25 December 2011

The Best of 2011

I think positive thinking, so long as it is realistic, is a better way. So I want to list the positives of 2011, before I start laying out my plans/dreams for 2012.
  • My reading this year was excellent. Not only did I get a lot of good books read in several of my particular interest areas (e.g., indigenous studies, philosophy, history, etc.), but I also finished four books I'd been putting off for years, in some cases more than a decade.
  • I asked for, and got a promotion and a raise. This is significant not only for my comfort level as a human being, but in that this was the first time I'd ever asked for a raise.
  • I got my lobe holes stretched to 0 gauge. New body modifications are planned.
  • I began a workable, effective diet and weight loss program, and lost 18 pounds. I have 30 pounds to go, but I believe I can make it.
  • Most important—in my humble opinion—I started dating again. After living reclusively since the destruction of my last relationship, going on some dates with a good person really boosted my confidence; while the dating relationship didn't last to the end of the year, my confidence did.

09 December 2011

Favorites of 2011

It's near enough to the end of 2011 that I want to go ahead and do my year-end review of favorites:

Favorite fiction: Annabel, by Kathleen Winter. The story of an intersex child growing up in rural Labrador; Winter explores not just gender, but how being different affects both the individual and the people around her. Annabel is a quietly moving novel of pain and self-discovery.

Favorite non-fiction (philosophy): Phenomenology of Perception, by Maurice Merleau-Ponty. This was a philosophy-heavy year for me. Nevertheless, this book (which I've wanted to read for over a decade) stands out as profound, fascinating, revolutionary and necessary.

Favorite non-fiction (history): The Killing of Crazy Horse, by Thomas Powers. Crazy Horse is one of my few heroes; Powers's book is a worthy supplement to the magisterial Crazy Horse: A Life by Kingsley M. Bray. Powers's especially focuses on the last few months leading up to Crazy Horse's murder.

Favorite non-fiction (religion): Why I Am a Five Percenter, by Michael Muhammad Knight. Knight's book is part memoir, part survey of Islamic thought, and part polemic for the validity of the Five Percenter path. It is impossible to summarize, but it is so well thought out and so beautifully written, I recommend it to anyone interested in either Islam or the Five Percenters.

Favorite non-fiction (self-help or other general usefulness): The Paleo Diet, by Loren Cordain, Ph.D. I've gone on and one about this one. If you want to lose weight, I recommend this book (get the 2011 edition).

Favorite album (rock): There Is a Hell, Believe Me I've Seen It. There Is a Heaven, Let's Keep It a Secret., by Bring Me the Horizon. BMTH thrash hard, and write songs that seep into your soul.

Favorite album (country): The Band Perry, by The Band Perry. These siblings are quite talented, play multiple instruments, and write songs that bridge old bluegrass to 21st century sensibilities.

Favorite album (surprise): Dancin' 'Til Sunrise: Round Dance Songs Recorded "Live", Northern Cree and Friends (Vol. 7). One of the negatives of no longer having music stores around is missing out on the joy of randomly finding something on the shelves that you wouldn't begin to think of searching for online. I came across this album at a used CD store, bought it on a whim, and I adore it. There is energy, humor and ebullition on this album. I've used songs from it in my playlists. [Hint: give "C.M.T." or "Da Might As Well" a try.]

Favorite movie (in theaters) [tie]: Hanna, A Very Harold and Kumar 3-D Christmas. Hanna is a thrilling action film with a kick-ass female lead. Harold and Kumar 3 made me laugh like an idiot. 'Nuff said.

Favorite movie (rental): Attack the Block. A British sci-fi film which starts with thugs and ends with heroes, and along the way turns an improbable circumstance into something almost believable. I recommend it for the amazing cast alone, but the story is equally excellent.

