Love is to the seeing heart, home

This is a fun exchange of views incited by a colleague and friend on Linkedin some time ago.

‘Authentic love must be founded on reciprocal recognition of two freedoms; each lover would then experience himself as himself and as the other: neither would abdicate his transcendence, they would not mutilate themselves; together they would both reveal values and ends in the world’. – Simone de Beauvoir, ‘Le Deuxième Sexe’, (‘The Second Sex’), 1949. [‘L’Amante inquiète’, Jean Antoine Watteau, c. 1715-1717]:-

 

My Reply: Though, of course, negotiating that is a challenging and arduous affair, and one that is truly inspiring and unifying, rather than dividing, only between discursive equals. And though it is a HUGE risk to come out and say this on a public forum, I have yet to meet a man that can endure alongside his discursive equal. Men tend (I did say tend!!!) to gravitate to easy, convenient, malleable. And when that occurs they too are malleable. Go figure!!! I’m being facetious…sort of… 😉

Linkedin Member1: you bring up equality here. I think this is important. either you find your discursive equal (difficult 😉 ) – or you must (both) create conditions in which discourse is especially save. I think as long as people are afraid of humiliation, they will not seriously discuss and look for solutions together. I understand that from another area: I am really horrible when it comes to mechanics, for instance. And if someone wants me to deal with a mechanic problem I need to feel very, very safe – otherwise I throw it away.

My reply to LM1: You raise the issue within the context of knowledge acquisition and the psychological role that low self-esteem and the like may play in its transference. However, I raise the issue of freedom as existential equals. That is, with a discursive partner that in essence is of like discursive calibre and rooted in dialogical complexities, nuances, that calibrate the interchange such that one’s sense of affirmation is negotiated in a context of unrest. I should add that this is often determined by behaviouristic models of interaction (sadly) so by definition, is pretty much already a violation of existential freedom. Putting your foot down and establishing boundaries is certainly a way of affirming freedom, but this is more in keeping with new relations which have not acquired any real history yet. In those that may last the process alters, so that those initial boundaries are (hopefully) negotiated and renegotiated occasioned by new contextual situations, and evolving beings working side-by-side.

Linkedin Member2: Well, I always think French philosophers sound great. But what does she mean by “freedom” – let alone two freedoms?

Linkedin Member3 to LM2: Well, there are various kinds of freedom. Leaving aside political freedom, which is obviously not what is meant here, there is psychological freedom, and moral freedom. Although underlying any freedom is the identification of ourselves with a conceived end, good or bad, and which is freely chosen and realized (I know using the word ‘freely’ there makes it look a bit circular, but I leave aside the question of whether there is such a thing as free will or not). And so, having the capacity to follow out our purpose, that is psychological freedom. But then, if we leave out the moral quality of the purpose, how free am I really if, for example, my purpose is to keep myself drunk all the time? Does not harbouring a low ideal put us in a kind of bondage? Moral freedom, on the other hand, implies a higher purpose, some ideal that is actually worth pursuing.

Linkedin Member3 to LM2: And yet, Sartre does say, in ‘Being and Nothingness’: ‘it amounts to the same thing whether one gets drunk alone or is a leader of nations. If one of these activities takes precedence over the other, this will not be because of its real goal but because of the degree of consciousness which it possesses of its ideal goal; and in this case it will be the quietism of the solitary drunkard which will take precedence over the vain agitation of the leader of nations’. So maybe he wouldn’t accept the distinction just outlined.

Linkedin Member2: Would that imply that for authentic love the lovers need to recognize each other’s wills – for instance the will to serve God or the will to change the political system or the will to breed bees? But she does not suggest that you have to share the will (the ideals, the perceptions…) of the other, does it?

My reply to ML3: Hmmmm this way of formulating the issue of freedom for de Beauvoir tends to favour a political reading of freedom. And though she is certainly speaking in and for a socio-political context, the more Sartrean or existential undertow, adds a dimension to the discussion that can more properly address the inter-relatedness in the context of love-relations.

My reply to LM2: No. Sartre argues that “hell is other people” and that all inter-human relations are inherently and inescapably frustrating. So we may just have a skewed, wrong-headed, set of expectations from inter-human and inter-romantic relations.

Linkedin Member4: Yes, beautiful…and the ideal to strive for, always! Because without this freedom to be one’s real self in a loving partnership, one or the other will make compromises they are unhappy with which will ultimately create resentment, which will lead to anger.

My reply LM4: See I don’t think that this is a universal paradigm that all inter-human and/or inter-romantic relations can strive for or realize. For it is essential (ugh) that in the dialogical or discursive encounter with the other that a “common language” be spoken. Of course, you can have loving and happy relations with the other of deficient (or distinct) discursive propensity, but it will not be of equal intensity, depth and connect-ability/relatedness. 🙂

Alas the ephemeral nature of such things has goal-directed lives win the dayNot me, not todaynot any day!

 Love is to the seeing heart, home.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Philosopher Loose in the World – An Interview with Tom Morris

 

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Tom Morris is a former academic philosopher who transitioned into a life of practical philosophy. He has authored over 25 books of wide-reaching acclaim and is a public speaker and advisor to the largest corporations. He has also been featured in the New York Times Magazine, among many other national and international magazines and newspapers. I should add that, in spite of his success, he is approachable, supportive and a man that embodies the essence of “the love of wisdom”! He answers emails from all over the world through his website www.TomVMorris.com and keeps an active presence on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Some people have even called him “the world’s happiest philosopher.”

  1. Tom could you tell us something about your training and academic career?

Hi, Elly! Sure, thanks for asking. No one in my family had ever been to college. We had farmers, truck drivers, and even a race car pit crew mechanic in the family when I was growing up. My father ran a radio station and then started a real estate company, and my mother mostly worked at home. I was surprised by a full scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I first encountered philosophy and religious studies, and those areas captured my imagination. I wrote my first book when I was still a student at UNC, and was thrilled to get a full scholarship to attend Yale University for two Masters degrees and a double Ph.D. in both Religious Studies and Philosophy. My first full time job was at The University of Notre Dame where I was able to help build the greatest place in the world for philosophy of religion and philosophical theology. I had the amazing experience of pioneering new topics and organizing others to do innovative new work. I was on the faculty for 15 years and rose from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor with Tenure to Full Professor before I left to launch into something altogether new.

