Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Freedom (Kamran K): Freedom's Actual Loss Amidst Freedom's Theoretical Infinite Gain

"Men nearly always follow the tracks made by others and proceed in their affairs by imitation..." Machiavelli

"Conformity is a negative force if the individual form that gives uniqueness and dignity to a person is subdued by the collective form. If this happens...a structure appears for which it probably would be more adequate to use the word "patternization" - the process in which persons are modeled according to a definite pattern. Patternization is what determines our period, both in learning and in life. And the questions I want to ask now are: What are the patternizing powers in our present culture, and are we able to resist them? Are we still able to say no in matters of serious concern, in spite of the tremendous strength of the patternizing forces?" Paul Tillich, Conformity

"When popularity is sufficiently important relative to intrinsic utility...many individuals conform to a single, homogeneous standard of behavior, despite heterogeneous underlying preferences. They are willing to suppress their individuality and conform to the social norm because they recognize that even small departures from the norm will seriously impair their popularity...any departure from the norm is construed as evidence of extreme preferences...Even so, agents with sufficiently extreme preferences refuse to conform. These individualists behave in ways that differ significantly from the social norm: there are no trivial nonconformists. Within the social fringe, heterogeneous preferences do result in heterogeneous behavior; these agents express their individuality." Bernheim, A Theory of Conformity

(1) Two ASTONISHING- truly astonishing- observations can be made of contemporary social reality. First, the potential or theoretical opportunity to exercise free choice and become different from everyone else has never been greater. Generated from the creativity, work, and sacrifices of millions of people over human history, there has never been so much choice in all aspects of life, from clothing to music to cars to colors of everything one purchases to sports one follows to hairstyle to hobbies to where one can live to what one reads to what one believes to whom one dates to what one eats to what one plants in one's garden to what furniture one buys and so on. Second, there has never been a time where more people are refusing to become different and abdicating most of their life choices to the dominant social programming and conformity. Potential choice is approaching infinity; but actual choice is approaching zero. Not everyone is exactly the same; but many many people are awfully similar. What differences still exist are often trivial, and by trivial it is meant here that after a few days or even hours with this person you will see that this difference makes no real difference in the person's everyday life or consciousness. You will see this anywhere you go by simply being on the sharp lookout for persons that look REALLY different, who say REALLY different things that make you pause and reflect on what they just said to see if you even "got" what they said, who behave in ways that are ACTUALLY startling to the extent that you question whether they are actually sane (they are). How often do you meet such persons? Once a year? Once a decade? In a truly free creative society, how often would you expect to meet such persons? Several times a day, if not more? Why is this happening?

(2) Regardless of the values we profess to follow and admire, it is beyond dispute that the dominant value system actually governing actual human behavior today is money, success, popularity, and career worship: "This is the objective situation. Like every human situation it becomes reality through human action and reaction..." (Paul Tillich) These ideals have replaced previous ideals of either religious salvation, romantic engagement, rational enlightenment, or even mystical transcendence. It is believed by nearly all persons that money is good and the more of it (well) the better. Because hardly anyone sees any real problem with having more money, it becomes the "plan" of most people to figure out how to make as much money as they can: "One can observe in intense desire for security, internal and external, a will to be accepted by the group at any price, an unwillingness to show individual traits, a conscious rejection of nonconformist acceptance of a well circumscribed happiness without serious risks." (Paul Tillich) This desire is, of course, relative to one's circumstances (one man wishing to jump from $10,000 to $30,000 salary a year while another wishing to jump from $100,000 to $200,000). Despite situational differences, this desire operates in much the same way as outlined below.

(3) Whatever field one is in, there is usually (by now) a fairly "tried and tested" path to success in that field, success being defined (of course) as making as much money as one can in the field by rising to the "highest" position one can in it. In addition to hard work and the requisite skills to perform the work successfully, there is also a certain social persona one must cultivate to maintain and (over time) elevate one's position in this field. Indeed, the cultivation of this persona is becoming as important as everything else in many fields of work. If one doesn't cultivate this persona in large part (occasional lapses are still okay, praise be) one is labeled as "kinda weird" "kinda awkward" and that is the end of the matter right there. Get that label ("weird" or "awkward" or "strange") and you (probably) won't go very far in whatever line of work you are in.

This persona has various DOs and DO nots with respect to clothing, preferred hobbies, the preferred shape of one's body, the nature of one's friends, the types of restaurants and hotels one frequents, the online personality one cultivates, where one lives, how one speaks, whether one is optimistic or pessimistic (optimistic is the raging trend du jour), one's religious beliefs and behaviors, and so on.

(4) In short order, all persons within a given field gravitate toward the DOs and fly away from the DO nots. The potential choices of all of these persons is nearly infinite; but the value system driving their choices dictates a very narrow range of choices (the DOs). Whatever natural aversion persons may feel toward the DOs and natural attraction they may feel toward the DO nots, these are of no moment because the overwhelming motivation under a regime of money/career worship is to maximize one's monetary/reputational position in the world which motivation seems sensible because, after all, nearly everyone else is aiming for the exact same thing:

An early preponderance towards adoption or rejection causes subsequent individuals to ignore their private signals, which thus never join the public pool of knowledge. Nor does the public pool of knowledge have to be very informative to cause individuals to disregard their private signals. 
(Ivo Welch, Conformity, Fads, and Informational Cascades)

It is viewed as no "big deal," no "large sacrifice" to do the DOs because one will indeed be rewarded monetarily for doing this and monetary reward is viewed as the most "real" reward of all. This belief is maintained over decades despite the lack of evidence and information to support it; in fact, the belief has been strengthening in the face of contrary evidence and information. Beyond the monetary reward, one gains the social approval gained from doing what is more popular rather than less.

