Posts Tagged existentialism
More Details Emerge About Mets Abuse of Pedro Feliciano
Posted by Keith Spillett in Blithering Sports Fan Prattle on April 3, 2011
In yet another in a growing series of scandals around baseball’s most beleaguered franchise, the New York Mets, details have begun to come out showing that left-handed reliever Pedro Feliciano was severely abused over the past few seasons. Yankees GM Brian Cashman yesterday claimed that the Mets had abused Feliciano in his time with the club. Since Cashman’s statement several sources close to the Mets organization have come out with horror stories about Feliciano’s treatment.
Former Mets Manager Jerry Manuel was responsible for much of the abuse. Sources confirm that Manuel locked Feliciano in a closet for 12 hours without food or air after he gave up a game-tying single to Phillies second basemen Chase Utley early last season. Things only got worse from there. Apparently, Feliciano was tied to the foul pole in right field during a rain delay in a game against the Nats in July after walking pitcher Drew Storen. Another source claims pitching coach Dan Warthen covered Feliciano’s left arm in honey and threatened to unleash hundreds of angry ants if Feliciano didn’t agree to stop using his breaking pitch to righthanders. Other sadistic punishments included being locked in a cage with an angry gorilla, being pummelled by former Vice President of Player Development Tony Bernazard and having to pitch to Ryan Howard with first base open. Treatment of Feliciano got so bad that Social Services removed him from the custody of the Mets on two occasions during last season.
The Mets front office could not be reached for comment about the Feliciano abuse allegations but have scheduled at 2 AM press conference to discuss the charges.
We Are Bones, We Are Dust
Posted by Keith Spillett in Articles I Probably Shouldn't Have Bothered Writing, Existential Rambings, Health Tips for An Early Death, Pointyheaded Highbrow Stuff on March 6, 2011
This thing that I think that I am, sometimes, I am not. Looking at an X-Ray of my right foot has twisted my mind into knots for the past few weeks. It’s not that they found anything that disturbing. My doctor discovered a bone spur, which I was pretty sure that I had. No surprise there. I am having surgery tomorrow. Again, not a surprise. The thing that got in my head was the X-ray itself. If I am what’s in that picture…what am i?
There was this picture of the bones in my foot staring at me. The doctor was pointing to things and saying a bunch of words, but I was transfixed on the picture. There I am? There I AM! There I am?!?!?!? This picture is of the inside of me. Underneath all of this skin and blood are a set of bones. These bones have been with me all of my life. They were at my high school graduation, they were there when I got married, they attended the births of my two beautiful children, they have seen me laugh, they have seen me cry, they have been there when I thought I was alone. I couldn’t process it. These bones are actually me!
The me that I think I am is the thing that experiences the world consciously. I am aware of feelings and ideas. I make plans and I remember experiences. I see, I smell, I touch, I taste, I hear. I have no problem associating these things with me. Then, there are these bones. They are in me, they are part of me, but I can’t believe that they are me. This picture wasn’t some random x-ray they keep in the back and show everybody. These were my bones! Seeing them really sucked the magic out of everything. I tend to think of myself as more than the sum of my parts, but maybe I am nothing more than my parts. Maybe, I am just bones and skin and blood with a few organs floating around.
There are parts of myself I have never seen. I don’t know what my hip bone looks like. I don’t know what my liver looks like. My heart, my brain, my lungs…all highly valuable parts, but I couldn’t tell mine from my neighbors. The me that I know seems so special, so unique. My memories seem so important, as if they are part of some great mystery that I have a lifetime to solve. My thoughts, my ideas, my identity all seem to be pieces in the great “who am I?” puzzle. They all conspire to make me believe that I am an enigmatic character whose mythology is terribly important. And then, there is this picture of the inside of my foot. It is not special. It is not unique. It is simply mineralized osseous tissue housed in a pile of skin that is called “foot”. There are somewhere in the range of 14 billion of them and they all pretty much look and act the same. Sure, there are minor subtleties and nuances, but for the most part, what is the difference?
