30.1.19

Moving into the Phenomenological Theme

Let’s presume that, from the egoistic point of view (since this state can pop up in a person’s experience at unpredictable times, or for sustained periods), the question, what is most important right now?  is bound to have a merely personal answer.

Such a personal answer is bound to have almost nothing to do with the issue of finding the theme of universal and maximal importance within the present moment of consciousness, which is what that question is asking.

The personal answer most likely pertains to some kind of idiosyncratic preference, a desire, a hope, a fear -- a fixation with yet another detail or fact -- rather than a thematic at play within that person’s consciousness, or, of that consciousness itself.

By being attracted to and using the word theme we have already intuitively realized that real importance could not be ascribed to something merely personal and factual (such as somebody loving their wheels), just a random fact, or any facts within that fact. The word theme traces an impersonal frame of mind.

Instead of a fact, we know that what is most important will be on the order of a theme -- and we must add that it will be a universal theme. So, what is most important right now is not factual, but universal, and this we can know because a personal or egoistic point of view is not dominating the thinking.

(This has been a kind of sketch or portrait of the phenomenological reduction: the movement from knowledge of relative facts to the objective theme of consciousness itself, which is of the most importance in any moment, anyway!)

28.1.19

Surviving Snow Days

Today is a snow day for us here where I live. This year, this winter, and on this particular snow day, the fact that millions of people are expected to risk their lives by driving their cars to jobs that don’t pay them enough given that much risk (but given many other disadvantages) seems utterly inhumane.

Employment really looks like indentureship during people’s commutes on a day like today.

. . . Yes, I do think that we should have a local economy that can absorb the fact that most of the public wants to stay home during an urban blizzard! Is that so crazy sounding?

If employment wasn’t the entrenched institution that dominates labor and work in our society, then there would be no necessity for people to commute to workplaces (under threat of termination), often risking their lives, contributing to traffic, polluting the air. Those few but awful detriments are sufficient to comprehend the problem with the present employment status quo, although there are numerous others.

22.1.19

Relax!

The word relax has interesting traits, and more varied meanings than one might imagine. It can be argued that its Latin origin (re + laxus) has been overrun by our modern ‘relax’ -- which does not make sense as a coupling of re + lax (since loosen again is not what we mean in any immediate scenario using the word relax, only the imperative to loosen (now); otherwise, it makes sense to say, ‘relax it again’, or just ‘relax again’).

The meanings of ‘re’ from Latin re (an emphasis phoneme), and ‘lax’ from laxus (loose) have both shifted, becoming our English ‘re-’ (an affix meaning repeat) and pejoritized as ‘lax’ (now it can mean careless). It would be very interesting, philosophically interesting, to map this etymology to the socio-cultural or lived aspect of the word relax.

I cannot think of another word that is this kind of fossilized compound term, since our word relax functions for us without the meaning of the usual ‘re-’ affix (to do something again), which covers up its conjunctive Latinate origin and fuses the two pieces into a single relax. (You can reprocess its phonemes as ‘rel’ + ‘ax’ if it helps see the point.) I like to think of relax being in the company of the words paradox and enigma.

Since the word relax already has mutated from the Latin, why not use it liberally now? For instance, we could propose to use it as a noun, as in The Relax, or, a relax, adding these to its uses as the verb, to relax, and, the imperative of commanding another to relax. If we refer to or explain ‘the relax’, a noun, then how would we mean it? And, incidentally, has it been used like that already?

The Relax


I found no online example using ‘relax’ as a noun, preceded by ‘the’ or ‘a’ -- other than a deep forest house track (electronica music), and various spa products. Now then, what could the relax mean?

Sociology and Ontology of (the) Relax


There are at least the socio-cultural and ontological considerations of the word relax, which it could be allowed to express as a noun.

Sociologically, at present, there is a remarkable scarcity of the experience of relaxing, in the sense of feeling and thinking that ‘the world can wait’, since the world (of socio-cultural-political spectacle in particular) is quite threatening and often itself seems precarious.

What could the relax mean ontologically (which arguably is the most interesting) -- that is to say, what is relaxing in an absolute and essential sense?



21.1.19

What Is Worth the Life-Time?

What is the ‘most thought provoking’? This query is what Heidegger thought was the primary philosophical line of questioning, to which he answered, the most thought provoking is that we still are not thinking.

I would offer the gloss that here ‘thinking’ means, asking the right questions, and, becoming the proof of what is understood. He laid out this kind of critique particularly with respect to understanding our technologies, and moreover the paradigm of their technicity.

