As a species that is overly pre-occupied with cataloguing and ordering the reality around it, it is not surprising that we react badly to elements that do not fit into that order. Any entity, object, person, or thought that fails to convey an identity that we can position within a certain category causes distress that even the most open-minded person cannot deny having experienced in life at some point or another. This has been the theory that usually explains away the discomfort; that it is the block itself that does not fit within the constructed frame. That our perception denies us the ability to accept immediately something that does not figure within it, or cannot be integrated because it is inherently different from it. However I propose a different explanation to the universal response to ill-fitting elements of our reality.
What if the block was just making us realize how absurd our construction is? That is to say, what if in the elements that arouse a sensation of absurdity from us we are encountering a raw form of the universe, a chaos that we cannot order and which annihilates our ability to apply our rationality to it, and in doing so our distress is evoked? Going further, the element that causes this reaction is shining light upon our established reality and demonstrating the absurdity of it by displaying a blatant disregard for its parameters?
When we encounter an individual who does not adhere to our preconceived idea of a good life or a correct path, it is assumed that we judge the person based on not fitting in within our construction of success. But what if we are judging them based on the reflection of our own lives and the amount of sacrifice invested in order to achieve a semblance of success? In doing so we find them absurd not because their actions are inherently absurd but because we cannot conceive that we have submitted ourselves to the levels of absurd suffering we have in order to achieve things that might not be as substantial as we had hoped.
Consistently we do the same thing to ideas, objects, and entities that do not fit. Their mere existence instantaneously revokes the solid conviction of our current reality, and in panic and anger we rebel against it. And yet, there is that feeling that you cannot shake once you have encountered absurdity, a sensation of truth that rings through you. The chaos of the world is revealed in an instant, and you cannot evade it as easily as you might have been able to otherwise. This posses a trauma at times, especially when it is in the form of large scale of events from nature such as hurricanes and earthquakes. The human is left with this absurd level of violence that cannot be blamed or explained except as something that occurred due to a variety of factors outside of personal control. That shaking in the core of self-possession and control is a feeling that some humans become increasingly afraid of as they age, while others seek it constantly. It reminds us of our paradoxical existence as entities that can see and rationalize but that are also susceptible to bias and fallacies within that perception so that truth may remain ever elusive, our existence is absurd and against absurdity we rebel for it shows our true state. A state that we have yet not been able to escape.
Pablo Picasso - Guernica
Before any other things might be said it should be clear that although the facts change from one news site to another, there remains the undeniable factor of death and loss that is indisputable. Regardless of the politics and allegiances that will certainly define the potency of the controversy that has followed this event, it cannot be denied that human lives have been lost. Sentiments of patriotism will be roused and anger will encompass our nation as time progresses and more people learn of this event. In anger our country will rise and demand that Lady Justice be served, in fact many have condemned our president's response as too apologetic and contained. But let's take a moment and consider what justice we are asking for and if it is in fact justice.
Since the 70's and perhaps even earlier in time, the US has been heavily invested in the Middle East and we have supported dictatorships in the area in order to better serve our economic or diplomatic interests. In more recent times we have engaged in various wars in the area and after the 09/11 attack, we became bloodhounds that perceived anything of Islamic or Muslim association as inherently evil. We do not see the people, we do not see their world, we only see a faceless enemy that defaced us and that we have to destroy regardless of cost. The situation is no longer one of trying to make the bad guys pay for what they did, it has become a witch-hunt. In our blind hatred we continue asking for justice while killing and destroying everything in our path seeking that justice. Who will give justice to the countries we are destroying? Who will give the families of the survivors solace? Will the empty hand of served justice contain the lives of those they lost? Unless you know something I don't, I highly doubt it.
The film that sparked the outrage cannot be censored if we are to respect freedom of expression, or if you are a believer in the principles of liberty. After all, the movie might have been offensive but it did not directly cause the death of anyone. The response that was generated is by no means justified, which would make an equally violent response on our part not justified. We have killed and raped as much if not more than other nations, we are not morally superior in any way, on the contrary we are an empire that has thrived off of the disadvantages of others for most of our existence. What right do we have to demand that the president engage in a bloodthirsty and inflaming rhetoric in self-righteous anger with the purpose of vengeance?
If anything, we should see this incident as a warning sign of the overflowing hatred we have sown in our destructive path. It is not cowardice to be understanding! It is not cowardice to compromise! But we are not even worthy of compromise, with our blood-stained hands how do we hope to be seen as anything other than a heartless murderer? And yet the people ask for war and retribution, when will we tire of it?
Perhaps the day it is brought to our soil and we have to experience the horrors that we have imposed upon others.
