On the Variation of Reality’s Influence

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As has been explored, society has a profound effect on the reality of an individual. From this it is now useful to examine the magnitude of this effect. The magnitude indeed varies from individual to individual depending on how closely that individual’s reality conforms to the power structure of the society. That is, the strength of social influence on an individual corresponds to the degree that the individual’s reality affirms the social power construct. The higher the affirmation, the lower the magnitude of the effect. The lower the affirmation, the higher the magnitude of the effect. In this way, certain collectives of individuals’ realities are validated while others are not.

The protagonist of Jean Paul-Sartre’s Nausea, Antoine Roquentin, admires a historical figure during a museum visit. Roquentin observes that this historical figure, Jean Pacǒme, created a successful existence for himself as a merchant. Pacǒme did so, according to Roquentin, by creating his own meaning in a world without meaning.

“His extraordinary success (today the Pacǒmes are the richest family in Bouville) could have surprised him. He never told himself he was happy, and while he was enjoying himself he must have done so with moderation… He had never looked any further into himself: he was a leader.” (Sartre 85)

In a sense, Pacǒme becomes the author of his own life. This is what Roquentin admires, that Pacǒme creates his own reality. This is life’s task presented in Nausea by Sartre: Create your own meaning or be left with the meaninglessness of existence. This theme is at the core of existentialism.

To create one’s own meaning against a meaningless existence one needs to exercise one’s will. From here the existential concept of “the will” is created. This can be seen from Arthur Schopenhauer’s “will to live” or Friedrich Nietzsche’s “will to power.” From these concepts the belief arises that all people are responsible for their own success by willing their desire into existence, essentially manifesting their own reality into being. There are two factors which are largely underrepresented from this existentialist paradigm. The first factor being to what degree is one capable of manifesting one’s reality. What is important is not so much that the capability is higher or lower depending on the individual, but rather that for certain individuals the capability is virtually nonexistent. The second factor being that the manifestation of certain individuals’ reality nullifies the capability of certain other individual’s capability to do the same. In this way the first and second factors are related in a telling way about the existentialist paradigm. Their relationship demonstrates the sociological dependency of the paradigm.

In Virginia Woolf’s essay, A Room of One’s Own, Woolf proposes that if William Shakespeare had a sister of equal writing capability it would not be possible for her to obtain the same level of success as her brother because of the social restrictions that were in place toward women.

Let me imagine… what would have happened had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister… his extraordinarily gifted sister, let us suppose, remained at home. She was as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was. But she was not sent to school. She had no chance of learning grammar and logic, let alone of reading Horace and Virgil. She picked up a book now and then, one of her brother’s perhaps, and read a few pages. But then her parents came in and told her to mend the stockings or mind the stew and not moon about with books and papers. …before she was out of her teens, she was to be betrothed to the son of a neighbouring woolstapler. She cried out that marriage was hateful to her, and for that she was severely beaten by her father. She had the quickest fancy, a gift like her brother’s, for the tune of words. Like him, she had a taste for the theatre. She stood at the stage door; she wanted to act, she said. Men laughed in her face. The manager… guffawed. He bellowed something about poodles dancing and women acting—no woman, he said, could possibly be an actress. He hinted—you can imagine what. She could get no training in her craft. Could she even seek her dinner in a tavern or roam the streets at midnight? (Woolf 46-48)

Woolf is referring to the barriers that women had which men did not. A woman with the capacity to create as much meaning as a man with the same talent could not due to sociological restrictions which handicapped the woman’s capacity. Woolf uses the metaphor, a room of one’s own, to demonstrate that one’s ability to actualize one’s individual reality can be handicapped and even prevented by restrictions outside the individual’s control. The existential “will” concept is not sufficient enough to manifest individual meaning. The individual must also have “a room of one’s own”, the conditions necessary for that will to be utilized. With enough social conditioning, even the strongest exercise of one’s will cannot escape the influence of the social reality.

The sociological power structure does not only influence the reality of individuals but also the ideas of that society, no matter how profound these ideas are. Existentialism, a profound movement within philosophy that focuses on the actualization of the reality of the individual, has been redirected by the social elite to justify the maintenance of the dominant power structure. If we return to Antoine Roquentin’s admiration of Jean Pacǒme’s self-authorship of individual reality, it is important to consider how Pacǒme’s individual reality maintains the dominant power structure of his society. In what ways has Pacǒme’s merchant trade contributed to the socioeconomic success of his society’s elite class? If Pacǒme’s business took away from the business of the elite, how likely would Pacǒme be able to author his own reality? If Shakespeare had a sister with equal literary talent, does the reality of that sister which threaten the dominance of the elite explain why she would have a harder time actualizing her reality than that of Shakespeare himself? It is presumed that each individual has equal responsibility for the realization of their own reality but when the probability between individuals toward self-actualization is vastly varied by socioeconomic conditions then the truth behind that presumption must be critically analyzed. Otherwise, the society as a whole could be operating under a false reality without its individuals being aware of the reality’s falsehood.

