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.  

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Wealth (Kamran K): The Water Paradox

"The story of candy in America is a story of how the processed, the artificial, and the fake came to be embraced as real food. And it’s also the story of how it happened that so much of what we call food today is really candy." Candy, Samira Kawash

(1) It must be admitted as an irrefutable fact that the best thing one can drink is plain old water (H20): "I commenced with the simplest and most general truths." (Descartes, Discourse on Method) Almost everywhere on the planet water is provided free of charge to anyone that asks for it. It is water, not coke, not beer, not orange juice, not Red Bull, that does the best job of keeping all of the body's systems in balance, healthy, functioning, hydrated, etc. Not one single research study anywhere has called this irrefutable fact into question. Nor could it.

(2) To consume anything other than water, one must purchase ($) the beverage at a certain price/cost. This ranges from the de minimus cost of most beverages to sky-high prices for fancy wines and other intoxicating beverages. And, for most of us, one must work (work usually = loss of freedom and generation of unhappiness) to gather the money necessary to purchase this beverage.

These beverages often come nowhere close to providing the benefits water does and often involve a whole host of negative side-effects and other bodily maladies from excessive consumption. Studies everywhere are now proliferating highlighting the negative impact to the body associated with long-term excessive consumption of beer, wines, liquors, sodas, coffee, various "energy drinks," and many other high-sugar beverages (and even low-sugar and "diet" drinks).  Obesity, high blood pressure, poor cardiac functioning, diabetes, various cancers, brain slugishness, stomach indigestion, and all the rest have been linked to these beverages. Not a single one of these maladies is caused by the consumption of FREE water (plain ol' h2o)

(3) Let us now assess the situation. The best thing of all for us (water) is free of charge and requires no money whatsoever to purchase/consume. Everything inferior (sodas, beers, wines, various juices, coffee, energy drinks, sugary juices) costs money and involves negative impacts on the body's optimal functioning.

(4) Is the situation outlined above with water unique? Or is it replicated everywhere around us today? The best thing of all for us X is free (or almost free) but yet we work and toil to get money to purchase or obtain inferior thing Y.

Does this hold if X= simple mindfulness meditation & Y= an expensive vacation halfway across the globe?

Does this hold if X= creating music, poetry, and prose & Y= trips to the mall to fill up time when one has nothing to do?

Does this hold if X= making it a point to see one's friends face to face to delight in their company & Y= purchasing $700 smartphones so that one can remain digitally connected at all times to these same persons?

Does this hold if X= loving another human being and being totally loved by that person in turn & Y= seeking various forms of career success to fill the self-esteem void left from being unloved?

Does this hold if X= going to the gym and working out & Y = spending hundreds/thousands to watch people we don't know play in overcrowded stadiums where the parking charge alone is often $20-$30?

Does this hold if X= watching a quality documentary or reading a quality classic book available free online  and Y = planning a fourth home remodel to one's house in order to maintain one's image and reputation at a sufficiently high level?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Love (Kamran K): Bearing Down on those little differences

"But thank you for staying April, I'ma make you learn
to appreciate me, differentiate me
from these phoney, little fishy and sissy fake G's
skip over the huggy-bear and all the kissyface, please."
Eminem, So Bad

"I love you like a fat kid loves cake
you know my style...I'll do anything to make you smile!"
50 cent, 21 Questions

"I just don't look at a woman as a pair of tits anymore, and I wish I did, cause I could get laid easier, cause that's what...But I can't now." Louis CK

(1) Whether we are discussing love of another person, or the love of a city, country, or even an institution, or the love of a certain activity or career, the same evaluative metric applies. This metric focuses on identifying all of the subtle/small/non-trivial variations between persons, cities, activities that OVERALL make a specific person, city, or an activity genuinely loveable. Love is that activity whereby one comes to know and appreciate in a very deep sense as many of these subtle differences as one can (or as exist). This is usually the stuff of many months, even years, but when done well this is an enjoyable achievement that one rightly take pride in. One knows and loves this thing, person, place, or activity in a thorough way that is not simply sellable or otherwise transmittable to another person.

(2) As to cities and places:

By now, most cities have restaurants, bars, gas stations, hospitals, department stores, and every other modern convenience. It would thus be lame for one to love a place because it has these things. The superficial observer thus will see most cities as more or less equally loveable.

What most cities don't have is the same climate, the same natural topography, the same access to Nature's spectacular Big 3 (beaches, mountains, and desserts), the same variety of entertainment events year-round, the same diversity of persons engaged in different activities, and all the rest.

While each such significance is rather minor in the "grand scheme" of things, they are not minor once they are tabulated together. A whole slew of minor differences becomes one big difference when multiplied out. This must be admitted as an irrefutable proposition!

