The Parable of the Lady and the Thugs

22 Sep

There once was a woman whose lover took to yelling at her.

After being yelled at enough, the woman got fed up and decided to teach her lover a lesson.

But she decided that doing it herself would make her look bad to others, and besides, it wasn’t the proper thing for a lady to do.

So instead, she hired a group of thugs to beat and rob her lover.

After this had happened, the woman felt great regret, as she still had compassion for other people, and especially the person she loved.

She also realized too late that this didn’t teach her partner anything, as her feelings were still unheard. All that her partner knew is that thugs had beaten and robbed him.


The moral of the story is that we don’t serve ourselves when we fail to express ourselves openly, and hope that “the divine” (or any external source!) will punish those that have offended us.

So, whether it’s God’s justice, or karma, or whatever universal force we hope to judge people, in the end hoping for divine retribution only hurts ourselves.

Plus, those that are punished don’t ever make the connection. They just know that they’ve come into misfortune.

My Criticism of Nietzsche’s Criticism of the Stoics

6 Sep

Nietzsche on the Stoics (Beyond Good and Evil, section 9, paragraphing mine to make it more readable, bold mine to highlight my main criticism):

“You desire to LIVE “according to Nature”? Oh, you noble Stoics, what fraud of words!

Imagine to yourselves a being like Nature, boundlessly extravagant, boundlessly indifferent, without purpose or consideration, without pity or justice, at once fruitful and barren and uncertain: imagine to yourselves INDIFFERENCE as a power–how COULD you live in accordance with such indifference?

To live–is not that just endeavouring to be otherwise than this Nature? Is not living valuing, preferring, being unjust, being limited, endeavouring to be different? And granted that your imperative, “living according to Nature,” means actually the same as “living according to life”–how could you do DIFFERENTLY? Why should you make a principle out of what you yourselves are, and must be?

In reality, however, it is quite otherwise with you: while you pretend to read with rapture the canon of your law in Nature, you want something quite the contrary, you extraordinary stage-players and self-deluders! In your pride you wish to dictate your morals and ideals to Nature, to Nature herself, and to incorporate them therein; you insist that it shall be Nature “according to the Stoa,” and would like everything to be made after your own image, as a vast, eternal glorification and generalism of Stoicism!

With all your love for truth, you have forced yourselves so long, so persistently, and with such hypnotic rigidity to see Nature FALSELY, that is to say, Stoically, that you are no longer able to see it otherwise– and to crown all, some unfathomable superciliousness gives you the Bedlamite hope that BECAUSE you are able to tyrannize over yourselves–Stoicism is self-tyranny–Nature will also allow herself to be tyrannized over: is not the Stoic a PART of Nature? . . .

But this is an old and everlasting story: what happened in old times with the Stoics still happens today, as soon as ever a philosophy begins to believe in itself. It always creates the world in its own image; it cannot do otherwise; philosophy is this tyrannical impulse itself, the most spiritual Will to Power, the will to “creation of the world,” the will to the causa prima.”


Nietzsche’s point is quite strong: how could you live any differently than by your own nature? Wanting to live “according to nature” is foolish simply because you can’t do otherwise.

In fact, I’d even argue that this is a credible basis for the entire Stoic enterprise.

But I think Nietzsche attacks a straw man here. While the “is” of the situation is that we, by definition, cannot live differently than our own nature, my impression of the Stoics is not that they make this a “should”: “One should live according to nature.” They don’t “make a principle out of what they themselves are, and must be.”

The whole point of the Stoics was that our suffering comes from our wish that nature be other than what it’s not. It’s not nature that makes us suffer, it’s our opinions that nature “should be” different that make us suffer.

Here are some quotes from classic Stoics to show my point:

Epictetus
“Man is disturbed not by things, but by the views he takes of them.” (Encheridion, 5)
“Where is the good? In the will. Where is the evil? In the will. Where is neither of them? In those things that are independent of the will.” (Discourses, Book 2, 16.1)

Marcus Aurelius
“Get rid of the judgment, get rid of the ‘I am hurt,’ you are rid of the hurt itself.” (Meditations 8.40)
“Everything is right for me that is right for you, O Universe.” (Meditations 4.23)

Seneca the Younger
“Let Nature deal with matter, which is her own, as she pleases; let us be cheerful and brave in the face of everything, reflecting that it is nothing of our own that perishes.” (De Providence 5.8)

Nietzsche may have completely misunderstood the Stoics, but his point is valid, and one the Stoics easily could have made themselves. Reality (nature) can’t be anything other than what it is. That’s self-evident, according to the rules of the mind.

What the Stoics would have added was, “And what happens when you think reality should be different?”

