myself with fading preoccupations that come and go with the tide, and I proclaim my evolution. But all the while the shore recedes and I am left with less than when I started. Am I too harsh? I have declared the reclamation of merit to live on a whim, but at what cost? Have I regressed? Have I grown into myself, or out of myself?

Change is something of a comfort. I’m tired of these thoughts, these stagnating feelings, these perduring words that have etched themselves into my psyche, that beat incessantly at my consciousness like a dripping faucet. Stillness breeds pestilence: placid pools choked of a streaming consciousness. Familiarity has evaporated fresh thought, leaving me with more of the same. Where are the revelatory insights? Do they come and go? Do I implore the world for more of her wisdom? or do I dig and mine for it from within? And what of the world and my proper place in it? Do I tell stories? do I listen to stories? or do I create them?

I am surrounded by enablers. People that feed my ego, that affirm the worth I continually seek to discard. I need to molt, to metamorphisize into something grander. Can this happen in my current state? Should I seek new frontiers? How should I employ my experience? How should I demonstrate my value? Where might I find something that doesn’t reek with past association? What is it that I am trying to escape? Where does this restlessness arise? Do I stab at it with self criticism? Do I strangle it with satisfaction?

But I want to do great, I say, want to change the world in an unprecedented way. I keep my eyes cocked, one pointed outward toward the world, the other inward toward my soul, to achieve balance, I say, but I only become disoriented. What will salvage this soul of mine? Is it literate? Do I leverage words over the minds of men, persuade them to embrace the clairvoyent alms I offer, the values I impart to the world? Do I act as a torch to light the way? And who will light my path? Is that for me alone? Or do I light the torches within other men, one by one, so that they become their own beacon, their own true north?

There are only questions, endless seas spanning leagues and chasms and planes. If I was a bird; I would have a voiced graced by divine inspiration and wings to carry me above the rising currents that bake the earth. I could soar across new landscapes, traverse valleys and streak up the hills, catch secret shade in towering canopies, and greet frontiers of wide open blue. Where is my place in this world? Is it in words, in symbols, in relations? Do I steep myself in meditation, in reflection? Or do I act with unrequited abandon and throw myself into the world? But the balance, you say, the moderation that beckons every stable being, where is that in this wide open dream?

Facebook, these digital landscapes, falsifies reality. The updates. The information. We are drowning in information. Do we need more knowledge? Does this world need more knowledge? More abstracted meaning? More stuff to fill our minds, to clog our souls, to muddle our mental machinery? I believe we are overflowing with information. Do we need more scientists? What of all the science we have? Are we getting any closer? What is the end, here? What have we achieved? Is our society any better off? Are we any better off? Do we have any more answers than when we started? So what is the goal? Should we make more of an effort to learn more? To stuff our brains with more symbols, more words? Will that provide the meaning, the answers? Will that suffice? I believe we have reasoned from the wrong premises, and our conclusions, natural as they may be, will fail us. I want to start over. From where?

I will secure a j-o-b soon. I type it like that because it’s often said like that, as if the word contains a frightful taboo, a terrifying reality that we should shield ourselves from. Upon securing this job, what have I to do then? Apply myself, earnestly produce value for my employer, all in the name of a paycheck, in the name of some core values and mission statement coined in a conference room by men wearing pin striped suits whose aim is to devise a moral incentive to maintain company performance. Workers are numbers, applicants, positions: faceless and nameless in the sea of business, in the market of operations. Performance is dictated by necessity, and beliefs are formed accordingly. We have bills to pay, mouths to feed, cash to accumulate, things to buy that extol our worth and achievement, and suddenly work becomes meaningful. But when all of that is provided, life suddenly becomes meaningless. The only outlet is pure self-expression, artistic screams that cry for some transcendental worth to imbue activity with meaning. But the crowds are fickle, and appealing to them for direction and value is a fruitless endeavor. No, you must dictate direction and value to the crowds.

Figures in authority ask the questions. It is not your place to question me if you are inferior, they say. Who do you think you are? I ask the questions, and you provide the answers. Let us educate our workforce in this way, silly complacent children.

The boys come and go. They are preoccupied with the thoughts of others. They seek approval of their worth, so they act the part, play the role, pander to the appraisal of others. Their lives, like most others, are empty; their own thoughts do not stay close but pass through them like a sieve. What is retained is a shallow film scraped from the sides of their hollow canisters. It is the same grime, the same soot, the same slime that festers across the airwaves, that penetrates the media madness, that trickles across the ticker, that dawdles down the twitter. The same information, reaffirming our crumby selves, our empty selves, devoid of self imposed rule, of self affirmed value. We become machines, with machine minds and machine hearts, latticed with everyone else’s ideas, with everyone else’s dreams, pipe dreams.

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.

Thoughts: Novelty, Education, Society, Theory

I could write for days on end with all that’s been on my mind. But I guess I’ll just dump some random thoughts circulating about at the moment. I apologize if my line of thought appears a bit erratic and nonlinear.

Recent research regarding the genetic basis for novelty seeking behaviors in honey bees parallels that of humans. ADHD is characterized as a novelty seeking behavior, one that thrives off of new stimulation, hence the title Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. These genes are hardwired to the benefit of the group to seek new enterprises, to explore and discover new directions for growth.