The Consideration of Constant Self-Improvement As a Necessity
Because one of my favorite mottos in life is the idea of turning your weakness into your greatest strength, I happen to appreciate the concept of self-improvement to a high degree. I have that mentality of “If you can do it yourself then why wait for someone else to do it?” Which can make things very easy for a lot of people, but it can also make me be somewhat of a pain. But like dear old Benjamin Franklin, I embrace my love affair with productivity and try to carry its message to others as much as possible. As I mentioned in my previous post about solitude and searching for meaning, I happen to believe that through hard work and effort a deeper understanding and therefore meaning can be achieved. That profundity can lead to a much more satisfying state of living, than if one were to just indulge in pleasure. Not to imply that pleasure is bad, but indulgence in whatever constitutes pleasure for a person cannot lead into anything good. Scratch that! Over-indulgence even in non-pleasurable things can never have a good ending for the indulger!
Life is about balance; anyone can tell you that but can just anyone reach that balance? Mr. Franklin certainly tried to throughout his life! He created a specific schedule for his daily routine as can be seen here:
And he attempted to stay within those boundaries in order to both create a greater balance in his life and maximize his productivity. In theory it sounds like a wonderful idea, one that many have attempted, but in actuality it is a very difficult life-style that demands a lot from the individual. When I think of someone who has chosen this type of life the image of those dedicated to martial arts or weapons training comes to mind. The level of self-discipline and dedication alone can scare off anyone who has not truly come to terms with it.
Now you may be wondering, but why should I choose a path so filled with sacrifice and hard work when I could just sit here and play my XBOX all day? Why should I go out and throw myself into the fray and heartache of life at full force? My personal response to this is that as someone who is part of the giant mass known as humanity, you have a bit of a duty to your brethren to attempt to better yourself in order to make life easier for everyone else. But before I get accused of being a socialist/communist! That’s not the full reason, there is the other part, which is a bit harder to explain unless you have actually experienced what I will attempt to describe
Remember when you were 5 and your parents would applaud you for putting something together with your own hands? You were considered a genius for doing so! But somewhere along the line people stopped giving you the recognition you deserved for your hard work, so you stopped giving as much as you did before. Somewhere along the line you started needing to motivate yourself into it, you couldn’t rely on the motivation or the support of others anymore. You needed to find your own strength in order to keep going, but for some reason it just wasn’t there, and along with the lack of strength and motivation came the lack of wanting. And you started settling, as one of my friends has said to me before “Why study for 5 hours to get an A, when I can study for one and get a B?” And I was stumped! I was left completely speechless by this logic, because from my world perspective, humans are inherently ambitious. But this sort of idea, that I could settle for somewhere between average and above average was seductive, dangerously so.
Perhaps this next part of my explanation is going to only be attractive to people who value their individualism, and I fear that might cause it to be insufficient as a reason but hear me out. Why go at life at full force? Because as a unique individual, as a free-agent born into this world I want to see how I can use my power at full potential, I desire to see how much I can affect my reality. I desire to find out what my limits and my unbound strengths are, I want to see what I’m fully capable of. To remain at a certain horsepower for my entire life would be a crime against the world that gave me life. It is a disservice to millions of years of evolution; it is a slap to the face of my own self-worth to choose to handicap myself before I even run into an obstacle.
As a result, probably because of my workaholic tendencies I maintain that constant self-improvement is a necessity for the maximization of one’s potential.
On The Matter of Solitude
It is very easy to find oneself alone, strolling through the caverns of the inner universe of our minds. Sometimes we find there truths that we rather put behind a locked door and never look at it again. Because of this, some people struggle with solitude. They struggle to never be caught in its presence, afraid of what they might find once they unlock some of those doors and see what they have put away. However it is not always just facing old facts, there is also a possibility for self-evaluation, the results of which can at times be very difficult to deal with. So again, we run away from this petrifying knowledge, we run away from ourselves. This behavior is not only exhibited by curiosity- devoid individuals, or extreme extroverts who refuse to partake in a session of introspection, but by a great spectrum of people. And I have found myself often wondering as to why. Because to me the value of knowing the self deeply is so self-evident that I’m completely at a loss as to why a person would choose otherwise.
When you turn a blind eye to your own inner universe, you are more open to being led astray in your goals and dreams. Anything can move you one way or another, there is no fortitude behind your words because you never truly know why you do the things you do. There are some people who believe they know why, and they give you answers that they have rehearsed and told themselves is the reason why, but further questioning can quickly make them undone. While when you question someone who usually invests time in introspection, the answers you are presented with are of a profound sort, they contain a resonance and sincerity that your humanity echoes their sounds.
