Archive for October, 2007

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The Poet\Madman I

October 29, 2007

Philosophy and poetry are games were small mistakes have big consequences. It is dangerous enough that these consequences can lead our own lives into utter chaos, madness, and falsehood but far more dangerous is the ability that both have to lead others into chaos, madness, and falsehood. Philosophy has the ability to shake the very foundations of people’s thoughts with ease, yet neither have the ability to build those foundations with the same ease – this is the blessing and curse of philosophy. Poetry, has the ability to erect foundations out of playing cards of emotion enough to reach the heaven, but with one misplaced wind can loose its base and fall into shambles.

Let us not forget that Holderlin, Nietzsche, and Wagner were found responsible for Hitler’s genocide of the Jews. Nietzsche’s shattering of conventional ethic left a vacuum behind to be filled with playing cards of German nationalism – a combination that like a low pressure system meeting a high one – created a storm. Yet is it not music, poetry, and philosophy that give meaning, keep us sane, and promote the wellbeing of the soul? Are we to believe that the once lofty panacea has fallen to poison?

This is not the case – it is however the case that bad people wear good clothing. It is also the case that the greatest vices share a name with the greatest virtues and that because of man’s wretched nature he cannot always differentiate between the two without great foresight and knowledge. Yet, in a discipline where it is the point to discover the names of the greatest virtues and be able to discern their nature it is very difficult not to fall into the pitfalls of human nature.

It is like driving. Driving is also a game where small mistakes make for huge consequences. Now imagine driving a car 16 hours a day (or for all waking hours) for 7 days a week for your entire adult life. That is the life of the philosopher. Only the philosopher must drive at night with no headlights, and its always raining. Take your eye of the road, mistake a turn, go to fast, or misjudge your placement and suddenly you and everyone around you is effected.

People like to think that their thoughts only effect them – this is never true. Our beliefs effect the way we think, the way we speak, the way we act, it effects our humor, our taste in music, our sense of style. It effects how we treat the law, how we view religion, our ideas of right and wrong, good and evil, just and unjust – and all these things are constantly being watched by someone. Wagner certainly had no idea Hitler would view his music in the way he did, or that Nietzsche would see what he saw in it, but they did, and the rest, as they say, is history.

To bring this problem to the modern age – via the already present metaphor – we live in an age were five years old drive cars on the highway of philosophy. People with no education, or training, or thought process, have been granted the privilege of driving along side all others. Even worse – they are complete anonymous – they can crash there car and just walk away. How, you ask? The internet.

The problems of an anonymous idea will be addressed in future articles (but I am still not sure I understand the problem fully, as one can imagine, since I still write anonymously). For now let us stick on the densely populated highway of philosophy. This is clearly a problem. As a society we are immediately offended if a common man tries to tell an architect how to build a building, or tell a physicist how the world works, but when it comes to this, everyone is a philosopher. Everyone is a poet. Everyone is an artist. That idea, my friends, is asinine.

You know why? Because 99\100 of philosophers out there are completely nuts – madness is their closest ally. If you spend enough time studying the fabric of the universe you will go insane – because truth does not match with perceivable reality – hence insanity. This is almost always the case with poets – whose job it is to bridge the gap between perceivable reality and truth using metaphor (imagery, simile, symbolism, etc). Yet 99\100 of all people are not this insane – they just arn’t – and they never will be.

It takes a lot, even if it is out of sheer intellectual exercise, to question the ability of logic to understand the universe – and if you try to strike up a conversation about it with someone you will find even more difficult to discuss it. Yet, if we are not willing to understand the foundations of foundational philosophy – then how can we be philosophers?

If you ask people if they are philosophers they will say yes – because to them the questions means something like “do you have opinions about stuff”. Yet try discussing those opinions, questioning those opinions, showing them other opinions and you will quickly realize they have no interest in learning someone else’s opinion, no interest in the truth, no desire to change positions, no desire to learn the truth, they are complete content with having their opinions – the end. That is NOT philosophy.