I believe this also is beyond doubt: just as important is that which does not require thought, at any given moment. Yet it should be pointed out that the very interest in a non-thinking state, or impersonal Beingness, is ‘had’ or comprehended from the standpoint of the most rarefied ontological approach.

Being able to enter the thoughtless yet absolutely alert and spontaneous state (that includes the many virtues of meditation, such as ecstatic relaxation) is seamless with the Philosophical state of wisdom as well as with mystical experience.

It is safe to say that this ontological interest is the highest level of thinking because it includes the obsolescence and cessation of normal mental activity, through a full and final understanding of thinking itself that needs no thought -- which therefore detaches, delaminates, the human identity pattern, away from the thinking subject as constituted by its (false) identification with the bodily phenomenon.

Back on earth: There are several topics that are considered to be the most thought provoking by this blog, presently and probably henceforth:

Ontology
Phenomenology (Husserl)
Media Studies (McLuhan)
Mysticism (India, and everywhere)
Idealism (Berkeley)
Linguistics
Literary Theory

18.1.19

Distracted from Beingness

To be overstimulated at the neural level is not uncommon today, and nor is feeling overwhelmed. But in many or most people’s experience this must feel like chronic panic, and pain. I do not need to query and compare mental health studies when this hyperstimulation phenomenon is biologically stark enough, and by its nature registers universally (like the effects of atomic dust on the quality of normal air).

The breaking news flashes, and fragments, the shrapnel of news, it hits us in a series of jolts and shocks to the nervous system, also gut punches to our brains, depending upon how much one consciously cares.

For the rest -- who are somewhere else, putting out personal fires, reporting to a bad job, distracted, not exactly caring about the macro, aching from confusion and fear -- stress has been incorporated into everyday life. 78% of Americans live ‘paycheck to paycheck’, including some federal workers, who are living paycheck to nothing, a financial cliff. For one of them, and any of us, ‘overstimulation’ and ‘overwhelmed’ would have worsened already into a state of partial neurological shutdown, loosely speaking. It's a basic state like strain and numbness that leads to shutting off, somewhere in the psyche, and it's not a stretch to imagine that this would impair some neurological activity.

This beleaguered state of the contemporary mind (a space that Adbusters had called the psychological environment long ago, in the 90s) is not breaking news; yet the vulnerable psycho-emotional states of Americans -- especially federal workers at the moment -- are getting discussed by news correspondents nowadays, in some cases as another type of news-spectacle.

It might be good, actually, if psycho-emotional states as their own topic area became so adequately important as to become a permanent feature of journalistic consideration -- but this existential topic is also deployed merely as a form of economic and marketing analysis (like one multinational ad shop that has kept a poll-like rating of countries’ shared angst levels). Our human patterns indeed are analyzed. It sounds facetious to suggest anything else but that our minds already are treated as something to monetize -- that started well before the new media.

Now throw in our government’s shutdown that reduces its workers, our workers really, to ‘indentured servants or slaves’, quoting Don Lemon (on his show, 17 January 2019) when he explained what we are when forced to work without pay, and therefore against our will. (Let’s set aside the question of free will at the moment.)

Throw in a president who thinks international provocations and threats to wall off the southern border are good fodder (and ratings) for his reality show.

Throw into that neurological kettle just about any global news story or current tragedy, such as even the British government and economy circling the rim of implosion.

All of these stories are converted into slivers of our attention-pies, alongside myriad other woes and existential threats, micro traumas piling up on each other in our minds’ cognitive loads, atop an existing neurological condition of chronic overuse (not to mention lack of leisure, rest, or deep sleep). And if you don’t enjoy your job, then you’re really fucked.

*

Now then, are you curious to wonder (or, you have already) whether this troublesome world really just recently became this way? You may have wondered whether the instantaneous media simply show how chaotic a world can be, and is, when it is observed (and recorded) as fervently as we have been doing for some time now, let alone broadcasted, re-broadcasted, remixed, recirculated.

Perhaps, more than having exerted such grotesque influences upon our minds, cutting edge sciences and new media have mirrored, reflected, refracted, distorted, but most notably multiplied  opportunities for our care itself to become stimulated. As they say, to have one’s heartstrings plucked -- as well as to have our nervous systems played.

At the same time the ‘ecosystem’ of new media including its global network show us ourselves with such an enlarged scope, granularity, rapidly, and frequency that it produces a certain and distinct self-satire effect -- both of any individual user, as well as the whole spectacular collective show.

