A Leap of Faith

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Constant retrieval and upheaval. Landmines are everywhere. Why must they be invisible, though? Sometimes it’s as if immobilized standing before this incredulous land field of death; other times it’s as if I’m surrounded crouched small in the middle of it all. As I survey the spot adjacent to me I pivot looking to uncover, as if by some miracle, the least invasive terrain. Nothing stands out for attention and so I pivot on the axis of my being hoping I might just launch myself into the stratosphere without ever setting foot on the ground. If you’re looking for clearness stick to Descartes in servitude to that ailing cogito, but it shall be with a chuckle from the universe! I’ve made my bed with Faith, and though seemingly unkind, her existential nobility allows for streams of light to penetrate the darkness which gives her voice.

Disheveled Peace

 

*Photo from ArtofAmerica site by Angie Bechanan

Get Outta Your Mundane

The calamity of life is boredom. Kierkegaard said so. His linguistic elocutions had better gait, of course, but his point was the same. As he too warns,  idleness is not boredom. Inertia is different. It is kinda like passive aggression, it never quite poses for itself. Newton’s Law of Inertia basically speaks to the “inability of a physical body to change from a state of rest or of uniform motion, unless it is acted upon by an external force”. But it was Dostoevsky that understood the existential crisis brought on by this state. Inertia figures in Dostoevsky’s work Krotkaja (“The Gentle One” or sometimes translated “The Meek One”) where the running theme tragically narrated concerns a context, indeed that human-made context, of human understanding which is a coolly, mechanistic world determinate of laws of causation. Here then, inertia is not properly understood as actual inactivity, but activity determinant of a causal network of relations which are taken to define human activity. Much in the same way that objects are subject to laws of nature that determine motion, humankind self-identifies – well not consciously, people!!!!! – as a well greased machine, well at least when performative capacity is optimal. The suggestion is that the laws of nature in the physical world operate in precisely the same way with regards to humanity. Though the threat of determinism is imminent, suppose that this could be surpassed, it leaves free will at the mercy of a modus operandi that seeks out those governing laws of human nature according to which, or for which, any judgement should properly comply. Of course, the point would be that agency is tied up with goals, and the means by which these are fulfilled reflect the modus operandi.

The lucky ones – or maybe not so damn lucky!!! – discover this inertia that has seeped in and corroded all that is human, and despairing look to break out of their mundane. Don’t be fooled, the mundane is actively ( 😉 ) at work in the mosthuman-inertia sprightly, successful, and assertive lives! Was not the lives of the Greeks – Aristotle (though I will argue in my upcoming book that there is room here to manoeuvre) and notably the Stoics – aimed at virtue-building in accordance with nature, whereby one could learn to address all of those contaminates of the proper ordering of human activity, and live an active, prosperous, fulfilling life? The natural forces do not bend under the human will, mind you, rather it is the human will that learns to adapt and bend to the governing Will of the universe. As a result one would not futilely suffer over the events of one’s life but rather learn to live in accordance with them. As Epictetus famously says: Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.

At what cost Dostoevsky? At what COST! The shrilling706x410q70ee9d94f4485e80f5f054a92f746730a5-470x260 sounds vibrate in my mind and arrest my feet. I stand motionless, I am inertia! A double paradox presents. Once there, there seems no where to go, and hence the overwhelming, indeed fossilizing, experienced as angst. Recovery finds its way in the 2nd paradoxical state as vexed resistance: resistance to change.

Zen is not an option. Serenity, αταραξία, is a self-annihilating state. But subliminal peace is too potent to resist and so back to the running wheel disguised as a road spanning over the vast and unyielding beauty of nature. Resist and condemn yourself. Yield and loose yourself. Troubled are the waters not for the Phelpses (Micheal Phelps was a US Olympic decorated swimmer) of the world, but the circus clown! 🙂

 

 

It’s my Birthday

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It’s my birthday today. 52 years! Last year I composed a list of 51 virtues; but this year I’m interested in becoming wise to one virtue: self-disclosure. It’s been quite a journey. Nothing terribly bad, mind you. But it has been a life quite turbulent even when everything seemed quite still.