Which brings me to my final point – the rejection of philosophy is not a philosophy – which means that philosophy must be more than a set of ideas. Unless, we were to say, that logical consistency is impossible – which it might be, but then why talk at all? Something cannot reject itself if it is to have any sort of ontological status – which ideas do. Hence a set of ideas cannot include the rejection of a set of ideas – hence the rejection of any set of ideas is not an idea itself, it is a negation of an idea. A claim that something does not exist – is not an idea – its a negation of an already existing idea – it is a disagreement – it is an opening for conversation rather than a true thing. All ideas must begin in truth then diverge because all things present themselves to us as real – that can be overturned or defined, or redefined but as soon as something pops into our heads it has a cause and that cause must exist in some way – for if it didn’t it could never cause the idea to occur in your head. The exact nature of that cause can be questionable but it is there, and exists outside of you in a reality that has no will only being – and as such is truth, the very fabric which makes up reality outside the mind.

If there is truth, then that must be the goal. That goal might be impossible (that is up for debate) it might be misleading (I’d certainly believe to be so) but it is there and it is the job of the philosopher to make his ideas match with that truth as much as possible – even if he can never match it in totality – you show me the person who does that as his primary mode of being and there you will find a philosopher. And that, my friends, is a very small group of people.

Likewise, it is the job of the poet to tease this ‘truth’ (still using the stringent definition above) out of the everyday object. It is not necessary that a poet understand physics, and what an object is or isn’t, it is his job to understand what it represents. A poet can be very subjective – using an object to show a truth to one person about that person. But the key is that they all manifest something true, whether it is an emotion, an idea, or the human experience (which itself can be paradoxical) or he can be very objective (his intent, whether or not he succeeds, can be to uncover a universal truth to all).

It is this attachment to truth that validates the poet and the philosopher – this is why we look to them, or used to look to them, in times of trouble. This is why everyone wants to be a philosopher, and why everyone claims to be one, because they want their beliefs to be validated by this long standing attachment to truth – but little do they know that by doing this they belittle that very tradition which validates the philosopher in the first place. Thus we arrive at the danger.

The philosopher and the poet are validated by a long tradition of change for the better and intellectual discovery. However, this validation can cause dogmatic attachments, fanaticism, and lack of intellectual curiosity. Look at the American form of government, which was born from a great intellectual movement during the enlightenment. The inhabitants of America no longer understand this foundation nor think about its affects – which were noted with great foresight by the writers of the constitution. Americans are now philosophic dogmatists, and this is against the very nature of philosophy.

However dangerous, America’s lack of philosophic curiosity about its roots is rather benign. At its fiercest philosophic dogmatism can cause a holocaust, a gulag, and a great leap forward claiming over 80 million lives this century.

Small mistakes, small miscalculations, tiny lacks of foresight on the half of thousands of years of philosophers can somehow plant the seeds of mass genocide. The snowball affect of centuries of tiny mistakes effect the world, effect history, and end lives. So what is the point? Philosophy and poetry cause great problems by making small mistakes? Why is this important? It isn’t possible to stop it. It isn’t possible to change it.

Things should not be avoided merely because they are impossible to achieve. Accidents happen – sometimes big ones. However, this does not mean we should be careless in our decision relying on our humanity to justify out lackadaisicalness. Instead we must become even more vigilant about our ideas and the ideas of others. We must discuss ramifications, express dissatisfaction, and question responsibly (because there is nothing worse the deconstruction with not attempt to reconstruct). Let us not forget that the greatest enemy to fascism and fanaticism is indeed philosophy and poetry. It was Hanna Arrendt who stood against Nazism and Czeslaw Milosz who stood against communism (among others). Our hope and our demise lies in the same paradoxical box.

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To Bellarmin: A letter to Humanity

October 17, 2007

O you who seek the highest and the best, whether in the depths of knowledge, in the turmoil of action, in the darkness of the past, in the labyrinth of the future, in graves or above the stars! Do you know its name? the name of that which is one and is all? Its name is Beauty – Friedrich Holderlin – Hyperion (pg. 41)

What is it to be human? What about us compels us so toward beauty and beautiful? What about us becomes so frenzied when music fills us, what about is so awe-stricken when gazing at art, what about us is so hopelessly devoured by our desire to fall in love? Every human being will be born, love, and then die, and in the process they are driven by the beautiful like Apollo’s Chariot.

This passage from Holderlin’s Hyperion may elucidate the questions already asked. It may be entirely possible that this 18th century German romantic poet may have been onto something, and that something might be the very bedrock of why human beings are the way they are. Long before scientific psychology knowledge of humanity was gained through introspection of poets and philosophers alike, and the answers they uncovered still resonate today.

