Thinking Well (Do We Obscure the Way Towards Truth?)

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Dear Ponderer,

I would like to speak to the issue of philosophy as an emotional exercise as opposed to philosophy as an intellectual one. I think immediately what comes to a lot of peoples minds when mentioning philosophy is categorical imperatives, logical fallacies, and taking five more sentences than is necessary to say something quite simple. Granted, there is a time and place for all of these things. Language is so complicated and easily misconstrued. We can misunderstand our definitions of things quite easily so sometimes it does become very necessary to over explain what we’re talking about so that all our i’s are dotted and all our t’s are crossed. But I’ve had my mind more on the idea of philosophy as a therapeutic practice lately, and not so much as an explanatory practice.

I think we get into a lot of personal insight here on FlashPhilosophers. Are we just two dudes that use big words to talk about how we worked through our problems? And if so, what’s wrong with that? The answer is: nothing. Philosophy is about truth, and if we don’t see how truth is immediately applicable to our personal lives and our various struggles, then we lose sight of why it’s such a good mental practice. I am uncomfortable even defining it as a practice. I understand philosophy has certain academic connotations when we think about it as a study. But, really, philosophy is making effort to think well, and thinking well is tantamount to psychological well being, homeostasis…however you want to term it.

Most studies are now in their various silos, and I feel the raw human aspect to them is often forgotten. Why do we study economics? Why do we study psychology? Why do we study biology? Well, at the risk of sounding cynical, we silo these things off because they can be profited off of. Specialization is necessary, but professionalizing it and obscuring it is in the interest of the bottom line.

Philosophy, if brought down from its ivory towers and applied more directly to our human experience, will allow us to understand why the various things we study are of value, and not in the monetary sense. The enlightenment helped shake up the establishment. And again now we are disconnected, our institutions give us very little hope that they have our best interest at heart. I see a new establishment that requires some shaking. This iconoclasm, this dissension, has always been important.

So bringing this back around to the thoughts we’ve shared here. It is my hope that our correspondence sparks new ideas and allows us to make connections we may otherwise have not thought of. Relating that to our life’s experience hopefully allows any readers who wander through to see how loose, but intellectual discourse can be of relevance to simple daily struggles.

Is it about the meaning of life or the possible existence of deity? Sometimes, but it’s also about sorting through why getting my foot caught in my pant leg could lead to such existential angst; why seeing how my cat gazes out the window prompts me to ponder the importance of simplicity and small comforts. How can we make thinking well (philosophy) be less about proving points and more about understanding ourselves.

Until next time, Dude

Dear Dude,

I understand your frustrations about humans needing to separate different philosophies of understanding. The truth is they aren’t mutually exclusive from one another, as you well know. If you look at chemistry, biology, and physics, for example, the three very well could have been been divided up differently in their earliest stages had things gone differently, which is telling of how closely related they all are. But there are legitimate reasons for separating these schools of thought beyond the less-sincere motive of “profitability”. The world is such a complex system of inexplicable, intricately interweaving conscious and subconscious drives, that there is no way for the typical human mind to properly comprehend the world as a whole without first separating these schools of philosophy/science, and making them more comprehensible on an individual level. Once this happens, the effects we determine they have on one another will continue to become more cohesive, more honest, and more salient as well.

I would recommend reading Alan Watt’s “The Book”. A good portion of his writing is focused on the human inability to experience things as a whole. Specifically how humans depend on sight and hearing and other senses, and rely on them for truth, when really our sight and hearing and senses are only capable of providing a small portion of reality. When we become too dependent on these limited sense abilities (or inabilities), we expose ourselves to seeing falsehoods as truth. Watts discusses the human mind’s need to distinguish between cause and effect. He does a phenomenal job explaining how humans are largely incapable of understanding the two ideas as one unified concept. In an ideal world, cause and effect might be naturally understood as one, similar to how we might be able to understand all sciences and philosophies as one unified concept, but we do not live in an ideal…. our ability to understand is finite and the cohesion of ideas is not preternatural for most.

Like the concept of time, most people require linearity to understand the dimensions of life. Ask yourself this: would the people who claim to understand time non-linearly be able to do so without Einstein’s theory of relativity, which very well may not have come to be if it were not for his devout focus on the field of theoretical physics? How would we understand economics or biology or anything else that has heavily relied on brilliant people devoting their lives to these specialized fields of study? Is it not because of these niche thinker, that we have a greater understanding of the true nature of reality? Is it not these thinkers who are responsible for our current ideas of what is and isn’t common sense? Common sense isn’t simply common, common sense is the long and unending process of eliminating falsehoods that were once treated as truths…. the world is no longer flat! It is unlikely that the way you and I and the people around us view the world, would be as intellectually advanced as it is now without what has given to us by these purveyors of knowledge.

In my opinion, it is important that we integrate our understandings over time. But it is pertinent that we do so only after an individual contains a solid, fundamental understanding of these various fields of study. Linking complex things together through intuition, rather than through investigation, is how we become fallible… and, because human minds are finite, I do believe we would be more vulnerable to fallibility by expecting young and unlearned people to understand so much all at once…. the cohesion will forge itself.

Can philosophy be applied to emotional understanding? But of course it can be, in fact, that is a primary reason for philosophy. We understand the world intellectually and rationally — through different silos — in order to better understand and hopefully develop upon our irrational human nature. Don’t feel anguish from this sectioning off of studies, instead be grateful for what they have to offer us. But at the same time, don’t stand for the profiteers who abuse these silos by obscuring the knowledge and language so that they can make a little more money off of it.

With appreciation, Ponderer

Brief response:

Dear Ponderer,

I’m trying to find the unifying point between my conversation starter and your response. You honed in on why sectioning off methods of study are necessary. I voiced my frustration about how that has led to people profiting off of the specialization and professionalization of knowledge. But I brought this up mostly to demonstrate how far away from raw humanity philosophy and critical thinking have become in the public discourse. I see them as integral tools for achieving mindfulness and “inner peace”. However, the ivory tower industry wants to obscure these tools so they can make people pay for it. This has resulted in people basically turning to false forms of intellectual satisfaction, going to the places where what appears to be knowledge is less expensive or even free. Obsession with self help, conspiratorial ideologies, and other anti-intellectual outlets have provided people with a superficial form of certainty. That is why I’ve had this idea of street philosophy on my mind. And that is one of the hopes I have in blogging with you here. Make philosophy something that regular people just talk about (instead of clamoring over Oprah, Doc Oz and Deepak Chopra). Make it vibrant and interesting and more widely available, because the way that ideology and false hope are being branded nowadays, it’s far more attractive to the common person. We need to enjoy thinking well, because, in my opinion, unless you are getting at the real truth of things, you are not actually getting hope.. you’re getting a counterfeit.

Peace out, Dude

 

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Inquisitively Optimistic (Truth with a Measured Smile)

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“The Optimist should never tell The Pessimist to behave more like an optimist. Optimists should extol pessimists for being pessimists. Pessimists improve an optimists life, in the sense that, while an optimist celebrates a mug half filled with ale, a pessimist carefully examines the same mug and becomes determined to find ways for it to be filled to the brim. Your drunk would be no more than a buzz, were it not for the pessimist. The optimist’s only concern is to live thoughtlessly in his world of disregard and self-absorption. Thank your god for your blessed life all you please, my friend. But tonight, as the sweet froth nudges down the side of your brimful mug, and you continue to ingest naivety as the fodder for your soul, it is the pessimist whom you should sing your praiseful tune. And tonight I, the pessimist, shall tip my glass to the optimist for lending me barely enough of his cherished hope to palliate the burdens of a cold cold world from sitting laden on my mind and to resist the prickles of a fraying rope from scratching sharp against the gullet of my throat.”

