Monday, June 29, 2015

What Kills Gods?

Nietzsche declared God dead, and I think it is safe to say that for the most part his declaration was premature but maybe not altogether wrong. Without reference to specific statistics (although you can look to the Pew Forum for confirmation if you're so inclined), it seems safe to say that if God is not dead, he's at least downsizing considerably.

There is an impulse that I often see that attributes the death of God to enlightenment. The story goes that man needed God because man was ignorant and needed explanations for his world, so he wrote God in all of the gaps. The gaps got smaller. There was less room to be occupied by God. So we killed him. Knowledge killed superstition.

This is not altogether wrong, but it misunderstands the complexity of human beings. It supposes that humanity were just sitting around trying to understand things, but in fact humanity has a whole life to live with concerns that have nothing to do with explanations.

In fact I imagine that if we were so inclined we could sit down and map out rough estimates of a number of different impulses that make God-talk appealing. And as each of those impulses is satisfied by some innovation other than God we will be able to watch the ranks of religious drop further and further. Because what kills gods is people ceasing to need them and then redirecting their energies and resources elsewhere.

However, we will also come to a group of impulses that is only satisfied by religious talk, and in these areas no amount of innovation over time will ever replace the need for religion.

Impulses like the need to relate to essential mystery. The need to transcend spacetime. And the need for a sense of cosmic justice. These are needs that will never be satisfied by any increase in knowledge, technology, or prosperity.

So knowing what it is that kills gods also shows that God will never quite die.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Originality in Fields

Fields of study can be divided into two camps: progressive and non-progressive. The basic difference being that progressive fields of study build up over time to include newer, better concepts and ideas. Non-progressive fields of study do not.

The sciences are progressive fields of study: there are standards in place that show how available theories and data in this day are objectively better than the theories and data available in previous ages.

Art and philosophy are non-progressive. Not only are there no agreed upon standards that allow us to call any one time period better than any other, but the ideas at play don't really change much either. In general any given philosophy is going to be a temporal spin on a timeless concept; art likewise is more the history of new styles of depicting the same situations or telling the same stories.

We can see that this line tends be drawn roughly along the edge of that which is perceived and that which is lived. The studies of things that are perceived tend to be progressive because, in the end, it is nothing more than the collection of observations. If you have only observed one phenomena today and two phenomena tomorrow, well, that is progress. On the other hand, in terms of that which is lived (Aesthetics, Ethics, Religion, with a nod to Kierkegaard) these things are common to all humans and fluctuate because of the situations men find themselves in. The ways of living are timeless, it is only the situations that change. This is why over time art and philosophy change to reflect the situation, but the core ideas do not change.

And one must be content to know those areas where progress cannot be made.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Not Oneness, but Harmony

What about union to the tribe? What about the picture of the self who dies to become part of something greater than itself? The one who is so much a part of the tribe that it ceases to be an individual?

Not only is this not possible, the self will always remain a removable atom, but it is not necessary to aspire to. To ensure the coordination of a larger body does not require the removal of selves, but rather harmony among its parts. That desires and aspirations within the tribe should work together rather than being competitive is what is needed to be a part of something greater.

This too is a matter of ego. An ego may need to die to ensure harmony, but the self cannot. What is the result of such ego sacrifice? Only the creation of a new ego - one that exists in harmony.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Death to the Ego

What then of the veneration of those who overcome the ego? What then of the myths of the hero who prevails over the self?

Indeed, where does that leave the notion of self-sacrifice?

Self-sacrifice in the pursuit of Oneness is misguided, for it is still your experience of self-sacrifice and your experience of Oneness. Rather, prevailing over the ego is still to be venerated and the myths should continue to be told. For ego is not the same as a self: ego is the story about the body that houses the self.

Those stories can always be changed. At times such a narrative may need to be annihilated. This is the proper death of the ego.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Melancholy of the Disinterested

There are those few who cannot seem to attain flow, however. They have not yet found that experience that can draw them out of self-awareness and into a state of pure fixation on some part of the world. For them the world becomes grey and life is melancholic, for they cannot escape the anemic experience of being self fixated on self.

