It is not the intensity or the pleasantness and unpleasantness of one's feelings that prove character, but the intensity of feeling coupled with the capacity to resist believing one's feelings as they first appear. The greater the intensity of feeling, the greater the necessity of coaxing feelings into words.
Monday, August 29, 2016
Friday, August 19, 2016
Almost everyone at some point in their life wishes for different parents, or for a different social life, or just simply to be somebody else. I think about this problem in this way. The perfect satisfaction of the law of Karma is that we are eternally reborn/reincarnated as ourselves. It is up to each person to figure out whether his or her life is a punishment or whether it is a blessing, a reward, and whether they are one of the lucky few. If you are one of the lucky few, what might at first seem to be a disaster always seems to turn out to be an amazing piece of luck. Such a person, without meaning to, reaches down deep to find the joy hiding, lurking behind obstacles, expected and otherwise, to plans and desires.
Monday, July 11, 2016
The best and highest that we can achieve is to choose the ethical standard by which to fail. What we learn from our failures is a matter of character and conscience. Too much success in following one’s preferred moral code means one has made things too easy. Failure can sometimes be its own answer to the rebukes and condemnations of a predatory conscience. Love redeems all, they say. Even love of an unattainable ideal.
Paul was a coward and gave up too easily.
Monday, June 20, 2016
Monday, May 2, 2016
Well, I am. It will be mostly new material, although I will make use of some material (published & unpublished) from this blog.
Turns out, I work better with pencil & paper. Postings will be further and fewer between than usual.
FWIW, I'll probably end up cutting a deal with Satan's chief minion and self-publish through Amazon. I'll look at the alternatives first, and then make my decision.
Saturday, April 9, 2016
A Christian is someone who limits her- or himself to a particular aggregation of symbols, concepts, doctrines and teachings which are then held to be exclusively sufficient to express and describe the most important elements of human nature and existence.
Any Christian stumbling upon this blog would undoubtedly object that it's not about the symbols, concepts, doctrines and teachings but faith, Jesus, and His Redemptive Acts. That may all be true, but for the sake of this definition that speaks to questions of motivation for the self-limitation referred to in the definition.
Rather that get into questions of truth, authenticity and historicity, this definition brings a social element of being a Christian to the fore. Even though I arrived at this definition by ruminating on Section 15 of The Antichrist, it could be just as easily be derived from Wittgenstein's language-game (Philosophical Investigations, Sect. 1-7).
Defining religious adherence in this way, also makes strikingly clear that Christians are no better than the rest of us. As if the fact of child molesters, thieves, adulterers, and breakers of the various Commandments didn't already make this clear. This definition also puts front and center the sometimes comical efforts of Christians to describe all kinds of things using exclusively Christian language: hatred toward minorities (anti-LBQT doctrines and legislation) all the way to Christians committed to Social Justice for the poor, the downtrodden, and other misfortunates. It also makes discussions of whether Christianity "really" supports slavery or libertarian economics moot.
Lurking behind this definition is a theory of Religion. Defining religion in terms of deities and belief ignores the most salient feature of all religions: community. Gods, rituals, sacrifices, angels, nymphs, buddhas, avatars, etc are means and tools for creating community: we are the ones who .... For Westerners brought up in the shadow of Christianity, it is difficult to understand that seemingly solid concepts like God, race, sin, guilt, Jesus, etc do not have anything at their foundation other than people talking and behaving in certain ways to other other people. The picture I have is of each generation walking in on a conversation already in progress and trying to figure out what the conversation is about: explanations are made for what's been said so far, which in turn are the raw material for the succeeding generation. After a certain point, how the conversation really started is unimportant for the participants. Historical events and their meaning are rarely, if ever, unambiguous, except within religious histories.
But I digress. I'd like to offer a history of religion in a nutshell. Pagan, pre-Christian religion was centered around the experience of participation in a group activity. This group activity could be hunting, harvesting crops, being members of a city, sailing, and so on. It is important to remember than pre-Christian religions have their own, even if largely unrecorded histories, stretching back millennia. What is seen in antiquity is already ancient beyond human reckoning. In late antiquity, many pagan religions became centered around fellowship and feasting. However tenuous the connection, ties to the old Nature religions were still maintained in urban centers.
As all this was happening, there was an underclass of slaves and mixed ethnicities in the Empire. Especially among the slaves there was no common practice and community. Communities and fellowship rooted in the experiences and lives of slaves were lacking. There was also a problem of resources: no temples, no resources to finance feasts and celebrations. Slaves are typically poor and lacking in leisure time. Given the religious history prior to Christianity, this is not promising ground for religious life.