My foot does not find itself unique. It pushes against surfaces over and over throughout a day. It works, it rests. It does not feel loneliness or claustrophobia if it is trapped in a shoe for too long. It does not become jealous that I am favoring my other foot. It does not make plans to meet with my spleen for coffee. It does not become romantically involved with my esophagus. It does not ponder the mysteries of the universe and wonder what will happen to it when it dies. It is material and material has no time for enchantment. It simply is. When it ceases to work, it will waste away along with the rest of this thing that is me.
There is a part of me that cannot imagine that this is possible. There must be something else, there must be something more. I am more than that picture. I am not just bones. I am not just flesh. I am something mystical. I am more than those parts. I am more than words on a page saying “healthy, well-developed 35 year old male suffering from Hallux rigidus“. Right? Right?!?!?!
Maybe this identity of mine that I find so fascinating is just a bunch of electrical impulses. Maybe we are just piles of material walking around among other piles of material, thinking that thoughts and memories and ideas make us more. These self-important piles of material spend much of their time avoiding damage so that they can one day be part of creating new piles of material. And on and on with no direction, no meaning and no end. Thousands of them are created each day and thousands disintegrate. It does not matter…it is only matter.
None of The Above
Posted by Keith Spillett in Articles I Probably Shouldn't Have Bothered Writing, Basketball Coaching Nonsense, Existential Rambings on February 27, 2011
The presumption that we can understand the universe seems to be the single most absurd belief that human beings have formulated. Part of the problem with the question seems to hinge on how the word “understand” is interpreted. For the purposes of this article I will be using the word in a similar way that Robert Heinlein uses the word “grok” in his book Stranger in a Strange Land. To grok something is to comprehend something with all of one’s being. I can understand that human beings have 10 fingers, but I grok what it means to have and be able to use those fingers myself. They are a part of me and I know them to be incontrovertibly true. I understand my fingers in a pre-verbal, visceral way that can’t and doesn’t need to be explained. When someone watches a game of basketball they may understand that the goal is to put the ball in the hoop or that they have to dribble when moving or the fact that there are two sets of five different players on the court, etc. If you asked a person who knew this whether they understand the game, they would probably say “yes”. However, they certainly do not grok the game in its fullness. They do not know what its like to make an impossible shot or look up at an official for a brief second with the anticipation of a charge or blocking foul or to dive on the floor for a loose ball or any of the millions of possible experiences that could exist in a basketball game. They may hear the words but they don’t feel the music.
This problem of “understanding” relates to how our culture and many others tend to interpret the EVERYTHING. Often, humans are given two choices as if they reflected the only possible paths to groking the EVERYTHING in its fullness. We get a choice of science/reason/rational thinking or faith/spirituality/belief. I find neither of these answers to be helpful. Science has brought us many creations and understandings over the years. Scientists have given language to experiences like gravity. This language has allowed us to change how we perceive life. Without these understandings, many of the wonderful things that exist in our world (everything from flight to the internet) would not exist. Reason has brought us to heights never dreamed of by our forefathers. It has also brought us terrors never before imagined (germ warfare, nuclear annihilation). For my purposes, neither of these points is relevant to the question. Science has brought us to a place where we never believed we could be and the power of its creation has made us think that its potential for discovery is as infinite. I believe that science has limits. Heinlein gets the limits of science perfectly when Valentine Michael Smith (the protagonist in Stranger in a Strange Land) asks “How can you grok a desert by counting its grains of sand?” Science can create marvelous tools to manage parts of the physical world, but to grok it in its fullness there seems to be a need for something more. The explanation that love or joy or sorrow are nothing more than a few synapses firing in different directions seems woefully inadequate to explain us, let alone the interplay of billions of sentient creatures. There must be more.