Dear Dude,

My life has changed drastically for the better over the past year and a half, as you should know, but others may not. The other night while I was out to dinner with my grandfather, he commented about me being more optimistic now than I had been in years past. It came as a bit of a shock. I consider myself a skeptical person and have always equated my skepticism to pessimism. Frankly, I was also a bit perturbed by his statement. In a sick way, pessimism always felt like a quality more unique to me than most people. Over the years I’d convinced myself, to the point of boasting, that pessimism allowed me to think more deeply and more unorthodoxically than I otherwise would.

On the darker side of the story, I used to wrongly posit that pessimism evinced the old, deep depressions, but I no longer assume this to be the case. There were times in my past when I was optimistic, possibly too optimistic, and it created a false sense of hope that provoked a lot of helplessness: but does this always have to be the result? It seems to me now that pessimism wasn’t the cause of depression as much as a survival mechanism to explain depression. Different ways of thinking that incurred over the years were more so a result of my depression than anything else. Unfortunately, because of my depression being masked in a veil labelled “pessimism” or “skepticism,” this thinking almost always escalated to the point of obsession and paranoia. My obsessive mind is always provoked by unhappiness, and it eventually grows dependent on misguided, beguiling notions of infallibility. Essentially, the obsessive mind is viciously stubborn and always “correct.” The thought of returning to that morass place is frightening.

Currently I would consider myself a deep thinker, but, in reflection, my grandfather was right: I am more optimistic than ever (prefaced above is an excerpt from a different piece of writing, which happened to provoke this blog entry. In my attempts to paraphrase the above piece to my grandfather, I decided it might be erroneous). I’ve noticed that, with my optimism, I am no longer obsessive; at least not as severely as before. Optimism does seem to be the source of mitigation for my obsessive tendencies. BUT, I also think that skepticism and honesty are two of the most important qualities for me to practice to remain personally and intellectually honest, and to resist returning to my old ways of thinking. What is your insight about the interplay and differences between pessimism, optimism, skepticism, and efforts to remain intellectually honest. What relation do you think these have to depression or obsession, if any?

Sincerely, A Ponderer

 

Dear Ponderer,

This is a conversation that could go in so many directions. Science has led us to understand the survivalistic reasons behind our optimism, and the necessity of it…but we also know that it has led some to completely delusional thinking. Where should we go with all of this? I am of the opinion that it’s extremely important to engage the world as it truly is. On the flip side of that, I also think it’s necessary to go about your actions as though they can make the world the way you would hope it could be. The fundamental problem with all of that is clear, my optimistic opinion of how things should be might not jive with how you think things should be.

What we have as a result of this is people calling themselves skeptics who are not skeptics, people calling themselves truth speakers who don’t speak truth, people professing that they have answers who do not have anything of the sort…we are facing information overload. The human mind seems to be wired to listen to the voice that is most sure of itself and not to the voice that is best versed in the empirical evidence and logical truth (I understand the redundancy of ‘logical truth’, but that’s how bad it has gotten…we need to describe which truth we are often talking about because liars, charlatans, and the deceived insist almost more than the well-informed that they speak the truth).

I completely understand the glamor and sick fascination of living in and entertaing our minds sickest thoughts. Let’s be straight, the world is FUCKED up. The cards are certainly stacked against us, and the world is beginning to figure that out. The phrase “you can do anything you set your mind to” should be changed to “you can do anything you set your mind to, but it will likely result in other people having to fail”. But we aren’t willing to accept that.

Skepticism is the philosophy of holding off judgment until the empirical data becomes quite clear. Pessimism, and I love your description of it, is that thinking that will say “there isn’t enough, we need more” and as a result it will go the other direction. A pessimist sometimes becomes an alcoholic because he thinks there is no other answer to his/her woe, to his/her struggle other than self destruction. A pessimist is just a twisted and jaded version of an optimist.
What is clear to me in this global state of confusion is we all want to think we’ve found the truth. What has also become clear from philosophy is that, we might all be full of shit in regard to any sort of assertion on that. That is why I see honesty and embracing ambiguity as, perhaps, the most important things any of us can do.

Why does this sometimes lead to depression? Because it betrays the natural instincts of our mind to see the world as it really is. The human creature thrives on its optimism. There are things we would have never done had we been realistic. Land on the moon? Build a skyscraper? Sit in sky chairs comfortably while being flown to grandma’s house for Christmas?

But being a skeptic does not have to result in despair. An honest skeptic will not be so prone towards dark and cynical obsessions. They acknowledge their gifts for intellect but also understand how limited they are in knowing any big T truth. If you wander into skepticism before you are equipped to handle the mindset, it’s easy to be endlessly impressed with your own ideas and flabbergasted at how much people don’t see reality for what it truly is. I think where many skeptics trip up is thinking that their philosophy makes them a better person than other people. All it has done is given them a lens for being more honest. Honesty perhaps does make us better people, but not if that’s our reasoning behind being honest, to prove we are better and more righteous. I hope this addresses some of your questions, I think this will suffice for now.
Always a pleasure,
Some Dude

Brief Response:
Dude,

Thank you for your reply. I agree that skepticism and being a good person are not one in the same. It seems that honesty and willingness to accept ambiguity are the necessary tenets to put the horse before the carriage, opposed to allowing self interest to determine one’s beliefs, convictions, and sense of honest. It does take a particular mindset to be able to put honesty and ambiguity before all else: a mindset that I never eased myself into in the past, and because of that, ended up with undesirable results.

I’m reminded, reading your examples of achievements achieved through optimism, of how skepticism and contrarianism are different. The skeptic can believe in the optimist while questioning things reasonably, whereas the contrarian takes the contrary stance regardless of what reason suggests. This is all the perfect reminder to be open-minded whilst retaining an intrigue for critical inquiry, instead of thoughtlessly objecting, as I’m certain was the case before, when my obsessions and paranoias eviscerated any and all of my happiness. I must remember to cogently question and investigate the happenings around me that optimism once prevented me from questioning, in order to retain my existing optimistic state.

Thank you again, A Ponderer

Be an Ass…ertive Person (Unfounded Confidence vs. Informed Concern)

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Dear Ponderer,

There has been a fair amount of time since our last correspondence and there are varying reasons as to why it’s taken me a week or two to get back to our conversations. I have to acknowledge the main reason as being a willful procrastination. Not in the sense that I did not want to do it, but I felt like I was merely giving time to allow my thoughts to breath. But that worms right into the other major reason I haven’t sparked up a new philosophical discussion: there are so many damn things to talk about.

I am also still in that rut of writing from a place of sanctimonious frustration. I have to believe that my social criticisms come from a place of authentic concern, but often times I still can’t help but get a little high-horseish with my rhetoric. I “hate-read” some blogs to see what the hyperbole and self righteousness must sound like. I think my personal distaste for such polemicists comes from a place of seeing how I could very well be those people. You know that concept of bigotry towards the bigots? Well I feel like I am becoming a sanctimonious asshole in my efforts to expose the sanctimonious assholes.

Perhaps this would be an interesting question to explore: when does confidence that you possess the facts and the right situation warrant intense forms of rhetoric? When is it okay to be an asshole about a well informed opinion? Is it ever? I really am curious if the time for sensitivity is past with regards to some topics and the “informed” need to be more stern. Exploring these questions makes me uncomfortable because it sounds as though I’m suggesting that the I’m-right-and-you-are-wrong,-the-debate-is-over” approach can be necessary. Is it a necessary evil at times? I’m speaking in regards to things like climate change, continued loss of individual rights, trendy anti-intellectuals and truthers posing as skeptics, the wealth gap, etc.

I read a book once that distinguished between the concept of being an asshole and being a douchebag.  Very crude terminology, but the logic was interesting. Being a d-bag essentially entailed that your self obsession and arrogance was merely a demonstration of your utter insecurity. That you did not respect people because you did not respect yourself. This self hatred manifested as just being a jerk to people. I think we all pretty clearly know who these kinds of people are. I hang my head in admitting that I have crossed and will likely again cross into this territory. I am human.