(5) The observations above yield an important conclusion. The path to freedom today must (usually) involve a clear and decisive break with money, career, and success worship: "Maturity, personal as well as cultural, presupposes a suffering under problems, a necessity to decide, a possibility of saying no." (Paul Tillich)
Lacking such a break, one usually has no chance of actually exercising freedom and becoming meaningfully different from everyone else because one will be continually pressured to perform the behaviors and maintain the attitudes called for by the DOs. With such a break, one is indeed free to "look around" at the thousands of potential choices available to one in nearly any area of life and start making some actual choices that differ from those around you, which flow from inner personality, and which are not contained within the parameters of the dominant social programming and conformity: "and every excellence we choose indeed...for the sake of happiness, judging that through them we shall be happy." (Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Work (Kamran K): Moving Beyond the Myopia...

"For he did not truly wish life, as he averred, but aimed at the reputation of the good choice. And he was capable of busying himself about many things; but the one thing, the work of life, he was powerless, and disinclined and unable to accomplish."
Clement of Alexandria

"I mean for real, fuck how you feel
Fuck your two cents if it ain't goin towards the bill, yeah..."
Big Sean, I Don't Fuck with You

"we described our society as one in which the pursuit of wealth has become the central goal and in which one's success in the pursuit of wealth has become increasingly equated with one's entire worth...we diagnosed our culture as having a common value system, albeit not one that is flattering to tally."
David Purpel, 2004

(1) Definitional precision is badly needed on the human good of work. All too commonly, persons err in regarding one narrow type of work- paid commercial labor- as being the only work there is or (more commonly) the only work worth treating seriously: "The tendency is regard human beings as among the material resources of a land to be trained with an eye single to future dividends." (Dubois, Souls) A greater error can hardly be imagined: "What we are experiencing might best be described as a case of money colonizing life. To accept this absurd distortion of human institutions and purpose should be considered nothing less than an act of collective, suicidal insanity." (David Korten)

It is this very error that has generated "workaholics" worldwide, workaholics so lacking in observable virtues beyond the very few necessary to perform paid commercial labor: (a) "A resistless feeling of depression falls slowly upon us, despite the gaudy sunshine and the green cottonfields. This, then, is the Cotton Kingdom- the shadow of a marvelous dream. And where is the King?" & (b) "Here, there can be none of that social going down to the people- the opening of heart and hand of the best to the worst, in generous acknowledgment of a common humanity and a common destiny." (Dubois, Souls)

(2) Left in its natural state, without striving for self-betterment nor behavior carefully targeted to achieve it, the human being lives a mediocre, boring, dull, animalistic, eventless life: "it is easier to do ill than well in the world." (Dubois, Souls) Just enough is done to keep the organism alive but the life continued is experienced as dreary even for the person living it. Vices of character are neither reduced nor eliminated but usually grow worse over time. New virtues of soul are uncultivated. New activities nor mental attitudes toward things are always shunned as the oppressive force of unperfected random habits governs almost all of one's behavior.

(3) From this framework of "natural" worklessness, a broad fair definition of work is articulable. Work could be regarded as ANY situation whereby a conscious creature uses his/her consciousness to improve ANY aspect of his/her everyday reality:"Human nature is no deity self-sufficient in goodness: she needs to learn everything, to be formed by progressions, to stride ever onward in a gradual struggle."(Herder)A fourth-step process is always involved. First, there is the mental determination within consciousness of a problem that needs to be solved or improved. Second, there is the mental determination of some concrete behaviors that would assist in solving or improving the problem. Third, there is the actual doing of the behavior. Fourth, there is the mental determination of whether the problem has actually been solved or improved and/or whether different behaviors are required to do so.

(4) The key word in the above definition is the word ANY. Whenever and wherever consciousness engages in the process described above one can fairly say human work has been done, the person is busy working, has work to do, is occupied with work, etc. All of the following activities, thusly, can be considered a form of work: losing weight, improving one's diet, increasing physical fitness level, reducing vices of character, cultivating improved friendships, improving romantic connections with beloveds, improving one's sense of humor, reducing temper tantrums or other forms of acting out, improving self-esteem and self-worth, learning the art of meditation, organizing, cleaning, and beautifying one's home, improving one's mental consciousness through reflection and study of the classics, and so on and on and on.

(5) One of the many bads of modern money worship is that it doesn't take the above seriously. It encourages everyone to focus only on one type of work- paid commercial labor- for most of one's fully sentient waking hours, every day, every month, every year. In the process of so focusing, one begins to neglect- gradually at first and totally at the end- all of the other types of work that could improve one's everyday life in very real ways. The root of the problem lies in wanting multiples more than one needs: "People want more than they need- indeed, more than is good for them, and this is the essence of the notion of greed. Homer had for the most part assumed that an agent who had reached a limit and gotten enough of something would stop desiring it. Solon recognizes that desire may continue beyond a natural limit, and the agent may not recognize when he has enough. Although desire should cease when fulfilled, at times it may continue, especially when the agent does not have the knowledge of limits that make it possible to rest content." (James Helm, Koros)

To say this is not to deny reality. It's obvious that paid commercial labor does generate money which has some limited ability to improve one's everyday life. But it's not obvious that money improves one's everyday life more than the combined improvement that would result from taking seriously all of the other types of work described in (4) above.

Ask yourself- and ask yourself honestly- which reality you would prefer in five years: (a) a far richer YOU but in all other respects the same ("unfold for me his conscience, and you will see inside a great tumult of sins, continual fear, storm, confusion" Chrysotom); (b) a none the richer (nor poorer) YOU but in many other aspects improved, fitter, healthier, more vigorous in body and mind, surrounded by better friends, possessing a much higher sense of self-esteem and worth, loved-truly loved- by someone that you love too, delighted with many aspects of life, possessing deep knowledge of musical artists you cherish, and so on. This "choice" is not even a close call and it's wisdom's function to recognize the situation in (more or less) these "colors."

(6) The path to human perfection and GOOD requires a trial-and-error balancing among the various types of work that a human creature can do. Such balancing should always be in favor of those mix of work activities that seem likely to improve one's OVERALL existence.