But is that “something more” a belief in something beyond our understanding (a higher power?). Many people believe that God is an all-powerful; omniscient being that controls the universe. But if God is all-powerful and omniscient how could flawed, miniscule beings ever expect to understand anything about this God? How can we possibly grok something that is admittedly beyond our understanding? The idea itself seems bizarre. People often chalk up experiences to being “part of God’s great plan”. But, if we don’t completely understand what God’s plan for us is how can we possibly understand that an action is part of the plan? Why do those of faith assume that there is a greater reason for the things they do not understand? Maybe there is and maybe they are right but how would they know? We are given a scant few highly conflicting religious texts. Can it really be assumed that everything a person needs to know about the universe can be summed up in the Bible or another religious text? Many people believe this. I think the mistake in this is to assume that this thing can be understood using a book. One book, millions of books, cannot sum the EVERYTHING up. It is still greater than the whole of human knowledge, let alone the contents of one book. Belief often seems to function as a great off switch in the mind. We see something so beautiful or horrible or absurd that the mind says “Uncle!” and we give ourselves over to a belief that there must be some meaning to it that we are missing. But, how do we know that anything actually has a meaning? We can hope, we can wish, we can pray, but we can never know. We just chalk it up to an act of God or the workings of spirits that we can never conclusively prove to anyone including ourselves.
What troubles me about faith is not its deferment to a higher power but its willingness to concede truths to those who have come before or us or to books written before our time. Sometimes I wonder if the worship of God is merely the worship of the past. Maybe we are just harkening back to an illusory time where a more pious people than ourselves who knew more than us were able to connect with some great force in the sky and reveal its truths. Some religious folks look back to Moses or Jesus or Mohammad or a cast of many other characters and assume that they knew enough not only to understand their world but also to understand ours. I have a hard time believing that any person can possibly understand the world they are thrust into. The thought that a person who walked the earth 2000 years ago can not only understand his world but also understand mine seems highly unlikely. What if they are right? It doesn’t really matter because I can NEVER know for certain.
The “central” question faced by human beings is not spiritual or scientific but epistemological. How can we ever really know what we know or that we even know it? We are given limited and barbaric tools, our senses, in which to meet the world. These senses are easily fooled and can be manipulated by inside or outside forces. Yet I can’t even say for certain that anything is an illusion. If I spent a hundred lifetimes, I don’t know if I could grok in fullness the experiences that take place in one moment in one American town. And yet, somehow, humans feel it possible to understand the wholeness of everything. Science and religion fail to give the correct answer because they are asking the wrong question. The question is often posed as “How can we understand the universe?” (….and we get to choose between spirit and reason or some hybrid of both). The question should be “Can we understand the universe?” I simply don’t know that we are capable of this understanding. If we are capable of this feat of comprehension I don’t know that we can ever, for certain, know that we are capable of it. How would we know? What is our point of reference? How would we ever no for sure that our beliefs are not based on illusions or misinterpretations? We don’t know for certain and, yet, so many of our institutions, be they religious or secular, function on the belief that we know for certain how things are going to work out if we take certain actions or do things a special way. This belief pervades our churches, our hospitals, our schools and our homes. Our value judgments, our morality and our understandings are constantly shaded with the haughty taint of false understanding. Really, we know next to nothing. Maybe the only thing it is possible for us to completely understand about the universe is that we don’t understand the universe.
What If There Is Nothing Worth Writing About?
Posted by Keith Spillett in Articles I Probably Shouldn't Have Bothered Writing, Existential Rambings on February 13, 2011
“The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying.”
–TS Eliot from Ash Wednesday
Recently, a terrible feeling has been crawling up the base of my spine. It awakens me in the middle of the night, it hounds me when I am driving home from work, it swims in and out of my mind every time I consider this cursed blog. I think I had this thought in my mind even before I started blogging, but over the last month its light buzz has grown to a deafening roar. This feeling is in the pit of my stomach and the recesses of my mind all at once. It is a voice that talks to me while I write and a spirit that haunts me when I do not. Nothing makes it grow quiet. It is omnipresent. It is a simple idea, but if you follow it to its logical extreme it is as dangerous as a nuclear bomb. The question is this…Is there that is really worth writing?
