The Yoke of Intellectuality: an Albert Einstein Case Study

The yoke of intellectuality

I apologize that this will not and cannot apply but to a few readers, but I think within our social spheres it is important to attempt to understand and empathize with all personalities, so that we can better live with one another and care for one another.

In that justification and in a need just to explain things to myself (which I believe is why I say everything that I talk about and write about – I work through ideas by communicating them. Just ask Michelle, the most patient listener to random mind-spews in the world)…

What was I saying? Oh, right. The yoke of intellectuality. By way of introduction, I am reading a fantastic biography of Einstein by Albrecht Fölsing, translated into English. I love it for it’s command of both biography and easy way of explaining the physics and science in a way that helps you to understand it per se, as well as apply it to what it meant Einstein himself.

The History

In the midst of rising success in the early 1910s, we find Einstein and his first wife Mileva and their two children moving around the German and Hungarian empires (pre-WWI), from their favorite home of Zurich, to lonely Prague, where German-speaking people were a minority, back again to Zurich.

Even in the early days, just after Albert and Mileva finished college, when Albert received his doctorate and Mileva, also a physicist, was denied hers in the final examination, and we see her take a sad but understandable turn toward depression and insecurity. Not only had she worked for years for something she did not obtain, but Albert’s parents were also strongly against the relationship. Being with Albert tended to isolate her from other positive relationships. Even so, she seems to have been a very dedicated and loving mother to their children after their marriage. Their first child, conceived a while before they were married, ended up being given up for adoption because of how poor Albert nudge Mileva were at that point in their lives. To this day, no one has been able to find out what happen to Albert’s first daughter; she has disappeared from history. One can only imagine how the loss of a child in such a way plagued their souls.

Much later in their relationship we see signs of a “schismogenesis”. That’s a good technical word for when two people or groups start to split apart. “Completmentary schismogenesis” is when (if you ever want to sound really smart) one person or group reacts in a manner that makes the other group react in an opposite manner and these reactions increase in severity over time. For example, when some people want to be listened to they will speak louder, others will speak softer to draw attention. When these two types of people talk to each other and feel that the other is not listening, one will begin to talk louder and louder and the other softer and softer. Our different ways of reacting to the same circumstances is a cause of a lot of conflict, especially when you take into consideration that one party doesn’t understand why the other party reacted in that way and therefore does not empathize, but gets more frustrated by the “failure” of the other party to react properly.

This is how it played out in Albert and Mileva’s relationship it seems. Albert was extremely driven and focused and responded to stress by working harder. He was self-assured, but not overly so. Mileva, being very insecure, was extremely jealous of any one else Albert spent his time with – and not just women, but the male friends Albert had as well. At one point, Mileva’s outbursts almost caused an international scandal. As she became more and more dependent, Albert wanted to be more and more independent. He started to perceive her as a hindrance to his work. She was depressed and ostracized by his family. Such problems might have gone on for years, because Albert had a strong sense of duty to her, but, as it often goes, he became interested in someone else. The pull from one side and the push from the other ultimately ended his first marriage.

Misunderstanding Each Other – Intellectual Aggression and Depression

Depression is something I have struggled with intensely in the past, and I have written blogs on those experiences. However, now I want to discuss an issue pertaining to Albert Einstein.

Now I am no Einstein, but I understand his strong inclination to his work, to his strong personality which felt little guilt and lingered over regret rarely, and his ultimate desire to be happy and do what he wanted at the same time. In this I have seen in him, in myself, and in others like me in this way, a desire to place an unnatural faith in one’s intellect and self-will: a belief in the ability to transcend emotional and spiritual pains, consequences to ourselves and others be damned.

I’m saying that there is a turn toward an abuse of our own emotions, inflicting a false apathy onto our pasts’ and our present selves, because we have justified in our own minds how we are stronger than that. I say this is a false apathy because even within it, like within my darkest episodes of depression, is a rejection and hatred of it which comes out into our physical lives in many ways: as anger, as coldness, and terror, as sadness, as anything but a calm rationality that is “beyond” emotion. We are never beyond emotion; proof of this is the very frustration emotion causes in our lives, a frustration compounded when we try to bury emotions instead of learning to deal with them appropriately.

I truly believe that the most genius people who repress their emotions and glide over the realities of internal battles and problems in themselves and their relationships are far worse off than those who have never experienced a reality beyond those emotional/spiritual needs, yet have dealt honestly and persistently with them. Stripped from honest dealings with emotions, intellectuality will eventually tear you apart in doubts and destroyed relationships.