07 December 2011

A Few More Books I Cannot Live Without

Last month I post a list of essential books from my library [Ten Books I Cannot Live Without (11 November 2011 Edition)]. In the post I mentioned that these lists are constantly being modified. However, without substituting books on the list, I've realized it is nevertheless incomplete. So, to make a "baker's dozen" of books, I would like to add three more essential texts:
  • Appiah, Kwame Anthony, The Ethics of Identity, (2007). Appiah is undoubtedly my favorite living philosopher, and this is his best book. His writing is profound, rational, accessible and shot through with wit. Furthermore, the implications of identity are important to me.
  • Fisher, Donald M., Lacrosse: A History of the Game, (2002). Starting with the widespread, ritual play of "the Creator's game" among the indigenous peoples of the Eastern Woodlands in North America, Fisher traces the evolution of the game via eastern Canadian and northeastern US sports enthusiasts up to the point of the creation of Major League Lacrosse. Throughout the text he pays attention the the interactions between the indigenous cultures who spawned the game, and the elite scholastic institutions who took it up and modified it, giving each group their due. As sports histories go, this is simply the best I've ever read.
  • Weinberg, Bennett Alan and Bealer, Bonnie K., The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World's Most Popular Drug, (2001). Weinberg and Bealer survey the worldwide influence of caffeine by looking at it's three most popular vehicles of consumption—coffee, tea and chocolate. They especially focus on how these grew in popularity during the age of European exploration. Also, they devote a significant portion of the book on how caffeine works on people, what other products contain it, etc.

02 December 2011

Two Faiths

A year ago I lost faith in faith. I made a formal admission to myself of agnosticism, and declared I would neither affirm nor deny the existence of God, an afterlife, a cosmic web of life, etc. My reasons were sound, but my emotional motivation came largely from my everyday reading of abuses of human beings done in the name of faith.

It has been noted that our language limits our thinking. In other words, whatever thoughts one thinks are confined by the structure and definitions found within that language. No language is perfect, so there are limitations on what we can think. Even English, with its absolutely huge vocabulary, doesn't have a word for everything. I say all that in order to propose this: I think where I have erred in the way I thought about "faith" was due to the fact that the word lacks sufficient definitional specificity. In other words, I've recently come to realize there are (at least) two kinds of faith.

One kind of faith, the faith I reacted to and rejected, is a faith of certainty. When one has this faith, regardless of what he believes, he believes it to be absolutely, unquestionably true, and that there is no unambiguity about it. In other words, a person with a certainty faith knows that his position is incontrovertible, and anyone who doesn't accept that position is at best deluded, and at worst evil and worthy of being stamped out. Whether it is faith in Christianity, Islam, market capitalism, communism, your sports team, your nation, whatever, the belief of this sort affords a certainty in one's own rightness, and the absolute wrongness of those who do not believe the same way. This faith implies a tribalism: those who agree with me about Christianity, market capitalism, Manchester United, or whatever, are part of my tribe; those who do not are not part of the tribe, and therefore not as worthy. This is a kind of faith, a faith of certainty.

The other kind of faith, the faith I forgot about, is a faith of ambiguity. This kind of faith recognizes that there are ultimate truths of Reality that we will never comprehend, and that not only is the world not divided into the dichromatic black and white that the people of certainty faith only see, it's full of gray, and beyond gray many hues, and thus quite probably colors we can't even see. That while we can count on the earth to spin a little longer, kittens to be cute, and politicians to lie, there is a whole universe out there we just cannot comprehend, and therefore make a part of our clockwork, routine world. This kind of faith rejects tribalism because it cannot be certain, and tribalism demands certainty. This kind of faith must necessarily prompt it's believer to dwell in uncertainty, in ambiguity, and in trust that the ultimate truths are vast, unknowable, and yet part of life. It is a faith of harmony, because if I have this kind of faith, regardless of my religion or philosophy, I cannot sit in judgement of anyone else, because I must first admit that I do not know it all, that faith in my case is as much about what I don't know as what I do know, and that certainty is a trap we set for ourselves to keep us divided from one another.

The faith of ambiguity says that life is a mystery, and that it is so vast, I simply do not have the time and energy to spare on tribalism, on being a jerk to others because of who they are or what they believe, and that I must be humble and tread lightly on the earth because I don't have certainty. Kindness and compassion are key to the faith of ambiguity, because when we have this faith we realize we are all caught in the uncertainty and we need compassion for our struggles, our ignorance and our imperfections.