It seems a rather harmless line of questioning. That is how it starts. The point of writing is to create something. I hope to create something new. Have all the worthwhile thoughts already been had? Has someone else already put down all the truths and mysteries of life on paper? With the Internet, you can find access to nearly every idea that has been conceived of. Most of us concern ourselves with whether LeBron is better than Kobe or who is married to who and who is getting a divorce or who wore what on the red carpet or who embarrassed themselves in front of the world. If you want to dig deeper you can find recipes for how to prepare ox tail, the history of Buddhism, better and more in depth formulas to calculate the value of third basemen or the performance of treasury bonds, or the lost works of some 19th century poet you came across at three in the morning on some insomnia driven information binge. But to what end? Is it just more and more stuff to fill our minds with?
Maybe I shouldn’t concern myself with creating something original. After all, what is the point of originality? Am I simply trying to justify my existence by conning myself into the belief that I am so special and unique that I can think a thought that the rest of the 6 billion of us could not come up with? Am I so narcissistic that I think I am capable of an idea that has never been here before?
Maybe the point is to appreciate the experience of writing. Maybe the whole thing is about letting my synapses fire and my fingers pound away at some keyboard. To what end? I do it again and again. Words appear. More words appear. Then more. More. They mean something, but who really knows what? They dance in patterns. I already have forgotten most of what I’ve written. I could look back. To what end?
Why bother sending this nonsense out to the world? Looking for fellow travelers on the good ship Earth as we spiral towards our own personal oblivion. To what end? Am I simply standing in front of the Grand Canyon shouting at the top of my own lungs in the hopes of hearing an echo? And then what?
Maybe my words will help ease the pain of human suffering. A noble goal but when you look at what we are up against, it hardly seems possible. A dying heap of flesh and consciousness trapped in a fading world that is saturated with mountains of disconnected ideas adding up to nothing in particular is going to be helped by some random guy typing random words on a computer screen? Really? I haven’t watched enough Frank Capra to buy it. It is a pleasant delusion, but a delusion nonetheless. Maybe the goal is to delude others into forgetting their troubles. They will remember them soon enough or, worse, they will enjoy the delusion so much they will forget what is happening to them and the ones around them. Apathy or sadness. Ignorance or constant horror. To what end?
If I could write something that could teach people how to live forever or convincingly show them that their actions are connected to something greater then maybe I would be writing something worth reading. But I am not that good of a writer and I doubt I will ever be. I wonder if anyone is. Existential dread is what it is and I can’t write it away for myself or anyone else. Can writing change the truth of what we are? I simply don’t believe that. And even if it could…to what end?
Maybe all of the thoughts have been thunk and all of the dreams have been dreamt and we are simply recycling the same old nonsense in slightly different packages again and again and again. Over and over. The paint job changes but it’s still the same old world. Meet the new boss same as the old boss.
This isn’t my MacArthur speech to the troops blog. I plan to keep doing this again and again for no apparent reason. It is a complete waste of time. It has no value and is utterly and completely useless. I enjoy writing more times than I don’t. I like hearing how my words hit people. I am deeply curious as to how my innermost thoughts are perceived by strangers. I guess that is something, but it will fade after a while. These are simply words on a page and they don’t mean anything. Nothing lasting or real or forever or genuine will ever come out of my mind or my hands. They are shapes, they are colors contrasted with the background, they are a speck in the eye of history. They are words. Their lifespan is about as long as it takes to get to the next sentence.
If You Don’t Believe There is a Meaning to Life, Why Don’t You Just Go Around Killing Other People?
Posted by Keith Spillett in Existential Rambings on January 23, 2011
I was asked this question recently during a discussion about morality with a friend of mine. I do not believe that there is an objective meaning to life and this was his way of countering my argument. At first, I didn’t really take the question seriously and I laughed it off as a weird reductio ad absurdum argument meant to link my lack of belief to the worst possible outcomes. It is not the first time I have been asked this question in this context and I began to wonder why I felt the question was ridiculous. For the purposes of this article, I really don’t want to debate my feelings on objective meaning. It is a much larger topic that I feel deserves considerably more explanation than I am ready to give. However, I feel there is a basic misunderstanding in this question that is worth addressing on it’s own.