Friendship (Kamran K): A Brief Return to Plato

"Do you think that someone being brought from the lower region towards the middle would suppose anything other than that he was being brought up? And standing in the middle and looking at the place from which he was brought, would he think he was anywhere other than the upper region, as he hasn't seen what is truly up?" Plato, Republic

"Plato is here pointing out two kinds of mistake: (i) moving from below towards the middle and thinking that one is moving into the upper region; and (ii) standing in the middle and thinking that one is in the upper region...This [argument] is supported by the observation that the middle represents the neutral state, as it is neither up nor down, but rather in between, just as the neutral state is neither pleasant nor painful..."
Mehmet Erginel, Plato on the Psychology of Pleasure and Pain

(1) The good of friendship can be meaningfully analyzed according to Plato's characterization of pure and impure pleasures and the corresponding conditions of pain, neutrality, and the highest pleasures.

(2) Various observations must be made in this regard:
  • PURE FRIENDSHIP PLEASURE= This is the highest and best pleasure associated with friendship. Such pleasure is strictly found in one particular type of friendship. Namely, long-term (often many years if not decades) friendships characterized by regular face-to-face interaction, absolute trust and honesty, spontaneity in thought and behavior, empathy and concern for the other as reflected in one's behavior, truth telling even when unpleasant and painful, and careful attention and listening to the thoughts of the other. Though this friendship need not necessarily occur between two completely virtuous persons, still it is impossible to conceive it existing between persons with one or more serious defects of character.
  • NEUTRAL FRIENDSHIP CONDITION= This is the situation for most persons most of the time. One has several, often even many, loose connections and self-styled "friends" but neither produce pure friendship pleasure. The connections or friendships fall short in one or more (usually more) ways from the requirements of pure friendship pleasure. As such, these connections produce only impure friendship pleasure (discussed below).
  • IMPURE FRIENDSHIP PLEASURE= These are the pleasures associated with most human connections and friendships. They are not constant nor reliable in nature but, here and there, they do produce some humor, some empathy, some favors, some advantageous references or suggestions, some supply of food and alcohol, and some elimination of boredom and loneliness. These connections and friendships do occasionally involve outright dishonesty, anger, breakups, makeups, lame excuses as to why one can't focus on the other person, and all the rest. These connections and friendships are viewed as disposable and fungible, meaning both persons would suffer no great loss at replacing one of these connections and friendships with another.  
  • FRIENDSHIP PAIN CONDITION. This is the human loneliness condition caused by one having no (or very few) face-to-face human connections or friendships. Someone can be in this connection and interact with other persons (co-workers, bill collectors, bartenders and waitresses), but obviously these interactions are so scripted, inauthentic, and superficial that one can't consider these as even producing impure friendship pleasure.
(3) All men and women begin adult life in the friendship pain condition. As the emotional ties to family diminish over time, there is a real NEED to replace the friendship that family provides with other persons that share one's adult values. Through impure friendship pleasure, one escapes the friendship pain condition and arrives at the neutral friendship condition. Many do stop here and believe this is the most one can expect from one's friends: "We are satisfied with our mediocrity, because we have had no experience of any thing better." (Hume, Essays) They do become contended with having a beer or dinner here and there with their friends once every few months or so (even less if the person lives far away). They do become contended with someone that will laugh at their jokes here and there or respond to their texts, emails, and online posts here and there. Their expectations of how a friend should behave toward one are reduced and small, and become more so as the years progress: "Isn't it necessary, then, for such people to live with pleasures that are mixed with pains, phantoms and shadow-paintings of true pleasures?" (Plato, Republic)

(4) The few that aren't contended with the neutral friendship condition sometimes make it to pure friendship pleasure with one or more persons. Because the pleasures produced from pure friendship pleasure are so much greater than those associated with impure, such persons have no need for many such friends. Two to three such friends can regularly generate enough pure friendship pleasure that one simply needs no more.  

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Moderation (Kamran K): Balancing Fact and Fantasy

"That mind and soul according well
May make one music as before,
But vaster."
Dubois, Souls of Black Folk

"The bright ideals of the past- physical freedom, political power, the training of brains and the training of hands- all these in turn have waved and waned, until even the last grows dim and overcast. Are they all wrong, - all false? No, not that, but each alone was oversimple and incomplete-...To be really true, all these ideals must be melted and welded into one. Work, culture, liberty- all these we need, not singly but together, not successively but together, each growing and aiding each, and all striving toward that vaster ideal..." Dubois, Souls of Black Folk

(1) To maintain biological life, the body and all its systems work constantly, 24-7, to maintain a homeostasis balance between extreme poles, BOTH of which generate bodily doom (death). The body does this work automatically and- unless something goes wrong (e.g., cancer)- we usually pay it no attention whatsoever. The body works tirelessly to maintain the appropriate balance point in body temperature, body hydration level, O2/CO2 levels, obesity/starvation, and hundreds and even thousands of other appropriate balancing points.

(2) Given the body has this most important duty of maintaining balance, does the mind have a similar duty? Or is the mind left without any balancing act duty? The mind DOES indeed have such a duty.

(3) To maintain a perfectuating life- a life that is reaching ever closer to human good and perfection- the MIND has the difficult task of maintaining an appropriate balancing point between pragmatic rationality and imaginative fantasy. Both worlds are infinitely large and therefore both are "big" enough for one to spend all of one's mental life within. Even if every mind alive was fully engaged all the time with one or both, the worlds of pragmatic rationality and imaginative fantasy would not get exhausted for many many human generations.