They may take up this or that activity, but it never arouses the passions enough to shrink the fixation on self. The world remains grey.

This is one form of what we now call depression. The solution is elusive: one either continues searching for the thing that arouses the passions, or one resigns themselves to the melancholic life of self-fixation.

I, for one, would never denounce a person for being in such a state.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Impulse Towards Oneness

When the introspective self finds itself melancholic it may turn toward the world to find fresh air. A passing interaction may be soothing, but far too much self-awareness will keep the experience shallow. So the passing interaction becomes deeper and deeper as self-awareness shrinks. In this is a greater intensity of experience, and one may begin wanting less and less self-awareness.

At some degree this becomes the impulse towards Oneness. The desire to be so fully connected to something else that one ceases to be separate entirely. This impulse can then be enshrined as an ideal or as a "proper state of being." Those who enshrine such an impulse may come to see the self as a hindrance to the proper state of Oneness.

This, however, is nothing more than nonsense. For it is still your experience. It is still the World as I found it even if the fixation shifts from the I to the World.

Remove the enshrinement and you have the aspiration to what we now call "flow." There is no killing the self to attain flow, flow is an experience unto the self as well.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Essential Melancholy of Self Fixated on Self

You are a self. This fact is not melancholic inherently. What is melancholic is when a self fixates on the self.

How is it that the self is known? Through experience of the world.

However a self may also seek after the self. Famously Hume tried this and found that it could not be done - leading him to deny that there is a self at all. This is not a necessary motion, for the self is found in the perception of things outside the self. However, when the self tries to fixate on the self it leads only to melancholy, for there is nothing there to perceive.

When there is nothing there to perceive, there is only thin air, boredom, and starvation. This leads to melancholy.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

You Are Essentially a Self

The nature of the self is unknown. What a self is is unknown. What cannot be denied, however, is that you are essentially a self. This is known not through introspection (an attempt at a self finding the self) but through interaction with the world. For that interaction is your interaction. That experience is your experience. It all comes to a central point, and this character of phenomena is the essence of the self that we can discover.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Future of the Microstory

In a show or a movie, what is more primary? The plot or the imagery? The answer is, of course, a case-by-case answer: your average mystery relies heavily on plot as it tries to appeal to the viewer's curiosity, intellect, and the satisfaction of revelation (which necessitates build-up and pay-off), but some films are more about presenting stylized imagery with a basic plot that exists only to organize the imagery.
Exhibit A
In many cases, those bare bones plot movies are more beloved and iconic not in spite of their lack of narrative depth but because of it. How many times has Tim Burton ever blown your mind with his storyline? But you remember his visuals and his style. If you have ever known a girl between the ages of 13 and 16 who fancied herself "dark," then you have seen her express all her notions of love and romance by celebrating Jack and Sally. Recall Avatar, which had its plot lifted directly from Dances With Wolves, but left some people depressed, suicidal, and feeling that they were living in a colorless world because Pandora was so beautiful

In other cases, even movies have have intricate plots oftentimes have their plots ignored for the sake of their iconic pictures. In Fight Club we learn that an emotionally constipated man with insomnia and an abandonment complex created an anti-consumerist, violent, destructive alter-ego for himself who was everything he couldn't be - and then in the course of the story he realizes that he was a deeply sick and unhealthy person who really just needed to let himself learn to love another person. In other words, according to the plot Tyler Durden is an extreme example of what happens when men who resent being abandoned by their fathers turn their rage on themselves and their world instead of growing up. How is this expressed in our imagery and icons?

We express it by making him a sage, of course
All this is to say that we can extract plot from films and still have something satisfying and meaningful. In fact, we oftentimes discard whatever plot was attached to our favorite imagery and situations for the sake of making them more versatile. What is the implication of this?