At some point, Platonism and Judaism began to blend. Fellowship came to be grounded in answering ritual questions together. We are the ones who believe X, Y, and Z. Communal recitation of the Nicene Creed ought to make this abundantly clear. Judaism provided much of the content and Hellenic philosophy gave Christianity the language of propositions, Truth and belief. The founding moment of Christianity was the discovery that fellowship and community could be grounded in recitation and linguistic rituals. Everything after that was negotiating the contents of those recitations and rituals.
Monday, March 7, 2016
Sunday, March 6, 2016
Saturday, March 5, 2016
Monday, February 29, 2016
It was either Nietzsche or Schopenhauer who defined it as a preponderance of feelings of pleasure over feelings of displeasure. If you feel good more often than you feel bad, you're much more likely than not to find yourself thinking of yourself as happy. Does this mean a boundless appetite for pleasure is a prerequisite for pleasure? Or is it the appetite for pleasure itself? Contra Buddhism with more Desire comes greater happiness until even "life is suffering" itself becomes a goad and blessing?
* * *
That was all terribly abstract. I can only speak to my own case: a multiple depressive episodes, some severe and debilitating. PTSD, traumas of one sort or another. An impoverished childhood. Oh, and ADD thrown in for good measure. I remember being surprised the first time someone described my life as tortured. That's certainly not how I think of my life, well at least not unironically.
There were times when I thought this last depressive episode was going to do me in. But afterwards? At times I was surprised to catch myself pleased with how I had handled myself there in the dark where even God doesn't see. That is what births confidence. The ego shattered, Dionysus torn to pieces. The self & ego are invented retrospectively.
I live for those times when I look my life over and find myself satisfied, sometimes even pleased, with it. The flip-side to this is that there are times when I am just as painfully dissatisfied and at odds with myself and my surroundings. It would seem the root of it all is feeling myself being the one deciding the good and the bad of my existence. To put it in a phrase: being the author of my actions and of my life generally.
Thursday, February 25, 2016
No one enjoys pain and suffering for their own sakes. Ascetics and neurotics bring pain on themselves in order to achieve something else. Setting self-inflicted pain and suffering, pain and suffering are an inescapable part of being human life. Even Christians admit this, but they use this fact as grounds for finding human life deficient and therefore in need of redemption, if not in this world, then in the world to come. Chasing after happiness and running away from unpleasant sensations is doomed to failure.
Clearly happiness, if such a thing is possible for mere mortals, must be something besides a simple abundance of pleasant sensations. Buddhism, Nietzsche and studies on gratitude strongly imply that happiness lies in one's attitude towards the objects of consciousness: thoughts, feelings, concepts, memories and the like. Happiness as metacognitive: thinking about thinking. Less abstractly and less meta, one's habits and style of thinking. This also means that happiness is not a matter of truth and falsehood anymore than any other practice such as martial arts, being a Christian, or literary interpretation. A person learns to be happy.
* * *
It is impossible for me not to think of some of Nietzsche's last writings, especially Ecce Homo and his amor fati. I'd like to suggest a perverse reading of Nietzsche: Nietzsche as a utilitarian.
Jeremy Bentham in thinking through utilitarianism came up with an elaborate scheme of assigning a numerical value to various kinds of pleasures. This quantification of the different pleasures made it relatively easy and straightforward to calculate the greatest pleasure of the greatest number. Maximization of the quantities of pleasure or happiness for society at large was to be the yardstick by which to evaluated laws, customs, social policies etc.
But now, think about Nietzsche and his insistence on his own happiness. Could one person experience such intense and prolonged pleasure that it would be so much greater than aggregations of lesser (but no less real) pleasures and happinesses? Could one person experience such an intense and lasting happiness (or pleasure) so that it would in Bentham's reckonings and tables of pleasures outweigh the misery of millions? This sounds very Nietzschean and very aristocratic.
Of course such an extreme offends our sense of equality. If we bring our feeling for equality to bear on this extreme situation, what do we get? A mediocre happiness for the greatest number, or rather a relatively easy to achieve goal: avoidance and reduction of unhappinesses. Will and desire are dampened for the sake of everyone else's happiness. No one in this scheme is particularly happy or particularly unhappy, and worrying about the happiness of others is of paramount importance.
Just to be clear, a notion of personal happiness that doesn't have room for the happiness of others lacks imagination and subtlety.
Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Tuesday, February 2, 2016
Saturday, January 23, 2016
I must say I believe, or fear, that taking the world as a whole these things are on the increase. Hitler, no doubt, will soon disappear, but only at the expense of strengthening (a) Stalin, (b) the Anglo-American millionaires and (c) all sorts of petty fuhrers of the type of de Gaulle. All the national movements everywhere, even those that originate in resistance to German domination, seem to take non-democratic forms, to group themselves round some superhuman fuhrer (Hitler, Stalin, Salazar, Franco, Gandhi, De Valera are all varying examples) and to adopt the theory that the end justifies the means. Everywhere the world movement seems to be in the direction of centralised economies which can be made to ‘work’ in an economic sense but which are not democratically organised and which tend to establish a caste system. With this go the horrors of emotional nationalism and a tendency to disbelieve in the existence of objective truth because all the facts have to fit in with the words and prophecies of some infallible fuhrer. Already history has in a sense ceased to exist, ie. there is no such thing as a history of our own times which could be universally accepted, and the exact sciences are endangered as soon as military necessity ceases to keep people up to the mark. Hitler can say that the Jews started the war, and if he survives that will become official history. He can’t say that two and two are five, because for the purposes of, say, ballistics they have to make four. But if the sort of world that I am afraid of arrives, a world of two or three great superstates which are unable to conquer one another, two and two could become five if the fuhrer wished it. That, so far as I can see, is the direction in which we are actually moving, though, of course, the process is reversible.
As to the comparative immunity of Britain and the USA. Whatever the pacifists etc. may say, we have not gone totalitarian yet and this is a very hopeful symptom. I believe very deeply, as I explained in my book The Lion and the Unicorn, in the English people and in their capacity to centralise their economy without destroying freedom in doing so. But one must remember that Britain and the USA haven’t been really tried, they haven’t known defeat or severe suffering, and there are some bad symptoms to balance the good ones. To begin with there is the general indifference to the decay of democracy. Do you realise, for instance, that no one in England under 26 now has a vote and that so far as one can see the great mass of people of that age don’t give a damn for this? Secondly there is the fact that the intellectuals are more totalitarian in outlook than the common people. On the whole the English intelligentsia have opposed Hitler, but only at the price of accepting Stalin. Most of them are perfectly ready for dictatorial methods, secret police, systematic falsification of history etc. so long as they feel that it is on ‘our’ side. Indeed the statement that we haven’t a Fascist movement in England largely means that the young, at this moment, look for their fuhrer elsewhere. One can’t be sure that that won’t change, nor can one be sure that the common people won’t think ten years hence as the intellectuals do now. I hope they won’t, I even trust they won’t, but if so it will be at the cost of a struggle. If one simply proclaims that all is for the best and doesn’t point to the sinister symptoms, one is merely helping to bring totalitarianism nearer.
You also ask, if I think the world tendency is towards Fascism, why do I support the war. It is a choice of evils—I fancy nearly every war is that. I know enough of British imperialism not to like it, but I would support it against Nazism or Japanese imperialism, as the lesser evil. Similarly I would support the USSR against Germany because I think the USSR cannot altogether escape its past and retains enough of the original ideas of the Revolution to make it a more hopeful phenomenon than Nazi Germany. I think, and have thought ever since the war began, in 1936 or thereabouts, that our cause is the better, but we have to keep on making it the better, which involves constant criticism.
Geo. OrwellThe page at OpenCulture.com explains that this letter tells why us Orwell wrote 1984. The bit about "a tendency to disbelieve in the existence of objective truth" certainly calls to mind Stephen Colbert's "Reality has a liberal bias." and climate change denialists and a whole host of tomfooleries on the side of the Right in this country. The Democrats are not as bad but there is an unfortunate tendency for all Americans to live in bubble chambers. In our immediate surroundings we Americans by and large try to avoid political and religious conflict. Society-wide we are passionately partisan. It seems to be the general rule that we hate anyone of a different opinion or ethnicity.
Friday, January 15, 2016
After reading it, we were asked what the text is about. We had no context, just a bare text. All we had to go on were the clues to be gleaned from the text itself. Normally, ambiguities in meaning are resolved as the story goes along. This text exploits the multiplicity of possible meanings to achieve its effect of prolonged ambiguity. Usually ambiguities cancel themselves out through a process of elimination until according to normal expectations only a single answer to the question of "what the text is about" remains. Here, instead of the multiple possible meanings canceling each other out, they line up to avoid resolving ambiguities.An Evening with FriendsEvery Saturday night, four good friends get together. When Jerry, Mike, and Pat arrived, Karen was sitting in her living room writing some notes. She quickly gathered the cards and stood up to greet her friends at the door. They followed her into the living room but, as usual, they couldn’t agree exactly on what to play. Jerry eventually took a stand and set things up. Finally, they began to play. Karen’s recorder filled the room with soft and pleasant music. Early in the evening, Mike noticed Pat’s hand and the many diamonds. As the night progressed, the tempo of the play increased. Finally, a lull in the activities occurred. Taking advantage of this, Jerry pondered the arrangement in front of him. Mike interrupted Jerry’s reverie and said, “Let’s hear the score.” They listened carefully and commented on their performance. When the comments were all heard, exhausted but happy, Karen’s friends went home.