2. How did you transition out of the academia? And what got you started on public speaking?

A group of local business people had heard that the students had a lot of fun in my classes at Notre Dame and called to ask me to speak on the ethics of decision-making, hoping I guess that I could give them good guidance and make the session enjoyable as well. That talk then generated half a dozen other invitations to speak on the same topic, and soon afterwards a man called to ask me to speak to a big gathering of car dealers on the topic of success. I had no idea that philosophers of the past had ever addressed such an issue. My training was very technical. But I began to investigate the practical side of philosophy and was amazed at what I found. I never planned to be a public speaker or what I now call a public philosopher, but life just took me increasingly in that direction. I saw people waking up to wisdom and getting excited about philosophy in new ways. And I watched as people used the ideas I was bringing them to change their personal lives and their businesses. It was an unexpected and amazing experience. Before I knew what was happening, I was speaking in Russia, Finland, Sweden, and all across the US and in other countries as well. It became a huge enterprise I had never expected.

  1. It would seem that you have mostly focused on morality, broadly conceived? What accounts for this?

I’ve just responded to what people have asked me to speak on. My academic work was at the interface of metaphysics, philosophical logic, and religion. I didn’t do ethics at all, or moral philosophy more broadly. Then people started asking me to speak on ethics, success, collaboration, partnership, change, and culture—topics I’d never even considered researching as a philosopher. And I discovered that maybe half of the history of philosophy had been relatively neglected and forgotten in America in the past 100 years or so. We had come to focus on technical and theoretical issues, in almost an imitation of the natural sciences, and we’d come to ignore as academics the most practical of issues that traditionally philosophers had also addressed. It’s been my joy to help rediscover these issues for our time.

  1. More particularly, you seem to be mostly focused on the corporate world, having written some of your most widely read books in this area. These include If Aristotle Ran General MotorsTrue Success: A New Philosophy of Excellence, The Art of Achievement: Mastering The 7 Cs of Success in Business and Life,and If Harry Potter Ran General Electric: Leadership Wisdom From the World of the Wizards. Why is it that you have honed onto the corporate world?

Those are the people who kept approaching me and asking for my help with their lives and challenges. I’ve also spoken a lot for civic groups and nonprofits, for schools and universities and to almost every kind of gathering imaginable, but the corporate groups kept coming to me, and offering, eventually, to pay me to think about and speak about the issues that mattered to them. In fact, they would offer me for an hour more than my annual starting salary as a university professor. I was pretty surprised. And I quickly learned that all the topics that challenged them were basically universal human issues, inside and outside business environments. So, I’ve always spoken to the life topics and basics of human nature that underlie everything we do.

  1. Could you explain what the 7Cs are, both in terms of their philosophical underpinnings and practical relevance and implementation?

One of my first dozen invitations to speak outside a classroom was that meeting of car dealers I mentioned. They wanted to know what the great philosophers had to say about success. So I did more research than I’d ever done on any topic, and I was astonished. From Lao Tsu, Confucius, Socrates, Xenophon, Aristotle, the Stoics, and through the centuries and across cultures—in a medieval Islamic mystic and a seventeenth century Spanish Jesuit priest—I was seeing the same ideas. I read and read and analyzed and distilled it all into seven universal conditions for success in any challenging endeavor. My claim is that this framework of ideas is the one and only universal toolkit for success. Any other technique or idea is just a version or application of one of these in specific circumstances. They are:

The 7 Cs of Success

For the most satisfying and sustainable forms of success, we need:

(1) A clear CONCEPTION of what we want, a vivid vision, a goal clearly imagined.

(2) A strong CONFIDENCE that we can attain that goal.

(3) A focused CONCENTRATION on what it takes to reach the goal.

(4) A stubborn CONSISTENCY in pursuing our vision.

(5) An emotional COMMITMENT to the importance of what we’re doing.

(6) A good CHARACTER to guide us and keep us on a proper course.

(7) A CAPACITY TO ENJOY the process along the way.

  1. After many talks over many years, in audiences in the hundreds, what would you say resonates most with them?

I’ve been lucky enough to have almost every size audience, from a CEO and his eleven direct reports around a table to groups of 5,000 and 10,000 people in a room. And that becomes almost like the philosophical equivalent of a rock concert! This week I spoke to 875 hospital executives and 450 data people. Audience members began surprising me years ago by telling me that I bring them hope. They learn from my talks that there is wisdom for whatever we face. We aren’t alone. We don’t have to make up everything ourselves. Wise people have traveled this road before us and have faced what we confront and have learned. They’ve often left us their notes, and we can use those notes to help in our own challenges and opportunities. Plus, the biggest thing has also taken me by surprise. People say that my energy, my passion, and my use of humor create a transformative experience. Let me share what one executive just wrote me about a talk this week. I’ll just copy and paste from his email:

“Tom: YOU WERE FANTASTIC. TRULY INSPIRATIONAL. My team could not talk enough about the experience. They referred to you as an experience, not a “speech” or a “session.” To me, that is an amazing compliment, when you can present, and people feel it as though you connected directly with each and every one of them. Regards, Joel Rickman, Vice President, Verification ServicesEquifax Inc.”

I sometimes feel Kierkegaard smiling and the Buddha laughing with pleasure, even if Socrates looks like he’s not quite sure.

  1. Could you name some of the corporations that you have consulted, and say something about how these relations came about, and what kind of consultation they tend to seek in a philosopher?

I’ve managed to speak to most of the largest companies in the world, and to lots of smaller companies as well, and it crosses all industries: Toyota, Ford Motor Company, Mercedes Benz, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, The Hospital Corporation of America, Bayer, Hitachi, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sacks, Raymond James Financial, Northwestern Mutual Financial Network, UBS, International Paper, Taco Bell, Pratt and Whitney Aircraft, Prometric, Wells Fargo Financial Advisors, Glaxo Smith Kline Pharmaceuticals, Mars Candy, Ace Hardware, Verizon, Unilever, Mattell, Ernst and Young, The NCAA Final Four, The US Airforce and on and on. I give you such a sample so you can see some of the breadth of people and industries. They find me by word of mouth. Someone hears me speak and tells a friend and they call.

Most of my corporate clients want wisdom on success or how to handle change well, or what it takes to make real partnerships work. Across industries, the challenges are interestingly universal.

  1. After having been invited as consultant to some of the largest corporations, what would you identify as some of the key areas of concern?

People get stressed and worn out by nonstop demands, a changing economy, uncertainty, quickly evolving technology and ongoing craziness in global markets and politics. They often come to me for deep wisdom to help refresh their associates and give them the confidence they need not just to survive but flourish amid all the challenges.

  1. Following consultation, do you ever conduct a follow up, or have you been witness to the implementation of any changes, and if so, have these made a difference to best business practice?