Work Cited

Sartre, Jean-Paul, Nausea. New York: New Directions Books, 2007

Woolf, Virginia, A Room of One’s Own. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt, Inc., 1989

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The Social Effect on Individual Reality

Upon examining the nature of reality it is discovered that what is real may, in fact, be fiction. That is, reality is composed of fabricated constructs instituted sociologically. Race, gender, ethnicity, sex, class, or religion are examples of such constructs. The truth of these constructs are only from their delimitation. And yet still, this delimitation only exist within a sociological context. Outside the context, the delimitation may not necessarily apply. Also, the context is subject to change based on the demands of the society. Therefore, the truth of these delimitations, these constructs, is mutable, indeed a fiction.

What determines the social demands of a society?  Its’ power structure. Those in power create conditions that are conducive to the maintenance of the possession of that power. Fabrications are developed and institutionalized socially as truth to solidify the structure of power. In this way, the fabrications become reality. When a power structure is challenged, the very “truths” of that society from which the power resides are challenged.

A society creates its own reality through its power structure. The individuals within that society are victim to that society’s reality. That is, the individuals are part of that society’s reality. The reality of the society, which is a creation, may not encompass the truth of any one individual belonging to that society. That is, what that individual is, the actual essence of that individual, may not be included within the reality construct of that individual’s society. This is because the essence of the individual, may threaten the power structure of the society. In other words, the truth of that individual weakens the possession of power of those that have the power within the society.

A power structure within a society is determined by the allocation of power. Uneven allocation of power creates an elite segment. How does an elite segment continue to receive its disproportionate allocation of power when it is a minority, a select few? For this to happen the elite must use its power to enforce justification for its disproportionate power allocation. Institutionalizing divisions within a society creates segments which may receive more or less power. These divisions are created for the sole purpose of power maintenance but such purpose cannot be revealed since that very revelation undermines the power maintenance objective. Therefore, fictions are created to perpetuate the divisions, to structuralize the divisions. They are then instituted into society as “perceived” truths. In this way, social constructs, such as race and gender, are materialized. These social constructs’ true purpose are delimitations of power but are institutionalized arbitrarily by the elite segment using fiction. The drama of these social constructs manifests into institutions of power control such as racism and sexism. These institutions become reality, existing as a drama of social power struggle.

The social elite segment of a society creates and institutionalizes a reality for the society for the purpose of maintaining power. The reality encompasses the whole society, including all individuals within it. Therefore all individuals of the society are subject to the created reality. All individuals who are part of the society are part of the created reality. The objective of the reality creation is to justify the disproportionate allocation of power and is therefore a drama or fiction. The social reality may not reflect the true nature of individuals within its society because an individual’s true nature may threaten the credibility of disproportionate power allocation. In this way, the truth of an individual may be masked by the false reality of the individual’s society. If the truth of an individual, the individual’s essence, threatens a society’s power structure, that individual must challenge the very reality of that society for the individual to express his/herself. The individual may challenge the social reality for truth or may accept the social reality and be content with falsehood. It is this option, confronted by the individual, which demonstrates that society influences the individual’s reality.

Differentiating Reality from Truth

What is truth? What is reality? Is what is true also what is real, or more specifically, is reality what is true? These are age old questions with age old answers, and no definitive consensus. Different schools of thought, different branches of philosophy, resolve to different conclusions on the matter. James William, a thinker of the philosophical school known as pragmatism once wrote,

The most ancient parts of truth . . . also once were plastic. They also were called true for human reasons. They also mediated between still earlier truths and what in those days were novel observations. Purely objective truth, truth in whose establishment the function of giving human satisfaction in marrying previous parts of experience with newer parts played no role whatsoever, is nowhere to be found. The reasons why we call things true is the reason why they are true, for ‘to be true’ means only to perform this marriage-function, [William James. “Pragmatism’s Conception of Truth”. Lecture 6 in Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking. New York: Longman Green and Co (1907): p. 83.]

What is true to William is what is pragmatic to experience. Theoretical realities or realities outside what can be experienced are not true. In this way also, truth is mutable, since experience can change over time. The experiences of a child, for example are different than the experience of an adult. Likewise, the experience of living in a society or civilization is different early in its history than it is later. Experience also varies between societies and civilizations. So truth is not only mutable, it is varied. That is to say, there can exist multiple truths.

If there exist multiple truths then is there any one truth more valuable than another? Is there an ultimate truth? And if truth is only pragmatic to experience then what is the difference between truth and opinion or judgment. The existentialist philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, wrote,

Will they be new friends of “truth,” these coming philosophers? Very probably, for all philosophers hitherto have loved their truths. But assuredly they will not be dogmatists. It must be contrary to their pride, and also contrary to their taste, that their truth should still be truth for every one—that which has hitherto been the secret wish and ultimate purpose of all dogmatic efforts. “My opinion is MY opinion: another person has not easily a right to it”—such a philosopher of the future will say, perhaps. One must renounce the bad taste of wishing to agree with many people. “Good” is no longer good when one’s neighbour takes it into his mouth. And how could there be a “common good”! The expression contradicts itself; that which can be common is always of small value. In the end things must be as they are and have always been—the great things remain for the great, the abysses for the profound, the delicacies and thrills for the refined, and, to sum up shortly, everything rare for the rare. [Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. Beyond Good and Evil (p. 31-32).  . Kindle Edition.]

Nietzsche asserts that they are indeed multiple truths and that they are indeed more valid ones. Yet the validity is relative. According to Nietzsche, truth that is more applicable to ones’ own experience is most valuable. Therefore, a truth that is valuable to one individual may not be valuable to another. That is, there is no ultimate truth, or more precisely, there is an ultimate truth for each individual that may vary according to that individual’s experience.

