Thought for food – 11 – a moral imperative

To change and develop in a positive direction one needs honest information. This is a reason why lies and deception are so injurious to well-being: they prevent the development of one’s full potential. Honesty to oneself and others is often painful, but so is birth, for mother and baby alike.

Thought for food – 9 – a psychological axiom

There is no such thing as dishonesty. It doesn’t exist in any meaningful sense.

In our deepest selves fluctuating values constantly tug on the strings of our wills.

Behind any deceptive act is a value held to be true; a belief which, no matter how wrong might appear to another, completely informs the actions of the deceiver at that moment.

We may deceive ourselves, and therefore others, but we can’t help be but honest deceivers.

Thought for food – 7

Trust is the silent energy fuelling any healthy relationship; you truly appreciate it once it is broken, for the silence is replaced with the screeching deafening noise of its fragmented and metastatic parts, circulating like screaming cancerous tumours through the withering and dying relationship, illustrating with crystal moral clarity the following truth: trust is the relationship and the relationship is trust. You risk it all if you take trust for granted; nurture and cultivate it as dearly and attentively as you would a developing child, for in effect, you will be nurturing and cultivating not only your relationship, guiding its development from birth to maturity, but, as any dedicated and caring parent knows, developing yourself as well.

The victim’s prayer

Dear Lord. Almighty mighty Lord.

You have graver grievances to attend, I am sure.

But Lord, hear me out. Listen to my (self)-pitiful pleas. Please.

They say there is no rest for the wicked.

I say what a load of shit.

(HORSESHIT my Lord.

The wicked rest wonderfully. Deeply. Soundly. Undisturbed by haunting visions of moral transgressions.)

—but I digress—(cough cough)

As I was saying:

Dear Lord,

Grant me the strength to be wicked.

Afford me the confidence to knowingly disrupt the cosmic balance.

Entitle me to take what is not mine.

Endow me with the strength to cheat and lie and steal.

Let me have my cake and eat it too, and perhaps, someday, return for seconds.

Thirds and fourths.

Oh Lord may my self-awareness remain deception,

May the muscles and sinew flexed in the mirror remain awesome,

And may I roll over this world as one so divinely entitled.

If I am lost, let me hurt others in my grasping.

If I am in pain, let me be nurtured from others’ resources.

Let me feed off the world’s goodness and take no measure of responsibility.

Make my ego so strong, so emboldened, that I make victims of others to spare my own suffering.

Let me believe I am more important, the most important.

Let selfishness and egoism and self-deception reign in my heart, my soul.

Let all roads lead to me.

And let my worldly success depend on this attitude.

And whatever you do, do not allow moral questions of right and wrong creep into my self-righteous bastions.

Thank you Lord.

Amen

Blameless organic life

Life is organic; an unfolding web of cause and effect. Free will and the sense of self are illusory, and we all come laden with evolutionary, cultural, and familial baggage. Our neural networks are infinitely nuanced, such that no two people in a population of billions are exactly the same.

Life is staggeringly complex, seemingly irreducible, yet completely free of magic. We are simply blind to most causes. I am who I am, and where I am, right this instant due to an unfolding, organic dance of causal relationships, the majority of which I am ignorant. My ability to learn, to adapt (or not), are threads in the nuanced web of my life. Threads tugged upon, supporting, connecting the baggage of my birth, my personal inheritance and unique development.   

I did not create these threads: they created me.

The same goes for you.

Tell me: where in this picture could we, should we, insert blame?

Day is night

In my soul day is light and dark is night,

Blind are lies and truth is sight;

And in my soul the deepest spite,

For a world where right is wrong and wrong is right.

This is Water – David Foster Wallace

Note: this commencement speech was given in 2005. It was recently recommended to me by a close friend. It distills and conveys an approach to living that, in my mind, should guide each of us on our journeys.

YouTube audio can be found here.


“Greetings parents and congratulations to Kenyon’s graduating class of 2005. There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

This is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories. The story thing turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.