 

Still.

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Stillness.

 

A lapse in time.

A forgettable state. And then just like that time arrives as the world awakens beneath my feet and I can walk again. The ground, my ground, was never complacent. Grumbling sounds could also be heard, almost like thunder far off in the distance, only its below me, under me. I’m reminded: I’m here! Cause everything is here with me. I’m not alone. Think and magically appear! But where’d everything go?! (God damn, Descartes!) There! There stillness waits for me…again. And again, I’d disappear.

I hear those grumbling sounds again, but they’re not coming from underneath me, but reside inside me. I should have known! HA! But over the years I discovered a cure: one long swig of kykeon and unsettle everything. As with Sartre’s Roquentin, the disturbing stillness of all that surrounds left me feeling detached and very much a spectator of a life, only it was my life. The world often felt like a row of Platonic forms, quite inert, separate, but nonetheless imposing. Awakening, or being awoken by this ubiquitous grumbling amidst all of this only intensified my angst. Alas, nothing really is as it is; as it presents itself. I took solace in this, in the realization that those darned chestnut roots aren’t just defiantly as they are. So I took to invading the world; decomposing ( 😉 ) anything that presented as itself. Disquietude pervaded my life. But it was all I could do to keep from disappearing. Life choices rarely spoke to the phronetic, and so as I survey my life today, a double narrative appears. Bored and disturbed by constancy, stability, regularity, invariability, and routine, irregularity, unreliability, instability, and the erratic always found me. With gushing reverence I’d collide and abide with unyielding loyalty – but this was no Aristotelean virtue. We speak of being loyal to friends, lovers, family, but also to country, as well as, beliefs, and ideologies. Bonds intimately tied up in the realization of self with and amidst such relations is what cements these. These are relations of mutuality, and are characteristically exclusionist. Aha! The unreliable, the erratic is friend to no one, for there are no abiding standards to cement and bond such a union. Desirous of the ephemeral and irregular, existential crises were inevitable.

Self-disclosure is a psychically arduous task. Happy birthday, Elly mou.

 

 

Lost in the Clouds!

The beaten path is the one of least resistance. Everyone knows that! Now philosophers may meander, often taking the arduous route only to come out the same end. The straight and narrow, the black-and-white, the clear and distinct (sorry Descartes), the pragmatic (sorry, Dewey) the convenient, the cost-efficient (sorry Bentham), the salient, the reasonable, the acceptable, all conscripted notions that fall heavily on the heads of the masses. Socrates was gadfly to Athens – a pestering annoyance, an epithet few philosophers have not managed to have thrown at their feet as they squabble over the fine print, getting lost in abstractions on a cerebral high only they seem to enjoy.

The Greeks may not have been right that knowledge will necessarily bequeath the happiest life, but it certainly makes it more intro-passionately lived…and though existentially taxing, sublimely meaningful. Sometimes setting life as the outward working of a phronetic plan seems to miss the target (sorry, Aristotle) altogether, though. I don’t question the role of practical wisdom, nor still reason (that would be unreasonable!!! 😉 ), but I do question the universal application of this paradigm. Life is not something that can be put under one’s thumb and lived as a postscript to reason and whatever principles or biotic axioms might be espoused from it. Mostly life speaks to the aesthetic in which one is enraptured in the beauty awaiting discovery and this requires not developing only one’s rational propensity, but one’s sensibilities which are best cultivated through the arts. It involves sensitizing oneself to the transient and evolving beauty that surrounds and creating in oneself a relationship of mutuality.

Postscript: No. I’m not contra-Aristotle. But I come at the aretic view  from a different ultimate standpoint. I have existential leanings that loosely argue that there are no objective standards to ground all judgment. Does that mean that judgment is subjective and anything issued in earnest by the subject is true and right, and thereby impervious to judgment? Actually, no. That would be a rather naive view of subjectivism which owes many confusions to it’s presumed dichotomous relation to the objective. Inter-subjectivity probably best describes the proper rendering of the type of subjectivity defended, and it begins with the primordial positioning of the humankind already in-the-world-with-others and working out structures within which existence can be authenticated. Still, I do not reject aretic thinking, anymore than I reject the advice my physician gives me when I seek out medical advice. Rather within a particular paradigm of meaning prescripts are meaningful and “true”. 