This passage begins “O you, who seek the highest and the best” which tells us a couple of things. First it tells us that the following paragraph is aimed at a group of somebodies. Second, it tells us who those somebodies are. The following statement, although prolific for all, is especially addressed to those who seek the highest and the best. The specificity here implies exclusion, if it’s addressed to one group it is not addressed to all groups.Who are those who seek the highest and the best? We get no answer from Holderlin – he merely continues as if we understand him. Yet since we are the reader, its not too much of a stretch to assume, he just might be talking to us.

What follows is three pairs: “depths of knowledge: turmoil of action” – “darkness of the past: labyrinth of the future” – “in graves or above stars”. This finishes the list of places where we look for the highest and the best. These pairs, seemingly arbitrary, hold some interesting secrets.

Quick analysis shows 6 objects seemingly set up into contraries. “Future and past” \ “graves (below) and stars (above)” \ and “knowledge and action”. The first being clearly opposites, the second having two meanings (perhaps both opposites), and the final seems to hold more questions that answers.

The polarity of two ideas sets up sharp contrasts in order to elucidate us on the writers intent. He chose six particular things, arranged them into three particular pairs, and gave us two obvious contraries only to leave us with one vague leftover set. Why?

Let us begin with what is most known to us and move toward the least, in hopes to illuminate ourselves. What is most known to us is the extreme difference between past and future – and the infinitely small chasm, which separates them: the present. The past is like the depths of the ocean, which grows further away and darker. As more time elapses it becomes less and less clear what actually happened, and we are only left with memories. As we live our life, what we have already lived slips into the depths.

By contrast the future is a labyrinth, its unknown. Life, rather then slipping away, is arriving as you take every corner. A labyrinth reveals as much as it conceals, but only to those who travel through it. The journeyman must walk through the unknown without a map, and try to see his way to the end. The future is a constant and painful birth from unknown to known; the past is the tragic death of known into unknown.

Together these two concepts, past and future, make up 99.99% of a human’s life and are constantly passing from future to past. The minute amount of time not spent in anticipation of the one, or in remembrance of the other is spent in the present. These three measurements combined attempt to quantify a human life. These two contradictions then are closely tied to how we view our selves, in particular how we measure our selves.

The first place, the most known to us, in which we look for beauty, is in the measurement of our lives. In this constant mechanical passing from new to old, from unknown to known, from known to unknown we first start to understand beauty. This is why memories are so valuable, and why novel ideas seem so good. It is then very important that Holderlin doesn’t mention anything about the present – the space less void in which we live our lives. We are left with an incomplete understanding of our nature because we are left without any explanation of our actual existence – our present.We also look in graves and above stars. These two are opposites on many levels. Obviously, graves in the earth, starts in the sky; graves are below us, stars are above us; graves are where our body goes to die, where does that leave the stars?

The first and most obvious polarization of ideas here is the simple fact that graves are in the earth. We dug the holes, we put the bodies in, we mark the grave, they are made by us. We formed the beds for eternal rest here on earth, and they are within or reach all the time. We all know we will sleep in one, eventually.

Stars are beyond us. We didn’t make them, we can’t reach them, and they are beyond our knowledge. Stars are boundless balls of fiery energy, which stand innumerable amongst the heavens. They are so far away we may never reach them, and so vast we may never see them all – they are not graves.Graves are below us – in some cases we walk on top of them. The plane on which man lives out their petty existence is six feet above that of the dead. Stars on the other hand, are above us.

 Graves could represent here all things below man in his nature, stars all things above man in his nature. Man’s nature being, through out western thought, has been divided into two categories: Divine and Bestial. The bestial is usually below man’s full potential; the divine usually is above man’s fullest potential – and man without exception falls between the two.

Mankind, the animals with reason, is very far away from their animal counterparts. The ability to speak, reason, and use tools puts man far enough away from animals for him to grow egotistical, yet gives him enough problems to be humbled. On the other hand man is so far below the divine that he cannot even hope to begin to understand it in its totality, putting him in the most awkward of positions.

So what makes us human? Animals, lets assume, are completely ignorant, blissful, and uncomplex. The divine, lets assume, is all knowing, blissful, and simple: where does that leave man. Man’s lack of knowledge yet ability to attain knowledge is what makes him so human. He is neither ignorant nor wise, blissful not totally despairing, simple nor complex – he is man. He is somewhere between the animals and the divine and the fulfillment of his human nature the actualization of this very particular characteristic of his nature.This leads to the third level of Holderlin’s comparisons. A grave is the place where the body is put when it dies. The contrast to this, of course, is the place where the soul goes to die (or the place where the body goes to live), since one cannot live beyond the stars (certainly not in Holderlin’s day) we can safely assume the former. Where does the soul go to die? Beyond the stars – in the heavens…

The heavens have been a powerful sign dating all the way back to paganism, through Judaism, and very prevalent in Christianity – all three of which Holderlin is well acquainted with. The heavens have always represented things that are beyond man’s control, beyond his virtue, beyond his knowledge, in short, it represents the divine. If graves represent the end of human body – the divine represent the end of the human soul.