Of course the main requirement of speeches like this is that I’m supposed to talk about your liberal arts education’s meaning, to try to explain why the degree you are about to receive has actual human value instead of just a material payoff. So let’s talk about the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about “teaching you how to think.” If you’re like me as a student, you’ve never liked hearing this, and you tend to feel a bit insulted by the claim that you needed anybody to teach you how to think, since the fact that you even got admitted to a college this good seems like proof that you already know how to think. But I’m going to posit to you that the liberal arts cliché turns out not to be insulting at all, because the really significant education in thinking that we’re supposed to get in a place like this isn’t really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about. If your total freedom of choice regarding what to think about seems too obvious to waste time discussing, I’d ask you to think about fish and water, and to bracket for just a few minutes your scepticism about the value of the totally obvious.

Here’s another didactic little story. There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says: “Look, it’s not like I don’t have actual reasons for not believing in God. It’s not like I haven’t ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn’t see a thing, and it was 50 below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out ‘Oh, God, if there is a God, I’m lost in this blizzard, and I’m gonna die if you don’t help me.’” And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. “Well then you must believe now,” he says, “After all, here you are, alive.” The atheist just rolls his eyes. “No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp.”

It’s easy to run this story through kind of a standard liberal arts analysis: the exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people, given those people’s two different belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience. Because we prize tolerance and diversity of belief, nowhere in our liberal arts analysis do we want to claim that one guy’s interpretation is true and the other guy’s is false or bad. Which is fine, except we also never end up talking about just where these individual templates and beliefs come from. Meaning, where they come from INSIDE the two guys. As if a person’s most basic orientation toward the world, and the meaning of his experience were somehow just hard-wired, like height or shoe-size; or automatically absorbed from the culture, like language. As if how we construct meaning were not actually a matter of personal, intentional choice. Plus, there’s the whole matter of arrogance. The nonreligious guy is so totally certain in his dismissal of the possibility that the passing Eskimos had anything to do with his prayer for help. True, there are plenty of religious people who seem arrogant and certain of their own interpretations, too. They’re probably even more repulsive than atheists, at least to most of us. But religious dogmatists’ problem is exactly the same as the story’s unbeliever: blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up.

The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too.

Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centredness because it’s so socially repulsive. But it’s pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute centre of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.

Please don’t worry that I’m getting ready to lecture you about compassion or other-directedness or all the so-called virtues. This is not a matter of virtue. It’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being “well-adjusted”, which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.

Given the triumphant academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. This question gets very tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education–least in my own case–is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualise stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me.

As I’m sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotised by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about “the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.”

This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.

And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let’s get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what “day in day out” really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I’m talking about.

By way of example, let’s say it’s an average adult day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging, white-collar, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you’re tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there’s no food at home. You haven’t had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It’s the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be: very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it’s the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. And the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing muzak or corporate pop and it’s pretty much the last place you want to be but you can’t just get in and quickly out; you have to wander all over the huge, over-lit store’s confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to manoeuvre your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts (et cetera, et cetera, cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony) and eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren’t enough check-out lanes open even though it’s the end-of-the-day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating. But you can’t take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.

But anyway, you finally get to the checkout line’s front, and you pay for your food, and you get told to “Have a nice day” in a voice that is the absolute voice of death. Then you have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left, all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive, rush-hour traffic, et cetera et cetera.

Everyone here has done this, of course. But it hasn’t yet been part of you graduates’ actual life routine, day after week after month after year.

But it will be. And many more dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines besides. But that is not the point. The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.

Or, of course, if I’m in a more socially conscious liberal arts form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic being disgusted about all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV’s and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks, burning their wasteful, selfish, 40-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper-stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest [responding here to loud applause] — this is an example of how NOT to think, though — most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers. And I can think about how our children’s children will despise us for wasting all the future’s fuel, and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and selfish and disgusting we all are, and how modern consumer society just sucks, and so forth and so on.

You get the idea.

If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn’t have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It’s the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the centre of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities.

The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it’s not impossible that some of these people in SUV’s have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he’s in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.

Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.

Again, please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it’s hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat out won’t want to.

But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.

This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.

Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship–be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles–is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along on the fuel of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don’t just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.