In the midst of sky-high depression rates amongst college kids – children who are not taught nor have seen an emotional adulthood that deals honestly with emotions – I fear that secular slogans of “intellectual or self-empowerment” and an obsession with “objective facts” which somehow exist in a vacuum beyond humans dealing with them are all pushing students toward a transcendence of themselves and their relational problems which in reality does not exist. And that’s part of the reason for such confusion and devastation in us and in our relationships. We are trying to force ourselves beyond our ability, to jump into a pool of self-empowerment which simply does not exist. Humility is of the utmost importance as a virtue because it is the humble person who deals with themselves and others in the reality of where they really are, not in the prideful unreality of where they “should be”. This is the yoke of intellectualism that is choking us to death, pushing our faces to the dirt under an apathetic, inhuman burden we have put onto ourselves and that the older generation has been lumping on the younger in order to lighten their own load and guilt. Pushing ourselves to be something we are not, and to want something we do not want, ends no where else but in a personal explosion or implosion.

I wonder how different Albert and Mileva’s relationship would have been if it had been in a time where they could seek help in dealing with serious emotional immaturities; a time in which depression is a term used and at least has begun to be understood (and I know just how poorly). Mileva might have gotten help, but Albert? I wonder whether our world would even see any problem in him, or if they would, as history does now, simply champion an ends over means approach to life and science. I will also say that such an uncaring Albert did in no way exist. His struggles with relationships and with the consequences of his own scientific endeavors on others was constant and painful for him. Conscientious and emotionally unsure Albert is not the Einstein we meet in popular histories, where it is the no holds barred Einstein that is reconstructed to encourage the high-school and college intellectuals among us. There is a real man behind all of that, complete in all his successes and failures.

Until we see a retuned focus to relational, emotional and spiritual issues as important and not “base”, “vulgar”, and “beneath” intellectual pursuits, but rather vital for a true vitality of life in a world where we constantly have to deal with ourselves and others, we will be burdened. Until we remove our obsession with a “freedom from” others to say and do whatever we want, which is simply not the state of the interconnected world, we will be burdened under this yoke.

As a final note, some intellectuals put up a false fear of feeding the rampant “anti-intellectualism” in America in which those without some experience therefore find no worth in it. The irony of that perspective is anything but laughable. It is the desire, not intellectual demand, to meet each other and ourselves at a common level that makes any sort of cliquishness seem petty and pitiable.

A Path Out?

Our society is trying to fix mental illness and “rediscover” relationships while embracing some of it’s causes and symptoms. Not the physical causes which are certainly there, but the social exacerbations of these issues. “Mind” is a tool, not an end, just like emotions. They are on the same level, but with different functions. The end is a faith in and knowledge of God, to be quite honest. Without God, I constantly see a reversal of putting “mind” as God and God as subservient to “mind”. This type of self-glorification is a symptom of the very self-imposed yoke of intellectualizing ourselves, separating ourselves into parts and rejecting the whole – then doing the same to our heroes and then chasing after a figment of our imagination instead of learning from real lives.

There is no freedom from people around us, but that’s okay. Peace doesn’t come by accident, and it doesn’t come by making everything we think is “bad” in others illegal. Christianity is unique in this, that it teaches that its communities must strive to the point of its members giving up themselves and their wants in order to maintain a general unity of purpose. It teaches that through faith in Christ we can be free for the sake of each other: to encourage, to admonish, to push each other to be the best possible, and to catch those who fall to the lowest depths. That’s what I want, not just an intellectual sharing of ideas, though I desire that strongly as well. We need to try to understand each other’s reactions and then try to understand what we, individually, and we, as a society, are doing to either encourage depression and aggression, or dispel such in community.

Emotional Equilibrium

AKA Typewritten Impressionism

For reasons, I compiled four super-short stories, to be read in order. Why? I hope I can trust you to read them first, and leave the explanation until the end. Focus on your emotional state while reading each in succession, in one sitting.

And have fun, they aren’t meant to be literary masterpieces. :)

Deep breath now. (exhale)

 

Sociopathology
IT was the absences he noticed the most. It’s a truly amazing phenomenon, he thought, that at this moment none of her family cared about her or her body; they only cared about the absences. That new hole in her chest. The thoughts of living without her life. The lack of objects that would be brought into the home that might have been were she not, well, naught. Soon, there would be tape on the floor where her body lay, and that would again trace around something no longer existing, no longer real, no longer persuasive to a physical world of touchables.
HOW funny, he thought, looking at the family. How strange that they scramble to prevent that which has already happened.
He had already learned not to say those thoughts out loud. But he couldn’t help thinking it. If when we die we become an absence, do, when we become an absence to someone relationally, spacially, or temporally, we then die to some extent? Are we so contingent?
HE would write that down in his notebook later. A complex logic, death.
BY now they were all dumbly staring at him standing above it all, knife already cleaned and sheathed. The sun set outside; it was 7:29 in the evening – another note to write down.
HE liked the precision of dates and times.