Society is a historical phenomenon, a developmental product of inherited traditions to preserve functional behavioral aspects for survival. Pure theory disregards the empirical element to any social science. The biggest culprit in perpetuating opaque theories in the social sciences is Economics.

I will state that pure theory of any kind breeds a certain phenomenon of necessity by reducing evolving organic elements into statical-atomistic parts, consequently quelling any perspective that accommodates for change. Theory requires assigned values in order to quantify and logically justify its conclusions. Indoctrination is the method that achieves this end.

So long as economics is a practical exercise whose applications deal with and affect the organism of society, it should have no business perpetuating pure theory over historical-empirical observations, which is science. Psuedo-science is pure theory. Recall the utility of metaphysical speculations rooted in pure machinations melded from minds rooted in supernatural causation, totally detached from the socio-material world. Perspective, or rather the amalgam of perspective, is paramount to achieving accurate explanations. Think on the process of peer review.

Necessity breeds slavery, i.e. denies man. The phonomenon of Necessity is a testament, not to its excellence, but its power [sic Ellul]. Necessity is convergent. Possibility is divergent, as is potentiality. Equilibrium is convergent. Evolution is divergent. Preservation is convergent. Adaptation is divergent.

A college degree, and contemporary formal education, is tantamount to receiving confirmation through the Christian church. I reject the value of indoctrination in both.

Have we witnessed a surge towards the value of divergent thinking or convergent? Does our education system reflect valuations of standardization or differentiation? Has standardized testing, formality, rigid class structure increased or decreased? What is our fate?

You cannot stand within and move without: escape bias by escaping context. Transcend perspective by losing it.

That I know myself to be a common man makes me uncommon. Recall the maxim of Thales: “Know thyself.” Recall the wisest tenant of Socrates: “As for me, all I know is that I know nothing, for when I don’t know what justice is, I’ll hardly know whether it is a kind of virtue or not, or whether a person who has it is happy or unhappy.”

Many know the words, few know the meaning. For that we can praise propaganda’s subversive process of inculcation perpetuated by the forceful effect of formal education: memorization, recitation, regurgitation, repeat. Where is Comprehension? Where is dialog? Propaganda ceases where dialog begins.

Economics is a social science. Society is a historical phenomenon. History is an empirical development. Why are we perpetuating pure theory over empirical practice? Let us cultivate the value of individual consciousness, each man’s theory of mind, and marry it with the prevailing practices to yield a praxis of reflection and action that prizes the individual’s contribution to the well being of the social context in which he is situated. To deny the value of a single perspective is to sabotage evolution’s law of accounting for every variable to render a more perfect adaptability.

Where you look determines what you see. Look farther, look wider, look deeper.

“Men must talk about themselves until they know themselves.” Journal reflections. Engage in dialogue. Objectify the subjective; discover its fruits and failings. Dialogue, so long as it is an honest portrayal of your current convictions, destroys propaganda, dispels ignorance, and produces a finer eye with which to feed the mind.

Recent science has reaffirmed the powers of LSD as a means of disrupting habits of thought. This bodes well for the prospect of freeing the mind of man, i.e. addiction, but poorly for a politik aiming to strengthen its control through conformity.

Mental diseases, as diagnosed by contemporary medical criteria, and most notably depression, bipolar, and anxiety, have been associated with great genius and leadership in every domain of society. Contrary to popular belief, recent science has discovered that depression is due to a hyper activity in the brain that leads to potential paralyzation of thought, hence the symptoms of rumination, chronic worry, listlessness and the like.

ADHD is also characterized by hyperactive brain activity. Individuals with ADHD are in upwards of 2.7 times more likely to simultaneously have depression (Other notable correlations include bipolar disorder, anxiety, and oppositional defiance disorder. See herehere, here, here, here, and here)

Individuals with mild depression, as opposed to those with major depression, are more skeptical and therefore rational than those without the diagnoses. (Listen to this presentation on Optimism Bias)

I posit that the same reason people retain a optimism bias, despite being confronted with contradictory facts, is the same reason people exist in a state of denial. (See here)

“[Michael Shermer’s] latest book, ‘The Believing Brain’, is a fascinating synthesis of 30 years of research on the subject. Shermer’s conclusion, about our belief-forming machinery, is disturbing. Most beliefs are not formed by carefully evaluating the evidence in favor or against a particular claim. Instead, they are snap decisions made for psychological, emotional and social reasons in the context of an environment created by family, friends, colleagues, culture and society at large. Only after the belief is formed, do people try to rationalize it and subconsciously seek out confirmatory evidence which, upon finding, reinforces the belief in a positive feedback loop.”

I can appreciate the evolutionary utility of bias as a means of maintaining inherited beliefs and preserving the status quo, but one needs to dwell on the implications of how this bias can be exploited, specifically by propaganda.

That leads me to another issue that I’ve been giving plenty of thought: the social construction of reality. What got me started thinking on this topic was my development economics course (which I despise due to the highfalutin exaggerations regarding its ability to actually explain economic development). The only piece of information I found valuable at all was the only piece of information it absolvedly claimed to be the single dictator for a society’s developmental economic success: institutions. This struck me as acutely profound, and odd since it was a mere footnote amongst an oceanic backdrop of theoretical constructions and descriptive statistics.