The questions strikes me as a silly one because I don’t see what one thing has to do with the other. I am not clear about how Proposition A (There is no meaning in life) leads one to Proposition B (I should go around killing people). The argument makes about as much sense as saying “If you don’t believe there is any ice cream, why don’t you just go around killing people?” Why does the lack of basic meaning imply that people would commit violent acts towards one another? Where is the causal link between violence and the lack of meaning? Proposition A is a stand alone idea. It doesn’t lead to anything. It simply is.
The implication at the center of this idea is that the only thing that keeps human beings from running around causing severe harm to one another is the belief that there is some reason for everything. The deeper idea in the point my friend made was that without meaning, humans are nothing more than bloodthirsty animals that will do whatever they want, whenever they want. This is an extremely Hobbsean conception of what people are. I have a hard time believing that humans without meaning would find nothing better to do with their time then kill other humans. This view of humans, when held up to the light, seems quite vacant of truth. There are many secular humanists, atheists and nihilists who live their lives not believing in objective meaning without causing significant harm to others around them. Violence is something used by people of many different belief systems. There have been Christian murderers, Muslim murderers, Atheist murderers and so on.
I think part of the problem with the question is the assumption of direct correlation between belief and action. A person’s beliefs may help to define their actions, but we are never sure how. A person may believe strongly in a universe with objective meaning and choose to manifest that belief in the form of violence against people who think differently (The Spanish Inquisition is a good example of this) or they may choose to take that belief and manifest it in the form of non-violent protest (Martin Luther King would be a good representative of this). I don’t think we know what drove these people to act as they did. There is often an assumption that humans are basically machines. If you input this belief into the machine a specific set of actions will be waiting on the other end of the conveyor belt. The truth is that we have no idea what believing in certain things leads to. We know that we believe them, that’s all.
A good lens to see this question through is David Hume’s Problem of Induction argument. Hume argued that we can never convincingly prove that A will lead to B. We may assume that every time we flip the light switch on the room will light up, but on some occasions (power outages, blown fuses, unexplained failure) the room will not become illuminated. We may think that if a person has a certain set of values and beliefs they will turn out a certain way, but there are nearly limitless examples throughout history of times when that hasn’t happened. There is no such thing as a sure thing. We never know in advance how a set of beliefs is going to effect a person’s actions. We cannot accurately predict the future thus we never know what believing in certain things is going to lead to.
There is a troubling dynamic in this answer for those who are raising children. If we can’t convincingly know what the beliefs we are teaching our children are going to lead to, how are we supposed to raise them? My wife and I are currently raising two young children, so this question is a very serious one for me. As a parent, one of the most difficult realities that you are faced with is the understanding that you may do a great job teaching your children to love and respect the people around them and they still may turn out to be humans who take actions that appear angry, violent and anti-social. Humans are filled with complexities are impossible to completely understand. We can read the all of the “right” books, make the “correct” sacrifices and do what we think are the right things and we are still given no assurances. All we as parents can do is love our children no matter who they become. I don’t want my children to learn right and wrong, I want them to learn that we live in a world that has extreme shades of grey. I want them to learn to cause as little harm to others as possible (be it real harm or perceived harm). We do what we can and we hope for the best whatever that may be.
