Badass Motherfucker

I thought about you a few weeks ago. I wondered what you’d think of my band and, more importantly, what you would think of my vocals. We haven’t spoken in a while, years, but when we jammed back in high school (almost 8 years ago now) and you treated me and my fellow guitarist at the time to an excellent performance of Cradle of Filth’s rendition of “Hallowed Be Thy Name” I remember thinking, “Fuck, I wish I could do that.” Now I’m a vocalist too, and I can do that, and I wanted you to see.

I guess the most important question I wondered was, “What would you think of me?” I know exactly what I think of you; you are the most badass motherfucker I have ever met. That’s what I tell everybody; even though years have gone by and we haven’t spoken much, you are the person I enjoy arguing is the most badass motherfucker I have ever met.

I would argue this because when your honor was insulted, you did not let it slide—and when the honor of the people you cared for was offended, you would make the offender realize his mistake. The best part about arguing this were the specific stories illustrating your badassery, often involving a fist to some unlucky offender’s face. Violence wasn’t always the answer, but it was an option you weren’t afraid to take.

You weren’t without your vices, but you weren’t without your humility when brought to face them. When you did something wrong, you owned it and you apologized if an apology was called for. You were quick to listen to reason and always sought to cut through the bullshit of an argument—there was no point “getting mired in petty shit”, because you were above that. When things went wrong, your resolve rarely wavered, and if it was, you bounced back promptly, often meeting bad circumstances with good humor. That’s the sort of strength I admire in you.

When we were friends, you used to teach me a lot; more of a teacher by example than by instruction.

When I thought about you a few weeks ago I considered messaging you, but I figured we’d catch up eventually. That was a mistake. Nothing now can change my stupid decision then and, don’t worry, I’m not stressing that anything I could have reasonably done then would have changed how things are now: That’s the petty sort of shit that you warned me about.

You’ve taught me something recently though, not through instruction but again by example; you taught me not to ignore those opportunities to remind someone that you’re thinking of them and to touch base, even if it’s something small. One doesn’t always get that chance to catch up and when the opportunity arises one should seize it. I may not have told you directly about the impact you’ve made in my life, but I hope you knew about it.

You are a badass motherfucker. You are missed. I wish I could tell you.

What is a friend?

Rotten AppleWhat is a friend?

Is it enough to be friendly? Is it enough to be trustworthy? Can a bad person be a good friend? Can a good person be a bad friend?

How well must I know someone before I can justly consider them my friend?

Can I have friends that are better friends than others? Is a bad friend a friend at all? How about when a good friend does a bad thing to a good friend? Is that even possible for a good friend?

Is my good friend characterized by how much I care or is he characterized by how good he is at being my friend? Who are my good friends? Who are my best friends? Is she my best friend because she is my closest friend? Or is he my best friend because he’s the best at being a friend? Is there a difference?

Is a friend someone I enjoy hanging out with? Is it someone I hang out with often? Is hanging out in person necessary for a true, meaningful friendship?

What is a friend?

What are my responsibilities as a friend towards my friends? What are their responsibilities towards me and what should I expect? Do friends have responsibilities towards one another to begin with? Friendship should at least be reciprocated, right?

Is being a friend characterized by being a friend? What I mean to ask is: Is being a friend something we do or accomplish? Or is “friend” merely a label we bestow upon people whimsically and arbitrarily?

Should I have a standard for a person to measure up to before I consider one a friend?

Should I respect the views of my friend even when they’re wrong? Even when it would lead to unavoidable harm? Do I respect his autonomy and let him make a bad decision? Or do I care for her well-being and do my best to prevent her from making a mistake?

Should I continue to be a friend to someone who has become a bad person or a bad friend? Does being a friend come at the cost of myself? Or is a friendship mutually beneficial?

What is the role of a friend in the life of another friend?

I had a friend and then he died: Is he still my friend?

I had a friend and then he changed: Is he still my friend? Is he the same friend?

I had a friend who told me he didn’t want to be my friend anymore. He doesn’t talk to me, maybe he doesn’t even think about me, but I think about him. Do I miss my “friend”? Is he my friend even though he doesn’t consider himself my friend? Am I justified in calling him my friend?