Since then I began to explore the weight of this idea that institutions are the sole determinate of economic development and success. I began asking myself ‘What are these institutions?’, ‘Why are they so important for economic development?’, ‘What makes one institution better than another?’, ‘How are these institutions created and sustained?’, and many others.

Because of this prick to my curiosity, and because of a massive paper I’m developing for a Macroeconomic policy class, I picked up my old History of Economic Thought book and reread about fifty percent of it, trying to uncover a scintilla of insight into what the history of economic thought may have said about this idea of institutions, and I was more than rewarded for these efforts. In addition to accruing a renewed interest in classical economists such as Smith, Malthus and Ricardo, my eyes were once again opened to the oft-misinterpreted and misaligned message of Marx, and futhermore I discovered just the veins of thought that satisfied by curiosities most exactly: Historical Economics and Institutional Economics. Wow.

Due to my interest in evolutionary economics and political economy I previously read books by Galbraith, Schumpeter, Marshall, Boulding and others but I was totally ignorant to the extent at which these involved socio-economics, specifically institutional economics. Moreover, meta-connections between economics, politics, sociology, psychology, anthropology, history, and evolution were made abundantly clear.

My philosophically minded interest in gaining traction in these seemingly disparately domains to gain a broader, fuller, and more comprehensive understanding of the world in which I am situated lead me to my original fascination with power, which I gratuitously thank Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and Thucydides for instilling within me. Specifically, power as the mechanism for all change: be it in the reality of the natural world or in the phenomenon of the conscious mind. The impetus of power occupies the seat governing change in every domain, from physics and math, to politics and business, and all the cultural manifestations in between, from science to religion. The force and intensity of power can be traced to both intentional and accidental confluences.

At the time I had this revelation in the power of institutions, I just so happened to be reading Veblen Thorstein’s The Theory of the Leisure Class. I picked up his book due to my growing fascination with domestic and current account imbalances (debt) and the wealth disparities they create. Thorstein Veblen just so happened to be not only an economist and sociologists, but one of the original proponents of institutional economics.

Other factors that influenced this fascination was my study of Greek civilization. Being a professed model for American Democracy, I felt compelled to investigate the various factors involved in the production of Greek culture. Greek religion appeared as a marvelous area of study due to my corrected ignorance of its role in shaping the nomos or conventions governing social affairs, rather than solely providing a metaphysical comfort like modern Christianity seeks to accomplish.

In addition, I coincidentally read Peter Berger’s The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion for a humanities class in Crisis and Creativity. This sealed the connection between the role of institutions in shaping mass culture and individual psychology.

From here I began studying sociology more intensely.

I’m nearly finished reading Berger and Luckmann’s seminal work, The Social Construction of Reality, on the formation of social knowledge, which they declare dictates our conception of reality more generally. It’s a fascinating read that I recommend everyone pick up. I don’t have time to elaborate on my revelations, insights and comments at the moment. Another time.

Berger’s reading elevated by insight into the mechanisms that create the social consciousness and the social knowledge that accompanies it. As a result of that reading I also began looking into the various apparatuses within society that perpetuate social knowledge. I purchased the book Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes by Ellul and this has further reinforced by understanding of the mechanisms driving social behavior.

An interesting, but not surprising, study reveals that “Large numbers of authors of DSM psychiatry ‘bible’ have ties to the drugs industry.” (See here) This reaffirms my conviction that psychiatry is a purely cultural phenomenon. And culture, as I have mentioned, is a product proportional to the authority and power bestowed by institutions within society. While the American Psychiatric Association (APA) is a large institution with vested authority, it is dwarfed in power by the profit motives of the Pharmaceutical industry.

And what dictates the extent of profit motives for big pharma? My thoughts turn immediately to the legal and political realm governed by lawmakers in congress as well as the upholders of that law in the judicial branch and the enforcers in the executive branch.

What motivates these political individuals? The preservation of their power or, at the very least and being most charitable, the preservation of the power of their ideas about the way things ought to be, specifically their values, which are at base purely subjective constructs that reflect a means of preserving their ego.

I could go on but I have other work to due.

Last thoughts. I’m looking forward to reading Thucydides’ The History of the Peloponnesian War as well as Althusser’s Philosophy, Lenin, and other essays. I need to finish reading Das Capital by Marx, something I began reading with great enthusiasm a month or two ago but got distracted with all these new insights.

Other author’s also on my reading list are Max Weber, Kahneman and Tversky, Mitchell Waldrop, Alfred Schutz, Karl Mannheim, Alfred Weber, Max Scheler, Colin Camerer, and Tacitus.

I’ll dump more thoughts later.

Logikos

Contemporary reason leads us to believe and think in terms of ends, of results, of conclusions. In Greek antiquity, the seat of the soul, the Stoic hegemonikon, was reason. It served as the method of worldly and, more importantly, personal discovery. Contrary to modern notions, reason was the primary tool for inquiry. Reason, derived from the Latin word ratio (rat- = thought), generated questions necessary for deriving facts that could be used to uncover and challenge assumptions.