(3) As to activities and careers:

By now, almost any career generates some needed income for one to purchase a smartphone and otherwise survive, something to do during the daylight hours, some respectability to one's name, some health and other employment benefits, and some office environment with co-workers where one can "shoot the shit" with. Because these things are so common among many different activities and careers, this is not the stuff of which one could say one "loves" one's favored career or other activity.

So, too, almost any "hobby" activity acts as a release from the pressures of everyday living. It distracts the mind from more serious matters that one would rather not focus on. It offers some trivial excitement, fun, and novelty for brief periods.  So, too, none of these are the stuff of which one could say one "loves" one's favored hobby-like activity.

A precious few activities and careers do offer more than these things; they are genuinely loveable. They do, in fact, offer continual opportunities to improve and progress at one's own (natural) pace. They do offer meaningful interaction with other persons and Nature. They do offer pride and satisfaction from having done the activity well because the activity was not so rote or simple that any idiot could do it well. They do almost continually offer one reasons to want to get up in the morning to do the activity or career. They do involve differing experiences rather than the same basic experienced repeated for what seems like an eternity! And so on.

(4) As to persons:

By now, the social programming and conformity rife everywhere has made almost everyone everywhere "nice" "polite" "optimistic" "non-judgmental" "fun" and "outgoing." Almost every person anywhere within a certain age range (20-50) can satisfy one's animality-laced sexual drives and impulses. Almost every person anywhere would be "ok" as a dinner or drinking companion if one was hungry or really wanted to drink. Almost every person anywhere will be willing to do small favors on your behalf, particularly with an eye toward later financial advantage from interactions with you. Almost every person anywhere has a few favorite TV shows and/or hobbies that they dally with from time to time. Here again, because these things are so common among so many persons, these are not the stuff of which one could say one "loves" another person.

With love of another person, specifically, it is particularly in the various emotional dispositions and reactions to things that persons vary. One's emotional universe is not "fixed in stone" either by biology (DNA) or culture. And so this is an area where people can and do differ in important non-trivial ways.

Ask yourself about another: (a) What bothers- genuinely bothers- this person and what does this say about him or her? (b) What excites- genuinely excites- this person and what does this say about him or her? (c) What generates fear- genuine fear- in this person and what does this say about him or her? (d) What level of empathy and connection do they exhibit toward other persons such that one could say they don't treat others as disposable means to their selfish ends? ("the narcissistic personality is not someone that is all full of themselves. it's someone that is very fragile...and the fragile self needs to use other people to buttress their sense of self" Sherry Turkle) (e) What is their attitude to deception and lying? Is it their modus operandi or do they hate engaging in it and resort to it only when there is no other option? (btw, a recent study found the average person lies 3 times during a ten minute conversation and EVEN MORE FREQUENTLY in emails and texts). When you ask these questions of yourself or another, don't rest content with quick superficial responses. See if there is behavior reflective of those responses spanning back over many years.

 Emotion generally is being white-washed out of life by the imperative mandate that one always be "polite" and "nice" to others, focus most of all on career success and money, but (here and there) one gets a glimpse of another's emotional universe that has not been fully affected by this type of programming.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The GOOD (Kamran K): Returning to the GOOD and the non-GOOD

(1) On a decision by decision basis, each person can choose to pursue the GOOD or pursue the non-GOOD.

(2) Determinations must first be made whether some activity, person, or place fits within the GOOD or the non-GOOD. One obviously has one's hunches, inclinations, and passions; these are NOT determinations. These determinations take time to make and benefit from the compilation of as much information as possible from as many different perspectives as appropriate. These determinations cannot ultimately be made by anyone else, even if they "borrow" much information, reasoning, and/or perspective from another person.

(3) Once the initial determinations have been made, man should obviously dominantly favor the GOOD over the non-GOOD. This dominant favoring should be reflected over and over again in man's life. It should be very obvious to all that this person has favored the GOOD by his or her actions, thoughts, behavior, personality development, sacrifices, and so on. Dominant favoring means a person will spend much of his/her time with this GOOD "thing," will think about it often, will care about getting better at it, will sacrafice less worthy things for it, will feel "bad" when or she has neglected this thing for some extended period, and all the rest. Dominant favoring is not shown by a person saying they "care" about something if these things just mentioned are absent.

All of this is happening because the GOOD "thing" continues to benefit the person in more than one way (often very many ways too numerous to list). The person is not "giving up" on other worthy things to remain in the GOOD; he is doing much better than he otherwise would be by pursuing the GOOD.

