Category Archives: Philosophical Musings

How I’ve Grown and an exploration of the internet and culture

There is at least one thing that makes me better than I was four years ago: The ability to entertain opposite positions. Things that were once considered sacrosanct are now up for debate. E.g.: Capitalism? Perhaps it’s not so great. I am definitely less dogmatic.

Those who’d like to simplify me would note my supposed “leftward” turn, as an Obama supporter. Yet how can I be sympathetic to this Chomsky On Adam Smith and this The Decline of Middle America and the Problem of Meritocracy, from a paleoconservative?

The same time that my politics have become more “liberal” (whatever that means — I guess supporting Obama and opposing braindead republicans), my lens for viewing history has become more “conservative” (which means respecting how tradition and habit shape culture, and how fragile it is when broken). I am reminded of reading Saul Alinsky’s Reveille for Radicals and how attuned one had to be to local conditions and to meet reality how it is, not how one wished to be. I am reminded of Afeni Shakur’s speech during the MSE symposium and her pleas to help people within the community, and how we can’t rely on the government to do everything. And I can’t help but thinking that there’s some sort of theme underlying this, some sort of unifying thread to the critiques I’ve recently read of our modern society.

In my mind, I like to think how I’d advise my peers, were I to give a speech about what to do after college. It’s mostly advice for myself. In recent times, it has taken a direction towards service to the world. I think that’s profoundly wrong. There’s no such thing as a world community, or even an online community. There’s no “place.” There’s something about being “local” that is a necessary requirement for community. I think community can be enhanced by digital components, but you need a place in order to have a center. Specifically, I’m thinking of two examples: One positive, and one negative. My ATDP experience has been enhanced from digital interaction, but it only works because ATDP exists within a physical location and TIC in particular has continuity in location. JHU lacks community because there is no place for people to congregate. They recently tried this “Hopkins Infected” thing to try to change culture. But you can’t build culture with PR. You need a place. The only times I ever had any semblence of community interaction was when I watched the debates with people in the same place, on the same TV in Charles Commons. Other times, those common rooms weren’t really meant for common interaction. Another time was those tea parties I had in Gildersleeve, but we had to congregate in a hallway.

I guess what I’m getting at is that you can’t expect to change “the world”, and it isn’t really admirable to try to change the world. We think the online world has created this unique opportunity, but it can only work to enhance what we already do, not if we use it in lieu of normal democratic activity. To turn purely to the online realm is to lock us within an echo chamber. Where like congregates with like, and you never have to talk to the people you live next to or the people you see everyday. You never have to interact with the person whose house borders yours, or interact with the janitor who walks by your office. You never have to convince your conservative uncle to accept gay marriage; you just have to pontificate on a message board filled with like-minded people.

There’s something disturbing about this, uprooting ourselves from our real communities and creating virtual communities where we never have to venture far from our current dogmas. Yes, yes, you’ll say that the internet has all these alternate viewpoints, but how do we really interact with the internet? The primary method of interaction with information is the search. We are trained to find exactly what we want. This means what we want to hear, not necessarily what we need to hear. The internet is large, yes. But because it is so big, we can spend days within one tiny little corner, examining all the intra-party debates, without realizing that there is so much more.

Even worse, the internet is training us not to listen. I was deeply disturbed by the redesign of facebook. Someone left a comment on my wall and I looked for a way to reply. The only link I could find was “comment.” As I’ve said before, “We are no longer individuals. We are merely ephemeral memes, floating in The Stream.” Instead of talking to an individual, I could comment on their comment. Each comment was encapsulated. I no longer had to talk to a person. Our memes simply interacted with each other. The disturbing thing about facebook is that the method of communication has changed. Instead of exchange, it has morphed into broadcast. I write comments and hope that people care enough to “Like” the minutiae of my life. Broadcasting is a fundamentally narcissistic method of communication. Look at all the blowhards on talk radio and cable news. The problem is that broadcast means you do all the talking; you don’t have to listen. Memes don’t listen to each other. They briefly kiss in The Stream and then disappear forever. Not that oral communication itself doesn’t have a sense of ephemerality to it. But repeated interaction between real people in a real place creates something which twitter cannot.

This is not to denigrate the internet and to say we should throw away facebook or twitter. The phone is a fundamentally less satisfying way of communicating than face-to-face conversation, but at least we recognize that. We don’t pretend that the telephone is going to revolutionize democracy and turn us into entirely new people. The phone is best used to supplement our normal interaction. It is best used when it brings people together, to meet in real places. It is best used when two people are forced apart, such as by war, and they yearn for the day they can be reunited. When work draws family members apart, it can help them keep updated, but you can’t use it in lieu of annual or monthly or weekly visits. We must recognize that our digital communications have inherent limits and deficiencies. Digital “communities” are inherently inferior to real communities, and can’t replace them. The presence of my online “buddies” on AIM can’t replace the comfort of the presence of a person who is next to me, breathing. You can’t hear those people on AIM breathing; you can’t feel their life. Dualists have done great harm to our conceptions of reality. Two intellects interacting isn’t the same as two bodies interacting or two mouths speaking and four ears hearing. We are more than our consciousness; we are our bodies too.

I’ve talked also about world community. There’s no such thing, just as there’s no such thing as a digital community. There’s no world culture. Think of the hubris of the word “universal.” The universe is so vast that we aren’t even specks. Our entire solar system isn’t even big enough to be a speck within the universe’s vastness. To call a trait universal is to hubristically expand its bounds beyond what we can rightfully claim. It’s the same thing with “the world.” It’s too big. Our monkey brains can’t handle it. You can’t truly care about the world in the same way you can care about your sister or mother. 10,000 people dying thousands of miles away can’t truly affect you the same way the death of a close friend can. If the utilitarian calculus does affect you, then there’s something inhumane about your character. The death of a close friend should bother you more than 10,000 lives a million miles away. Part of it is evolution: Our monkey brains simply can’t care about so many people, especially when they’re far away.