 

Warmth
THE universe was alive and had become its own symbology as the sun reared the top of its mane into the window in roaring red: the red of blood and the red of the victor. The blood had started to come, as he stood quietly outside the observation window of the delivery room. She was giving birth, in that odd turn of phrase, as if, at that moment, she was giving life more than that life was demanding release. Such ‘giving’ is like that of an artist’s; when does the artist or poet put onto the page inspired strokes and words that are not his own? And yet, at the same time, the universal truth of his art is contingent on that same inspiration, those muses which burst forth from their heads and hands, coming out of its own will – intelligent, desiring, crying, covered in sticky life.
ART is giving to the world only that which has been given to you by God. All else is excess.
THAT is a beautiful baby, the doctor said beside him. You should be proud.
YES, proud, he spoke softly. He smiled as his wife caught his eyes. A new life on the horizon, and the sun agreed.

 

Slow/Fast
BEYOND the false blue contacts, her eyes forced upon her brain the image of a blonde in high heels stumbling out into what was probably the light of the city. The girl’s ears had begun to bleed from the noise of it all: the club music synced your heartbeat with its own, slowly depriving you of the sense of yourself. The pain of it just made Blue Eyes feel that much more alive, if life, as it was for her, meant being a part of what was around you. That’s what she was about – finding her experience in the great vicarious.
SHE eyed her first victim. Brunette this time, with a perfect white neck, slender, unadulterated and unadorned. She was drawn to that simplistic sterility, like the beauty of new stainless steel gears or freshly white, sharp teeth after leaving the dentist. The music had until now drowned out the migraine Blue Eyes, but the draw of it all meant that she was coming into herself again, becoming poignantly aware of her own pains and desires. The heroin no longer came to save her, no longer let her float through another’s dreams.
THE brunette left the circle of dancing bodies, that macabre, yet existential ritual of the club crowd; moved toward the rear to sit down at a shaded booth, for whatever reason – hopefully she hadn’t been drinking, that always diluted the experience. In a blur of practiced swiftness, Blue Eyes was sitting beside her. Time slowed; all eyes in the club went to blink, and in that moment time became a singularity of infinite vastness. She turned to the brunette and as the blood drained from the girl, those contacts covered the drugged dilation of pupils. The blue eyes watched in rapture as the girl’s lifetime of memories floated past her vision.
IT was beautiful.
IT was a thousand lives that betrayed the perfect whole. The last bit of red slid down her chin as the club once again came to life in syncopated serenity.

 

Silliness
KRISTOPHER and Elbi giggled as Mother shouted ‘go’. The forest—their enveloping bower of tall birch trees and evergreens a mile high, of all their memories, of their eternal childhood, of Mother and Father—it became a blur as the they ran their race. They raced each year to mark the beginning of summer’s touch, that day in late May when the snow had gone for good, the ground had warmed and lost its soggy moisture and the trees were in full parade costume. She thought she could hear the leaves far, far above her head rustling their cheers, urging her to not fall behind her brother. In his mind, he swooped with the jays and the robins who chirped their question, “Why do you not forsake your kind, and fly with us? Come, find a new world vision in the azure expanse!” Perhaps he would answer them another day, when his mission was finished, and he had had a bit of dinner and an iced lemonade. He liked those the most, the lemonades.
HE peaked out the side of his eyes and there, through the bramble and brush, flitting in and out of view amongst the rough brown towers, was Elbi, blondest of hair flowing out half her body length behind her head, trembling with the speed of her. Looking aside he nearly tripped on a root, and would have had he not known the path so well: each damp, mossy stone and hidden fox hole.
ELBI had become enraptured in the roar of nature, all noises condensing into symphony in her hypersensitive state.
THE joy of it all was too much, and the forest fell away, replaced by a warm glow. This might be the only memory they would ever need.

 

END

 

So the point of it! Sidenote: I really enjoy writing these tiny pieces; at one point in time I wanted to create an interactive website where story fragments can be posted, and (moderated) comments could be added at paragraph length to continue it, allowing users to make a coherent story together—community art, as it were. Perhaps one day I’ll get that going. I should start a kickstarter! Please don’t steal my idea, it’s a lot more complex than that and you won’t do it as well as I can. :) Sorry.

Mainnote: But this is not why I wrote these specifically. The first, cerebral and a bit too ambivalent; the second arty, a bit cerebral again, but with a growing sense of excitement for the future; the third, creepy, sinister; the fourth, blissful. Each story serving as a thesis and antithesis, or at least that was my intention. 

I was struck while writing this week at how much constant change in emotional states, highs and lows, sensitivity and insensitivity, can create discomfort in all aspects of mind: emotionally and intellectually. Maybe this means something, maybe not. I’m easily thrown around when it comes to reading stories, listening to music, viewing movies or plays or videos, so it is perhaps more poignant to me than others—mania is more powerful than artificial highs.

To me this represents something all good authors (and readers) should take part in: the fact that good art affects people in ways they do not expect, which results in discomfort—we loathe the unexpected, or at least our reactions do, whatever we tell ourselves consciously. Mental discomfort is necessary to put us on the path towards learning, not just about the world, but foremost about ourselves and how we work. It’s one thing to read theories in a psychology textbook, it is another to experience psychological states yourself.