An asshole, however, is someone who is quite self aware about their talents and ability to influence people. So they do not feign humility about it. When they are in a crowd, they will command the conversation if they feel what they have to say is important or if they feel they are capable of raising the quality of the social interaction. The distinction is oversimplified, but the theory behind it was intriguing. The book itself I feel was written by a d-bag that felt pretty sure he was one of the assholes. But that could be me projecting my insecurities. That could be me being a sanctimonious asshole towards another asshole. Which, is probably a d-baggish thing to do.

So I leave it there, in a state of utter disarray. Is arrogance at times warranted if you feel you’ve properly informed yourself on a certain subject and if you feel the urgency of an issue trumps the need for sensitivity?

PS: I must stress my overwhelming support for pluralism and patience when it comes to public discourse. I do, however, believe that on some issues we have passed a threshold where patience has now become irresponsible. What do we do when that becomes our predicament?

With confusion,

Some Dude

 

Dear Dude,

How many d-bags perceive themselves as assholes? My guess would be: A LOT. From my point of view, you are not one of the douchebags. BUT, I’m certain you have been before, the same way I’m certain I have been. We all have been. I don’t know that it’s possible for a person to always be honest about their own douchey-ness, which is why I am careful about assertion. Until recently I had two personal beliefs that I held dearly. One is that there is a possibility that I can always be wrong about the things I “know.” The second belief is that all people are best served abiding by the Golden Rule. Fortunately, the former was more dear to my heart, and that is why I no longer believe in the Golden Rule the way I once did. It was pointed out to me that the good intentions of the Golden Rule are in conflict with masochism. I do still find value in elements of the Golden Rule for most, but I no longer assert that it is ethically full-proof.

Always be open-minded. Intelligence is paradoxical in the sense that seekers and purveyors of founded truth are often less assured about their opinions than less informed people. This comes as a result of being aware of the endless complexities that exist in a global society. Uninformed people have a bad habit of simplifying (black and white thinking). If you find yourself in a debate and the opposing argument is incapable of disproving your reasoning, both debaters, if open-minded and honest enough, should consider the less fallible reasoning to be the “truest” truth, but never an absolute truth. Assert the “truest” truth until it can be sufficiently refuted and with the caveat that it may very well be refuted or revised.

All this being said, you will undoubtedly encounter fellow debaters and disputers incapable of usefully analysing and understanding logic — there isn’t much solution for this situation other than persistence or perhaps ignoring them in search of a more open-minded audience. Bear in mind, we could be one of these unwilling people, our bias leaving us impervious to reason. It should be a question all people ask themselves to keep ignorance from prevailing.

Are there ways to recognize a person’s lack of ability for critical thinking? This is tricky, and I am interested to hear your thoughts. Indicators I’ve recognized that suggest a person’s inability or unwillingness to question one’s own fallibility might present itself in: rhetorical speech, non-sequiturs, anecdotes, unfalsifiable logic. . .

You mentioned your support for patience and pluralism. I share the same concern about having passed a threshold for effective policy change. When it comes to public discourse, always remember that “majority opinion” doesn’t equate to “rightness.” As far as humans are capable, science is our greatest existing determiner of truth. Unfortunately, as it stands, too many people distrust science, numbers, and observable facts. It seems the number of people unable to infer any kind of valuable information from numbers and research is becoming larger and they are getting louder. When this happens, and even when people do understand facts, but they conflict with their preconceived understandings, they will typically resort to their personal beliefs as “truths,” no matter how false or incongruent they may be in relation to the current “truest” truth. In the sake of self-interest and public concern, being assertive is becoming more and more necessary.

Tread carefully, and when needs be, tread vigilantly and with great self-awareness. And when times are dire and thoughts irrational (and people more liable towards fallacy), it is of utmost importance we move beyond the fruitless debates. Some ignorance is so irreversible, it should be considered best to walk away out of concern for giving undeserved attention to nonsense.

Sincerely…perhaps assertively,

Ponderer

 

Brief response:

Dear Ponderer,

I like this concept of the current and “truest” truth. History tells us that the prevailing wisdom can change. And what I see occurring, perhaps, is that it’s no longer even a prevailing wisdom. It’s a prevailing cacophony of facts spouted with no thought of what is wise. Wisdom to me has an ethical and compassionate demeanor. But this goes back to my question about the need for assertiveness, even aggressive and active assertiveness. If someone is unaware they are on a precipice, do we speak to them softly as they approach the edge? Not likely. Often people will just label the concerned as a alarmists. And, indeed, there are some out there with intense fervor on a certain issue who have subscribed to an ideology that espouses paranoia and conspiracy. I think what we need is a wave of new and refounded appreciation for compassionate, wise, and rational thinkers. The enlightenment was a great period of time, and probably spawned its fair share of assholes. But I think in time the power of reason was reappropriated to advance utopian, but delusional, visions of human progress. Our values are now aligned with making life easier, more comfortable, and for overcoming our petty first-world problems rather than being a force that addresses corruption and social injustice. Where do we go with that? I am not sure, but when wisdom is present, it must be understood, applauded and shared.

Again soon,

Some Dude!

 

The Google Gallery (An Inundation of Art in the Internet Age)

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Dear friend and Dude,

It’s difficult to broach this subject for the simple reason that it deserves so much more attention than what a leisurely correspondence can provide. But I will broach nevertheless: what effect does technology have on art? Tonight, while browsing Instagram, I had a rather lucid moment pondering the criteria to be a photographer who makes money for their work. Non-professionals have outstanding abilities that likely would have never been brought to light were it not for our newfound interest in sharing our lives through social media and with the advancement of camera phones.

I find myself questioning what art has become and where it might go. With so much accessibility, will success as an artist be ceded from the passionate to those with more technical skills, or perhaps to those with a stronger marketing acumen? Is this a good thing or a bad thing? There’s something visceral in knowing that a musician commits hours of their lives to practicing their craft in a grungy garage, using crappy instruments, with their only chance of recognition being fueled by some desire that might only come from so much sacrifice. Can people now make an album in any given week using computer savvy to facilitate success, instead of relying on some undying need to channel this outlet as escape?

Who really thrives? Looking at pop music it seems we now use teams to write and produce our music, using a figurehead with a pretty face and a computer generated voice, to sell a product. You no longer need to own a single instrument or be able to sing…auto-tune, Paris Hilton, case and point. Going back to photographers, they don’t live in the wilderness for months on end, spending insurmountable amounts of time on each shot, treating film as a gift rather than their camera as a rite. How many active photographers have stepped foot in a dark room?

These thoughts also raise questions about suffering as a lasting platform in art? Suffering as some kind of nearly tangible proof of an artists authenticity, but even this can be manipulated. I remember the book “A Million Little Pieces” was exposed as fraudulent. It was quickly taken off Oprah’s list of books to read. The author, James Frey, was one of the few living authors to ever be invited to join this book club’s list, but unfortunately for him, it was determined that his RAP sheet sub-par. “A Million Little Pieces” was re-genre’d from non-fiction to fiction, and Frey never had comparable success in any of his proceeding books.

Will real art prevail? Or is what we experience now real art? Art now seems more cajoling than anything else, and in my opinion, cajoling is best suited for our egos. I want something that speaks to my soul — to my self,– but given the times, I fear that all art is more duplicitous than anything else. I reckon my soul be best off alone than doled out to a bevy of impostors.  But discerning who the impostors are is becoming a more and more difficult undertaking.

Sincerly, A Ponderer

Dear Ponderer,

Art, like love, the soul, or hipsters, is an endlessly mercurial and basically indefinable concept. When I hear you ask ‘Will real art prevail?’, I feel the same sort of concern, but also have to ask: What the hell is real art?  As you say, this technological and social media revolution is changing the parameters around what we see as art and is giving us access to ideas and talent that we may have never had the opportunity to see in the past.  But then again, are we so inundated with content because people simply can click ‘beautify’ on their photo app and the mundane becomes seemingly fantastic?  I see that this change in access to ideas and art has it’s benefits, and its drawbacks. Much like anything in life.  