If you care about global warming, then you shouldn’t do it for imaginary children who aren’t born. You should do it because you know children who may grow up in a violent, hot world. You have carried these children in your arms, and heard their excited voices dream of tomorrow. You want them to have a better tomorrow. You shouldn’t have to care about all the children in the world, or all the children in America. When you press your lips against their cheeks, and feel the love in your heart, that should be enough to press you into action. A living, breathing child who exists in front of you. It is their future you care about.

You shouldn’t do it for “the environment.” You should do it because you have actually walked in the forest. You have felt the sun filter through the leaves of the trees. You have felt the bark of the redwoods. You have breathed in the crisp air. You have felt the dirt between your toes. You have hiked the mountains. You have picked the flowers. You have watched the birds. You have dipped your feet in the streams. You can’t care about “the environment.” You can only care about real places, where you have interacted with the life. Yes, we can abstract to care about animals in the rainforest we haven’t seen. But it only works if it is built upon our real interaction with nature. If the sole interactions you have with the environment are tossing plastic battles in the recycle bin and buying reusable bags at Trader Joe’s, then something is seriously amiss. That credit card commercial about the kid forcing his dad to buy new products bugs me to no end. That is not caring about the environment. (Although it does at least have real people rather than online activists.) You need something real if you want to conserve. Go experience nature.

You can’t care about the world if you don’t care first for your community. You can’t save the world if you can’t first save your community. You can’t convince a nation unless you first convince your family and peers. Mobility and the internet can make us avoid the very hard work of convincing and organizing people in our own communities. We can feel smug in our bubbles of enlightened friends. How sad this is. How good can you feel sending $25 to feed a hungry kid in Africa while people die on your streets? That’s not to say we should ignore foreign aid, but we should not let all our attention be focused outward. How struck I still am today by Afeni Shakur… I don’t even remember her words, but I still remember the sentiment… Our children are dying.

It requires an absurd Messiah complex to think that one can change the world. You don’t owe the world anything. But you do owe your community everything. You owe your mother and father who brought you into this world. You owe your brothers and sisters. You owe your friends who put up with you. You owe all the rich and poor people who make your life what it is. If you can’t convince them, then you can’t convince anyone. You owe your nieces, nephews, students, and children a better world. If you can’t save them, then you can’t save anyone.

People and community and tradition. There are things that have been lost by our dogma of capitalism and individualism.

I have no solutions, no grand sweeping proclamations about how we must change the way society is structured. Of course, that may be against my program to some degree. But it may require a change of laws and governmental organization at some point. For now, I can only continue to read my disparate sources in hopes of forging some type of synthesis.

No, that’s not the only thing I can do. The most important thing to do is to begin to care about the actual people and places around me. To make sure I worry about the mores of my community before the mores of my nation. To look outwards instead of inwardly and abstractly. To cure myself of my own Messiah complex. That’s a start, at least.

The Human Condition

[What follows is an unstructured reflection on the human condition. I have not edited the paragraph structure.]

This is the human condition: To rebel. To live this most miserable life, where we are specks upon specks upon specks, where nothing we do really matters, and yet we enjoy life anyway. The point of life is to tell this indifferent universe that we do care. The greatest joke the universe plays on us is that we exist; the greatest joke we play on the universe is that we live anyway.

This human universe of meaning can only be found in the act of doing. To sit and contemplate will leave you in the indifferent universe. You will find no truth in meditation or prayer. This only cuts you off from the human universe and leaves you with the tricks of your own mind. The human universe is the realm of other people. This is where we find love, fun, and yes, sorrow. Because the human condition doesn’t mean we are pleasure-seeking machines.

Even though the universe has no meaning, the fundamental unit of the human universe is “meaning.” Does meaning exist? In the grand scheme of things, your loves mean nothing, but at the very moment, your children, your friends, your family, your partner, your crafts… all of them mean everything. Even upon reflection, within your lifetime, they still mean everything. Yes, meaning exists. Where do we find it, though?

Love, real love, though, isn’t pure happiness. To take care of children is a Herculean struggle. We don’t find meaning in the moments of pure bliss. Pure bliss is emptiness. That’s why I spit on your heaven, and spit on your nirvana. The true meaning of life can only be found in human struggle. When we love a craft, we must struggle and suffer to achieve a level of mastery. Without the struggle, there is no happiness. It’s empty. That which we can achieve with no effort is empty. We find meaning in both the happiness and sorrows of life.

It is rebellion that defines the human being. The universe tells us that our struggles mean nothing. What does a man gain from all the toil at which he toils under the sun? We gain nothing, except the toil itself. We must tell the universe that the struggle is where we find our meaning. We must constantly create our own meaning in this meaningless universe, and the only meaning to be found is within human activity.

I understand it better, that myth of Sisyphus. What is the human condition? When Sisyphus pushes that rock up the mountain and it falls, everything seems to be for naught. Yet when he struggles with all his might to push that rock up, he rebels against the universe. Sisyphus is condemned to a meaningless existence. But how can one be condemned if one exists at all? To exist is to be granted the ability to rebel against meaninglessness. To toil is to find meaning.

The myth is incomplete, as all myths are. In the human world, we find humans interacting with other humans. A real Sisyphus would go mad. He would be alone. But perhaps if there were another Sisyphus, struggling alongside him, then they could both find meaning.

If you were the only human alive, you could not prove it. You only exist in your own mind. Whatever you do, does not really matter. When you shout at the universe, it does not hear you. It does not answer back. It is only other people who can hear you. Any theory or ideology cannot prove itself. It is only when you transcend it that you can see if it makes any sense. Similarly, no human can prove her own existence. She must interact with other humans to prove that she exists. Living is the greatest act of rebellion against the universe, and it can only be proved when other people are around. All our toils mean nothing when there is no one to share them with.

No, maybe living itself isn’t enough. We all live, and yet it seems like a lot of us sleepwalk through life. We are caught in the same patterns. When we are locked in these patterns, life loses its meaning. We become like unthinking particles. We do not rebel and we do not live. It must mean that only by shaking things up that we truly live, right? We only exist when we can prove that we exist. We can only prove that we exist by showing others that we are alive, that we can do things.