Suffering.

“Virtue consists of a will that is in conformity with nature.” -Zeno of Citium, founder of Stoicism

Yes, I Sleep on a Sidewalk – I’m Homeless and Happy

5 Sep

Ok, this is going to take some bravery.

I have never hidden the fact that I’m homeless. However, I have often hidden why I’m homeless.

This blog was originally created so I can put my philosophical views down in a concrete format. I adore philosophy and have actively read and wrote philosophy nearly every day of my adult life.

However, when I was talking to my friends about starting this blog, I did say that if it would ever manifest, I’d have to include my adventures through homelessness.

In particular, I think the homeless desperately need exposure and political representation. The truth about them has to be told, it’s not being told, and I feel I’m in the unique position of not only being one of them, but I’m also willing to put myself on the line by telling the story of my failings as a human being.

And that’s what I’m going to give you here:

  • I want to tell you about the people I meet (I’m well known at the local homeless services and know all the regulars). Some of them are your stereotypical drug addicted, messed up hair, obscenity/nonsense shouting homeless. The vast majority are not. I know homeless that know physics/mathematics above my head, that have lived across the street from the Hagia Sophia, and are just honest, working class people with very American hopes for their lives (the vast majority).
  • I want to tell you why I, personally, am homeless. It’s not going to sit well with a lot of people and I expect to get a lot of hate, or at least disapproval, for it. I’m aware of society’s views but I feel it important to paint an honest picture here. It’s hard to tell if my story is typical because there is so much prejudice against the homeless that few will honestly tell you why they are homeless. Most just blame the economy.
  • I want to talk to you about the political side of homelessness. There is a lot of gross injustice perpetuated here in Venice and around Los Angeles, not to mention the United States as a whole. However, again, I aim to be honest, and the issues are more complex than “lack of compassion” and whatever else some groups would have you believe. The city has to balance the rights of the homeless with the rights of business owners, and although I think (in full disclosure here) that they are handling it in a horrible way that strongly infringes on the civil rights of unhoused individuals, I recognize the need for homeowners and business owners to be able to feel safe and protect their rights as well.

This is my aim: to provide eyewitness testimony while fully disclosing that I fall on one side of this issue, but I’m not unaware or hostile to those that take issue with my standing (and reasons for being) of homeless.

For those that are curious, I do sleep in Venice, Los Angeles, CA on 4th street on a sidewalk. Most of the homeless of Venice, who are no longer allowed to sleep on the beach boardwalk, sleep on “Skid Rose,” the corner of 3rd street and Rose Ave. I sleep by myself in the relative open, I have never panhandled, I’m quite active intellectually, I carry a 25lb. backpack with all my possessions wherever I go, I take care of myself (very few people believe me when I tell them I’m homeless…my appearance doesn’t fit the stereotype), and overall I love my existence.

This Is How You Achieve Bliss

31 Aug

The room is crowded. I’m feeling…stuffy. It was the kind of stuffy brought on by heat and mild dehydration. It’s the stuffy where your head feels like it is simmering in a damp, soupy blanket.

Indeed it was hot out on this August Los Angeles summer day. It was an uncharacteristic 85F and it was getting to me.

Or was it? I knew better than to attribute any sort of misery I experienced to prevailing conditions. As I was made conscious of my state of discomfort, I also immediately was aware of my unconscious reaction to point the finger at the heat.

Obnoxious laughter. Behind me, a woman with machine gun cackles continues to broadcast over the open airwaves. Oh the loudness! I can feel it piercing my brain and rattling my mind like a kid shaking what he hopes to become an exploding soda can.

I fight the thought. She’s not making me miserable…I am.

But how? Why am I miserable right now?

My mind begins to explore. It’s not the heat. It’s not the laughter. I know it’s something with me. I know that I am miserable because I have an errant thought. It’s ALWAYS a thought, either expressed or unexpressed.

But what thought? Am I upset at myself? I don’t think I am. Maybe it’s because the line hasn’t formed yet, they’re late. They should go faster.

Ugh. It’s not the line, it’s your thoughts…concentrate.

My mind goes through a melee…a chaos…a temporary frantic madness…just to find this one thought.

Why can’t I find it? I still feel stuffy. Why hasn’t it appeared to me? Madness. Madness! Oh a thousand thoughts of and about madness!

And then…did you assume that a search was necessary?

Well yes. I believed something wasn’t right and…

“There is something not right.” Is that really true?

~Bliss~

My Life is Absolutely Perfect, Is Yours? Find Out How

29 Aug

Most of us are familiar with the biblical story of creation.

