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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.

Gorgias Explains the Cave

Gorgian Cave

[Upon seeing the perplexed expression of his disciples, Gorgias continued.]

Now the cave, or den, is the world as it is, the ever-living Fire is power, the shadows are the visions that those with the power create, the chains are those ideas which would keep our minds subject to the conventions of mores and virtues and norms, the way upwards is the path of folly, and in the emptiness at the mouth of the cave are the virtues of the void.

He who pursues the virtues of the void journeys in vain; he is unwilling to descend into political assemblies and courts of law because his mind is still prisoner to the chains of fantastic ideals. He wishes to remain in the realm of those who have never in their lives understood the relation of the shadow to the substance.

Visions come in two ways; they are either that which is forced upon us or that which we force upon others. A man of sense will distinguish between them.

The man whose visions are foisted upon those of the prisoners we deem powerful, and pity the other.

There is a further lesson taught by this parable of ours. Some persons fancy that instruction is like giving eyes to the blind, but we say that the faculty of sight was always there, and that the soul only requires to be turned round towards the truth.

Other strengths are almost like bodily habits, and may be acquired in the same manner, but he who has true power is divine and is indestructible, returning either to bondage or to freedom according to the direction given.

Did you never observe how the mind of an intelligent man peers out of his eyes, and the more clearly he sees, the more greatness he achieves? This is because he is not bound in the way of others – he is free. He is such a person who has been cut away from those leaden weights of virtue which keep his eyes transfixed on the shadows, whose intelligence has been turned round. He has beheld the truth as clearly as he now discerns his meaner ends.

Then now comes the question: How shall such a man become their rulers; what way is there from weakness to power?

The Cave of Gorgias

Cave of Gorgias

[Gorgias, speaking to his disciples.]

Imagine human beings living in an underground den whose mouth is obscured by a winding, ascending tunnel. These people have been there from childhood, having their necks and legs chained, and can only see into the den.

At a distance there is an ever-living Fire, and between the Fire and the prisoners a raised way. A low wall has been built along the way, like the screen over which marionette players show their puppets.

Behind the wall there are moving figures, who hold in their hands various works of art; among them are images of men and animals, wood and stone. Some of the passers-by are talking and others remain silent. Due to an echo which returns from the wall, the voices of the passers-by seem to proceed from the shadows.

These prisoners are people like us, seeing only the shadows of the images which the Fire throws on the wall of the den; to these they give names.

Suppose now that one were to suddenly turn them round and make them look with pain and grief to themselves at the artifacts in front of the flame; will they believe them to be real? Will not their eyes be dazzled, and will they not try to get away from the light of the Fire to something which they are able to behold without blinking?

And suppose further, that you are one of these prisoners but unlike the others– and your bonds had been loosened, would you not traverse the steep and rugged ascent towards the mouth of the cave? Would you not pursue the Light of lights which illuminates the world beyond the cave in its radiance?

What would become of you if you moved to the threshold of the cave and found naught but darkness — void of anything? When you have discovered that the shadows on the walls are but illusions of the Fire and that these illusions are all that is – what becomes of you and your lofty ideals?

Upon knowing the truth, you cannot bind yourself as the prisoners have been bound – for now you are free and your options stand thus: jump into the void and become as nothing or return to the prisoners and, in the shadow of truth, exercise dominion over them. How worthless to you will seem the honors and glories of the just! For now you are free.

In returning to that underground dwelling, will you not see more clearly after having been exposed to the darkest dark? The light of the Fire will become ever-more brilliant and you can join, upon that wall, the casters of shadow by whom the realities of the prisoners are shaped!