What I mean to say that there is always the danger of indifference. When we are indifferent, we are no longer human. Where there is indifference, there is no meaning. We are like the meaningless universe. It is only when we care that we can find meaning. Yet to care requires more than just a thought. It requires hard work. Caring means struggling. Caring means rebellion. This is why we find meaning within rebellion, because we can only care when we rebel against the indifferent universe. The toil of caring also, from what we have found in the past, means that we will find heartbreak and sorrow. These things are inescapable, and therefore also bound up within the notion of caring. You can’t care without being bound up in our human imperfections. Thus, we find meaning also in our sorrows. In the end, we prove that we are alive by caring, or by loving, if you prefer that word.

Yes, the human condition is to struggle to care in an indifferent universe. I hate to sum it up in one sentence because to be human is to encompass so many other notions. However, this seems to be a big part of my interpretation of human existence.

This I

This illusion, this “I,” is nothing except motion. To take a cup of water from a river is to lose its essence. You cannot capture the motion. Likewise, when we hold a mirror to our own souls, we do not see ourselves. We are doing something much more complicated.

Adjectives constrain the way we think. We create sentences such as, “I see a red book,” or “I met an honest person.” A person, though, isn’t honest in the same way a book is red. In fact, can we really call a person honest? We like to think that people have fundamental traits. There are honest people and dishonest people. In reality, this kind of thinking can be described as the “fundamental attribution error.” Our actions are often affected by contingencies, by the outside circumstances. Instead of taking these circumstances into account, we say that the person is honest or dishonest, liberal or miserly.

I do want to take this a step further and say that a person isn’t fundamentally honest. What constitutes an honest person? One who always says the truth? One who generally tells the truth? One who tells the truth when it matters? To the first, there is no such person. To the second, what percentage? To the third, lots of little lies to add up. Is, then, an honest person someone you can trust? But put that person in a certain environment, perhaps one where she’s under the sway of an authority, the crowd, or where she has absolute power, and she will become corrupt. There exists no pure property of honesty that one can find in the mind.

All such traits don’t exist within ourselves. They exist for moments. They exist in the actions. We do something dishonest, and that’s when we are dishonest.

But then, we see patterns. A person constantly does things which are considered dishonest, and then acquires the reputation for being dishonest. Thus, these traits are not properties, but patterns.

These patterns have a curious property, though. By labelling ourselves a certain way, we create a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think I am dishonest, so I do more actions which are dishonest. This reinforces the pattern, causing me to think I am dishonest. What we think is a fundamental personality trait is actually a pattern in motion, engaged in positive feedback.

So what to make of introspection? What do I see when I hold that mirror to my soul, if my conception of traits is correct? I don’t know, exactly. The mirror creates, distorts, destroys. When I look at the pattern of my behavior, I begin to create who I am. I see these things and say that I am this type of person. I may think I am “realizing” it, but I am creating it. Then again, this creation isn’t truth. It distorts who I am. It attributes properties to myself, which may not be correct. The mirror sees patterns, not truth. It makes an educated guess about who I am. There’s also an aspect of destruction. It locks me into a pattern, taking away possibilities. Yes, it creates me, but it may not be creating the right me; it may be destroying who I really want to be. By assigning myself a trait, I also destroy the nuances of my actions and the contingencies which led to them.

This aspect of destruction really fascinates me. When I say, “I can’t,” then I can’t. When I say, “I’m not this type of person,” then I’m not. It locks me in to a pattern.

You can avoid locking yourself into a particular pattern, but you can’t avoid the act of destruction. By simply doing something else, by acting, I create new patterns. When I commit to being a positive person, I become that positive person. However, I’m still engaged in the act of destroying complexities, destroying parts of who I am. I’m still assigning traits, but this time I’m choosing ones I decide are better. Yet I haven’t avoided the act of destruction.

Furthermore, I believe that we constantly engage in this creation and destruction. Based on our distorted perceptions of the patterns in our lives, we become who we are. Sometimes we reject these assumptions, and sometimes we accept them. We can’t avoid creating our identity.

Without introspection, we have no identity. But when we introspect, we change who we are.

I like to imagine the mind as consisting of water sloshing around. When we introspect, we dip our hands into the water, and create new ripples.

Friendship with those you disagree with

It is important to maintain friendships with people you disagree with. Moreover, you must disagree with them in fundamental ways; they must challenge your most basic assumptions. You must stretch your mind beyond where it’s comfortable.

I’m of the opinion that you never grow unless you do things which make you uncomfortable. And if you do not grow, you will stagnate instead of staying constant. Having friends who always agree with you or disagree with you in comfortable ways means that you will intellectually shrivel.

Meditation on Epiphanies

Epiphanies never come from nowhere.

I keep journals. I log my life. I log my thoughts. I log my metaphysics.

If I ever have an epiphany, I can always look back and find the seeds of that epiphany. There are always patterns. Hidden amongst other words, between other thoughts, you will find traces of that epiphany. You’ll see it come up over and over. You’ll see the idea in several books you’ve read. In fact, sometimes you’ll find the epiphany explicitly written out, but in a different way.

An epiphany is just when you understand something in a new, profoundly meaningful way.

I find that science and nature are most helpful in creating epiphanies. Imagination is a powerful tool, but it is limited by its inputs. Nature shocks us. Many great discoveries in astronomy did not occur earlier merely because we lacked the imagination to comprehend reality. Our myths, all our great religions, never measure up. Reality is much more mind-boggling than any story. As a result, science helps me look at issues from new angles. Science provides me with new metaphors to understand my life.

The key to the ephiphany is to never give up on your most deeply held questions. Continue to examine them from every angle. Use every different discipline to view your problem through different lenses. Science, sports, martial arts, arts, business — all of these not only have different ways of solving your problem, they have different ways of comprehending your problem. But most importantly, you must stretch yourself. If you seek an epiphany, you must go beyond even where your imagination is comfortable.

Keep writing. When you write nothing down, you never progress. You’re stuck in the same position; you can’t see your problem using new viewpoints.