Let me give you an example. In an audience of 2,500 financial office managers in California, a man named Tom Lakatos decided to use The 7 Cs of Success back in his office in Orlando, Florida. His small office for Am Ex financial advisors (later renamed Ameriprise) had been struggling. Their performance had been ranked 217th out of 255 separate districts in the country for their company. In just a short time, maybe 6 months or so, using The 7 Cs and reporting on their use of these ideas weekly and discussing how they could implement them in new ways, they added to a team of maybe six people ten more associates and were now ranked 19th in the country. Imagine that. They had gone from a national ranking of  217th to a rank of 19th in a matter of months. Tom was promoted to another office. Then he took the Columbus, Ohio office, within a year, from a ranking of 85 to Number 3 in the nation. And he credited it all to the philosophical ideas. He said spouses were calling him and reporting that his colleagues were better at home and with the kids and not just at work! So the ideas were helping universally.

  1. Could you say more about how the 7 Cs are implemented?

That’s a good question to ask. There are actually three distinct uses of The 7 Cs.

First, when you’re considering a new personal or professional goal, you can use them as a test, like this:

C1: Can I develop a clear conception of this potential goal and vividly imagine its attainment?

C2: Can I pursue this with a strong confidence?

C3: Can I attain a focused concentration on this, and figure out a way to use the divide and conquer tactic?

C4: Can I pursue this potential goal consistently, and given everything else I’m doing?

And so on. And of course, in considering something for a team, you just ask these questions of the group. Can we pursue this with confidence? And so on.

Second, when you’re actively pursuing a goal, you can use these conditions together as a support for that process.

That means using the framework as a checklist. Am I functioning well in accordance with all seven conditions—are we—or am I forgetting or ignoring one or more? One of my old friends likes to say that The 7 Cs are enlightening, in themselves, but to be life changing, they have to be relentlessly implemented. And that’s his slogan: Relentless Implementation! He’s built incredible business success with The 7 Cs by taking them as lively action guides every day and helping all his associates in their own implementation of them.

Third, when something seems wrong, you can use The 7 Cs as a diagnostic tool for locating the source of a specific problem.

In almost every case, you’ll come to realize that one or more of these seven conditions may need extra attention and emphasis. Maybe we’re losing our sense of COMMITMENT, or we need a boost in CONFIDENCE. Or we need to renew our CAPACITY TO ENJOY the process.

Also, it’s a bonus and is interesting to note: The logical nature of this framework of ideas is such that the conditions you’re strongest on can help you correct the one or more that might be weaknesses.

  1. What would you say to students of business who tend to think “business ethics” is an oxymoron? I continue to have students that come to the course convinced that business cannot, and should not be moral! Business is essentially, if not exclusively about profit maximization any way, any how, and people will just turn to corrupt means to ensure success.

In ancient times it was once said, “The market is a place where men go to deceive one another.” So things have never really changed. But there is a very different approach, isn’t there? When Adam Smith wrote the Bible of capitalism, The Wealth of Nations, he was presupposing a set of ideas he had already written about years early when he did a study of virtue. The more enlightened ancients understood well that virtue is strength. Ethics is a form of strength within people, among people, and in companies. When we look beyond profits, we end up with the most satisfying profits. When we see business as a genuinely human endeavor of building value and our own souls as we do the work, we flourish. Too many young people don’t understand the depth of what’s possible in business. My friend John Mackey, who founded the healthy chain grocery store, Whole Foods, wrote a book called Conscious Capitalism that’s all about this. A Japanese Billionaire, Kazuo Inamori, has written well on this in his books A Passion for Success and especially Compass to Fulfillment. Our work can be a spiritual and philosophical thing, and for the greater good, as well as for our own financial support. Unethical success is always self-defeating in some way in the long run and is corrupting inwardly. I’ve never known a rich bad and truly happy person.

12. You have also written books beyond the walls of the corporate world, which speak       to the “good life,” and “wisdom.” Could you explain your interest and teachings in this       broad area?

In a sense even the business books are about life. If Aristotle Ran General Motors is really about happiness and fulfillment. If Harry Potter Ran General Electric is about virtue, love, friendship and meaning. True Success and The Art of Achievement are really life books, not just business. And I’m publishing a series of novels now that represent the peak of my thought and understanding about all life and death issues. They can be found at www.TheOasisWithin.com. Also, just out is a book about Steve Jobs, Socrates in Silicon Valley, that captures a lot of general life wisdom. Plus, the next one up will be Travels With Confucius, all life insight stuff! Why are we here? How can we make the most of our time? Those issues are crucial for me.

13. Do you have any advice to give philosophy students who would like to cultivate a         career outside of the academia?

Yes. Be open. Be creative. Take initiative. Find new ways of putting wisdom to use. You’ve cultivated creative imagination, logic, analysis, and adopting new perspectives. You can put that to work in innovative new ways.

14. Finally, what has a life dedicated to philosophical inquiry taught you?

Life is supposed to be a series of adventures. The one you’re on now is preparing you for the next one in ways you often can’t even imagine. Nothing is to be feared. Keep hope alive. The worst things can make possible the best things. Wisdom matters. We are all imperfect beings who can improve immensely, and challenge is often the tool that helps this along. We all have obstacles within ourselves, but we can free ourselves from those obstacles and do incredible good in the world. The more I live and think hard and learn, the better things go. And it’s important to cultivate a capacity to enjoy the process along the way.

And I have to agree with Socrates. As long as I live and breathe, I shall never cease to do philosophy. Thanks for joining in the great effort extending over these thousands of years to do your own part in bringing more wisdom into the world! And thanks for thinking of me to chat with about it all!

 

Todd May: The Good Place’s philosopher

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Philosophers are in demand outside of the academia! Todd May, one of The Good Place’s philosophy consultants, generously agreed to a virtual interview.

Professor May is Class of 1941 Memorial Professor of the Humanities at Clemson University. He specializes in Continental philosophy, especially recent French philosophy and has a long list of publications, including his most recent A Fragile Life: Accepting Our Vulnerability (University of Chicago Press, 2017), as well as A Significant Life: Human Meaning in a Silent Universe (University of Chicago Press, 2015), Friendship in an Age of Economics: Resisting the Forces of Neoliberalism (Lexington Press, 2012), and of course,  Death (Acumen Press, 2009). For a comprehensive list of appointments and publications please visit Professor May’s university Home page   http://www.clemson.edu/caah/departments/philosophy-religion/people/facultyBio.html?id=38