The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

“This is water.”

“This is water.”

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.

I wish you way more than luck.

Alone in a world of believers

You are blessed and cursed to have found your meaning in the question of meaning itself.

Blessed to be motivated to take a journey of deepest discovery, not only of the universe without, but of the universe within.

Cursed to be born in a world of believers, who are constantly and continuously tricked by the illusion of certainty and absolute meaning.

You have, through much existential suffering and malaise, arrived at some profound insights: meaning does not exist without, but within. Believers believe in what you have found to be myths; believers implicitly believe in the immortality of their egos, which you have failed to locate in yourself; believers expect judgment from a cosmic judge, now, today, and at every instant in the future, and you have realized you are your own judge.

You were once a believer. You too believed in absolute cosmic meaning. You too assumed and behaved as if your ego was immortal. You too were constantly feeling judgment, worried and fretting over the standards set by your fellow believers, and by the ultimate arbitrator. Put that all together and you have a wonderfully adapted and adaptable foot soldier in any environment at any historical time. Self motivated and self monitoring. Guided by shared myths. An immortal soul assured of favourable judgment resting peacefully every single night.

But you were not a believer for long. Something did not click. Too many doubts led to too many questions which led to your lifelong search for meaning. And let nobody tell you this was an escape, bred of laziness, for the spoiled and weak souls; you have shed more tears, had more sleepless nights, agonized in both body and mind for hours and days, months and years, non-stop. You had to know. And knowing is never achieved without great cost.

You have truly lived as a restless and tortured soul for far too long. The illusion holding power over the believers was not quite powerful enough to hold you. And yet it was not weak. It clashed with your spirit, and created for you great tension and anxiety. You could not reconcile your experience in the world with your true essence. At times you lashed out, arrogantly pointed out all the faults of the universe; other times you turned your anxiety inward, assumed the fault must be in you, and lay for days in bed. You were never still, never at peace, never at ease; there was always tension.

And after all the struggle, which is still ongoing, you have clarified the old and arrived at many new insights. Meaning exists, but only insofar as a ‘mean-or’ exists. So it is right to say meaning exists in the universe, but wrong to say meaning is universal. The ego is an illusion, an amazing trick of the mind, and even if it did exist, it would not be immortal. And finally, after all is said and done, so to speak, there is no judge, no judgment, external to the one in our own heads.

Are these hollow truths? No. Do they matter? Yes.

If meaning is subjective then you have the power to create your own. If the ego is mortal then you should not sacrifice today, in the form of existential anxiety and fear, for the hope of a better future. And, most importantly, you are the judge of your own meaning and striving and deeds. You do not have to fear the wrath of some cosmic lawgiver. If you are true to yourself, and strive according to your own standards, that is good enough.

The world of believers is caught in a web of illusion that serves a purpose, one of which each is unaware. We are, after all, evolved apes running the software of the mind adapted for survival on the plains of Africa, in a world at a time far far removed from the one we inhabit today. And yet, that software has not been, could not have been, updated in all this time. For the updates of evolution take eons, and are never completed. And besides, evolution does not care about your existential suffering, or your search for meaning. Evolution is an amoral process, an algorithm. If you are successful at continuing the legacy begun by the laws of evolution, the grounds of your success will be selected. It really is as simple, and as amazing, as that. What better way for a highly intelligent, social, purpose-seeking, conscious animal to succeed in a universe without absolute meaning – where neither its ego nor its anxieties are worth a damn outside its own head – than to have that creature not only invent, but wholeheartedly believe in, a set of myths, values, meanings, governing rules and cosmic judgments, eternal rewards and punishments?

Believers have not suffered nearly the existential malaise and doubt that you have experienced. Of this you can be sure, because they are believers. That is not to say your path is in any sense better than any other. That is not to say you are superior in any way to anyone else. It is simply meant to illustrate that you are on a different path than most people. You were destined to discover these insights. And the path was hard, and will continue to be overgrown and poorly defined. Not many people have trodden this way. But those who have would make good company. In their presence, at least, you would not feel so alone.