Am I justified in saying “I miss my friend”?

I had a friend who I betrayed, disregarded, and treated as if he had never meant anything to me — but still, I think of him as one of the best friends I have ever had; am I right in thinking so?

How can I be a good friend to some and a bad friend to others? How can I be both a good person and a bad? If an apple is only half rotten, it is rotten apple — can the same be said of a person?

I want to be a good person. I want to be a good friend.

“What is a friend?”

I think have an answer.

Concerning Fools

In a RelationshipOn April 1st, 2014, I announced my romantic relationship with another male friend of mine, publicly, on Facebook. Immediately the comments and messages started flooding in.

Some messages were simply shocked, not knowing that I “played for that team” or that I “loved man meat” while suspiciously noting that they thought this had to be some sort of a joke. Other friends messaged me, explicitly addressing their feelings of jealousy or envy for my new partner, but for the most part most were incredibly supportive; a very pleasant surprise:

okay, my son is gay. I’m okay with that” “You’re so brave!” “This Oleg character is quite attract. Good for you!” “Congrats buddy” “But but justin-chan how are we to wed now?!” “The rainbow flag has been posted in front of your door.” (I’m sure some of these commentators were well aware of my ruse.)

April Fools’ Day is one of my favorite “holidays” and it’s one of the few I celebrate. However, when pressed on my  foolery I am usually quick to reveal that it was simply a jest. April Fools’ Day is the one day of the year where I can lie without reservation or guilt for the purposes of fun and silliness and I do enjoy a great prank!

Now, before I am criticized for making light of “coming out” or of homosexuality in general, consider this: Would this criticism stand if I had made a joke about being in a relationship with someone of the opposite gender identity? I am convinced that this initial criticism betrays a double standard.

In response to one comment I said, “I don’t discriminate. Love is love.” This is truly my view and I realize it is not the predominate one. That said, just because some other people have different values than my own, doesn’t mean I have to play by their rules or conduct myself according to their [flawed] standards. If you agree with me, that we should be treating homosexual relationships as equal to heterosexual ones and that partners of any gender combination should be afforded the same rights as others, then I hope you wouldn’t have a problem with me joking about the two as though they were equal because this is truly my view.

This digression aside, I’d like to address the point of this article, that is, concerning fools. On this I have one thing to say:

Some people were fooled yesterday, but some people are simply fools.

The FoolI hope the rest of you had a great April Fools’ Day!

Esse

Singer Sargent, John - Atlas and the Hesperides

Singer Sargent, John – Atlas and the Hesperides

I’ve gone through quite the ordeal. It’s affected my academic studies, philosophical writing and thinking, perception of myself, attitudes towards relationships, and overall productivity. The details don’t matter so much as the consequences. This article is a mix of a few journal entries and the resulting philosophy that arose as the results of my actions. September 8th was easily the worst day of my life, the following months of dealing with the fallout have been.. difficult. As Epictetus says, “It is difficulties that show what men are.” As for what I am… I haven’t exactly shined in the last few weeks, but the act of purifying a metal doesn’t happen all at once, it’s a process.

That being said, this article is divided into three parts.

The first part, “Unfinished Thoughts,” is my reflections over the preceding month — still in the midst of the fallout of recent catastrophes. It is where I began to question myself.

The second part, “Psalm 91,” follows a few days after “Unfinished Thoughts.” This entry shows the initial fruits of my reflections and sets the stage for following weeks.

The final part, “Rebuilding,” comes near at the end of a month of living in accordance with the philosophy developing in “Psalm 91.”

Just as a heads up, these are long and rich in adolescent angst as I wasn’t intending to write these for an audience (probably full of typos too). I think it’s important, however, to see how my inner thoughts have progressed in order to get a better understanding of where my expressed thoughts originate. I haven’t written much of my own philosophy on my blog in a long time, but in the light of recent of revelations I feel I will have plenty to write on and the motivation to do so.

Unfinished Thoughts (October 4th, 2013)
I have decided that something needs to change. I’ve been relatively the same person for a while and… it hasn’t gotten me far — at least not as far as I could have gone had I been a slightly different person. I often took pride in saying that I was a very stable, steadfast person — but… something needs to change.