In contemporary culture it is prized to be decisive, to be certain. It is seen as noble to list your interests and categorize your passions. We revolve around answers, around black and white, right and wrong. Having a favorite team, perfume, cars, bands, or political standing. Our definitions and labels leave us feeling proud, worthwhile, self-assured. But this polarization strips the variation from life.  We look for specific answers outside ourselves, we defer to associations that resonate with the values of the status quo or maintain prestige, but we fail to ask ourselves what we think and hesitate to explore our own experience and arrive at answers congruent with our personal reasons or convictions.

Love is acknowledging similarities. Hate is acknowledging differences. Both are self-fulfilling, path dependent, and habit forming. Whether you think you’re right or wrong, you’re right. All we are is thoughts. All we are is habits. We forget that there are no absolute facts, no eternal answers, only proper relations. Reason is not answers, not facts, not lists. Like the Latin translation, reason is ratio, relations, calculations among entities. Everything is a relationship. As the subject of our world, we dictate the terms of that relationship. If we want sound conclusions and a harmonious life, we must establish the proper relations not only among external things, we must form a proper relationship with the world, subject and object. This requires honesty: the first task of philosophy is losing self-conceit. How can we learn what we already know?

 

Learning the Art of Coming to Be and Passing Away

“It takes the whole of life to learn how to live, and—what will perhaps make you wonder more—it takes the whole of life to learn how to die.” Seneca

Upon reading this quote, my initial thoughts relate to the competing processes of enculturation and creativity. More exactly, conforming and proforming. I use proforming, a neologism, rather than dissent only because dissent seems to breed thoughts of destructive opposition rather than constructive opposition. Creativity is a glamorized form of dissent which society embraces, usually only after it has been deemed innocuous.

But what could Seneca  have meant? I believe that, much like Plato’s representation of Socrates’ philosophy, enlightenment is a process of dying to one’s old beliefs and biases. In the Phaedo, Plato describes Socratic philosophy as preparation for death. More specifically, philosophy’s critical thinking works to reveal our ignorance and produce a greater understanding of truth, or the form of the Good, which in turn purifies the soul, preparing it for its final resting place. This may sound obtuse but the message is very clear: we must detach ourselves from the worldly meanings and beliefs we accept unquestionably as an adequate guide to understanding if we are to attain truth and understanding.

As it specifically relates to Seneca’s quote, the first half of our life is spent acquiring inherited habits of thought that supposedly teach us how to live and flourish, while the second half of our life is learning how to shed these habits of thought and escape the limitations contained within them. Fyodor Dostoevsky highlights this situation, almost satirically, saying  “It seems, in fact, as though the second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing, but the habits he has accumulated during the first half.”

In order to make any worthwhile contribution to “progress” an individual must upset the old order of things, overturn the status quo and spoil convention, but this is impossible if he possesses no original contribution of his own.  Originality can only be achieved by shedding the old and adopting the new. This means recreating your being through the assertion of your sovereign will-to-power in order to establish a wholly novel identity totally independent from the existing powers of worldly trappings.

Of course, I have also read this quote to mean the process of acquainting oneself with the world, of growing attached to all its eidetic sumblimations that ligature the soul and body, only to discover that age furtively attenuates these impressions, and it is the world that first begins dying to us before we die to the world.

*

I’m additionally drawn to the writing’s of Louis Althusser and Pierre Bourdieu; specifically to Althusser’s ideological state apparatus and Bourdieu’s concepts of doxa and habitus. Other concepts I loosely associate with these two is nomos and plausibility structures derived from Peter Berger’s The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociology of Religion which deals with the individual’s metaphysical necessity for affirming cosmological order in the face of chaos. Put concisely, this necessity gives rise to a reflexive dialectical process of internalisation and externalisation among self-denied values and the absorbed collective values which establishes a “psychological constellation” of legitimization. This constellation in turn serves as an indispensable substratum for all future social institutions and their structures (nomos) which effectively “locates the individual’s life in an all-embracing fabric of meaning”. (Berger) His first book The Social Construction of Reality addresses the subject of social construction wholesale.

 

The Great Dichotomy: Passionate Power

Random musings.

Money to get power, and power to guard the money.”
~Medici family motto

Dichotomies are interesting. Many are none other than existential paradoxes: mind and body, thought and matter, possibility and necessity, spiritual and physical,  and the list goes on. Kierkegaard, as well as Nietzsche and other agents of enlightenment, was a literary guru when it came to expounding upon how to live with these irreconcilable realities. Over the years I’ve learned to cope with the resulting blindness of these realities, the otiose character of life and the recondite disunion of body and soul. I’ve compromised with myself and learned to live with one eye pointed inward and the other pointed outward so as to balance introspection and aspiration.

In recent years I’ve faced a dilemma of deciding what to do with my life and career. It’s not like I didn’t see this crisis coming, but I guess I didn’t realize how many times I would be wrestling with my conclusions and convictions. Despite the temporary setbacks and failures mottling my youth, I’ve orchestrated my education beautifully over the years, exploiting a multitude of disciplines of thought and growing ever cognizant of how achievement is actualized. I’ve gone to great pains to realize the context of my condition and the contingencies of my aspirations.