This kind of faith I can believe in.

28 November 2011

Favorite Quote, X

When I find myself next to a talkative stranger on a plane, I sometimes get asked what I do. If I say I'm a philosopher, the conversation often comes to a pretty grinding halt; when it doesn't, the next question is often: "So, what's your philosophy?" I usually take the easy way out. "My philosophy," I say, "is that everything is more complicated than you thought."

Many people have the opposite philosophy: they are devotees of parsimony, and strive always for theoretical minimalism, the elegant reduction. (These are people for whom the miracle is to turn wine into water.)

—Kwame Anthony Appiah, Experiments in Ethics, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008, pp. 198-199.

This is a sample, to show why I love reading Appiah. His texts are insightful and deep, but graced with humor and an engaging style of writing that makes him very accessible and enjoyable. Please indulge yourselves in his books. I especially recommend Cosmopolitanism.

21 November 2011

Strange Dream: Interpretation

By the time my friends sent me their interpretations, I'd pretty much figured the meaning of the dream out on my own. There was remarkable consensus among the interpretations. For the record, I'd like include the interpretation here:
>>I'm trying to get home. I'm on foot, out in some suburban location. There are multiple entrances to the subway, and I know if I take the wrong one, I'll end up at the wrong tracks.
The point is, I'm not lost in the sense that I don't know where I am; I simply don't know how to proceed from that point. I'm not feeling despair, but frustration, and need to find out how to go forward.
>>Emerging from yet another wrong subway entrance to the overcast day, I find myself at a bus stop surrounded by a park-like space.
The day is overcast, but not gloomy. Again, it mirrors frustration, not despair.
>>Someone has left a Qur'an on a bench. It's a nice, heavy, black-covered paperback edition. I realize that it was left there in a Muslim equivalent of the Christian evangelist technique of leaving religious material in public spaces for random passerby to pick up and read. A young white, well-dressed, hipster-type man, with a full beard, picks up the Qur'an, and looks at it. He then throws it away, into the grassy area. It falls heavily and is damaged. I yell, "Why did you do that?!" and run to pick it up. He laughs and says that it was just a bunch of religious material, and not important. I scream at him, "It's a BOOK!" and I hit him on the head with it.
The hipster is the part of my ego that is smug in his belief in the adequacy of his current store of knowledge. For that aspect of myself, rejection of religion and even spirituality in favor of a purely materialistic worldview gives me a sense of superiority over the "superstitious masses", etc. The Qur'an symbolizes the things I do not yet know about life, reality, spirituality, Truth, etc. The smug ego throws it away, but I ultimately have the better sense to pick it up and keep it. In fact, I'm very irate at my own smugness.

Furthermore, while I keep the book, it is damaged. This means that I will follow any path only to the degree I can, i.e., imperfectly. But that imperfect following will work for me. Keeping the damaged Qur'an may also mean retaining faith in the face of my own skepticism. However, it is not a symbol of Islam, per se, since it's cover more resembles Bibles or Tanakhs that I have seen.
>>Then, I walk away quickly, to get away from him, still carrying the damaged Qur'an. I step into a large-ish, Victorian-style house which sits next to the bus stop area. It's co-ed housing for a bunch of college students. They're all very friendly and mellow. There are several cats around, including cute kittens. I tell them my predicament, and they tell me the correct subway entrance I need to go into to get home. I thank them and leave, still carrying the damaged Qur'an.
The co-ed housing represents a place of relaxed scholarship and the exploration of life that should be inherent in the experience of college. In other words, it is a place that fosters learning, but not in a harsh, competitive way. The scholars are friendly and mellow. Furthermore, they care for cats. They are nurturing people. Also, cats—especially kittens—are the embodiment of curiosity. And cats are fun. It is in this kind of mental space that my psyche is telling me I will be able to get the knowledge I need to move forward. It's this bundle of attitudes and actions that will help me now.