The Good Place, an NBC sitcom, now in its second year, is about the after life; or about where you go when you’ve lived a good life. Or is it? Already in the first season, the game setter is Eleanor who not only got there by mistake – in what version of a so-called celestial afterlife designed by the universe’s handmaidens does human frailty, fallibility and fork-ups enter the picture? – but her endless self-serving, and according to any ethics handbook, morally vile acts, disrupts the organic integrity of this finely tuned network of minutiae parts bringing havoc in her wake. Her assigned soulmate? A moral philosopher, with all the trimmings of that absent-minded, out-of-touch, academic. Chidi, our in-house philosopher, is nautically challenged, not a fan of deadlines, and has spent 18 years writing an incomprehensible manuscript – a mere 3, 600 pages!!! – on ethics! Match.com’s worse nightmare makes for scores of laugher as Chidi agrees to help Eleanor earn her place in the good place. How? Why through becoming familiar with schools of moral philosophy, of course! The fundamental premise here? Philosophy makes you a better person, or cultivating an understanding of moral philosophy does! That would imply that Chidi is a better person, and his intellectualisms and basic human decency would seem to attest to that. I mean he certainly always sounds like he’s thought of all the right things, plus he behaves in a manner quite thoughtful of others. And yet, that manuscript of convoluted argumentation seemed to leave Michael incredulous, causing convulsions of dysphoria. 3, 600 pages!!! What the fork, man??!!! When it comes to real life, applied ethics, he is glaringly inept! Utilitaranism, Kantianism, Contractualism, and the Trolley Problem all make their way into the script! Chidi will find himself failing at real life when indecision leaves him killing innocent lives as Micheal has him respond to the Trolley Problem real time! Occasionally Eleanor’s street-smarts, and lightening-speed reflexes, make Chidi look the dunce! The take-away? You’ll have to see for yourself!

Todd May, in part, contributed to making the philosophical component gel with the vision of Mike Schur and others. Here are his answers to a few questions I put to him.

  • Could you relay how events transpired and you were invited as the philosophical consultant of the show The Good Place?

It seems it was quite by accident.  One of the writers on the show read my book on death (Death: The Art of Living, Acumen, 2009 – click here for a link to the book – https://www.amazon.com/Death-Art-Living-Todd-May/dp/1844651649/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8) and suggested it to Mike Schur, the show’s creator.  After reading it he had some questions and so we started corresponding, and have kept it up since then.

  • Do you think there are philosophical hues to one’s engagement with life events? I’m thinking to Plato’s use of dialogue to enact philosophical ideas.

Elly, I’m not sure what you’re asking here.  Could you re-phrase it?

  • Let me try to be more clear. Plato’s dialogues stripped of plot, character, mood and basically all that narrates life events, would according to some commentators, leave the philosophical points quite barren. So I guess I am asking whether you think that there are philosophical features embedded in the manner in which people unwittingly live their lives?

This is an interesting question.  Let me respond in three ways.  First, there is, as you know, a debate in the history of philosophy about whether Plato’s dialogues should be read as straight philosophy or whether instead the dramatic setting has philosophical implications. Although I’m not an expert in ancient philosophy, I am drawn toward the latter view.  Second, it would surely be right to say that people often live philosophical positions, but they often live them pre-reflectively.  They don’t reflect on them, which is why philosophy, right done, is so important.  Third, specifically regarding the characters on the show, what makes them interesting is that they are doing at least three things at once:  living philosophical orientations, reflecting on those lived orientations, and living complex lives (not merely quick thought-experiments) that complicate all this.

  •  Do you think engaging philosophical ideas in a literary and/or performative context detracts from the philosophical point being made?

 

Not at all.  Often philosophical thought-experiments are pretty bare-boned.  They describe a scenario in a few sentences, which doesn’t capture the complexity of the real situations life throws at us.  Literary and performative engagements offer us a much richer context in which to think about problems of morality and life more generally.

  •  How difficult was it to find fitting philosophical narratives for the characters and scenes in The Good Place?

Fortunately, that was not my job.  Although I did make some suggestions here and there about plot and characters, my fundamental role was to make sure Mike Schur and the writers were comfortable with the philosophical ideas in play.

  • So what precisely was your role when you say it was “to make sure Mike Schur and the writers were comfortable with the philosophical ideas in play”?

Our contacts were usually initiated when Mike Schur would email me either to ask a question or to set up a time to Skype.  Then we would talk about a specific philosophical position such as existentialism or ethical particularism.  He wanted to ensure that he was clear on the positions and so we would discuss them and some of their implications, either for the show specifically or for philosophy in general.  As interested as he was in the show (of course), he is also interested in philosophy itself.

  • How challenging and/or rewarding was it to work with non-philosophers in matching philosophy to script?

As I mentioned above, I did not have to do the matching.  But in general, it has been great to work with Mike Schur and occasionally with the other writers.  These are very smart and creative people who are interested in the ideas and who don’t just receive them passively but are actively participating in thinking them through and seeing where they might lead.  I spend a lot of time doing philosophy with non-philosophers and I almost always find it rewarding.

  • Do you think there is a takeaway regarding the relevance and role of philosophy in everyday life that the audience would discern from watching the show?

There are probably a number of takeaways.  These would not be simple life lessons but rather things to think about, for example whether we have an innate moral conscience or whether we should always do our duty or instead think about consequences or whether there are general moral principles or instead just intuitions and specific moral challenges.

  • Do you think that there is a niche for young philosophers in collaborations of this kind?

I don’t really know about this.  Since I got into the collaboration by accident, I can’t really say that there is a particular path to collaborations like these.   I hope there is.  Or rather, I hope there are many paths.

 

Check out the series here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDi3fki9IRM

Give It Up

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Giving it up, so that you never have to give up. Give up anything that doesn’t add value to your life. Give up anything that creates the conditions for those heteronymous entanglements that end up owning you. I’ve been downsizing ever so slowly for two years now, but it wasn’t really brought to my own attention until a friend made it explicit to me in conversation about minimalism. Usually the concept is reserved for anti-consumerist life-styles. I see it as something more concretely concerned with existential clutter in all aspects of life, that runs contrary to dominant technocratic-industrial world views that encourage rampant individualism and its corollary instrumentalism. Despite great advantage afforded humanity against oppressive systems, and systematic oppression – not to be underestimated – it has come at great cost. It has essentially displaced, dislodged, literally ripped humanity from the rich fabric of worldly engagement.

Minimalism in all things! No grandiose sentiments, gestures, features, appliances, houses, embellishings of whatever kind! Abundance is best discovered in trivialities.