(4) Either a fact-based or fantasy-based extreme is dangerous and usually results in one's sub-optimal positioning to capture most of the GOODs that life can offer.To be wedded or addicted or stuck solely in pragmatic fact-based rationality is to be in the position of Nietzsche's last man. What most characterizes Nietzsche's last man, what is so unattractive about such a character? Nietzsche leaves no doubt on this point: "The earth hath then become small and on it there hoppeth the last man who maketh everything small." (Nietzsche, Zarathustra) Judged and evaluated from the perspective of constant realistic pragmatic fact-based rationality, life is made SMALL and reduced to either (a) a series of dollars and cents calculations ("there is in these new captains of industry neither love nor hate, neither sympathy nor romance: it is a cold question of dollars and dividends." Dubois, Souls of Black Folk),   (b) careful balancing of various familial, legal, career, and various other responsibilities and duties one has, (c) scientific explanations tethered to various dull and arcane theories of how atoms, elements, and cells work. and, ultimately, (d) various pessimistic evaluations regarding the possibility for the realization of meaningful human progress and achievement, whether individual or social. How could we possibly deem a life reduced in these ways to be GOOD?

(5) To be wedded or addicted or stuck in the world of imaginative fantasy brings its own dangers, risks, and ultimately failures. Above all, three negative consequences follow. To live always (or mostly always) in the imaginative fantasy condition is to become increasingly isolated and detatched from those that don't share your fantasies. It also usually means one neglects certain core areas of human functioning that are not relevant to the fantasy; in the extreme case, one neglects these areas for so long that one can no longer do anything about it when one realizes how bad the situation has become with respect to this functioning level. Finally, it usually means you will be disappointed when the world doesn't deliver what your fantasies "expect" it easily can and should deliver.

(6) The perfected condition is now "in view." The MIND must work to keep an appropriate balancing point between the worldviews of pragmatic fact-based rationality and imaginative fantasy. The analogy to the body is apt; this balance must be kept for the organism to function optimally. By keeping the appropriate balancing point, MIND is able to gather the benefits of both worldviews. The person avoids the social isolation and detachment characterizing the person totally wrapped up in fantasy. Key areas of functioning are kept operating at acceptable levels. Disappointment is rare because the person knows how difficult a thing it is to achieve ANYTHING of meaningful value in this world, whether for an individual person or a group.

From this framework, however, the person is then free to indulge in fantasy not just occasionally but fairly regularly in his or her life. This indulgement does make life more beautiful, worth living, exciting, hope-filled, and all the rest. Through song, poetry, movies, and paintings, through reverie and romance, through comedy and satire, through astronomical speculations, one is free to continue to indulge one's imaginative fantasy and gain an independent GOOD from it anytime, anywhere: "Among the other excellences of man, this is one, that he can form an idea of perfections much beyond what he has experience of in himself; and is not limited in his conception of wisdom and virtue. He can easily exalt his notions..." (Hume, Essays)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Silence & Stillness (Kamran K): Reflections on the Loss of Introspection and Self-Consciousness

"no one with leisure to turn the bare and cheerless cabin into a home, no old folks to sit beside the fire and hand down traditions of the past; little of careless happy childhood and dreaming youth. The dull monotony of daily toil is broken only by the gayety of the thoughtless and the Saturday trip to town."
(Dubois, Souls of Black Folk)

(1) The current social reality is promoting many things but neither introspection nor self-awareness. We have gained some things from the current social reality (above all, better medical care, cleaner food and easier access to it, technologies facilitating information exchange, entertainment, and economic activity, less boredom with life, and a few other things). Still, for all these "gains," we are not living in enlightened times or a remarkably "progressive age." Despite all the noise to the contrary, we will not be living in such times until humanity makes tremendous leaps forward at the level of consciousness. Till that happens, all optimistic progressive narratives that paint the present as a "great leap forward" are illusory:

 they have embroidered or invented facts, played down or suppressed facts that belie it...taken words for works, enlightenment for happiness, greater intellectual sophistication for virtue, and so invented the figment of the general progressive improvement of the world.
(Herder, Auch eine Philosophie der Geschichte zur Bildung der Menscheeit)

It would certainly be soothing if one could readily believe all this; and yet there are too many ugly facts for everything to be thus easily explained away.
(Dubois, Souls of Black Folk)

(2) More to the point, all the gains discussed above have come at a price. One of the biggest components of that price is the loss of introspection and self-awareness.Both introspection and self-awareness are aimed at producing self-consciousness. Each man or woman has a slightly different consciousness as a result of different life experiences, values, recurring thoughts and behaviors, career, peer group, and all the rest. Consciousness determines, reflects, shapes, and colors EVERYTHING we do, think, see, or perceive: "Man is one and undivided; whatever he is and does flows from a single center..." (Berlin, Herder and the Enlightenment) Because of differing consciousness, no two people will ever experience anything in exactly the same way. Because of differing consciousness, one man finds a certain joke insanely hilarious and can barely keep himself together while laughing at it; the man next to him finds the joke dull, coarse, and stupid and not a single laughing muscle in his body moves from the joke. Given its absolute pervasiveness, no price, no amount of time, no sacrifice is too great to gain a handle on consciousness.

For one to be self-conscious, one must reach progressively better, more nuanced understandings of how one's particular consciousness operates in everyday life. How is one reacting to various everyday realities? What expectations does one have of how life should go? What is motivating us to be this type of person rather than that? What recurrent fears do we have and how does this impact our behavior? What sort of relationship and conception do we have of our body and the bodies of others surrounding us?

Albeit one's consciousness is rather complex and mysterious all in all, still there are many aspects of it that repeat and that are therefore ripe for understanding through introspection and self-awareness.

(3) Self-consciousness usually (there are isolated exceptions to any general statement) is not generated when one is focused on the behavior or statements of others or, for that matter, almost anything outside the self (the sole exception here are books that are directly aimed at the core of mental consciousness, such as great works of philosophy, literature, and psychology). From sex to gambling to music to politics to surfing the web to watching TV, things outside the self can distract consciousness from itself, can entertain or excite the self, can stimulate or arouse the self, and all the rest. But they don't produce UNDERSTANDING of the self and the consciousness that underlies it.