What then of another’s truth? A society is composed of multiple individuals. These individuals each have their own experiences. How does a society function with varied experience? How does a society determine which experiences are valid and which are not? Which individuals’ truth will a society acknowledge and which will it not? Can all truths in a society be acknowledged? Can all experiences in a society be validated?

Nietzsche’s “will to power” concept asserts that all humans have an innate drive to reach the highest level of life possible. What is this highest level and how is it reached? Our society is currently constructed in such a way that the highest level is actualizing ones individual truth into the ultimate truth. To put it another way, our current society conditions individuals to establish their truths as the most valuable, their experiences as the most valuable.

Why this case and not the case that society views all experiences, all truths, as equally valid? It is because of the way epistemology is interpreted regarding reality, which is designed to keep in place dominant power structures. Reality and truth is interpreted as the same, where in actuality they are different. Truth is incorrectly based on experience and the nature of experience is varied from individual to individual. The experiences of one individual can very well not be applicable to another individual. So, when experience is dependent on truth, one individual’s version of truth can invalidate, make false, another’s version of truth. This falsifying of one’s experience against another makes it not possible for all truths to exist, if truth is what is pragmatic to experience.

A Christian may believe, based on the experience of upbringing, that gay marriage is untrue; that the act of two people of the same sex getting married is outside the very definition of what marriage is. This is true to many Christians. A gay person may not believe this based on their experience of being born physically attracted to someone of the same sex.

An African American may protest under the slogan “Black Lives Matter” because they believe, based on their experience with law enforcement, their life matters less than the lives of other races. A White American may believe that such protests are a form of favoritism or making African American life a special case, based on their experience with law enforcement, which may be very different from that of the African American.

A woman who is regularly catcalled, experiences this as a form of sexual objectification and suffers negatively both emotionally and psychologically. The man doing the catcalling believes such an action as a form of compliment and interprets the woman’s negative reaction as unappreciative. Again, based on variable experiences.

It is not possible for the heterosexual Christian to go through the same experience as the homosexual. Nor is it possible for the White American to experience the same scrutiny under law enforcement as the African American. Nor is it possible for the man to experience the same degree of sexual objectification as the woman. If truth is determined only through individual experience and society is constructed whereas only one truth can be valid, then the truths (the experiences) of certain individuals are falsified at the expense of the “ultimate” truth. The homosexual’s experience is falsified at the expense of the Christian heterosexual truth. The African American’s experience is falsified at the expense of the White American’s truth. The woman’s experience is falsified at the expense of the man’s truth. In this way the social reality (reality being the same as truth under the current knowledge construction) invalidates the experiences of individuals in that society, since only a specific kind of experience can be true because of the way society is constructed.

Which experiences are those that are within the “ultimate truth” construct? The experiences of the individuals with the most social privilege, that is, the individuals whose experiences are most conducive to the power structure of that society. In that way, an illusion of the “will to power” is constructed. In this society, it appears that certain individuals are actualizing their “will to power” over others, and in that way their truth becomes the ultimate one. To put it another way, the power structure creates for certain individuals a false sense of actualizing power, where the social reality already caters toward these certain individuals to reach that actualization. The “will to power” concept is used simply to maintain the current dominant power structure.

How do we escape this false social construct? With the realization that reality is not the same as truth, where reality can in fact be false. Social structures maintain realities for the purpose of maintaining power structures that have control over the society. These “social realities” can negate the realities of certain individuals that challenge the dominance of the power structures of the society. In this way these “social realities” are indeed false, because they do not include the experiences of particular individuals; they do not acknowledge particular truths. These false realities do in fact influence certain individuals because of their falsehood. By nullifying the experiences of others, these realities destruct human experience. So realities can be constructed without truth to be used as social tools for the maintenance of power. This is how reality is different from truth.

Privacy Matters

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citizenfour-posterI recently saw a very thought provoking documentary, Citizenfour, which is ultimately about why privacy matters. If you pay attention to news, Edward Snowden is most likely a familiar figure. He is a former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who not only quit his job, but leaked incredibly sensitive and confidential information regarding NSA practices to the press. The reason why he leaked out this information is the focus of this film. It is something every citizen needs to seriously think critically about.

Before watching the film I didn’t see Edward Snowden as any kind of hero, and I also didn’t see him as any kind of villain. Frankly, I didn’t see him or what he did as anything significant. I think most people feel this way, even today.

I believed in everything Snowden accused the NSA for. I believed the articles from The Guardian about global surveillance based off of the information that Snowden provided. My reaction was simply, “D’uh.” An inkling about the government spying on its own citizens is quite popular already and widely accepted. Granted, I wasn’t aware of the extent of the surveillance revealed in the articles, I wasn’t surprised much by it either.

Frankly my attitude about it was apathetic. If the government is looking at all the emails I send and receive, so what? I’m not sending anything crazy. If the government is listening in on all my phone calls, oh well. I don’t talk about committing acts of terrorism. I’m either joking with friends or having boring business discussions. If the government is viewing all my purchase information, that’s fine. Let them see all the groceries and toiletries, as well as all the recreational stuff I get like video games or cheap graphic T-shirts. I’m sure they’d fine most everything about me uninteresting. And if looking at all that information helps to stop terrorism from happening, I’m fine with that. I have nothing to hide. The skeletons in my closet are pretty boring, honestly.

