Tuesday, December 27, 2016

All You Need is Love?

"The Beatles said, 'All you need is love,' and then they broke up." -Larry Norman

Love is the answer.  All we need is the air that we breathe and love. 

Love is great, everyone agrees.  The world would be different if we just had more love.  But give it a little thought, and it seems much more complicated than Augustine's statement, "Love and do as you please."

What do we mean by "love"?  Most of the songs speak about romantic love, and we, who are no longer teenagers, know that hormonal infatuation has a limited staying power, not sufficient for a single couple to stay together, let alone a universal norm.  And desire only works for people who are desirable. 

Do we mean a religious intuition, or worship of a higher being?  Experience will tell us that love of a higher being does not often translate to a greater love of people around us.  Some will say that love of a higher being provides a model of loving other humans, but the two loves seem remarkably different.  One is the placement on a pedestal, like a ceremonial king or celebrity, while the other is benefiting on a very different level.

Perhaps benefiting is a better idea of what love is.  A love event is to leave a being better off than before the event.  A simple example would be a hungry person.  Everyone needs to eat, to give a hungry person good food is to leave them better off, thus is an act of love.

But it is one idea to think that this is a model for an individual ethic, another to consider this a universal one.  

First, how do we know what really benefits another?  Think of how often a diagnosis session goes wrong.  A professional who has studied how best to love a person and the person themselves often does not know how best to benefit them.  The professional can mislead the individual who might know what they really need  ("You need this medication and you'll feel better", ignoring the side effects that might kill them).  The individual might ignore the professional's wise advice ("You should quit smoking," is more often ignored than taken heed). Or both the professional and the individual might be ignorant as to how to best benefit them. 

We could limit ourselves to what we know what benefits another, to Maslow's list of absolute needs.  Sleep, food, clothing, warmth, security, respect, human contact, achieving one's potential...  However, we can't all agree on what basic needs are.  The drunk says he needs a beer.  The moralist says he doesn't, and that he'd be better off without a beer.  However, the drunk is probably right.  All things being equal, if a drunk doesn't get a beer, he could have a seizure and die.  He doesn't need a beer once he's under medical attention, but apart from that we can't tell him what he really needs from our own limited experience.  A person of a non-normative gender says they need to be accepted for who they are, but the conservative world doesn't agree.  The non-normative gender person might commit suicide because of her society only gives her disrespect.  Normative needs aren't enough for love, not always.

Is love really enough? Having love as the only norm also implies that individual action is sufficient.  But if every single person worked at understanding the person in front of them, providing a need, then that would not be sufficient to meet everyone's needs. There are pockets of people who collect because of their needs, excluded from society.  For instance, a group of people who are isolated because they have a sexual deviant tag and so can only live in a certain part of a town.  They cannot benefit from a universal norm of love, because there are too many individuals they are separated from.  Love has to be more than an individual impulse, but an impulse in government, employment, the justice system and families.

But can love be a universal norm for all societies? What about those who do not act on an impulse of love?  Right now, love is not a norm and we are taught to live by competition and rejection or else we cannot function in society.  How can we have security unless we also ignore an impulse to love, at least to a limited degree?  Isn't self-defense a rejection of love, but isn't it also necessary?  What kind of safeguards would we have to put on a society that acts exclusively on an impulse of love?

Image result for love fear
What about fear?  Fear is the love-killer, that which forces us to ignore the impulse to love to secure ourselves, our families, our "loved" ones.  Do we have layers, in which we love certain people, but not others? Is it possible or positive to love everyone?  Or should we divide people into those we love and those we do not?  Do we have a moral obligation to love everyone? 

But if we leave anyone out of the moral norm of love, then do we not create enemies?  Even as we do not always know how to benefit another, we do not always know who we should fear and who we shouldn't.  If we exclude someone who does not deserve to be excluded, then we create an enemy that doesn't deserve it and then we are creating hate, not love.  How do we love people whom we have made an enemy?  Should we fear all of people, or only fear people in certain contexts?  Can we create a context in which we block them from our vulnerabilities, but love them in other areas?

What is our human ability to love?  Love is hard work, and we work against our impulses to fear and to rage.  How long can we keep that up?  How do we love when that love exhausts us?  Should we continue to love when love burns us out?  Do we get periods in which we do not love?  Should we prioritize love of ourselves, making sure that we are cared for before we put ourselves out to love others?  If that is the case, how cared for should we be?  If we are waiting to feel fully supported and full of energy, will we ever love?

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Meaning of Life

In most modern philosophy, we begin in a place of radical skepticism.  What if nothing was what we thought it was?  What if all the concepts we lived with, the most significant foundations of our lives didn't actually exist at all?  What if there was no life after death, no soul, no God?  What if there was no real basis for any authority, any social structure?  What if, in reality, there is no meaning to ourselves or anything around us?  How then should we live?  How could we live?