As an atheist, I still cling to vestiges of my Christian morality.
As a materialist, I still hold to some sort of immaterial idealism.
As a skeptic, I still believe that some truths are certain.
As a pessimist, I still remain hopeful; what for?

I maintain rigid standards pertaining to what I expect of people and from myself and, without fail, these standards are never met. I realize now that these “standards” seem to function more as limitations than as guidelines. No longer do they inspire, only impede. Perhaps the direction I seem to be advancing towards is a way of hitting rock bottom, but I see it as finding a new foundation.

I sacrificed definite pleasure for possible fulfillment and it has left me empty. I’ve maintained that love and happiness aren’t feelings, they are states of mind — ways of living, ways of thought… but I believe now that I was just deluding myself, once again, in the pursuit of unrealistic goals. Love is a feeling and the experience of happiness is nothing but another feeling constructed from many other pleasant sensations. Love, like all feelings, is fleeting. The disappointment of this realization will fade as well, either with the passage of time or of myself — but fade nonetheless.

The time has come for fight or flight — to become a different man or retreat into the comfort of past delusions.

Who am I and who am I to be? As a philosopher, I’ve held “Know thyself” as the one immutable and ineffable maxim by which all other insights can be revealed — but this strangely existential axiom is seen very differently through the lenses of different philosophies — materialism, idealism, rationalism, nihilism, etc.

Perhaps there is a sort of irony that the man who is best known for discussing knowledge of one’s self is the same man who claimed to be wise only because he knew nothing. Does anyone truly know themself? Better question: Can anyone?

In an attempt to discover myself, I have forged myself a new name, new friendships, severed old aspects of myself and ties to people in my past — my entire image and personality is a construct, which is to say, it is artificial.

The first question becomes: How does one find who they actually, naturally are? Simply by virtue of being human it would seem that anything we touch becomes invention. There seems to be nothing that is naturally us, except for those feelings which are ever fleeting — coming to us and leaving us just as quickly.

Anything beyond sensation — consideration, reflection, self-control — is artificial. And is that bad?

The second question becomes: Does it matter?

If we are thinking creaures, then it seems only natural that we think. If feelings would conflict with our reason, then it becomes a choice over which side will fold; to give in to desire, cravings, and sensation or to go in the direction of thought and reason — or perhaps it is a balancing act.

This spattering of thoughts, this shotgun blast of ideas, has been ricocheting through my head without letting me fully grasp anything. Every idea feels unfinished. I feel like I’m currently afloat, waiting for the hint of land, with nothing but more ocean in sight. Without a god, it would seem, that there is no hope of a dove returning to me with an olive branch during this deluge. And yet.. I have no faith. How can I believe?

I would give up eternity for just one moment. I would give everything away for just one thing.

One moment of certainty, just one absolute truth, is all I want. When even the most seemingly certain things can be dissolved under sufficient scrutiny — what can keep us grounded?

I have had my problems with trust in the past, especially in relationships, and once again I have learned this hard lesson. If I ever trust someone with all of myself ever again, if I ever let down my walls and defenses to trust anyone with all of my heart and mind (dare I say with all of my soul?), it will only be due to my own fallibility, weakness, and inability to stay true to reason.

Psalm 91 (October 8th, 2013)
I can see the incoming collision.

I have the ability to move out of the way, but I see it coming, and I welcome it. I see the pain it will cause, the people who will morn the loss of the boy they loved, the coming tragedy to those who could honestly say they cared and… I welcome it. I see the regret, the remorse, the mess it will make and, grudgingly, I welcome it.

I never wanted this — but I can’t bear it being any other way.

I can see the incoming collision; the collision of my morality and the rocks.

I was promised angels. He said He would command His angels to guard me that they would lift me up in their hands, so that I would not even dash my foot against a stone.

But.. I don’t see any angels here. In fact, I see nothing but the incoming rocks.

If man is truly the measure of all things, as the sophists said, then I have nothing to fear.
If there is nothing but matter and void, as the materialists said, I have nothing to fear.

I have always been fairly conservative, not in my political values, but in my morality. I’ve never been one for drinking, drugs, promiscuity, partying, self-destruction of any sort…

But, when I hit rock bottom, the parties will rock.