Once again, in all three of these interpretations, something is missing. We have what is below man and what is above and the end of the body and the soul yet we are missing something very crucial: our lives here on earth right now. Again we are given incomplete information which leaves out the very reason why we inquire into things at all: why are we here? We are given another past \ future contrast which says nothing about our present.

Lastly we arrive at the enigma of enigma’s the pairing of knowledge and action – turmoil and depth. There is no doubt that a large portion of a man’s existence on this earth is devoted to action but what usually stands opposed to action is juxtaposed with knowledge here. Taking a hint from Aristotle we see the opposite of action is really ability. The opposite of running is standing still while having the ability to run – act and ability.

On the other hand the opposite of turmoil is tranquility. Tranquility is usually considered passive and hence inactive. Yet, never can one truly be inactive – nor is it something be admired. Tranquility here must mean something very different – more of a relaxation or meditation – where the body is at rest but the mind is still going. That is why we are joined with depth rather than passivity. The part of human life then, that stands opposed to action, is more contemplation where one turns over in his mind all the things he has learned. This begins to draw us closer to a depth of knowledge. Once again this comparison shows the duality of mankind – the part that demands action and the part that demands depth of knowledge. Turmoil will always be around in many forms: entropy, chaos, and the unknown. Any act will deal very closely with one if not all of these three types of turmoil. To act is to change from act to ability, to activate the body and the soul; it is a separation of known and unknown. Anytime one ventures into the area of action one will eventual fall back into meditation. To learn from your actions and to think before your actions is the destiny of man.

Knowledge is the toolbox of abilities – the more your know – the more you know how to do. Anything from writing a book to playing a piano to moving a paintbrush to shaping clay to running, all involve knowledge – a knowledge gained from introspection spurned by ones own actions.

Finally we have arrived at the here and now – the present. Our present is filled with choices informed by our knowledge and executed by our acting. The choices we will make vaguely constitute the future, the ones we have already made roughly shape the past. The past informs our future, the future (consequences) of actions informs our present, and our present becomes our past. So much of who we are is tied up in things that no longer exist, or never did – actions we performed long ago, knowledge of possible consequences in the future, things that are too far above us to understand, and things that are so far below us we can’t relate to it. In short, we live in the present, and the present is a time of infinite and uncontrollable change, it is by its very nature incomplete – and so are we.

Our entire being is in constant flux it is either coming or going – or long gone. We are either stumbling through the darkness of our past or careening around the corners of our future – and that is the way it must be. Man because of his inherent solitude in the universe must remain incomplete – and come to grips with that information.

This is why we long for the beautiful. The beautiful lifts us toward the divine in hopes to fulfill us. The beautiful shows us the immeasurable potential of the future. The beautiful gives us aesthetic memories to hold onto. Most importantly the beautiful gives us a certain and important type of knowledge, which helps us, act in the best way. If we are to seek the highest and best we are too find it the completion of our being through the medium of beauty. Or, at least that is what Holderlin seems to imply.

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The Shoulders of Giants

October 10, 2007
“Or is it that even blackness must, every so often, however rarely, partake of the heavens?”

Florence- the seat of the Renaissance – the heart of culture – the soul of the western world – is entirely in the past. Its old buildings stand as gargoyles protecting a far gone age where greatness was allowed to take long strides – even if it meant leaving others behind. Florence is the only place in the world that being the third best Fresco artist is an amazing compliment. It is the only place where a perfectly fine statue can be considered sub-par. Florence is the footprint of the Renaissance – but it is over now.

The footstep has been fossilized and preserved but not replicated. Thousands of Italians attend mass in the Duomo – none look up. They walk through piazza after piazza filled with statues – seats for the pigeons. They are very careful to not tread on hallowed ground – but they do not heed its subtle warning. They never stopped to noticed where the footstep was going – wasn’t it traveling in the other direction? Don’t they notice the imprint’s depth and contour – its wasn’t walking it was running. What was it running from?