Themes are born. Themes die. Themes are reborn. This cycle continues until, all at once, you’ve examined a theme from sufficient angles, you’ve fleshed it out enough, to have that epiphany. Instead of disparate strands of knowledge, you have a unified solution. Instead of a jumble of feverish words, you have one profound sentence. There is your epiphany.

An epiphany is nothing altogether new. An epiphany is the result of a thousand rebirths.

The Corrupt Arbiters

In your perfect system, who will be the arbiters? Who will decide how we ought live? Who are these hyper-rational beings who will decide things based only upon logic?

Do realize that this is the road to tyranny.

We are as sure of the corrupting influence of power as we are of the pull of gravity. If indeed your arbiters are human beings, then they will be corrupted.

What human being can resist the temptation of power? What human can resist the lie for his own gain? He who sets the rules will set up rules for his own gain. He will fool the people.

If we set up multiple arbiters, we are still dealing with human beings. They will collude in order to devour the masses, or devour each other. Most likely, both will occur. When they see that much power up for grabs, they will scheme.

No human beings are exactly alike. They will have different forces of will. Factions will arise. Just as surely as galaxies gathered from the gravitational pull of mere differences in density, even if the differences are slight, factions will arise. We have different temperaments. We will like some people more than others. Any council is doomed to disagreement. And any council of arbiters with unlimited power will either explode into war or collapse into one demonic being.

The rational are easy to fool. They fail to notice the devious motivations of others because deviousness is so contrary to their own natures. The sharks easily feed on these guppies. The devious tyrant will overtake any council of rational arbiters.

Or the messianic will captivate the masses. How will you control him except by violence?

People will laugh at your rational arbiters. Any child knows that “because it’s for your own good” is not a very compelling argument. How will you control them except by violence?

The more violent you are, the more you’ll attract the wrong type of people. The more you open yourself up to a War Leader who has actually earned the respect of the masses, more so than your arbiters in their Ivory Tower.

Any system which values the abstract over the contingencies of history and the fickle nature of human beings will end up as either a tyranny or an anarchy. Any absolute system will necessarily use violence to compel the people to do its biddings. Any absolute arbiters will have people who chafe under their rule. These absolute arbiters will inevitably become corrupt.

Human experience has shown that the only way to avoid the problem of corruption is to separate and balance power, like our co-equal branches of government. You must also limit the time people can hold power. It is messy. But I much rather prefer this to rivers of rational bloodshed.

The Return to Searching

I have lost track of an important part of my self-identity. There used to be a searching me. I would spend nights thinking about life and life’s purpose. I would ponder over the meaning of abstract concepts (like love and morality).

I was searching for a complete theory of everything — of morality, government, etc. I have since decided that such an abstract all-encompassing theory is not the right way to go about things. In addition, I discovered two fundamental truths: 1) Life is absurd and 2) Love everything. Maybe figuring out how these “answers” worked together discouraged me from further searching.

But my quest for a life philosophy is still incomplete. These answers have no grounding. Can they have grounding? What sort of grounding can they have?

Furthermore, these aren’t fully practical guides for living my life. They are good broad philosophical stances (or commands, in the case of the latter truth), but they can’t tell me what to do in certain situations.

In a certain way, this year has been devoted to practical personal improvement. I like to think that I’ve made some strides: I’ve introduced new paradigms into my life (more on that some other time). What I’m missing, however, is an attachment between these purely practical considerations and my metaphysicals considerations.

That sounds like a very interesting project which I have no idea how to begin. I will start by writing junk in my notebook, like always.

I have a different project, which I think I will link up to this other project eventually. I am trying to answer a question: Are ethics contingent on human nature?

I believe this question cuts to the very nature of ethics and understanding ethics will help me apply it in my life.

Tomorrow: What sparked this question and how I intend to explore it.

Note on politics: The surge has not accomplished what it was supposed to accomplish: There was no political reconciliation in the Iraqi government. And now, Bush intends to draw down 30,000 troops? Surely, the violence of the insurgents and sectarians will increase! What was the purpose of the surge, then, except to buy 6 more months and to keep us in Iraq indefinitely? Our military is not big enough to do what Bush wants done. Our military is not structured for nation-building. We should withdraw.

Link-Dump

This may be a way in which I might want to break my rule of updating once a day. There are all these magnificent links out there which I still want people to see.

  • Sullivan links to Obama on the Daily Show. Not only does this show off the skills of Obama in appearing above the fray, but it also demonstrates John Stewart’s interviewing skills.
  • Matt Yglesias asks John Edwards and Barack Obama, just what the heck are “vital interests”? This reminds me of the “Meaningless Words” section in George Orwell’s classic essay, Politics and the English Language.
  • Bruce Schneier is his usual astute self, when talking about how spending money on interoperable communication systems for emergency response helped save lives in Minnesota: “Too much of the money spent on terrorism defense has been overly specific: effective only if the terrorists attack a particular target or use a particular tactic. Money spent on emergency response is different: It’s effective regardless of what the terrorists plan, and it’s also effective in the wake of natural or infrastructure disasters.”
  • Lloyd meditates on what weblogging is: weblogging as life (yes, itself). Very… sweeping. And when I think of philosophy, I think this is it. Trying to make sense of the world.

Einstein and Metaphysics

I was skimming through a copy of Relativity by Einstein in the bookstore at the airport. I remember getting the impression that the book read almost like philosophy. He interpreted facts in a different way. Einstein made a breakthrough in metaphysics, more than anything else. At least, that’s what my uninformed mind thought as I quickly glanced through it.

Meditation on Contradictory Truths

It’s been nearly 9 months since I brought to you the latest breakthrough I had in my search for a coherent account of reality. I’ve still been searching, and today, I reveal to you my latest revelations about life.