This is what I thought at first. The documentary, however, made me think about the situation in a different light. Snowden revealed how the NSA was setting up their surveillance, how certain things were set up to be flagged. If certain topics were discussed, if certain items were bought, if certain locations were frequented, a person could be selected as a person of interest. Snowden also revealed that this system was targeted primarily toward the citizens of its own country.

There was a particular part of the movie that hit home for me. A spokesperson talked about how this kind of surveillance has the potential to instill fear. If people start to think that they will be flagged or targeted for things that they say or do by the government, then they will restrict what they say and do. And then where is the line drawn? What constitutes as something which is said or done that could potentially lead to terrorism? Or even, how can this system be abused as a form of control?

People may not like what the government is doing, but they may become afraid to express their dislike due to their fear of government surveillance. Will some NSA computer automated program flag this blog post as something they consider threatening?

Snowden may or may not be right about his conclusions on the usage of NSA’s global surveillance program. But he is most certainly right about the concern he has about such a program having the potential to restrict freedom of speech and expression. Privacy matters because without it people don’t feel safe freely expressing themselves. Privacy is directly related to freedom of speech. This is the connection that the movie showcases.

Global surveillance is necessary to combat terrorism but privacy is also necessary to maintain freedom of speech. Compromising one for the other is not a solution. As citizens we must ensure that the balance between privacy and security is balanced, because in the end, privacy does matter.

A documentary everybody and their mother should see

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Cosmos_layers-offCosmos: A Space Time Odyssey is a sequel to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Journey documentary series. It’s produced by Ann Druyan (author and widow of Sagan), Steven Soter (astrophysicist) and Seth MacFarlane (of Family Guy fame) and is hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

This documentary is extraordinary. It focuses on the science behind how the universe was made and where the universe is headed. And it does so in an incredibly cinematic and easy to understand way. The cinematography of the series is both beautiful and often times emotional as it humanizes a number of influential scientists and innovators by telling their stories in a genuine and truthful way.

The most powerful aspect of the series is its message of human potential. How it showcases the accomplishments of humanity is both inspiring and a call to action. Its central theme is that as human beings, with all our knowledge and capability, have the potential for incredible achievement or terrible destruction, and the outcome lies within our willingness to overcome ignorance.

A quote from the final episode:

How did we, tiny creatures living on that speck of dust [Earth], ever manage to figure out how to send spacecraft out among the stars of the Milky Way? Only a few centuries ago, a mere second of cosmic time, we knew nothing of where or when we were.
Oblivious to the rest of the cosmos, we inhabited a kind of prison– a tiny universe bounded by a nutshell.
How did we escape from the prison? It was the work of generations of searchers who took five simple rules to heart.
Question authority.
No idea is true just because someone says so, including me.
Think for yourself.
Question yourself.
Don’t believe anything just because you want to.
Believing something doesn’t make it so.
Test ideas by the evidence gained from observation and experiment.
If a favorite idea fails a well-designed test, it’s wrong! Get over it.
Follow the evidence, wherever it leads.
If you have no evidence, reserve judgment.
And perhaps the most important rule of all Remember, you could be wrong.
Even the best scientists have been wrong about some things.
Newton, Einstein, and every other great scientist in history, they all made mistakes.
Of course they did– they were human.
Science is a way to keep from fooling ourselves and each other.
Have scientists known sin? Of course.
We have misused science, just as we have every other tool at our disposal, and that’s why we can’t afford to leave it in the hands of a powerful few.
The more science belongs to all of us, the less likely it is to be misused.
These values undermine the appeals of fanaticism and ignorance and, after all, the universe is mostly dark, dotted by islands of light.

Quotes from Either/Or

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…doubt the correctness of the familiar philosophical proposition that the outward is the inward, the inward the outward.

What is a poet? An unhappy man who hides deep anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so formed that when the sigh and cry pass through them, it sounds like lovely music.

I would rather be a swineherd at Amagerbro and be understood by swine than a poet and misunderstood by people.

Aren’t people absurd! They never use the freedoms they do have but demand those they don’t have; they have freedom of thought, they demand freedom of speech.

This is the main defect with everything human, that it is only opposition that the object of desire is possessed.

Of all ridiculous things in the world what strikes me as the most ridiculous of all is being busy in the world, to be a man quick to his meals and quick to his work… For what do they achieve, these busy botchers? Are they not like the housewife who, in confusion at the fire in her house, saved the fire-tongs? What else do they salvage from the great fire of life?

One should be an enigma not just to others but to oneself too. I study myself… God only knows what the good Lord really meant with me, or what He meant to make of me.

If we divide mankind into two large classes, we can say that one works for a living, the other has no need to. But working for one’s living can’t be the meaning of life; to suppose that constantly procuring the conditions of life should be the answer to the question of the meaning of what they make possible is a contradiction.

To say the meaning of life is to die seems again to be a contradiction.

The real pleasure consists not in what one takes pleasure in but in the mind… pleasure consists not in what I enjoy but in having my way.

For me nothing is more dangerous than recollection. Once I have recalled some life-situation it ceases to exist. People say that separation helps to revive love. That is quite true, but it revives it in a purely poetic way… A life-situation recalled has already passed into eternity and has no more temporal interest.