The coming generation is being programmed to a new aesthetic. One that us folk over 25 will likely be curmudgeons about. And while I can wail and gnash my teeth until the rapture comes about the artistic nihilism of pop culture, this is still a very subjective matter. My opinion, and advice, when it comes to art is, just like knowledge, challenge yourself to see what is impressive in a wide range of things. Understand that a film may be uncomfortable or outright bizarre, but instead of being frustrated that it wasn’t wildly entertaining, try to see what the artists intent was.  Try to see what someone is trying to tell us about our basic humanity. Where we maintain skepticism with knowledge, we should practice eclecticism with beauty and art. 

That’s where I can see the lines between subjectivity and objectivity in art becoming more apparent. In pop culture, we are getting a very superficial representation of what humanity is. It may be nice to look at, it may be a lot of fun to listen to, but is it challenging my basic perceptions of reality? Is it taking me out of the mundane and invoking what I like to call the ‘sublime’ experience? Is it allowing me to peer into another persons mind and see, as you described, that suffering (or work) involved in putting their rawness onto the page, canvas, or wax? Here is where I think empathy and understanding lies at the boundary between pop art and fine art. We may be at a point where we have to admit that neither is more valuable than the other in any objective sense, but that drawing this distinction is crucial to maintaining a semblance of authenticity in art.  If something is very clearly marketed as a product for the masses, then we acknowledge that without taking on the baggage of seeing it as inferior art.  It’s just different.  

This much I can say, if you look for it, brilliant art can be found. The sort of work that was obviously WORK. Heart and soul was poured into it. The market does it’s best to tell us what we want to consume, and I merely challenge us all to try things that may be outside our comfort zone. I remember I took a step out of my supposed tastes and bought a hip hop album back in 2003, and my life was irrevocably changed. I don’t see it as the best genre, I don’t really rank genre’s, but I know that the raw humanity that I saw displayed through rap lyricism opened my mind to a culture and an experience that helped me better understand who I was. Art should be about more than mere enjoyment for the observer, it should be work for those beholding it as much as it was for the artist to make it.
Thoughtfully,
Some Dude

 

Brief response: “Art should comfort the disturbed, and disturb the comfortable,” Cesar Cruz.

Dear Dude,

I love this quote, mostly because it reminds me to not read reviews of art before experiencing it. You’re absolutely correct that art is, or at least can be, about more than mere enjoyment. Art exists to evoke emotions we didn’t known were there, or to comfort emotions we wrongfully assumed belonged to us alone. Art reminds us that we are not alone. “I merely challenge us all to try things that may be outside our comfort zone.” Experience is the difference between feigning empathy for an artist and feeling empathy. A person who has spent hours painting only the base layer of a canvas will have a considerably better understanding about a painter’s devotion and passion, than a person that hasn’t shared this experience. A person that has never made art may not understand the years of training, the time spent on individual pieces, or the emotional toll to perfect one’s craft. Maybe one day your wailing and gnashing can subside. Maybe as the limitations of technology continue to converge into one tireless stream of filters and auto-tunes, we will become immune to technology and see with greater transparency which art is made through love and passion, and which is made otherwise, with the only intent of profit through manipulation.

Weirdness (The pursuit of being everything we are not)

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Dear friend and Ponderer,

I am a strange dude.  I think I’ve written to you under the moniker ‘dude’ as it is mostly an unspectacular term for an individual.  So there is a bit of a paradoxical nature in how I perceive myself; such paradoxical qualities apply to just about everyone. I am both unique and unpredictable to those who don’t know me, but am also rather ordinary. I think our ordinariness comes from the culture and social constructs that are so influential in our lives. They shape us from an early age and we hardly notice these molding forces. Certain behaviors and personality traits seem programmed to guide me as if on the rails at a Disney Land ride.  I wake up in the morning, I eat eggs or toast for breakfast (pancakes, etc).  I listen to music that other people have also heard (some popular, some more obscure). I watch movies, I have a Facebook, Instagram, Skype, and Twitter account.  I try to make my bed, wear jeans, trim my beard, brush my teeth, nod at people I do not know, say “excuse me” and “my bad”.  If I were walking on a busy sidewalk, I don’t think I’d appear all that interesting to a random passerby.
But to complete this strange dichotomy of being ordinary and unique, I must also have my share of quirks along with rather eclectic tastes.  I listen to metal, rap, underground hip hop, electronic, indie dream pop, grunge, 90’s alternative, hard rock, psychedelia…really this list could be endless. It’s a scatter shot of interest. I play basketball, write a philosophy blog, take and post pictures of my cat, Raelyn, have written and in turn rapped lyrics on 2 or 3 original tracks with a good friend. If someone were to browse my feed they would see things that range from rants on society to memes about the NBA playoffs, expressing my enjoyment for playing RPG video games with my partner, to near pathological fascination with dark television dramas (Hannibal, Breaking Bad, True Detective). Hopefully this illustrates my point.

It is definitely common (ordinary) for us all to put on that we are different from everyone else. Usually the manner in which we try to portray our uniqueness is an attempt to seem spectacular or endlessly interesting. I’m sure I am motivated by this to some extent.  But mostly I feel like the stuff I share with my friends and on this blog are issues, ideas, and observations that I genuinely feel compelled to discuss. I once wrote a blog which described how ripping CD’s for people was a way that I expressed love. Ripping CD’s (talk about the stone age). I feel similarly about my drive towards philosophy and social commentary. When I read something interesting or see a great film, I feel compelled to share that with people. I think it is one of the ways that I know how to show love. I share in hopes that what I have  experienced might be the catalyst for someone else coming upon something new and novel.  Maybe thinking a thought they hadn’t thought before. Similarly, I utilize social media and technology in hopes that the people I know and respect might open my eyes to the peculiar, strange, or intriguing aspects of life that I have forgotten or never considered.  

People have gotten awful cynical about the internet and the public nature of our lives in modern society. I am included among those who at times is luke-warm about these trends.  But sharing and seeing what others are doing as they live life can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Our ordinariness helps us feel a sense of belonging, our uniqueness allows us to absorb this absurd, strange, and awesome sojourn on earth in a way that no one else can or ever will.  

Hopefully…contemplatively,
Some Dude

Dear friend and Dude,

Aw, the conundrum of “weird.” This, in itself, is a weird concept. People tend to devote so much of their lives to the pursuit of overt uniqueness. Before we can understand what it means to be “weird,” we must first ask: from where does this desire originate?

In my life, many times, I have been perceived by others as quite strange. This has only ever occurred, however, when people came to know me on a deeper level than what a person would observe from a superficial encounter. Only intimacy facilitated such awareness on the observers behalf. The things I did and the thoughts I thought that were perceived by others as “weird” all seemed ordinary to me. These were the things in my life which brought me passion, and they are all things that provide me enough intrepidity to move onward from one day to the next. Because these things and ideas are so significant and prevalent in my life, I ask you: are they actually weird? Is a person being in tune with their authentic self a weird thing, or is it possibly the most normal thing we could do?

To me, the weirdest things in my life are all the things that other people perceive as “normal.” The veneer I create to fit within the parameters of how I believe people expect me to behave, in my opinion, is abnormal and weird. Trying to convince people that I am weird because I believe other people will perceive it as admiral, is weird. Living for reasons other than one’s self, is weird, and more than that, it is destructive and leads to dissatisfaction.

This veneer of normality of which I speak is more easily described as our “egos.” Stated differently: the normalcy of the personality we develop and confine ourselves to for the sole reason of complying with societal norms is what I consider to be weird, or more appropriately, nonsensical. It’s weird AND it’s duplicitous. Our egos are not who we are. Our egos are our alternative personalities that we create to distract society from ever seeing who we really are, because we fear that outsiders will judge our passions as “weird” or, more appropriately, “flawed.” How weird is it that in a life as short as the lives we are granted, we spend so much of our time trying to be people whom we are not? This, my friend, is weird.