In his The Malaise of Modernity, Charles Taylor makes the point explicit:

Modern freedom was won by our breaking loose from older moral horizons. People use to see themselves as part of a larger order. …. But at the same time as they restricted us, these orders gave meaning to the world and to the activities of social life. The things that surround us were not just potential raw materials or instruments for our projects, but they had the significance given them by their place in the chain of being. The eagle was not just another bird, but the king of a whole domain of animal life. By the same token, the rituals and norms of society had more than merely instrumental significance. The discrediting of these orders has been called the “disenchantment” (reference to Weber) of the world. With it, things lost some of their magic. (The Malaise of Modernity, p. 5)

The result? People have lost “a heroic dimension to life. People no longer have a sense of a higher purpose, of something worth dying for” …or living for! Those grand gestures of life and love that transgress borders of convenience, sensibility, and efficiency! Taylor doesn’t simply side with those who demonize individualism (indeed he is not contra-individualism per se but only a species of it), but addresses modalities of inauthenticity brought on by its scathing momentum. Instrumentality, perverse relativism, and political apathy, what comfortably aligns with what I call active inertia, are the malaise of the modern age. Deep ecologists seem also to be onboard in a BIG way, orienting their moral sensibilities in due différance to the – this – dominant world view which has ushered in criticism for adopting the very dichotomous narrative that mischievously characterizes the object of their discontent. But I beg to differ. ( 😉 ) Subverting a paradigm of meaning is, in fact,  devoid of significance in abstract definitional terms; i.e. it is but an eclipse of meaning. For as Derrida would say, textual meaning is produced via certain heterogeneous features. My point? All meaning, textual, personal, social, educational, is situated. Nothing is adrift eyeing an abyss of non or unorientation. Individualism is inauthenticated by (s)elective amnesia which vanquishes any sense of existential crisis.

Some people call the millennials and post-millennials the “generation of entitlement” to contest the debase and self-indulgent dispositional state of a people for whom struggle and despair is a stranger. Emancipated from socio-political and economic oppression, one is not lost or found in the fold of social living, affording them the “luxury” of choices that speak more loudly to a set of concerns tied to their own individually designed orientation in life. Their sole responsibility? To be the best damn version of themselves! Society provides the human and tangible resources to attain personal self-actualization, but isolated, alone, such that forever do they struggle to purchase (for everything is “purchased” now) the materials to design a bridge to connect them with, to, others. Bridges, even these, are, however, not made to last. Materials are subpar, because they’re acquired cheaply, and hence easily interchanged, replaced, with little burden or cost ( 😉 ).

Taylor’s acknowledgement of a nonetheless powerful underlying moral paradigm is worth mentioning. For, as he says, “no matter how debased and travestied” this modernized form of individualism is, “the moral ideal behind self-fulfillment is that of being true to oneself” for which there is an authentic version and authenticating mechanisms which speak to “a higher mode” of being, which he is careful to distinguish from that which one simply or merely happens to desire or need. For Taylor, this requires siding not with boosters or knockers of the modernized paradigm of self-actualization, nor still with some kind of trade-off in terms of a middle-ground position. No. He says: “What we need is a work of retrieval, through which this ideal can help us restore our practice.” Long story short, humanity suffers from dislocation; we need to locate ourselves intermixed in the dialogical network, nurturing, cultivating thereby an expansive, fluid sense of identity that neither drowns beneath the weight of otherness, nor evaporates amidst celestial abstractions. This will require having the conversation; acknowledging the dialogicality of human engagement, and hence the existing horizon of significance. What does this mean? Well, one could live a perfectly ( 😉 ) autonomous life guided by her own reasons, and still shy away from authenticating practices when these speak not to a sense of self-identity. For authenticity is not just a case of appealing to those tools of rationality (sorry Kant! You’ve all heard the joke: Immanuel Kant, but he did try! 🙂 ), as a disenfranchised self, out-of-tune with one’s comportment in the world. But nor does authenticity indulge narcissistic tendencies endorsed by pseudo subjectivism; i.e. all positions are equally acceptable so long as they are “truly” my own. Taylor speaks to the “moral sources outside the subject [that speak in a language] which resonate[s] within him or her”, or “an order which is inseparably indexed to a personal vision” (Sources of the Self. The Making of the Modern Identity). Hence, authenticity entails an aspect that lies beyond the scope of autonomy, namely, a “language of personal resonance” (The Ethics of Authenticity: 90). One may be autonomous (Kant again) and yet remain inauthentic when this way of living fails to express a person’s self-understanding.

So where does that leave minimalism? I think of minimalism as subverting the symptoms of Taylor’s Malaise of Modernity. For if individualism, relativism,  and instrumentalism are the modalities that aid and abet this malaise, then the brand name for that antibiotic prescribed en masse as a cure for the discontent it inevitably spreads,  is consumerism. I leave it to you to connect the dots, and Socratic-like make myself scarce!

So, I shall continue to parade my humanity in a modality of despair (not to be confused with melancholy, depression, or negativity), and if the perhaps more self-indulgent, jump to criticize for a mis-fit, dwarfed narrative, that I am lowly, degenerate, and/or self-victimizing, there’s ample room in the “world” for them to seek their own self-affirmation ignoring mine, and me, altogether.

If you want to learn more about minimalism and what steps you might take and how this might change your life, click here: Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things and to meet the Minimalists, click here The Minimalists.

 

RIP Olymbia Marangou

The prognosis was grim. I remember the precise moment when the truth of what was earlier known rudely pushed itself unto me. I was being dropped off at the hospital (a new tumour), irritability turned antagonistic as I fought to rejoin that blissful world of denial. Later tears met with accusations. Who greets tears with such animosity? Who harbours such disdain for “parading grief”? Strange how triggers work. That day we had our own grievances to address, and these shipwrecked any chance for ontic embrace. But that’s the point, isn’t it? Anguish, loss, death, comes to us all (the penultimate banality), but my grief is my own, viscerally experienced as if unique to me, resentful of dense propriety that arrogantly calls me to compose myself! But those moments, subtle as they were at the time, are like memories in a time capsule that ornately embellish the creative process of meaning-construct. For it is after all as I artfully engage life that the constituents of meaning find voice. Trepidation meets and enamours ruinous tranquility through life’s turnings.

Today Olymbia passed away. Three years into her grade 4 Glioblastoma brain cancer (GBM), outliving her prognosis by 2 years. It was Christmas 2014 when I noticed (we all did) Olymbia had changed – she seemed off, not herself. All of us gathered – a party of 40 – at Ket’s home in celebratory mode, Greek-style! Marc reconstructed the bird with his usual artistry. We girls busied ourselves with cooking, and serving, with chiding laughter accompanying us as we moved through the rooms. A row of generations set the table, finding Olymbia at the further end, tucked away in a corner, quiet. Quiet!? Well that was just not Olymbia! She was always centre-stage, dishing out orders, making sure that we girls, especially us, were on top of things! But not today, not ever again.

My hair follicles knew best of my mother’s discontent. Hair tightly pulled back into a ponytail bore the markings of slightly slanting eyes. A stop on the way to school at Olymbia’s – we all walked to school together – and that menacing ponytail was to become a swinging bush hanging long across my back. Thankful was I! It remained our secret, never shared with my mother. And as secrets do, endorsed a loving connection. Our families were one family. Our moms best friends, us kids roughly the same age, grew up as cousins, siblings really. Olymbia was the driving force behind this great, expansive family. She welcomed everyone, even if she did not always appear welcoming! 🙂 She was a mother to me.

