Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Time it Takes to (Not) Know Oneself

I hinted at the following insight in my previous post Know Thyself - My Example: if you are deep enough, knowing yourself can take a lifetime and, similarly, it can take a lifetime or more to get to know the deep souls of authors like Plato, Montaigne and Shakespeare. 

It could also be argued that it can take a lifetime or more not to know oneself and simply shy away from one's inner being, preferring to distract oneself in fleeting business and subscribe to dogmatic beliefs available in plenty. 

Researcher Mark Passio has summarised what he calls the barriers to self-realisation (real-eyes-ation) in the following way:
  1. Ego identification/ego attachment (including identifying with the roles we play in society and not being able to admit to being wrong or that our perception is not equivalent to truth but can only be more or less aligned with it)
  2. Outcome-based public education better termed indoctrination (that discourages self-exploration and critical thinking)
  3. The prison of the left-brain (rigid dogmatic beliefs that do not deal in creative, alternative or intuitive truths)
  4. Institutionalised belief systems (money and the leash that is religion being the main ones)
  5. The five sense illusion (the belief that there is nothing outside what we perceive with our senses)

Emotional v Physical Pain

This post not to say emotional pain is worse than physical pain or vice-versa or even that they are mutually exclusive but it has occurred to me that while in emotional pain it is you that's hurting, in physical pain it is a part of you that's hurting. 

Thinking v Opining

Many mistake expressing opinions with thinking but then thinking is itself not free of opinion, i.e. one angle out of many on a certain issue.

Perhaps philosophy is just glorified opinion but more elaborately woven and hopefully more measured than reactive (and reactionary) prejudice.

It could also be said that philosophy is active opinion on matters of existential substance whereas a great deal of commonplace opinion merely reacts to statements and events that are transient and of little import as evidenced by the appalling television programme Question Time - whose questions aren't questions at all but loaded innuendos designed to provoke controversy and bitter reaction - and spiteful online comments to newspaper articles. 

Which is why some recommend being well informed as opposed to being merely opinionated

Yet information can only influence opinion, not be a substitute for it, which is why information control is said to be the greatest weapon of all, opinion leading to action.

Perhaps the operative difference between thinking and expressing opinions lies in the fact that thinking involves the critical evaluation of information and phenomenological data - critical evaluation being at the basis of authentic knowledge - whereas opinions can be readily reached without said evaluation and without the introspective labour on the self that philosophising requires

And it is the case that some opinions are more in-formed than others, more in tune with that which is (truth) and less determined by the methodologies of mass mind control usefully covered by researcher Mark Passio and summarised in a previous blog post of mine (Mass Mind Control Techniques). 

Moreover, my girlfriend sees thinking as being an ongoing journey of self and world exploration that is continually learning whereas opinions seek always to immediately conclude and have the final say on contentious points (see The More You Know the Less You Think You Know). 

Perhaps it was the difference between the ongoing and open-ended nature of philosophical thinking and the closed-minded and desired finality of political opinion that French novelist Gustave Flaubert had in mind when he wrote
"C'est une bêtise que de toujours vouloir conclure"
[It's a nonsense to always wish to conclude]

although Flaubert's statement too can be seen as wishing to conclude. 

Nevertheless, it could be argued that to opine, in its desire for the finality of the final say, can potentially be seen as thinking against time, the cycle of becoming and ceaseless change that we belong to as human beings, whereas to think properly speaking, i.e. to philosophise, can be seen as thinking along and in harmony with said cycle of becoming, thereby requiring the making of one's peace with nature's transience, one's own past and philosophy's lack of finality (as much-loved philosopher Wittgenstein discovered later on in life having previously thought he had resolved all philosophical problems in his first book). 

To make the leap from opinion to thought would imply, if the thoughts/opinions I have shared above are correct, a letting go of the desire to be final and forever resolved in conclusive gestures in favour of a learning dynamic of endless self-correction and self-amendment. For philosophers (from the Greek φιλόσοφος, composed of φίλος, friend, itself linked to φιλία, love, and σοφός, wise, derived from σοφία, wisdom) are mere lovers of wisdom which is to say they know, the good ones at least, that they do not possess it and never will, at least not completely. 

Even German thinker Friedrich Nietzsche who made no qualms about his wisdom in his books, including his autobiography Ecce Homo (which contains a section entitled 'Why I Am So Wise'), considered, in his works Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil, wisdom to be a woman who offered her favours only to warriors of the spiritual realm, i.e. to truth-seekers rather than to the truth-holders that are dogmatists of all stripes and sizes (Nietzsche claiming in Beyond Good and Evil that dogmatism was no longer tenable), such as many so-called scientists and political commentators today, that have policed thinking, what is acceptable discourse and what isn't, throughout the ages. 