Since my last breakthrough, I’ve kept pushing and pushing. I thought deeper and deeper. At some point, the quest for knowledge, I realized, had become a quest to unlearn everything I knew. I kept throwing away assumption after assumption. Finally, stripped of all knowledge, I was left with only two fundamental truths. 1) Nothing matters. 2) Love everything. Of course, it’s not as if these were new discoveries, it’s just that everything else seemed to stem from these truths. The first, “nothing matters,” comes from my more cynical, skeptical mind. In this view, everything is meaningless and has no purpose. I came upon this truth when I kept asking myself, “Why? Why? Why?” With every answer, I tried to dig deeper. At the bottom of the hole I dug, I found nothingness. I found no reason to choose good over evil. I found no purpose to life. My second fundamental truth was a command that came from my (still) newfound Christianity: Love everything.

These seem to answer the two basic questions that I set out to answer: What does it mean to be human? how should I live? Yet, my answers were contradictory. How can you love everything if you believe that the universe is meaningless? I tried to take a leap, to pick one or the other, but I couldn’t. In my mind, there was no reason to choose good over evil, yet my choice was for good. (Let alone the fact that I couldn’t explain what was good or what was evil.) How could I explain this contradictory state? I tried to explain it pragmatically — that good was the best way to live life, but that seemed wrong. It didn’t take into account the complexities of life. Sometimes, you can gain from evil.

For months, I tried in vain to reconcile these two truths. I toyed with an idea of the “love absurd.” I’d write feverishly in what I thought were moments of epiphany, but nothing ever stuck. Last December, I finally came upon viewing the world as a giant game of improve and the philosophy of “forgetting the audience,” but that still felt too descriptive. It wasn’t the Middle Way I sought. In fact, I felt a Middle Way would be a betrayal of my principles, my truths. That’s why I’m didn’t lean toward Buddhism after all my thinking. I didn’t want to equivocate in my command to love everything.

Finally, I am stumbling upon a possible path toward reconciling the two contradictory principles: Don’t. It’s not that I’m going to ignore the contradictions; I’m going to embrace them. The struggle is the greatest thing about life. It is the Sisyphean cry of the existentialist, “I will not be defeated. I will live anyway,” combined with the Christian sense of purpose. The answer of “How to live” is to pursue contradictory goals at the same time.

Of course, this probably makes more sense to me than it does to you. I can only explain my proto-thoughts by analogy. My breakthrough came during my study of government. Modern democracies are comprised of two contradictory goals: To provide freedom to the people and to give government the necessary strength to act. It pits chaos versus order.

A completely ordered life is to live under totalitarianism. To me, this is surrendering completely to my second truth and forgetting to step back. A completely chaotic life is to live in a violent state of nature. To me, this is surrending to my first truth and acting however I want because nothing matters.

Democracy could be construed as a Middle Way. It’s often portrayed as a delicate balancing act. I disagree strongly with this characterizing. It’s not a balancing act; it’s a struggle. It is a messy, constant struggle. Just like my struggle with the meaningless universe. With a democracy, you fight to create law, to define situations, but to not define all situations.

I will live my life similarly. But then I ask myself, is it possible to do such a thing? Does it make sense to be a living contradiction? Yes, I can.

I now appeal to another analogy. Is light a particle or a wave? Kind of one, kind of the other, kind of both. It’s bizarre. The human mind works the same way. If light can be two things at once, then perhaps I can as well?

And so, I begin to think that to live life is to constantly struggle between contradictory fundamental truths (perhaps not necessarily the two I’m thinking of now). There is no final reconciliation. There is no transcendent truth above them. There is no delicate balance. There is only the struggle.

I realize: Hope and futility can coexist.

Of course, the analogies are imperfect. I haven’t even bothered to explain why I think “Love everything” should be a fundamental truth. I have holes all over the place, I bet. Are my fundamental truths even the correct ones? Still, I think I’ve stumbled upon my main contradiction: Hope and futility. And I’ve realized that although they are in contradiction, they can still coexist. The key is not transcendence or balance, but struggle. To live my life simultaneously believing in, and acting upon, both.

The Clothes Totally Make the Man

Note: I decided to split up the originally planned giganterrific entry into at least two parts. Here’s number one.

I love dressing up. I always look so much damn nicer and fashionable. The other day, for Mass (I go to a Catholic school), it was a mandatory dress-up day. Why? New bishop in town. I don’t like them telling us it’s mandatory, but hey, I bought a nice suit, and I’m going to get my money’s worth.

I wore my tannish shirt, which looks almost gray in the right lighting with my blue tie. Suit jacket. Suit pants.

Oh yeah, and the blue tie: silk and striped. It is a sexy tie. I should take a picture of it.

To excentuate the look of the awesome business man, I stuck a dollar bill in my front coat pocket (normally where maybe a handkerchief would go). “Here’s a dollar, go buy yourself a life,” I said. I knew I looked slick, and I got some compliments, even from the principal.

Usually, when I’m up presenting for class, I’m rather nervous. Or, I can be nervous. My leg will shake if I’m not careful. I try to be calm inside, and usually I am, but my damn body won’t let me be 100 percent calm. No problems in the suit during the latest presentation. And I realize, the clothes do make the man.

I also must say: the dollar bill is the best suit accessory ever. Just make sure no one takes it, or that you’re so rich it doesn’t matter.

Simulacra of Social Experiments

I’ve mentioned before the problem of a lack of testing when dealing with philosophical concepts. History was one way to almost bypass that.

Yet, I failed to realize that we have social experiments going on right now. How do you manage to circumvent the ethical implications? Why, by putting it on television, of course. Reality TV shows are really the closest things we have to current social experiments. Even though they are poorly done, in terms of television, some things can still be learned if they are watched with a certain cynical detachment… maybe… okay, I guess not.

Hey, I have a better idea: Come up with true social experiments, but disguise them as reality TV shows!

Animals and Diversity of Emotions

[going to jazz festival today... will post later today, I hope]

9:00-ish

Hello, it is later today, and I have returned from CMEA. Our band received a unanimous superior. Scores: 94, 94, 92, and sight reading: 93. I’m happy, even though I completely (and by completely, I mean about 3 notes) f—ed up the trombone soli. In case you’re interested, our set included Red Clay, Skylark (Bob Brookmeyer arrangement), and Count Bubba.

[still more to come...]

