philosophy

The Human Condition

human condition

Always remember that sometimes it is your expectations that are the problem, they can hold you back.  This sounds counterintuitive, but think about it: it is old philosophical news that we act upon our emotional rather than rational motivations.  Our expectations are often our long and hard sought rational musings over possible situations, and when we finally act those musings often do not coincide with how we feel.

But should we, as rational beings , act upon our emotions?  Our intellect informs us that we are acting emotionally and tries to override how we feel with what we think. Do we act or do we think?  We are capable of both, but eventually we will act upon our emotions.

This is problematic for rational-capable beings such as humans.  We think knowing all along that we will act emotionally: we have no choice.  We know that we will act emotionally and that knowledge is not enough: this is the secret.

Our expectations will always be squandered, they will never be met because they are the product of our understanding.  My friend, Chris Ransick, and I have often debated (over scotch of course) terminology (he is a poet and I a philosopher/farmer).  I think that we are arguing this exact point: the intellect is our ticket to freewill, but we will consistently act emotionally knowing that we give up our freewill.

This is not a new discussion, it is centuries old in philosophy, and it will continue even given the knowledge that how we feel will determine the outcomes of what we think.  This, I believe, is the human condition: we must continue to think seriously about what we feel and why we feel that way.

It Could Be Worse

Denmark has been rated as one of the happiest countries in the world for some years running (I think that Norway won this year’s test).  But, when reporters asked a prominent university professor in Copenhagen why his answer was, well…very Danish.

“We simply lower our expectations.”

Having lived in Denmark for some years and being fluent in Danish, I had to chuckle.  That answer sums up the attitude of the Danish culture as I have experienced it.  This seems very un-American and at the very least unattractive to Americans.  But, I believe that it is true, at least in a sense.

Recently in a conversation another somewhat “Danish” attitude towards happiness cropped up.  The interviewer asked how to be happy and the answer appropriated was:

“Always remember that it could be worse.”

This, too, has a ring of truth in it.  Lowering our expectations and remembering that things could get worse does help. Not expecting so much and being better than a worse scenario has the resulting happiness, at least in a sense of the word.  And perhaps that is enough, but perhaps not.

Then again,I am reminded of a song lyric (Queens of the Stone Age) that also alludes to happiness:

“Ignorance is bliss, until someone takes your bliss away.”

If you read, you might be reminded of an ancient philosophical idea (originated by Socratic philosophers) that says the same thing.  As J.S Mill wrote alluding to that idea:

“It is better to be miserable as Socrates than happy as a pig.”

So can a pig lower it’s expectations, and in doing so is it reminded, as it is shuffled off to slaughter, that things could be worse?

 

After Death

life-afte-deathAfter years of living in cities, longing for the country; perhaps some peace and quiet, I look out over twenty two acres of forest and a half acre of tilled earth to become garden next year.

A dream come real is no longer a dream; a reality in the form of work, wood and wonder.  Reality offers it all and reminds us with the birth of reality comes the death of a dream.
Simple needs become clear and concise.  They are many reminding me that a simple life does indeed necessitate complication.  Work is the key word, the kind of work that goes beyond a scotch in the evening listening to music and imagining and composing wishes.
Happiness, the quality of contentedness that so few find is possible, but the road is long, and comparisons begin to take the joy away from the reality.
For those who wish to live their dream do not compare, do not wish for more.  The dream as reality will not be what you think, but it will be life as it is, not as we wish it to be.
The future is still clear, the present is all encompassing and the past is full of memories, if not regrets and happy times.  Perhaps it is age, but most likely it is the realization that a dream come true is the death of the dream.
Self sufficiency has been and will continue to be the goal, it is now only a daily endeavor, a clarity of mind and a soreness of the body.  The dream perhaps lives more clearly now…after death is the life that I have dreamed of.

