Monday, August 12, 2013

Freedom! and the Frantic Drab


To act or not to act is a bewildering boundary. To navigate it competently, inquiry into the nature of free will, that hoary topic, is mandatory. It is tiring to put the question, more so to dwell on it; to this day it remains stubbornly unresolved, a futilely visited Gordian’s Knot, our blindest spot. How often, if at all, we are capable of free choice – choice we consciously experience as deliberate – may be beyond our powers of perception and deduction.  What follows is a cursory and playful toying with this topic.

 First, we make note of the obvious reality of awareness. But we should then immediately acknowledge that our day-to-day awareness is limited, even where our own selves are concerned. Thus, even if we are disposed to insist that we own our bodies (whatever that assertion means), it does not take much effort of thought to realise that this supposed ownership bestows neither full awareness nor full control of what our bodies actually do (behind our backs).

Second, let’s accept that the dualistic mind-body split (an idea that permits a conceptual ‘ownership’ of the body by something not-body which is then the true ‘I’ by implication) is intellectual casuistry that does not accurately reflect reality, even if it reflects our (language-generated) perception of reality.

It follows that when, on those rare occasions, we are aware of having made a deliberate choice, we can neither know nor prove beyond doubt that it was wholly deliberate, fully the outcome of ‘self-control’, and not, say, the surface sensation of some inner process beyond conscious awareness.

Proof of free will must, therefore, lie beyond the reach of our perception and science.

Given these two conditions, faith is surely inescapable. In fact, faith lurks in the shadows of all our systems of thought and science like the mad lady of gothic literature, banished to the attic yet secretly in control of events. And this control is not the consequence of free will. How ironic is that, ladies and gentlemen?

My particular faith says that we indeed make deliberate choices, that we do exercise free will, but that this happens rarely. Its rarity is a direct consequence of what I have come to call the Frantic Drab. We have no time to spend Quality Time with ourselves, are thus strangers to ourselves, are also in automatic lockstep with a culture of endless baubles, and lack the personal psychological and emotional development to properly reflect on our actions and make wise or mature choices.

Enjoy it while it lasts.

25 comments:

Malagodi said...

Jedermann sein eigner fussball

Toby said...

And yet there's no I in team...

Tao Jonesing said...

@Toby,

By the same token, there is no team in I . . .

Tao Jonesing said...

@Toby,

Responding to your post (instead of your comment), it took you awhile to make your point, and, even then, I think it will be lost on most people (although not any of us who follow you).

Dualism is a false lens through which to view reality, although I grant you that is a true statement of how humans are conditioned by their own limitations to view reality. Dualism is both true and false, and, therefore, of little value, except to understand how the masses think and, therefore, how to manipulate them.

That being said, human beings are indeed "faith-based" because individually we are incapable of knowing everything, so our beliefs fill the gaps.

Right now, I am struggling with the decision to walk away from corporate life. On the one hand, I find it vapid. On the other, as an executive, I make fantastic money, and 80% of my time at work is helping others be better and more aware. The remaining 20%, however, is managing petty politics. I would prefer devoting 100% of my time to doing something I am passionate about, and I can actually afford to do so, but the lost income potential is off-putting. Regardless of what I want, if I walk away from making >$500K a year, have I screwed my family?

Our choices are not shaped only by our interests in ourselves or in baubles, but by our interests in those we care about.

I am fairly certain that I am going to walk away from corporate America for the last time, though. Wish me luck.

Toby said...

We are made of roughly 1 trillion cells. Ergo, there is a team in I. And as the South Africans have it, Ubuntu, or "I am because we are". My reading of I or ich or je is that there must be group --> society --> language before the concept/perception of the discreet individual can emerge. Apologies for my seriousness if you were just playing with words. ;-)

I do wish you luck, but I suspect with your skills and talents should money become a problem you'll never be far away from earning. How old are your children? My two daughters are 15 and 11 (soon to be 16 and 12) and my parents in law are generous (though I would not want to live by resting the weight of my family directly on others). I left a job that paid less than a tenth of the salary you mention, had a very nervous 18 months scrabbling money together as a freelance translator, including what I think of as a flash-depression over Jan and Feb of this year, then took an indefinite contracting job which began in May. I am happier for having followed this route and far less 'fanatical' about rejecting the corporate world. You can't really reject it unless you're rich enough to live off interest, and even then they're everywhere anyway. We have to live somehow, the more comfortably (apart from wanton luxury) the better. The other thing that caught me by surprise was how difficult it is to upend your own family's culture. Where I am intellectually and morally need not be where they are. What right do I have to force them through painful change on the altar of my beliefs? Shit happens, tragedy happens, change happens and there's nothing any of us can, or should want to do about that. Your path 'belongs' to you, but you are 'responsible' for its effects on others. As they say, the Way is hard.