If anyone should keep a diary it’s me, to aid my memory a little. After a while it often happens that I completely forget what reasons motivated me to do this or that, not just in bagatelles, but in taking the most decisive steps.

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Laugh at the world’s follies, you will regret it; weep over the them, you will also regret it; if you laugh at the world’s follies or weep over them, you will regret both; whether you laugh at the world’s follies or weep over them, you will regret both… This gentlemen, is the sum of all practical wisdom.

What seems so difficult to philosophy and the philosophers is to stop. This difficulty, too, I have avoided. For if anyone believed that in stopping at this point I am really stopping, he proves he has no speculative insight. For I do not stop; I stopped that time I began. My philosophy has, therefore the advantage of brevity and irrefutability. For if anyone were to contradict it I would surely be justified in pronouncing him insane.

There have been times when I would have given anything for a ticket; now I needn’t spend even a penny for one. I stand outside in the corridor; I lean up against the partition separating me from the auditorium and then the impression is most powerful; it is a world by itself, apart from me, I can see nothing, but am near enough to hear and yet so infinitely far away.

Every individual, however original, is still a child of God, of his age, of his nation, of his family, of his friends. Only thus does he have his truth. If in all this relativity he tries to be the absolute, he is ridiculous.

But if he renounces the claim of the absolute in order to become relative, then eo ipso the tragic is his, even if he were the happiest of individuals; indeed I would say that it is only when the individual has the tragic that he becomes happy.

The tragic contains an infinite leniency; really it is what divine love and mercy are, but from the aesthetic perspective on human life; it is even milder, and so I would say it was a material love which soothes the troubled.

Tragic action always contains an element of suffering, and tragic suffering an element of action; the aesthetic lies in the relativity. The identity of an absolute suffering is beyond the powers of aesthetics and belongs to metaphysics. This identity is exemplified in the life of Christ, for His suffering is absolute because the action is absolutely free, and His action is absolute suffering because it is absolute obedience.

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As a passionate, erotic glance desires its object, anxiety looks at sorrow in order to desire it.

Anxiety, furthermore, always involves a reflection upon time, for I cannot be anxious about the present, only about the past or the future; but the past and the future, holding on to each other so tightly that the present vanishes, are reflective phenomena.

It is true men say the divine voice is not in the rushing wind but in the gentle breeze, but our ears are not made to pick up gentle breezes, only to gulp in the din of the elements.

And yet night is winning and the day is shortening and hope is growing!… I toast you, dark night, I toast you as victor, and this is my solace, for you make everything shorter, the day, time, life, and memory’s tribulation, in eternal oblivion!

…art belongs in the category of space and poetry in that of time, that art represents repose, poetry movement.

The point in reflective sorrow is that sorrow is constantly in search of its object; the searching is the unrest of sorrow and its life. But this searching is a constant fluctuation, and if the outer were at every moment a perfect expression of the inner, to represent reflective sorrow would require an entire series of pictures and no one picture would acquire genuine artistic value, since it would not be beautiful but true.

…when unhappy love has its ground in a deception the pain and suffering are this: that the sorrow cannot find its object. If the deception is proved and if the victim perceives that it is a deception, the sorrow does not cease but it becomes an immediate sorrow, not a reflective one.

Let us strengthen our thoughts, arm them against the charms of the ear, for what voice is quite so ingratiating as that of the unhappy man when he speaks of his own misfortune? Let us make ourselves worthy to sit as judges, competitors, that we do not lose perspective, sorrow is infinite and infinitely inventive.

So the unhappy one is absent. But one is absent either when living in the past or when living in the future.

Memory is pre-eminently the real element of the unhappy, as is natural seeing the past has the remarkable characteristic that it is a sense that the future that it is yet to come; and one can therefore say in a sense that the future is nearer the present than is the past.

Unhappy individuals who hope never have the same pain as those who remember. Hoping individuals always have a more gratifying disappointment. The unhappiest one will always, therefore, be found among the unhappy rememberers.

He cannot become old, for he has never been young; he cannot become young, for he has already become old; in a way he cannot die, for he has never lived; in a way he cannot live, for he is already dead; he cannot love, for love is always in the present, and he has no present time, no future, no past, and yet he is of a sympathetic nature, and he hates the world only because he loves it; he has no passion, not because he lacks it, but because that same instant he has the opposite; he has no time for anything, not because his time is taken up with something else, but because he has no time at all; he is powerless, not because he lacks strength, but because his own strength makes him impotent.

There is a kind of restless activity that keeps a person out of the world of the spirit and puts him in a class with the animals, which from instinct must always be on the go.

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A little embarrassment always flatters a young girl’s vanity, she feels her superiority, it is change in hand… Embarrassment deprives you of your masculine importance, and it is therefore a relatively good way of neutralizing sexual difference. So when they realize that it is only a pose, ashamed they blush inwardly, the are very conscious of having gone too far; it’s as though they had gone on treating a boy too long as a child.

A person who speaks like a book is exceedingly boring to listen to; sometimes, however, it is not inappropriate to talk in that way. For a book has the remarkable property that it can be interpreted any way you wish. If one talks like a book one’s conversation acquires this property too.

To flatter requires great caution. At times one must set oneself up very high but in a way that leaves room for a place still higher; at times one must set oneself down very low. The former is the more correct in moving in the direction of the spiritual, the later in moving towards the erotic.