Rebuilding (November 6th, 2013)
O Crito, if it thus pleases the gods, thus let it be. Anytus and Melitus may kill me indeed, but hurt me they cannot.
–Socrates

That which makes the man no worse than he was makes his life no worse: it has no power to harm, without or within.
–Marcus Aurelius

I have let the actions of other people wound me and, ultimately, I have changed because of it — but I have a choice. Nothing has changed me, I have changed because I was weak — but even this weakness is a choice. I can choose to be scathed or I can choose to express apatheia. It is the choice not to falter in the face of hardship that defines virtue and lately I have been a very unvirtuous person. I’ve compromised my deepest principles and I’ve dishonored myself and others. I attempted suicide, but not physically; I attempted to kill what made me who I am.

I see myself as artificial; I am a construct. Each choice I make is another brick in the structure that is my self. What I’ve started to construct lately is ugly throughout and it needs to change.

Put simply, we are the sum of our decisions. It’s not who we are on the inside that defines us, but the actions we choose to express.

I have made the mistake of denying reason by living for a god and I have made the mistake of denying myself by living for another person and in response to the failure of the two I began to live for a sensation, for pleasure — but I’ve realized that the only worthy thing I have to live for is myself. Likewise, any other person should live for his or her own self. It’s only by first knowing yourself that you can know another; it is only by first loving yourself that you can truly love another. I’m not advocating selfishness here, but the cultivation of the self so one can flourish with others.

First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
–Jesus

I recently confessed my transgressions to someone and it seems the thing I was most ashamed of was that I had begun heeding Ayn Rand — but now I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing. One thing she wrote in particular struck me and, over the past few months I’ve contemplated it, I’ve decided that it is a better foundation than any for where to begin repairing the wreckage I’ve made of my self: I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.

If I could do it now, I would brand myself with those words, this oath. I will never let another person wound me as I’ve been so wounded. I will never live for another or by another again.

To be the man I want to be, the man I should be — nothing seems more natural, more authentic, or more virtuous than this.

Old Writings on Existence

Parmenides
My first experience with philosophy was through my study of theology and apologeticsI had initially wished to become a powerful and learned Christian theologian when I first set out on my scholarly pursuits. 

The first experience I can recall of a secular approach to philosophy was through a work of Parmenides. I was reading the fragmentary poem On Nature and reflecting on its implications when I wrote (on September 1, 2009) what would be my first philosophical essaywhich I had shortly afterward separated into two parts.

The first part of my essay deals with the notion of that which is and that which is not. The second part was a further look into the fallibility of the senses at perceiving what is. The essays are both very amateur, but I am about to endeavor in the most advanced philosophy class I have ever taken and I felt it would be a good exercise to look back at what I used to think and what I think now to prepare myself for how I might change over the course of the next few months. I wasn’t familiar with any philosophical jargon and wouldn’t understand until years later that the first solely philosophical thought I would express would be on the topic of epistemology.

The following are my essays with the fragment of Parmenides’ poem that moved me to begin writing. After rereading it, I haven’t changed any of my phrasing, only a few typos (with spelling and punctuation) that I felt could not be overlooked. I also can’t help but notice that I never cited anything back when I was writing for myself and it’s possible that I plagiarized, or at least paraphrased, a quote that had greatly impacted me from The Matrix near the end of my second essay. 

Existence I: Argument for Parmenides

For never shall this prevail, that things that are not, are.
Thinking and the thought that it is are the same; for you will not find thought apart from what is, in relation to which it is uttered.
For thought and being are the same.
It is necessary to speak and to think what is; for being is, but nothing is not.

We cannot think of what is not, and thus cannot speak of it. Also, that which can be thought of, or spoken of, must exist.

The Chimera, the mythological offspring of Typhon and Echidna, having the body of a lioness, a goat’s head protruding from it’s spine, and a tail which terminates in a snake’s head — a creature, such as this cannot exist. It is impossible for the anatomy of a lioness, a goat, and a snake to be merged into one being in the likeness aforementioned and this impossibility can be further expanded on to say that a living creature of this sort could not be born of another beast.