Two-Way Sword

sword

Fear is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it is protective; a gut instinct is helpful in situations where the facts are not clear. We have an evolutionary trait (called an intentional stance) that we carry in our genes that makes assumptions that have proven to save our hides. Fear is a product of that, a consequence of both our genetic makeup and our desire to survive.

However, in the western world this intentional stance does not always serve us well. Often our fear does not help, but hinders us. The issue is for us to determine why we are afraid. At the end of the day, our actions need to be based upon well-informed decisions, but skepticism concerning our actions is a well-tested intentional stance.

Fear serves us well until we becomes slaves to it.

Perhaps our fear comes down to what it is we actually want: to be correct or to be courageous. Alas, the sword cuts two ways again.

Industry

industry

When did the word “industrial” become synonymous with heinous attributes of our society?  To be industrial has not always meant “continued or increased military spending by the national government.” a term first used by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his Farewell Address on January 17, 1961.  Nor has it always been “characterized by a low fallow ratio and higher use of inputs such as capital and labor per unit land area”, in contrast to traditional agriculture in which the inputs per unit land are lower.  Nor has industry been a “transition to new manufacturing processes…”  To be industrial traditionally refers to the efficient effort put forth by individuals, and not to the methodological destruction of other countries through warfare, or the planned and procedural devastation of the environment.  Nor has industry always denigrated human beings to just another “cog in the machine”.

Industrial military complexes, industrial agriculture systems, or industrial revolutions really do not refer to industry at all, but to consumption, profit motivation, and product movement.  I would like to take back the word “industrial” to mean something effective but positive; a compliment if possible.  I would like to see the industrialization of our communities by seeing lawns disappear, being replaced by gardens, and useless fences replaced by useful fencing in of a few small livestock.  I would like us to be an industrial culture once again, but in the true sense of the word.

If we are to become industrial, we must come to understand the system in which we work.  We must understand that industrialization does not mean continued or increased inputs measured in units and efficient processes that lead to positive profits.  I would like to be industrial because that is what human beings’ purpose is: to work.  But we are also moral beings, and so I would like us to be morally industrial.  If we are to work, then we ought to work towards something good, something positive, something sustainable, something worth being.

The good, the positive, is seldom complex and even more seldom reliant upon units, inputs, measured efficiencies or manipulated markets, goods and services.  It is almost as if we have let our language fall prey to the lowest common denominators of those in our society that would have us believe that progress is measured in goods and services created by our industries rather than our industry.  I would like us to be industrious without relying upon industry.  We can, if we only realize that we must.  We must, and so I can only hope we will.

A Split-Second Decision

 

John Cage was a composer who “wrote” and performed a piece of silence called 4” 33’ (four minutes and thirty-three seconds). It was simply himself, on stage, and sitting at a piano for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. However simplistic and absurd it might have seemed and still perhaps is, I believe that the art, while not found in the actual performance is in fact found in the thought. This is culture.

 

I believe that many of us are realizing that what we consider culture is really nothing at all but consumerism. Culture is virtuous; consumerism is not. A man sitting at a piano and not playing the instrument, I thought, can be analogous to individuals who find themselves in a consumerist society without being consumers. I know this is a stretch, perhaps, but I believe there is something true in it.

 

To play a piano is a choice and one must learn, and learning takes time and effort; much time and much effort. That is why so many begin by taking lessons but few come to play the piano. Not being a consumer takes time and much effort.

 

The burgeoning agrarian movement that seems to be blossoming in this country can be seen as a reaction to a society that has lost its priorities to profit and consumerism, but I like to think of it as a choice, an idea that often times is ridiculed (as John Cage was when he performed his piece).

 

Perhaps John Cage was reacting to the ever-more complexities of modern classical music at the time? And if so, the analogy becomes even more similar. Rather than complaining as a composer, Cage did something to point this out. In the same way, we can make choices that go against the relentless pressure to consume.