(4) The (often) gradual loss of self-consciousness is invisible but hugely significant for how a human life goes. The consequences are multiple but are most evident in a few areas. (1) There is a compulsive, habitual, automatic repetition of behaviors that are not making life better, more interesting, more enjoyable, and all the rest. For these behaviors to stop, consciousness must reach a relatively sophisticated understanding of precisely how this is undermining one's life and how few good non-trivial reasons one has for continuing these behaviors. A consciousness that does not "get here" has no choice but to continue the damaging behaviors infinitely. (2) There is a tendency to criticize others for the very same behaviors and vices one regularly engages in oneself. This makes one hypocritical and a total fraud. No bueno. (3) There is a very poor handle on one's emotional life and reactions to things. One swings- and swings wildly- from elation to depression without much understanding why. Because one's emotional state is so unpredictable, others will shy away from forging meaningful relationships with you.

(5) It is not necessarily in the interests of either capitalism, your employer, your church, and even your family, friends, and loved ones for you to reach higher levels of self-consciousness. All of the above persons may in fact benefit from your remaining at reduced levels of self-consciousness. It is only you yourself that must WANT to have greater self-consciousness and must work to realize it.

The good news: this work is not really work at all. By simply taking some much needed time out from repetitive behaviors, thoughts, and routines- by remaining silent and still- consciousness already gets going and has a chance to reflect on itself. You simply sit back at these moments and observe the patterns of thoughts, reactions, and behaviors you are engaging in and, little by little, self-consciousness grows.

Friendship (Kamran K): Got Friends? Really?

"I view the universe as a very dark and bleak place. But it's not all dark. The blackness is not immutable. if we gain love that creates a speck of light; if we gain some insight, that's a speck of light; if we join with another maybe that makes the speck grow into an's not a particularly optimistic picture because we will never overcome the darkness. But we can push back..."
Shelly Kagan, November 24, 2014

"I'll give you anything, anything, anything
I'll give you anything, anything, anything
anything, anything, anything."
Dramarama, Anything, Anything

(1) The reasons why two persons maintain a "connection" are seemingly infinite but usually cluster in a few areas. Many connections serve useful purposes where both parties benefit financially or in some other pragmatic sense from the connection. In many cases, simply avoiding boredom and distracting one's mind from one's own condition causes one person to seek out another.

(2) Friendship is ONE excellent product of what could happen when two persons initiate and then maintain a connection over time. It is near THE absolute BEST product of this process if things go very well and not the ordinary result of this process. Perhaps one out of a hundred or thousand times this process produces a friendship: "Nature works in an unplanned way, by millions and millions of failures, trying to find one positive result which survives." (Kohut, Seminars) Even rarer, it produces a romantic friendship known as love which is the VERY best product of this process. All other times it produces mere human connections seeking to use each other for this reason or that, seeking to pass time with each other for this reason or that, and seeking to distract their minds from their personal reality for this reason or that. Parents and their children can be mere connections; so too can siblings; and so can persons formally in a "relationship" or marriage. It all depends on the actual reality- and strength- of the connections.

(3) Although life has many grey areas, determining whether a vibrant friendships exists is not one of them. Three or four key criteria which EACH must be present for there to be an actual friendship. These include:
  • Demonstrated behavioral eagerness and enthusiasm to see each other face to face for extended periods of time. Friends will take turns actively planning and seeking to spend time together over weekends, many weeks even months, extended vacations, and all the rest (the "i miss you text or email" does not qualify as active planning or seeking out). They wish to make these plans for they actually have a "desire to make [another] person a larger part of [their] life, a sense that the [other] has more to offer" than what one has seen so far (Nehamas, Tanner lecture) These plans are not easily cancelled nor broken but assume the importance of a job interview, court date, and so on. Every effort will be made not to cancel or break the plans with friends; if these fail, one will call well in advance, apologize, and quickly begin the process of making new plans.
  • Almost total honesty and fair dealing. Friends never try to take advantage of each other (financially or otherwise) or lie to each other about where they are, what they are doing, what they are thinking and all the rest. They will be honest even where honesty requires disclosure of some unflattering details of their personal life. They CAN be this honest with their friends because their friends really do love and accept them for the fallible struggling-to-figure it all out humans we ALL are.
  • Mutual initiation and maintenance of communication where face to face is not possible. Although not precisely 50-50, friends do take turns initiating and maintaining communication on a wide variety of subjects that interest BOTH persons. Although some thing the friend is involved with may not exactly interest them, still they will try to understand why the friend finds it interesting, humorous, beautiful, etc. Friends bypass small-talk almost entirely; they don't go through the motions of asking how each other's day went but begin conversations immediately on things of perceived mutual interest. 
  • Some non-trivial sacrifice of money, time, resources, and/or convenience for the sake of the friend where the friend is in need. In a true friendship, this would not even be viewed as a sacrifice. The person will badly want to do this thing for their friend because they in no way wish to see their friend struggling, hurt, demoralized, etc. 

Happiness (Kamran K): Basking in the Glory of Pinnacles of Personal Relative Excellence

"When a man has purposed to make a given thing, and has brought it to perfection, his work will be pronounced perfect, not only by himself, but by everyone..." Spinoza, Ethica

"Human existence appears in every shape and kind, from the most fickly deformity that can scarcely support life, to the superhuman form of a grecian demigod...through faults and errors, through education, necessity, and exercise, every mortal seeks the symmetry of his powers; as in this alone the most complete enjoyment of his existence lies; yet few are sufficiently fortunate to attain in the purest happiest manner."
Herder, Outlines

(1) With 7 billion people on the planet, and many or most jammed in the same few professions or favorite activities, it is becoming increasingly difficult to be "the best" even if one becomes the "best one can be." These days, you may easily become the "best you can be" without even being near the absolute best. The best have become that good and excellent in almost all areas of life: "[you] try to be king but the ace is back." (Dr. Dre, Still Dre) It is the cause of much unhappiness- driven by a sort of infantile worldview- that makes people think they can be the very best at something so long as they keep "trying." We harbor no such illusion that the world works this way and will accordingly suffer no such disillusionment: "For the child, the whole world is still connected with the self and ought to follow one's commands." (Kohut, The Seminars)

Universities across the globe are graduating hundreds of thousands of students every year, motivated and eager to compete with others in their field. The largest corporations have research and development departments with budgets in the many millions; their primary goal is to continue perfecting products and services that are profitable. Very swiftly, the world has seen standards everywhere rise such that being the very best at anything today is hard, if not impossible. Partly, it's simply a numbers game. There are too many competitors; where there used to be several thousand TOTAL competitors in a given field there are now many millions. Who are too big and well-financed. Who have been competing for too long. Who urgently wish to be the best at what they do.