19 November 2011

Strange Dream

I'm pretty good at interpreting other people's dreams, but I'm only spotty at best in interpreting my own. If you think you know what the following means, please feel free to share your interpretation with me.

I'm trying to get home. I'm on foot, out in some suburban location. There are multiple entrances to the subway, and I know if I take the wrong one, I'll end up at the wrong tracks. Emerging from yet another wrong subway entrance to the overcast day, I find myself at a bus stop surrounded by a park-like space. Someone has left a Qur'an on a bench. It's a nice, heavy, black-covered paperback edition. I realize that it was left there in a Muslim equivalent of the Christian evangelist technique of leaving religious material in public spaces for random passerby to pick up and read. A young white, well-dressed, hipster-type man, with a full beard, picks up the Qur'an, and looks at it. He then throws it away, into the grassy area. It falls heavily and is damaged. I yell, "Why did you do that?!" and run to pick it up. He laughs and says that it was just a bunch of religious material, and not important. I scream at him, "It's a BOOK!" and I hit him on the head with it.

Then, I walk away quickly, to get away from him, still carrying the damaged Qur'an. I step into a large-ish, Victorian-style house which sits next to the bus stop area. It's co-ed housing for a bunch of college students. They're all very friendly and mellow. There are several cats around, including cute kittens. I tell them my predicament, and they tell me the correct subway entrance I need to go into to get home. I thank them and leave, still carrying the damaged Qur'an.

18 November 2011

Favorite Quote IX: "I Am a Field, an Experience"

I am a field, an experience. One day, once and for all, something was set in motion which, even during sleep, can no longer cease to see or not to see, to feel or not to feel, to suffer or be happy, to think or rest from thinking, in a word to ‘have it out’ with the world. There then arose, not a new set of sensations or states of consciousness, not even a new monad or a new perspective, since I am not tied to any one perspective but can change my point of view, being under compulsion only in that I must always have one, and can have only one at once—let us say, therefore, that there arose a fresh possibility of situations. The event of my birth has not passed completely away, it has not fallen into nothingness in the way that an event of the objective world does, for it committed a whole future, not as a cause determines its effect, but as a situation, once created, inevitably leads on to some outcome. There was henceforth a new ‘setting’, the world received a fresh layer of meaning. In the home into which a child is born, all objects change their significance; they begin to await some as yet indeterminate treatment at his hands; another and different person is there, a new personal history, short or long, has just been initiated, another account has been opened. My first perception, along with the horizons which surrounded it, is an ever-present event, an unforgettable tradition; even as a thinking subject, I still am that first perception, the continuation of that same life inaugurated by it. In one sense, there are no more acts of consciousness or distinct Erlebnisse in a life than there are separate things in the world.

—Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception (Colin Smith, trans.), Taylor and Francis e-Library, 2005, p. 473.

17 November 2011

The Luminous Quality of Being

At the heart of Maurice Merleau-Ponty's philosophy in Phenomenology of Perception is ambiguity. This ambiguity is the philosophy's strength, rather than a weakness. Because the human being in the world is in the end not completely definable because she is never completely definite. We are situated beings in an ongoing project of co-existence with others within the field of the world. When we realize the unfolding nature of existence, and our implication within it, we no longer see ourselves as either simply "subjects" or "objects"; we are "situated, contingent* beings".

The implications of this are stunning. We are certainly free, but our situatedness implies a responsibility to act in coherent welfare with other human beings and the field of the world. We have a duty to enhance existence not only for ourselves but for all.

Merleau-Ponty's philosophy is both more optimistic than Sartre's and more enchanting. He continually remarks upon the wonder of perceiving the world, the magic of being within it, and the luminous quality of the things in the universe. While I'm glad I read Being and Nothingness first, I'm exceedingly joyful that I did not stop with that book, but pressed on to Phenomenology of Perception.† I'll be reckoning with Merleau-Ponty's philosophy for the rest of my life.