It wouldn’t be foolish to say then, “I can think of it, speak of it, describe it in detail. I can even draw a picture of it. Does that mean it exists? Such a claim is ridiculous, and would surely disprove what you said! If it cannot exist, yet I can think of it: I can think of what is not.”

This argument is based on the assumption that existence is merely something that exists in a tangible state of being. If that is the case, then the only things that exist are what we can understand with our senses, but what of thought? What of imagination? Ideas exist in a state of intangibility and can even become tangible by sharing them through words. But still the idea itself exists only within a mind.

The Chimera exists, because the parts which make it up exist. A lioness exists, and therefore can be thought of and spoken of. The same is true for the snake and the goat. Because the parts exist, we are able to assemble it using our imaginations. This is because our thinking of things is object dependent.

Now take into consideration the entire spectrum of colors. Every color that you have seen and can recall are made of different combinations of other colors, with the primary colors being Red, Yellow and Blue. There is no color that can be created without using a combination of these primary colors and no colors combined outside of themselves can recreate them.

Imagine now, a forth primary color. A color composed of neither red, yellow, or blue, which when added to any of them would create entirely new colors. You cannot.

Existence II: Argument for Reality

All color is is a sensation on the eye as the result of the way an object reflects or emits light, with black being the absence of light and white being the entire spectrum of colors being merged into one.

Light, is merely electromagnetic radiation whose wavelengths fall within the range to which the human retina responds. White light consists of an equal mixture of all visible wavelengths (colors) and can be separated to yield any color which we can perceive. This is not to say that other colors do not exist, but simply we can only see within a very limited range, between 390 angstroms and 740 angstroms. For a long time this spectrum was all that we knew of. It is still all we see, but with our ever-expanding knowledge of science and the development of spectroscopy, it is clearly not all that exists.

So is existence merely what we can perceive? Has what existed changed simply because we now understand it? Of course not.

Take into consideration a blind man. He is unable to see, he is completely sightless. His eyes do not recognize light and because of this, he does not see color. Try to explain to him the color of the sky or the difference between red and blue. He cannot fathom it because he cannot sense it. His perception of reality is entirely different than our own, but what exists has not changed.

What can be perceived has no bearing on what actually exists and to think that we can know all of what exists solely based on what we can perceive is foolish and vain. If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain and all of the same sensations can be recreated, demonstrated and simulated within a computer.

Reality is what exists. But who can know it?

The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest

Everyday, everyone is faced with decisions that must be made in the light of their personal ethical obligations. Sometimes these choices are complex with many pros and cons to take into consideration and at other-times they are undemanding enough to consider even momentarily. These situations may involve our perceived duties as friends or parents. They may be as controversial as whether or not to have an abortion or whether we should cheat on an exam or spouse. As I begin to write this, I cannot give a generalized maxim that can be implemented when faced with these dilemmas (however challenging or un-challenging they may be). I have not written any brilliant aphorisms that answer these situations. What I will do is try to consider and point out something that, quite lamentably, remains unconsidered in people’s day-to-day lives. The problem I wish do deal with is the importance of being earnest and, more specifically, the importance of sharing earnest positivity.

Generally, when caught in the heat of the moment, we are quick to say something we will undoubtedly regret later – “I wish we had never met,” “I hate you,” or “I can’t believe you’re MY child.” Too often, the damage we have dealt with these thoughtless, reckless words are not easily remedied. A lifetime of friendship or partnership can be brought to a quick collapse with a declarative statement spoken without any forethought — however true for the moment that statement might be. A cautionary gem found in the Epistle of James advises us to be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath. Perhaps this is the maxim we could live by, by which many of the problems brought about by a loose tongue and quick temper would be solved. Unfortunately, these are difficult instructions to abide by. When negativity in the form of anger runs rampant onto the scene we are often dragged along on the calamitous ride.

Seemingly slaves to our feelings, it appears that it is much easier to be obedient to the devil on our shoulder than the angel on our other. What a better world it would be if our nice and constructive thoughts were the first to reach our tongue rather than the malicious and destructive ones. There is a certain importance in being earnest positively, one with clear consequential outcomes. If this is so, why is it the case that we give voice to negativity more often than positivity? Why is it that the majority of us are ready to criticize mistakes than praise accomplishments — however minor?