Literature should never be underestimated for its power to make us learn lessons about how people work, to demand from us new vision, to wrestle from us our rooted paradigms.

If what you read each day results in no discomfort, then you have no incentive to actually learn. Physically, you have to put yourself in discomfort so that your body will work as it should. They say you shouldn’t believe most of what you read on the internet: I’m here to tell you that you shouldn’t be bothered with most of what is found on television or the internet period. 

Thanks for letting me tell you what to do.

Go be healthy, you bunch of fat-brained people. Work that neural-organ. Work it.

 

With Love,

Garrett

When Catching a Cold Becomes Your Fault: Why depression is society’s blind spot.

I was watching a video, a youth TED talk, and the nineteen year old speaker asked a very poignant and simple question: “Which would you rather put on Facebook,” inquired the young man of his audience, “that you are stuck in bed because you hurt your back or that you are stuck in bed because you are depressed?”

The immediacy with which we know the answer is proportional to how misunderstood and under-treated psychological illnesses are. While physical medicine is using skin tissue to grow mini-brains to better understand physical birth defects (http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21584319-group-stem-cell-biologists-have-grown-organoid-resembles-brain), if you ask the average American what they know about depression, you probably wouldn’t get better answers than synonyms for ‘sad’. That is not even to talk of the willful disregard society has adopted toward those with psychological conditions, illnesses that have as much to do with a person’s personality and ethics as does the common cold.

Do I sound harsh? I hope so. But I don’t mean to sound angry, because I am hardly that. There is a knowledge gap; health classes spend weeks showing pictures of STI infected genitals in an antediluvian attempt to promote abstinence (quite ineffectively, I might add, which you know if you lived through high school and college) — and yet there are no weeks, at least that I have come across, about how to tell if your friend is depressed and how to help him or her. We know if someone has the flu, and either stay away from them or bring them soup. They’re achy, have a fever, runny nose, simple stuff to most of us. Depression is one of the most common illnesses in America, and the number of cases has been growing, especially for educated 20 and 30-somethings. Yet when one is depressed, it is very difficult to tell someone else (if you are even aware of it before a friend points it out), and when you do, often the friend has no idea what to do. Your friends will say things like “cheer up”, “things will get better”, “but your life is so good right now, just look at it!” These are not effective, not soup for the sick. You might as well tell a person with the flu to “cheer up”.

Why do I bring this up, all this talk of Depression awareness? Because I was diagnosed by a psychiatrist with depression. I take medication for it every day. I see a councilor at least once a month, once a week when I first submitted to being treated. My last semester at the university I slept often, with a strange rotating sleep cycle which meant about 10 hours or more of sleep at a time, but I would go to bed an hour or two later every day. So some points I’d be going to sleep at 7 in the evening and other points I wouldn’t go to sleep until 10 in the morning; when I did sleep I never felt rested. I had no motivation to do coursework. I had no motivation for writing, something I love to do. I had very little motivation to maintain relationships. I was irrationally angry very often. I stopped talking to my parents and got mad when they tried to talk to me. My money management went out the window, with me buying all sorts of things to make myself feel better, racking up quite a bit of debt. My diet was horrendous, when usually I really enjoy cooking and am mostly a vegetarian. I had panic attacks. I put due dates out of my mind. I stopped going to class; I missed three weeks in a row at one point. I am lucky I was never seriously suicidal, like many get to be after living with depression.

I did all of this without realizing something was terribly wrong, and that something had been wrong for a long time. Though it came to a head the previous spring, I would tell you it started in a mild form when I was at least 16 — that would be 7 years ago now.

Let’s look at that. I was so ignorant of the manifestations of basic psychological illnesses that I couldn’t even guess that I had one. That’s like if you vomited for a week and wrote it off as just a bad week, because you knew so little about physical illness. One in three college students report feeling depressed. I wonder how many have no idea.

Depression is not sadness. Being sad is a natural emotion that arises from circumstances in our lives. Depression is an enduring state of mind that is not connected to any single event, and thus can’t be overcome given time and “moving on” like sadness can. In my case, depression was mainly chemical. It was simply a matter of my brain’s chemistry working improperly. When your brain doesn’t work, just as when any other part of your body doesn’t work, things go wrong. But unlike when the rest of our body malfunctions, we don’t immediately go see a doctor or go on webMD and use grandma’s home herbal remedy. In my case, I really did not even realize how severely it was affecting my life until someone pointed it out.

Another reason why people suffering from depression—when they know they are depressed—are so often reluctant to bring it up is that so often others see their actions while depressed as a sign of a kind of pragmatic, moral, or ethical failing. In essence, this illness, which exists outside of the will, becomes your own fault for allowing it to exist in your life. Would we ever say that getting the flu for more than a moment was somebody’s fault? That they just didn’t want to feel better enough to make that a reality?