*The 'contingent' aspect of this philosophy strongly reminds me of the Buddhist principle of paticcasamuppāda, or dependent co-arising.

†I also highly recommend reading Monika M. Langer's book Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception: A Guide and Commentary as well. While Phenomenology of Perception is far more accessible than Being and Nothingness, it is still a difficult book, and Langer's guide and commentary is very helpful in clarifying it.

11 November 2011

Ten Books I Cannot Live Without (11 November 2011 Edition)

Every so often I practice a fun mental exercise: I list the top ten books I cannot live without. The list changes from time to time, but it gives me a snapshot of my values and interests at the time I compose it. This morning, I made a new list. Here it is:
  • Bray, Kingsley M., Crazy Horse: A Life, (2006). Of all the human beings who have lived, Tȟašúŋke Witkó (Crazy Horse) is my #1 hero. He was a leader, but also an outsider; he was extremely generous, but also modest and retiring; and he did his best to serve his people during a time of great change and destruction. I will always study his life.
  • Bryant, Edwin F., The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali: A New Edition, Translation, and Commentary with Insights from the Traditional Commentators, (2003). Patañjali's text has only a little to do with what we think of Yoga in the US (which is specifically the exercises of Hatha Yoga), and a lot to do with the why of Yoga; Bryant's edition includes such an extensive commentary that it includes virtually all traditional schools of Indian philosophy, including Buddhist, Jain and Islamic; the book really serves as a very good survey of Indian philosophy en toto.
  • Likosky, Stephan, Coming Out: An Anthology of International Gay and Lesbian Writings, (1992). Likosky's excellent anthology covers the array of lesbian and gay life and issues, and it is in a way a snapshot of the movement at the time; furthermore, Likosky's book is unabashedly left-leaning, which is rare today. Finally, and most importantly, this book is out of print, so if you ever see it on a second-hand bookstore's shelf, buy it!.
  • Mair, Victor H. (trans.), Tao Te Ching, (1990). I've had in my possession over time perhaps a dozen translations of Tao Te Ching and it is very difficult to isolate just one I cannot do without. I chose Mair's because it companions well with the Chuang Tzu (see below), and because it is a good, intelligent translation in its own right.
  • Mair, Victor H. (trans.), Wandering on the Way: Early Taoist Tales and Parables of Chuang Tzu (1994). I have seen a few translations of Chuang Tzu, but almost always they are of the so called "Inner Chapters", the first seven chapters. Mair's book includes all 33 chapters, which makes it indispensible for studying Taoism.
  • Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, Phenomenology of Perception (Colin Smith, trans.) (1996). I'm halfway through this text right now, and I can tell I will be wrestling with it for years. In a nutshell, Merleau-Ponty rectifies the mind-body duality that re-entered Western philosophy with René Descartes, by identifying the body as neither an object nor a subject, but something ambiguous in between. His book brings the wonders of perception of the luminous world back into Western philosophy.
  • Montaigne, Michel de, The Complete Works (Donald M. Frame, trans.) (1998). Montaigne's œuvre really was a lifelong examination of the Self, in all it's beauty and failings. He's a humanist's humanist.
  • Oates, Whitney J., The Stoic and Epicurean Philosophers: The Complete Extant Writings of Epicurus, Epictetus, Lucretius, Marcus Aurelius (1940). Of all philosophical systems, Taoism, Existentialism and Stoicism are the ones I find most useful for daily living. In addition to admiring Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, I've recently begun to be intrigued by the Epicureans, whose philosophy is deeper than most people have been led to believe.
  • RE/Search Publications, RE/Search #12: Modern Primitives (1989). This was the book that brought to light the world of tattooing, piercing and scarification. It is filled with interviews of people who have chosen to get tattoos, piercings and ritual scarring, and introduced the world to the philosophy and psychology behind these choices.
  • Sartre, Jean-Paul, Being and Nothingness (Hazel E. Barnes, trans.) (1984). This is the primary text of Existentialism, and another book I will be wrestling with for the rest of my life. After thickly laying a foundation of his understanding of reality, Sartre hints at the possibilities of an extensive, comprehensive and useful ethos for living in the world.
Thanks for indulging me in the publication of this list. Very likely it will change some more in six months time.