What does love love? Infinitude. — What does love fear? Limitation.

…what really constitutes marriage, what is its substance, is love, or if you want to be more explicit, the being in love. Take that away and a shared life is either just satisfaction of sensual desire or an association, a partnership in the interests of some goal. But love has in itself precisely the quality of eternity, whether the love is of the superstitious, romantic, chivalrous kind or the deeper moral and religious love which is filled with an energetic and vital assurance.

The way the lovers refer their love to God is by thanking God for it. Here the change is one of refinement. The weakness to which the man is most prone is to suppose he has conquered the girl he loves; this makes him feel superior — but there is nothing at all aesthetic in that. When he thanks God, on the other hand, he humbles himself under his love, and it is in truth far more beautiful to take the beloved as a gift from the hand of God than to have subdued the whole world to conquer her.

The more abstractly the State is conceived, and the less it champions individuality, the more natural such an injunction and such an encouragement become.

Marriage can only be undertaken with one purpose which makes it ethical and aesthetic in the same degree, but that purpose is immanent; every other purpose separates what belongs together and in doing so turns both the spiritual and the sensual into finitudes.

Quotes from Walden

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Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them.

Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate.

Most of the luxuries, and many of the so called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.

To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.

…instead of studying how to make it worth men’s while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them. The life which men praise and regard as successful is but one kind. Why should we exaggerate any one kind at the expense of the others?

I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes… All men want, not something to do, or rather something to be.

In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high.

…in which the life of the individual is to a great extent absorbed, in order to preserve and perfect that of the race. But I wish to show at what a sacrifice this advantage is at present obtained, and to suggest that we may possibly so live as to secure all the advantage without suffering any of the disadvantage.

Should we always study to obtain more of these things, and not sometimes be content with less?

I would rather sit in the open air, for no dust gathers on the grass, unless where man has broken ground.

I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion. I would rather ride on earth in an ox cart with a free circulation, than go to heaven in the fancy car of an excursion train and breathe malaria all the way.

But lo! men have become the tool of their tools.

We now no longer camp as for a night, but have settles down on earth and forgotten heaven.

When I consider how our houses are built and paid for, or not paid for, and their internal economy managed and sustained, I wonder that the floor does not give way under the visitor, while he is admiring the gewgaws upon the mantel-piece, and let him through into the cellar, to some solid and honest though earthy foundation.

The civilized man is a more experienced and wiser savage.

It is difficult to begin without borrowing, but perhaps it is the most generous course thus to permit your fellow-men to have an interest in your enterprise.

Shall we forever resign the pleasure of construction to the carpenter?

No doubt another may also think for me; but it is not therefore desirable that he should do so to the exclusion of my thinking for myself.

…though I hold that almonds are most wholesome without the sugar…

I thus found that the student who wishes for a shelter can obtain one for a lifetime at an expense not greater than the rent which he now pays annually.

Those conveniences which the student requires at Cambridge or elsewhere cost him or somebody else ten times as great a sacrifice of life as they would with proper management on both sides.

To my astonishment I was informed on leaving college that I had studied navigation! – why, if I had taken one turn down the harbor I should have known more about it. Even the poor student studies and is taught only political economy, while that economy of living which is synonymous with philosophy is not even sincerely professed in our colleges. The consequence is, that while he is reading Adam Smith, Ricardo, and Say, he runs his father in debt irretrievably.

…if one would live simply and eat only the crop which he raised, and no more than he ate, and not exchange it for an insufficient quantity of more luxurious and expensive things, he would need to cultivate only a few rods of ground, and that it would be cheaper to spade up that than to use oxen to plough it…

For the most part the farmer gives to his cattle and hogs the grain of his own producing, and buys flour, which is at least no more wholesome, at a greater cost, at the store.

As I did not teach for the good of my fellow-men, but simply for a livelihood, this was a failure.

If a man has faith he will cooperate with equal faith every where, if he has not faith, he will continue to live like the rest of the world, whatever company he is joined to.

However, when I have thought to indulge myself in this respect, and lay their Heaven under an obligation by maintaining certain poor persons in all respects as comfortably as I maintain myself, and have even ventured so far as to make them the offer, they have one and all unhesitatingly preferred to remain poor.

If you give money, spend yourself with it, and do not merely abandon it to them. We make curious mistakes sometimes. Often the poor man is not so cold and hungry as he is dirty and ragged and gross. It is partly his taste, and not merely his misfortune. If you give him money, he will perhaps buy more rags with it.

We should impart our courage, and not our despair, our health and ease, and not our disease, and take care that this does not spread by contagion.

I never dreamed of any enormity greater than I have committed. I never knew, and never shall know, a worse man than myself. I believe that what so saddens the reformer is not his sympathy with his fellows in distress, but, though he be the holiest son of God, is his private ail.

My excuse for not lecturing against the use of tobacco is, that I never chewed it…

I was as much affected by the faint hum of a mosquito making its invisible and unimaginable tour through my apartment at earliest dawn, when I was sitting with door and windows open, as I could be by any trumpet that ever sang fame.

…if some have the pleasure of riding on a rail, others have the misfortune to be ridden upon…

Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry.

For what are the classics but the noblest recorded thoughts of man? They are the only oracles which are not decayed…

To read well, that is, to read true books in a true spirit, is a noble exercise, and one that will will task the reader more than any exercise which customs of the day esteem.