Notes and Existential Ramblings from a Basketball Coaching Clinic in Tunica, Mississippi
Posted by Keith Spillett in Basketball Coaching Nonsense, Existential Rambings on November 20, 2010
Back in May I got the opportunity to attend a basketball coaching clinic at the Harrah’s Casino in Tunica. The clinic featured some of the top college coaches in America including George Mason’s Jim Larranaga, LSU’s Trent Johnson, Virginia Tech’s Seth Greenberg and the one and only Robert Montgomery Knight (his friends call him Bobby). Myself and about 1,000 other coaches were herded into an auditorium converted into a gym for three days in order to find out the secrets of how to lead young men and women towards becoming championship caliber athletes. Anyone who has ever been to one of these clinics before knows the drill…coachspeak followed by coachspeak followed by the occasional substantial and interesting point followed by more coachspeak and more coachspeak. By coachspeak, I mean the repeated uses of expressions like “the short corner” or “attacking the elbow” which are meaningful to most coaches but come across like some mysterious hybrid of Swahili and Mandarin Chinese to the uninitiated. The one astute point in the midst of the coachspeak is often fantastic, which is why I highly recommend these clinics to other coaches, but the hours upon hours of coachspeak can take it’s toll on even the most fervent hoops junkie.
I am not a very good note taker, but I decided I was going to try to get down as much of what was meaningful as possible. This worked for the first 5 or so hours. I have lovely, detailed sketches of out of bounds plays and wonderful points about how to properly position my post players when they are down on the block. After a certain point, I began to drift away from the land of normal coaching thought. Too many things that were not basketball began to assert themselves into the clinic. The words character and discipline began to rear their ugly heads. Coaching has developed an odd fixation with these ideas over the years. They are somehow indicative of the deeper meaning of sports. If you are a good coach, your team wins. If you are a great coach, your teams win and develop discipline and character. You cannot win without discipline or character. You will be tested; under these circumstances discipline and character will show. The pantheon of great athletes all had discipline and character. Blah, blah, blah. My problem with this formulation is that there is very little discussion over what these terms actually mean. We are just supposed to know.
My mind was spiraling out of control. I had been reading a ton of Descartes and had recently listened to an incredible online course on Death by Yale Professor Shelly Kagan. These thoughts were ping ponging around my mind. They had begun to merge with my notes. Here is the mental chaos that ensued:
(For the sake of time and not boring the noncoaches out there, I have removed all of the traditional basketball and have all left the weirdo philosophical stuff basically untouched)
1. What is character and discipline but the denial of the self? Why must the self be removed or fought for someone to play the game well? Is the self such an albatross that it must be obliterated in order to achieve “greatness”?
2. Does the self even exist? How is it possible for the self to exist as something different from the body? Are there two of us in here? Am I the Ghost in the Machine and if so, who is that in here who keeps telling me to not do the things I want to do? Why am I so committed to not letting the Ghost play?
3. So…does the self exist? It must because we are asked to deny it. Discipline asks us to deny the self, so something must be asking us to deny the self. It must be the self. It is a similar formulation to Descartes’ “I think therefore I am”. There must be a self otherwise what is there to deny the self. The question then becomes, why on earth would the self ask to deny itself? That is a bizarre idea that must lead to a good amount of confusion when someone first enters the “Church of the Winner”.
4. What is discipline? The self wants, the self says no. Why would it deny what it wants? Denial of short-term gratification for deeper long-term fulfillment. Losing the self in the team. But why would we want to lose the self?
5. Why does the self imagine? What set of circumstances would make it want to wish for more or different?
6. Here is a list of the things that have been labeled acceptable by coaches at today’s clinic:
Victory over other selves
Destruction of other selves in other uniforms on the path to victory
Adulation of other selves if the correct function has been performed correctly
Greed as long as it stays unadmitted
Here are the things that have been labeled unacceptable by coaches at today’s clinic:
Gluttony (in terms of food or comfort, but not in terms of success)
Destruction of other selves wearing the same uniform as you
Adulation of other selves when the correct task has been performed incorrectly
Adulation of other selves when the wrong task has been performed correctly
Obvious greed for the wrong things (cars, status among the wrong people, “bling”)
7. Here are the rules when attempting to gain victory over other selves:
A. Winning at athletic contests can show the superiority of the self that denies the self (but doesn’t admit it)
B. Cheating is wrong because it skews the game, thus defeating the illusion of the level playing field. How can we determine which self is better if we haven’t deluded ourselves into thinking that we have triumphed over another self in a fair set of circumstances?