There are two answers to the question of what this paragraph is about. The group of friends got together to play music, or they got together to play cards.If you think they got together to play cards then Karen's recorder refers to a device for playing musical recordings, like a stereo. Or it could refer to the musical instrument. Similarly with "Jerry eventually took a stand ...." or the with the word "play." An important element for the card-playing interpretation is the sentence "Mike noticed Pat's hand and the many diamonds." "Diamonds" could be about the card suit or it could be an offhand remark about jewelry and unimportant in the overall meaning of the story.
Some detail catches our eye and we make it disproportionately important, it doesn't fit in as well with the other other details, therefore ...? It's more important or maybe it doesn't mean much. But in the larger context of the reader's life, music maybe more frequent than card-playing, or vice versa.
Turning our attention away from this curiosity to thoughts and memories of our past. So incredibly much happens in the course of a day, there is so much to remember just from yesterday and before yesterday there thousands of days just as busy and eventful before it. How and why do we remember this and not that? Why the crush with little Suzie Jenkins, but not all the times teacher was kinda mean to her? If we were to examine our memories carefully and with inhumane attention to detail and possible ambiguities, would we concoct the same story of our life that we told ourselves yesterday?
And if it's not the same story doesn't this destroy the whole notion that a person's life is a story with a narrative structure? The exigencies of the present push us to revise the past, not in some neurotic mischief of pretending that something didn't happen, but to pull other events forward into the foreground and push others into the background. Same text, different story.
* * *
If the same events can be used to tell different stories, doesn't this destroy the whole notion of a person's life as a narrative? If the same life can tell different stories, then what is the self? What is the ego? Is there even a "what" to be discussed?
I can imagine some naive twit objecting that multiple interpretations means that a person is free to choose whatever arbitrary "story" fits the needs of the moment. We call people who do this liars and con artists. People who believe their own lies we call neurotics.
These questions and objections lead to an interesting problem: what does it take to believe in one's new reinterpretation? What does "believe" mean here? Endless repetition of one's new story will not manufacture belief. It only leads forbidding clarification (= questions) and bullying others into agreement.
I vaguely recall a passage from Pascal's Pensées about if one acts like a Christian: praying, going to church, confessing, etc, then belief in God and in the Truth of Christianity would become progressively easier. It is unnecessary to believe or have some feeling of certainty. It is necessary to oppose the psychological and spiritual resistance to living the "new" story. Or the Freudian term "cathexsis" can be used. Or "emotional and spiritual investment." Make no mistake: underlying all of this is chaos, formlessness and an absence of Truth, Being and Goodness. Our brains did not evolve to recognize truth and goodness.
The answer to the question of what belief means here is simple enough. You act in accordance with the story. The more that can be assimilated into the new narrative, the more believable it becomes. This part is nothing new. It's the old tale of emotional investment. In keeping with the economic metaphor, sometimes investments go bad and bankruptcy is declared. A person has to start over. Sometimes pieces of the past can be salvaged, sometimes not. I don't remember which one, but it was one of the James's in 19th Century America that came up with notion that some statements are not true yet. The truth of living a reinvented life is in the living of it.
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Sunday, January 10, 2016
I don't care how close you get to the edge of the Abyss. It's not the same as actually going in. Wave your arms frantically at the edge of the Sinkhole, use a securely fastened safety line so as to be pulled back, avoid falling in by the most unlikely bit of slapstick, it's not the same as that uncontrolled and uncontrollable fall into the Bottomless Pit surrounding our mortality.
We fear death because we have been taught to fear and be ashamed of our ignorance. No one knows what it's like to die, when the last moment of life passes without return. What we fear when we speak of the fear of death is not death, but our own imaginings and fantasies. Many find even the worst fantasies of Eternal Damnation to be preferable to a simple admission of ignorance of the good, the bad or the indifference of what we lack both knowledge or experience. To wax poetic, our beliefs about death are our own scribbles on the blank canvass of our ignorance.
There is no sightseeing in that undiscovered land. All tales of that strange land are lies, delusions or frauds.