Have you ever bought a shirt or anything similar, not because it was attractive to you, but because it was attractive to a person you love and spend time with? This is one easy (and simple) example of how we disregard our true self to satisfy others. Imagine this article of clothing is your ego. Imagine over some period of time, you buy more clothing that you have little interest for, but you believe they fit within the confines of how your girlfriend or others expect you to appear. Every time you look in the mirror and see yourself wearing this shirt, would you not question your motives? As the shirt grew old, and in seeking further approval from your girlfriend, you buy an entire wardrobe to match your outdated shirt — would you not eventually grow to lose a sense of what clothing might better complement your own tastes? Would you not grow to resent yourself as you became increasingly veiled in costumes you wore for others? Is this not weird behavior, but not for the conventional reasons people would consider something to be weird?

With all the things you do in your life, please ask yourself: who am I doing those things for? Our “weirdness;” the genuine weirdness; the weirdness that stems from deep within — can just as easily be identified as our passion, because that is what it is. In my opinion, this is the only way to live one’s life. So next time you buy a shirt, be certain it is a shirt you can bear to look at when you look in the mirror. When you post to Facebook, ask yourself if you are posting because you genuinely enjoy sharing with friends, or if you are more concerned about designing your Facebook page to be impressive or enviable or self-victimizing or… you get the point.

Am I weird? I try not to be weird anymore, because I fucking hate my ego. Am I passionate? I like to think “yes.”

Sincerely, A Ponderer
Dear Ponderer,

I hadn’t considered how very odd trying to fit in actually is until you described it in the fashion that you did. We do some outright absurd things to keep up with the Jones’s, to ensure that we are not “lonely”, to “please” those we associate with. This doesn’t always come from a place of self denial or insecurity, however. This human tendency for people pleasing and sticking to and perpetuating societal norms is also driven by fear.  Fear of putting ourselves out there and being misunderstood.  And when people are misunderstood by society, they can very often be forgotten…or worse, mistreated and oppressed. Instant gratification entices us to build up a personality that the system can deem as predictable. What is predictable can be quantified. With relative confidence we can be sure that predictability will follow the rules, punch their time card at the end of the day, take out their loans, swipe their credit cards, flock to the latest superhero film, and will only question their political opponents while forgetting to question the larger structures of authority.

Forgive me if this has wandered off the original discussion a bit, so let me bring it back to this idea of being both ordinary and unique.  It is okay to be human and to survive and to seek the company of others. But it is all too easy to get swept up and forget our passions. And even more concerning is seeing those who from a very young age have had rigid ideas of who they are supposed to be hoisted upon them and were unable to explore the paradoxical and wondrous nature of their humanity.  We are not a fixed point, growth is essential to fulfillment.  We are the same as others because the struggle of life for each individual naturally has shared qualities. However, the way in which we experience live and how we live it becomes our biological signature writ large for others to see.  It is my hope that we will no longer sign on the lines, neatly, or in print.

Bigotry Towards the Bigots (When the Method Ruins Our Intent)

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Dear Dude,

I must admit, I wrote you a letter the other day about my issues with compulsion and impulsivity and decided, in light of this Donald Sterling situation, that I might be able to make my own issues more relatable to others. In the letter I disclosed the embarrassing details about my having derogatory words pass through my mind during times of anxiety as of late. In it I told about the way these words were rarely, if ever, applicable to the people propelling my anxiety. This has caused me to ponder the possibility of these words being nothing more than manifestations in my mind created by the cheap outlets society provides us to express anger. I can’t help but think that when I’ve thought prejudice words, it’s more likely a product of my environment than irrational hate. This was never an issue for me before moving to the East Coast, where words like: ‘faggot’ and ‘nigger’ and ‘slut’ run rampant. From my observation, most East Coasters that use those words don’t intend explicit hatred.  It seems to be more a function of ignorance or cultural normalcy than anything else.

Going back to the Donald Sterling situation, I must ask how it is that you discern between a person’s ignorance and a person’s hate? It seems that some of the people recently exposed and exploited by the media as racist (Sterling and Clive Bundy) exude as much ignorance as they do hatred. Maybe at this junction in their lives these people are too stubborn in their ways to change their views, but hypothetically, if they were/are able to change their thinking, do you think exploiting these folks and creating a din of 24/7 news cycle moral outrage is really the best approach?

I find myself consumed by stories about people making derogatory remarks on twitter or some other social media controversy and I ask myself: is this the way these people sincerely perceive things? Or are these people acting on compulsive thoughts by following a script designed by social constructs? Are people getting some sense of self-righteousness by witnessing and exploiting these acts? It seems as though we are exploiting people in need of help or guidance rather than striking at the roots of our prejudice. Is our utilitarian approach of making examples of people really just a veil of holiness to disguise selfish intentions? Or are things like social media such an enigma in its fairly early stages of existence that we don’t know how to properly utilize them?

When I wasn’t much younger than I am now, but far more destructive, I would regularly act impulsively. When my wrong ways of thinking were exposed by people, whether or not it was done with the intention of helping me to see things different, because of the harsh and snarky manners in which they sometimes rebuked me (and vice-versa), any good intentions would often have a reverse effect. Instead of helping each other to reconsider our ways of thinking, we treated all matters as cause/effect — justifying all our own actions because we considered each other to be the cause. I don’t know the effect this had on others, but for me, this perpetuated my compulsive tendencies and pushed me further down that slippery slope road of ignorance and hate. In hindsight, I see how much of my behavior was a survival mechanism — me laying down the first metaphorical bricks to protect my ego. From there on I laid brick after brick to further protect myself and to resist the possibility of admitting that my thinking might be wrong. It was a chaotic and irrational time, and the further I delved into these patterns, the more dependent I became on my brick wall. Eventually the internal damage became clear. My wall fragile and crumbling, more like glass than bricks.

Sincerely, A Ponderer

 

Dear Ponderer,

I am pleased to broach this subject, if only to have the opportunity to examine some of the strides I’ve made personally with regards to prejudice. I find that the psychological principle at play here is fairly clear.  It’s overcoming it that is so complex.  What’s apparent to me about how people build up casual prejudice or focused hatred for other people or groups of people is that it most often comes from a place of insecurity (ego protection).  Because seeing it as so personal is quite uncomfortable, the tendency seems for people to project this into a larger narrative where their scorn or superiority is associated with a collective. Examples being anti-western sentiment or polarization between political parties. I took part in this on many levels growing up, but I’m certainly not unique in having experienced this. This is to say, that even at 80 years old, Donald Sterling has a genesis to why he said the disgusting things he uttered in private.  Abhorrent things, for sure, but things that I didn’t enjoy seeing aired out in a public forum in the fashion that it was, nor did it make me feel morally resolute.  For lack of a better word and at risk of sounding somewhat infantile, the whole thing made me feel icky.  

Now we have a new mob, much more holy in its appearance, but I believe it is similarly driven by insecurity.  When I started to overcome some of my more ignorant attitudes and prejudices from my teenage years, I bounced around to a number of new philosophies and mindsets that, looking back now, were just me finding new ways to feel, superior.  Social media is becoming a feeding frenzy of moral outrage and disgust, and as you say, it’s turned into outright exploitation of people who, while certainly doing or saying horrible and strange things, are still people and are likely damaged souls.  We are becoming bigoted towards the bigots.  And while it may be a more noble in the strictly utilitarian sense, I feel this only creates a trend towards further polarization…a greater desire for people to dig in and entrench themselves in their faulty prejudices towards others.

No coincidence how my mind always seems to return to compassion as a solution.  I might also add gratitude. I am grateful that I have been able to discard many of my misguided ways of thinking from the past, and thus I should understand how it is that others might still marginalize people as a means of ego preservation. I can’t even say that I’m completely free of this human tendency.  It is, I would posit, a part of our evolutionary software; to hate the other tribes.  What does this all mean?  We need a softer approach, patience with the fickle nature of our humanity.  We have come a long way towards learning how to be self aware as individuals and a society, but it also feels like where one door opens to the light, others close and new paradoxes present themselves.  So again, compassion.  And if we are going to have such fangs for those who don’t jive with the new morality, we need to also remain aware of our continuing social injustices, lest we begin to demonstrate our glaring hypocrisies (as if we haven’t already).  Making examples out of the bigots, while systemically modern manifestations of our tribal nature persist.  

