Do you REALLY believe that?

Something I’ve noticed: in 95% of the arguments I’ve witnessed or partaken in, any of the two positions the debaters take is logically defensible. Excluding the irrational arguments I’ve witnessed, arguments generally center around a small group of positive statements with the disagreements being concerned with normative statements.In high school forensics, we always, always played devils advocate as an exercise in argumentative discourse. The point was not so much as to understand the other side’s view as much as it was to see how easy it was to construct a defensible position on almost any public policy question.

To change subjects slightly (I’ll bring them back around in the end… I promise), my own personal beliefs have been constructed via the following process: investigate the positives, reconcile my normatives with the positives, and form my own beliefs around them. But after starting college, I noticed an interesting trend; friends started adopting other friend’s normatives, then seeking out positives to support them. While I feel my normatives are based on a philosophical structure (in which I hope none of my opinions cause me to ‘backtrack’), I felt because my friends normative values were unstructured because they weren’t a result of their own investigations. In listening to their opinions on various public policy, I’ve found them to have stances on an issue that cause them to contradict a stand on another. I’m by no means saying I’m not guilty of the exact same thing; in fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say I have one or two beliefs that may contradict each other (but when they come to light, I’ll do my best to reconcile them). My concern is that I feel people are taking positions on policy because their friends are taking them. Just because a person can defend a piece of public policy doesn’t mean they’ve thought out how that piece of policy reflects their own personal philosophy. In other words, I really feel that people advocate positions without contemplating how those policies, or what those policies imply on their moral/ethic/philisophical structure (the dashes are ‘or’s because some people have no ‘moral’ structure for philosophic reasons).

In one sense, I really don’t believe it matters, based on my own personal philosophy, but on another level, I think it’s sad for the person because having been easily swayed one way, it’s simple for a person who is adapt at arguing to sway the other person, and that person’s position based on their own highest values is never realized.

Nagel’s Absurd

Thomas Nagal has written what is perhaps the most profound, accurate, and beautiful depiction of life. It isn’t idealistic, it isn’t pessimistic, and it isn’t farfetched.

The premise of Nagal’s piece, “The Absurd”, is simple and easy to infer from the title: the lives of humans are absurd. He uses the two premises derived from the definition of absurdity (a contrast between either idealism or aspiration and reality) to describe an ironic dichotomy in human activity, which is the seriousness in which people approach their lives and the “possibility of regarding everything about which we are serious as arbitrary…”

The crux of the first half of his argument rests on the activity of personal reflection that all humans engage in. Were we to be animals incapable of reflection, he argues, we would be slaves to our instincts, effectively negating any possibility for aspiration, thus defeating absurdity. However, the fact that we are idealistic and have aspirations, the fact that we plan what we want our occupations to be, our concern for our personal lives, our concern for others, categorizes our existence as absurd in that nothing we do “matters a million years from now.”

Nagal, however, seems more concerned with the reaction to existential absurdity than it’s explanation. He addresses attempts to escape absurdity via reflective absence (impossible according to Nagal) and via suicide. He rebuts both by posing the question of whether or not the absurdity of our existence is a problem that needs solving. Instead of attempting to overcome absurdity, Nagal argues that our absurdity is one of humanity’s most human elements.

“If a sense of the absurd is a way of perceiving our true situation, then what reason can we have to resent or escape it? …It results from the ability to understand our human limitations. It need not be a matter for agony unless we make it so…. we can approach our absurd lives with irony instead of heroism or despair.”

**EDIT** I’ve noticed a lot of people have been visiting this post. I’m curious what all of you have to say about “The Absurd.” Feedback is appreciated.

Removing the Crutch

I discovered this while studying Japanese, but I think it applies to all learning. The experts that troll this blog can comment and say otherwise if I’m wrong (I’m looking at you, Adelle).

After 1 term of studying Japanese, we had learned both Japanese phonetic alphabets. Each of us had the ability to pronounce any of the characters, but it took us a considerable amount of time. At the end of the first term, and for the rest of our time spent studying Japanese, our instructors posted all lessons in the Japanese phonetic alphabet.

The first time we had to read entire scripts in Japanese was humorous to say the least! Everyone read extremely slow. What’s more, we hated reading using Japanese characters. It was such a struggle because it felt like such a topical regression. In English, native speakers have become so accustomed to recognizing words that we don’t bother looking at spelling for pronunciation as much as we look at word recognition. In Japanese, we experience somewhat of the same phenomenon. Instead of being able to recognize entire words, we were forced to examine and consider every pronunciation. Word distinction at that stage was nigh impossible given that there are no word break markers in pure hiragana/katakana (phonetic reading) Japanese.

But as time went on, and as we learned additional Chinese symbols (they go a long way in helping with word recognition and word breaks), we all became much more proficient in reading comprehension and pronunciation. I can read a Japanese text MUCH quicker than I was able beforehand.

I’m grateful my instructors removed the roman letters crutch. I know for a fact that had I been studying by myself, I would have been much more reluctant to use only Japanese characters… or maybe I would have never done it. But by removing that crutch, we were forced to adapt, and that’s something I think we as a species are amazing at doing. The problem, of course, is us not wanting to step outside our comfort zone. But the more we do, the more we learn and grow, and the more that a particular subject/area we’re working with becomes a comfort zone.

Being quick to abandon what’s comfortable, always looking toward the unseen path… that’s a personality trait I hope to develop.

Something to think about

Ironically, reading is causing me to procrastinate.

I’m reading Children of Dune (and yes, I’m skipping a book in the dune series because they don’t have Dune Messiah) . I missed a little bit by not reading the second book, but one of the main outcomes is that the main character Paul is damned to walk the desert with the knowledge of the future; that is, knowing exactly how the universe will unfold without being able to change its destiny. Three characters in the book who share the same potential Paul did, that is, knowing varying paths of the future, struggle to not succumb to this curse.