C. Hard work represents a self more able to deny the wants of the self. Pope Jordan the Ascetic.
D. In work matters, the self that can deny some of the wants of the self (rest, gluttony for the wrong things, comfort) and can nurture other wants of the self (the unspoken enjoyment of adulation, greed for money or status, appearance of a lack of the self) will get almost none of what the self wants, but more than the self that doesn’t.
E. Terminology is the coin of the realm. Terminology is a tiki mask of legitimacy. It is the short cut to proof that one is the self that can deny the self. If I understand these absurd terms, I must have spent hour upon hour of self-denial in learning these hollow metaphors that make very little sense. My commitment to irrational details shows how willing I am to obliterate the self for “greatness”. The more the metaphor rings hollow, the greater the proof of the self that has given up more immediate opportunities for gratification in order to learn them. The sheer absurdity of the basketball cliché has a normative function.
F. Emotional and physical discomfort are goals to be aspired towards. The more we pretend we are experiencing them, the more we will be ready when they show up. A champion is one who has vowed to spend his or her entire life mired in this sort of discomfort so that when the moment of real discomfort arises, they will have a lifetime of awful experience to draw on…and then they can put the round ball in the round hole one or two more times than the self in another uniform who hasn’t put him or herself through as much pain.
G. Creativity is something that is both an expectation and a curse. One is expected to think thoughts that fit into a neat box, but in a slightly different way than the other selves. When a self creates something that doesn’t fit in that box and loves it enough to share it with others, the self will be ridiculed or snickered at for the heinous crime of self-indulgence.
8. The self that denies the self (and claims not to) feigns praise for the creator but really respects and admires the editor, the salesman and the promoter. Creativity requires a complete exposure of the unfettered self. The self that denies the self (and claims not to) is appalled by pure creativity because it is a reminder of the dull rituals it is shackled to in the hopes of further denying the self.
9. “Deny! Deny! Deny!” -a coach stressing the importance of defense.
10. If the self that denies the self (and claims not to) conquers other selves, it feels a momentary sense of relief and the joy of not being conquered and being exposed as a self that doesn’t deny itself. This is followed by a horrific realization of the more than 6 billion predatory selves that may be lying in wait; hunting for the same moment of relief and joy.
11. How does the conquering self know the difference between itself and the conquered self? The self needs an Arbiter in order to know it’s worth. Without the Arbiter, the self cannot tell the difference between Pyrrhic victory and a miserable defeat. So, an Arbiter is created. The Arbiter (a scoreboard, an official) is declared real in our minds (except for most of the time). We often declare the Arbiter wrong (the refs hosed us, the final score doesn’t reflect how the game went, etc.). Who even knows who conquered whom?
12. Many of us long for a time (long ago) when “the rules meant something” and could give us a longer period of relief when we conquered the other selves. We think that this time existed and that somewhere along the line the losers rose up through the sleight of hand of a group of morally relative sycophants who took our comfort in winning away. We no longer even feel like we can enjoy the illusion we have created.
13. The odd thing about this belief is that I’m not sure that this magical time of the primacy of rules ever really existed. Maybe all there ever was were a group of selves pointing backwards trying to find new a clever ways to conquer other selves.
14. Consume in the name of the past, in the name of progress, in the name of protection, in the name of peace, in the name of whatever allows us to remember to forget or forget to remember what we are.
15. “Why do we think of offense and defense as different things?” Great point, coach! Better than you even know.
The Words Crawl in, The Words Crawl Out: Existential Dread and FDR’s Inaugural Address
Posted by Keith Spillett in Existential Rambings on October 23, 2010
Sometimes expressions are so powerful, so significant, that it is easy to lose sight of how utterly absurd they are. American history is riddled with such quotes. A personal favorite of mine comes from FDR’s 1st Inaugural address. The story goes something like this: America was mired in the worst economic depression in it’s history. Roosevelt had just put an end to the rattling death spiral that was Herbert Hoover‘s Presidency and stood in front of the country promising the revitalization of the American Dream and the end of nearly four years of chaos, despair and misery.