 

Some may argue that actions such as Cage’s piece or the agrarian movement are simply fads, but I’m not sure that the argument stands. Cage’s piece is famous (or infamous) even today and he as a composer changed the landscape of modern classical music. In the same way I think that as more and more people realize the cost of a consumer lifestyle is not sustainable, they too will choose to take a stand. In Cage’s situation it was not too play for 4 minutes and thirty three seconds.

 

Our stand against consumerism can start with a split second decision.

 

 

Dreams

I have a dream

Dreams

To dream of making a dream a reality takes foresight, hope, imagination and a vision. To make a dream a reality takes those things, but it also takes a hefty dose of courage, hard work, money, and willingness to give up comfort in most of its forms. This is why it is easy to dream, but difficult to live your dream.

Be ready to smile when your friends, your family, and most others remind you of how many ways there are to fail, how good you have it and how you should “give it a second thought…” or how it is simply impossible. These will be bumps in the road in comparison to the endless work and hours, to the face of poverty staring in your window, the relentless pummeling that you will take physically and mentally. Make no mistake, to make a dream a reality you must give up the dream…but only almost.

I say “almost” because dreams are not made to be broken. Live your dream!

If you have a dream first make your mind up to do it. Secondly…do it. It really is that simple. Afterwards, don’t look back.

Regrets

To have regrets is easy: take the path most travelled, bury your hope and your imagination; your vision. To make your regret a reality takes those things, but it also takes a hefty dose of fear, making decisions based upon what others advise, and willingness to give up your dreams. This is why it is easy to forget your dreams, but difficult to live with that decision.

Be ready to smile when your friends, your family, and most others remind you that you could of, or should have if only had. These will be bumps in the road in comparison to the endless days, months and years of remembering the dream, the face of comfort staring in your window, and the relentless pummeling that you will take as you wake up at night and realize that they were right. Make no mistake, to make your regrets a reality you must give up the dream…completely.

I say “completely” because regret lasts a lifetime.

If you have regrets, first recognize them as regrets. Secondly…change them. It really is that simple. Afterwards, don’t look back.

Vacation

 

vacation pic

I’ve never really enjoyed taking a vacation. The time, to me, seems ill-spent and empty. I wonder about this: is there something wrong with me, or do I simply need to “relax”? I don’t think so. I think that there is something more going on. Vacation implies the lack of work, but the lack of work is not necessarily a good thing unless, of course, you don’t like your work.

 

Now I’m not a great fan of polls and statistics, but to make a point here, more than 70% of Americans do not like their jobs! If that is the case, then I can certainly see why so many people put a price upon free time. But I don’t think that makes vacation a positive thing. Vacation is only seen in a positive light if you don’t like your job. Perhaps a better approach than dreaming of beach vacations and beer drinking debauchery is to simply do something that you like to do.

 

I love my job, and I am in the process of transitioning into another job that I believe I will love even more. This is what some in my family would call a “luxury dilemma”. I would have to concur. The dilemma, however, cannot be solved by taking a vacation but must be solved by doing some work. Research and development attitudes must be taken; assessing risk and defining responsibility must be clarified. Economic outcomes and expenses must be taken into consideration. This all sounds like work, and that is because it is.

 

I often hear people dreamily wave around the idea of “never working again”, but I firmly believe that they would be miserable after about two weeks. Work defines us, and not having work is in a sense losing one’s self. I am aware that in our modern and progressive societies we have been conditioned to define as work tedious tasks and mundane bureaucratic business. Often we have become nothing more than monkeys in a box looking longingly out sealed windows. We have defined work by profit rather than work by principle, and I think this is where the problem is. We must work for reasons other than making a profit.

 

I am not saying that we need to give the responsibility of our lives over to someone or something else. However, I am saying that our relentless hunt for more money is making us (and many others) miserable. Vacation entails time to be free from work, but this is only a problem if we do not have a job that we would do for free. Being honest with yourself is often difficult, but is always free. Maybe we need to remember that time is easy but is never free. In fact, it may be the most expensive thing we have.