Out of my experience grew two concentrations of study, economics and philosophy, each representing the broader dichotomies encompassing life. One satisfies my intuitions about what I perceive other people to value, the other regards what I value in my heart. I’ve tried to reconcile these over the years and explain why this dichotomy exists, whether a balance can be achieved, or what direction I should favor. For a long time I decided to refuse to sell out. But this clashed with the omnious system that I would face upon entering the workforce: success seemed tantamount to abiding to the myriad of expectations laid out by others.  As I have no trust fund to lean on for support, no assets to buy my way into fortune (compounding investment: you must have money if you wish to accumulate more money), I faced the reality that no upper echelon would endorse my musings, my art, my thoughts, unless I belonged to them, to their network or, by chance, satisfied their criterion of worth.

The citizen of the world in me refused to conform to the ‘system’, to the authority that dictates standardized achievement and propagates worldly values. The autonomy within me bucked as I studied philosophy and developed the tools and methods for critical inquiry, tools I used to ridicule the backward nature I learned to see in the world. The pragmatic element of my spirit recognized the utility of conformity and uptook various preoccupations that would fashion my mind according to them, such as the study of economics and finance.

But I ask myself: what does it take to be successful? I always like referring to the context in question. I’m American. I live in a ‘democratic’ country where the few rule the many. The few in this case are not the parasitic politicians (although in many cases, when it’s convenient, they are one in the same). The politicians are figureheads, merely the arm or scepter of power, not the head of governance. The true source of governance and power resides in the wealthy, the capitalists, the business owners, the stock holders. These are the greats that arbitrate the economic and political atmosphere. They embody the will to power. They pass the laws, set the wages, orchestrate the commerce, conduct the symphonious marketplace we’re lead to believe is free and open. The current sentiment is that if governance is left to the people, we’ll be in a real mess. The populous is simply a bewildered herd, uneducated and incapable of self-rule. (The Wagner Act of 1935 was the last real effort of the masses to mobilize. Since then these efforts have been squashed. Unions are ‘evil’ and communist.) This is why we live in a ‘democratic republic’ where we elect a small group of ‘leaders’ to instruct the masses on which policies they should live by.

To be successful you must be a sycophant. More specifically, you must possess utility for those in power. If you cannot help these people achieve more power, you are worthless and will amount to nothing more than a cog, expendable and interchangeable. But the wealthy will not extend a job or opportunity to just anyone with ample capacity and a strong will. No. They must be familiar with you. You must possess some wealth, influence, charisma, intelligence, talent or power that they can leverage for their own gain. Posterity is as empty as truth. Rationality is an instrument of the powerful: they dictate the rules of the game, the vernacular, the premises and logical structure of your success.

“All things are subject to interpretation whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.” (Nietzsche)

Rationality is a function of motives, of intention. Pin-point desires and motivations and you can construct a cathedral of reason to leverage against those in power to mutually achieve independently contrived ends.

The questions that have wracked my mind most over the years: Do I follow my heart or my mind? Do I follow my passions or my prudence? What it’s come down to is that, given the current state of affairs, given my context as a young American, passions are prized only in youth, as is freedom. With the coming of age what is most prized is security, with the passions left to fantasy much like the irrealism of dreams are left to enamoring vagaries. We discard our passions and convictions, our fantastical visions of grandeur for a better world, in favor of a ‘realism’ scented with a dark cynicism that dispels illusion, that acquiesces under the ‘system’ that we obey out of sheer necessity grown from our will to survive. What has been trampled is our will to power, but it is never too late to revive this urge.

The artists, when they are not lining the capitalists pockets with profits, are simply muses in the most passive sense of the term. These artists are no longer concerned with inspiring as much as they are fixed on entertaining, or ‘amusing’, for their agenda is the same as the capitalists: money. They render the audience as docile and facile as possible, getting them in a blurred frenzy, caught up in emotion, totally distracted from the realities that oppress their sad existence. The poorest, the most impoverished left with only their intangible dreams, love these entertainers the most. Since they cannot live through possessions and materialism they escape through fantasy, artificial emotions induced through hollow emotives.

I’ve decided I want to sell out, for a time. I want to master the system so I can one day create the system. Considering my background, I’ve played my cards right up until now: the best university, the best internships, solid degrees, great grades. What is necessary now is to capitalize on these achievements instead of forfeiting them for the preponderances of my heart, the longings of my spirit, the existential conundrums I unravel in my reflections.

What I need to do is exploit the source of power for my ends: finance. I need to get into the industry where all the wealthy have a mutual stake. Wealth is the common denominator of power. Investment banking, wealth advising, asset management.

I need to toss these ephemeral thoughts about passion, about right and wrong, about selfless creation, to the garbage. They are fruitless. If I want to succeed, I must capitalize on my strengths: people skills, smooth talking, will-power, vision, charm, intelligence, good nature, pleasant appearance. I can be obedient. My rebellious nature was resistant to obey arbitrary authority, and my attitude throughout school and to my superiors proves this. But this needs to be corrected if I am to succeed and dominate. I must fawn these superiors in order to advance. There are many who wish to succeed, but only those who stroke the ego’s of those holding the keys to power will allow be to ascend to their true potential. I look around me and I see so much talent. Young automatons do everything right, except they haven’t a clue that doing everything right has a ceiling. You must not only serve the interest of your superiors, you must also create value for them, you must learn to hijack and supplant their vision with yours in order to aid them in their accumulation and concentration of capital. In this way achievement is guaranteed.

