Archives for category: Philosophy

New year, new beginnings. Time to start fresh. Throw the old ‘you’ into the trash fire from whence you came and rise like a new, slightly-less-trashy phoenix. That’s what we all seem to want: not just a new beginning, but to be rid of the mistakes of the past. We are no longer that horrid person who doesn’t eat well or doesn’t call their mom. We are better, and it’s best that we just forget that jerk we used to be.

DumpsterFire2

Rise from the ashes!

How do you measure a beginning? Is the beginning of a house when the lot is cleared or when the first nail is driven? When the architect completes the design or when they first dream up the idea? What about World War II? Did it start with the invasion of Poland or China? With the machinations or the election of Hitler? Or was the stage set by the end of the first War, simmering for decades? What about the current tensions with Iran? There are those alive today who have lived through the assassination of Suleimani and the coup of Mosaddegh. Sometimes we long for the simplicity of a beginning because it gives us the convenience of dismissing everything that has come before.

The truth is there are no firm beginnings. Our world is beset by temporal gradients. History is a long series of blurred events bleeding into one another. So it goes with our own lives. However, we try desperately to reject this reality. The question of which came first, the chicken or the egg, is a repudiation of evolution in favour of enforcing a concrete origin. The Sorites paradox offers a much better reflection of reality for acknowledging the ambiguity of beginnings.

egg came first

It’s just inconsiderate

If we want to change, we need to take into account, not just the entirety of our lives, but the context of the history around us. We would need to accommodate our previous habits, the caliber of our will, the willingness of our surroundings to accept our change, the conditions that shaped both our selves and our environment, and then the maintenance of that change in the face of the constant flux of both our selves and our environments.

Who do you think has a better shot at overcoming trauma? The person who accepts that it happened, recognizes their triggers, and has developed the necessary skills in the face of those things, or the person who chooses to begin anew? The problem is that whether we believe in starting fresh or not, the reality of the world around us and the psychological history within us will carry on regardless. What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas, that would be absurd; it just adds another drop to the soup of our collected experiences.

The alcoholic who relapses after 10 years of sobriety is not starting from scratch, just as the Resolutioner at the gym is not a tabula rasa upon which a lifestyle of fitness can now be engraved. We shouldn’t live our lives denying the gradual evolution of our selves. We shouldn’t accept yearly incremental distinctions as any more valuable than our astrological signs. Make change by growing out of who you’ve always been, not because some doomed-to-fail tradition tells you it’s time.

Freedom isn’t free. Notoriously it costs $1.05, but generally the metaphor is assumed to mean that freedom is incessantly under attack, and therefore must be defended. There are terrorists and rogue nations who hate our way of life, and if they are unchecked, the freedom to live our lives the way we choose is imperiled. We must therefore adhere to a universal responsibility to fight wars, or at the very least, support those who fight them for us, against these existential threats. However, implicit responsibility suggests that those who adhere to this belief are not actually free: they are slaves to conflict. If we must fight, then we are no longer free to engage in peace.

There is also the freedom implied in the Free Market. No interference, no subjugation, allow the whims of the Market to dictate social direction. The ebb and flow of supply and demand will nurture and care for us. Yet, if our ability to participate in the market is determined by our wealth (either in the ownership of the supply side or the purchasing power of the demand side), then indeed social direction will be commanded by the wealthy. Voting with your dollar naturally leads to those with more dollars owning more votes. Even in the free market we are not free: we are slaves to wealth. Even the wealthy are encumbered by their duties to wealth perpetuation. If we seek responsibility toward externalities and an equality of opportunity, we will not find it in an ideology with implicit responsibility toward the profit motive.

Is it controversial to say that freedom requires submission? Bob Dylan waxed poetic that it may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but we’re gonna have to serve somebody. Human beings have needs; we will always be beholden to bread. What are we willing to submit to in order to enjoy other freedoms? Who then benefits from that submission? What if we want to live in a world with freedom from conflict? What if we want to be responsible toward other human beings rather than to an abstraction? Maybe it would be nice to be responsible to your neighbours instead of responsible to a conflict with them.