You were born a seeker. You could not rest. Your doubt and anxiety fueled your journey. And you have uncovered some valuable truths.

Each path a life; the worn and barely used alike. The majority of your fellow travelers rarely, if ever, escape their guiding illusions, paths crisscrossing the world, forming wide corridors and highways of frenzied activity. They may have tread many more an empty mile than you, but in your stubbornness and reluctance to step off the curb, you have made the longer journey.

Mission statement for 2019

Don’t mistake the crowd for the truth; failing to fit in does not mean you’re broken.

Your horizons might extend further than your neighbour’s, your colleague’s, your friend’s; trust in your own eyes, let others trust in theirs.

With deference to Hamlet, might I add: there is also nothing either right or wrong, but truth to one’s self makes it so.

‘Choice’ does not save the concept of free will

There is plenty of interesting science demonstrating that we choose, subconsciously, fractions of a second before we are consciously aware of the choice. And yet, test subjects are adamant, they freely, consciously choose. 

These results are interesting, but are not, to my mind, necessary to dispose of free will; the concept itself is logically unsound.

Consider the problem philosophically. Ask yourself why you would choose one choice over another? Keep it mundane: fish or pasta for dinner. Look closely enough and there will be a reason. You feel like fish. You had pasta last night. What is the reason? Now ask yourself, why would that reason decide the matter? Why would it matter that you had pasta the night before? Is it because you are a person who likes culinary diversity? Have you decided pasta is not healthy two nights in succession? Are you watching your starch intake? Regardless of the answer, you are guaranteed to settle upon a reason.

So, you are the type of person who decides by reason. Why are you that type of person? Why do reasons matter to you? (Could it be because you are part of the universe? And to act in any way requires a cause? Yes, even the statement ‘because I felt like fish’ is a reason; feeling is causal). Did you choose to be a reasonable person? Did you choose to feel that way? And if the answer is yes, why did you choose to be reasonable, why did you choose to feel that way? What would it be like to exist and to act without reasons and feelings? Is that even possible? (I think the answer is clear).

And let us suppose you are unreasonable. Let us say you actually take great pleasure in being absurd. You do everything contrary to good sense and what your gut tells you. Is that freedom? Wouldn’t identifying the opposite of good sense be the first step, and once you have identified that you proceed accordingly? Haven’t you just substitute a good cause for a contrary cause? Aren’t they both causes? Have you actually found freedom here?

Or suppose you really have no preference. Let us admit that the choice between fish and pasta is truly a stochastic one, a flip of the coin. You need to eat, so the question of freedom does not live or die with the need to eat, but with the choice of food. Yet. if you choose by the flip of the coin, where is the freedom in that? In the absence of any preference, any reason, you leave the choice to fate. Your choice is no longer a choice.

‘Choice’, or better, the illusion of choice, depends on the state of your brain before a choice is taken. What are the impossibly complicated environmental, cultural, genetic causes that set your brain in that state before the choice? Did you freely choose each of those states? (As if that were possible). For each one of your behaviours, your choices, there is a cause, a reason, you were not free to choose. That is because each of those causes and reasons had, in turn, a cause and reason for their existence. Take this truth and work step-wise backwards to the womb, and you can only conclude the person you are and the reasons you decide upon to act are the result of causes completely beyond your freedom to choose. And not only your freedom, but the freedom of your mother, of your father, of your grandparents, of their parents, of the common ancestor of chimps and humans, of the common ancestor of mammals, of its ancestor to all animals, of the organisms straddling the eukaryotic and prokaryotic divergence, of the first self-replicating molecules, the precursors to life, of the molecules composed of the elements from the exploding stars of the galaxy, of the galaxy, of the universe, of the freedom of existence itself. 

Logically, the concept of free will makes no sense. 

An introvert’s reminder

Arrogance is bad. Arrogance grounded in ignorance is even worse.

Independence may be a defense from the truth, a form of self-righteousness and silent arrogance.

Don’t seal yourself from the world, and claim superiority.

We may be our own worst (or forgiving) judges, yet removed from the tempering wisdom found only in human contact, our judgments lack facts.

A mind turned inward fails to recognize its reflection in the arena of social interaction.