You know, the one where God creates the first man, Adam, and then from his rib the first woman, Eve.

At first, Adam and Eve find themselves in the garden of paradise: an ideal place here on Earth where they experience joy and abundance.

But one day, a serpent has a private word with Eve. The serpent is Satan, who in the Old Testament is not generally depicted as the evil bad guy working against God, but is made to represent that which keeps us humble by having doubt and skepticism about the world (another bible story, Job, has Satan even keeping God honest by attributing Job’s faith to the good fortune God bestows upon him, and in the end Satan winds up being right!).

So Satan puts doubt and skepticism into Eve, and convinces her to eat of the tree which bears the knowledge of good and evil. From there it’s an easy sell for Eve to convince Adam to do the same, getting both thrown out of paradise on Earth.

What a great story! In symbolic form it perfectly describes what I’m about to explain. The only part that’s missing is the part where Adam and Eve figure out how to handle their knowledge of good and evil and return to the garden.

Yes, we can return to paradise. I bet no one told you that growing up.


What is Paradise?

As in, what defines paradise as being what it is and not something else?

Perhaps the most common answer, not necessarily in words but in the actual things people pursue, is the presence of pleasure/absence of pain. This view is called hedonism, and the paradisaical version would be having a life of nothing but pure, intense pleasure coupled with the utter absence of pain. The utilitarians such as Jeremy Bentham have additionally pointed out that pleasure comes in many forms, and is not just limited to the base physical pleasures of food, sex, and the like, but extends to the pleasures of the mind too.

But I think this is easily dismissed, both on pragmatic grounds and the argument from the obscenely wealthy.

The pragmatic argument against 24/7 pleasure is that it’s not possible. The world is never fully under one man’s control, and so at best (and in reality really) pleasures will always come and go, as will pains. Buddhists call this the “mark of impermanence,” which is simply saying that everything under the sun comes and goes…none of it ever really stays.

The argument from the obscenely wealthy is just that: even the wealthiest men on Earth do not live in paradise on account of their fortune alone. The classical archetype of the “pantalone” demonstrates this well: the rich old man who is miserable and miserly, and makes everyone else around him the same (Mr. Burns from the Simpsons is an excellent example).


Perfection

I propose that paradise is simply a state of perfection: where life is absolutely perfect.

Or perhaps more precisely: the state where one wishes nothing to be different from what it is.

One is not in paradise if they wish for life to be perfect, expect it to become perfect at some later date, or believe it was perfect at some past date. To be in paradise, one has to feel it right now…in the present.

But if pleasure can’t be had all the time (odds are that you’re not in intense pleasure at this very moment), then when is life perfect?


The Philosophical Argument: Life Already is a Perfect Paradise

I want to propose to you that right now, at this very moment, your life is absolutely perfect the way it is, regardless of what is happening. Your life can’t be anything BUT perfect.

Most people will balk at this and find some reason why it can’t be perfect. I mean, maybe it’s GOOD right now, but not perfect.

The problem with even trying to argue against the conviction “My life is absolutely perfect” is that you have to already assume that this statement itself is imperfect in order to come up with a reason against it. I call this an “argument from required self-assumption.”

Whoa! Think about that. Let it settle in. What it means is that you cannot reason your way to saying that life is perfect or not without circular reasoning.

You have to assume the statement, “Life is absolutely perfect” to be wrong or imperfect in some way (and thus already assume there is a problem) in order to formulate an honest answer against it (and by honest I mean a counterargument with conviction, not merely playing devil’s advocate or the like).

In other words, contentment can’t be rationally reasoned into, but only arbitrarily chosen. You either start with the assumption that life is perfect and build from there, or you start with the assumption that it’s imperfect and build from that. The only third option is those moments where moral judgments (“good” and “bad”) don’t come into play at all, but that’s not really an option so much as a situation.


“Well, I Could Start Out Suspending Belief On The Matter”

Indeed! You could start out not denying or confirming perfection, but suspending belief.

If you suspend belief in this matter, either you will make a decision at some point in the future, or you will not make a decision some point in the future.

If you never do make a decision, then you, by definition, will never make a moral claim ever again. To say something is “bad” is to say it to be undesirable (via David Hume) and hence imperfect, except in the driest academic context where a moral judgment isn’t being made so much as it is being evaluated as conforming to a system or not. Denying one’s self all moral judgments is pragmatically absurd and I’d contend, impossible to do.

If that wasn’t enough though, it’s arguable that even taking the position of such neutrality is a moral claim for suspending belief! In other words, you’ve assumed that something is wrong (not suspending belief) and something else is right (cautious thinking) in order to suspend belief on whether anything is wrong or not. It’s self defeating.