And it's no wonder people don't like reading philosophy.  That's pretty depressing.  Everything we spent our lives on, meaningless.  In the end, nothing.  For the most part, however, philosophy doesn't end in this place.  It tries to build reality from this place in order to establish meaning.  From this place of nothingness, we could establish our meaning.

One option is to just remain in that place.  Okay, so there's no meaning?  Fine, I can live with that.  Or I can't.  It doesn't matter, either way, for all of life is absurd, a silly game, without significance.  So is life, our relationships, our parents, our own existence just an illusion, a smoke-in-mirrors trick?  Or is life so short... the whole existence of humanity and biological life such a brief blip in the history of the universe so quick that our activities aren't worth pursuing or exploring?  If this is the case, what are the options?  Suicide? Lethargy? Reading the same opinion over and over again?

This is the point that most bring in Sarte. In summary, Sarte agrees that there is no meaning in life, but we must create our own meaning.  The true meaning is what we make, based on who we deeply are.  We seek who we are and develop our lives around that.

Are we significant enough to do this?  Well, we are knowledgeable enough to know how small we are, how briefly we live, in the scope of the universe.  We may not be significant to change the course of a solar system, but we can be significant enough to shape ourselves to be in an image of our choosing. This is knowledge and talent that no other life or entity has ever had in all of existence (so says our radically skeptical nature).

So who are we?  Are we religious? Then let us embrace religiosity. Are we sexual? Then let us embrace those pleasures.  Are we consumers of good food?  Are we active? Are we competitive?  Are we depressed?  Are we lovers of power?  We can follow those paths.

As human, however, we find that a single description doesn't suit us.  Each of us is a weave of various threads, a city within a single mind. Every one of us consumes good food, desires human connection, fears threats, wants peace, wants control over our lives.  So this requires wisdom and balance for us to live even a life without meaning.

But is our life without meaning if we speak of balance?  Is there meaning in pursuing knowledge, even if that knowledge dies when we pass on? Is there a meaning in sexual pleasure if that leads to an ongoing relationship and family and continuing generations?  Is our real problem finding a meaning only if our meaning can be cosmic?  Isn't there meaning in raising a single child, even if that child lives a short, insignificant life?  Isn't there enough meaning for that child?

Does a deer in the forest consider their lives without meaning?  No, why should she?  Nor is she filled with despair when she looks at the cosmos, that is meaningless to her.  Even if we have greater understanding of the cosmos, does that mean that we must reject the meaningfulness of the doe, simply because we are human?  The doe exists for herself, for her children.  Can we not pursue that meaning, and find that it is sufficient?

The meaning that we have as humans is not, for most of us, to be found in knowledge of the cosmos, but in other humans.  We see others, and they are a part of ourselves, we are a part of them.  The more we spend time with another human, the more a part of us they are.  This is the function of mirror neurons in our brain, which humans seem to have more developed than other animals.  We can identify not only with other humans, but certain other animals, non-living object and fictions.  This function is a deep part of our meaning.

So should we not explore others, and how they create meaning in us?  Should we not pursue social groups, compassion, love, romance, entertainments, beauty? Should we pursue acts of the human future-- politics, activism, opportunities?

Is there not meaning in the small, as well as the large?

Monday, May 30, 2016

Are Miracles Possible?

Definitions are important.  David Hume defined that a "miracle" is that which is in opposition to the natural laws of the universe.  He defined the "universe" to be all that is, and that the laws are how they ran.  A miracle, by that definition, would be in opposition to reality.  Therefore nothing.

But a standard definition of "miracle" wouldn't be understood that way.  A "miracle" might be understood to be the action of a power of reality ( a subgroup of all that exists) that is beyond the perception of humanity to explain.  Then a miracle would just mean that the universe contains more than humanity can see.

Science has no problem with this.  They admit that gravity exists, but they do not know how or even how it works or where this force comes from. No one would call gravity a "miracle", because it follows certain predictable laws, but perhaps the origin of gravity is.  It is certainly beyond human comprehension.

A chronically ill person is sick, they are prayed for and then they are healed.  Is that not a miracle, whether you believe in God or not?  We experience hope with no reason to found it on and our hope is realized.  Is that not a miracle?  Science claims humanity will cease by a certain date, but humanity continues.  Is that a miracle, or simply progress?

The problem of a miracle is when we take a event or experience that is beyond human explanation or knowledge and determine absolutely what the source of that miracle is.  A miracle is, by its very nature, mysterious.  To claim that a source of a miracle is a powerful being or to claim it is a psychological phenomena are both equally premature.

Perhaps we need to embrace the mysterious nature of the universe?  Recognizing that we simply will not know all there is to be known?  Can we ever understand all causes of all things?

What is the Significance of Death?

For some, the cessation of life is a bad thing.  It means no more energy, no more activity, no more pursuing, no more forcing of one's will, no more hoping, no more joy.  For others, death is a positive thing.  It means rest, it means peace, it is the end of oppression, then end of suffering.  Death might look horrible on the surface, but that is our experience of deaths of those whom we love.