Not versed in Stoic literature, Seneca, Rufus, Epictetus were no strangers to her. “Κόρη, that’s it”. Her meaning, however elliptical, is not far off from the words of Seneca: “Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” “True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing.” I can also hear these words echoing in my ear as she’d have occasion to frequent them: “᾽Αντε να γαμ… ο μαλάκας απο δω χάμω!” There’s something about the flamboyant Greek manner prone to such phraseologies that turn profanity endearing. In essence her meaning is reflected in Epictetus’ words repeatedly endorsed throughout the ages: “Other people’s views and troubles can be contagious. Don’t sabotage yourself by unwittingly adopting negative, unproductive attitudes through your associations with others.” And later in life, she’d realized, especially after becoming ill, what she perceived to be the narrowness of her youthful endeavours. I think this is nicely expressed by Rufus: “wealth is able to buy the pleasures of eating, drinking and other sensual pursuits – yet can never afford a cheerful spirit or freedom from sorrow.” She seemed eager that I see the foulness of such ways, that I’d invest in what truly matters: family. And so it is left to us, all the kids (Pits, Ket, Andro, Nico, me, Marc, Blaine, Meagan, Kristina, Nick, Mitchell, Mason, Thomas, Kalianna, Anthony, Kris and Kim)) no matter the distance that separates us, to keep the candle burning that shall always unite us as one family.

In our month together we’d sometimes burn the night oil. She’d become reflective, mellow, and her thoughts turned to her children. Of Andro, since I can remember remained constant was her wish that he find a “good woman” to care for him…like a Greek woman knows to! 😉 “Ketty…that one…she’s the sensitive one.”  But she also endearingly spoke of her as “a little chatter-box” (πολυλογού), a quality that our lovely Kristina has inherited…perhaps upgraded! 😉 “Liza…well she is like me…if we don’t fight one day I think she doesn’t me love me.” She hardly spoke of her grandkids beyond the usual logistics. But what was there to say that her eyes did not. She adored those kids: they were her life! As the weekend rolled round she worried that my partner would feel neglected (Greek women are not to neglect their men! 😉 ) Άντε κόρη, που είναι ο καλαμαράς, ο μαλάκας; Πήγαινε τώρα να του φτιάξεις κανένα φαΐ! And we’d laugh, and laugh! But that’s how she was: caring, and brutally honest, but darkness would turn light, for sentimentalities were not to have the last say. Did I mention Marc and Blaine!? She’d say: “Those girls don’t deserve such men!” And again, we’d laugh and laugh. But she meant it too. Her son-in-laws were the absolute best men. But as I’m sure they’d agree, that’s a gesture of reciprocity that began with her. My bro! Well she had much to say about him too. “Kαλό παιδί ο Νίκος μας!” She wanted confirmation that he was loved and appreciated!

She is one of those people that affected many lives. So many people will have to seriously adjust to her passing. Resilient that woman was! But Stoic-like she appreciated and loved life, but was adamant not to bend to the tragedies that life had in store for her…though…she did suffer….as anyone who wants to live and has so much to lιve for does.

She would want us to be strong and live by example. For as Margaret Atwood said: “In the end, we’ll all become stories.”

I love you, Olymbia mou! Καλή αντάμωση!

The big little things…

Helene_Paris_David
The Love of Helen and Paris by Jacques-Louis David (oil on canvas, 1788, Louvre, Paris)

It’s the little things. A penetrating glance. A stream of light. Preparing a meal. Writing a blog. A child’s smile. The joy experienced is owed not to the glance, the streaming light, the meal or the child’s smile. For just as words can fall on deaf ears, so too can sights fall out of focus. Everything that is anything is something because we make it so. You see beauty in the creases of the rose-pedal, are mesmerized by the droplets that like a suspended bubble sit indifferent to the raging wind on a leaf, are overcome by the lines that delicately caress your lover’s eyes, watch as a child’s hand slowly fastens the outreaching arm of his mother. The world suddenly slows down and grows quiet. It is as with the reverence spoken in silent humility upon entry into the House of the Lord.

Beauty, joy, happiness don’t belong to the world for they can not be discerned by the spectator’s lens. I do not stand and face the world. I am always in-the-world. Here I become intermingled with the being of the “objectively present” not related as two separate and distinct entities, but affectively I take in the world with caring attention and personal investedness and I see everything that’s anything!

Yet, the joy of living is also in the big things! Propose marriage. Call in the name of an inspiring mentor to a popular radio show. Organize rallies to celebrate great teachers. Call an employee and remind them of their invaluable work. Throw a surprise birthday party! Pay it forward. Launch a thousand ships, whatever it takes, for that face, his face! Menelaus launched his fleet of 1000 strong to reclaim the beautiful Helen of Troy, but I suspect the minutiae of the everyday was deadly silent. So though grand gestures sometimes do speak louder than everyday micro-gestures; micro-gestures are often discerned, creeping into and antagonistically fraternizing with, what doesn’t get said leaving the other to agonize in the known unknown. So sure, launch a thousand ships, send me a care package when I’m sick from the other side of the Atlantic, reach out despite circumstance of uncertainty and restraint, be there unconventionally but be here everyday. Nothing is ever totally in step, but frequent and unatoned disharmony leaves everyone dis-synchronized and essentially out of reach, rendering grand gestures disingenuous and pitiful. Be what you say, say what you do.

 

A Psalm of Life

Here’s Longfellow’s A Psalm of Life. “Life is something more than an idle dream”, said he. “Be a hero in the strife,” had my thoughts linger to Heraclitus. But also to Joseph Campbell: “If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”

Version 2
Hope

 

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!—
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,—act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

A Pig Satisfied

article-2013514-0016b93b00000258-413_468x310People constantly say that happiness is just a state of mind. But happiness derived from heinous acts, says you’re psychotic; hence sick. Experiencing love and kindness in Auschwitz amidst all the vile tortuous acts, says you’re hallucinating; hence sick. Living with hope that never comes, says you’re delusional; hence sick. Clearly there’s a line one is not to cross. Is this because of metaphysical constructs regarding reality, or is it rather with the psychological state of the experiencing subject. In the first scenario experiencing happiness with a false perception of the world, or “false” or “questionable evaluations” of events in the world, implies that happiness is not real. The truth is in the pudding: if said individual were suddenly to see things as they really are, this person would experience unhappiness. So if Giosue, Guido Orefice’s son in the film Life is Beautiful, were to see the calamity of humanity, he would experience unhappiness. Indeed, this is precisely why his father went to such lengths to conceal what was truly going on from him. And yet, can we say that Giosue wasn’t actually experiencing happiness, but was, in fact, unhappy? That doesn’t seem to follow. Again the truth is in the pudding: the boy shall carry on being happy until he comes to see things otherwise. But there’s another issue here: what of the psychopath serial killer? He’s not delusional. But his emotional world is deplete. This person does not have the expected emotional reaction to events in the world. In effect, this person should not be experiencing “happiness” but does (it is, of course, debatable in patients suffering from psychosis whether they experience happiness as such, but you get my point. 🙂 ) And in the previous scenario, the son would not experience happiness (if he knew the truth) but does!