The eye can’t see itself.

No one is an island.

Venting

Don’t hide behind clichés to justify yourself. Don’t blame the craziness of this world for your crazy actions. Take some goddamned responsibility.

Yeah, this life is crazy! Simply acknowledging that does not excuse your craziness, does not give it justification, does not clear the path to forgiveness and understanding.

Let me tell you, you don’t bring order to a chaotic world by increasing the chaos. There is no second law of social thermodynamics, wherein your personal order is attained at the expense of increasing social disorder.

You decrease overall chaos by first dealing with your personal chaos; get your own house in order before throwing yourself into the gears of the universe.

See it for what it is. That is the first step. Selfishness. Insecurity. Anger. Aggression. Weakness. Immorality. Willing blindness. Self-deception. Denial. Deceit. Lying. Obstruction. See it for what it is.

What is your role? Take the lead in judgement upon yourself. Develop some moral fortitude. Admit and attempt to remedy your mistakes. Few of us are so far gone that we can’t be pulled back from the abyss. Give yourself that first helping hand. Surely you must know, if anyone does, your actions are wrong, hurtful, dangerous, destabilizing. You simply have to ask yourself: ‘how would I feel?’

How would I feel?

How would you feel?

Bring some order to this chaotic world, and with humility and honesty, answer that question.

Lyrics #6 – Beggars by Thrice

Check song and lyrics out here.

Beggars

All you great men of power, you who boast of your feats
Politicians and entrepreneurs
Can you safeguard your breath in the night while you sleep?
Keep your heart beating steady and sure?
As you lie in your bed does the thought haunt your head
That you’re really rather small?
If there’s one thing I know in this life, we are beggars all.

All you champions of science and rulers of men
Can you summon the sun from it’s sleep?
Does the earth seek your counsel on how fast to spin?
Can you shut up the gates of the deep?
Don’t you know that all things hang as if by a string over darkness, poised to fall?
If there’s one thing I know in this life, we are beggars all.

All you big shots that swagger and stride with conceit
Did you devise how your frame would be formed?
If you’d be raised in a palace or left out on the streets?
Or choose the place or the hour you’d be born?
Tell me, what can you claim? Not a thing, not your name
Tell me if you can recall just one thing, not a gift, in this life.

Can you hear what’s been said?
Can you see now that everything’s grace after all?
If there’s one thing I know in this life
We are beggars all.

Lyrics #5 – Dear Coach’s Corner – Propagandhi

Check song and lyrics out here.

Dear Ron MacLean. Dear Coach’s Corner. I’m writing in order for someone to explain to my niece the distinction between these mandatory pre-game group rites of submission and the rallies at Nuremburg. Specifically the function the ritual serves in conjunction with what everybody knows is in the end a kid’s game. I’m just appealing to your sense of fair play when I say she’s puzzled by the incessant pressure for her to not defy the collective will, and yellow ribboned lapels, as the soldiers inexplicably rappel down from the arena rafters (which, if not so insane, would be grounds for screaming laughter). Dear Ron MacLean, I wouldn’t bother with these questions if I didn’t sense some spiritual connection. We may not be the same but it’s not like we’re from different planets: we both love this game so much we can hardly fucking stand it. Alberta-born and prairie-raised. Seems like there ain’t a sheet of ice north of Fargo I ain’t played. From Penhold to the Gatineau, every fond memory of childhood that I know is somehow connected to the culture of this game. I can’t just let it go. But I guess it comes down to what kind of world you want to live in, and if diversity is disagreement, and disagreement is treason, well don’t be surprised if we find ourselves reaping a strange and bitter fruit that sad old man beside you keeps feeding to young minds as virtue. It takes a village to raise a child but just a flag to raze the children until they’re nothing more than ballast for fulfilling a madman’s dream of a paradise where complexity is reduced to black and white. How do I protect her from this cult of death?