If my advice is worth a damn, I humbly suggest not worrying about percentages too much. 100% is impossible, but likely you meant that figuratively (ha ha).

On your comment on duality, I feel this is a little harsh:

"Dualism is both true and false, and, therefore, of little value, except to understand how the masses think and, therefore, how to manipulate them."

I think duality is essential even though it is restrictive. Restrictive is 'good', a grain of sand. Constraint liberates. Nothing would be possible in total freedom, one needs purchase, opposition, challenge. Also, 'animal' non-differentiation is not 'the truth' either. Separation is part of a journey, I just don't think there's a destination...

Tao Jonesing said...

@Toby,

Our girls are 16 and 13. The youngest turns 14 later this year. So our families are of a similar size and age.

I was being a little tongue-in-cheek with the "no team in I" comment, but I do appreciate the reply. Thought it was pretty funny. I first coined that phrase with respect to a now former colleague who was driving my CEO nuts. My former colleague is a pure sociopath, and I felt the description described the thinking behind my colleague's actions quite well. I gave my CEO a good chuckle, at least.

I do have a skill set that will always be in demand, but walking away a second time (the first time was for two years) is bound to constrain my political and earning power. Right now, for example, I have access to the lobbyists who wrote Obamacare (they have moved on to my industry, which is not health "care"), and people who are on the boards of directors of Fortune 100 companies. Right now, I am viewed not only as a tool, but a potential ally. When I walk away again, I will become just a tool.

But you are right, I will be an expensive tool, so I don't really have much to worry about.

You just made my decision that much easier, particularly given that the last time I quite the corporate world, I managed to improve my station by an order of magnitude on my re-entry.

In closing, I don't think I was even a smidge harsh in my comments about dualism. While we are naturally conditioned to dualism by how we process information, we don't have to be dualistic. That said, the political systems of the Western world have been conditioned for millenia to encourage dualism for the purpose of controlling the masses. Des Cartes had nothing on Plato or Aristotle. All Des Cartes did was reinvent their wheel, which is inherently political. Once you understand humanity's natural inclination, you can either help humanity overcome it, take advantage of it for your own gain, or simply accept it as a truism. I prefer the first option. Western philosophy is geared toward the second option.

Toby said...

Descartes crystallised the core of a paradigm into a phrase (and also hit on something that I find useful, namely that the only thing we know for sure is that we experience stuff, or that we are aware). Dualism is also a necessary part of being able to choose. To give rise to a culture capable of generating the space in which choice is possible, dualism must be created/perceived as part of our evolution from undifferentiated immersion in Universe. I think this process 'creates' empathy, but that is pure speculation.

You say we don't have to be dualistic, which implies choice. But for people to be informed enough and have enough time to make actual choices, society must create that space and make that information openly available. We are far from that place. We are mired in the Frantic Drab. Evolving from it requires humble effort on the part of those who choose sharing knowledge in the interest of giving people more 'freedom' to grow up.

It would please me to drink some beers (or whatever) with you one day. I suspect you are a stimulating conversation partner...

Debra said...

Back from Corsica...
We spent 13 days camping on the farm in Vallica, in Balagne, a very remote area with no electrical hookups.
We went for a theater week in connection with al Aria, an association presided by Robin Renucci, of Corsican origin, who is firmly committed to retaining his roots in his native soil, while leading the frantic, hectic life of a professional actor and director on the continent (France metropole).
My daughter commented that... when he talks, in spite of his excellent intentions, his commitment, his zeal, she can hear an administrator speaking.
Looking back over my shoulder at what I have just written, it is very bland and tasteless next to "Hamlet" which I am devouring at this time.
One of the most exciting things about "Hamlet" is realizing just how many words Shakespeare coined in the course of writing the play.
Mind boggling.
Very courageous of you, Tao.
Yes, our children are very conservative ; much more so than we are. Their... fear and dependance exert great power over our actions.
For years I raked my father over live coals, living and then dead, for choosing his career over my personal comfort.
Now it is harder for me to do so...
He did what he had to do, and it made me who I am. For that, I have no regrets.
Back later.
Cheers.

Debra said...