And yet, often pride of place is given not to happiness, but to reality. We want to free that woman of false hope, we want to give the delusional drugs to free her from a false depiction of reality, we beseech the self-deluded to see things as they are! The truth may (may!!!!) set you free, but it won’t necessarily make you happy. platos-allegory-of-the-caveAnd yet Plato had a different take on this. Cave-dwellers are hedonic beasts that feed off of the ephemeral objects of desire, and hence are, in effect, addicts whose sustenance is characteristically one of dependence, it is outwardly directed, and speaks to the lowly, instinctive part of humanity. True and enduring happiness (eudaimonia not hedonia) is found when one is emancipated from the cavernous walls (they are not exactly delusional, or entirely false) which impede human development. For Plato this meant to cultivate the distinctively human aspects of self that go beyond the merely hedonic and involve a more inwardly directed movement with the development of reflective (philosophical) thought. The process of reflection would set one on the task of inquiring into questions of reality and truth, to in turn draw out further corollary positions and implications. One such implication concerns happiness.

Such a person would ultimately find herself outside of the cave. This person would no longer confuse the sensible objects of perception with the objects (or reality) themselves. Plato manages to vividly portray the inter-relatedness of the physical/metaphysical, cognitive and moral. A cave-dweller is depicted behind physical walls that are more reminiscent of a prison-cell than anything else. Yet, this is (to some extent) self-inflicted, and commonly considered the natural state of nonhuman creatures. The natural inclination once this phantasmal world is exposed for its illusoriness is to seek emancipation; to look beyond the walls. Interestingly, with this realization comes human suffering. Namely, once she lifts her head to see the walls that surround, and the chains that shackled, she becomes overwhelmed with despair, but not before. Can it be that despair is inextricably entangled in the experience of human happiness? Even Plato’s take on the matter is unclear. After all Socrates is portrayed as that lonely individual who transcends the boundaries of sensory experience entering thereby the Intelligible World of Ideas, and eager to return and enlighten his fellow citizens is treated with disdain and accused of being insane (literally out of touch with reality! Irony??!!!) So what’s the story? Is it their ignorance that commits them to this ephemeral life comprised of shadows?Would knowledge then be the cure? And to what end? Are they not after all happy?

You’d think it would be easy to see the walls of the cavern, right? I mean sight is something that just happens when we open our eyes. And yet, as ancient Greek thinkers have contended since as early as Thales, but quite clearly with Heraclitus and Parmenides, appearances are deceiving. To see beyond what is presented to the senses requires that one begin to question the truth of sensory objects. So in Plato’s paradigm, seeing sensible objects – chairs, tables, humans, etc. – doesn’t give us any sense ( 😉 ) of what chairs, humans and the like are. Problems arise when we begin to make assertions about these items. The chair is solid, brown, and is used to sit on. What of that object that is also brown and solid, and which one could also use to sit on (FYI it’s a table), is it a chair? After all, we’d only be able to properly praise a carpenter for making a good chair, if it exhibited all of the properties of a chair, making it an optimal or perfect chair, therefore. The best of its kind, you might say. Cave-dwellers see chairs, name them often enough with success, but have no concrete understanding of what chairs are. For this reason, a cave-dweller would often employ inconsistent beliefs about the his world (taking tables, sandy beaches and the like for chairs!!!). Identified contradictions of mind are useful in that they force the inquiring subject to flesh out those doxastic culprits responsible for abominations of thought. On this path of inquiry one would be looking to uncover what characteristics are necessary and sufficient: the necessary condition for something to be a chair would be any characteristic short of which no object could ever be a chair. Clearly a necessary condition is that it can be sat on. After all, if a chair has all of the physical properties of a chair, but collapses as soon as anyone tries to sit on it, we might say something like, ‘it looks like a chair, but its not actually a chair’. What then of the sufficient conditions. Well these concern what characteristics are enough to make an object a chair. That an object can be sat on is necessary, as we’ve said, but it isn’t actually sufficient since there are many objects one could sit on that aren’t chairs – like a rock, sandy beach, table, bed, floor, and more. A sufficient condition would require more than just this necessary one. Together with the condition that it is a piece of furniture with a back, we have a set of conditions that together are sufficient for a chair. Notice the process of inquiry takes us further adrift from the concrete physical object with which inquiry began. Seeing what a chair is, involves a mental kind of sight, which is itself constitutive of the very process of its realization. Now you might ask, who the hell cares about tables and chairs??!!!! The carpenter would,GABRIELLA-ASZTALOS-HUG-CHAIR-.jpg as would his mentor, and anyone out shopping for furniture! This postmodern world of design may leave Plato feeling quite at a loss, however! Poor, Plato! 🙂

Though even these kinds of beliefs can incite inquiry of the kind illustrated above, and there are times when such inquires are relevant and fruitful, they are not as directly pertinent to the issue of happiness. This process of inquiry becomes troubling when it comes to making life decisions. These decisions take us beyond the corporeal world to that mysterious world of human understanding.

So far the suggestion has been that knowledge pertains to a mind-independent world out there, which is  ascertained when mental processes are properly engaged. You might say that there is a mapping out between sensible objects and mental ideas. In the case of Plato, mental Ideas (if indeed these are mental and not real…there is considerable debate over this issue) cease to resemble shabby instances (copies) of these! For Plato. these mental Ideas are more real (or are really, real, as he liked to say) and hence knowledge must attend upon these objects. So what does all this have to do with happiness? Well let’s reconsider the aforementioned examples. The case of Guido Orefice’s son is fairly straight forward. In a way reminiscent of Plato’s cave, the young lad’s perceptions are being filtered and hence controlled by his “meddling” father. Hence, what he sees only partially mirrors reality. The case of that woman who lives with false hope, is more complex as it is self-inflicted, and not the product of externalities. And yet, one might ask, as the Platonic Socrates might ask, “what is hope?”. Consider the hope that “I shall never die” with the hope that “I shall not die young”. The first is unachievable, whereas the latter is achievable. The first rests in erroneous beliefs with regards to organic life, or at the very least continuity of personal identity. The latter, however, rests in the understanding both that no one actually knows when she will die (hence being hopeful) and yet astute in her belief that we can exercise a degree of control over the longevity of our lives (i.e. by living healthy – nutrition, exercise, non-toxic environments, etc.). Clearly, the first scenario would cultivate decision making practices and life patterns that would endanger one’s life, and compromise one’s ability to live a happy life. The latter scenario contrarily, would be conducive to valid decision making practices, that would promote human happiness (or especially flourishing as it was properly understood by ancient Greek thinkers at the time). The final case is one where Plato would find the serial killer mentally unwell – his soul would be characteristically misaligned! This assessment in part requires an understanding of Plato’s tripartite division of the soul, as well as his understanding of virtue.