Coming down the street with the windows of the Uffizi overlooking you, you are struck by a single man’s gaze. The David, your average 20 foot tall demi-god, stares you down. Are you the giant, or is he? He is ready, rock in hand, sling on back, for your approach. You gain ground and details become clear, he is pensive, worried, and angled to make himself seem svelte – he is as afraid of you as you are of him. You come to rest at his feet, he was looking past you after all, behind you the throngs of people adore street performers and continue about their daily lives. David has been waiting for 500 years, but Goliath never showed himself.

What an impressive, although totally worthless, 20 foot tall pile of marble. Mere leftovers after layers of marble chips were cast aside – residue of Michelangelo’s sweat. That is it though – just a really well formed pile of marble that some old man was kind enough to leave behind before he died. Perhaps it holds aesthetic value – something pretty to look at in the Piazza – but it is mute in practical matters. Art is just aesthetic, diversion, completely impractical.

Or is it? Maybe the stone isn’t so mute after all? Perhaps art carries a message that is intrinsically connected to the marble. Perhaps Michelangelo put it there, perhaps someone else did, but its there. Buried under a ton of marble is a message, a meaning, a purpose. Michelangelo wasn’t just some kooky artist; he was a man of the Renaissance. Every step was deliberate.

The mere aesthetic value of art doesn’t make it good. The art must appeal to something above mere matter. The David is more than just marble. It is a man, an image of a man, who stands on the cusp of a life or death struggle – he is the Renaissance. Certainly he is also a rock – a big well shaped rock – but that rock has a job and that job is to slay a giant. He was a man called by God to save his people, to slay a giant, to reign as king. He knew he was small, he was frightened by the task he was assigned, but he knew he could not ignore the call of God himself. When man is called to something higher, he cannot ignore it, or he must cast aside his humanity to remove his responsibility.

Everything in the Renaissance breathes life. An entire generation of people devoted to something higher yet something human. Large buildings have large doors in Florence as if their architects knew that giants would be living there. The windows are large and the rooms are large – impractically so. You can’t keep something like that warm in the winter, you could never fill that much space, it is decadent, it is pointless, it is the Renaissance.

But what have we replaced it with? Giant glass eyesores blocking the horizon. We have massive towers with tiny doors because the architects knew the seven foot ambitions of its inhabitants. We are ants scurrying about counting on the greatness of the masses to pull up the weak. We have no giants – we make no footsteps. We have placed ourselves about the pure aesthetic so that even in our attempt at creating beauty we falter. We create giant soulless mirrors to reflect our image and the image of our creation. We are conceded Gods of power who lack responsibility or wisdom. There is nothing higher than mankind to appeal to – so we must appeal to the whole of mankind as arbitrator. Any being or any single man who wishes to place himself atop mankind cannot be tolerated and neither can his creations.

Worship, that which appeals to something higher than mankind, has been labeled pointless – something to be banished to personal affairs. Yet it is that worship which reminds man of his lineage. Man has a lineage which extends back to the divine hand of God reaching out to a lounging Adam. The angels tried to hold him back in fear – but he knew what he was doing. Mankind has been imbued with the divine and worship reminds him of his humility but also his proximity to that which he worships. To worship is to show ones capability to choose love that which cannot be fully perceived. The ability to worship is the ability to throw oneself freely at the foot of another – to choose to deign – to choose humility. This choice is not given to animals nor any higher being – it is man’s ability alone – and it makes him great. The ability of man to organize all of his other abilities toward a single goal higher than he could ever achieve – that is the ability of worship. As the classical era was the era of contemplation – the Renaissance was the era of worship.

 

just something to think about…

 

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Hungry Like the Wolf

October 7, 2007

“Thus, Heidegger too failed to bring the statement “I am hungry” within the purview of philosophy” – Hans Jonas Mortality and Morality: A Search for the Good after Auschwitz pg. 47

Today I cooked myself a nice big breakfast. I got up early, prepared everything just right, and cooked myself one helluva breakfast. I broke a fork and burnt my hand, but it was worth it. What began out as a simply way of starting my day on a good note, and perhaps a gluttonous note, turned into a true lesson on man’s way of existing in the world. I am not referring to the ontological separation between myself and the once living pig I am eating, nor am I referring to an abstract mode of vegetarian ethic, but rather a simple human phenomena that we all undertake hopefully at least twice a day (three times if you have a square meal, whatever the hell that means).