(2) To some, the above realities generate despair and ennui. Objectively considered, one has a very slim to none shot at being the very best at why even bother taking anything very seriously? Why not simply go through the motions at work, grab drinks and dinner at a decent restaurant afterward, go home and watch some Netflix, chill with one's doggie, and call it a night? And repeat it all tomorrow.

(3) Although only a very few persons can become the absolute best in any activity, this does not mean that everyone should quit trying to get better and better at the same activity. Nor does it mean everyone else doing the activity "sucks." What we need- and need badly- are humane personalized standards for evaluating persons' achievements which inevitably occur under different circumstances, situations, time pressures, stages of life, physical and bodily conditions, DNA-provided talents, and the many other human differentiating factors:

The human species is such a copious scheme of energies and capacities...that it's great and numerous capacities could not appear on our planet otherwise than divided among millions.
(Herder, Outlines)

(4) For each activity, any person can realistically evaluate their situation and determine a pinnacle of personal relative excellence they can with effort, wisdom, and dedication achieve. Importantly, the pinnacle of personal relative excellence is not some easy to reach "next goal" that one is automatically bound to hit if one keeps plugging away long enough. From where one is, it always represents a tremendous advancement, a decisive break forward into the next league of achievement.

This pinnacle will change over time but at any one time there is only one pinnacle that is being pursued.  For example, a newbie runner runs a 9:00 mile for the first time. This person can set a 8:00 mile as their pinnacle of personal relative excellence with respect to running. Once this is achieved, they can reset it for 7:30 and then 7:00 and perhaps even 6:30. To the very best runners in the world all of these times are slow, if not plodding. Doesn't matter. They represent pinnacles of persona relative excellence for the newbie runner.

Most importantly, it is up to the newbie runner- each time- to decide whether he still cares enough about running (or has the time or other resources necessary to devote to it) to reach the next pinnacle of personal relative excellence. It is perfectly appropriate for the runner to decide at 7:00 or 6:30 that this is enough; this WILL BE his pinnacle of personal relative excellence for LIFE with respect to running. He has other things that interest him. He is too old to keep pounding out the miles. His family obligations are getting in the way. And so on.

At some point, the runner will simply not be able to improve as much as he/she has before. The newbie runner may reach a 6:00 minute mile but will not be able to make another 3:00 improvement to 3:00 per mile. Any further improvement will likely be small considered absolutely but huge considered relatively. It may be a trivial accomplishment to a non-runner for one to move from 5:58 to 5:25. To a runner, this is a huge accomplishment because the porportional fitness increase necessary is huge. 

(5) Here is the key point: the newbie runner reaching his pinnacle of personal relative excellence is entitled to bask in the glory of this achievement to the same extent that an Olympian runner basks in his or her winning a gold medal. This basking will usually be a quiet personal experience- without much external pomp or fanfare- where one reflects privately on just how far one came, how many setbacks one endured and still fought through, and all other things that make any human achievement valuable: "The most common problem encountered is a lack of internalization; the grown person constantly seeking applause and approval from others....the person engages in an eternal struggle for praise from adults." (Kohut, The Seminars)

BOTH reached their respective pinnacles of personal relative excellence; only in one case the bar was set much higher either because of genetic talent, bodily condition, age, years of prior training, and all the rest. The newbie runner applied courage, tenacity, and some wisdom to reach the pinnacle of personal relative excellence. He or she by definition could not have done any better than this and no one is entitled to demand more of this from this person. If anyone trivializes his or her accomplishment that is their problem, not his: "The strongest and most mature people have strong ideals which are more important to them than external approval." (Kohut, The Seminars)

Monday, February 2, 2015

Passion (Kamran K): Paradigms of Fear, Objectivity, and Excitement.

"I've been worrying that we our the confines of fear."
Ben Howard, The Fear

"But when the work was finished, the Craftsman kept wishing that there was someone to ponder the plan of so great a work, to love its beauty, and to wonder at its vastness."
Pico, Oration on the Dignity of Man

"To be young means to be primordial, to have remained close to the wellspring of life, means being able to rise up and shake off the fetters of an outmoded civilization, to dare what others lack the vital courage to do- to plunge back into what is elemental."
Thomas Mann, Doctors Faustus

(1) Men and women everywhere live their entire adult lives from the context of one of three emotional paradigms: fear, total objectivity/lack of emotion, and excitement. Although persons can get excited one day and fearful the next, they swiftly revert back to their predominant emotional paradigm. It is by virtue of their behavior- not their self-reports- that one can evaluate what paradigm a given person has elected.

(2) Some 80-90% of humanity lives within the paradigm of fear. Living from an emotional paradigm of fear means one is always on the lookout for the next bad thing to happen, believes some tragedy is always about to strike, and takes the world to be a dark and inhospitable place. One's behavior becomes increasingly "confined" to a few safe activities that are perceived to involve no obvious risk to life, limb, or reputation:

Anything new there?
Young Schwarzkopf laughed and shook his head in mock sympathy.
No, No. How could there be anything new there?
(Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks)

I can assure you all that it was truly nothing, in every sense of the word
(Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus)

He too wanted to know nothing, see nothing, actually experience nothing, at least not in any obvious, exterior sense of the word. He was not out for change, new sense impressions, distraction, recreation.
(Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus)

Such persons usually also assume the worst motives and behaviors in other persons as fear colors their perception of everyone and everything. They do view others as greedy, dishonest, selfish, and stupid. Further, such persons are usually fearful of the negative judgment of others. They genuinely fear that other people will judge their behavior, values, dress, appearance, financial status, and all the rest negatively. They do all they can to avoid such negative judgments because their fear of it is so great.