If you do make a decision, then you either have to decide on that everything is perfect or that there is at least some imperfection, and the argument from required self-assumption applies.


Not About Denying Reality

The point here is not the typical wishful thinking or positive thinking exercise. I propose nothing of the sort because our thoughts can’t be controlled now and forever (there’s the impermanence deal I was talking about again). This is only a matter of what thoughts you want to attach to.

It’s just a choice: do you want to attach to the belief that something is wrong in the world, or do you want to attach to the belief that everything is perfect? When you believe everything is perfect, there’s no reason for denial because you’re completely open to all experience.


If I Thought Everything Was Perfect, I Wouldn’t Take Action To Improve The World

A lot of people have this concern: “If I thought everything was perfect, then I would let bad things happen and wouldn’t care about improving the world. I have to believe something is not right or I wouldn’t be motivated.”

In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth. To help others and solve problems just feels good…we’re wired to be social and to provide benefit/avert pain for our fellow man. This urge toward humanity is just as perfect as anything else.

In fact, when everything is perfect, there’s little reason to fear the world. It’s my experience that people with this assumption tend to be MORE humanitarian, MORE courageous, and MORE willing to get involved.


My Own Experiences

I’ve made my choice, and that’s that no matter what happens, my life is perfect. It may sound silly, but simply making this choice has put me into paradise. My knowledge of good and evil has become so lopsided that even being stabbed would be a perfect experience. Yes, it would hurt like hell, and at the time of being stabbed I’d probably be acting and thinking as if something is very wrong indeed, but it would still be perfect, just as would my attempts to avoid getting stabbed and my attempts to get help.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s much easier to have this gratitude for everything at certain times than others. There’s even plenty of times that I assume something is wrong. The body has a strong impact on the mind and its discomfort has a heavy influence. It’s when I see the my thoughts for what they are (just thoughts) that I’m reminded that none are essentially true, and that my contentment is a choice.

Truth

28 Aug

I will likely expand on this post later, but here I have attempted as best as possible to convey understanding on a very confused subject.


Enlightenment has little to do with feelings of happiness or bliss or the absence of suffering (although the processes that lead to both are remarkably similar).

Enlightenment is simply truth-realization. I mean the word “truth” in common sense words: what REALLY is going on.

Truth is simple really. There is no need for confusion here. Truth is literally the reality you live in. It’s not something that can be put into words, because words are the tool of the mind and the mind is not it.

Awareness is it. Your direct awareness of the world around you is the truth.

Any beliefs about that world come from the mind, and hopefully as time goes on I’ll explain this more, but none of them are true (or false). They’re merely thoughts.

The only truth, the only enlightenment, is simply in the very act of experiencing this world.

The most common block to this understanding is that humans have a specific tendency to separate “the world” and “themselves” as two separate things…while calling “themselves” and a set of thoughts in the mind as being something synonymous. For whatever reason, people typically come to identify the mind itself as “them.”

But the world and mind (“me”) are not separate. They’re both simply observed. They’re fields for their contents (thoughts in the case of the mind)…but all those contents are part of the whole that is awareness…consciousness itself.

Don’t just understand, but experience this…that the thoughts in the mind are simply observed in the same way as sights in the eye, and you have enlightenment. It’s simply the observing of mind as “not me.”


The previous passages were written as literally as I am capable. Every word is used in its common sense form. I’ve tried to write this for the benefit of the body of people that are struggling with this difficult subject.

Honestly, there are better ways to understanding this than reading about it. Asking questions of your beliefs is the quickest (and only way that I know) of making sense of it. “Is that absolutely true?” is perhaps the king of those questions.

Einstein – The Beauty of the Mysterious

28 Aug

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.

This insight into the mystery of life, coupled though it be with fear, has also given rise to religion. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties and comprehend only in their most primitive forms – this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and this sense only, I belong in the ranks of devoutly religious men. It is enough for me to contemplate the mystery of conscious life perpetuating itself through all eternity, to reflect upon the marvelous structure of the universe which we can dimly perceive, and to try humbly to comprehend even an infinitesimal part of the intelligence manifested in nature.”

-Albert Einstein, an essay in Living Philosophies (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1937), pp. 3-7, bold added


I stand in utter gratitude for this passage, as Einstein’s feelings so reflect my own. The center of my own philosophy could really be centered around the word, “Ask!”

It is always a question that appears when awe over mystery is allowed to enter the mind. It is only complacency that allows any answer to satisfy. And as Einstein faithfully perceives, to that man that does not experience mystery – the man that can account for everything through his favored explanation – his eyes are closed and he is as good as dead.

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