I'm not sure that mind/body dualism is a problem.
Because anybody who has ever heard "it's all in your head" knows how much the spirit can get dumped on whenever convenient.
I think that there are two major coordinating conjunctions, the words that put other words together, and put us together too.
"And" and "or".
What is difficult is thinking mind/body together, as an "and", and not looking for mutually exclusive coordination. Looking for exclusive causes, phenomena, origins.
But I have a theory about this too...
If I stand face to face with my lover, and look him straight in the eyes, and he, too, is looking me straight in the eyes, we can only see each other, and NOTHING/NOONE else.
So... if a third person enters the scene, I am obliged to tear my eyes away from my lover to see the third person.
Now, in the new configuration, if I want to see two people at once, I must step back in order to see both of them.
But... in any case, I can in no way look at two people in the eyes, both at once.
Not possible.
This may sound irrelevant, but I think it is.
Because there is nothing better than drinking somebody else up through their eyes, or being drunk up, while we're at it. (There may be some things, but gazing into somebody's eyes is pretty neat.)
And we individually want EXCLUSIVE relationships, at least sometimes.
The key word is "exclusive", that which excludes...

Toby said...

That sounds like a very refreshing holiday, Debbie. I'm looking forward to similar replenishment in about a year's time, in my wife's place of birth, Cebu.

Interesting observations about focus and exclusivity. Perhaps the union of the exclusive gaze is that we are sunk into oneness, union. That is perhaps a very sweet irony since two's company and three's a crowd, as your thought-exercise demonstrates. What interests me here though is the difference(?) between narcissistic or immature love and mature love which is forgiving and not possissive. The gaze between baby and mother is similar to that between young lovers. But what of the gaze of the wise old guru who loves and loses himself/herself in everything 'out there'? Mature love is the extension of the self outwards to include everything. Then there can be no third party, only immersion in the beautiful oneness of infinite diversity.

Debra said...

Did you check out the address I sent you, Toby ?
I really think that you would be interested in these people.
www.paulkingsnorth.net and the Dark Mountain Project
I found him (a fellow Brit, Toby) through an article in the January/February edition of Orion magazine, called "Dark Ecology".
Cheers.
P.S. I hope that I never... mature, Toby. ;-)

Tao Jonesing said...

@Toby,

I am looking at arranging a business trip to Munich in time for Oktoberfest. My sister lives in Copenhagen, and I am hoping to meet up with her and her husband.

So, I look forward to testing your theory of my conversation skills when alcohol is involved. I'm even happy to make my way up to Berlin to run the gauntlet.

"You say we don't have to be dualistic, which implies choice. But for people to be informed enough and have enough time to make actual choices, society must create that space and make that information openly available. We are far from that place."

Actually, I think it is okay for people to NOT make choices. Most people just want to be, and that should be okay.

My point is that Cartesian dualism pretends to be descriptive but, in fact, seeks to be prescriptive. That's part of the double truth/lie of pretty much all Western political philosophy. Yes, there is a natural inclination for humanity to be enamored with the thought of an ascertainable, immutable Truth that leads them to boil everything down to Truth and its opposite, but the fact is, most people just don't care, one way or the other, and we should not force them to care or exploit them because they don't. But that's what we do. Civilization has been designed to exploit those who don't care and mislead those who do, all for the benefit of those who refuse to choose between caring and not caring about a Truth that does not exist except for one brief moment at a time. Truth is not static but dynamic, ever-changing, and Western philosophy studiously ignores that possibility in order to exploit its reality.

Debra said...

My aphorism for the day, which I rather like :
The freedom that you enjoy today was paid for by the blood, sweat, and tears of your fathers yesterday, and will be the yoke of your children tomorrow.
Not quite Nietzsche, maybe, but I'm getting there. :-)

Toby said...

Sorry for the tardy responses from me, my MA plus the extravagant commute are taking their toll.


Debbie, I have not yet looked at that chap's work, but mean to soon. Maybe give be another nudge; I'm getting old. Nice wisdom-quote!


Tao, that's very exciting, I look forward to meeting you in person. My family and I are in the UK from 26 September until 8 October, and I'm only good for weekends due to the commute. If you'd like to visit Berlin on the second, third or fourth weekend of October, you'd be very welcome in our flat. We have oodles of space. Get in touch with me: tobythdrussellcom should do the trick. If I don't get a mail from you soon, I'll prod you with another comment here...