Others fear being medicated for psychological illness. Hollywood has been a great help in creating irrational fear of psychopharmacology, as it does with many things. Medication works, just as regular medication works. There are side-affects, prescriptions have to be changed, things can go wrong just like all medication. But it works. I have never lost my personality—I have gotten it back. I have more energy. I can think clearly again. For others it’s not the fear of becoming a medicated zombie, but simply fear that your brain has that much power over you. Well, that your mind can make you believe and act in ways contrary to your rational self-will is simply a fact. We praise it when in dangerous situations the mind gives you adrenaline to move quickly and makes you see options of escape that you never even noticed otherwise (this is one of Heidegger’s  examples of “thrownness” in his seminal philosophical work “Being and Time”, if you are interested in that sort of thing). But other times it can make us so afraid we can’t do anything—that is a dysfunction that is only an overextension of what the brain was already doing. Fear of your own mind in this way is much like fearing your own hands for their potential ability to kill another human being, or their potential to develop arthritis. Yes, mental symptoms of illness can be more serious, but that is all the more reason to treat them seriously, and not fearfully.

As a society, we have to make a pledge to the health and preservation of human life. We have to demand of ourselves the care to help others and to remove from ourselves unhelpful biases that make us ineffective friends. We need to educate ourselves; we need to love our friends; we need to remove the terrible stigma around depression that is daily pushing people around the world toward suicide and away from help. That’s something I don’t want on my conscience.

Prescient Memories: The Pursuit of Life

 
bertrand-russell-fools
:
I came across this bit of writing while I was perusing a blog by Stephen Fry. I thought, due to my immediate connection with it, both emotionally and intellectually, that I might as well pass it on.
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It was written by the famous English mathematician and philosopher of the 20th century, Bertrand Russell, the father of the modern day school of formal logic, if that means anything to you. A monumental figure of the intelligentsia.He writes:

“What I Have Lived For

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a great ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.

I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy – ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness—that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what—at last—I have found.

With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.

Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate this evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.

This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.

— The Prologue to Bertrand Russell’s Autobiography
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I could not agree with this sentiment more, even though I may be only twenty two going on twenty three years old, hardly old enough to have autobiographical thoughts, or auto-anythings at all, scarcely coming into my own in terms of ideology and maturity. We cannot progress far, however, if we are not aware of our great lack of progress hitherto. “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity,” as Kant says.
I have found it…
I have found it, if not helpful, per se, at least a matter of fact within my own life, that in the bounds of love and the hope of knowledge I most dream, and set my self a measure of success. This has a dual ability of making my dreams out of an ecstatic and innovative material, but at the same time ambitiously unattainable, devastatingly unreachable. But these are the ebbs and flows of my own pursuit of meaning. The dream to grab something in front of me does not imbue me with the motivation to even stand up. The dream to demand a better world, a better and more capable self, though often empowering then waning, inoculate me against lethargy and inaction.
But it is the reality of the horrendous conditions which we ourselves, as human beings, create for our social community, both immediate and distant, which depresses one toward an almost catatonic poignancy. Kindness is both an art and a science, something which we must put so much effort toward learning and inculcating that it becomes natural and its standards rise to the level of a fine art. Even if an over-kindness can seem fake to us, or even be fake, the very constancy of this idea of kindness in our minds will never let it die without resistance. Perhaps it is this constant reminding which has been lost to us, not kindness itself. And of course, kindness is the bottom of a mountain whose peak is selfless love, a quality almost feared, as if in being selfless anything could happen other than knowing yourself better than you could have any other way.
This summer I have been engaged in…
This summer I have been engaged in a final thesis for my undergraduate work at Texas A&M, reading a great deal about the political and artistic movements present and emergent in Russia in its revolutionary period, from roughly 1915 to 1929, at which point the Lenin era ends and the Stalin era begins, bringing revolutionary thought to an end, which every government must do if its officials desire to remain both unmalleable to public outcry and in a position of power. It is a fascinating look into a unique point in time when people both thought anything was possible, and the artistic and technological systems began to make this more possible and immediate than it ever could have been in the history of the world. Love, knowledge, and suffering — it was something the mixed very intensely in the Russian populace of that time. The peasants knew what it was like to find love only in their families, if at all, to know that they were kept far from any tools of furthering education and literacy, and to understand some of the most oppressive suffering that is only known to those who have all they create constantly taken from them. I would never say that we would do better had we more suffering in our lives, though in some sense perhaps it is true, but only that this was a people which knew suffering, and found a way, however etherial it was in reality, to change that oppression their families had known for at almost a millenium.
Fighting for love, gathering knowledge, tempering both through their judicious and wise use in the fight against cruelty and extraordinary and unnecessary suffering. That’s my thought (or Bertrand’s thought) for the week.
Hopefully I’ll have another blog up sooner than the two months it took me to suppress the crazy business of May so that I could gather to myself a little peace of mind.
~GFlatt
P.S. Any other good quotes about life’s passions and pursuits? Comment below!