Morality does not exist. There are no facts, only interpretations. You cannot have a universal moral conscience as a businessman, as a ruler of wealth: only a fabricated justification that accepts the inequality of man as a rule. Nietzsche said, “The reasons for which ‘this’ world has been characterized as ‘apparent’ are the very reasons which indicate its reality; any other kind of reality is absolutely indemonstrable.” Those in power dictate these reasons. Their are the moral clergymen.

It’s interesting to consider the influence of media control. The media is the mouthpiece of the powerful. As Chomsky said in his book Media Control, “Propaganda is to democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.”

Who rules the world? The powerful, the elite. These are the American ruling class. We elect proffered politicians which have been paid for by these elite with the single agenda of taming the bewildered herd, of keeping the masses complacently compliant.

Slavery was replaced by share cropping, which has been replaced by credit and loans: all of these forms of debt rob the citizens of equality, life and liberty, and it’s legal. Bankruptcy laws. Capital gains taxes. Trickle down economics. Sub-prime mortgage lending. Failed education reforms: No child left behind. The war on drugs. The rise in pharmaceutical psycho-therapeutics. Currency manipulation: Coinage Act of 1972. Foreign wars and fear mongering, communism, creating enemies like Russian and terrorists as a means of keeping the populous paralyzed and fearful, of keeping their attention turned outward instead of inward. All creating fear. All manufactured to suit the ends of the elite. All propaganda.

Truth and lies are one in the same. They condemn or praise according to which subjective end you are most vested.

 

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””

Cosmetic Enhancement: Thoughts

Fake tans, fake nose, hair extensions, plastic nails, plastic boobs, porcelain teeth, colored contacts, tuck, suck. And a side of antidepressants. We have an interesting culture.

A friend kindly pointed out:

Cosmetic enhancement – people act as if this is new. It’s not. The technology has simply caught up with ambitions thousands of years old. Every culture and group within the culture, and even some daring self-making individuals, have their standard of mental and physical beauty/health. We are becoming more of what we’ve been, and in some cases, better for it.

Although I’m fully aware of this tradition of body modification as a means to express individuality, or to endorse cultural practices through symbolic body alteration, my issue lies in the motives. So, to his response, I ask “What is it that we’ve been? Is it a good thing that we’re becoming more of it? What makes you think that where we’re going is good? Do you think there is unhealthy self-expression?”

I take issue with is the glorification of appearances. I have no issues with any form of self expression so long it’s authentic and not the result of some implanted societal neurosis. To each his own. The idealist in me wishes society placed more emphasis on the inner life rather than on the outer. The physical fades. A sound mind and character are more enduring and reliable. I get it, our society values appearances. But, save the asthetic value, appearances don’t improve society. They make it more carnal and superficial. If you need to look good by societies standards to have self worth or feel good about yourself, go for it. But i don’t think that’s a lasting fix. If you’re doing it for yourself, go for it. If it’s for others, good luck pleasing the fickle masses. But again, I get it: we’re sexual creatures motivated by desire and passion, rather than reason and good will. I recognize we’re social creatures. I recognize that we navigate our world by sight. But I believe sight is a poor, misleading guide. Most people look alive on the outside but they are virtually dead on the inside. We use our sight to discern between friends and foes, to identify the familiar and unfamiliar. It allows us to pass judgement on things without really engaging and experiencing with them. It’s a cheap and empty way to make value judgements about the world. That’s my take. I’m just as guilty as the next. I don’t think I’m right, or wrong, that’s just my current sentiment.

I know I cant escape my cultural conditioning. I know I’m inclined to like what I’ve been raised to believe is valuable and beautiful. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so I needn’t worry about what society makes of my wife so long as I love her.

At base, I believe that civilization is a disease.

Culture is a product of civilization’s fabricated demands. There’s nothing natural about civilization. It is a result of this will to power, this will to be a prosthetic god, to impose influence, to rule over our world. What need is there to self-express to yourself? We self-express for others. It seems that way anyway. It’s a product of competition to stand out, to be an individual. When you have yourself and you are content and full within yourself, what need is there to self express? Music can be good. Passions can be good. At least when they are cathartic or inspired. What standard is man. What is culture? It’s a a fabricated environment. In nature, there are natural demands. In civilization, there is culture. Nature is niether good nor bad. How then could be culture be good or bad?

Culture is artificial demands. They are foreign. Are they natural? Vanity? Insecurity? Yielding to cultural expectations and demands?

Cosmetic enhancement: being someone you’re not? or being someone you really are but couldn’t otherwise be?

I suppose in a society that prizes such superficial perfection you can’t expect anyone to settle for anything less. So would I marry a short haired hodgey podgey little woman? In another time and another place.

Internal man vs external man

Eating disorder/Obesity vs cosmetic surgery: underlying issue?

What if obesity was beautiful? Till it was unhealthy? To each his own? Until what? We’re footing the health care bill with our taxes?