11:50-ish

I’ve brought up the question of animals and self before, but I came to no conclusions. I think that one measure of self in animals involves the diversity, or range, of emotions capable of being expressed.

I arrived at this by first thinking of why we treat certain animals different than others. We feel more sympathetic to mammals than insects (most of us). Is it because mammals are more similar to us genetically? No, that really wouldn’t make any sense since they’re different species and their genetic propagation doesn’t help one at all. When some mammals are harmed, dogs for instance, one can see that the animal is in pain. There is sight and sound involved. One can hear the whining of the dog. One can see the scared behavior.

Yet, even insects will scatter, confused, when confronted with sadistic behavior from humans. The problem with these creatures is that they don’t convey the sights and sounds. You can’t hear an ant screaming. The ants scatter, but they lack a face. The language of the face is more important than that of the body. It is the primary exhibitor of emotion.

There’s something else about the face. It is not only primary in conveying emotion, but it also can convey a wide range of emotions. What is the ants reaction to everything? To our minds, it simply appears as if they scatter or travel in a line. There is no diversity in their conveyance of any semblance of emotion.

Let’s go back to the dog. We can identify with it better because it conveys more emotions that we can identify with. More specifically, we relate better with the diversity of emotions. The diversity of emotions leads to a diversity of reactions. More complex emotions also lead to more complex personalities (I’ll need to delve more in depth on this specific sentence at a later time.) In turn, each of these personalities react differently to different situations. This is key. The more we see that each individual animal of a species can react different, the more “self” we can judge it to have. It shows more choice being employed, rather than instinct. Less diversity of reactions shows that it’s more likely that instinct is taking over. Instinct shows less reasoning, less thinking. From my thoughts on the first axiom, I can then deduce that because the animal shows less signs of thinking on its own, it therefore has less sense of self.

Animals and Self

Certain animals can be conditioned to be called by a certain name. Does that mean that they have a sense of self? It seems like it to me. I don’t know exactly what the limit is, but the main question comes to killing. If the life form is too low to have a sense of self, it should be okay to kill it, right? But then, what about young babies? They don’t have those cognitive abilities at the very beginning of life, do they? No answers for today… I’m tired.

Drugs are bad for you

According to my philosophy I’m building, drugs are bad for you. They artificially alter your mind, and your thoughts, and thus, your perception of self. If self alters self, it’s not the same. That’s change, not outside interference.

More in this vein tomorrow…

Axiom of Others’ Existence

You have to take it as a given that other people exist, that you aren’t the only one thinking. If you’re not familiar with solipsism, you probably are somewhat confused. Some think that self is the only thing that can be verified. I’m assuming from interactions with other people and scanning of the brain, that other people do think. Therefore, they have a perception of self. Since self is the most important thing, even in others, destroying “self” is wrong. Killing is wrong because it ends thought and a sense of self.

Axiom of Imperfection

The axiom of imperfection states that all humans are imperfect. I’ll define perfection as without fault. Yet, how does that work in humans? I suppose I’ll say a human is perfect when he or she can make all decisions in a correct manner as to provide perpetual happiness for themselves… that’s making a lot of presumptions (look for one more axiom tomorrow). But the purpose of the axiom of imperfection is to provide the basis for the statement that all problems, individual and social, stem from imperfection.

Axiom of Self

When I originally started this weblog, I wanted an unorganized way to just get down my ideas for my future agnoiology.com. Well, agnoiology.com still hasn’t progressed. So, I’m going to try something more organized. I’m going to try to build my philosophy with a bottom-up approach. I’ll be doing for a while, with some breaks in between.

I’ll start with my axiom of self. I think the most important thing is self. It’s hard to really back-up. Self is the only thing you know truly exists. You are yourself, and if you’re not happy, then, well, you aren’t. I don’t know how to phrase it without being circular, so I have to call it an axiom in order to get anywhere. Geometry is based on certain axioms that aren’t proven. They are just accepted. This is my first axiom.

Following from this, you have the statement: “I think; therefore I am” — Descartes. Self is the most important thing. Self derives from thought. Without thought, how can you know you are yourself? You don’t know anything. You have no identity. Since self derives from thought, thought is considered just as important. But what constitutes thought? What degree of intelligence is needed to come up with a concept of self? These will be addressed later with different issues.

Tomorrow, I’ll have axiom number two.

Chaos Theory and Significance

Not taking into account the truth of it, I think part of the popularity of this is that people think that they are significant, no matter what they have done. They think they are not insignificant because they are like the butterfly, and can change things in unexplainable ways.

Part of chaos theory is applied to hypothetical time travel situations. Change one thing and everything in the present is changed. Perhaps. Though if Columbus hadn’t lived, one cannot say that none in Europe would have “discovered” the Americas.

As time goes by, there are more and more people on this planet. Go back in time, kill one of the first moving out of Africa, and the genetic makeup of the human race is greatly altered. However, go back in time five minutes ago, kill some random person, and there probably wouldn’t be as much change. How many starving people are already out there dying?

I, for one, think the tornado is more important than the butterfly. Or, at least, I’d rather strive to be the tornado than the butterfly.

Answering a Comment Regarding Talking to Strangers

Carol Anne said this about my entry regarding talking to strangers:

I am the victim of theft because I talked to a stranger.

So remember what your mother told you: “Never talk to strangers!”

I am lucky to be alive today to remind all my friends and relatives why one should never talk to strangers.

You say you are the victim of theft because you talked to a stranger. The way you state it, you were directly robbed because you talked to a stranger. Now, I don’t know the situation, but somehow, I doubt that happened directly.

  • Scenario 1: The so-called stranger would have burgled you anyway, even if you had not talked to him.
  • Scenario 2: You placed yourself in a situation where you were more easily burgled after talking to the stranger.
  • Scenario 3: Perhaps it wasn’t theft. Perhaps you were swindled by the thief. In that case, it could have been your gullibility.

Just because you talk to someone, does not mean you trust that person. Young children are told not to talk to strangers because kids are stupid and gullible. Granted some adults are too, but that doesn’t mean everyone should not talk to those they do not know.