10 November 2011

Gay Sex, Barebacking and Condoms

There's no question that bareback sex (anal penetration without a condom) is on the rise among gay men. The act is inherently risky. Even if two people are HIV negative, and in a relationship that is ostensibly monogamous, there is no guarantee one or the other partner will not stray, sero-convert and bring home the infection. Clearly, if anal penetration is part of someone's repertoire, condoms are the best way to go.

The problem as I see it is that HIV/AIDS prevention educators have not done the best job they could have done in this arena. I do not fault their earnestness, their dedication (usually involving long, unpaid or underpaid hours), nor the intent of their efforts. I came out in the early 90s, and I remember the intensity of the education efforts, and even did some volunteer work with an organization in a major southern city. I believe in the effort to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, and I have tremendous love and respect for the lives and work of prevention educators. But I find two ways I think they should have approached the topic differently.

First, they should have been honest from the beginning and said that condoms really, really suck. They decrease sensitivity dramatically, especially if the wearer is circumcised. If one has experienced bare sex, wearing a condom feels almost as if one's partner in sex might as well be in another room. This especially becomes an issue when the lack of sensation leads to the loss of erection. The bottom line is that a lot of men cannot top with a condom on. It becomes physically impossible for them, unless they choose to take expensive erection-enhancement pills. But even those able to sustain erections won't feel nearly as much with a condom on. Educators should have been honest and up front about this aspect from the very beginning. They should have made a point of saying, "Look it's too bad, but anal penetration sex acts are just going to be a lot more work and a lot less fun so long as AIDS is a possibility. Still it is the mature, responsible and compassionate thing to always wear a condom when penetrating a partner." Had they been honest, instead of all these campaigns which tried to either minimize the difference, or even eroticize condoms, I think their campaigns would've had more traction.

Second, they should have more actively celebrated the other ways of having sex than anal penetration. I think as a legacy of the "gay 70s" anal penetration somehow became the sine qua non of gay sex, and other forms of intimacy/sexual activity were regarded as not being "real sex". This is a shame. Let's face it, hands wrapped around a penis are more nimble and dextrous than an anal sphincter wrapped around a penis. Mutual masturbation is a fantastic, enjoyable and very intimate form of sexual activity. It should have been celebrated, promoted and, hell, even sanctified as the best possible gay sex. Second to the brain itself, one's hands are among one's greatest, most versatile sex organs. Hands and the digits on them, can do many wonderful things. (For that matter, one's digits can be used for prostate stimulation if a "bottom" requires it.) Educators should have taken the opportunity to redirect gay men's attention toward all the wonderful things they could do and the great variety of sexual possibilities available to them, instead of emphasizing only the mechanics of anal sex with a condom.

I think there was a missed opportunity in HIV/AIDS prevention education, and I think that barebacking was an understandable response to this failure to deal honestly with the facts of anal sex and condoms. Unfortunately, young men will die because of this.

19 October 2011

Condemned to Be Free

I dare not attempt a recap of Being and Nothingness, for fear of committing abject butchery of the topic. I freely admit I didn't understand half of what I read. But I did glean some insights from the text, and think it is worth reading, re-reading and studying.

We are free because regardless of any situation we find ourselves in, we have choices. What we choose will be based on what we value most, and what we value most is based on our image of ourselves, in part from choices we've made in the past. We are 'projects' of ourselves. We can make radical breaks in choices, and remake ourselves into new projects. But to try to deceive ourselves about our freedom or our essence is to act in bad faith.

Although we did not 'ask to be born' we are nonetheless fully responsible for our lives; choosing not to choose is still a choice. Our freedom consists in what we do with what has been done to us, including what we have done to ourselves in the past.

There are things in Sartre I do not agree with (for instance, I think he'd be appalled by the idea of a sexual 'orientation' - for him it would always be a 'preference'), but I find his radical assertions of freedom and responsibility to be challenging.