It seems that one of the underlying themes (but not the main one, which is more encompassing) is that the certain future is to be feared. Given a choice between the known and the unknown, humans must always choose the unknown and train themselves to fear the known.

While I don’t know if I deem this an appropriate philosophy to live by, I think it is useful to help us break out of whatever rut of “sameness” we experience every day. Think of how much easier it would be to face our fears if we were no longer afraid of and instead drawn to the unknown. By doing this, I also think we can uncover a lot of hidden fears that may seem ridiculous but are actually legitimate.

Consider the fear of success: a seemingly absurd fear. But consider the obligation that comes with success. Is it ridiculous to see those obligations as chains that limit our ability to act? Perhaps it is indeed the fear of expectation that drives the fear of success, but it is ultimately the fear of success that provides the person with that fear a comfortable path to complacency, perhaps even failure, blinding that person to the fact that the path he chooses opens one or two doors in front of him but locks others behind him. But what if that person explores the unknown and accepts the chains that success binds him with? The answer to this, of course, is obvious, but it also highlights the fact that we need to face the unknown and that we should learn to fear the comfortable path.

“The eye that looks ahead to the safe course is closed forever.”

Whispers and Shadows

One of the things I love about PR is that practitioners are taught early on that transparency is next to godliness (as opposed to cleanliness).  Hiding things, even things seemingly harmful to a client, is taboo. Even though the rational isn’t rooted in ideology, it provokes an ideological trait  I think is worth discussing.

Reading through some of my old blog entries (pre “Bryan’s Sophia”), I feel there was a lot of room for ambiguity. I was, and still kind of am, afraid to define specifics as exemplified by ambiguous pronouns and situations that can be universally applied. Some of my friends privy to my older blogs have claimed that while there is a lot of ambiguity in my writing, the ambiguity gives my writing universal application. This would all be fine… if my posts hadn’t been meant for personal reflection.

I feel that some parts of me are completely transparent, but I also feel that some parts are needlessly ambiguous or opaque. Obviously, nobody should be 100% transparent. Everyone has, and probably should have, their secrets, but I think I would benefit more from being a little more willing to share with people. I know where my unwillingness to share comes from (insecurities, obviously), but without putting myself “out there”, am I not missing an excellent opportunity for personal growth?

Psuedo Philosophical… and a double post

I didn’t feel the following had anything to do with my last post, hence the double post.

I remember when I was first starting to read Nietzsche my friends and I would always make fun of a famous quote by him. It was something along the lines of “if you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you.” Now, I haven’t been fortunate enough to read the quote in its full context yet, but I think maybe I’ve uncovered part of its mystery, and I hope that I am not perceived as being pretentious for doing so.

The concept that we as humans have attempted to confine to the idea of “truth” (I know, saying “truth” would have been so much easier, but truth doesn’t necessarily encompass “fact”, “what is”, and a host of other concepts) is perhaps the very abyss Nietzsche was talking about. Humans can look into the abyss, but often times it is a frightful thing to look into . Perhaps this is because of an inability to cope, perhaps this is because of the revelation that a glimpse of truth is able to inspire, or perhaps this is because of another reason, but it seems that the true, unreported number one fear of humans is in fact not public speaking but a true firm understanding of “what is” (perhaps we can call it truth, but we can only do that by realizing that the standard conception of “truth” is not in fact “truth”). Perhaps we as humans, as a race and as a vast set of individuals, are so fearful of falling into a Nihilistic spiral that we have to come up with meanings and purposes, have to construct lies and deceit, have to deceive ourselves so that perhaps we cannot fully understand ourselves and the mistakes we make. Perhaps we are incapable of understanding ourselves because “truth” is that abyss that we are so fearful of looking into. (Borrowing from concepts learned in economics) Perhaps the opportunity cost of comprehending “truth” are far inferior to the benefit of discovering it. Is it worth the possibility of falling into a nihilistic depression to understand “truth”?

That, I think, no one can answer.

Back

I woke up this morning realizing that today was the third or fourth day out of five that I’ve woken up at ten o’clock or later.

So much has changed since I’ve come back to Eugene. Instead of being stuck at home on my non-working days, I’ve barely spent a moment in my new apartment. Instead of adjusting my diet to accomplish my fitness goals, I’ve been getting off my ass to go running or lifting. And instead getting up every day at seven or eight, I’ve beg getting up at ten or eleven. In short, I’m enjoying life. Instead of existing, I’m living.

Some may say this is only the result of a week-off-of-school euphoria that will die (quickly) once school starts. I doubt it. I enjoy the atmosphere, the freedom from condemning opinions, the potential to touch the sky that “home” just doesn’t provide. I enjoy being given the opportunity to excel, to grow, to get stronger. Klamath Falls has no room for me to grow; I think Eugene does…  for now.
I like how I refer to going to school as “coming back” and going to Klamath as “leaving.”

In short, I’m glad I’m back.

Update

I was sitting under a tree today contemplating the nature of biology and it as being the source of power relations when I realized I had left out a critical component in the relationship between biology and power. What value does humanity place on biology that allows biology to be the catalyst that power structures use to get to us? I know the wording is a little confusing and I haven’t come up with a better way to phrase it, so I’ll try giving examples:

1. Do humans place an investment on their existence?
2. Do we place an investment in our families continued health? Existence?
3. Is it something else?
4. Is it a combination of those things?

And of course, the question (that I will engage MUCH thoroughly later) most important is: What does our state of existence look like with a society indifferent to these catalysts of power?