To have the perception of this self-satire effect and the spectacular in association with society is a step in the direction of a deeper, more ontological understanding of the human condition.

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16.1.19

Jobs Are Lies

Today has been filled by potent news. Particularly in the UK and in the USA, the peculiarity of newsworthy events, I observed, is driving correspondents to repeat, ‘... but, these are not normal times,’ as their only explanation.

In the United States, almost a million government workers have gone without pay for a month now. Some of them are being fed by humanitarian groups and celebrity chefs, and the Canadians are ordering pizzas for some of them near the undefended border, if that’s not mistaken.

Workers, even for the people's government, are nevertheless vulnerable to getting temporarily fired or forced to work uncompensated by the caricature of a CEO-as-president. The whole affair is a farce, in concrete and contemporaneous terms, of the situation that has been concerning me greatly of late: the very institution, employment, which has been brainwashed into people as the most reliable, stable, responsible, respectable, smart way to earn a living -- and, serving the public by working for the government deserves all the better praise -- is showing itself to be the very opposite.

Another internal contradiction of employment pitched as a good deal specifically in the American context is how it contradicts the ‘rugged individualist’ credo of this country. Mass employment of American citizens, mostly by enormous corporations, is a lot less rugged than a citizenry composed of entrepreneurs.

If we indeed are considering an alternative reality in which the norm is for people to own their own businesses, then the society would face the decision of which types of work merit having jobs attached -- presumably these would include government work related to national defense and public safety, which would be highly paid positions (since living as an employee is a sacrifice compared to living as an entrepreneur).

There is more sad irony in this current partial government shutdown by relating it to our alternate reality example since we imagined that our government's workers would have been among those chosen to perform those highly paid, personally taxing roles as employees, and they are the ones being treated as disposable right now.

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15.1.19

Moods of Materialism and Idealism

Let’s imagine a person who, for whatever reason, cannot be employed in a traditional workplace, such as an office, and who generally harbors a deep distrust of employment -- also holding the opinion that wages are insultingly low even in ‘good jobs’ for the efforts and pains expected in exchange for salary.

So, this person must be content with finding ‘odd jobs’, being a freelancer -- what today is called self-employed by ‘gig’-jobs and the IRS -- not necessarily providing high pay, but in temporary work roles that did not demand all of the daylight hours. Flexibility in earning wages (and tips), despite not having high profits, was some respite in poverty.

Now, our hypothetical person has certain skills, talents, and a greater vision for a lifestyle, a livelihood. But, he or she just hasn’t managed to disentangle from the wage-earning syndrome enough to provide the necessary headspace to refine those intimate talents, or the energy to offer them publicly.

So, there is bifurcation in this person’s vitality and capacity to focus: the circumstance of having to do income work distracts from the inner need to pursue one’s love-craft. Or, that is how it most often seems to this person’s mostly depressive state of mind.

And yet, there is a pitiable irony in the fact that the very income work that is drudgery and resented provides, at least, adequate returns to keep alive and keep developing the love-craft, no matter how slow the pace. The person we’re imagining can realize this at times; and from it gains some sense of gratefulness for What Is -- even while having criticisms of the terms for labor, for example.

Now, the point of our thought experiment is this: The person is experiencing daily conflicted moods, and yet keeps on truckin’, coping with being separated from the true vocation – meanwhile, developing it in small steps and even sharing that real work. One day, suddenly the person can see two alternatives that form a kind of relieving summary of the manic moods and conflicting outlooks:

1) Rejecting the status of worker having to work under unfair conditions, seeing oneself as economically trapped, unable to practice one’s most beloved skills: this point of view is distracted  by income-producing work taken as mere labor, in contrast with the conscious craft to which one devotes time and energy during ‘free time’. One lives in a sharp division between opposite experiences. This is a nervous, upset, enervated state.

2) This other perspective understands that life is not fair to human egos. It is an easier-going attitude of acceptance of What Is (flawed as it is), and, in a key distinction from the state above: this one actually appropriates the experience of mere wage earning for survival into the love-craft, since more knowledge and observations of life are gained by it, at the very least. Minimal subsistence profits do, nevertheless, keep one alive, and at this one should not scoff. This state is relaxed, cool, yet focused.

What is most philosophically interesting in this scenario with two ways to interpret a personally experiential phenomenon, is how much life and one’s personality change (mood, perception, creativity) with a shift in how insular and isolated (if at all) one views oneself.

