Category Archives: Philosophy

Ourselves

Somebody else can save us from black knights, invading aliens, or even time warping transvestites. It’s a big universe out there. Everybody needs a helping hand occasionally. Some more than others, but that’s beside the point. There’s only one thing someone else can’t rescue us from – ourselves.

We’re our own best friend and worst enemy. We relate best to us because we know all the gory details, the strength of every emotion, the true meaning of every thought we’ve ever had. And the only person we must live with our entire lives. (Technically that’s not absolutely true since Multiple Personality Disorder is on the rise.)

The only battlefield we’ll find ourselves on for all eternity is the one in which we struggle against ourselves. I’ll be the first to admit that finding balance between my needs, responsibilities, and entertainment is a struggle. Is it any wonder we seem a bit selfish when we introduce others into the formula?

And there’s yet another thing that we must find balance with – our inner and outer worlds. We all participate in this perpetual juggling act whether we’re aware of it or not. It’s the balance between these opposing forces that makes us who we are. And the evidence of those opposing forces is prevalent in everything we do.

There’s an old Chinese curse: may you get exactly what you wish for. It took me a long time to wrap my head around that one. A wish is useless without a plan on how to get there. It’s a pointless gesture unless you’re willing to put out the effort to make your wish a reality. That’s a failing a lot of us have. We spend our time wishing instead of making our dreams come true. Our real, heartfelt wishes, are reflected in our everyday life.

A modern interoperation of that ancient curse might be phrased: may you get exactly what you deserve. Ironically it’s a curse that perpetually comes true whether we want it to or not. The steps we take in our lives lead inexorably to where we are. The amount of effort we put into that journey is reflected in where we’re at.

One of the most obvious aspects of family is that they set the starting gate of our lives. Whatever our family does, they give us an edge in that particular aspect. Some families offer more advantages than others. Some more disadvantages. In the end, what counts is the direction we go after leaving that starting gate, where we put our effort decides our fate.

Accidents happen. Plans derail. Life throw’s us curves. But the only one who can set our course is ourself. We can take the advice of another, or strike out on our own. We can even chose to take no responsibility at all. But like Rush said in their song Freewill, “If you chose not to decide, you’ve still made a choice.” We, each individual, must live with the choices we’ve made. In the end, the responsibility, consequences, and benefits are ours.

Eternal Conflicts – Form vs Substance

I don’t post often to this site for two reasons. The first is rather simple. I have a day job. As much as I would like to write full time it doesn’t pay the bills. The other is equally straightforward – I prefer substance to form. What do I mean by that?

It’s been said that to garner the proper attention. One should post, whether to Face Book or to a site like this one, a minimum of three times a week. This is so that when someone visits there’s always new content for them to pursue, keeping interest in the site. The results are often banal, repetitive, and disappointing blogs. But they’re right in there with firm, they’ve met the criteria. And I think one of the most depressing things is that it actually works.

What’s another good example? Anyone who’s ever gone into a bookstore knows this one. When someone picks up a book they look first at the title. If that’s caught their eye, then the cover. If those two things aren’t interesting they lay it down again. They’ve examined the form and found it wanting.  Or, if the title and cover is interesting, maybe they’ll read the back. And, having thoroughly examined the outside, maybe they’ll open it to read a snippet out of the book, usually the first page or two. A glittering form has caught their eye and they want to check and see if it’s gold.

And this method of examination applies to people as well. It’s a well-established fact that beauty is nothing more than symmetrical – of good form. Pictures were taken of the same person, alterations made that were too subtle to be consciously recognized. And when asked test subjects invariably said the more even they were, ears the same height, same size eyes, even teeth, smile, and hairline, the more beautiful a person is. Form.

I’ll be the first to admit, I like talking to pretty women. And here is where I apparently differ from most. As a general rule I’ll talk briefly with the beautiful people. They tend to be vain, shallow, and self-centered. Without substance.

Ultimately each person must decide what substance is. Most will agree it’s some version of ethics, what a person is and does as opposed to what (s)he looks like. But if that’s truly the case I have to wonder why we look first at form. I remember well the first time a woman told me I was too short to consider dating. While I have to give her points for honesty and the courage to say it out loud, I have to deduct points for shallow reasoning. It’s not like I can control how tall I am. But ultimately her reasoning was a moot point, form rather than substance. The substance of the conversation was her negative response.

Even this blog post is an exercise in form. I try to make it pleasing to the ear, eye, and mind. But I also try to add substance. In truth one cannot exist without the other. But when did we start concentrating more on form than substance? Sometimes I wonder if TV isn’t to blame. We look in on that world and they’re all beautiful people. And then we go back to our lives and we don’t live in such a pretty and clean world. (If you want to know how much substance there is to your favorite actor read up on what (s)he’s been doing off the set.)

In the end I guess I’m somewhat middle if the road. Nice packaging is certainly a plus, but I’ll take a minimum of it for something inside. And that’s no matter what we’re talking about. Is a seat warmer in the car really that important? Not if the car won’t get me where I need to go. Is beauty helpful in a relationship? Not if (s)he bolts at the first sign of difficulty.

Truth

Webster’s Dictionary (Dictionary.com) defines truth as “the true or actual state of a matter”. The problem is, after a certain point, there is no “truth”. A simple example is the towel that sits on the counter in my kitchen. If you were to ask me, I would tell you it’s blue. Ask my roommate and he will assuredly tell you it’s sapphire. Not a lot of difference, is there? In the long run both of those statements are different ways of saying “approximately a specific color or shade of color”.