 

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>

 

Insanity

What is insanity? The most familiar definition that comes to mind is from Einstein who said, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” It is peculiar to think of insanity this way, particularly because it flies in the face of normalcy. Many believe that the socially responsible and acceptable thing to do is to adhere to certain norms and customs and traditions, and that these will allow you to adequately function in society. What normalcy doesn’t guarantee, however, is individuality, or originality. To be an individual, one must do things differently and expect different results. But what of a society that values doing things differently only to achieve the same results, such as participating in all the counter-cultural rituals to gain acceptance as an ‘individual’ ? Can it be said that such a person has achieved individuality?

‎”Insanity in individuals is something rare – but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.” -F.Nietzsche

Insanity. What I find insane is society. Civilization. Tradition. Custom. Ritual. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the utility of consistency. I understand the pragmatic element of predictability, from a linguistic standpoint as well as a logical and epistemological standpoint. After all, learning curves are greatly reduced by assimilating the knowledge past down by forbearer, no? And we can’t very well go about creating our own neologistic language and expect to be effective interpersonally, now can we?  But where do we draw the line between maintaining and gaining? Passing on and passing over? Subsisting and thriving? Progress requires change. Change requires adaptation. If we sell out to maintain the status quo, if we fail to commit to the efflorescent incarnations of possibility in favor of the denouement of equilibrium, we must embrace our death; for we have already died.

Society is insane. Look at the way they scuttle around in the rat race, trying to secure these temporal provisions; see how they frantically instill meaning and comfort into fabricated facticities. Observe the perduring populous that embodies repetition; always allied to the alacritous attachment of doing the same thing, over and over again, and always expecting different results. If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting. In the end everyone’s demise is the same. Society is a self-fulfilling prophecy; a reflexive perpetuation proselytizing more of the same. The social consciousness does not readily expand but rather, it promptly strengthens itself onto itself.

So what is insanity? A break from conventional norms, I suppose. So sanity, once again, is doing the same thing over and over again. The endorsement of cultural customs, e.g. materialism, hedonism, consumerism, aceticism, celebrityism, sciencism, etc. I suppose the great majority of people think they aren’t insane because they don’t expect different results. Predictability is offered as a sycophant of security.

That is the real tragedy. When people not only do the same thing over and over again, but they do not expect different results. They have been sedated or conditioned or desensitized to rudimentary routines and rituals. 9 to 5. Primary, secondary, tertiary schooling, followed by a stint of rebellious youth, cue the career, make room for marriage, corral some kids, restfully retire, and then comes the inevitable surprise of death.

Sanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same results.” This rationalist program will inevitably suffer the same stifling fate as freedom. Time waits for no man. If you are not progressing, you are regressing. Life is meant to flourish. Growth and evolution should be the cynosure of contemplation, the mark of progress. But not by any quantitative measure imposed by external authority. It should be an inward journey. Growth is not static.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”  -R.W. Emerson

Insanity is characterized by senseless or abnormal behavior by societal standards. But how amazing it is to look at societal standards! Especially through the perspective lens of time! How standards change!

So the question of insanity remains. Are you insane for following your desires? Even if your desires lead to your demise? Even if they cast you into chains? Even if they toss you into pain and hardship? Would you be willing to escape sanity and embrace the lucres of authentic freedom? At what price?

Men are never really willing to die except for the sake of freedom: therefore they do not believe in dying completely.
-A. Camus

 

Temporal Materialism

Who knows why I’m so morbid.

I look around me and I see people. My reaction is bizarre. As much as I am moved with empathy and love for my fellow (wo)man, I am simultaneously repulsed. Not just repulsed, I am abhorred. I see little these little mice scampering here and there, decked out in fanciful costumes, pasquinading for all to see. They are in college. The illusion of life is at its precipice. They maintain their chic wardrobes, their piquant purses, meticulous manicures and shimmering shoes. You name it. They are accessorized. They trot around wrapped in black stockings conveniently outlining their trim and prim curves honed by hours of ellipticizing at the gym. They have their hair: high lighted, dyed, extended, crimped, and blown. A fine layer of foundation yields an angelic visage that glows with gloss. Here they apply strokes of paint that form lips and eye brows. They blush their pallid cheeks with passionate powder,  elongate and darken their pale stubby lashes, and accentuate the shadow of their starving eyes.

I see these people, sporting these signs, and I think to myself: one day, you will die. But before that, I think to myself: one day you will find that no amount of work will save you from the grips of age. Everything you desperately save to maintain will rot eventually. You will either coalesce into a single curve, plump and bulbous, or be reduced to a frail rail. Depending on whether or not you fill it out, paper thin skin will hang off your bones. You will grow increasingly translucent, veiny and purple. Your breasts will drop.You face will sag. Your butt will mush. You will piss and shit yourself.

The endless hours of attending and maintaining this fabricated facade, and for what? Such temporal investments. Have we forgotten the eternal life? Wait. What is this eternal life you speak? Ah. The spirit. The mind, the imagination, the character. Should we invest wisely, these things endure. If only people sought to invest a fraction of their time into such pursuits. Personal development. Character growth.  We need to multiply experience, heighten awareness, spread the profusion of passion and penetrate appearances with vision.