(3) Some 5-8% of humanity occupies the paradigm of objectivity. Living from a paradigm of total objectivity/lack of emotion is becoming increasingly popular these days with the rise of "science" and a money/business oriented way of viewing all of life. The "passionate" or "excited" person is regarded as naive, immature, unfit for the workplace, and even dangerous. Romantic love itself is dying within the younger generation because the objectivity paradigm views love as (at best) silly and, more commonly, dangerous to one's well-being.

Persons living from this paradigm show little to no emotion in anything they do. Everything is simply a job, task, or chore to be completed in the most "efficient" manner possible. What usually suffers is their imagination which withers away from lack of use.

(4) Living from a paradigm of excitement is extremely rare and an astonishingly great thing to achieve. A very rare less than 1% elite occupies this paradigm: "All was now complete; all things had been assigned to the highest, the middle, and the lowest orders." (Pico, Oration on the Dignity)Within this paradigm, one is genuinely excited and eager to wake up each day to tackle whatever it is that day will bring. One looks forward- genuinely looks forward- to spending time with close friends, loved ones, and family members. One is excited and enthused to discover new activities and events in one's town of merit. If one has preferred favorite activities, one looks forward to these too and does not simply "go through the motions" when doing them. One's romantic relationships are infused with excitement as to the growth, trust/empathy, and healing possibilities these relationships can (at their best) provide:

When everything around you's bruised and battered
Like the cold night storm
And who would you turn to?
Cause I, I adore you so
When it all comes clear, the wind it settles, I'll be here, you know.
(Ben Howard, Gracious)

All of this is possible because persons living within the excitement paradigm have carefully chosen areas of life and activity infused by the GOOD. Their choices have not been haphazard and/or dictated by social programming and conformity. As such, their excitement is neither trivial nor banal nor fake. It's been earned.

On an "as needed basis" persons living within this paradigm will occasionally experience fear and/or seek out objective knowledge on some issue that matters to their life. If one is told that one is obese and likely to die from being so, then clearly the fear and objective knowledge paradigms (as to how to lose weight) would be the "go to" paradigms for this limited purpose. Once the weight is lost, one can return to the excitement paradigm. These transitions to the other inferior paradigms are brief- no more than a few months- and which terminate in the return to the excitement paradigm.

(5) It is best to live from a paradigm of excitement because only this paradigm allows the entirety of human personality to be "alive." It is the ingredient of passion- which this paradigm fully supports and encourages development- that can transform literally anything we do from the boring/mundane to an experience worth having.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Freedom (Kamran K): On Eternal Spontaneity

"I knew people who were total shit, conformist and so on
and at some point they say fuck it I've had enough
I will not take this.
And they become momentarily heroes..."
Slavoj Zizek, 2013

"He took man as a creature of indeterminate nature and assigning him a place in the middle of the world addressed him this: 'Neither a fixed adobe nor a form that is thine alone nor any function peculiar to thyself have we given thee, Adam, to the end that according to thy longing and according to thy judgment thou mayest have and possess what adobe, what form, and what functions thou thyself shalt desire. The nature of all other beings is limited and constrained within the bounds of laws prescribed by Us. Thou, constrained by no limits, in accordance with thine one free will, in whose hand we have placed thee, shalt ordain for thyself the limits of thy nature."
Pico, Oration on the Dignity of Man

(1) If science is ever able to make us immortal, still the question would remain whether we would wish to live forever. Given that forever is a very long time, the answer to this question is nonobvious.

(2) As the world is presently constituted, it would not be "very fun" to live forever. Although one could in isolation achieve many GOOD things, still the crash back down to reality involved in the generally mediocre to poor level of human social interaction, environment, and relations would be "no bueno." No bueno, indeed.

(3) As the world could be configured- with almost total freedom in thought, action, and behavior- it might be worth living forever. Such a world would be distinguished above everything else by spontaneity in thought, behavior, conversation, and values. Although most or nearly all people today would characterize themselves as spontaneous (since this is now considered a virtue), their actual behavior within reality makes clear they almost totally lack genuine spontaneity. To be actually spontaneous is a very rare achievement in a world dominated by social programming and conformity. It means repeatedly acting in non-trivial ways that are not readily predictable by the parameters of one's socio-economic class, gender, profession, race, nationality, and all other sources of social programming and conformity. It also means breaking free of one's own idiosyncratic habits that have made one (for better or worse) highly predictable. The eruption that is spontaneous freedom is always the same: one acts, thinks, and values a certain way and then spontaneously there is a change. Bang. It happens. Out of nowhere. From nothing. For the good. 

(4) A world totally free and spontaneous would primarily be one where the problem of work and economic production had been almost entirely solved. Whether because technology eliminated the need to work or through some political-social pact where everyone only worked the minimal amount of hours necessary to match society's actual "real" needs, every single person in this totally free world would have some 16 hours a day to do whatever they wished.

(5) Persons would be free to read hundreds of books annually on subjects that spontaneously struck their fancy (which subjects would obviously change over time, and not be "fixed in stone" by the demands of a career). They would be free to spend 3-5 hours a day involved in physical excercise and other recreational pursuits. They would be free to date for years in search of that that one compatible romantic partner that excited them physically, intellectually, comically, and who generally- through their own spontaneity- kept one's very will to life always burning and shining bright. They would be spontaneously free to take up astronomy and observe the stars; free to enjoy the healing silence of meditation; free to rove the nation listening to the best (and perhaps worst) stand-up comedians; free to tour the world exploring new musicians and poets; and so on.