Imagine what relationships could have been salvaged if before that tipping point of frustration there had already been a strong foundation of open and earnest compassion, understanding, or kindness. It seems clear that we should never assume that someone knows we care, we should tell them. We should never assume that someone knows we love them, we should tell them. One maxim I have picked up on making assumptions is that when you assume, you make an ass out of u and me.

According to some professors I have spoken to as well as some online websites, there seems to be an understanding that performing 5 acts of appreciation and acknowledgment to every 1 negative interaction can fix a relationship or keep it healthy. You’d think that people who are in love with each other would find such advice superfluously and unnecessarily spoken — “Of course we should focus our energies to engaging in more positive over negative interactions,” they might say. Why, then, is it so hard? We want to be happy and we want the people we love to be happy — so why does creating unhappiness come easier?

Another thought to consider, according to suicide.org, in the United States in 2001 “Suicide [was] the third leading cause of death for young people aged 15-24 year olds.” I wonder how many of these suicides, committed at the start of these people’s lives, could have been prevented if some of the kinder words we keep to ourselves had not gone unexpressed? How many lives could have been spared if we had not assumed that they knew we cared already? How much potential was lost as a result of our unspoken positivity or our outspoken negativity?

I have been told, “If you have nothing nice to say, then don’t say anything” — but this seems to be only one side of the coin (and the other side of the coin remains without a popular and quotable maxim). Regardless, the aforementioned aphorism is one I disagree with. Above being nice, it is important to be truthful. For statements of fact, opinion, or belief to hold any weight they must be true and spoken in absolute earnest. Perhaps what you have to say is not very nice, but it could be a vital truth — and it is better to be rude than to be dishonest. Even in less dire situations, such as someone asking their partner, “Does this outfit make me look fat?” it is important that the partner responds earnestly and honestly — if not, then any further compliments may end up being disregarded as mere flattery. It is honesty in difficult scenarios that makes all other words meaningful.

Even storybook villains come to the conclusion that, “Only enemies speak the truth; friends and lovers lie endlessly, caught in the web of duty.” — but perhaps we can change that.

It is in this mode of thought that it seems important to be earnest not just in uncomfortable and unpleasant conversations but also when we can encourage and inspire. If I could propose a new maxim, I would recommend people to: be earnest and honest in all dealings, good and bad — and to be unreserved with the good. Words unabiding by this maxim seem to be empty flatteries and wasted breath.

Christopher Hitchens

What is lost when we die and what remains? Do we leave an impression behind? Will that impression simply wash away? All the rivers run into the sea and still the sea is not filled.

The wisest words I have read on death to were written by Marcus Aurelius.

If any god told you that you shall die tomorrow, or certainly on the day after to-morrow, you would not care much whether it was on the third day or on the next, unless you had a very degraded spirit for how small is the difference? So think it no great thing to die after as many years as you can count rather than tomorrow.

Think continually how many physicians are dead after often fretting over the sick; and how many astrologers after predicting with great pretensions the deaths of others; and how many philosophers after endless discourses on death or immortality; how many heroes after killing thousands; and how many tyrants who have used their power over men’s lives with terrible insolence as if they were immortal; and how many cities are entirely dead, so to speak, Helice and Pompeii and Herculaneum, and innumerable others. Add to the total all whom you have known, one after another. One man after burying another has been laid out dead, and another buries him: and all this in a short time. To conclude, always observe how ephemeral and worthless human things are, and what was yesterday a little mucus to-morrow will be a mummy or ashes. Pass then through this little space of time in the way of nature, and end your journey in contentment, just as an olive falls off when it is ripe, blessing nature who produced it, and thanking the tree on which it grew.

Be like the cliff against which the waves continually break, but which stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it.

In reading Christopher Hitchens’ last Vanity Fair article, before his death yesterday, you can read the thoughts of a man who lived as such a cliffstanding firm against turbulent waters. Battered by cancer and the radiation to combat it, he pressed on to a bitter end but left behind sweet memories to those, such as I, that regard him as the intellectual hero he was.

Christopher Hitchens will be sorely missed and fondly remembered.