Well even Plato worried over the source of these Ideas. Where did they come from, or wherefrom did one ever acquire them? He presents the Theory of Recollection to argue that in a pre-corporeal earthly state of being we were acquainted with the Ideas which upon our birth are forgotten and reside in our minds in a latent state awaiting recovery via experience, rigorous and appropriate questioning/inquiry. Even our ability to properly understand and make sense of sensible objects of experience is parasitic on the pre-existence of these latent Ideas, which are themselves not derivable from experience itself. Knowledge then is shaped by these Ideas. One wonders then, whether this world is merely a construct of human understanding! I doubt Plato would see it this way, given that these Ideas are not structures of the mind, or integral to the mind as such but rather Ideas with which one is born having previously, in a non-corporeal state, acquired them. On this view the relationship between knowledge and virtue is tightly held together, and the corollary happiness follows from there.

Well, in a way it is, isn’t it? Since as early as Descartes (well earlier) the activity of the mind has not been negligible. But with Kant comes the explicit understanding of mis-matching the “real” world and mental life. The mind is actively part of the construction of “reality” as we know it. Kant demonstrated, in response to Hume’s  serious threat to human knowledge, that the mind is actively involved in the act of experience; that indeed, the mind organizes sensory data, as is the case with time and and space. The point basically is that time and space cannot actually be experienced as such but are rather innate intuitions of the mind, without which temporal-spatial experience would be impossible. He then went on to also argue that the mind is already equipped with categories of judgment without which the aforementioned would also be impossible. (we can’t derive these from experience itself, and given that we indeed engage in acts of judgment, there must be certain categories innate to the mind that make this possible). Uh oh, the world out there is now off limits; it is beyond human understanding. That world, the world Kant calls the noumenal world, is comprised of the things themselves, and we can’t ever know these. Human knowledge is always and inescapable taken up with the phenomenal world of human experience, and is therefore, constitutive of human understanding. Kant didn’t leave it at that, of course. He did after all write some lengthy, heavy books  – The Critique of Pure Reason, The Critique of Judgment, The Critique of Practical Reason – and more.

Heidegger called this way of thinking about the world presence-at-hand and he considered this modality to be at fault for corrupting the possibility of being altogether ( 😉 ….those who know Heidegger will get me!) It is the ready-at-hand that is the most comfortable and common modality of everyday being in the world. It is what I call (Dostoyevsky uses the express as well…damn it!) active inertia. Happiness as it will turn out on a Heideggerian reading will be intense but nothing even close to Plato’s understanding and far, far away from the world of hedonism, but at least brushing shoulders with the concrete co-inhabitants of this world again! (Only just a little hammered – funny how hammers seem to work their way into philosophical discourse…Greetings Nietzsche, Heil Heidegger!)

More to say about this…and how it all hangs together…and falls apart….

I Love My Life!!!!

Fotis Marangou: Saying Good Bye

Even amongst the more cooly deliberative, death has been a force to reckon with. Ultimately, though, it seems questions always moralize our vexed concern with life, and not death. Somehow we all accept with no great ado that we all shall die. It is with how to live that aporia turns angst-faced. I cannot speak to Foti’s appropriation except within that horizon of meaning contained within my memories spanning over near 50 years.

Our families lived only a faint walk away from each other in Pierrefonds. We on Gascon, the Marangous on Chaumont street. I was only 3 at the time, so I feel I was pretty much born into the family. The families were inseparable; our mothers best friends, we kids like siblings…weekend BBQ’s, sleep overs, hide-and-seek, music, singing, and everything Greek! Foti, always the designated barbecuer, would sneak privileged morsels to us, with words of cheer and a sparkle in his eyes. Always bright and engaging, I can hardly recall a time I’d seen him angry, or outta sorts, or raise his voice even. I’m sure he did, but it is to his disposition I speak: kind and generous. And what words can possibly describe how, when at 16 I refused to return to Athens, he and Olymbia took me in?! Just like that! Foti routinely brought the kids chocolate bars home from work; he never discriminated, always got me and my bro one…oh, did I mention we were all living there. Foti, Olymbia, Andro (“And”), Lisa (“Pits”), Cathy (“Ket”), Nico (“Neek”), and aunty Koula. But it was never just us. Friends, and partners would rally over, especially at supper-time, notably on the weekends. Needless to say it was pretty busy! It must have also been financially taxing. That’s something I only fully appreciate as a middle-aged woman with children myself.

Foti never flinched; everyone was always welcome! But he was, as my father reminded me the other day, always hard at work burning the midnight oil each and every night. Downstairs he’d sit before his elongated, white desk, nuts at hand, maybe a scotch (I might have this wrong….), and lots and lots of paperwork. His job? For us kids it was iconic cause everyday, or what seemed like every day to us kids, he’d park a different car in the driveway. And they weren’t the regular cars visible throughout the neighbourhoods. Nope these were Jags! Gorgeous, elegant, shiny Jaguars! He was proud. Foti had really made something of his life, and he was justified in his boastfulness. I think it’s easy to forget how tough things were for immigrants in the 60s who came over with essentially nothing. It is hard because they made it, life, easy for us.

During the year I spent in the Marangou home Foti must have realized, in a way that really no one else seemed to (just Pits), that I was lost and scared. I was often home on the weekends as the house slowly emptied each rushing to some planned outing. Foti was there, downstairs at his white desk. I too sat there and Foti would put some old Greek movie on with Aliki Vougiouklaki, Tzeni Karezi, Melina Mercouri, Lambros Konstantaras, Dimitri Papamichael, Rena Vlahopoulou, and others! We’d converse in Greek, laugh and joke about these Greek dramas, and share a bit of current gossip about the actors’ sorted affairs! But he made me feel at home. Home! A place of untold treasure. For what is it to be home than to feel accepted, safe, unconditionally loved and cared for!! So to me Foti was like a father; he was my 2nd dad. And who is ever lucky enough to have two great dads!

 

Good bye Foti mou! I love you so damn much!

Καλή αντάμωση!

 

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Foti and baby Kristina

 

 

 

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