(4) Things are very different with the non-GOOD thing. On account of some weakness of will and/or simple curiosity whether there has been some "change" in the non-GOOD thing, man occasionally wanders back to the non-GOOD. Almost always, this return is disappointing in whole or (large) part. Man is reminded why the non-GOOD thing is, in fact, non-GOOD. Usually, nothing has changed with the non-GOOD thing and often things have even gotten worse in the non-GOOD things condition. The non-GOOD is usually not anxious to improve itself; in the absence of this motivation, why would we assume some improvement in the non-GOOD? Where would this improvement come from outside of motivation internal to the non-GOOD? Nowhere.

Whether on account of animality or the need to respect some social formalities or whatever other reason, men dragged back into the non-GOOD can benefit in one important way. The determination of non-GOOD is strengthened by the additional exposure. The resulting anxiety and guilt that one has "missed out" on something exciting, good, what have you also vanishes.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Practical Wisdom (Kamran K): A Defense of "Superficiality"

(1) One of the swiftest (and most critical) judgments we make against another adult (30+) person is bound up in the term "superficial." We meet someone, or know them for some time, and then come to the conclusion that the person is "superficial." The "superficial" adult is somehow immature, childish, and not "deep" or "developed" or "serious." Have we ever thought seriously about what this term means? Have we ever questioned whether we are making this most serious of assessments too quickly and too "superficially" ourselves? One can indeed superficially conclude that someone else is "superficial." This happens all the time!

(2) Although the tiniest blip from the perspective of astronomic time, human life as judged by human time- by human sensory capacities- is VERY long. This is a key point. If one lives 80 some years, one is alive some 30k days and some 700k hours. There is ample amount of time during this period for one to be BOTH superficial and "deep" (whatever that may mean): "God created two great lights- a greater light and a lesser light- so that one might rule the day and the other rule the night."  (Dante, Monarchia)

One could even imagine a world somewhere in which superficiality had been banned. Was illegal. Occupied zero percent of any one's time. It is by no means clear that such a world would be better than ours, or would be a decent world to live in at all. A good world is a one bursting/exploding forth with all sorts of life, some of which may be, from time to time, preoccupied with superficiality: "there must needs be a vast number of individual people in the human race, through whom the whole of this [human] potentiality can be actualized." (Dante, Monarchia)

(3) For an assessment of superficiality to be valid and true, one would need to assess the thoughts and behavior of a human being over a very long period of time. At that point, one would need to assess whether the dominant character of the persons' thoughts and behavior- which dominant character would be reflected in the majority of the person's thoughts and behaviors during "waking hours"- resided on the level of superficiality. Under this framework, one would not be superficial if one spent 5, 10 or even 15 hours per week (about 2 hours per day) preoccupied with superficial matters (one's clothes and looks, the bar and club scene in one's town, how to make fantastic food or where to get it, how one's stock portfolio is doing, celebrity gossip, sports team "rooting" etc.).

On the other hand, if one is devoting some 30-50 hours per week (4 to 7 waking hours per day) either thinking about or behaving in these areas then it would be fair to evaluate that person as being "superficial" for that week only. If this number then corrected back to some 10-15 hours per week then we are not dealing with an overall "superficial" person. If, however, the person habitually devoted 30-50 hours per week to superficial matters, week after week, year after year, then confidence would rise that this person truly is rather "superficial" all in all. This does not make the person bad or evil; it simply means you can only go so far with this person in conversation and action before reaching their "limit."

(4) Given this framework, it is absolutely impermissible to conclude someone is "superficial" after meeting them for a few hours. Even after a few weeks of knowing them the judgment would similarly be premature. This would thus mean that- excepting very close family members and friends- we simply don't have enough data on most people's thoughts and behaviors to conclude whether they are "superficial" persons or not. This does not mean most persons are deep or enlightened or mature (they most likely are not); we simply don't know one way or the other.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Justice (Kamran K): The Injustice of Diminished Expectations.

"Always in contradiction with himself, always floating between his inclinations and his duties, he will never be either man or citizen. He will be good neither for himself nor for others. He will be one of these men of our days: a Frenchman, an Englishman, a bourgeois. He will be nothing." Rousseau, Emile

(1) Across nearly all arenas of everyday life, the problem of diminished- and ever diminishing expectations and standards- is rearing its ugly head. We are increasingly disinclined to RISE to the challenge of meeting demanding expectations and prefer to lower expectations (often dramatically) so that we can meet them with our mediocre selves "as is." More mental effort is being devoted to lowering expectations than actually planning/striving to meet and exceed demanding ones. One is usually either too old or sick, too short or weak or clumsy, has too little time, too tenuous an attention span, or is just not "smart" enough to meet demanding expectations. These expectations are thus onerous and unfair and must be appropriately lowered to some point where one can meet them "as one is" right now, untrained, undisciplined, uneducated, immature. The unconscious thought paradigm: one has a right to feel good about oneself, whoever one is and whatever one is doing, and these demanding expectations are stupidly getting in the way of these good feelings. 