Locker-Room Sexism

Locker-room banter is not just about Trump – it’s men everywhere

Men excuse themselves of this (Trump-like behaviour: Read the article!!!) suggesting that it’s innocent man-talk (oh, God, man up then!) whilst others refuse to admit they do it. I once dated a man who would send emails to male friends with pics of females (several were mine!!!!) saying things like: Look what I’m going out with tonight! What are we: trophies!!!?? Well, yes, my dear! Of course, to her face he’d say things like: “All I see is you!”. The hilarity might be more genuinely felt, were it not so tragic! Thing is, he’s not the exception, but the rule. (I mean no offense to this man should he happen to be reading along and recognize himself in my words.) I’d argue that it is the ugly and/or insecure who adopt this narrative, but that would fail to acknowledge the obvious. In the cock-pit of the extended male ego, prime place is often given those who firmly demonstrate their masculinity via these, otherwise, deplorable narratives (OMG, the innuendo is just flowing today! 😉 ). Now most men know that in today’s day the chances of getting some requires that they at least play along, and adapt their narrative, or feminize it, if you will. I’d say that that is a matter of demonstrating respect, and in some ways, to a certain extent that holds true often enough, but mostly it speaks to the poeticized verse of that former acquaintance of mine; i.e. “All I see is you!”.

Women are suffering from starvation these days. Men lack the equipment – oh, my!! – I mean the intellectual and linguistic equipment to seduce a woman, to woo her, so that guy (ugly or not) who adopts such ploys (and not always with the intent of a Don Juan who has become a Mastery at the Game of seduction, but quite accidentally, perhaps seemingly genuinely to his mind) is gonna get him some. Okay, okay, if you ain’t got the gift of the gab, just take her out for dinner, spoil her, and at least pretend you’re paying focused attention to her! Thing is, women know this! Thing is, men in the locker room, also know this. There is a sub-narrative, that subtext that no one is ignorant of. Women know how men talk behind her back. She knows that once the brotherhood is in full swing (Sheesh! 😉 ), poetry takes a backseat to pleasantries of respect! And men know how men talk; they know that if anything they mean to compliment (not always the case,  of course) the physical attractiveness of said woman (after all he’s not going to send pictures of ugly women!!!) and women should get this. Indeed, some women do! They are forgiving; indeed, some are secretly flattered! And herein lies part of the problem. Women have become enablers of this narrative.

It’s disturbing to me that my teenage daughter and her friends have already learned that boys will go through a crowd of girls, complimenting each (they often start with the most worthy and slowly make their way through the pack), until one (or more) succumbs to his flirtations whims. This quickly circulates, and though some may indeed succumb, feeling ahead of the pack for this, others may be hurt and offended and quiver in a corner, and yet others may with indignation call it ( 😉 ) as she sees it (funny how the male organ can be used in such a derogatory fashion, no!? 🙂 ). But she’ll still moan about her breasts being too small, and perhaps plan ahead for future implants; and more often than not she will feel secretly jealous of those girls who got all the stock men are looking for! There are some that will try to rise totally above this, but few will be made of that stock that finds them immune, and their sense of self-esteem still in tact. And those few that do will certainly recognize in themselves that they stand outside of the narrative at this look-out point very much as an outsider. So, girls begin to see themselves, value themselves, through the eyes…not the adoring eyes…of her predator! She admires herself, for those qualities that attract, and deplores herself for those qualities that repulse. She sees herself, as Simone de Beauvoir said all those years ago, as The Other. This is internalized and by adulthood seamlessly becomes the protagonist narrative.