Agree with your comments on forcing this issue, and with the freedom/right not to care. One caveat though would be that a different paradigm and education system/arrangement would produce a different relationships with knowledge acquisition, philosophy, etc. But whatever the truth of that turns out to be, force may not be a part of it.

Debra said...

Tao, I disagree with you about the supposed indifference of the "masses".
The "masses" may be indifferent about metaphysical truth, which always was the predilection of the clerics, (and modern scientists...) but democratization means vulgarization, of knowledge, too. Witness your discussions with Toby around how to get the "message" out.
At an intimate, basic, level "truth" is concerned with trust, and ascertaining who you can count on, and who you can't. (Incidentally, not everybody who you can't count on is a liar, and a cheat. There are unreliable people who are neither. They are just.. unreliable.) Etymologically, truth is concerned with this, and that makes it a preoccupation for every member of society, at many crucial moments of his/her life.
Ironically, the choice between caring, and not caring may be what Adam Smith sought to develop in his philosophy which was not.. economic.
I believe that one of the functions of money is to open up the possibility of not caring, in exchange.
I said.. the possibility, not the imperative...
Description tends to become prescription over time, anyway. That is corruption at work. The way of the world, and a good reason to be very leery of utopia.
Have a good time in Berlin, if you go.

Tao Jonesing said...

@Debra,

I will find a way to get to Berlin in the next few months, whether on the company's dime or on my own. My sister and I were close growing up, and I'd like to see her and her husband before their normal two year cycle brings them back to the States. I'd be happy to meet you, too (in France, right), as challenging as I find some of your positions. Being in the same room with you for awhile likely will help us both understand each other better.

I get what you are saying with all the philoso-speak, but I choose to disagree. It would be easy to judge others for not being as intelligent, as driven, as accomplished, as well-read, etc., as I am, but what is the point? Yes, doing so would mean that I would have to swallow my pride less often, and I'd have the chance of being the arrogant prick that most people seem to want to be, but to what end? People who have a weak grasp on power have a driving need to display what little they have. I have no need to display my power. I am comfortable with it.

I do not advocate "democratization" primarily because I don't think the masses want that kind of responsibility, they just want to be alone. But we elites could not leave them alone, so we enclosed the commons and drove them into our wet dream of enslaving the world. I can't punish them for the poverty we inflicted upon them.

Finally, the very concept of "truth" is vulgar. There is no such thing as a static truth in s dynamic world. Plato and Aristotle were the first to vulgarize "Truth," not me. They are the ones who made an art of a "Truth" that had two opposite meanings. What kind of truth is that?

Tao Jonesing said...

@Toby,

Thanks for the invitation. I will be in touch by email very soon.

Debra said...

Tao, I know that I get on your nerves...
Actually, I'm not sure if I'm an elite or not...
1) My husband and I sat down last weekend and filled out a disgusting document for my son and daughter in law's rental agency, guaranteeing to pay the rent on their apartment for nine years should they not be solvent.
This is rather ironic, considering that my son and daughter in law's combined income at 25 years old is greater than my husband's and mine (which is 0...) at over 60 now. Yes, we have a house, and that counts a lot, but it does not count as liquidity, and could not bail out the agency, if there were a problem.
So... on the money and property count, I don't think I muster grade as an elite. And for the past year or so, I have worn the same skimpy Chinese made green viscose dress that I have even repaired on several occasions (shoddy, but sexy, I think...). Largely because I treat clothes like "doudous", as we say in French : teddy bears, or whatever you like, and because I am lazy. And I buy hardly any convenience foods, and cook from almost scratch.
I will grant you, that in the topsy turvy world that we live in, I just returned from a day in the mountains with a friend : hike, a nice, relaxed swim in a local lake, without tons of people. Maybe having that kind of time makes me an elite... but... is it my fault that I have unmarketable literature diplomas ? I think not. (Correction : my fault for the diplomas, not my fault for their being unmarketable, which is passing stupid to boot, in my opinion.)
I am curious, and like thinking from scratch too : from day to day issues to philosophical, from the bottom up.
We have driven the same car since 1996. One car. My husband works at home. I worked at home, until my private practice bottomed out.
So... are you sure that I think I am an elite ?
For whatever possible reasons could I think that I am an elite ?
I have noticed that since public and private education started bottoming out, the little smattering of knowledge I had, (even better, I have been acquiring wisdom through the years) and the larger smattering I have gleaned from self education, now appear colossal, but then... in what way am i responsible for that ?
As for being arrogant, sometimes I am, and sometimes I'm not.
I'm not a great fan of humility and modesty these days.
People... in power need to cultivate those traits.
People... who are not in power, well, maybe the need for them is more debatable ? (Correction : it is important for me to be humble and modest with people who do not come from my walks of life, but... the others ??)
I am very very tired of the Disneyland world that a dumbed and watered down Christian culture inflicts on us these days.
On the idea that only insecure people need to promote themselves, I think that this one is rather... naïve. Maybe it's true, but maybe not. At 57, I don't feel experienced or qualified enough to cast judgment on that one.
I would be delighted to invite you to my dinner table.
Even to stay for the night if you like.
Hospitality... now there's the most sacred virtue I know.