Within the first few sentences of his first Presidential address, Roosevelt set a tone of vital, unabashed optimism when he uttered the now famous words “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Those words, along with many social programs or “fortuitous” sets of circumstances (depending on who you ask), picked America up and led it through some of it’s worst moments. It became a rallying cry for a troubled nation whose best days were ahead of it.
I need you to know that I am not six years old. I don’t believe in the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy or the literal truth of expressions used by politicians in speeches. I am quite sure that Roosevelt was afraid of a few things besides fear. Maybe he was afraid of spiders, maybe he was paranoid about being in graveyards after 9 PM, maybe he was just plain scared of being attacked by a group of fanged clowns. I really am not sure what made FDR fret, but I am quite sure something did. The point is, the line was meant to be hyperbole.
Here’s the problem, if you hold the line up and look at it for a minute, even as hyperbole, it turns into mush in your hands. The truth of the matter is, there are an enormous amount of things to be afraid of. We are narrowly held on a mortal coil that could collapse at anytime. Our bodies, given a few years of exuberant youth, quickly melt away like ice cream on a summer afternoon. We rarely, if ever, are informed of when our time here will end and on the rare occasions we get that message in advance it is never good news. We form deep connections with those around us only to watch those bonds dissolved through mortality or miscommunication. As humans, we depend on a constant flow of sustenance that could dry up or be ripped away at any time. The possibility of mass annihilation through disease, war or famine are never far from our collective consciousness.
After death, who knows what bizarre carnival awaits us. Will I go to a smoking pit of flames, left to forever roast for eternity for some momentary lapse of judgement I made in the previous life? Or shall I fly away on white wings floating in a vast cosmic eternity day after day after day after day….with no end anywhere in sight? Will I simply get to experience the same mindless pain and suffering over and over, just from some new perspective? Will I come back as some “lower” animal, only to be slaughtered by other creatures for food, belts or coats or stepped on because I am “in the way”? Will I be at one with the universe, a desireless speck in an endless cosmos? Or will I lay in the ground and deteriorate slowly, a buffet for worms and bugs; a previously animated, once sentient form of high quality fertilizer? Which option would be preferable to me? (It doesn’t matter…I don’t really get to choose!)
If Roosevelt had any sense of the existential turmoil that lives at the root of our being, he would have left comedy to the comedians. How could someone look at the human condition and honestly utter the expression that there is only fear to fear? Fear is a completely reasonable response to an entirely preposterous set of circumstances. Maybe Roosevelt understood this and decided the best way to comfort humans was to deceive them and give them a false understanding of the terms of the world. You’ll forgive me if I don’t thank him for that. I have always believed that given the choice of comforting words or horrific facts, people tend to believe the latter, even if they don’t readily admit to it.
I am never more convinced that a person is lying to me and to themselves as when they say something like “I am not afraid of death”. This delusion can be truly catastrophic, not just because it allows people to pretend that their life is something that it is not, but because it allows people to rationalize the suffering of other creatures. “If I am not afraid of death, then it must not be that bad, then your death isn’t as bad as you think, then you should just get over your death (after all, I did), then you should stop dying because it reminds me I will die (which I am not, by the way, afraid of).” The logic (or lack of it) is torturous. “It is just a dumb beast, what does it matter if it dies or it is just a non-American, what does it matter if it dies or it is just one, what does it matter if it dies, or it’s just one of THEM, what does it matter if it dies or it’s not related to me or my friend, what does it matter if it dies.” These thoughts cannot be far behind.
Fear, I concede, can produce irrational responses and untold misery. However, it can also be a great tool to remind us of our humanity. It has the invaluable capability of reminding us what we share with the rest of these animated objects that surround us. Fear is not something to be feared, it is something to be listened to, reckoned with and understood. Otherwise, how can we ever truly begin to understand what we are and what we share with the creatures around us.