Evidence can go a long way toward determining the “true state of a matter”. But even evidence can be spun, distorting the angle it is viewed at, and in turn changing “truth”. For example, when Bill Clinton stood before congress and declared that he “did not have sex with that woman”. America was surprised to learn a blow job really wasn’t sex. A different approach might have been for Clinton to stand up and reply: “There are only three people that should be concerned with who I had sex with – me, my wife, and the person with whom I allegedly had relations with.” I maintain that if Clinton had said just that, at the time, Congress would have nodded their head and agreed, leading the way for the rest of America to agree. Making the truth irrelevant.

The amazing thing is, truth varies with the listener. A while back I heard a story about a couple, let’s call them Husband and Wife, and someone Wife knew. Let’s call him Number Two. In the summer Husband and Wife had an argument, and Wife started seeing Number Two. As I understand the story, Wife told Number Two she had left Husband. So it wasn’t exactly an appropriate relationship, but it really wasn’t illicit either.

According to Number Two the couple did a lot more than kiss. That there were times when Wife told him he would have to wait until the kids were asleep. He didn’t realize it at the time, but “the kids” also included Husband. Supposedly there were times when Wife stayed at a friend’s, and Number Two met her there. Ultimately, according to Number Two, he realized Husband was still at the house and ended the relationship. He claims that’s when Wife got pissed and told Husband a half-truth. He maintains Husband is a coward, and Wife is a liar, and they deserve each other.

Wife works in a public place. She claims they were only friends, and he often came to see her at work. She claims that one day he got carried away and tried to kiss her. She, being the dutiful wife, told her husband and Husband got pissed. What’s not explained is how Number Two knows her phone number, where she lives, and several other intimate details about her life that a “dutiful wife” wouldn’t give a stranger.

Husband, naturally enough, believes Wife’s version of events and is very upset about this masher. He also claims that Number Two never offered to meet him at any time or place of Husband’s choosing so they could “discuss” events.

So where’s the truth in that story?

Depends on who you want to listen to.

Time

Not to long ago I was at my day job, and something interesting happened. There was a young woman doing a fairly mindless task. She looked up at me and sighed. “Surely my time is more important than this.”

I have to admit to some surprise. It wasn’t her time. It had been bought and paid for. Or would be paid for. Whatever the set up, when she made the agreement to work, she sold her time to the boss. How he used it was entirely up to him.

But time is a funny thing anyway. We know it exists, but its so fundamental to existence science can find no way to provide evidence of it. What one point it was thought to be a figment of the human mind, a way to organize perception so that reality can be dealt with.  (I think) the current theory is that time is a temporal dimension, something like, and as fundamental as, height, width, and depth.

But regardless of what sort of thing time really is, there is one thing it definitely isn’t – a renewable resource. It’s amazing how many things are. When we run low on money, we work to get more. Sunlight can provide nearly infinite electricity. An abundance of plants can provide clean, fresh air. If you stop and think about it there’s very little in our lives that is not a renewable resource. Except for time.

No matter how much we would like to, we don’t get a redo for any given moment. Nor has anyone figured out how to get more than their allotted amount. Because it is not renewable, time is perhaps the singular most valuable resource we have.

Which brings us back around to the young woman who thought her time was so precious she sold it to someone else. Maybe there was something better she could be doing. Maybe it was wrong that someone was wasting her time.

 

 

Half Full

There’s an old, old question that gets asked a lot – is the glass half full or half empty? A rather intellectual joke offers an interesting solution to that question. The joke goes: Question – What did the engineer say when he was asked if the glass is half full or half empty? Answer: Your glass is the wrong size. Thereafter is a long and involved explanation of why the engineer would answer in such a fashion.

At the time I heard it I was nonplussed. There was truth to the statement, but funny? Eh. But at odd times I would find myself thinking about the joke, like there was something that I wasn’t understanding. Eventually it dawned on me the engineer was right. But in order to understand the answer, first you have to understand the question.

Is the glass half full or half empty? Theoretically an optimist would say it’s half full, a pessimist the opposite. Generally, I tend to say it’s halfway. But that really doesn’t answer the most basic question – glass of what? Psychologically speaking it’s a glass of everything. To put it more simply, let’s consider it a measure of what we have versus what we expect to get.

If the glass is half full, is that really expecting too much? Shouldn’t we have goals and be reaching past what we already have to bigger and better heights? Yes. Absolutely. We should have goals, and be reaching beyond ourselves to new things.

At the same time, if we expect to double everything we already have, maybe we’re setting the bar a little high. And in doing so we’re setting ourselves up for assured disappointment, never quite reaching that miracle mark. We might be able to double our current situation, but it’s never going to happen in a single step. Thus we’re doomed to have a black cloud looming over us constantly.

This is what I found worked for me – I changed the size of the glass. Little steps. I went from wanting to have X number of books under my belt, to simply doing the best I can on the one I’m working on. I went from a standard of blogging once a week, to finding something I wanted to blog about. And now my glass is three quarters full, and I’m much happier for it.

Sometimes my wishes do get carried away, and I find my glass getting bigger. As a consequence the level starts dropping. I get carried away with the things that it would be nice to have. When I do I have to remind myself – little steps.