So are Trump’s indecent remarks, only indecent because they were publicly and unapologetically voiced? Does he only suffer from stupidity? Is he merely socially inept? Well, not merely!! Until girls learn not to enable these boys and acknowledge themselves as uniquely oriented beings who must negotiate their inter-sexual and inter-personal relations dynamically, boys will grow up to be these men. We’re almost all-too-attentive and mindful of sexism today, and though it is no small victory that our forerunners won for us women today, we really need to get behind the momentum of this process (that one was unintentionally, promise! 😉 ) and provide the means by which our girls can readdress (sometimes biologically described as an otherwise instinctive drive…but we are not instinct alone!!!) the urges of boys before it becomes part of the fabric of social life.

Over and out!

No Blank Slate

There’s no Locke-down ( 😉 ) on personal history, people. There’s no blank slate! Don’t gripe and complain that your partner has hang-ups, concerns, issues, and expectations! What did you think you were getting into? A vegetable garden? Cause if you’re asking for my histoire to be left at the door, I might as well be a vegetable! Look, it’s like this. If you’ve picked me out of a crowd, there’s something about how I hold myself, how I wear my being, that you’ve spotted. Now I didn’t get here just from popping out of my mother’s womb. I crawled, walked, digressed, walked some more, ran (in my case A LOT), took a couple of pit stops, got slapped down, crawled some friggen more (but now as a full-grown adult!!!), learned to walk all over again and maybe in between there might have been some singing and dancing! But ultimately I have a walk, a stride all my own. It’s what you saw. It’s what elated you in my presence, it’s what drew you in. Now maybe you might not stay long. Maybe my run now looks more like a trot, and my gait now makes you think; Purina Dog Chow. But that wasn’t always the case.

What’s my point? We are all historical and existential beings, and that’s just a fancy way of saying that life experiences are the material from which each of us gives shape to our being. Who we are is neither given, nor entirely a social construct. We are intimately preoccupied with the “who” of our being; it keeps us awake at night, and causes us to anguish over how to respond to life’s callings. We are inescapably arrested by that inward pull into ourselves as we wrestle to understand through a process of self-understanding. We are uniquely oriented to the world with others in this way. We don’t just make decisions that can be deemed rational, valid, quirky or stupid. We don’t simply (well, maybe not that simple) speak to a set of claims organized according to logic specs. For even when decisions ascertained are strictly valid, there remain residual concerns of conscience. I can reason my way out of a situation and still find myself startled by the lack of insight and agential restitute that follows. How can this be?

Well, it would seem the who of our being is not constituted by rationality alone. Decisions made do not speak authentically to my sense of being for their excogitations but rather for the unique way that I am the experiencing subject of a life. Again this boils down to the act of understanding as self-understanding that is always concrete, individual and which cannot be outstripped. People come with all sorts of baggage but the #1 slot goes to betrayal! We’ve all experienced it even if the conditions and circumstances that occasioned it were radically dissimilar. So Aleena, a thoughtful, lovely young woman spent the better part of her adult life with Damian ( 😉 ). Damian, though not overtly abusive; in fact, one might say, to the contrary; he was outwardly caring, thoughtful and tremendously supportive. But he had this one teensy, itsy-bitsy quirk, you might say. He was an insatiable womanizer. Blindly committed, Aleena was in the dark…well, until she wasn’t. But that came some 20 odd years later. Those that knew her, knew her to be a true Kantian, and hence, autonomy was non-negotiable. There’s no way Damian could not have known this. So the news of his compulsive infidelity came like a tsunami! Resilient, but now single, Aleena carried on, and as luck would have it, met Stergios. Now Stergios, as his name suggests, was a caring, reliable and dependable man. You might say, Aleena had found her Kantianpart ( 😉 ). So when Aleena would find herself expressly agitated by what were for Stergios perfectly innocent liaisons with other women, he first appealed to reason – her reason, his reason, the selfsame Reason inherent to all human thinking God damn it!!!! –  but that was to no avail. Aleena seemed unappeased, and hence to his mind, irrational, unreasonable, and quite frankly, exhausting. It seemed unfair that he should have to pay for the wrongful ways of Damian! After all, Stergios is the guy! He’s the one that has his shit together, is decent, caring, a man of integrity, and committed to building a life, his future, with Aleena. Shouldn’t she be expected to transcend her past, her life experiences? Shouldn’t she be able to attend to the situation at hand, and with reason guiding her breast, conclude that her reactions are nothing more than displaced emotive energies?