Thoughtfully,

Some Dude

 

Brief Response:

Dear Dude,

Even Sterling has a genesis — how very true. I was fortunate in being able to start breaking down my own ego over the past year as result of certain circumstances. You’re absolutely right about the ego’s purpose being to protection one’s insecurities. It seems that bigotry towards the bigot is no real resolution or means of progress. It’s a less obvious disparity in compassion, but disparity nonetheless. Any disparity we maintain ultimately discourages people from breaking down their egos and — by reinforcing such a stigma around admitting “wrong,” by celebrating self-righteousness — we perpetuate unwillingness to change ways of thinking. It seems worth mentioning that the other day, when mentioning my compulsive issue with you and another friend with similar issues to mine, I have been able to more rationally understand the reason for this problem’s existence. This understanding has naturally led to a cessation of the problem. Like you mentioned — compassion. Thank you for your response.

Take care to take care,

Ponderer

 

Beliefs as Self Preservation (Reexamining Philosophical Motivations)

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Dear Ponderer,

I’ve been mulling over a number of topics that I wished to discuss with you, and in so doing I noticed something curious. Many of these thoughts were coming from a place of disdain. The funny thing about disdain is that, in definition, it suggests that that which is disdained is unworthy of one’s consideration. Yet, that’s exactly what I was doing, considering these thoughts and issues. This is problematic in several ways. Not only does disdain come from a place where I start to believe my opinion is more important than it really is, it sabotages the appropriate amount of inquisitive dispassion. This is not to say that emotion has no place in philosophy, but there is a tricky balancing act to be had between feelings and trying to remain as objective as is humanly possible, which, granted is not that objective.  So, I’d like toy with the question “when does it all become too personal?”

The problem of becoming too personally invested with being right about our ideas runs straight to the heart of what is broken in American politics. Even that limits how insidious this problem truly is. People become so connected to their beliefs and ideologies that defense of them becomes a matter of protecting identity more than it is an act of truth preservation. This sort of self importance fuels wars, divides nations, and can even make the heinous seem noble.

My disdain of late has been aimed at the internet media, and how represented within it are so many of the things that plague healthy discourse in modern society. There is much to be gleaned from observing this quagmire, but more and more my barbs and commentary are connected to this idea of me being some sort of iconoclast.  I feel the need to pull back and reconsider where I am emotionally and question the purity of my motives.  

My drive as a self proclaimed social critic and philosopher has a dual nature. In one sense I invent a narrative in my head where I am this quiet watchman who is capable of seeing things as they really are, and I have considerable pride associated with this self concept.  But most everyone creates some sort of narrative with regards to the self. Which means somebody who might completely disagree with my worldview has their own story which they are wholly committed to.  The question is, who among us is aware of these mind constructed realities, and who among us is willing to hold up and compare these to real reality?  

The other part of my philosophical drive comes from a place of genuine concern and desire to share what I see and learn. We are crippled by some absurd human tendencies and they are leading us down a path of pain; perhaps even destruction. But I also see much good in the world and believe most everyone wants the world to be a better place, we just disagree on what to do about it. There are, however, methods of getting closer to the truth that try to account for our biases and suppress them as much as possible. They have their human limitations but we must still commit to them. This method comes not from an ancient book or a charismatic orator, campaign slogans or corporate mission statements.  Truth is indifferent to the narrative that motivates us individually and collectively.

What does this mean?  That if we desire effective and necessary change, humility is essential. Consistently I must ask myself: has this become too personal and am I more concerned with being right or sounding profound than I am with building a democratic and pluralistic forum of ideas where we can fix that which is so clearly broken?  We all run the risk of sounding so self satisfied that what we say becomes irrelevant because nobody wants to listen. Food for thought my friend.  Looking forward to your response…

With self-inflicted wounded pride,

Some Dude
Dear Dude,

Oh, my friend, how closely I can relate. Though disdain may not be the word I’d use for myself, I do understand the tedium of living in a society that revers its loudest voices and holds them up as the “correct” voices. It most certainly evokes a sense of futility. I implore that you ask: how does disdain differ from the insufferable rantings of people that “know” what’s best for everyone? Whether a political belief, a religious belief, or any other dogma: what is it that provokes self righteous rhetoric and anecdotal tales?

The number of reasons why people feign such certainty is infinite, but I believe a primary provoker of this is people’s pride. Pride, to me, is people’s need to affirm in their mind that they are impervious to error. But, because not all people can be right, and there is no single cure-all prescription for some of life’s most difficult questions, is it best to approach issues like these with the mentality that all people’s assumptions and beliefs are suspect? I think so, and because I believe this, I choose to conduct my thoughts pragmatically. Trying to find some balance between my ideals and what’s realistic, because when my ideals are incongruent with the outside world, more times than not it will be to my detriment.

Also, I implore that you ask why people tend to be so adamant that their beliefs are true rather than questioning how they might be wrong? One thing that has provided me a good deal of placidity is when I’ve reformed my beliefs over the years to represent my rational way of thinking. Too often, we as people form our beliefs in order to support our emotional selves. It is important to remember that people’s beliefs are often times fragile because their emotional stability has developed a dependency on their belief system. Yes, this can be problematic and lead to great conflict, but I don’t know that pointing fingers or feeling disdain is any sort of resolution. Pointing fingers is a self-important action which promotes this concept of believing in things to satisfy our emotional needs. Only a soft voice, or, better yet, a reasonable voice has a gentle enough touch to guide the prideful wails of people who refuse to ask themselves if their views might be wrong or non-beneficial to people outside of themselves.

Going back to this idea of pragmatism, I’d like to ask: is it best to have ironclad beliefs or is it best to have flexible beliefs?

I mostly don’t have an opinion one way or the other, because it is not up to me to determine what is best for another individual. For me, however, flexibility is essential. The more immovable my thinking is, the more liable it is to break before it bends. This could be why people so often believe in things that cannot be falsified. How to move past this? Understanding life by observing nature helps placate my disdain. A level of comfort is gained when I am keeping an empirical mindset, a comfort that doesn’t exist when trying to understand things that may be outside my control or ability to comprehend. Especially in politics, I encourage us all to be informative and help people to think critically rather than trashing their beliefs. Remember, having any understanding about an edifice as complex as government or religion can be daunting, yet people feel obliged to claim knowledge — don’t blame them, merely share with them what you have learned through what is hopefully careful examination.

I hope this response offers some calm amidst this swirling storm that goes by the name of Life. And remember, it’s easier to recognize the World’s flaws begrudgingly than it is to look at them open-mindedly with a longing to improve those flaws. Whenever possible, do not fall into the category of the majority thinker. Majority thinking is for those who have given up hope for the world.

Sincerely, A ponderer

 

Brief Response:

Dear Ponderer,

It is good to know that I am not alone as I grapple with the inevitable follies that come with pursuing truth.  For me being flexible makes life less frightening, because it is okay if I am wrong.  Opposite to what I have found to be true for myself, however, is the fact that many hold rigid convictions as their own kind of fear response.  So as you say, what seems to work for me is not necessarily true for someone else.  Muddying the waters further, we must acknowledge those who will forego the philosophy of science and state the unfalsifiable as already apparent and proven. That might be what is most troubling, the capacity of the human mind to convince itself almost anything is true and to go forth stating it as such. I come back to this need for humility in hopes that we embrace our obvious fallibility.  Yet there I go, stating something as already given. So who knows, perhaps we are not fallible in the sense that I suggest and reality is subjective to all of us; that it is whatever we want it to be.  Brains in vats, Neo in the Matrix, Rhonda Byrne and Deepak Chopra go forth saying whatever you like. I still hold to the assertion that we are endlessly prone to error, but that there is an objective reality which we can understand to some extent. There is information, however, that will remain beyond our ability to know or comprehend. Filling in those gaps with whatever “truth” comforts us will not make it “true”.  I will go forth as a critic of the absurd with conviction, watching my motives closely to be sure I have not crossed over into disgust and disdain (these only being a manifestation of my pride, and therefore, my insecurity).