Why is this happening? What actual purpose is it serving? WHAT IS BEING LOST IN THE SHUFFLE OF DIMINISHED EXPECTATIONS?

(2) Generally, the mediocre self "as is" is NOT in a position "right there and then" to achieve anything of meaning or value. Let us be brutally frank here:  the mediocre self is a creature that is out-of-shape and chubby, has few, if any, refined artistic tastes, can't run a single 8:00 mile, can't compete successfully in any athletic endeavor against even casually trained amateurs, has few, if any, mental ideas of merit truly his or her own, makes a terrible mess of one romantic relationship after another, can't be relied upon "at work" to solve any non-routine problem, often lapses into episodes of anger, intoxication, financial waste, dishonest cover-up, incoherent texting, sexual license, porn, and masturbation, and so on. Judged from the perspective of sober reason, there is simply nothing in the mediocre self to get too terribly excited about: "Natural man would be brutish, hardly distinguishable from any of the other animals, unsociable and neither industrious nor rational, but instead, idle and nonrational." (Bloom, Closing)

This mediocrity should always be admitted to the self at the outset, and never denied through self-deception or some other illusion. One can view this "situation" of the mediocre self in one of two ways; (a) as an opportunity to rise up and perfect the mediocre self into a "best self" to achieve something of value, or (b) as an opportunity to agitate and convince others that the mediocre self is "good enough" and worthy of being celebrated "as is."

Consider a football team that finishes the year 8-8. MENTAL OPTION A: The players can admit they had a mediocre year, resulting from a whole series of mediocrities multiplied together...mediocre training, dedication, and practice, mediocre level of skill development, mediocre level of trust and camaraderie among team players, and mediocre fan support and coaching. They can resolve to improve on each of these mediocrities next year to achieve something above mediocrity. To do this, they must resolve to do a whole host of specific things differently next year to achieve a better result. As the year progresses, they will track their actual compliance and make necessary adjustments along the way. MENTAL OPTION B: The players on this team can convince themselves that they had a "decent" year all in all. Although their record was only 8-8, they beat several good teams, were "close" in a number of games, and achieved what they could in the face of numerous injuries. And even their mediocre final record- 8-8- was much better than many other teams in the league.

(3) What is being lost in the shuffle of diminished expectations is the multi-year/decade adventure of longing, toil, dedication, uncertainty, and (sometimes) prideful fulfillment that results when one pursues and (sometimes) meets and exceeds very demanding expectations and standards. It is by going through this cycle that one appreciates how rare and wonderful a thing genuine human achievement actually is, how much time and effort must be devoted toward it, and how far one can progress in almost any field if one actually makes it part of one's identity to become a great DJ, triathlete, meditator, and so on.

Diminished expectations STOPS this virtuous cycle "dead in its tracks." This is a form of injustice to the self, perhaps of the most serious sort. The multi-year/decade longing, toil, and dedication never gets a chance to "get going" because diminished expectations have already judged that one's achievements are "good enough" and "special" in light of one's "unique circumstances." One abandons the cycle long before any demanding expectations and standards have been met or exceeded.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Experienced Beauty (Kamran K): Beauty Attainment...Never a Waste.

"This moment contains many elements: satisfaction at having solved a problem; pleasure in using his faculties; fullness of pride, more complete than that of any conqueror, for he surveys and possesses all; certitude drawn from within himself, requiring no authorities; self-sufficiency, not depending, for the fulfillment of that which is highest in himself, on other men or opinions or on accidents such as birth or election to power, on anything that can be taken from him; a happiness that has no admixture of illusion or hope but is full of actuality." 
Allen Bloom, Closing

"I spent the remainder of my youth in traveling, in visiting courts and armies, in holding intercourse with men of different dispositions and ranks, in collecting varied experience, in proving myself in the different situations into which fortune threw me, and, above all, in making such reflection on the matter of my experience as to secure my improvement."
Rene Descartes, Discourse on Method

(1) Free-spirited persons of today, yester yonder, and the future will repeatedly confront one serious existential challenge to their identity. Drifting through life and gathering what beauty it has to offer, they will but rarely settle down in any one place or to any one fixed lifestyle or to any one person. "Settling down" usually generates achievements with currency in the social competition and status "game;" it but rarely generates experienced beauty because there is simply too much mundanity, repetition, formality, and restrictions on freedom involved in "settling down."

Because of the free-spirited person's state of perpetual dynamism, he or she will be vulnerable to the criticism (and internal guilt) that they've somehow "wasted" their years without building anything "substantial" (e.g. big house and grand-kids for the parents), with "nothing to show for it," and with no time left to make amends.