To conclude, despite what I have said about the matter, I will say that genuine philosophical thinking stems from a place of magnanimity whereas the immediate expression of opinion often but not always stems from a place of impatience. And if philosopher Martin Heidegger's words are true
"patience nurtures magnanimity" 
the converse also holds, i.e. magnanimity nurtures patience and the ability to refrain from opinionated commentary. For, according to Plato,
"wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something."
Addendum - It could be questioned whether the suggested definition of 'opinion' in this writing, 'one angle out of many on a given issue', does not apply more vigorously to the concept of 'point of view' or 'perspective'. This would raise the further question of whether one's point of view necessarily involves an angle or can even exist without an 'angle' or 'side', whatever that means (see in this respect My Side as Anti-Side which basically shows that not having an angle is itself having an angle). 

Perhaps an opinion is simply a stated point of view on a given topic, which performative definition is implied in the expression 'holding (i.e. presenting and defending) an opinion'. An opinion would become a conviction when one is completely won over (i.e. defeated, con-viction being similar though not identical to the Latin victor, to defeat) and capitulates entirely to one's own (stated) angle, which is to say when one is no longer open to changing one's mind or (stated) point of view. Whence
"convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth that lies"(for more elaboration on this view see Truth: Six Aphorisms by Nietzsche
To the thoughtful person, yet more questions arise as to the exact distinction between opinion, assertion and claim. I would imagine that an assertion - a statement that lays claim to something - is not backed by any research or proof whereas a claim in the intellectual sense presupposes the existence of potential supporting evidence that needs to be looked at and considered. Forming an opinion requires neither real research nor evidence but, as an opinion, may have a more modest intent and purported scope than an actual assertion and certainly less prestige and (apparent) intellectual sophistication than a claim. 

Be Mindful of What You Take on Board

Be mindful of the information and angles you take on board, whether deemed mainstream or alternative. 

And just because something is convincing doesn't mean it is true. 

(The latter point was Nietzsche's note for asses in his posthumous material). 

People Not Caring About What You Care About

It is presumptuous to expect people to care about the things you care about and therefore read your opinions and look at your creations, especially when you do not care about what they care about and do not identify with their own literary and creative output. 

Ignoring One's Forte

To those wondering why I have produced so little of late in terms of musical and artistic creation I have to confess to seeing thought communication as my natural forte since possessing in my view an uncanny gift for seizing and verbalising the most juste. (I often complete other people's sentences for them when they hesitate as to what word to use). 

In my previous post Sense of Accomplishment, I offered a theory according to which many might come to neglect their forte, i.e. what they are naturally and temperamentally suited for and best at, because, it coming easily to them, it fails to bring them a lasting and self-boosting sense of accomplishment since not requiring much effort. 

And indeed I do not feel that accomplished for writing as much as I do, but I am also aware that the other forms of creative self-expression I occasionally indulge in, which require more effort since less natural to me and therefore making me feel more accomplished in achieving them, are not first rate and do not always compare favourably with the works of other composers and artists with which I am familiar. 

That being said as soon as I run out of ideas for written-based blog posts I will gladly return to the other strings of my bow since there is some truth in the saying that if you do not use your talents and acquired skills you will lose them. 

Mr Banks Saying Thank You

A Disney (and indeed movie) scene I will never forget: Mr Banks earnestly and succinctly saying thank you to his son Michael for giving him the tuppence back after the chaos Michael caused at his father's banking workplace. 

French Scholarship - Roman Emperors

Despite the alleged backwardness of French universities as compared to English-speaking ones, and their low ranking in highly questionable league tables that in my opinion obtain the results they choose to measure, I have often been struck by the high quality and high calibre of French scholarship. 

French scholarship, at its best, can be blissfully free of the waffle and the woolly-headedness of British and American academe and can often arrive at counter-intuitive but nonetheless penetrating insights expressed in simple and eloquent language. 

The example I will focus on for the purpose of this blog post is the one provided by classicist/ancient historian Paul Veyne who brought me to levels of insight in my subject (Classics) not otherwise attained by my reading English-speaking authorities. 

The issue in question was that of Roman Emperors and the whole tradition of seeing some as good (Trajan, Hadrian, Aurelius) and others as bad (Caligula, Nero, Commodus). 