Every person is connected to another, and each person we know makes up part of who we are (through mirror neurons).  So when we experience their death, we experience a loss of a part ourselves.  Does this mean that our experience of death must also be dreadful?  Might the different perspective equate a different experience? Might death be positive.

Is it possible that the cessation of our life could be positive?  After all, the end of our existence means the end of our universe.  We have only one perspective to understand the world from, and our whole universe takes place in our brains.  Without our brains, all of reality, all of the universe ceases to exist from our perspective.  How can this be good?  All that we have done fades and all that we have accomplished is for naught.

On the other hand, from our perspective, all of our striving and trials and difficulties are faded as well.  There is no longer any evil.  And since our brain is no longer functioning, we cannot experience any angst about our cessation.  Non-existence means no emotional insecurities.

But does death automatically mean the end of our existence?  Plato held that our bodies, including our brains, are just holding us back from true freedom.  Since we have lived, can we cease from living?  Is there not some way in which existence might always be, but without the constraints and shackles of the body?

And even if our life and existence is trapped to the body, is it not possible that a future entity, a future humanity, might take our DNA and re-create us, giving us a new chance at life?  Is our life really over?  Can it ever really be over?

Friday, October 3, 2014

Demons: A Philosophic Introduction

Historically, demons played a significant place in history.  Millions have died because of the assumption of demonic influence, by monotheists and polytheists and spiritualists.  Some see demons behind every corner, even today.  Demons are the epitome of evil, the enemy of humankind and of all that is good.  From a philosophic standpoint, how do we consider the demonic, or that which is called demonic?

Many call demons just a myth, just stories to entertain and to encourage certain moral practices.  Certainly the tales of Faust and Hellboy are but stories. But how does one explain the many, many experiences of evil spirits that people claim are true?  The story of The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty is supposed to be based on true events, and other exorcisms are confirmed.  What do these real events mean?  Are they all mechanisms of the insane? 

Eugene Thacker, in his philosophic work, In the Dust of this Planet, suggests that the demonic is a method by which we culturally explore the reality of nothingness. The absence of life, of meaning, of purpose frightens us so that we personify it and label it as a being itself.  This would make sense with demons being our own temptations, and evil circumstances.  But what about the stories of spirits who attack?  Of those who are innocent, but experiencing judgment?  Are demons just a way to speak of evil coincidence? Of statistical probability that bad circumstances will happen to us?

It is also true that in ages past many items that we have labels and some understanding of were called demonic in the ancient and medieval world. Schizophrenia, seizures, fits of rage and fevers were often “caused” by evil spirits in the ancient world.  So is that which we do not really understand (like schizophrenia, which we can describe and label, but not really determine the cause), or cure still a black box, even though we do not call it “demonic”?  Are we really any better off than those who called it demonic?  Is a book collecting a list and descriptions of mental disorders really any better than a witch hunter’s manual which catalogs and describes demonic activity? What is really the difference?

Associated with mental disorders are those who cannot fit into society or belong to a different culture. In the past, some were called demonic, even though they had a place in their original society, such as spiritualist healers and astrologers.  The foreign or strange is often called demonic by those who do not understand certain actions.  Is the demonic fundamentally a way of us describing our own discomfort of those who act in a socially awkward or unacceptable manner?  Are those who cannot understand or appreciate societal nuances still make outcast in the same way, even if we do not use the term “demonic”?  Are the labels that separate the unwanted any better or worse than the term “demonic”?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Solitude v. Community

Some consider the path of Solitude the best path of living.

Solitude allows the contemplation of a deeper reality, which the distractions of everyday busy life do not allow.
Solitude allows there to be personal authenticity, so we can know who we are and not just who we seem to be before others.
Solitude develops self-discipline and self-reliance, which leads to self-empowerment.
And, it is said, solitude alone can give us the peace of mind and reflection to consider how best to act and live.

Others consider Solitude to be a danger.

Alone, a person has no real purpose or focus, but instead only falls deeper into the self which is an empty hole.
Solitude leads to madness, fear of others, paranoia and self-delusion.
In fact, they say, the right way to live can only be discovered with others.  Without others, we cannot love, we cannot be faced with uncomfortable truths, and we cannot build on other's strengths.
If we are to be our real selves, we discover that self by connecting in community.  Without community, we are only a shadow of our deepest selves.

Some say that our lives and communities should be a balance between solitude and community.

Too much solitude or too much community is dangerous.  In solitude, we cannot empathize.  In community, we can become numb from overwhelming empathy.
Some gain much from solitude, while others gain nothing from constant relation in community.  Different people are different.  To say that only one is beneficial is like saying that it is a moral requirement for everyone to be married or for everyone to be single.
There are different purposes for each activity.  Community teaches us love.  Solitude gives us the opportunity to consider pure truth.  In the balance of these two activities is the real truth.

What do you think?