The permutations of this critique on the free-spirited person are many and are colored by different national, ethnic, racial, and even religious overtones: "Now if in giving a variety of proofs for one and the same theorem, we flatter ourselves that the multitude of reasons will compensate the lack of weight in each taken separately, this is a very unphilosophical resource, since it betrays trickery and dishonesty; for several insufficient proofs placed beside one another do not produce certainty, nor even probability." (Kant, MEE) They are all similarly rooted, mean-spirited, and ultimately false and error-filled.

(2) The free-spirited person will continuously pursue, achieve, and attain various experiences filled with beauty in the course of his free-spirited travels: "Virtue is always in progress, and yet always begins from the beginning. The former follows from the fact that, objectively considered, it is an ideal and unattainable; and yet it is a duty constantly to approximate to it." (Kant, MEE) The free-spirited person achieves more beauty in a single year than most persons achieve in a decade. These attained beauties are achieved, experienced, and valued as they are unfolding in real-time. Their value is totally dependent and bound up in the present as they are being experienced. There is nothing fake or illusory or somehow insubstantial about these experiences regardless of what other experiences one could be having in their place.

(3) Once an experienced generated beauty is generated and attained, it does not then later, years later, become valueless, worthless, insubstantial, or trivial because somehow one did not achieve other things by virtue of devoting time to the attainment of beauty. If one attends a concert filled with sublime music, one has attained beauty during the concert which can never be devalued subsequently for any reason whatsoever (in an extreme case, if one attended the concert rather than visit a dying relative in the hospital perhaps we might evaluate the matter further. most cases are not so extreme). One had the experience generating beauty and this is something; it is not nothing.

(4) Beyond this, continuous beauty attainment does BUILD something very substantial. It is the depth and breadth of the personality of the free-spirited person that is being built up, developing, maturing, deepening in the course of all of these experiences: "To conceive a plurality of virtues (as we unavoidably must) is nothing else but to conceive various moral objects to which the rational will is led by the single principle of virtue.." (Kant, MEE) This also is not nothing. This is a substantial achievement, albeit it is not immediately visible in the same way a marriage, an expensive house or car, or a fancy title at a large corporation is immediately visible.

(5) It is the devaluement of the development of a rich, complete, totally free, and vibrant personality that causes so many to lapse into the familiar trite critique of the free-spirited person as somehow "wasting" or "frittering" his or her life away: "it must be borne in mind that the first principle of our freedom is free will, which many people talk about but few understand." (Dante, Monarchia) Once this devalument ends and the great GOOD of a rich, free, and complete personality is understood, the life of the free-spirited person will quickly assume a far different perspective than it usually does today.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Play & Amusement (Kamran K): The Quadpartite Division of Activities

"But if this is all there is for me Life offers
Why bother even try and put up a fight it's nonsense
But I think a lightblub just lit up in my conscience
What about those rhymes I've been jottin' "
Eminem, Legacy

(1) At any and all times, each person can divide his activities into four camps: (a) dabbling (b) emerging (c) excelling and (d) fully achieved. This is the cycle- without exception- that human activities traverse if they reach completion.

(2) Through various trial and error processes, this mix of activities should continue to gradually change throughout life to maintain one's sense and regard for life itself as fresh, new, and invigorated. Once an activity begins with dabbling, one can choose to take it all the way to fully achieved. Or one can stop the activity at emerging or excelling for many legitimate reasons (lack of money or time to continue pursuit, risks to life and limb, lack of realized benefits, challenge, and "fun"). Some activities are such that one is simply given no personal initiative or room to take the activity beyond dabbling; in these activities one is simply a passive consumer of the activity. In any event, individual persons in individual life circumstances must evaluate incoming information to make these decisions in real-time as best as they can: "To have [rational] powers requires the ability to see and weight long-term consequences, and partly consists in being able to reflect on overall ends and goals in life, and conform one's behavior to such value-judgments." (John M. Cooper, Aristotlean Responsibility)

(3) It is obviously by exercising the good of play and amusement that activities come to be within the dabbling camp. In any year, one can easily devote 60 days to ten or so new activities that one dabbles in here and there. This is not a huge time commitment even for someone fully employed with kids and all the rest. Since one is dabbling, one can dabble at the activity for 30 minutes to an hour and no more.