We must eat to survive. Seems pretty simple. Our body processes food to produce energy through a process called metabolism, which Hans Jonas notes as the primary condition for freedom, a process which is found in even the lowest bacteria. Eating also gives a view into the food chain, which is the dietary way in which nature structures itself. I eat a cow, which ate grass, which ‘ate’ sunlight through photosynthesis. Every living being in this way is tied to every other. The most self-sufficient being, the plant, is the least free while the most needy being, mankind, is the most free (in the state of nature, whatever the hell that is). But the topic of this blog isn’t even eating, but rather cooking.

Cooking is a purely human activity. Cooking was once not needed by mankind because our bodies could handle raw meat. However, after years of preparing our food with heat our bodies can no longer handle this raw meat. This has been a process of de-evolution due to technology but has given us more freedom and most importantly the gift of taste.

Man’s ability to cook gives him something an animal couldn’t even imagine. We can choose what our food will taste like, prepare it as we see fit, and even choose to go against our natural abilities and refuse to eat certain goods out of our hunger for ethical demands. We are the only animal who can simultaneously be hungry and picky. This is because of the ability to cook (and in a large part the ability to store foods in a cold area to be cooked later).

Cooking then is a way of transcending the natural human condition. While simultaneously reminding us of the food chain and our natural roots, it also calls us above them. We are masters of fire and food. We can take something inedible, and eat it. We are not bound like our animal kin, we are the most free. But this blog is not even going to chomp at the tantalizingly tasty philosophic debate about freedom and its consequences in regards to food. This entry is far more simple.

Cooking gives us the ability to taste what no other animal can taste. Cooking is the music of the mouth, the art of the pallet, the perfume of the tongue, and the Kashmir of the stomach. Cooking allows us to eat the highest and best foods prepared in the highest and best ways. Under this assumption I will include wine (fermentation) and dessert (baking) as well as meal. As much as the ability to produce simple bread reminds us of our lowly station, so too does the consumption of fine foods reminds us of our divinity.

Imagine, if you will, a person who upon being asked the question ‘what is your favorite food’ responds ‘bread’. Aside from initial disbelief, our response would be all together negative, and should be. If somebody favors bread over fine seafood, a fillet mignon, a roasted duck, a hearty soup, a fresh salad, or even a sinful dessert, then he should not be trusted. That is equivalent to some one saying that there favorite music is a metronome. This person clearly has no concept of the beautiful in relation to his taste. Man’s chief role is to know the beautiful with all five of his senses – and if he does not do that well then he is falling short of his telos. Thus I arrive at a rather audacious claim that if someone’s favorite food is plain bread, they are not quite human.

Consider this. When a cult, or tyranny, or organization wants to lower moral or decrease spirit the first thing they do is take away food, especially tasty food. Eating gruel every day, while simultaneously draining your body of important vitamins, drains your spirit of something it desires. This is why food is so tempting. As much as our body loves food, our souls have some sort of connection as well. We all have a favorite food, a comfort food, a food which aids our love, a food we eat when we are sad, a food we eat in public and a food we eat in private, and a food that reminds us of home. Imagine now. Imagine a world were food has been replaced by pills that contain all our essentials but no taste. Imagine a world without your favorite comfort food, the food that reminds you of home, a world with no dinner dates, no family suppers, no self-cooked breakfasts that assure you that you can survive on your own. Imagine not knowing the taste of dessert, the creamy sensation of your favorite soup, that warm full feeling you get after a good meal. Imagine a world with no cooks, no connection to food chains and no artful preparations, and no taste.

If we can agree, which I know we cannot, that beautiful music and beautiful art effect the human positively then why not include food. Is it because we cannot overindulge in music and art, but we can in food? Is it because our temptation for food is stronger than our temptation for music or art? Are gluttony and drunkenness so powerful that we cannot give such weight to their primary tempters? Perhaps this is true, perhaps I am touching on a Pandora’s box, a validation for gluttony, a praise of drunkenness, an argument for the party lifestyle. But then let us remember how tired our minds get after endless hours of music, or how or ears hurt if its too loud, or how every once in a blue moon we just want to close our eyes and not see anything but darkness. Appreciating art is not merely looking at it, nor is hearing music enough to drive your soul to ascend but something deeper, something which involves separating yourself from your love only to joyously embrace it when it returns in your life. Moderation shows mastery, being able to enjoy something but know when to not indulge shows the power of the human spirit over the body.

