Tuesday, 30 July 2013

...and the pursuit of arbitrary & fruitless goals

These thoughts were prompted by:
What motivates explorers to venture into the unknown?
This is my dilemma- on the one hand I have enormous admiration for the accomplishments of selected individuals. The glory of the human form being capable of achieving feats, that require enormous  physical strength as well as psychological determination and courage, is nothing short of marvellous.
On the other hand I often feel that the substance of those accomplishments are trivial and arbitrary. They lack no intrinsic value, other than the accomplishment in and of itself. This I find not only pointless, but it is a waste of my time, in following them, and their talents in pursuing such fruitless tasks.
For clarity, I am not specifically referring to sports. The modern sporting arena is more a form of entertainment through the means of athletic endeavour than an intrinsically important activity for mankind and civilization in general. The stadium of today is more comparable to the cinematic experience than it is to real life.
I am specifically referring to are those superhuman feats, triumphed by unbelievably talented individuals, which are completely meaningless to everyone except those involved in the mission.
Rowing a boat across the Atlantic, hiking across Antarctica, climbing Everest, sky diving from space etcetera etcetera etcetera.
To be fare, there are people who use such extreme activities as a means to raise money or awareness of noble causes, which can make the actual 'event' a means to a nobler end. It appears, however, that more often than not, the altruism of the 'athlete' is more of an afterthought than a guiding principle.
But what about those people who do it just for sake of it? Is the fact that humans can endure such difficult circumstances and accomplish such feats enough merit to warrant our interest, our respect and our admiration?

I suppose my frustration lies in the missed opportunity. If people could use their talent in the service of world, rather than fuelling their own egotistical and existential hunger, how beautiful might the world be?

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The paradox of popularity

We live in a world that praises individuality as long as it conforms to the societally acceptable norm- "popular individuality"...an oxymoron?

But surely being an individual is, by definition, being different to all other people. You think differently, you feel differently and you believe differently. If our experience is identical and our faith common- then we have chosen to reject our uniqueness in favour of a shared and popular system.
To be unique and individual means to be lonely. I am not saying that that being lonely necessitates being alone, on the contrary I can feel lonely in the presence of others, but rather that loneliness is an inevitable reality. But one need not be frightened of loneliness, even if it connotes and arouses negative images,  it is in fact the mere corollary of individuality- my uniqueness necessitates that I am lonely in my experience.
Through this loneliness I can arrive at my own conclusions as to what energises me, what motivates me and what inspires me.
That is not to say that I cannot share experiences with others, it's just that no one can really know me, or understand what I feel and think.

Popularity on the other hand, whether it be popular literature, popular culture or even or especially popular philosophy, is, again by definition, palatable to the masses. It is the acceptance or desire for acceptance amongst the broad populace, or at least within a specific group of the population. Popular culture denies the individuality of the experience in favour of conformity.

To make myself clear, I am not pitting these two ideas up against one another as dichotomous entities, but rather seeking to understand and define them.

There is a time a place to express individuality, but more often than not we best seek to confirm to popular opinion and practice. Each person needs to find their own balance.

The crucial message is this, one cannot find or express one's individuality by latching on to a popular trend. 

Individuality isn't popular, it can't be.

"We are all individuals and we all think for ourselves" - from Monty Python's The Life of Brian

Sunday, 7 July 2013

The day our sadness began, and it's only getting worse.

Positive psychology, the science of happiness, suggests that happiness is a relative construct rather than an objective position. The pleasure I gain from my possessions, job and family are all dependant on how I perceive others' lives and their objective happiness.

In other words, if I surround myself with miserable people my life would be pretty good- not only perceived as good but I would actually be happier.
To expand upon this theory the logical conclusion would be that my misery is proportional to the kind of company that I keep. If I surround myself with happy people, my life will be more miserable rather than happier. (A bit counter-intuitive)

If you were to take a few moments to consider the people closest to you, would you consider their lives and lifestyles idealistic? Most probably you are well aware of the most dysfunctional aspects of their lives- broken relationships, unruly kids, economic ruin and personal insecurities.They are not unique, we all struggle with our demons- but it is only with those that we know well that we can appreciate the demons and struggles of others.

Throughout our history our relationships seldom ventured outside of our shtetl. Everyone knew everyone else, as well as all their dirty laundry- envy was less of a problem for their was little to be envious of.

Even when we look to pictures of the 'olden days' we seldom feel any sense of jealousy and wish to go back to those times.

People seemed depressed and their lives unmistakably plain.
But something changed, and through that change was born an era of depression and low self esteem.
That change was the invention of the 
instant photography.

The reason that people had such dull expressions in old photographs is that you had to sit still for a very long time in order for the exposure to take hold. It is virtually impossible to freeze frame a smile for 15 minutes, thus sober and sombre poses were almost unanimously accepted.

Instant exposure photography allowed us to flash a cheezy smile at every opportunity, whether standing at the entrance to Disneyland or Alcatraz.

So instead of seeing sad depressed people in pictures, we see people appearing to be having a great time. Everyone is happy and having a blast. The most important detail is missing from the picture, its context.

Facebook has added insult to injury, now it is not only people I am close to who appear to be having a marvellous existence, even shallow acquaintances are living a blissful life- just look at their photos.
There is invariably a discord between people's Facebook status and their actual private lives.

My personal reality cannot possibility come close to the perceived reality of others. And thus a generation of misery is born out of the success of social media.
It would follow that the chances are that the more Facebook friends you have, the more miserable you will be...now that's a sad thought.

Perhaps the best solution has been suggested by columnist Oliver Burkeman, and that's to subtitle our pictures with the statement "Just remember that this person is barely holding it together".

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Nature is not good...it's only natural

Should we accept people as they are and for what they are?
The "Yes" rationale is that people don't choose who they are. It may be nature, and it might possibly be nurture, but it is clear to some that that we are a mere product, possibly even a  victim, of genetics & society.

Being a person who enjoys the presumption of free choice as the great director in one's destiny, I reject "determinism", that being who I am has been genetically predetermined. Determinism, as a philosophy, denies us of our responsibility in life and to life. It creates a paradigm of helplessness and of being a victim.

On the other side of the political divide are those that deny the role that nature has in influencing our behaviours. This group see lifestyle choices as having been chosen, rather than inherited, and therefore all choices that are inconsistent with the norm are considered "abnormal" & "unnatural".

Whichever side of the spectrum you sit on, the basic underlying assumption is the same- "Nature is good." The only question is whether a person's behaviour is to be considered as being consistent with that nature or at odds with it.

Perhaps there is an alternative paradigm to view this issue; Nature is natural- it isn't good or bad, it is just natural.

I often find myself duped into purchasing a product purely because of the claim that it is "100% natural", only to find that it is still loaded with saturated fats and sugar- natural sugar of course. Butter is 100% natural, as is Lard/Schmaltz, as is Cannabis- but I am not convinced that any of these things are particularly good for you.

The same has to be said for human character and behaviour. There are natural reactions to various stimuli, but that doesn't make those reactions good. Anger is the natural effect of disappointment, and violence is the natural response to anger- but it isn't usually a good response.

Illness &  pain are both natural, but they are not good.

The courage to not get angry when provoked is unnatural.
The ability to not resent others when offended is unnatural.
The strength to resist temptation is unnatural.
But it is these triumphs that make us good.

Good is achieved specifically by being unnatural; by rejecting our instinctual reaction in favour of choosing our preferred destiny.