I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than wen we stay in our chambers.

Society is commonly too cheap. We meet at very short intervals, not having had time to acquire any new value for each other.

But labor of the hands, even when pursued in the verge of drudgery, is perhaps never the worst form of idleness. It has a constant and imperishable moral, and to the scholar it yields a classic result.

The true husbandman will ease from anxiety, as the squirrels manifest no concern whether the woods will bear chestnuts this year or not, and finish his labor with every day, relinquishing all claim to the produce of his fields, and sacrificing in his mind not only his first but his last fruits also.

It is surprising and memorable, as well as valuable experience, to be lost in the woods any time… do we appreciate the vastness and strangeness of Nature… Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.

The abdomen under the wings of the butterfly still represent the larva. This is the tid-bit which tempts his insectivorous fate. The gross feeder is a man in the larva state; and there are whole nations in that condition, nations without fancy or imagination, whose vast abdomens betray them.

The particular laws are as our points of view, as, to the traveler, a mountain outline varies with every step, and it has an infinite number of profiles, though absolutely but one form… What I have observed of the pond is no less true in ethics. It is the law of average.

We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of every accident that befell us, like the grass which confesses the influence of the slightest dew that falls on it; and did not spend our time in atoning for the neglect of past opportunities, which we call doing our duty.

While such a sun holds out to burn, the vilest sinner may return.

Why the jailer does not leave open his prison doors, – why the jailer does not dismiss his case, – why the preacher does not dismiss his congregation! It is because they do not obey the hint which God gives them, nor accept the pardon which he freely offers to all.

…it is easier to sail many thousand miles through cold and storm and cannibals, in a government ship, with five hundred men and boys to assist one, than it is to explore the private sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of one’s being alone.

The purity men love is like the mists which envelop the earth, and not like the azure ether beyond.

Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. It is not important that he should mature as soon as an apple-tree of an oak. Shall he turn his spring into summer?

For the most part, we are not where we are, but in a false position. Through an infirmity of our natures, we suppose a case, and put ourselves into it, and hence are in two cases at the same time, and it is doubly difficult to get out.

However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is.

Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Turn the old; return to them… God will see that you do not want society.

Do not seek so anxiously to be developed, to subject yourself to many influences to be played on; it is all dissipation.

It is life near the bone where it is sweetest.

Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only. Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul.

There is a solid bottom every where. We read that the traveler asked the boy if the swamp before him had a solid bottom. The boy replied that it had. But presently the traveler’s horse sank up to the girths, and he observed to the boy, “I thought you said that this bog had a hard bottom.” “So it has,” answered the latter, “but you have not got half way to it yet.” So it is with bogs and the quicksands of society; but he is an old boy that knows it.

Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.

We do not believe that a tide rises and falls behind every man which can float the British Empire like a chip, if he should ever harbor it in his mind.

 

On varied interests

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People are interested in different things. Some people are really into music while others are not. Many people think video games are very fun while several others find them boring. Lots of people enjoy books when others feel what is the point in reading a book when you can see its film adaptation. And it goes on and on like this. Who is right and who is wrong in this? Are there particular things that actually are more interesting than others? Are there things that one should actually be interested in over others? We say that everyone should like whatever they want but society often does not support this claim.

I am personally really into music and I like a variety of different genres. I am one of those guys who collect vinyl records simply because I like the way vinyl sounds. For the past three years I have attended the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival which features several popular and varied live music acts. Fortunately for me the festival is just an 8 hour road trip away. At any given time there could be 6 popular acts performing at the same time, so you’ll need to make hard decisions on who to see. On the second day of the festival, they had the alternative rock band, Muse, performing at the same time as the hip hop artist, Nas, indie rock band, The Dismemberment Plan, the electronic pop duo, Pet Shop Boys, and dubstep musician, Skrillex. All of my friends went to see Nas. I went alone to see Pet Shop Boys. Have you judged me?

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I grew up in an inner city ghetto. In this urban environment, hip hop music was all around me. I think because of that, I love hip hop music. My mom however is a baby boomer and in the house she played primarily music from Motown, a lot of old school R&B, soul, and funk music. I really like that kind of music too. My love of vinyl most likely came from her too since that was the format she played her old music on. For some reason though, I have this weird fascination for 80’s electronic music and I don’t know where it comes from. I am drawn to sound originated by musicians like Depeche Mode, Eurythmics, Human League, and yes, Pet Shop Boys. None of my family or friends have listened to this music. I have developed this interest or rather, I have always had this interest on my own accord.

I cannot explain why I like 80’s inspired synthpop. That sound is just incredibly entertaining to me. It may be ridiculous to say but my personal favorite performance at Coachella this year was the Pet Shop Boys. But should that really be ridiculous?

The headliner for the festival this year was Arcade Fire, an incredibly popular indie rock band. One of the people in our group opted to see R&B performer, Jhené Aiko instead. He got a lot of hazing from our group for that decision, but I understood. He likes Jhené Aiko more than Arcade Fire. Most people don’t feel that way, but he does, as well as all the others that went to see her. People’s interests are varied and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The question is: What makes people’s interests varied? I think it’s the classic combination of nature and nurture. It’s effected by what you experience as you grow up. What I think also, and what isn’t often recognized is that people are hard wired at birth to like different things. Each person’s brain is setup in a unique way that makes them more likely to be interested in a certain kind of medium, or a certain kind of genre, or a certain kind of pastime. I honestly think my brain is just naturally hardwired to enjoy 80’s synthetic sounding music. I am really digging a lot of these new bands that are revitalizing that past 80’s sound while several other people are getting sick of it. Have you noticed that the very latest pop music sounds a lot like early 90’s dance music?