In the first example above, the outlook creates a materialistic plane of separate and discreet entities in conflicts (including: workers vs owners, self vs world, labor vs love-craft). The self is cut off from enthusiasm for beingness -- too captivated by differences between beings -- and is depressed to that degree. In the second example, obviously, the person’s outlook envisions a unified field, without divisions between self and worldly phenomena, and, this is accompanied by a relaxed experience of life.

So if these are correct examinations then there are definite moods exuded, exclusively, by materialism and idealism that are worth exploring.

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14.1.19

First Daily Post

As I listened to cable news correspondents disclose facts about the dire, precarious, indebted financial status of the majority of Americans -- terror struck.

It was a chill-to-the bone shock of the dystopian situation in which employed masses (employment having been mandated, at least by a draconian norm) could be manipulated by their own lifestyles turned into games, and controlled by debt. Their attention would be consumed by employment glued to survival and identity (hear: indentureship), with spare time consumed by a succession of games such as being a ‘smart’ consumer, dressing sharp, and keeping high credit scores.

The grand social game would be like that ‘sim’-community online, with the object of being ‘productive’, as efficiently and smartly as possible, in acquiescing with this gamification of life. Perhaps it would progress to the point where a too-large number of people would have assimilated this life as their paradigm (and ceased needing to acquiesce).

Some of you may scoff that this seems like my first waking terror from imagining such a future, watching its encroachments upon the present. The truth is that for decades I have felt chilled by the dystopian aspect of corporate culture, and the ominousness of politicians. But hearing the radio today was the strongest reaction I have felt to the imminence of such a bad future.

Yet, I believe that the above image need only be a daymare, a figment of the imagination, because after all, there are philosophical arts in this world whose job it is to pull up a mirror to society, to rescue society from drowning in nightmares.

A question like Is the Marxian future of capitalism coming to pass? holds a certain disingenuousness towards the perennial nature of this situation, baked into the human condition. It can be explained not only phenomenologically but also ontologically.

The phenomenology of this situation is nothing new or apocalyptic. Its essence is a kind of enlarged trauma, spread out in a society, which can be seen in a child from an abusive home. In the macro, it is a vast majority of people unnecessarily impoverished by the rules of the society, its poverty trap. But what is the very essence of the mortal fear that is the trap’s lever on people’s sense of reality? That would require the ontological explanation.

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10.1.19

Redefining the Human According to Essence

Will we have to admit at some point (already, maybe) that something is philosophically suggestive about the reality of the natural inequality among people’s life situations from birth? Does that strange inequality suggest that our Western values are in conflict somehow with the way things are? 

Ben Franklin imported the Enlightenment.
‘In conflict’, insofar as The Enlightenment quarrels with the ways things very consistently turn out, the patterns of humanity, and seeks to correct particularly heinous situations. Western values are in conflict with the nearly universally negative or painful patterns of the human condition (its flaws) by refusing to accept them, which is to say, to understand them fully.

This might be an interpretation of our egalitarian project writ large of which we should be aware: not allowing instances of manifest human weakness or frailty (including corruption, violence, psychopathy) to ruin others’ experiences, or everybody’s. It’s a cynical yet pragmatic interpretation, and not exactly the purely moral aspect of egalitarianism.

This human weakness can manifest as injurious albeit mundane everyday exchanges that are forgotten soon, or it can register as the decisions of powerful individuals or gangs that affect whole populations over generations. The Enlightenment proclaimed that enough was enough: everyone will be protected from human weakness however it crops up by the new definition of the human being as free and having innate, inalienable human rights (a base upon which social contracts and legal procedures eventually could form to protect people).

But, this is egalitarianism without attempting to explain the existential, phenomenological, or even ontological dimensions of human inequality, neither on the social nor on the personal level. It is materialist egalitarianism. This moral project probably seems generally good, at least oftentimes practical; yet who is to say that, without a deeper existential explanation, the project has been doomed to produce relatively ineffective social remedies thus far?

It could be that supplying this existential or deeper explanation for the very need to have egalitarian corrections and civil protections will require updating the Enlightenment’s definition of ‘human’ (an inherent ethical message). The Enlightenment freed the human being; there remains the crucial step of liberating the phenomenon of being human.

Only Half the Story


The dogma of egalitarianism in the West, if ever perfectly enacted, would appear to address directly only the cruelest inequities found in human societies (in how people treat each other), but not the cruel inequity of just being born, which is arguably anybody’s lot who is born in whatever way.

