Saturday, May 15, 2010

The problem of Unfairness

The problem of unfairness has two parts: there’s the practical set backs to your goals, and then there’s a metaphysical part which is described by a psychologist as follows:

"Confrontations with violence challenges one's most basic assumptions about the self as invulnerable and intrinsically worthy and about the world as orderly and just. After abuse, the victim's view of self and world can never be the same again: it must be incorporate the abuse experience."

People don’t realise that their suffering comes mostly from this level. Injustice tears a hole in meaning, leading directly to meaninglessness. How can you reconstruct meaninglessness into your view of the world? I’ve written before that we act a play of meaning because that’s the admission price of life. But reality is meaningless, there’s a duality. And the greater the unfairness the more severe this paradox – it brings you face to face with an existential crisis which is always there.

Weirdly enough this means there’s no reason to give up because nothing has changed. Unfairness feels like a terrible destruction of everything we know and believe, but in fact it was produced by the same universe with the same laws as before, when you were happy. It’s a strange comfort maybe but a very solid one. You still live in the same reality.

You do however need to change where you place hope. I don’t believe in replacing one opiate with another, platitudes like ‘move on’ or ‘make lemonade out of lemons’ are only temporary shelters. Again a much more solid comfort comes from revaluating from its foundations what it means to ‘believe in meaning.’

Usually it means that we believe meaning makes up the majority of life, and that’s the way it should be. But this is totally wrong.

Meaninglessness it the norm, and meaning is the exception. Our fair and just world is a man made construct that occupies a tiny pinprick of the universe where the rocks and water, stars and planets exist with no reason, no beginning, no end, no life and no meaning.

Meaning is not the way it should be at all, it’s an anomaly. There’s a war going on, and it has been ever since life struggled to existence. Meaning is a direct assault on reality and it has to be created against the odds.

And the only reason it happens is because we have an instinctual, compulsion to find it beautiful.

‘Believing in meaning’ is a leap of faith, a commitment to aestheticism. I can’t say it’s a ‘belief’ really because you enter into it with both eyes open, you choose to value it even whilst you know it is only a creation, a fallacy almost, validated by nothing external.

We light a small fire that pushes back the darkness. We stare at that small fire so intently that we forget the darkness is all around us and all pervasive. Why be discouraged if you happen to glance up and see reality? Or realise how small the light is. Keep staring at the fire because it’s important to you, and protect and nurture it precisely because it’s small and fragile.
And then the only problem that unfairness poses is the practical one of how to work around it.

The Superfluous

"How could those who never live at the right time die at the right time? Would that they had never been born! Thus I counsel the superfluous. But even the superfluous still make a fuss about their dying; and even the hollowest nut still wants to be cracked."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Finding a niche

At last it seems blogs have made dreams and passion valuable for the masses, and to the masses. According to Six Pixels of Separation, to leverage it to make a living you need only write about your most passionate interests, no matter how obscure. Passion, at the end of the day, is what we all crave and gathering a large following from pure passion will lead to profits by numbers. But to hit the spot you need to find a niche, a voice. After the last century of oppression by mass production, the individual is raising its head and heart again, paradoxically through the internet.

(Just look what Twitter is doing for Chinese democracy.)

So what’s my niche? Architecture, design and environment is my working beat, but philosophy is my secret love. Maybe I can combine the two. There are crossovers in how the philosophies of our built environments reflect what we think and how we make sense of ourselves in the world.

My first philosophical thought about architecture and design is this: we should build from the inside out.

New Media, New Meaning

I've been delving into new media as a way to save my dying industry – or really just my own skin. I met with a multi-media entrepreneur recently about this, a dodgy American former sports journalist. He said to me, "There are two kinds of people in the world: hunters and farmers, and I'm a hunter." I just thought that meant he is sleazy. His company seems to be staffed by beautiful women.

Still he gave me some good ideas about how the internet is the one place where you can effectively combine text, audio, and video together. It is truly multimedia. I always feel like time flies faster than an arrow, whilst I stay behind watching the sun set across the sky. I would be happier in the age of Tolstoy, where all you had was pen and paper and a steam train to transmit your ideas to the world.

But now those degrees of separation between people have gone. We're all whores in a way, inappropriately close to one another. And so this leads me to blogging in the mainstream press. I read the blogs of foreign correspondents of the big English papers, and they're really just articles – a bit shorter and at blog intervals. They're impersonal, they're political/socio-economic. But that's not what people read blogs for.

Blogs fascinate because it's the voice of an individual, not filtered through the voice of a paper, not filtered through their litigation department, nor edited and cleansed. It's about their personal journey, whether life makes them or breaks them. Anyone who wants to blog has to give up a part of themselves to cyberspace. Even when it's professional it needs to be personal. It has to extract that price. I wonder if journalists are really willing to do that, and if that's why none of their blogs are as captivating as Brazen Careerist where she shares – in between career advice - her divorce, remarriage and miscarriages.

One day I'll do that … maybe.

The first idea

I'm turning into a philosopher of unhappiness – it captures my imagination. Not the gothic, adolescent kind of unhappiness. I mean the difficult, nuanced kind about the huge task of unfolding potential, and potentials unrealised - partly because of our own limitations, and partly because each individual is the product of the whole of human progress. Meanwhile we live with making choices and their sacrifices, and inarticulate longings that echo down the ages.

What is 'potential'?

Bits and pieces of it surface in every blog, I didn't know it but all roads led to it.

The acorn always grows into an oak, but human beings - as the most sophisticated of all machines - can become anything. In nature I've noticed sophistication is measured not in strength but flexibility and versatility.

In terms of natural equipment that's the only advantage we've got – but what an advantage.

We are a blank slate, a book where everything is contained. Particular environments pull particular parts and combinations into existence. It's almost impossible to find universal values (the more multicultural my experience of the world, the more different I find cultures, and not all of them equal). But all the other possibilities are still there at the same time, shimmering like unread words in the book, like invisible ink undecoded.

Limitations of the age

We all suffer from our point in history, maybe it's one of the most insidious sufferings. Imagine if you had been born before writing was invented – you would have been and thought and done a fraction of what you could have today. Similarly a human from 3010 may look at us like worms struggling in the mud, seeing only a tiny sliver of sky.

Maybe we will have by then tools to dissect human behaviour or the brain, and human nature won't be a mystery or an art anymore.

The final thing about potential is it's inextricably linked to freedom. We have made major mistakes by not looking at freedom this way, because then we only consider 'freedom from' something, not what the 'freedom to' do something means.

Freedom to unfold potential – but who has studied what that involves? Just because you're free to compose music doesn't mean you know how. Freedom has two sides to it, one of which opens the door to fear, panic and cruelty.

Understanding the vastness of potential leads to the search for 'freedom to' – and the end of the myth that we know who we are just because the chains are removed. Maybe then we will understand those many, many who are still potentials unrealised because of the walls in their minds.