It is not lack of time or financial resources that prevents persons from adding to the roster of dabbling activities; it is usually laziness and a failure of mental imagination to identify the goods these new activities could offer or even what these new activities could be. It is indeed a huge failure of imagination that makes many persons think their hobby activities should be limited- year after year, decade after decade- to the activities of watching professional sports and TV shows, going to bars and drinking alcohol, taking vacations, eating out at restaurants, working out at the gym, reading the occasional bestseller book, using illegal drugs, and so on. If you find yourself with such a restricted worldview, you should carefully consider how this has come about and whether you wish to continue maintaining this worldview much longer: "we are responsible for our established moral characters, as also for all our other character traits, because we are responsible for coming to be, and for being, in those states in the first place...what it is to be decent or virtuous or base is to engage regularly in virtuous or vicious actions and activities from a decision, occasion by occasion, to do so." (John M. Cooper, Aristotlean Responsibility)

Has the reader ever considered the number of possible sporting activities available to be pursued today? ( Has the reader considered dabbling in things like swimming, water polo, rock climbing, fishing, golf, cross-country skiing, rowing, kayaking, weightlifting, card games, archery, volleyball, tennis, snowboarding, surfing, billiards, and many many other sporting activities? Has the reader considered occasional trips to jazz clubs, comedy clubs, meditation and yoga studios, dance music clubs, antique shows? Has the reader considered dabbling in astronomy, community service activities, sports gambling, photography, gardening, blogging, and many many other hobbies ( There are so many possible candidates here that anyone can assemble a roster of 5-10 new dabbling activities a year with relative ease.

(4) Since one is simply dabbling in the activity, one will usually be non-competent at it. But this is no big deal and should be expected and presumed. We are all oppressed and burdened from the expectation- driven by careers and jobs- that we must always be fully competent in whatever we are doing. This may serve a function at work but becomes an absurdity outside of it. The dabbling activity is simply being experienced and evaluated for possible elevation into emerging interest within the next calendar year.

(5) When an activity reaches the emerging camp, one is still playing and amusing oneself in the activity. One's participation in the acitvity is increased temporally but yet continues to assume a light, humorous, playful tone. While competence in the activity will slowly rise, one still is not totally "hell-bent" focused on excelling and acing the activity at this time. Still further experiencing and evaluating is ongoing to determine if this activity is worthy of being elevated to the excelling phase.

(6) Once an activity has reached the excelling phase, one is now fairly committed to the activity for the sake of achieving excellence within it. One is more focused, diligent, and committed to the steps needed to achieve excellence within the activity within a reasonable timeframe. At this point, the activity is out of play and amusement and assumes some serious importance to the person's self-identity, to "who you are." If excellence is ultimately achieved, one's participation in the activity can (and usually should) stop to make room for new activities that one can cycle through again.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Practical Wisdom (Kamran K): Attaining Excellent Health and Avoiding Incoherence in this most Fundamental of Realms.

"And since concord, in itself, is a good, it is clear that it consists in some unity as in its root...for concord is a uniform movement of several wills..." Dante, Monarchia

(1) The adjective that describes most modern behavior and attitudes is incoherence. Incoherence is simply the condition where one's behavior and attitudes can't be sensibly connected or, at worst, are in antagonistic conflict: "You speak in vain, since your words are belied by what you are. From which it can be deduced that a person who wishes to dispose others for the best must himself be disposed for the best." (Dante, Monarchia) What one thinks or does in one area is totally contrary or damaging to what one is doing or thinking in another area. The bad of incoherence is apparent on its face: it results in the canceling out of the positive effects of good behavior because some other negative behavior is so overwhelmingly detrimental to the whole.  

This modern incoherence is particularly and most obviously and everywhere evident in contemporary behaviors surrounding bodily health and well-being.

(2) There are two sensible choices in this domain. Either one elects to do everything one can to bring the body to its greatest possible health, strength, longevity, and vigor (option Excellent Health); or one is indifferent to this objective and accepts whatever health, strength, longevity, and vigor (or lack thereof of any of these) that one gets in the ordinary course of things (option Whatever Health).

(3) Option Excellent Health requires some brief study of the behaviors and diet reliably proven to generate bodily health, longevity, and well-being. Although half of the Internet and almost any other popular magazine is devoted to this very subject, these principles can very briefly be summarized as follows:

  • Diet: Excluding genetics, this is the most determinative factor that must be nailed for one to attain Excellent Health. Such ideal diet consists almost exclusively of reasonably low-sugar, high protein foods with 5-6 servings of fruits and vegetables/daily. Alcohol, if consumed, should be drank in strict moderation (5 or less drinks per week) with many two or more consecutive days of CERO (0) alcohol  (this permits the liver to heal itself; the failure to do this greatly raises the risk of fatal liver disease, hypertension, obesity, and many other health maladies for the obvious reason that alcohol is a drug/poison). Sugary drinks and candy should be avoided or eliminated entirely; water and fruits are man's best friends. As a rough rule, such diet would preclude one from purchasing approximately 80-90% of foods in convenience stores, restaurants, and fast food outlets and perhaps even some 50-60% of foods in groceries. 
  • Exercise:  Some amount of daily exercise sufficient to burn "extra" calories consumed and keep the heart "alive and well" is required. Almost any physical activity involving walking, running, or other active use of hands and legs will do. Unless one is pursuing athletic excellence for its own sake, one need not spend 2-3 hours per day engaged in vigorous exercise. Still less, does one need to do a marathon, triathlon, or other insane ultra-endurance event. 
  • Regular visits to the doctor, dentist, and all the rest for preventive care and consultation. Medicine has made so much progress that most bodily illnesses can be treated quickly provided the medical professionals are made aware of it and have an opportunity to act. This importantly includes the requirement to seek mental health care if one is suffering from depression or other very serious mental health maladies. Further included in this category is strict attention to known bodily vulnerabilities and defects (bee or wasp allergies, diagnoses high blood pressure, asthma, and all the rest). 
  • Sleep: 7-8 hours. Chronic over-workers usually fail this requirement.
  • Hygiene and sanitation: Liberal use of showers, hand sanitizers, laundry duty, trashing of expired food, sunglasses and sunscreen, and all the rest. 
  • Sexual practices and behavior: Obvious. 
  • Car driving: Careful attention to brakes, wheels and tires, speed limits and stop signs, blood alcohol levels, and condition of the road. Generally, the lower one's speed the greater margin of error one provides oneself; further, any resulting impact will be reduced by virtue of the most basic rock-solid law of physics (F=ma). 

The above principles are basic and should be obvious to any reasonably mature adult.

(4) The incoherence of modern persons is such that they often make some effort to pursue option Excellent Health. Most of us do, in fact, "cherry pick" one or more behaviors we otherwise enjoy and then use it as justification to convince ourselves that we are "healthy" and getting ever "healthier." We do in fact go to the gym for 30-45 minutes here and there; after reading some "scientific study," we do something or other to our diet in the name of good health (no soda or cookies or red meat); we regularly get 8 hours of sleep; we practice yoga or run a marathon; and all the rest. Having done this, we then believe we are actually achieving Excellent Health and lose sight of other behaviors that are simultaneously compromising our health and longevity, often severely.

Importantly, the body does not think or keep score in the (very generous) ways we would like it to. The body does not say to itself we are now running six miles a day and so it's not such a big deal that we are drinking too much alcohol or not getting enough sleep or engaging in risky sexual behaviors or constantly depressed. The body does not think "dehydration" is OK since we are doing such a great job washing our hands and bodies with expensive soaps. Our cars and bikes aren't shielded from accidents on the road caused by excessive speed just because we eat broccolli and spinach all the time.

The body, pursuing the laws of biology, does no thinking of this sort whatsoever but simply executes the commands of cells, tissues, and organs. Each and every unhealthy behavior that compromises the body has its effect; and the effects can- and usually do- swallow the effect of other positive behaviors promotive of health. In light of this, it is incoherent to delude oneself that one is healthy on the basis of one or more positive behaviors if one is simultaneously engaging in one or more (and often many more) behaviors destructive of health and longevity.

(5) Option Whatever Health is actually not incoherent. It is not a good strategy because one lives fewer years, and in poorer health, and is thus not sub-optimally situated from a physical perspective to attain the GOOD in its full and complete dimensions. But still Option Whatever Health is non-deceptive. The person is indifferent to health and all of its demands and simply wants to live as he wishes without any attention to health's demands. He perhaps even knows reduced longevity and health is the ultimate result of this strategy but- all in all- he doesn't care or doesn't care that much to do anything about it. If he gets 40 years, that's fine; 50, good by me too; 60 or more, wohoo!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Wealth (Kamran K): A Bifurcated Planet

"Bifurcation means the splitting of a main body into two parts." Wikipedia

(1) We live in exceedingly bifurcated times.

(2) A large segment of the planet lives fairly comfortably in middle to upper class communities surrounded by large groceries, pharmacies, malls, movie theaters, restaurants, hospitals, bars and clubs, police stations, and almost every other modern convenience. Though the very occasional tragedy and random senseless injustice occurs in these communities, these are not the dominant concerns of the day. The concerns of everyday life in these communities are almost exclusively focused on amassing ever greater levels of physical and material comfort, convenience, and security. Residents converse with each other about the best places to buy the best coffee, chicken, alcoholic beverages, deserts, garden fertilizer, and all the rest; they discuss what is happening with property values and the price of gas; and they focus on how to best position their son or daughter for admission to a "top" college or "career." The focus in these communities is not mere survival but competitive dominance over others within the community on the basis of (a) wealth, property, and possessions, (b) fame, reputation, and prestige, (c) physical appearance, and (even) a "fun and exciting" life.