Could Stergios be asking that Aleena leave her history at the door? Could his expectation be that Aleena turn back the clock and undo all that has been done? Reason most certainly can guide thought processes, and this is essential insofar as clarity of thought, and precision of speech can put quandaries and paradoxes to rest that might otherwise be the source of aporia. However, Aleena has not become a suspicious, and infuriatingly sensitized woman alone, she has also become that magnanimous, deeply caring and vulnerable woman. That woman, in fact, who Stergios found to be exquisitely endearing and authentic. It is through an active process of self-understanding that often arises in moments of rupture that we come to renegotiate ourselves, to redefine, and realign ourselves in the world with others. Who we are is always on its way, for as Sartre would say, we are inescapably free and in this life practice we must (re)invent ourselves. But none of this is ever accomplished in a vacuum (well Sartre got pretty damn close…) and hence Aleena is who she is (e.g. magnanimous  and fragile) only because of the manner in which she experienced herself as the subject of betrayal and the meaning that that came to have for her. It would do little good to speak to her of betrayal as something commonly experienced and walk her through the 5 stages of grief (Kubler Ross’s account has been adapted to speak beyond the scope of death). This can often do no more than demoralize, deflate, and decay Aleena’s sense of person. It will create a disconnect; one where I – in Aleena’s voice – feel misunderstood. I am not anyone of those people that have experienced betrayal. Even if there are commonalities that one can discern in the narration of my story, the particular experience is existentially relevant to me because only I can experience myself as the experiencing subject of said betrayal and come to an understanding of myself within such dimensions of life. It is not to be discerned dispassionately, as a spectator, by Stergios, himself unaffected, living life at a frequency of sound unheard, though nonetheless relayed by word and deed.

So that’s it? Case closed? Should Stergios just accept Aleena’s hyper sensitivity? Well no, of course not. For we are also not just the product of our experiences, even those existentially realized experiences of self. We are always on our way, and who Aleena is can and will be renegotiated within a backdrop of openness and care with Stergios, who critically but un-judgingly will indulge Aleena looking to uncover that narrative which speaks to the way in which she has come to see herself (she may experience herself as more vulnerable and yet open, or intolerant and closed…) and others (she may now experience others with suspicion or with greater insight into the human condition), the values she has picked up along the way (she may now reject her Kantian ways!!!), and the opportunities that her relations with Stergios have now occasioned. The conversation is not conducted by two rationally disposed, self-contained beings, bridged by their mutual adherence to basic principles of reasoning. Instead, engagement is characterized by mutually, amongst inter-historical beings who share an inward process of self-understanding within a context of openness (open to the possibilities of becoming through the activity seeking joint understanding). Stergios then does not begin from a position of superiority as if to suggest that his leanings are impervious to historicity, and hence he is called upon to also expose his existential, and hence, personalized investedness in his paradigm of meaning. Suddenly, engaging in liaisons with other women is neither abstractly and hence absolutely innocent or suspect, and manners of being-with-(female)-others need be renegotiated. Mutuality suggests, therefore, that a paradigm of meaning shall be negotiated amongst two historical existential beings.

Relations?! It’s a l o n g, convoluted, often treacherous road. Negotiating these can be taxing, yet rewarding, as each time it takes partners to deeper levels of intimacy, connectedness and mutual understanding. When left unnegotiated or when they are beyond negotiation (the reasons are endless, but high on the list is an existential disconnect) it’s time to sever ties, but WOW, when those ties are restructured, rekindled, that twisted, messy webbed tangle, is gloriously fulfilling, and unmatched. Hold on to those, people!

Song  – the arts in general – have this incredible way of communicating the non-transferable and utterly subjective character of human experience. Have a listen (my Greek readers will understand best!)! 🙂 ❤

 

FYI – None of the characters in this story are historical figures, rather they are a semblance of many – of you, me, mom and dad, distant strangers and more.

