Monday, February 29, 2016

What Is Happiness?

A distinction between being happy and causing happiness needs to be drawn. It's easily imaginable for someone to find themselves waiting in vain for their unhappiness with no clue as to why the misery that they expected failed to show up. Happiness is more than numbness, comfortable or otherwise. It's not in the middle.

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

Happiness and Suffering

Any conception of happiness that cannot also incorporate some measure of pain, suffering and misery strikes me as what? Feeble? Anemic? Weak? Deficient? Laughable, even? Or maybe cowardly? Escapist? Or instead how about limited? Impoverished? Unimaginative? Uninteresting? Boring?

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

Questions about Creativity

Could creativity in some cases be a simple misunderstanding?
As an infant becomes a child on its way to adulthood, it learns the language(s), morality, values, etc of its familial and social environment. This is done inductively for obvious reasons. Before any structured instruction can take place, there needs to be communication between parent and child. The child in however rich the environment is on its own to make sense of its surroundings. Luckily for the infant, and the rest of us, our brains are predisposed to ordering and organizing its perceptions.
Occasionally, there's a misunderstanding. But what is a misunderstanding here? Seeing one's surroundings differently than other people. This element of novelty implies some sufferers of mental illness are failed creatives. Not all such misunderstandings are happy ones. Being different guarantees nothing, least of all happiness or that great American fetish of being right.

* * *

I can also imagine a different, albeit similar, engine of creativity. Imagine someone, maybe a child, maybe an adult, with irreconcilable experiences. The necessity of the self to feel itself as an occasional unity results in a string of failures to achieve a lasting reconciliation. In an artist and in other creative types this merciless necessity results in "works." This trash thrown out the car window of the soul is just that, refuse, on the soul's aimless journey to the grave, even if others believe it to be the whisperings of God Himself.

* * *

Added later that day. The remark about "failed creatives" could be taken amiss. Often it seems that some sufferers of mental illness are endlessly inventive in coming up with new ways to make themselves miserable: self-destructive, guilt-ridden, eternally at pitted against themselves. Whatever intellect, creativity, or sensitivity they might have become tools of their misery.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Taking a Short Break

I've decided to get a handle on my insomnia and more generally bring order to my everyday life. This will be done in stages. 

The first stage is getting a handle on my insomnia. Rather than trying to keep a regular bedtime, I'll get up at 7 on weekdays and at 8 on weekends.

Then when that is working, I'll bring bring regular writing sessions, then when that's working, guitar practice.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Word About Citizenship & Immigration

A word to Evangelicals: when you stand before Jesus on Judgment Day do you really think the color of your passport is going to make any difference, good or bad, as He determines your place for all of Eternity?

* * *

It’s an election year, time for all Americans to reflect on politics and party affiliations. I’ve decided that I’m a socialist. Broadly speaking, this means that one of the responsibilities of good government is the well-being of the persons living within its borders, not just its citizens. Citizenship is a piece of paper like a marriage license. Having one makes navigating federal and state bureaucracies less difficult. In the grand context of personhood it is a piece of trivia, not unlike white skin, red hair, freckles, or kinky hair. Possession of that piece of paper means there are some bureaucratic procedures that can be invoked in pursuit of employment and housing and others that are preemptively foreclosed such as deportation and imprisonment. In this country for most citizens citizenship is an accident of birth. It is not a result of virtuous action and it is not earned. Naturalization is an exception and in principle revocable. The triviality of possessing a piece of this paper does not imply anything about a person’s character. Holding to the belief that it does imply something significant ironically does very much have unfortunate implications about one’s character.

Because citizenship confers so many bureaucratic benefits at essentially no cost, it is an easy rallying point around which to organize identity (read exclude foreigners). Unfortunately, because citizenship is nothing more than a flurry of paperwork, it is also without broader content or context. Being a citizen has no bearing on one’s worth or character as a human being. The concept itself contains no ethical or moral impediments to being hateful, spite-filled, failed human beings. Red tape is not a rope by which to hoist oneself to a higher ethical and moral plane of existence.

Search This Blog

Map of Visitors

Locations of Site Visitors