Good night / Good morning

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   One.
Once again I do not sleep, but perch, like the eternal owl, staring into the darkness, waiting for my experience to illuminate that which I am to fly toward.

Here I am waiting, but not resting, for to rest is to fail my post, my duty to something which I do not in the least comprehend. I do not comprehend you, God. I am pushed into the darkness on wings that come from whence I know not; they uphold me but they are not my own, but belong.

I want to kiss your lips and lie beside you all night long; I am never further than when I am furthest from you. Space only becomes real in the cruelest ways, perhaps. Terror entraps my soul and my consciousness is beset by vehement contortions, vertigious cacophony which is never realized as song. Make it song, my dear. Selah.

   Two.
Never do I know myself more than now, but in a moment I am waking on a street with no name; I am amnesiac in chance episodes.

My faith is never stronger than when it sees the abyss into which it is promptly defenestrated; glass sticks to my back, atomizing my being into shards which form a life of their own, the true meaning of meaninglessness. Or perhaps not.

I am love, but love rarely knows itself, its only mirrors others’ faces. Selah.

   Three.
Never let the ocean tell you there is no land, nor the land there is no water, nor the men there are no children, nor the sad there are no happy, nor, nor…

Generalities are always destroyed by the bell that tolls in silence. I toll in silence. My atoms compress and expand, breathing a life of their own, having no knowledge of but fully experiencing a life that is restrictive but whole.

Meaninglessness is an illusion, and denies itself a place in the world. Selah.

Authenticity, Part 2: Morality and Authenticity, Biology and Social Conscience

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So there were some comments about the nature of Authenticity as it regarded morality, and especially any differentiation between an Authentic Atheist and an Authentic Christian. For now, I kept with more of the first question. Morality is certainly not my speciality, and I left some further reading for your consideration at the end of the blog, under ‘Conclusion’. 

I am not entirely sure this blog will solve anything, but I am certain it will help concentrate and help us decide what exactly we are talking about when we talk about Authenticity. 

 

Link to the first Authenticity blog:    http://garrettflatt.wordpress.com/2013/04/09/rethinking-authenticity-what-does-authenticity-mean-anyway/

Links to the main page: http://garrettflatt.wordpress.com/

 

Biology and Social Conscience

My authenticity towards myself (because it is always moving in a direction towards oneself, observing the self in action towards others and the world and that new authentic self reintegrating and recreating itself, as is the very nature of an Authentic person, that is, always in motion and not inertial) – My authenticity towards myself enables a respect from others, and even encourages it, because being Authentic is to fundamentally act out, if not wholly understand, what it is to truly be a human, in a harmony of biology and social understanding. This is similar to the Confusion principle of Tao (pronounced Dao), which is literally, ‘The Way’, encompassing the totality of yin and yang (oppositions present in nature) and a harmony of the actions of the self with the reality of nature. 

Biologically we are a part of the natural world, we have grown up in it and have been thrown from birth into the midst of it, thus we are limited by it in a very physical way. Like any living thing, it seems I have a desire, or rather, most of human society (for individual desires can be here or there, just as there are people who are color-blind or tone-deaf) desires to procreate, to create itself anew biologically. And humans have to, if they are to continue existing as a species. This leads to a necessity of physical interaction, which, amongst humans at least, necessitates an desire towards understanding and emotional connection with some of those of whom we interact. 

What does this mean for our Social Conscience? Does biology have any bearing on what an Authentic person can and cannot do, by nature of his or her Authenticity? There are only a few things I can think of, which I believe lead very obviously into a naturally imposed morality which we are a part of and therefore we cannot objectively recreate at will, having no manner in which to stand outside of nature (because we are talking about all of nature, not simply a part). 

 An Authentic person cannot rid him or herself of all community. Let’s remember what Sartre said, from the last blog:

 “What we choose is always the better; and nothing can be better for us unless it is better for all.”

Subjectively, this means I automatically associate in my mind my own choices as good, and therefore good at a systematic and holistic level, that is, including all of humankind. Humanity has survived very much thanks to its ability to interact as a community: indeed this is true of practically all animate nature. To think that one may free oneself from the ‘binds of society’ is something that is not only impossible, but creates great tension as well. To impose on the self a belief that is pro-individualist to the point that it is anti-social on the whole, is to impose on others this same belief (through your actions matching your beliefs) that all people should be anti-social. This is something, I believe, which, firstly, will never happen, and secondly, would not be healthy for any single human being, to be so separated from all other human beings. The destruction of society would in many ways be the destruction of all we know about being human. I do not know if such a thing would even be possible in this world we have found ourselves inhabiting. 