(6) If any social reality is worth seriously striving for, this would be it:

Above our modern socialism and out of the worship of the mass must persist and evolve that higher individualism which the centers of culture protect; there must come a loftier respect for the sovereign human soul that seeks to know itself and the world about it; that seeks a freedom for expansion and self-development; that will love and hate and labor in its own way, untrammeled alike by old and new. Such souls aforetime have inspired and guided worlds...they shall again.
(Dubois, Souls of Black Folk)  

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Silence & Stillness (Kamran K): Further Reflections on Screen and Non-Screen Reality

"you know, all this button pushing and what not. you know, you can just imagine based on what's happening the past 15 years, i mean, conversations won't happen. ten years from now there ain't gonna be anybody talking to anybody."
Mike Leach, 2014

"This gloomy inventory of certain tendencies in contemporary American culture — it is not the whole story, but it is an alarmingly large part of the story —...All revolutions exaggerate and the digital revolution is no different." Leon Wieseltier, 2015 

 "I had always a most earnest desire to know how to distinguish the true from the false, in order that I might be able clearly to discriminate the right path in life, and proceed in it with confidence."
Rene Descartes, Discourse on Method

1. All DNA-driven organisms (including man) are provided a finite "slice" of spacetime to participate in reality. This slice is known as "life." Within life, man can reach the GOOD but only with persistent continuous choices and behavior aimed at the GOOD, guided at all times by the marriage of reason, useful information, and passion. The value of life itself is almost 100% tied to this human and humane ability to pursue and reach the GOOD; all other pursuits and achievements are of secondary importance: "The processing of information is not the highest aim to which the human spirit can aspire, and neither is competitiveness in a global economy." (Wieseltier, 2015)

2. Perhaps the most important decision facing man today is how to allocate time between "screen" and "non-screen" time. It is becoming increasingly obvious that few are making optimal decisions "here." 

On the one hand, there is the SCREEN, a window into the digital world containing all books, all information, all pictures, all written communications ever recorded. On the other hand, there is the NON SCREEN, the garden, the sky, the walk in the park, friends sharing each other's company face to face, and so on. And then there is TIME which is eternal but finite for humans. And so there is need to allocate time between the SCREEN and the NON SCREEN. In this sense, the time a person spends looking at the SCREEN needs to be carefully controlled. 

3. The past 50 some years has ushered in a proliferation of screen entertainments and communications, from movies to tv shows to video games to endless pornography to text messages to internet sites to emails to facebook to youtube to netflix. The screen devices have also proliferated, consisting initially of the TV only but being joined rapidly by the desktop computer, smartphone, digital camera and camcorder, laptop, tablet, vcr player, dvd player, and so on. This proliferation shows no sign of stopping and will only accelerate if we let it.

4. Only non-screen time is fully real, fully dynamic and in motion, and contains ALL of the human dimensions of experience that matter to us or should matter to any healthy sane human person not hopelessly addicted to screen communications. If any doubt the truth of this, simply watch a play in a theater somewhere and then later read the transcript of the same play on a website somewhere, in "boring" black and white text.

Human DNA has been well-equipped for thousands of years to deal with non-screen communications and a whole series of emotional, sensory, psychological, intelligent systems have been perfected within man to fully experience and embrace non-screen reality. No text message, no e-mail, no internet blog nor facebook post can fully capture the tone, facial expression, body language, or emotional temperament of the person making the communication. Too much is hidden, concealed, staged, or simply absent for the communication to be considered a "fully real" communication. Recent studies confirm the obvious: people lie more frequently in texts and emails than they do in ordinary conversations. This is possible because the screen communication makes lying so easy, with so many dynamic and difficult emotional factors absent that would prevent the same lie face to face. You know everything about you is being scrutnized when you say something face to face; this prevents some amount of deception among humanity. 

5. We therefore can and DO rank non-screen time as superior to screen time. We should want above all to get better at "dealing with" non-screen time, not screen time. But this does not mean screen time is valueless. To the contrary, it can serve the GOOD to the extent it is quickly tied back to non-screen time. In short: to the extent we do screen time, it should only be to facilitate and improve non-screen time. The ratio should be somewhere between 1 minute of screen for every 10-20 minutes of non-screen. And it also follows that if a certain screen communication (or platform) is not regularly making a non-trivial contribution to non-screen time, it should be abandoned. 

Let's say you want to eat sushi tonight. With ten minutes of online research, you will have several ideas of where to buy the best sushi your town offers. You quickly get off the screen and go to the sushi place to experience a non-screen reality. Let's say you want to identify the best comedy club in town. Same thing; within minutes your screen research leads you to a non-screen experience. Lets say you want to meet a friend tomorrow night for a drink. Shoot off a text or email and quickly set things up. Save the actual communications and experiences you will have for non-screen time. Don't exhaust them in screen time, leaving you with nothing to say nor experience in non-screen time.

6. The current (very damaging) trend is persons are getting addicted and lost in the maze of screen time. For all too many, life itself has become a literal procession from one screen to the next, from cell phone to work computer back to cell phone to home tablet to home television. Between all this screen time, only a few minutes of perfunctory small-talk social conformity tending non-screen conversation is mixed in between. We are not getting back to non-screen time and we are generally not using the screen time as a springboard to experiences within non-screen time. Persons text and email each other for years, sometimes even decades, without ever seeing each other; others read hundreds of web sites but never implement anything they've read into their non-screen life; many watch hundreds of documentaries on the sights and sounds of Nature and countries far away but never are moved to see these things outside the context of the screen; sports "fans" the world ever will watch hundreds of hours of games but never lift a finger to play the sport they are watching; and so on.

7. The acceleration of screen communications as a way of life is unprecedented. Silence and stillness is essential to continue to assess the "end result" and "end value" of all of these screen communications.