That may sound depressive. Yet to say birth is a kind of cruelty is unremarkable, since there are countless of us throughout history who have observed how becoming a human being is a perilous and fraught experience. (It is something that many weary souls have suspected is actually the hell realm.) Be that as it may, living as a human being is difficult on both the physical and mental levels -- even for those who are not cursed by added socio-cultural cruelty (such as persecution), or a mental-physical deformity gained in one of infinite ways.

It seems that we’re dealing with at least two domains of experience: 
  • the cruelty of humans upon one another, consistently, and,
  • the cruelty of existence upon humankind, universally. 

In each of those, it is the bad outcomes at issue for us (cruelty, bad luck, suffering); but of course the fortunate outcomes exist also, to contribute dualistic opposites that ground the meanings of any good/bad human situations. Many philosophical opinions (and other kinds) hold that human life, however, is primarily a ‘world of pain’. As such, the common (unexamined) world is a plane of suffering that is only punctuated by moments of relief or spikes of great stimulation, which are called happiness. Happiness is not necessarily the same as rock-solid contentment, or, wisdom.

In the Western ethical program logically it falls upon those born fortunately to offer the most potent aid and solace to people who find themselves abused by peers and laws, and, to help those people who simply are born in an unfavorable way (which also happens throughout Nature to all animals). 

Among the humans born fortunately, always there are a portion who feel naturally drawn to do the work of projects that help underprivileged members of society. Yet to be most effective, and ideally, even those people who are not drawn to doing social work would recognize and fully admit its necessity, which requires taking the time to understand it, and ultimately funding it as well. Funding would be an unavoidable gesture of real understanding.

No One Left Behind


What is the alternative to this sort of logical and pragmatic altruism -- and is it acceptable? 

We have heard of tribes, certain Eskimos perhaps, but let’s just set this up as purely hypothetical: tribes living in particularly difficult environs, that respectfully ostracize the most infirm members so that the group increases its chances of survival by the portion of communal resources that those tribe members used.

We even could add the logical and emotion-pacifying detail that each member knows and accepts the exact arrangement during one’s whole lifetime. 

But this grim fate does not apply to us, who live in towns or cities rather than in a deadly environment or in rural darkness. We indeed do have the astonishing wealth of shared knowledge and evolving technology (despite how most only ‘have’ or share it in a limited capacity); and, we are also part of unprecedented and immense wealth-generating social systems (again, systems which do not make the most people wealthy, just the few). 

So, in this kind of ‘developed’ megalopolis or hyper-populous setting, with a relatively tight social weave, the above picture of tribal fatalism and hardcore pragmatism is an unnecessary possibility, a moot scenario. That grim fate does not apply to us. If such an extreme survival orientation were to be found in the urban setting, then it would be evidence for the:

  • lack of a social contract explicitly with the inequity of existence, or else the
  • worrisome lack of technical means to ameliorate threats to survival.

But the first of those does apply to us urbanites and suburbanites, who are the majority of people on the planet in this day and age -- still we lack a shared and agreeable contract with existence itself, which gives us life. (This observation is the very reason to write this article.)

And the second does not apply to us, really, since we have a minimal degree of technological infrastructure that is considered a civic resource (such as public restrooms and dialing 9-1-1). That grim fate does not apply to us, in theory.

Kept Alive


The best question may be that if the explicit social contract with existence were to be added to the contracts that came out of the Enlightenment -- such as universal human rights, democracy and civil liberty, spiritual, existential and ideological freedoms -- then would it not provide a new and more level ground upon which to experience, explore, and relate our conjoined human consciousness freely? 

Human consciousness: more precisely it is the shared and universal consciousness that is the very source of the humanity of each being. This principle would be safeguarded by the inclusion of an explicit social contract with existence: worldly and social existence itself understood as a function of consciousness.

This thinking could be adopted on an international scale, as it were. It would be the nearly universal acceptance of an idea that consciousness is the core of freedom. As we wondered earlier, this development probably would require redefining -- or we should say further precising -- the basic definition that is accepted already and nearly universally: a human being is naturally free, which must be matched with socio-cultural and civic liberty.

Therefore we have an emergent approach: to accept consciousness as the most sublime, most important aspect, and the very essence of Humanism. (The reduction of worldly and ideological phenomena to generalized consciousness amounts to a practical Idealism, if you will.)

This sort of statement is expected to elicit varied reactions from opinionated points of view, such as instrumental materialists of all stripes. But the statement nevertheless holds much for neuroscientists to consider, and probably to test -- just like artists and philosophers.



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