While my English lecturer contented herself with saying that the good and bad emperor paradigm was outmoded and was reflective of elite senatorial bias and axes to grind in the shape of such disgruntled authors as Tacitus and Suetonius, Paul Veyne for his part does not dismiss the paradigm out of hand. 

While he admits to senatorial and elite prejudice, such as that which was offended by Nero's artistic and theatrical ventures and therefore coloured him as a mad, lascivious emperor unbefitting of his status and power, he does offer an alternative view on the good and bad emperor dialectic.   

His argument is that those who have come to be seen by posterity as good emperors were naturally tyrannical and therefore un-phased and unaffected by the gigantic level of worldly power they were granted with when invested with imperium

Being thus un-phased they were naturally suited for the position of 'master of the world' and were able to exercise rulership efficiently and effectively. This was due not to them being enlightened or moral but due to their naturally tyrannical instincts, for all are not comfortable or at ease with having power in their hands, let alone the fate of the world.

The so-called bad emperors of Rome like Caligula and Nero were in fact not naturally tyrannical and were perturbed and driven insane by being invested with supreme temporal power. This psychological discomfort with power manifested in poor judgement and bad decisions that offended the taste of the senatorial elite whose writings about the emperors have come to colour, even determine our traditional view of them. 

He adds that 'crazy' emperors like Nero were much loved by the common people, if not by the literate classes, and this is symptomatic of a difference of viewpoint still prevalent today, i.e. intellectuals bemoaning the immorality and failures of 'populist' leaders who nonetheless remain popular with the non intellectual sensibilities of the many.  

Evaluating Conspiratorial Angles

Many take issue with so-called conspiracy theories as well as the conspiratorial view of history (as opposed to the accidental one, i.e 'one thing after an other' or what Kant called 'the haphazard melancholy') and, unfortunately, this mere suspicion as regards the validity of conspiracy theorising amounts to enough of an argument in their heads to avoid engaging at all with conspiratorial angles in current and historic affairs.

How do they think some individuals wind up exerting coercive, subversive and often covert power over others other than through having conspired to do so? 

It is rather like those who pointedly refuse to philosophise, not realising that the decision to ignore philosophical ideas itself contains much philosophy, albeit not at a conscious level.

Yet it is a blind spot to dismiss the existence of conspiracies as these are self-evidently a mundane reality of human life, for to conspire means nothing more than to collude in secret with others to do harm for selfish gain (conspiracy comes from the latin to breathe together, to be imbued with the same life force). 

If people were honest with themselves they too would realise that they are conspiracy 'theorists' (or realists) in some areas if not others which is a point I attempted to drive home in my post We're All Conspiracy Theorists

I used many examples such as the well-established one according to which tobacco companies deliberately hid the risks of smoking to the general public and silenced those who attempted to make it common knowledge or the very British example of the media and establishment cover-up of the police's responsibility in the Hillsborough disaster.  

Of course, these events being now accepted as established fact by the mainstream, people fail to realise that they too started out as so-called 'conspiracy theories' - which has been said to be Orwellian doublespeak for 'truth-seeking' or even 'truth-telling'.

Taking another example, even those who still subscribe to the official script regarding the events of September 11th 2001 endorse the view, however unconsciously, that it was the fruit of a conspiracy, albeit by anti-American Muslim radicals rather than the shadow government, the latter being the angle of so-called 'truthers' who do however vary in their quality of factual analysis and moral enlightenment. 

All this to say is that just because something is pigeon-holed as a conspiracy theory does not mean it is a false theory by definition, however much it challenges consensus reality and established not to say comfortable perception. 

That is not to say, however, that all conspiracy theories are of equal worth and some may well be in error or even created conspiratorially by (intelligence) agencies to dis-inform and confuse the masses.

Indeed the document that was The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was used by pre-Revolution Russian authorities to deflect anger away from governmental impropriety towards people of Jewish faith and lineage, themselves obviously not directly responsible for the hardships of the Russian people and certainly not because they happened to be Jewish.

Critical thinking is therefore paramount to sift through the world of conspiratorial discourse, so much of it pushing for dark political agendas as was Hitler's own book Mein Kampf which declared Jews to be single-handedly responsible for all the ills of mankind.  

In light of these considerations, my girlfriend has chosen to distinguish conspiracy theories which can be based in truth and a desire to make others aware of some dark realities from the conspiratorial movement which systematically resorts to conspiracy theorising, often for the purposes of scapegoating certain demographics and demonising all things governmental. 