In any case, like what you like. Be interested in what you are interested in. And know that you are partly hardwired to like particular things and that’s okay.

On the existence of Hell

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Many people refuse to accept the existence of Hell and therefore refuse Christianity to its full extent: “I thought God is an all loving good. How can an all loving God allow people to exist in eternal torment? It doesn’t make sense to me. I refuse to accept that.” And so, in this way, many conclude to be agnostic, following the train of thought that states Christianity is an illogical interpretation of a God. These people do not fully understand what Hell actually is, and it is primarily the fault of Christians who do not explain their belief logically in earnest.

To define Hell as a place is an incomplete definition. Hell, in its entirety, is a state of existence. It is an existence without God.

Many say the reason why we live on Earth is because God is testing us. This is incorrect. God already knows the extent of your capabilities. There is no need for Him to test you. Rather, your life on Earth is an opportunity granted to you by God. While living on Earth, you can decide whether you want to accept Him or not. It is completely your decision, despite the fact that God already knows what you will decide. He does not want you to accept Him because of what He can offer you. He wants you to accept Him because you love Him.

If you decide not to accept God, then God will accept your decision. So at the end of your life on Earth, if you will not accept Him, he will no longer be a part of your being. He will leave your existence as you have decided. And what is existence without God? It is an existence where there is nothing which is good, because God is responsible for all good things. Goodness is what God is. Everything good that happens during your life is because of God. That means if you refuse Him during your life on Earth, God is still a part of your life. It is only after death when your choice goes into everlasting effect. And when He finally leaves you, all the good that He is leaves as well. Then all that remains is an existence with you left to your own device. Without the guiding hand of God, beings are left only with their sin. And through their own sin, beings without God develop their own torment. This is what Hell is.

The reason why God hates sin is because sin ultimately leads to man’s own torment. This can be seen in the world today.  When people do evil to satisfy themselves, people suffer. Without God, there is nothing to stop this suffering. People consume themselves in their evil which leads into a cycle that will never end without God. Hell is simply man existing without God. Nothing more.

Does the existence of Hell sadden God? Of course it does. It saddens Him that people would choose not to accept Him. And this shows the extent of God’s love. If there was no opportunity to choose, and God simply stated the result of existence without Him as fact, people would follow Him not for love, but only for sanctuary from suffering. God doesn’t want that. He wants His followers to truly love Him. And so, if you do not love Him, God will allow you to exist without Him, as much as it pains Him, since He knows the torment you will put yourself through without Him. Hence, even the existence of Hell is a demonstration of God’s love. A love that in its completeness is beyond human comprehension.

On graduate school

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Image         As a graduate student, I was often asked the question: Why go to graduate school? Before graduating, I would provide the obvious answers: A graduate degree can make me more employable and studies have shown in general that people with graduate degrees make more money over the long run. Of course, I would receive the obvious counter arguments: In today’s economy a graduate degree offers less of a guarantee for a career and the length of time it will take for you to get a return on your investment is not worth it.

Now having since graduated, I can offer a different and not so obvious answer. Graduate school has given me the realization that “I know that I do not know.” To put it another way, graduate school has equipped me with a skill set for a life of constant learning.

With each and every graduate course I took , I did not just learn something new, I learned something useful. I learned life skills that I could apply directly to improve my professional life. Of course with that kind of learning comes work, and that work was what developed the skill set I have today.

I learned how to conduct better research by further verifying my sources. And thinking critically about the information I receive. I learned that not all information is created equal and only by understanding its context am I able to determine whether that information is applicable.

Instead of desperately looking for answers, graduate school taught me that the best way to solving complex problems is figuring out how to ask the right question because often a question asked in the right way can point to its own answer.

Graduate school taught me that my best resource is the network of people I have around me. I have formed lasting relationships with specialists, entrepreneurs, scholars, and professionals through the students and staff I met during my studies. I am happy and thankful to say that I can always come back to these people for advice and guidance within their respective fields of expertise.

The assignments, the research papers, the project presentations, and even the online discussions provided me with a new opportunity to work at a new problem or a new question and to build my persistence and self-discipline. Now I am able to use my honed persistence and self-discipline to tackle even the most difficult problems and questions life throws my way.

This idea of knowing that you don’t know is not new. It was the great philosopher Socrates that first coined the idea when he one day met a wise man. The wise man proclaimed he knew the meaning of life and the secrets to existence but after listening to the wise man, Socrates realized that the wise man did not know any more than he. Socrates realized that in fact he was a little wiser than the “wise man” because at least he knew that he did not know while the wise man did not.

It is important for me not to make the same mistake as the wise man. College provides a skill set that better prepares for a life of constant learning. Now that I have long since graduated, I can accept the fact that I will never truly know everything and embrace a life of constant self-improvement by using the skill set I developed during my college career. Ultimately, I shall always be a student of life. It’s just that now, because of college, I am a better student.