Quote #6

It takes a village to raise a child, a flag to raze the children. – Chris Hannah

Fallen Poseidon

At the Bahnhof I headed toward my favourite salad bar. Located in a renovated wing of the station, one must first walk through a small corridor and a foyer, and as I did so, the smell struck a blow like an invisible acidic wave assaulting my sinuses: sour piss and stale sweat. A moment later I spotted the homeless man: sitting, back to the outer wall of a janitor’s closet, knees bent toward chest, hands holding a weathered toque, rubbing the forest green fabric between thumb and forefinger, muttering, right eye twitching with an uncontrollable tic, scuffed Crocs sticking out from baggy rags of pants like a clown’s oversized novelty shoes, overcoat askew, greasy thick black and gray hair ringing a bald scalp, draped over shoulders.

A shawl woven of rotten ocean kelp.

An aquatic creature recently thrown from the bowels of the sea; a sad caricature of a fallen Poseidon, trident rusted and broken.

‘Ich hätte gerne ein Chicken Fitness, ohne Tomaten’.

The order takes a minute. So I stare. I can’t help it.
He continues muttering to himself, to his beaten hat, which he grips like a toddler would a comfort blanket. Every so often he takes the hat and presses the mottled fabric to his twitching right eye. Is it weeping from infection or from emotional distress? He catches my stare and I look away, ashamed. I pretend to be reading the menu in the window which separates the two of us, the menu of assorted nutrients and calories paired to assorted prices. And what is in his bags? Will he eat today?
I stare again: empathy (or pity?), and more shame. Empathy at this fallen god, who in another life would stand regally with his trim, elegant stature, jet black hair curled in satin rings upon his shoulders, crown atop a clear head, sane mind. Shame that I stand and he sits; I buy and he begs; I, who look through this window into his world, backdropped by the outer wall of a closet of mop buckets and detergents. And the smell! Shame at the sickness I feel. Utterly sick to my stomach I must cover my face. Shame at the knowledge that all I want to do his help this man, but cannot step through the piss and sweat, cannot overcome my basest instincts of revulsion, cannot step outside myself, prevented by an inner barrier as transparent, yet tangible, as the window separating our two fates.
What a sad juxtaposition, a tragic irony, a cruel cosmic joke: a filthy homeless man seeking refuge at the threshold of a janitor’s closet, adjacent a bistro of fine salads and dressings and bread, a menu of nutrients and accompanying prices; our eyes meet and my world crashes – we are the same, he and I. I know it. And all I want to do in that moment is help him. But the smell…..and my shame…..
The realisation, deeper and more profound, more real, than any cold argument or poetic description found in a book, that there is no meaningful difference between me and him. That my security rests solely on the cards dealt to me by an indifferent cosmic dealer.
And I can only imagine this man’s suffering.
Bag in hand, I walk past. Offering nothing but these secret thoughts. My haughty neglect eventually feeding my self-loathing.
A stronger will would have done something; and yet, right action begins with awareness; perhaps I am not a lost cause.

In moral philosophy there is an argument that those entities worthy of moral consideration are those capable of suffering. It seems to me that we have failed this man, and millions like him. What affected me perhaps most in this experience was a deep understanding that the amount of suffering, the sum total of pain in this world is quite literally grotesque, and we as active accessories to this crime should feel ashamed at our complicity, at walking past with bags of food in hand. Once one realises this, internalises this, there seems no recourse to ignore this; as a moral person, how can I worry about the well-being of my friends and family, of myself, without risking severe hypocrisy and loss of self-respect by not only ignoring the suffering of others, but actively contributing to it.
And I do contribute to the sum total of suffering in this world! And chances are most of us do as well. Out of sight, out of mind, is ethically indefensible. Consider the suffering experienced by sentient animals in the slave-trade called industrial farming, the meat industry, the dairy and poultry enterprises. Can I maintain my ethical integrity by maintaining the intolerable prospect of causing another human harm while simultaneously actively contributing to the incalculable suffering of an incalculable number of sentient creatures?
So what is my responsibility? How can I be responsible? Open questions open to debate, but not open to being ignored. If we spend next to no time considering our ethical place in this universe then we shirk our responsibility. In so doing, we cannot expect at some future point, when we ourselves are in need of ethical consideration, to be taken any more seriously than we have taken our current responsibilities.