Thus, my provisional conclusion is that while conspiracy theories should not be dismissed out of hand on the mere ground of being conspiracy theories, they should not be uncritically and systematically endorsed either.

Addendum - In my experience I have often found that what is dismissed as conspiracy theorising often turns out to be fact-based and researched critical thinking, understanding that those in power and who pull the strings do not have our best interests at heart, and far from it. 

Addendum 2 - Of course conspiratorial discourse becomes far more controversial when it posits the view of a coming 'New World Order', i.e. a global conspiracy to enslave humanity. 

Addendum 3 - It could also be asked the extent to which apparent conspiracies are not simply due to the normal game of corporate capitalism, which seeks out a monetary profit regardless of (negative) social impact (see Business is Business). For example, the existence of so much unhealthy processed food might not really be due to a secret desire to cull the human population as opposed to the goal of making money by getting people addicted to such foods - which are generally engineered to be more-ish and addictive (e.g. Pringles crisps being a notable example) - and their convenient, easy to prepare quality .  

Freedom & Morality

I wholeheartedly agree with Mark Passio's stance that morality and freedom are commensurate and directly proportional. 

In other words the more morality the more freedom, the more immorality the more slavery. 

For morality means not treating others in a way one would not wish to be treated and the vast majority are happier being free of physical, psychological and financial predation than the opposite.

Of course the substance of this position does hinge in practice on what one means by morality, as some people view homosexuality and recreational drug use as immoral practices. 

The content of moral principles is itself contentious and behind a great many controversies and polemics. 

My general rule of thumb, however, is that an activity that does not violate the rights of others not to be harmed, thieved or coerced, i.e. victimless deeds, is not prima facie immoral. 

It has to be stressed that victimising yourself, e.g. Christian saints engaging in self-flagellation, the act of suicide or other contemporary masochist practices, is not itself immoral if done with your own consent and arising from your own free will. 

Accepting money from someone or having sex with them is not immoral either provided consent has been established between the parties and this consent itself was not the fruit of fraud and misrepresentation or obtained coercively or under duress in which case it is not consent at all but enforced compliance.  

Social Construct

Person: mental illness is a social construct.
Me: so's money.

Complexity in Simplicity

While apparently an oxymoron, simplicity can be most complex. 

I made the case in a previous post, Truth is Simple, that insights into natural laws and psychological phenomena can be expressed in simple terms but that what is simply expressed does not mean is easy to fully grasp or comprehend, let alone formulate. 

As Nietzsche said, the fact that apparently simple and routine things are so complex to understand and unravel is a phenomenon that one may never cease to marvel at. He also wrote
"Truth is simple - isn't that just a double lie?"
"He is a thinker - he knows how to make things simpler than they are." 
Philosopher Martin Heidegger for his part wrote an entire volume on the apparently self-evident and self-explanatory question of Being (Being and Time) which, as the book shows, managed to baffle the intellectual giants that were Plato and Aristotle.

It is perhaps the mark of thinkers of rank to examine and question apparently simple phenomena that most take for granted, unravelling their hidden and concealed complexity. 

The Accusation of Projection

People who are challenged by others will often accuse these latter of projecting their own issues and insecurities, not to say value systems, onto them. 

While I agree that some project themselves more than others, being less aware of the difference in sensibility that lies between them and the person they're challenging, it could be asked the extent to which the habit of projection can be completely eliminated.

Indeed even the most empathetic person, i.e. the most aware of the difference in angle that lies between them and others, might still project somewhat in so far as 
"it takes one to know one"
and we always bring ourselves into how we perceive things, including other people, for to be completely objective is arguably impossible when it comes to psychological evaluation. 

For no one is God and no one is omniscient (apart obviously from creative writers who do know their characters precisely for who they are). 

This gives rise to the question of whether it is a good idea to challenge and judge others since never completely free of projecting ourselves in our challenges and judgements. 

Conversely compliments to other people may still be based on projections of ourselves, whether because we feel lesser than they are or simply admire qualities in them we like or would like to have in ourselves. 

The French Language and Pop Music

French pop music has rarely caught on internationally and when it has in recent times they were English-speaking songs (e.g. Get Lucky by Daft Punk). 

This is no doubt due to a variety of factors but one possible reason is that the French language is not particularly suited to pop music - many French musicians singing in English - on the ground that it is an unstressed language, unlike English, allowing for less harmonious emphasis by nature.