By almost any metric, these communities have already achieved very high levels of physical and material comfort, convenience, and security. They are "lacking" in hardly anything, from clothes to cars to expensive tech gadgets to vacations to all the rest. To the contrary, they have much more than they need and use in almost all of these things.

It would not be unreasonable for the members of these communities to look around, evaluate their situation, and conclude that the levels reached are "good enough" and that their time and mental attention would be better off focusing on other areas of life. At the very least, members of these communities should stop stressing and obsessing over reaching ever greater levels of physical and material comfort, convenience, and security:

To unjust people money and other goods of the sort that unjust people unjustly try to get appear of especially great value in life, a value that make it seem to them justified to mistreat others in order to obtain them. It is from the appearance of the end that they do their deliberating and deciding, and their consequent actions of virtue or vice.
(John M. Cooper, Aristotlean Responsibility

The proper attitude seems to be this: if ever greater levels are achieved, well, that's great, we will enjoy those levels; if they are not achieved and we remain at the present levels for a while, then that is perfectly fine too. Either way, we have won the battle of physical and material comfort, convenience, and security.

(3) There is very little evidence that middle to upper class communities have come anywhere close to the perfection of mind and virtuous behavior driven by a perfected mind (collectively, the "higher order activities"). Within these communities, there is little to no serious intellectual debate and discussion, little to no articulation of new truths essential to the living of a good life, little to no political energy, and little to no virtuous energy unleashed to combat injustice, violence, and oppression within and without the community. Although work, career, and family responsibilities absorb much of the time necessary for one to do any of these things, still the remaining free time would be sufficient to begin these "higher order" activities and make gradual progress within each of these areas over years/decades. Again, the problem in most of these communities is not that the higher order activities have not reached ultimate development; the problem is that the higher order activities have yet to even seriously begin because there is no serious "will" or energy to begin these things (the occasional holiday food and toy drive represents some unleashing of virtuous will or energy but falls short of a serious unleashing of virtuous will or energy).

(4) An equally large segment of the planet lives fairly uncomfortably and miserably in destitute communities lacking a grocery store, pharmacy, mall, movie theater, restaurant, hospital, police station, and almost every other modern convenience. The "closest" one of any of these things usually is located 10 or more miles away.  In these communities, tragedies and senseless acts of violence and other injustice happen almost every day, often without legal or other compensatory recourse. These things are not even perceived as "tragic" because they happen so frequently. The concerns of everyday life in these communities is almost exclusively tied up in mere bodily survival. Residents converse with each other about how to achieve the basic survival needs and are generally disinterested in activities that don't directly aid this most importance objective. Because everyone has so little and what little they have is usually consumed for basic survival purposes, there is little to no competition on the basis of wealth and possessions, prestige, fame, and all the rest.

This segment of the planet devotes serious attention and energy to religious and spiritual salvation and uplift. Because these persons actual living conditions are so destitute, they hope and pray for salvation and paradise in the next world. To expect that their actual living conditions would markedly improve appears to be a pipe-dream; accordingly, hopes and dreams are cast in the way of religious salvation, which salvation is regarded very seriously in these parts of the world.

(5) The bifurcation of the world- driven by the current mode of global economic production- is now such that these very two large segments of the planet can hardly relate, understand, and- most importantly- empathize with the concerns of the other. They but rarely, if ever, see each other "face to face" and so most interactions happen through one segment viewing the life of the other from afar, either on a documentary program, on the Internet, or isolated photographs.

To the destitute segment of the planet, the competitive status-prestige-possessions-physical beauty obsessed based concerns of the affluent segment of the planet appears petty, trivial, banal, if not outright absurd, ludicrous and insane. To the affluent segment of the planet, the survival and physical safety based concerns of the destitute segment are so far removed from their own experience that they appear to be the problems of another species entirely. The situation resembles the absurd situation where an apex predator (shark or lion) views the bounty that the lowest level predators (mouse etc.) are able to gather in.

(6) The above reality is unfortunate because it is through the interaction of these two segments that both segments can be improved. The destitute segment would benefit from the technologies, financial resources, and general "know-how" possessed by the affluent segment to increase their level of physical and material comfort, convenience, and security to minimally acceptable levels; and the affluent segment could benefit from the realization of how "good they have it" and how parochial their vision and standards have become when viewed from a larger, more sensibly humane perspective.

As with all meaningful interaction, this most important interaction- if it ever happens at all- must happen organically and with both segments wishing, desiring, eager to interact, relate, and understand the others concerns and problems. No government program or humanitarian organization can "force" or accelerate this interaction. Only an entire generation of persons- on both segments of the planet- must come together to achieve this interaction and the resulting benefits. Only an entire generation of persons can UNbifurcate the planet.