The Joy of Regret

More often than not people profess that one should not regret anything one has done because, after all, it got me to where I am now. And strangely even when ‘where one is now’ ain’t so great, bizarrely one draws inspiration from the idea that I would not be who I am were it not for everything that preceded, and I guess not profoundly embracing this notion is blasphemous dribble suggestive of self-annihilation. I don’t agree. I’m so totally with Kathryn.

Do you honestly believe that Biban Janković does not regret slamming his head against the goal post (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boban_Jankovi%C4%87) that caused his paralysis and premature death? What if the late Jyoti Singh (see India’s Daughter) could turn back the clock and not enter the bus from hell? Would she not have chosen to? You can be sure that Stanley Tookie Williams ((http://www.biography.com/people/stanley-tookie-williams-476676) regrets his delinquent ways! Indeed, it was his regret that moved him to change his ways, and though from a prison cell, inspire young hooligans on the fast track to a life of crime, to learn from his mistakes! Regret implies agency  – Kathryn is right about this, no? We cannot regret what we cannot change. I can’t regret being born into a world bent on (still lingering) patriarchal sentiments, any more than I can regret the vicious tragedy that befell the lovely Jyoti Singh. These events were not within my power to effect. But this is not the same as decisions made under my watch, as I surveyed my life. The premise is fallaciously employed retroactively to suggest that because I cannot change the past, and therefore have no control over altering events already transpired, that regret is a futile occupation. Of course, I did have agential authority over events that, despite the initial suggestion, one quite naturally evokes a sense of regret for (“Damn I wish I hadn’t eaten that 2nd piece of cake!” or “Shit, I wish I hadn’t betrayed my wife and pissed my family away!”) which is obviously not the case with regards to those events over which I never had (or could have had) such authority over. Still, many might argue that what is done is done. The past cannot be undone. I cannot claim (or be assigned) agential authority over that. True enough. Except for one thing. Regret is an emotionally charged response to a situation which is perceived to have been under one’s control to effect. This is why often cries of self-admonition – “I wish I hadn’t!!!!”- can be heard over and over again. Sometimes regrets linger and are replayed ad nauseam as one wrestles with the emotional overtures of events one could (often easily) have altered….but didn’t. Regret does not reflect one’s impotency to change the past, but one’s weakness, ignorance, idiocy, delusion, to have acted in a way that one now understands to have been under  (or could have been) one’s control to do otherwise. That’s why I don’t regret what is perceived to have been beyond my control to act otherwise (eg. under coercive threat).

And we do actually believe this. Regret is the moral backdrop (perhaps) of all organized human life where moral culpability plays a fundamental role in the assignment of blame and incurring punishments and penalties. We don’t send sociopaths to jail because they are deemed ill-fit and devoid of the moral sentiments from which a sense of moral culpability is drawn. The point is twofold: (i) Iff one is sound in mind, is one assigned moral culpability (eg. mentally challenged, temporary insanity, psychoses, etc.) ; and (ii) only in cases such as these does one recognize in oneself acts of wrong doing and the ensuing predictable (and I dare say, expected) feeling of regret! The corollary of this view is that such individuals (especially those suffering from psychoses) are beyond rehabilitation because they are beyond redemption. Herein lies the crux of the matter: regret charges one with both the responsibility and motivation to alter one’s ways. It says, in effect, I could have acted differently, if only I had known x, believed y, was willing to see or accept z, and/or had the courage to act accordingly. With foresight in my grasp, I can now tend to these shortcomings in self, and begin my journey towards my own transvaluation of values (well not quite as Nietzsche might have hoped, but perhaps Derek Vineyard’s existential plight in American History X offers some insight – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JsPW6Fj3BUI) and the negotiation of self (so very unlike that more convenient idea with which this blog began where one embraces who one is just because this is how I happened to turn out!!! 🙂 ) more authentically and viscerally realized. It is as Kathryn says, regret only means that I acknowledge in myself the power to be better, the emotional stability to accept my fragility, and the desire to change and make past wrongs right.

Regret at will, I say! It is the healthy choice. And make no mistake, this too is a choice! 🙂