Perhaps this is a mock defense, not persuasive enough to sway those gluttons, but there is a danger far worse than gluttony and that is the inability to know beauty. It is too characteristic for our culture to eradicate our roads to beauty – because beauty is difficult. Beauty reminds us of our wretchedness while promising us divinity. We are only blessed because we can see beauty, but we are wretched because we can never hold it. Thus we try to remove it, better to never have such a reminder, better to sacrifice two seconds of divinity for a lifetime without wretchedness. So we turn to confusion and disorder, drip paintings and modern music. We deny beauty’s existence by playing to the weakest emotions: Anger, pity, sorrow, and lust. The same phenomenon occurs in the world of food. We have fast food to fill us cheaply and quickly and beer designed only for drunkenness; these are the drip paintings in the world of food.

This is not only gluttony but this why gluttony is a sin, because overindulgence in something shows a love for its base pleasure. Eating to simply be full is a far more gluttonous activity than eating with friends and family while discussing, even if you eat more when your friends and family are there. Eating to be full is simply a self-motivated activity akin to listening to a certain type of music to look cool. It is a complete denial of any beauty intrinsic to the act because it is valued only for its usefulness to the consumer. I have said the magic word “consumer”. To be a consumer, to consume, is to make all things a slave to benefit you. A consumer does not see beauty, it only consumes it. This is the real meaning behind gluttony, not only the quantity of what you eat, but how you eat it, how you view, what is the good which you seek? Are you consuming the food or are you eating the food?

Perhaps I am way off the mark, and as always, I invite those of you who find fault to comment. But next time you are lonely, or tired, or sad take the extra time to cook yourself a nice hearty breakfast and more importantly take the time to EAT it, not just consume it. Perhaps the feeling you have afterward is the best argument I can present.

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Humble Pie- The Color Grey

October 3, 2007

“We would rather speak ill of ourselves than not talk about ourselves at all.” – François Duc de La Rochefoucauld

There is a prevailing notion in modern society that being humble means to shed all attitudes of greatness, embrace the baseness of mankind, and become completely and utterly self-deprecating. Among all the misuses of virtue, under all the crimes committed in the name of God and government alike, this may be the deadliest. It is after all, the turn of post-modernism. Mankind is a highly evolved animal whose capability of knowing truth is akin to a whale learning to wipe his own ass. We are nothing but monkeys in spacesuits, children playing dress-up, liars and pretenders and the truly humble man recognizes this and is thrust into despair. The truly humble man stands alone as the remarkable man of wisdom who knows only that everything known is questionable and because of this gift of perception he is damned to complete and utter despair among the void – and what is even worse is that he refuses to shut up about it.

For him, humility is to remind oneself of their beginning, as apes coming down from the trees to find solace in the caves. It is the science of psychology which reminds us of our truest motivations, which are almost always base, and reflections of our base beginnings as such stated. It is genetics that reminds us of chance’s domination over our existence. It is biology which points to flaws over time and the haphazard nature of survival and the “fittest”. There is no good, no bad, only adaptation – survival. Hence to be truly human is to be the survivalist, we are after all at the top of the food chain. It means being adaptable, malleable, and most importantly valueless. If such is the state of our natures then humility is to recognize this vast smallness, this endless weakness, this natural flaw, and to claim it as truth and thus deny the opposite, and worse, condemn it as hubris. To lift man from these ashes, to lift oneself from out of despair, is disillusionment at best, and egoism at worst.

This is the birth of the color gray. True happiness, is despair. True virtue is utilizing viciousness to survive. True greatness is to reject all greatness. To act ethically is to be actionless. Ethics, and the corresponding pedestal it puts mankind onto, is removed as a dream, a false standard, and an impediment to man’s survival. To be gray is to above all, survive. Our bible is the computer, our crosses are telephone poles, our churches are gymnasiums, our dogma is technology, our bread is gray, our wine is gray. Our monuments are office buildings, our temples are smokestacks, and our tombs are the American University. The skies overhead are very, very, gray.

There is a long forgotten panacea and it has everything to do with humility. The post-modern movement has one thing right: to be humble is to know ones origins. However, if man’s origins are not merely from monkey, but instead from something greater than true humility would be to recognize this. If our very nature calls us above our base behavior, if there is something within us, that has been in us since our creation, that holds us higher than animals, something that makes us different, special, and apart from the rest of the universe, then true humility would be very different. If only there was a contrasting belief that held that man was somehow more than mere matter. That there was something mystical about human beings, something unnatural, that makes them not even comparable to animals. If only we could find a way to show that man is actually super-natural, above and outside the confounds of his body, and in some way related to the very glue that holds the universe together, as if smelted from some cosmic forge, as if born from an atomic womb. But such notions are dreamy, and arrogant. So, to maintain my humility, I will refrain.