Now, I’m no judge of the quality of anyone’s life, I’m just as human as the rest of our species, but as someone who used to lie to herself and hide from her truths I can attest that confronting them provides a feeling very much more worthwhile. I have encountered people who I present this argument to and they counter me with ideas along the lines of “We are all going to die some day, why bother?” or “Everything you do in life is meaningless, why put so much effort into it?” and, I have found myself lacking a definitive answer. The only thing I can think of that I can bring to my aid is that feelings of fulfillment, accomplishment, and happiness are different. Yes, perhaps there is nothing behind our daily toil except a death and turning to dust; perhaps there is absolutely no meaning to anything ever! But an hour of solitude to think about why you are the way you are, and why the world is the way it is, can help immensely to change that feeling of worthlessness that those who avoid solitude often express experiencing.
Introspection, Books, and Dealing With Hatred
I sit here in my office and I write about things with a certitude that is I think sometimes zealous. I do not think that this it is right, and I have struggled my entire life to temper the passions that I feel when I look at the world, at those who surround me, at the wrongs and at the rights that go on. It is difficult to divest oneself from the attachments that generate the impulses through which mistakes are made. We are often told that great leaders know how to keep their cool; they know how to work well under pressure.
During my short life I have found this to be one of the hardest things to accomplish when molding my character. I know that great intellectuals are supposed to keep in line with an almost dispassionate objectivity towards dire circumstances in order to make the best decisions, however I seem unable to do this. My temper flares and perspective is lost, I become almost like a fanatic enraged by some blasphemous act performed upon their god. It is a fault, and I think it is perhaps one of my greatest character flaws. Seeking solace to either amend or attempt to control this problem I have reached out towards one of the reportedly greatest men in ancient history; the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelious. At the start of the summer I became interested in his persona, by happening upon one of his sayings on one of my Facebook friend’s status, it read:
"Anything in any way beautiful derives its beauty from itself and asks nothing beyond itself. Praise is no part of it, for nothing is made worse or better by praise."
I found the quote to be insightful and worthwhile, and it sparked in me the desire to learn more from this character whom I had known about for many years but had never studied in depth. So I looked up some biographies and started reading one in particular by Frank McLynn called “Marcus Aurelious: A Life” Little by little I started finding out things about this obscure (at least to me) figure. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that this man who is revered for his temperance, justice, and wisdom, actually suffered from this same quickness of temper that I find to be such a hindrance in myself. I felt such a connection of human proportions across the eons to this eminent man, we both had this one flaw that made our lives unavoidably difficult. Not only that, but we had both sought refuge in the same branch of study known as philosophy.
Further study of his story led me to be intrigued about his book “Meditations” and I proceeded to avail myself of a copy as soon as I could. I cannot perhaps fully convey how glad I am that I picked-up this little book! I was not even through the second chapter and I was already quoting/highlighting various portions of the text. The insights provided by most of the little sections in which the chapters are divided made me feel as if I had inadvertently chanced upon a cornucopia of human knowledge. I believe a fit description for the feeling I felt would be “intellectual orgasm.”
But life has a funny way to make you aware of how deficient you are, no matter how much you think you have advanced. Not soon after I had started reading the Meditations, I found myself in the middle of a heated argument about feminism that quickly downgraded into the area of personal insults and morality attacks. I was further ashamed of my behavior when upon arriving at home and seeking some semblance of comfort I dug up my little book and read:
“Begin the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him, For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.”
My inability to control my anger had not only made me lose an important argument for the betterment of the world, but it personally made me feel as if I had let a close friend down. I had failed, not only to uphold my own ideals, but I had also failed my new friend. It was devastating.
I can only hope I can learn from this and move forward with a mindset that will allow me to avoid this mistake in the future. Allow me to avoid the generalities and the traps of mob-think. Allow me to avoid the hatred of zealous advocacy, so that I may truly help in the construction of a better reality.
Recently our government has been engaged in a struggle with the debt ceiling, Republicans fighting for an increase, while Democrats and the president are considering the possibility of a default if a clear plan is not put forth and compromised on by both parties. But who are the ones who suffer when these two titans clash against each other? With a looming election in the horizon, I'm inclined to think that the ones who will suffer are the people, as usual. When spending cuts come into the equation, the first programs that get mentioned are Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. I remember not long ago when Republicans would derisively accuse the health care bill proposed by Obama of creating "death panels" but aren't they essentially doing the same by requesting cuts on the services that aid those same elderly people? I don't mean that they are creating death panels, but that they are facilitating the termination of people's lives by taking away their aid. I don't particularly feel comfortable with Obama's stance either. As an intelligent man, I would have hoped him to be more assertive on leading and he should be the one putting plan's forth to solve the problems we are facing. And as many people have mentioned, start by cutting back on our aid to other countries, and stop our intervention in wars that are giving us nothing but economical issues. When there are these self-evident solutions, it is hard to believe that politicians have our best interest at heart. So what should we do about it? It is also our responsibility as a supposedly democratic society to enforce our will upon our government. What can be done?