Is the old lady sitting by you in the dentist’s waiting room going to rob you? Is the guy standing behind you in line at the bank going to rob you whilst security cameras and a security guard watch?

Simply talking to someone is not an invitation to robbery. At the same time, talking to someone does not mean that person is automatically your friend. If you’re not smart enough to realize that, then maybe you shouldn’t talk to strangers.

Control and Objects

The extent to which I like an object is usually directly related to control. I value things based on how much control they give me. I value computers because of the wide variety of activities I can accomplish with them. I can write what I wish with a pencil.

All these things are very useful and versatile, so shouldn’t I be judging things based on usefulness? Usefulness is a measure of how much control the object gives you.

Another factor is how much control I have over the object. Granted, true AI doesn’t exist, so humans have control over any object they create. I am able to press any button on the remote control. However, there are factors which make things harder to control than others, such as their comprehensibility. When I don’t understand what’s going on, I lack control, so I dislike the object or concept. For example, I like games which aren’t too complicated. Although I sometimes prefer some degree of complexity, this is because it gives me control over those who don’t understand the game. Also, I like it when I can win without an overwhelming amount of effort. That’s also based on my level of control over the game. Mastery is its own reward. This also applies to multiplayer games. I like winning. I like controlling the game to victory, and controlling my opponents to force them to defeat.

At times, I was relating these to influence over people. Control related to my relationships with others is a separate topic, for tomorrow (maybe).

Violating the Main Principle of Cheating

Forget about the finer points of cheating, people can’t even correctly do the most basic principle of cheating: Not telling anyone that you’re cheating. Why tell someone that you can see their cards? Just to see them jump? Why give away your edge like that? I wouldn’t, and I don’t.

Then, even if one is successful with not giving it away at first, that person gives it away later. If you tell someone how they cheated, they’ll watch for it next time! So it helped you one time, what edge does it give you anymore? People will just brush off their loss since you cheated.

That certainly ain’t the way I play the game! I’ve graduated past that simple tenet and become a much more efficient and successful cheater as a result of it.

Note: The principle doesn’t only apply to cheating in card games, but my cheating does… or does it?

The Recent Immigration to buzzComix

I submitted this to the Buzz Bugle feature on buzzComix. Don’t know if it’ll be accepted, so I’m posting it here:

The Recent Immigration to buzzComix

A note for all the smaller comics observing this migration:

TWC goes kaput. Now, buzzComix is the premier top list for webcomics. With the directions both top lists had been taken, one could argue that it was inevitable that this would happen. The wish for buzzComix to be number 1 has certainly been expressed before. So, what does all this mean, and what happens next?

The change has brought in many more successful webcomics to buzzComix. Some are upset by this. Their rankings have dropped considerably since the change, and they express their anger towards the bigger webcomics. However, there are only so many big comics; they couldn’t have made our rankings drop so much.

I say the cause is actually the influx of middle-sized and small comics. Let’s say someone got 5 votes before, early on in the month and sat pretty comfortably on the list. Now, there are perhaps twenty other comics with the same number of votes. There are also more people with 1 more vote than the original person, and more people with 2 votes more, and so on. We’ve been crowded out of the list.

Yet, I don’t mean to blame it all on the smaller comics which are new to bCx. On the contrary, it means there are more people just like you. Shouldn’t we embrace each other, rather than be mad at other comics who are struggling just as we are? We should understand that webcomics are different from traditional products. If I’m buying one brand of paper towels, that probably means I’m not buying other brands. With webcomics, if you decide to read a new comic, you usually don’t quit reading the original comic. If one comic links to another, it doesn’t take away readership.

This means reach out and link each other. Have you seen the Dayfree Press thing on Ctrl-Alt-Del and other comics? Do something similar. Form webrings. Form clubs. Communicate. Share.

Just because buzzComix has gained the comics that used to be on TWC doesn’t mean it will become TWC. What it becomes is what we, all the members of bCx, choose for it to become. bCx can be a more friendly, inclusive community, but only if we choose for it to be such.”

Humankind’s Most Selfish Goal: The Perfect Society

In a perfect society, no one would harm anyone else. That means no one would harm you. Human beings entered into “social contracts” to form governments. We trade freedoms for security. The most basic level of this is: “I won’t kill you if you won’t kill me.” It’s all about our own safety.

So, one could argue that humans formed societies to benefit themselves. Then, if a society is based on selfish goals, shouldn’t a perfect society be the result of the ultimate selfishness? Without perfection, there is uncertainty. Anyone can get you. Only when everyone is truly happy, will no one harm you.

There’s truly a great irony in this, if it indeed stems from selfishness. It is that in order for you to be perfectly happy, you must make everyone else perfectly happy. Yet, it is our own selfishness that prevents us from making everyone else happy. Quite the dilemma.

Controversy Breeds Controversy

About what I wrote the other day: I was just thinking about it. I wasn’t actually going to do anything, like plan out the best way to hurt people. Sometimes, though, I scare myself. Going on to something new…

I got a lot of comments posted for that particular entry, and by a lot, I mean 3. When issues are more controversial, people are more likely to be involved. This conclusion comes as a result of the observation, I wasn’t testing this conclusion beforehand using that entry.

Controversial issues provoke more participation. When people strongly disagree with something, they are more likely to say that they disagree. See, if someone said s/he likes ice cream, everyone would say “Good for you.” If that person says s/he likes war in general, well, then that person has managed to turn some heads.

For some reason, people feel more compelled to provide their own commentary when they disagree more. I think this stems from people feeling like if they let it go, then more people could be swayed by an idea that some would find undesirable. If they let it go, then that person wins the argument by default. So, they say something. And since many people are sheep, and they already feel compelled to say something, once they see someone else, they have to provide their own input, even if they’re just rewording what the last person said. Then, the opposition of that group decides to join the fray, to defend the original speaker. So on, and so forth.