 In the same way an Authentic person cannot without considerable conflict contribute in any obvious way to the ultimate destruction of the physical environment in which she or he lives. We are physically made of the same things plants and animals are made from, and share many qualities with them. To destroy plants and animals for no reason (i.e., not for housing, food, safety, etc.) is something which is bad; if a child is seen torturing animals for fun, it is often taken as a sign that he or she may later in life express sociopathic tendencies. The sociopath is the favorite of human stories – the one who acts without conscience, and must be ultimately judged and cast out as something destructive and evil. The one who disregards not just the community of man, but all natural entities. A care for the environment to some extent is necessary as an Authentic person; as a person is part of the environment by fact of existence, that person cannot then contribute to its ultimate destruction. 

 Morality and Authenticity

So where are we? We have disclosed that there is a natural human prerogative towards the care of the environment and the care of the community (including, therefore, caring for oneself). At the same time, we are always choosing for ourselves and for all humanity the best of several options within every action we take. These are things I believe an Authentic person cannot escape. Therefore there is tension. When does one go against the community? When does a person go against his or her own feeling? 

 The solution to this tension, or angst, is found also where we find ourselves: the world. Now, in Heidegger’s terms a world*** is not the universe, it is more of a social function: A Texas politician and a suicide bomber inhabit two different worlds, that is, there is no way, in the politician’s world, that being a suicide bomber could seem like a reasonable thing to be, and vice versa. These are also called Potentialities-for-Being. This basically means that, in the world of the Texas politicians, other potentialities-for-being include being a schoolteacher, or a mailman, or a grocery cashier, but not a suicide bomber, nor a British Prime Minister, nor a druid or a viking. The limits of our world’s potentialities-for-being are helpful indicators of the horizons (limits) of our world. 

 So in the world, I find morality. This is neither something wholly objective, that is, imposed from nature or ‘society’*, nor wholly subjective, that is, something which I create. It is co-created with myself being a tiny piece, more or less insignificant. I am mostly passive to this morality. I find myself in many ways in submission** to the world and thus am left to come to find out and understand what morality means. 

Now, it would seem that an Authentic person is not someone who is ‘objectively’ good or evil, but one, as I have said many times, whose beliefs and actions correspond, and for whose resulting actions one takes responsibility in all of its recourses and consequences which were in one’s power to change through a change in action. An authentic person does not necessitate by nature of Authenticity a person who is an Atheist, a Christian, a Buddhist, a Politician, a Librarian, a Scientist, etc. 

That being said, I have already shown ways in which an Authentic person, being a person who by fact of existence inhabits a world, would be in many ways considered a good person within that world. It is not only humans who give other humans criticism, but every part of the world in its endless cause and effect. Authenticity then, expands to not only one who is responsible for ones actions, but one who understands that responsibility for one’s actions is indeed a good thing, and that good things should be by their very essences sought after and explored. 

 For further reading on this subject, borrow a copy of C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man, Mark Wrathall’s How to Read Heidegger, and Heidegger’s Being and Time. If you haven’t noticed, I’m a big fan of Heidegger and Lewis. If you ever have a chance to read either, especially Lewis, I would suggest taking it. 

 Conclusion

I love when an addendum is longer than the original (and just wait until you hit the Notes for this blog). For really long appendices that are also confusing, see War and Peace, epilogue two. Actually don’t. I couldn’t just let you go read that as a good person without a warning that it makes very little sense. Don’t even read War and Peace. I’m even saying this as a Russian scholar. Just say no. Unless you really want to. 

Anywho, drop me any comments. This whole blog was brought on my a few comments to my Facebook post about my previous blog. 

 Notes

*I did not include ‘God’ in my idea of the outside imposing a morality, and this is why: as God creates the totality of the world, morality would be something included naturally within it. Experience within the world would give testimony to that fact. When in the Bible God reiterates codes of morality, it is to draw attention to this very fact, and not to arbitrarily insert something into nature which is not there anyway. 

**Early in reading Heidegger, I was a bit put off by this idea of submission to the world as the means wherewith we find things meaningful. Page 36 of Wrathall’s HTRH says:

“Finally disposedness [or state-of-mind, our moods] is a kind of submission to the world which allows things to matter to us. We saw how, in fear, the situation into which we are thrown dictates the possibilities available to us. Through our fear, certain possibilities become important, others unimportant. The way things matter to us…is not something that we are free to decide, but is imposed on us by the way the world is arranged and the ways that we are disposed for the world. Letting things be encountered in a particular…is primarily ‘circumspective’….It is…the kind of seeing or experiencing of the world that we have when our relation to things takes its measure from the other things and projects with which we are involved.”

Maybe that is helpful, maybe not. Anyway, it’s something to think about!

 ***This inevitably brings up an idea that all morality is then relative to where you are in history and where you are geographically and socially. I leave you with this quotation from the first chapter of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, entitled The Law of Human Nature.

“I know that some people say the idea of a Law of Nature or decent behaviour known to all men is unsound, because different civilisations and different ages have had quite different moralities.