I have other philosophy texts to consider, but I am not through with existentialism. Aside from an anthology of Sartre by Cumming, I also have two anthologies of existentialist texts in general (Kaufman and Marino) and a study of Mulla Ṣadrā that takes an existentialist view of his philosophy. And sooner or later it will be time to read Camus's The Plague for a third time.

17 October 2011

Freedom and Responsibility

You know you've deemed a book to be very important to you if you shape your weekend schedule around reading it. I've been working on Jean-Paul Sartre's Being and Nothingness since late August*, and I'm finally nearing the end of it. Since I tend to read very well on long stretches of public transportation, I decided to make two shopping trips out to the 'burbs so that I could get a little shopping done, and a lot of reading done (105 pages over the course of the weekend). I'll write more about this text later, but I have to say that the five pages I read yesterday on "Freedom and Responsibility"** were among the most enlightening, profound and ultimately useful words in philosophy that I've ever read, and they made the rest of the book worth struggling through.

*corrected; I originally wrote "early September".

**Section III of "Chapter One: Being and Doing: Freedom" in "Part Four: Having, Doing and Being".)

05 October 2011

Quote, VIII

"We're born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we're not alone."

—Orson Welles

23 September 2011

The Meaning of Life

I cannot stress enough how much a fundamentalist upbringing cripples a person. The damage lasts long after a person escapes the fundamentalist milieu, and it may take the rest of their lives to deal with that damage. The damage includes, but isn't limited to, self-esteem/accurate self-assessment, understanding reality, relating to other people, critical thinking skills, the ability to make and carry out plans, etc.

For years after my escape from fundamentalism, I still had no answer for what is the meaning of life. I assumed life had a meaning, because the alternative I deemed unthinkable. Untethered from the religion of my childhood, I still assumed that I would come to know the meaning of life, and that it would be revealed to me if only I kept my eyes open.

Then one day last year I realized this was never going to happen. That there was no cosmic (much less divine) ordination for the meaning of my life. Consequently, I realized that if my life was to have meaning, I must be the one to give it meaning.

I still believe that, as someone put it, "The meaning of life is to give life a meaning." I understand the truth of this. But I have found myself unequipped to give my life a meaning. Since I've spent my entire life waiting for meaning to be revealed to me, I did not develop the necessary critical and creative skills I need to conjure up that meaning on my own.

My life is absurd, and I have trouble with that. I very much want to give my life meaning, but what should that be? For now, only questions...

15 September 2011

Balance, Please!

I personally find relentlessly cheerful people to be just as annoying as the unendingly depressed. Life is not a bowl of cherries; nor is it a bowl of dog shit, either. Life is a bowl of dog shit with cherries mixed in. Our job as human beings is to dig the cherries out of the dog shit, thoroughly clean them, and then enjoy the cherries, knowing how much work we had to put in to get all the dog shit off of them. Then we take the dog shit and use it to fertilize the cherry trees.

06 September 2011

Religion is Like a Penis

Religion is like a penis. It's fine if you have one. It's okay to be proud of it.

On the other hand, it is not okay to whip it out in public, and unless the other person is a gleefully consenting legal adult, you should never shove it down someone's throat.

[Paraphrase of something I read somewhere. Apologies for not being able to give proper credit.]

02 September 2011

Favorite Quote, VII

Master Easturb inquired of Master Chuang, saying, "Where is the so-called Way present?"
"There's no place that it is not present," said Master Chuang.
"Give me an example so that I can get an idea," said Master Easturb.
"It's in ants," said Master Chuang.
"How can it be so low?"
"It's in panic grass."
"How can it be lower still?"
"It's in tiles and shards."
"How can it be lower still?"
"It's in shit and piss."

—Victor H. Mair (translator), Wandering on the Way: Early Taoist Tales and Parables of Chuang Tzu (Bantam, 1994), p. 217.