For now I can only make the claim that the self-deprecation of an entire race is not good and can never be considered good. It is the offspring of a complete misuse of the word of humility. People use humility as an excuse to gain sympathy, because one cannot attack those who are attacking themselves. Its like a pre-emptive strike to prevent others from getting in, or to gain attention. Look how humble we are! We hate ourselves!This is not humility. Do not embrace your animal side. Embrace the high and lofty expectations that are buried deep within your soul.

“If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

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Knowing Nothing part I

October 1, 2007

 “Nothing can be created out of nothing” -Lucretius

It recently occurred to me that there is a philosophic tendency in the recently initiated with rhetoric to assert a radical questioning which eventually aims to destroy the very foundation of reason itself. This self-cannibalizing mental bacteria most often takes the form in the statement “you can’t prove that anything exists” which more than often means “you can’t prove everything exists” or “nothing exists”.

Making arguments in the negative are the most difficult but most easily defended because it implies no inherent position of truth but instead a cynical denial of the opposite. By not offering an alternative one doesn’t need worry about validity and can concentrate on ripping holes in the opponents argument. This is the exercise of reason aimed toward radical questioning. This exercise of reason is the foundation of philosophy itself, isn’t it? So how could such an exercise be labeled dangerous by this humble social commentator?

There are two ends which questioning aims at. The first, and proper, end is to discover the underlying reality of something by testing it with mental rigor. The other, and more common, end is to undermine the truthfulness by introducing problems. This common usage has gained popularity in modernity because it mimics scientific testing of a hypothesis. We test something to see if it is true at all, not to understand more about it. This common usage lends itself to mental fanatics of black and white answers, yes and no, rather than more or less. This forbids progress and clings to sturdy apathy. If we assume logic cannot tell us anything then we give up looking for answers and become apathetic. This is bad.

What is worse is when someone uses this mechanism to represent the philosophic project. Here I have in mind the newly initiated existentialist, who has perhaps read a single article of Sartre and has found himself foisted into despair and nothingness. This is where my personal beef comes in. The statement in question here is one that I have admittedly said before (shameful, but I was young): “You can’t prove anything exists”.

The problem here is the meaning of the word prove. What do you we mean when we say prove. Perhaps something akin to: “Show me how this is true” or, in other words, “Show me if this exists as such in absolute terms”. Truth, in the meaning we give it by speech, points to an absolute and unalterable existence, and the word prove aims at the process by which we can say for certain that such is true.

In other words, truth and hence existence, predates proving anything. To prove means to show something to be in accordance with existence, making existence the necessary precondition for anything to be proven. No existence, no proof, and conversely then there can be no proof for existence. Existence is beyond proof, it is the essence of proof, and hence the part cannot define the whole. Thus what first appears as an inability of reason to grapple with existence is instead man’s inability to grapple his own language. We cannot prove what comes before proof, it is a simple matter of contradiction in meaning. We cannot prove existence exists, but not because of any limitation, but because there is no action (like proving) that can take place without first having an Absolute Object (like existence) to commit the act, or have the act committed upon it. Thus ‘proving something’ implies that there is a corresponding measure by which things are said to be proved and the measure must stand above and apart from the proving and the prover rather than subject to it. In this case we call that essence “existence” but it could also be called “God” or even “Beauty”.

Consequently one cannot prove reason to be the prime prover, or logic as the prime problem solver, because it must (if it is to remain divine, or trustworthy) stand above its own scrutinizing eye. To invoke logic is the assume logic because the process cannot be necessary to the validation of its origins lest the entire process be unstable. Hence the adherence to a logical life is alogical (note: not Illogical), because it is not against logic but rather presupposes logic.

Thus if logic and existence must stand above proof and reason then on what grounds can we validate radical questioning? What virtue or good can come from radical questioning if it is doomed to devour its self? This is precisely why, hopefully, all rhetoricians grow out of this stage. There is absolutely no good to be gained from this mental masturbation. It’s merely a party trick used to impress the uninitiated at social gatherings. An attempt to sound intellectual. Unfortunately in the process it does nothing for philosophy.