Again soon,

Some Dude

Sympathy For the Biebs (We gawk, therefore we are)

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Dear Dude,

I don’t know if you’ve heard the latest concerning the White House recent denial of the people’s petition to deport Justin Bieber to his native country, Canada. Bieber is currently living in the states on a 0-1 visa, which is granted for “extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics.” For a petition of this magnitude to be taken into consideration by the White House administration it must receive 100,000 signatures. Bieber’s petition received nearly 300,000 signatures. More than the economic implications of deportation, I’m interested in the socio-economic factors. What is the driving force of “the peoples” motivations and why do we find ourselves so vested in something that is seemingly so irrelevant to our own lives?

Bieber was arrested within the last year for DUI, racing… possibly something else — all misdemeanors. Like so many other celebrities, this press has perpetuated his erratic behavior. I performed a quick Google search to uncover finer details about the happenings but had to stop my search short. The annoyance evoked by so many scathing journalists was more than I could bear. It was apparently impossible to find any information without some form of lambasting plucked into, what I consider to be, questionable journalism. Am I the only person of the belief that when people act-out it is often a projection of their unhappiness, or at least a byproduct of their unhappiness? Is the possibility of The Biebs having a hard stint so inconceivable to people that there’s no ability to empathize with what he might be going through? Is there too much dissonance between the appearance of his sensationalized life and the reality of our lives?

I implore people to investigate some of these celebrities and wealthier people by means of the internet, and make note of the ones that take it upon themselves to post pictures of mansions, luxury cars, and sultry partners from escapades the night before, and then I’d suggest they ask themselves if these people really own the things they flaunt? Is it possible that these things own them? If you had the means to buy such things or be with such people, would you want these things for the experience of, say, driving a $400,000 car, or would you want these things to post on your Instagram and potentially evoke envy from outsiders? Is there any wholesomeness in these exploits?

300,000 signatures is a god-awful lot of petitioners. It leads me to not only ponder the question: could Justin Bieber and his “things” possibly not just own him, but own us as well? Justin Bieber attained his visa as an exemplary musician/artist, which may be a stretch, but in full disclosure I have no idea if it’s a stretch or not. I know more about this 19 year old than I like to admit (thank you 21st century journalism), yet I don’t know a single one of his songs. Who are we to blame for this? Is it Justin Bieber’s fault? The media? Our own fault? I can’t help but believe that Justin Bieber is merely a cheap outlet for “the peoples” to vent about their own lives without actually facing the realities of their own lives. If this is in fact the case, does taking cheap shots at Bieber really help to resolve anything in our own lives? Or is it possible that we further disassociate from ourselves and perpetuate the unpleasantness of our lives we long to escape? Does this allow us to infer that petitioners may have more in common with Bieber than we believe — we just don’t have the mansions or cars to fill in the gaps of our unhappiness. I see that I am some ways beyond 500 words, one last set of question I would like to pose: if the U.S. did deport Bieber, would it make a difference in our lives? Has it gotten so bad that we need to abstain from this young man to find our own happiness? Do you think we can ever live with ourselves whilst in the presence of this young man?

Sincerely, A Ponderer


Dear Ponderer,

As any respectable ponderer would, you ask many intriguing questions.  And as any respectable ponderer would, you discuss the essential tragedy and pop culture conundrum that surrounds Justin Bieber.  Granted, it’s not all tragedy.  The fella has managed a good share of “success” and fame.  Platinum selling albums, featured on and features from dozens of mainstream musical artists.  But what is going on here?  While he seems to soak up the spotlight and garner a rabid following, he also elicits a great deal of venom and disdain from those who don’t choose to partake of The Biebs.  But is that not what’s going on from haters and lovers alike.  Consumption of an individual in almost every other sense asides from literal eating of his flesh?  This is not exclusive to Bieber, this happens all over pop culture.  Shia Lebeouf comes to mind.  

Much of this is media created, and the internet is great at this.  The “viral” trends on the web can within a half day create whatever controversy or sultry story it wants.  It’s all the same websites (Slate, Salon, Gawker, Huffpo, AV Club, etc) piggy backing off each others coverage of events that have very little importance to our lives or our happiness.  But this tripe is giving us what we want while also determining what we want. Is this indicative of a greater societal ill?  People willing to spew disgust towards a person they hardly know but still in some way appear obsessed with The Biebs?  Would they even want these “malcontents” to go away?

I would suggest we pause, and have a little bit of sympathy for the Justin Bieber’s of the world.  There are a select few who can handle and even make celebrity seem respectable.  They can do good things with their exposure on occasion.  But who among us would not be consumed by the soul sucking vortex of getting that sort of attention?  I ask what lows I might stoop to?  I honestly don’t know. That’s why I try not to judge Justin Bieber.  But I certainly have my share of judgement for all of us who are picking off the corpse, the corpse we’ve created with the endless negativity and judgement.

It is quite depressing to think that 300,000 people actually think it worth the governments time considering whether to deport Bieber. The Bieber phenomenon and following fiasco is really not even his fault, the deportation request to me is a subconscious expression of our cultures collective self hatred. What can we learn about our nature from this insatiable obsession with celebrity, and our desire to gawk, hate, and tell ourselves “at least I’m not like him/her”?  But who wouldn’t want Bieber’s fame and riches?  And who wouldn’t subsequently be destroyed by it?  Not everyone, of course.  But are we not constantly reminded of the dangers that surround instant fame or riches?  Have we not seen what comes of those who will take any opportunity to get on television?  But it continues, because there are many who crave the attention, and there are more who cannot turn away from the trainwreck as it derails.

Hopefully I’ve managed some kind of coherency on this subject.  I know I am not free of the quagmire that is gawking and over analyzing pop culture. There is a fine line between cultural/societal criticism and exploitation of a flawed human being as a public whipping boy.  As we explore further the depths of our depravity through modern vices, we continue to blame it all on pop icons, tv personalities, and politicians.  I think it’s important that we all look at this in a broader sense (how it is covered, why and should it be covered, the source of our hatred, why we can’t help but stare) and set aside our judgement of Mr. Bieber, who I’m sure despite being insufferable and entitled, like anyone else he has real problems and real demons to overcome.  

With a malaise of fascination and frustration,

Some Dude

Dear Dude,

Thank you for your response. You’ve reminded me of the way I, too, feign disinterest and convince myself to deplore the material things people like Justin Bieber possess, when really there is a small part of me that yearns for that lifestyle. Maybe there’s no way to completely avoid such desires when amassing so much information about people like Bieber. The stories loom across my computer screen every time I hop onto the internet. Sifting through empirical evidence and then picking and choosing pieces of peoples lives that best fit the unfulfillment I have about my own life does nothing other than deem science. Hitherto, it is likely in my best interest to no longer dismiss the tragic stories of depression, and substance abuse, and recklessness, and so forth that so often invades these young celebrities lives.

Tonight I will drift to sleep with a feeling of gratitude for the things I do have opposed to a feeling of envy about the things I don’t (after unliking a number of media sources I currently “follow” via facebook). Undoubtedly, come tomorrow morning, this will help mend the anxious corner I regularly find myself pigeonholed against, given my pop-culture consumption. I will miss you Slate, HuffingtonPost, and Salon, but this is something I have to do for me.