26 August 2011


If I had to give a label to my philosophy, I'd have to call it postmodern. "Postmodernism" isn't really a coherent philosophy, but rather a label for the condition of postmodernity, in which all the old meta-narratives and verities come under scrutiny, doubt and provisionality. It's an acceptance of the inherent absurdity of life, and beyond that acceptance, an attempt to 'make do' with it. One feature of postmodernism is pastiche, in which a patchwork of prior verities and modalities is sewn together to make a provisional, functional effort.

My philosophical pastiche includes bits and pieces of Taoism, Buddhism, Stoicism, Existentialism, Pragmatism, Liberalism and Cosmopolitanism. I'm drawn to the thought of Lao-zi, the Buddha, Nagārjuna, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Locke, Mill, Sartre, Camus, Derrida, Appiah and Joss Whedon. My mind is an ongoing discussion (and sometimes an argument).

19 August 2011

Favorite Quote, VI

The highest efficacy is like water.
It is because water benefits everything
Yet vies to dwell in places loathed by the crowd
That it comes nearest to proper way-making.

Dao De Jing: A Philosophical Translation, Chapter 8 (Roger T. Ames and David L. Hall, trans.)

18 August 2011

Nationalism and Cosmopolitanism

I read an interesting piece today on Israeli and Palestinian nationalisms, by Hussein Ibish at NowLebanon.com. Here's a salient quote:
All contemporary nationalisms are based on constructed and imagined narratives about history, geography, culture, ethnicity and religion.
There are several reasons I've chosen cosmopolitanism over nationalism. For one thing, nationalism implies 'us vs. them', with a decided preference for us. It perpetuates a dualistic outlook on the world, and contrafacilitates seeing the gray areas and thinking critically about reality.

Secondly, I prefer to encounter racial, ethnic and cultural variety. The variety keeps me from becoming complacent. It challenges my thinking and helps me see a broader, more colorful world. Also, it simply is more fun.

However, I do not support an unexamined diversity. When someone claims that sexism, heterosexism, ethic superiority, or some other similarly divisive and/or oppressive attitude is integral to their culture, I would ask them to purge that attitude from their culture. To my thinking, cultures, like people, need to grow up, and shed immature attitudes, such as sexism, in order to join in on a healthy cosmopolitan discourse.

For a well-written, thoughtful and deep book on cosmopolitanism, I recommend Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers by Kwame Anthony Appiah. Additionally, his The Ethics of Identity goes further into exploring living one's identity in an ethical manner in a cosmopolitan world.

15 August 2011

Favorite Quote, V

To the existentialists, the discovery of a world without meaning was the point of departure; today a loss of unitary meaning is merely accepted; that is just the way the world is. Postmodern man has stopped waiting for Godot. The absurd is not met with despair; rather it is a living with what is, a making the best of it, a relief from the burden of finding yourself as the goal of life; what remains may be a happy nihilism. With the death of Utopias, the local and personal responsibility for actions here and now becomes crucial.

—Steinar Kvale, "Themes of Postmodernity"

11 August 2011

Favorite Quote, IV

That’s what everybody wants, Nicky. They don’t want a twenty-four-hour hump sesh, they don’t want to be married to you for a hundred years. They just want to hold your hand.

—Thom [Aaron Yoo] to Nick [Michael Cera], Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Lorene Scafaria, writer; Peter Sollett, director; 2008)

Favorite Quote, III

We know our world by learning about difference. What is the word we often use? Tolerance. Is that a positive notion? Not really. 'For the time being, I will tolerate you?' I'm against that concept. It means difference is a threat. Difference is a blessing and you don't tolerate a blessing. You embrace it.

— Mohammad Mahallati, presidential scholar in Islamic studies at Oberlin College

08 August 2011

Favorite Quote, II

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

—Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself" (1855)

Favorite Quote, I

To be nobody-but-yourself— in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else— means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

— e. e. cummings, "A Poet's Advice to Students" (1958)

02 August 2011

What I'd Like to Inform You of for Now

I am a mutt. I am cosmopolitan in my outlook. I identify as panerotic/pansexual. I love books, ideas, movies, television, cats, coffee, and long walks.