Archives for posts with tag: philosophy

The ship of Theseus is an ancient philosophical thought experiment about the nature of identity. Theseus is an ancient Greek dude, and like all the ancient Greeks that we hear about, he had a ship. Unfortunately, Theseus’s ship ran into some hard times, and needed to have some parts replaced. A plank here, a plank there. All the sails at some point, I guess. The point is, after a while, every single part of his ship had been replaced with a newer one. The questions is: how is it still Theseus’s ship if literally nothing of the original remains?

Little known fact: Theseus was a dog this whole time

Aging is, in scientific terms, a son of a bitch. Our muscles atrophy; our hearing starts to go; and, in some cases, we lose our memories and our grip on the reality around us. We too become slowly replaced over time, just not with newer parts as with Theseus’s ship, but with older, crappier parts that give out and have a mustier smell. When our older family members develop dementia, we struggle with the same kind of identity crisis as Theseus. We are looking at someone that we used to know in one way, and now none of the original parts seem to remain.

Dementia in a loved one is actually incredibly difficult to witness, and I am insensitively making light of the situation. I’m not going to stop, but it’s important to acknowledge.

I do believe that the ship of Theseus maintains its identity over the duration of its incremental replacement because there remains a single constant: Theseus. It’s Theseus’s ship because Theseus sees it that way, with a degree of social corroboration as well (people will, for the most part, agree that it is still Theseus’s ship – otherwise they would see it as stolen). The identity of the ship exists in its relationships just as much as it does in its material make-up.

The same holds true with dementia. Before my grandmother passed away, she developed dementia and no longer saw me as her grandson. However, I still saw her as my grandma because my inevitable deterioration has yet to begin. We maintain our relationships with our loved ones, and that maintains their identity. She was my grandmother. That relationship never changed even if her own perception of her active relationships had shifted wildly. Even if she no longer sees me as her grandson, this is irrelevant. Keep in mind how the ship might relate back to Theseus, given how it is an inanimate object. It wouldn’t, is my point. We define how we relate to others, for better or for worse.

This is not my grandmother, but wouldn’t it be great for this blog if it were?

Part of who we are is certainly the sum of our parts. Our physical and psychological body cannot be fully cleaved from the concept of our identity, but these, our physical body especially, are only superficial facets of who we are. I am a son, a brother, a partner, a friend, a coworker, and a bitter, hated enemy. I had a grandmother, and that defined who she was to me. Theseus had a ship, and it was how he related to that ship that defined its identity regardless of how many planks ended up being replaced. If you continue to love them, they will continue to be your loved ones.

Famed existential philosopher Søren Kierkegaard was all about dat ass. I mean, not really. Only for about half a book. Within that half a book he created a philosophical outlook that drew its inspiration from Don Juan, the eternal seeker of dat ass. The aesthete, personified by Don Juan, is compelled to constantly seek pleasure; an unquenchable hedonist lifestyle. This is not an obsessive addiction to poon under which Don Juan suffers, it is an authentic choice made with genuine intent. This is how Don Juan chooses to live his life. This authenticity manifests itself when Don Juan continues to chase tail even in the face of fatal consequences. It’s not that he can’t stop, Bro just won’t stop.

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I use the misogynistic manipulation of hundreds of women to make a point. 

The aesthete is not limited to lethal amounts of promiscuity. Sex is just an easy metaphor for any kind of pleasure. Kierkegaard follows up the story of Don Juan with a series of diary entries by a man who meticulously creates a scenario where a woman falls madly in love with him toward the ultimate aim of marriage. Of course, he leaves before the wedding because love was the conquest to be won, and must be won yet again in the next town. Settling down is antithetical to the aesthete who must repetitiously manifest their pleasure until, presumably, the happy ending.

Which brings us to Meredith Grey. Meredith Grey can never settle down. Meredith and Derek Shepherd are constantly on again and off again because they are not allowed under the premise of the serial drama to have functional peace between them. She and Doctor McDreamy are faced with an impossible relationship goal because they live in a universe built on the principles of the aesthete. Never settle. Always seek new pleasures. If it seems like things are on the verge of structured and maintainable happiness, BAM! Car crash! Meredith must begin anew.

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ANGUISH!

It is the same with every serial. In How I Met Your Mother, Ted Mosby would never be able to actually meet “The Mother” until ratings began to drop. The promise of the show needed to be constantly pushed back in order for the hedonic loop to continue. It’s not that the characters themselves are modern manifestations of the aesthete, but that the nature of the show itself builds those principles into the foundation of the universe. No character is immune because they exist under the scripted laws of serial television where stability is seen as stagnation and stagnation means cancellation.