 

What Flash Philosophers is (and trading thoughts on the meaning of life)

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This is a blog for challenging assumptions and attempting to view ideas and concepts from different perspectives.  It will be formatted like a back and forth letter correspondence.  Two individual writers sharing and riffing on each others words.  The topic of each entry could be anything, but whatever is covered (be it philosophy, pop culture, art, science, etc), we will attempt to address how these topics connect or bare relevance to life, meaning, and human nature.  With that in mind, we hope that whatever comes of our correspondence, a novel connection or alternative viewpoint will have been entertained.  These will be written in a sort of “flash philosophy” style.  We intend to be brief and readily acknowledge that our ideas may take shape in the process of doing this.  If there is confusion or contradictions, we hope that it is merely a function of getting the ideas out there in their raw form, that we might touch on or get at ideas that otherwise might be constrained through a more labored approach.
Dude (MikeVO)
Ponderer (D. M. Januik)

First Topic:   500 Words (very roughly) to my Friend Concerning the Meaning of Life

Dear fellow ponderer,

To begin this correspondence, I would like to take on the grand question.  I feel it would be advantageous to a reader of these exchanges for them to have at least a surface introduction to our thoughts on the meaning of life.  If you were attempting to get to know someone you’d never met, and you were to ask them one question of which they could respond for 5 minutes; which question would you ask that might allow you to best understand who that person was given the time limitation.  There are probably a host of questions that could be asked in that context that would seem useful, but allow me to put forward that asking someone what they thought the meaning of life was would be very apt for that situation.  Perhaps I’m over thinking it and this point I’m making is obvious…or maybe you already have 15 other queries you find more useful.  I suppose all I’m saying is, what someone thinks concerning the meaning of existence, the universe, all that is, is a good place to start in ascertaining someones fundamental dispositions.

I’ve spent the first third of my letter explaining why I want to talk about this topic.  Which might reveal as much as anything about how I feel towards the meaning of life.  I feel it is fundamental to everything that human beings do.  If someone chooses to continue on until their next day, they at least see life as worth staying alive for, no matter how bereft of fulfillment they might feel.  This suggests that all people who choose to remain amongst the living by way of breathing, eating, etc, have a purpose driven existence.  They may not name it or define it, they may not completely consciously acknowledge that life has purpose (and for now without getting to deconstructive I’m considering purpose and meaning as 2 concepts that at the very least are inseparable. So if one exists, so does the other).  But most of us I imagine have at some point addressed the specific question of what life’s meaning is in our mind or in conversation.  It is essential, and if one were to debate that, I would retort that if not essential it is inescapable.

So, does life have an inherent meaning?  Does the universe know what it is here for or is it imbued with meaning in the same sense that all things are elemental?  Or is meaning only something we subjectively place upon our natural lives and it is merely an abstraction, a malaise of existential rumination that we try frantically to make seem whole?  We know what someone is basically saying when they mention the meaning of life, but we’d never be able to know what that was as concretely as we do when holding and biting into an apple.  I tend to be one who sees it as abstract and subjective.  I don’t see it as being something real in the natural sense, but that’s not to take away from it’s vital relevance to everything that we do as people.  This is all I have concerning the meaning of life for now, I shift it over to you for a response, my friend.

With semi-conviction,

Some Dude

Dear Dude,

The purpose of life: the most perused (“obsessed about” may be a more fitting description) question in our lives, and for many of us the unanswerable question in our lives. My first inclination when considering such a question is to explore the concept of relativity. In physics, with the velocity of light being a finite thing, we are taught to understand that everything is relative in consideration to velocity and mass. What this means, according to science, is that the world is unavoidably different depending on which person is observing the world. No two separate pieces of matter experience anything in exactly the same way. In religion we are taught otherwise, but, in my opinion, it’s simply not the case. We are told that doctrines are to be read as literal understandings of life and its purpose. Because of my proclivity to decide upon realities through means of scientific investigation and evidence, it is my opinion that there is no literal way to read even a doctrine, because all readers will unavoidably interpret — even the most literal of subjects — in a way that is incongruent to another readers interpretation. Take for instance the Quran (the most rigid/unaltered doctrine still applied), many devout Muslim progressives and intellectuals concur that the problem doesn’t lie within the scriptures as much as it does the readers — if the reader does in fact morally support such things as women and gay rights, then it is up to the reader to understand the Quran in a way that is conducive of this moral stance. Whether this is a true belief or an ulterior motive attempting to protect a book is beyond the point, the principle at hand is that people adhering to even the most strict codes about how to live and how to believe are in disagreement about what it means.

Because of my belief about relativity, I must conclude that all impressions of purpose for every person can only be uncovered on ones own terms and through ones own eyes. So, to me, there is no perfect answer I could ever give to any person as to what purpose really means. At best I can give a sense of purpose as understood through my own eyes and as conducted through my own thoughts.

Back to the original question, what is purpose in roughly 500 words? — for me, the better question is “what is not purpose?” How can we answer any hypothetical question without exploring all variables? Example: how could I positively understand that I prefer to live in one city over another without ever having lived in both of the two? How could I, or anybody for that matter, understand the answer to any hypothetical question as a truth without following some kind of deductive reasoning? Some people may believe that they can understand purpose without experiencing or understanding another way of life, and that’s okay; it would be impossible (and hypocritical) to argue against that belief. Beliefs, too, are relative, and I have no ability to determine what’s correct or incorrect when postulating the truth of relativity.

What do I know about my sense of purpose thus far? I know that, of the purpose I’ve sought, the only purpose I have found has been in the pursuit of compassion, and empathy, and gratitude. I know that it’s the loyal people in my life that have been there for me during the good and the hard times, and I better understand what loyalty and disloyalty mean to me having lived amongst both of the two. I also know that there was no purpose for me in such things as: living my life to please others, living my life through a bottle, or living a life of seclusion from the outside world. There were times when I did find purpose in such things, but those superficial and isolated senses of purpose were short lived at best and proved to be more pernicious than anything else.

Through watching others (because, quite frankly, it’s hard to believe such a life could be in the cards for me) I find myself prone to conject that a life of great wealth or celebritydom is a life that would serve me little or no purpose. Straying from this idea of deductive reasoning, some of the superficialities in life can only be understood by conjecture based on a broad understanding of superficiality and its implications. And if not understood one might spend the entirety of their life trying to obtain that unorthodox and difficult-to-obtain type of life (fame, money, etc.), without any consideration of such a pursuits practicality. Indeed many of us do spend our lives seeking these things without ever acquiring them or realizing that they weren’t all we cracked them up to be. Especially in the case of money when we realize that numbers are infinite and we’ve trained ourselves to believe that any number of money we possess is never satisfactory. It is important, yet difficult, for those of us who ponder and often times crave a life similar to those of great wealth or celebrity, to observe the people who have such a life in an honest way. It is easy to admire the glamour of said lives and shirk all the undesirable aspects. By ignoring the fully encompassed reality of these superficial lifestyles, what we are really doing is allowing our understanding of such a life to manifest in a dishonest way. We seek something that doesn’t exist because we blind ourselves to the less desirable consequences of superficiality, like never being fulfilled and/or the increased likelihood of being surrounded by disloyal people. This poses the question, what are the real effects of deluding reality to find purpose, and how might it be contrary to what’s in our best interest?

……. 500 words and then a few extra. I shall pass the torch back to some dude.

Sincerely, a ponderer

Brief Rebuttal from dude:

Dear fellow ponderer,

“We seek something that doesn’t exist because we blind ourselves.”

This statement is of particular interest to me, while also causing considerable frustration.  I have an obsession with this conundrum where people delude themselves to feel more purposeful in their lives.  This human phenomenon runs contrary to some of my core values, namely honesty and self awareness (which in full disclosure are not things that I excel at, but I still believe in their essential nature to my happiness).  At the same time I can’t help but acknowledge that the complex human consciousness may have evolved to such a fatal level of awareness that only delusion can stave off recognition and surrender to the futility and indifference the universe has towards each of our individual presences.  In many ways, this cosmic indifference is frighteningly life negating, but in other senses it’s incredibly liberating.  Meaning is then something that, as you say, we find on our own terms, and is completely unique to each individual person.  I believe that if we could all better embrace the subjective nature of these pursuits, and be more honest about our vast human limitations towards knowing any sort of big T truth, many human squabbles and conflicts would appear trivial and even absurd to us. And with that sort of awareness we might then be in a better place to set aside the self inflicted suffering we create when we all individually insist our beliefs are superior.

Until next time,

Some Dude