Anyone who preaches freedom is preaching slavery on some other level. This is not always a terrible thing; responsibility is a necessity for social cohesion. The despots who hide its presence in their proselytizing are seeking only to deceive their listeners into accepting their shackles without critical thought. Be open about where the restraints will lie, and allow them to be justified. We were never free. We will never be free. We will always need to submit. The question is: where do we wish to place our submission?

I recently made the mistake of listening to a podcast that had Sam Harris in it. Whenever I am exposed to Sam Harris, I get a kind of migraine until I am able to express fully how terrible he is, and then relief sets in. Sweet, sweet relief. Now, if you happen to be a fan of Sam Harris, I would recommend instead you read another racist utilitarian, John Stuart Mill. His racism is far more dignified, and he has the honour and privilege of being one of the earliest incarnations of a white feminist!

john stuart mill

“Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting that end.”

Harris’s general philosophy is that pain = bad, pleasure = good. It’s hedonistic utilitarianism, but this time, Harris suggests that we use science because nobody has thought of using science to determine morality before. Morality has always been so wishy washy and soft in the past, and Harris wants to ram hard science down its eager throat. Pain of course is objectively bad, pleasure is objectively good. Claiming objectivity in morality has always tended towards zealous dogmatism in the past, but now with science, that objectivity must be true, and Harris’s dogmatism is justified.

sam harris

“What will we do if an Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere mention of paradise, ever acquires long-range nuclear weaponry? … In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own. … it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe.”

What the dogmatism of Sam “Nuke The Muslims” Harris, and even John “Brutally Subjugate The Indians” Mill to a lesser extent, fails to take into account is that the objectivity of pain as a moral compass doesn’t hold up in the slightest. The gym rat maxim of “No Pain, No Gain” literally requires pain. Getting hella swole isn’t often thought of as morally bankrupt, if perhaps a bit douche-y, yet objectively it must be. Boxers fighting for a prize belt must also be engaged in Holocaust-levels of immorality, given their premeditated intent to inflict pain on one another. And don’t even get me started on those sexy BDSM freaks in the sheets; mixing pleasure WITH pain is just an ethical nightmare!

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Just go with it

Yet Harris never mentions those because they’re not predominantly engaged in by Musli… I mean because they’re obviously not unethical behaviours. The thing that distinguishes them is consent. The boxers have agreed upon certain rules and regulations before entering their fight; the magic and wonder of BDSM is underscored vehemently by an emphasis on consent; and if some bro wants to tear his quads by going for that one extra rep, more power to him. Without consent, these activities turn into assault, rape, and non-consensual lifting. I don’t know what that last one would be like, but I certainly don’t want to find out.

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Please don’t make me lift

What Sam Harris seems to miss is that human beings are quite capable of making their own decisions. I guess science hasn’t gotten to that part just yet. If a woman chooses to wear a Burqa, fine. People are agreeing to be punched in the face, and if that’s okay, certainly a choice in attire is okay. If she is coerced into wearing a Burqa, that becomes less fine. Issues of age and capability certainly impact consent, but ultimately it is not up to Sam Harris to decide who gets to agree to what, and what their available choices can be. It is very easy to paint a culture we don’t belong to as being intrinsically coercive (the hypocrisy being how ignorant we are of the coercive factors insidiously lurking within our own), but it is the inhabitants of that culture that ought to have the right to choose which direction they wish to go.

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Let’s let Saudi Arabia determine which direction our culture goes with regard to our media’s portrayal of women

People in general seem to have a hard time letting others live out their lives, because we know what’s best and if they’re doing something different, they must be barbaric savages, unfit to make their own decisions. This isn’t a call for relativism; my autonomy is worth just as much as yours. This is a call for the respect of autonomy, and to engage only in consensual interactions. Rather than, you know, nuking a religion, like only a genius ethicist could conceive.