Media is now consumed on demand. We have more control than ever on what media we consume and the timeframe in which we do it. Further, we have more capability than ever before to generate our own media, particularly through YouTube. In the domain of comedy it has always been understood that plot was subordinate to situation: funny always triumphed over coherence. We have seen this reflected in the explosion of sketches, of varying quality, that litter the internet. 

How long will it be before it is accepted that the same principal can apply beyond humor?

It is difficult to produce a full and complete narrative, especially for an amateur, but it is completely possible to pour one's heart and soul into a single situation. Why is it that we suppose that this is only appropriate if the situation is meant to be funny? Would it be possible to create a microstory where the payoff is the satisfaction of vengeance? Or the brokenness of a unrequited romance? Or righteous indignation at some offense?

Various pay-offs require more elaborate set-ups, however it seems to be me that it is perfectly within the realm of possibility to expand the domain of microstories to payoffs other than humor. It also seems to me that it is economically inevitable that, due to the over saturation of people trying to be funny on the internet, people will begin experimenting more and more with microstories that offer alternative emotional payoffs. Eventually a few formulas will be found that work.

Or at least one can hope.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Why is a Wise Guy Not a Wise Guy?

Requested by RGF

To properly answer this question it must be stated aloud. “Why is a wise guy not a wise guy?”

Or perhaps the proper way of writing the question would be “Why's a whys guy not a wise guy?” In which case the answer is that a wise guy does not bother with so man “whys,” because he sees that “why” is only useful up to a certain point. Why allows one to make sense of how forces and agents operate within a system, but also comes to a terminus where continuing to ask “why” will only yield impotent “because” answers. Eventually one is bound to come to a point where the answer is “it just is” or “I just do,” and the “whys” guy who insists on asking why beyond the point of usefulness cannot be a “wise” guy who applies knowledge and understanding to his actions.

On the other hand, maybe this is all wrong and it is not a question at all, but a statement: “Wise: a whys guy not a Ys guy.” In this instance we have two types of men, the “whys” guy and the “Ys” guy. Y being typical shorthand for a “yes” response, especially in questionnaires, we can picture the “Ys” guy being the chap who does as he's told and doesn't bother with asking too many questions. He acts based on the vision of another and is not concerned with understanding too much of his own area of activity. The other man is the questioner – the “whys” guy – who will not act unless he has been given an explanation of the meaning and context of his actions. The statement declares the “whys” guy to be also “wise,” to the exclusion of the “Ys” guy.

Or perhaps it is the reverse! Perhaps this statement says that the “Ys” guy is “wise” while the “whys” guy is not! For what, after all, is wisdom except an aid in determining what actions one should take? And what is the critical foundation of society except a willingness to trust others and accept a certain level of blindness in order to function at greater levels than any single individual imagination would be capable of picturing? In this case, the “whys” guy slows society's progress, the “Ys” guy understands the value of endorsing a social structure – and is therefore “wise.”

And what else might these words be saying? “Why is a wise guy not a wise guy?” That is, asking why the wise are not wise? A bit a shoddy logic that illuminates the deeper truth that a wise guy is only wise in a certain context – that is, certain behavioral inclinations and certain maxims may make a man wise in one situation, and a fool in others. Put a wise debater in a managerial position and see the fool come out; ask the analyst to be an artist and you'll soon beg the fool to go back to his dungeon of spreadsheets!

And thus we see that the same bit of wordplay can be used to say this but it can also say that and that in this context we're discussing wisdom in the abstract and in that context we're discussing social structure, and no doubt there are more this and thats that might be appealed to as context. No doubt all this confusion could be avoided by multiplying words to create clear logical pictures of what we are trying to communicate, and therein lies the real wisdom of the statement: A bit of wordplay will stay with us far longer than logical clarity, for the wordplay resembles the obscurity that characterizes our lives as they are rather than our lives as our logical pictures say they can be.

But even that explanation pales in comparison to the goofy joy of playing with words!