Swordplay of the Soul

People engage in sparring on multiple levels. Weaponry of all sorts have been used in combatic events between one human and another. Interaction between two swords — thrusting, parrying, riposting — can take on the beauty of an artform. Guns bring their own type of brute elegance. Hand to hand combat tests persons to the limit, using only what they have with them. When fighting, training can win or lose a battle.

There’s also the sparring of the mind. Friendly rivals can exchange witty insults, in a contest of one-ups-manship, with no real results. Rivals in intellect can test each other’s limits of intelligence and problem solving. Hard-fought debates can take place, with no clear winner.

But there’s one particular contest that intrigues the most, my inner evil mind. It’s a contest meant to wound as much as one can, to the point of torture, even. It’s actually easy to kill with a sword, but type of swordplay has less moves that can be successful. You see, it’s a matter of saying exactly the right thing at exactly the right time. The intervals are small, and the words are few, out of many, but when done correctly, it oh so deliciously wounds. The proper words can strike a person right through the soul, wounding them to the very core of their being. It will make them question themself, question you. And in the end, with the correctly applied finishing maneuver, they know you’ll have won, for they feel both sadness and anger like they have never felt before. Yet no matter what they try to do, the wounds still sting. This type of swordplay isn’t temporary, unlike any spar. Even the condition of dying is temporary, for soon thereafter comes death. No, this is like poison. Poison for the soul, poison on the barb you used to wound them. This poison lingers, making them feel the effects forever. The barb is what makes you the winner, but the poison is what keeps you the winner. That is the kind of swordplay that most intrigues me. The kind that takes a lot to execute, yet when done, wounds the most of any kind.

Any of ya out there who understand what I’m talking about? Me either. Good night.

The Manipulation Game

Some people say that life is a game. I’ve been thinking about a new game, concerning life. Happiness is one of my goals. Happiness often involves having fun. Games are fun. Another goal is power. So, I thought of something to combine the two: The Manipulation Game. The game where the goal is to manipulate people. But what to make people do… How about to make people happy? It’s a hard goal to make people happy. There should be more people in on the game. But to be competitive would defeat the purpose. It should be a cooperative game. Yes, a cooperative game for the best and the brightest to manipulate the rest into happiness.

From one (to some) twisted point of view, this would seem a noble goal. It seems that people value freedom more than happiness. I need to examine the reasons behind it some more.

Anyway, I’m going to explore The Manipulation Game in a story I’m writing, of the same name. (Either will be posted here or on psycho-ward.org)

Tomorrow: Harry Potter 5 review, maybe

Institute For Creating Fictional Persons

But first, there was this fairly large fire right near my house today. I think I see news crews (or someone with cameras) out there right now, 10:44 PM PST. Well, before we figured out there was a fire, there was a big boom. Obviously, fireworks. Obviously, illegal fireworks. Especially since there was a fairly large, prominently displayed sign on the street leading up to our hill that says, “No fireworks east of Mission Blvd.” There’s a lot of dry brush on the hills, and I could see why they weren’t allowed. However, ironically, there was a fireworks stand at the little corner shops, which is next to the huge sign. Oh, if any of you saw it on the news, no I didn’t have to evacuate or anything. Damn news media makes everything out to be bigger than it is. Usually, I light fireworks at someone else’s place, still in the same city, but not this year. Actually, I went to Berkeley. Cold cold place next to the water. And an impressive fireworks show. That’s why I didn’t really post yesterday.

I’m now hosting Calmok’s Adventures via psycho-ward.org. You might want to check that comic out.

The Institute For Creating Fictional Persons was something I made up a while ago. It’s a type of conspiracy organization I made up. It’s job is to create fake people.

Online, it’s practically impossible to tell if who you’re talking to is really that person. Let’s say you talk to me on Instant Messenger, and you’ve never talked to me before. How do you know I am who I say I am? You can’t. Let’s take this one step further: How do you even know that I’m a real person? Say, someone created a sophisticated experimental AI. Similar to SmarterChild, only with more sayings, and random time delays. You could be talking to a robot.

Take it one more step further: Let’s say the people you meet in real life aren’t really people. Maybe holograms. Maybe androids. Could you know?

An organization full of people devoted to creating fake people. Making up histories for them. Making up places for them to go. Making up things for them to say.

I’m not a real person writing this weblog. This was a bunch of people writing this weblog, trying to create the consistent voice of one person writing it. Only you didn’t know it.

Okay, I lied. But how can you tell?

No Power

Power. My goal. Other’s goal. Maybe everyone’s goal? World domination seems to be the impossible dream. No one has every been leader of the entire Earth. Ever. Is it even possible?

I want power. To gain power, you must be in positions of power. I’ve contemplated this. I’ve thought about propaganda. But then, I don’t think I’ll really have power. Propaganda is worked on in groups. Would I just be another worker?

I’ve thought about being president. Then again, the president may just be a figurehead. Any political office, they could all be figureheads.

I’ve thought about owning a corporation. It seems that won’t be around long. They’re trying to make it so that CEOs can’t make that much.

I’ve even contemplated dictator of a third world country. Too many coups. Too many rebels.

Then, who really has power? I say, no one. No one really has power. There is no one behind or in the scenes controlling everyone. There is no easy role I can fulfill to suddenly have the amount of power I want.

Look at the fourth definition of power at dictionary.com: “The ability or official capacity to exercise control; authority.” Power boils down to control. This includes other’s lack of control over you.

People do have some amount of power, but there are always others who have control over them. In the end, it’s a complex web. There’s no one actually on top. Everyone effects each other in different ways.

It may seem obvious that there is no one person with all the power. But just ponder it. There’s no one actually in control. We’re all just ambling along, in a constant power struggle in which no one ever wins. There’s no control. Perhaps that’s one reason gods are invented. Some people need something controlling us because we’re really just out of control.

The reason why no one ever actually has control is because they aren’t controlling people’s minds. People still have (or at least what feels to be) free will. They can’t stop people from thinking. Unless you control every single movement, people can still disobey your will.

Eventually, you will slip up, or someone else will. Then, it all comes undone.

Absolute power is unattainable because people’s minds can’t be controlled.

But, someday, maybe that can be changed…