Tao Jonesing said...

@Debra,

By any definition, I am among the elite, so you being "elite" is not my problem with you, and never was.

Want to guess again?

:-)

Debra said...

Internet is not a good medium for guessing, Tao.
If I could see.. your eyes, read your lips, and your body, it would be easier...
I remember when you thought that I was a closet Asperger syndrome male..
Am I getting warmer ?
;-)

Tao Jonesing said...

@Debra,

Sort of.

If I were to try to put into words, I'd say that I have a big problem when somebody uses himself as the measuring stick by which to judge the rest of humanity, and you seem to do that a great deal. My problem is twofold. First, applying that kind of metric legitimates somebody with more power than you applying her own metric against to you on the path to justifying your elimination. Second, who is any of us to judge the value of others based solely on who they are and what they do (as opposed to the consequences of their actions)?

Does that help?

Debra said...

Tao... I think that you have fallen into the Christian trap on this one. Trying to be too nice, and unwittingly holding other people accountable to your standards for yourself. (My daddy was very good at this one.)
My bark is worse than my bite, anyway.
Ask Toby.
Look at this site, over the.. years that Toby and I have been discussing.
A while ago, I figured out that I was not the same person, depending on who I was with.
With Toby, I am not a closet Asperger type. (the skimpy dress doesn't go with the male part...)
With other people.. I can be a steamroller.
Being a steamroller doesn't stop me from occasionally being able to poke fun at myself, and say, hey, I was wrong, etc.
And I like very colorful language.
I don't want to live... or die in a Disneyland world.
Nor do I want to contribute to the enhancement of the anthill mentality in any way either.
Really, Tao... why not... reserve your judgment until you've had dinner at my place ?
And why think that I am necessarily passing judgment ? What kind of judgment ?
...
It's funny, but in France, any kind of selection is taboo. You're not supposed to single ANYBODY out of the anthill. Because singling somebody out is unfair, unjust, "elitist", etc. Influence.
And the French are horrible at selecting job candidates, school candidates, the whole bit.
They feel so collectively GUILTY about picking somebody out of the lot.
That's why they resort to stupid (yes, that's a judgment, I admit...) multiple choice tests that are corrected by mind numbed people in power (oops, they may even be computer corrected now...) in order to avoid any whiff of "unfairness".
If you don't understand that you're not going to arrive at a system where your advantages don't carry some considerable disadvantages, well.. what can I say ? It seems to me that way too many utopian people really don't understand this..
End of gripe.

Tao Jonesing said...

@Debra,

If I have fallen into a trap, it is not a Christian one, I assure you.

That being said, I recognize that I am often too romantic in my outlook and too willing to defend the defenseless simply from a sense of duty (or "honor," if you will).

And recognizing that fact is why I'm open to trying to understand and explain why I react the way I do to some of the things you say from time to time. I have no need or desire to cling to that particular emotion, however, so in that sense I don't believe I have judged you as a person, but I will admit to having judged some of the things you have said and done.

I do look forward to meeting you and Toby in person, and I'm sure that we will enjoy each other's company quite a lot. My experience in stepping out from behind the Tao Jonesing persona and meeting fellow travelers in real life is how much MORE there is to say and share with others who thrive on thinking, analyzing, and learning about the world around them.

Debra said...

Thank you, Tao, for what you just said.
I am sure that we have many things in common, that we can share.
You, like Toby, may be interested in the Dark Mountain Project, and Uncivilisation.
Toby, I am now gently prodding you to check out the link, as you asked... ;-)
http://dark-mountain.net/

Tao Jonesing said...

@Debra,

There are some surface-level similarities between the Dark Mountain Project and my "Project," so I find it of interest. I sense some significant differences, though, but it is too early to articulate them or even confirm that they exist. Happy to chat by email and discover more. Thanks.