The aesthete is not condemned as a morally reprehensible lifestyle choice. It is an option among others on how to live life in the face of existential dread. One cannot sink into nihilistic despair if they never stop gamboling around long enough to pay attention. Kierkegaard would certainly not place it at the top of his list as far as options go, similarly to how the Hindus do not admonish those on the path of desire despite its own lower status. It is a way of life to grow out of, but there is nothing intrinsically wrong with it.

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Hot dog legs may be a smidge immature, but condemnation just seems a bit pretentious

There is still a problem with the television serial as a manifestation of the aesthete. It’s not necessarily its celebration and propagation of the philosophical aesthetic lifestyle, as its immaturity is not a serious enough criticism of its value to dismiss it. The problem arises in the vicarious living that television encourages. Our Don Juan hopefuls may never reach even the fairly low peak of the aesthete lifestyle if they spend their time sitting and watching Barney Stinson live out Kierkegaard’s guilty pleasure on their TV set.

We can understand Kierkegaard’s aesthete through our television screens, but we can’t live it. We get sucked into the hedonic loop without even the benefit of the hedonist pleasure that would otherwise accompany it. We escape nihilistic despair through distraction, certainly, but we escape it without doing any actual living. We escape through death.

The role of leadership is often left unquestioned as a noble pursuit. Leaders are heroes, heroines, paragons of virtue whom we admire from afar. Even the vicious and corrupt, those leaders who govern by fear and intimidation, they too achieve a pernicious admiration, infamy in the maintenance of their tyrannical claim. They stand above us, statuesque, leaving no choice but to look up to them.

A leader is someone whom others follow, but if everyone’s goal is the same, why not walk in tandem, side by side? Why create an exploitable hierarchy at all? Leadership bestows upon us certain privileges, and in creating that role, we dilute our common goals with aims of obtaining those privileges, abandoning our original pursuit for the sake of immodest greed. If our goals diverge, obtaining followers would require coercion, and leadership would be simple charlatanism; deception, bribery, and extortion becoming our highest virtues. If we are on common ground, leaders are an unnecessary risk. If we differ, they are charming despots, apathetic in their oppression of our autonomy.

The first justification is wisdom. Leaders are knowledgeable, and so are justified in their position. This role is the teacher or the guide who provides us with knowledge that would be difficult to obtain on our own. Yet the goal of the teacher is not to hoard their position of prestige over the student, but to give of themselves until the student becomes their equal. The goal of the guide is that one day the trail may be shared with a peer. The intrinsic hierarchy of intellectual authority is tempered by its altruistic directive toward equality.

The second justification is that of stratagem. Leaders are keepers of the big picture, overseers of the forest while others focus on the trees. However, this is not a position of power; it is a different vantage point. If everyone’s goals are ultimately the same, the overseer serves more as a conductor of an orchestra, guiding the beauty of the process. Others follow because they see their goals fulfilled, not because of any power being exerted over them. If the goals diverge, or the leader ignores the minutia of the trees at the expense of their followers, those followers are well within their rights to adopt or elect new, more conducive, leadership.

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In a game that’s mostly pawns, you think they’d have some issue with their expendability. Maybe instead of marching forward against others just like themselves, they ought to turn around and demand change from those behind them sending them to their deaths.

The third justification is the figurehead. This is the leader people rally behind. The leader as symbol. One action or event may have thrust them, even unexpectedly, into the front of the crowd. This is not a position one can seek, since it is most often an accident. They are those who inspire us, never asking for followers because their goal is not actually to lead.

The fourth justification is organization. This is the person who takes the first step. The leader who sees where progress needs to be made, and seeks other like-minded people to share in this goal. This is a leader with initiative. They are not one step in front of everyone else, as the organizer might see that a figurehead ought to be the most visible in achieving their shared goal. The organizer simply sets up the march.

The final justification is change. This leader is someone who makes a difference. The world follows the new path that this leader has laid down. This leader is anybody. To quote the historian and social activist Howard Zinn, “Missing from such histories [of social activism] are the countless small actions of unknown people that led up to those great moments. When we understand this, we can see that the tiniest acts of protest in which we engage may become the invisible roots of social change.”

A leader stands above others not because they exist in some power hierarchy over the rest of us, but because they embody one or more of these characteristics. Power within leadership is inherently coercive and corrupting. A leader is a friend who inspires us to be better; a parent who teaches us how to tie our shoe; someone who cleans up the mess, not because they made it, but because it needs to be cleaned. Or a leader can be you, making a tiny difference in the lives around you.