There is a trend though. Materialism is on its way out and post-materialism is on its way in. It’s hopeful to see that the standard of life is no longer measured by the things we possess, or rather the things that possess us. The post-materialist is concerned with meaning that extends beyond the manipulation of physicalities and into a relational world where the subjective mind and spirit juxtapose with a natural environment. This is the world of ideas, or information. It has subtly sewn its way into our life as technology has lead to growing advances in communication, transportation, and social networking. We learn from such encounters: literature, art, discourse, adventure. Blogs, flickr, twitter, facebook. The quantitative method has shown its failings and the qualitative has risen to meet the challenge. Ethics has gained traction once again as aesthetics steps in to answer questions of meaning and fulfillment.

Experience is the essence of life. It is the filament of human existence. It allows us to burn brightly.

Anyway. Duplicity, blind duplicity, is what really bothers me. I understand we can’t all be individuals, but the less individuals there are, the less tolerant people are to change and difference. Adaptation rests an change. It relies on difference. On positive difference.

I succumb to these delusions just as anyone else. But I buy in so that I may buy out. So that I can manipulate the system from the inside, like a mutation, but deliberate and viral.  Change must occur from within.

*******

I reread this and felt the need to amend this post for clarity: I want to emphasize that I do appreciate appearances. Beauty enhances life. I desire to live in a beautiful world marked by beautiful people and an aesthetically pleasing environment. What troubles me is the lack of attention to dimension, that is all. We are body, mind and spirit (I would say the heart is in there, but I feel like it’s integral with the body and/or spirit). It is important to spend time being a quality person of depth and substance. And I’m not talking knowledge and reason, I’m talking wisdom and character. End.

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.

Radical rejection and self-mastery

We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made of us. -JP Sartre

Culture has programmed us. Everything that composes a culture- family, local community, school, media- has implanted a viral program within our mind which constitutes our belief system. We are limited by our beliefs. Our limitations are our beliefs.

Those who are the masters of themselves realize this and choose their programs. They are conscientious of the external influences vying to take control of the mind. These masters erase and overwrite existing, outdated programs plagued with unoriginality, in favor of more deliberate beliefs, more effective and efficient at accomplishing our uniquely cognized and freely chosen ends.

We do not see things are they are, we see things as we are. These inherited beliefs poison our potential and wring any opportunity of escaping the circumstances we were born into. Those who succeed violently reject social norms.

Our minds are a product of our environment. Those who wish to be gods among men realize the susceptibility of our nature to becoming another mindless product. These men do not meddle with such a precious and fragile life, so they act swiftly and decisively. They dictate and justify whatever belief is necessary for the accomplishment of a desire or goal. Whatever limitations you perceive, realize they are there to keep you from accomplishing more, being more, and having more. They are perpetuated by those keen on preserving the inequality that makes their influence reign. The have not’s facilitate and perpetuate  these limitations as a means of comfort. As they say, ignorance is bliss. The perpetuation of this veil of ignorance keeps them from ever being responsible to the latent, known potential residing within them. Being at the top is unique because there is only one top, and it is shared by few. If it was any other way, it would not be so.

Your mind is a computer. Program yourself with the set of beliefs that best suit your ends. No Olympian questioned their destiny for greatness. They expect it. Limitations exist only for the ignorant, lazy and uncreative. As a master of your fate, you have the choice to unveil these insidious ignorances, act decisively with purpose, and cultivate a creative vision for the life you’ve always dreamed and desired.

You do not need to discard excuses. You need only to make excuses why you will win, why you will succeed, why you will not ever fail. Make these excuses with the same conviction that the mindless masses make for their failures, and you will not fail.

If you cannot see the world with a new set of eyes, gouge them out. Reject it all. Start a new. Throw yourself into chaos. Contradict yourself. Hurl yourself into relativity. When these tumultuous storms pass, gaze intently at life with a divine vision. We are gods when we make it so. Otherwise we would not be so.

Decide to be.

Revolt! You are free to be! Now dream and pursue freedom with passion! Escape societies noisy clamour, throw off the chains that drag you downward. Create yourself! There is no path where you are meant to go! Blaze anew, for there are no limits to the wanderlust of dreams! Gather your gaze and seek yourself out! Pour out the paltry perceptions of pain and problem, for you are beyond the grasp of trouble!

Decide and create! There is no need for the reassurance of petty peddlers. You needn’t ask the world a thing. Demand it from yourself, and the world will respond in bounty! Brave the unknown, lay siege to the remote and mysterious- for possibility awaits! And where possibility abounds, so does life!

ess

I want to be happy. I want to be free. I want to be an iconoclast, breaking all the social molds. I want to free myself from the propaganda. I want to rise above the petty politics of culture. I want to see the bigger picture in everyone. I want to surmise the means to the ends. I don’t want to impress. I want to express. I want people to lick the flavor of my words with delight. I want to plant endangered seeds of thought in the minds of many. I want to watch their world change and grow unfamiliar before they let go of ideal and accept reality. I want to escape the cliche titles and stigmas. I want to transcend the norms without being labeled postmodern. I want to retain direction without being called rigid or conservative. I want to swim freely in the ideas of men without the fear of losing my own. I want to make a mark that hasn’t been seen before. I want to speak words of wisdom the appeal to everyones need for meaning and familiarity. I want to provide real sense. I want to invoke the need to listen. E pluribus Unum. Out of the many, one. I want to show people the way, the truth and the life that they oft miss.

Even realists are ideal. They expect the world to be predictable. The world is never predictable.