 

But this is not true. There have been differences between their moralities, but these have never amounted to anything like a total difference. If anyone will take the trouble to compare the moral teaching of, say, the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans, what will really strike him will be how very like they are to each other and to our own. Some of the evidence for this I have put together in the appendix of another book called The Abolition of Man; but for our present purpose I need only ask the reader to think what a totally different morality would mean. Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him.You might just as well try to imagine a country where two and two made five. Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to—whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or everyone. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first. Selfishness has never been admired. Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four. But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked.

 

But the most remarkable thing is this. Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining “It’s not fair” before you can say Jack Robinson. A nation may say treaties do not matter, but then, next minute, they spoil their case by saying that the particular treaty they want to break was an unfair one. But if treaties do not matter, and if there is no such thing as Right and Wrong— in other words, if there is no Law of Nature—what is the difference between a fair treaty and an unfair one? Have they not let the cat out of the bag and shown that, whatever they say, they really know the Law of Nature just like anyone else?

 

It seems, then, we are forced to believe in a real Right and Wrong. People may be sometimes mistaken about them, just as people sometimes get their sums wrong; but they are not a matter of mere taste and opinion any more than the multiplication table.”

 

 

That is all. 

GF

I’ll hit you up later this week with a new blog, all things going as planned. Again, any suggestions for other topics to include under the Authenticity heading are welcome.

Rethinking Authenticity: What does ‘Authenticity’ mean anyway?

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I have decided, for various reasons, to start a series of blog posts on the idea of Authenticity

It seems like everyday I come across this word in some different manner: a brand of jeans will say ‘authentic’, my ice cream says it’s ‘authentic’, businesspeople tell you they are ‘authentic’ ‘the real deal’, I’m told by Individualist movements to be ‘authentic’, my pastor or priest tells me to be an ‘authentic christian’, my professor tells me to be ‘unique, authentic, discerning’, I’m told that what I listen to, the way I dress, how I compose myself, what brand my computer is, what I eat and drink – that all of this in some way can make me either Authentic or Inauthentic, Real or Fake, a Punk, a Prep, a Hipster, a Goth, a Hippie, an Anarchist, a Liberal, a Conservative, a Cultist, a Christian, an Atheist: These surface level things can even make me look like a Scientist or a Librarian, apparently. 

Before we can even say, “what’s so great about being Authentic?” I think we need to get out there what the heck it even means to be Authentic.

That was a lot of words. Let’s start over. 

Definitions

Authentic comes via Greek authentikos, meaning ‘principal, genuine, first of order’

Alternatively, we have the word Proper, which used to be a very similar term in its initial usage, i.e. she is a proper lady. It didn’t mean “she is a nice lady” or “she is a good looking lady” or even “she is a rich lady.”

Proper comes via Latin proprius, which means ‘one’s own’, the same word from which we get ‘property’, i.e. That which one takes responsiblity for, is in ownership of. She is a proper young lady means that she is in control of herself and that she views all of her actions as her own, she owns up to her ‘mineness’ or ‘ownness’. 

One more alternative that may be helpful. An early 20th century German Philosopher named Martin Heidegger had a German term he liked to use for Authenticity: Eigenlichkeit. It comes from the adjective eigen, meaning what is one’s own or proper. Eigenlich means real or proper. The term Eigenlichkeit thus means the sense we have of our ownness, of responsibility towards our own actions and the consequences of those actions in whatever form they take.

In an Existentialist sense, this is the denial of ‘fate/nature/genetics made me do it’, i.e. a denial of any excuses for our actions, even while accepting limitations because of nature and genetics. 

A Bit of Reading

Here is a bit of quoted material I think might be helpful to fill out this definition of Authenticity and how to be authentic in thought and action. 

From How to Read Heidegger by Mark Wrathall: “For Heidegger…our way of being is found not in our thinking nature, but in our existing in a place with particular things and established ways of doing things. Our existence means that we can take responsibility for what we do. But it doesn’t mean that we are free to ignore the limits on being that the world sets.”

“When I inhabit [a specific] world, I settle on one of these ways to be, and hencefore do everything else for the sake of being that kind of person. Everything in the world now shows up in terms of this decision I have made about my existence. Heidegger believes that the world structures activities by providing us with different possible ways to give order to our lives.”

Alright, taking apart this philosophical mumbo-jumbo battle of words, what Wrathall through Heidegger is trying to say, is that the main part of our human nature is that we can take responsibility for what we do. Why are morality and ethics such a big deal, even in such a post-religious society as America? Because we perceive that ultimately, some will choose to be responsible, and some will not, and those who do not seem to frustrate any and all efforts towards what all can perceive as a sense of community, of togetherness, and the feelings community brings: love, loyalty, patience, even things like a business sense and how-to-be-a-decent-human-being. You can’t learn these things without being responsible for your actions, and being responsible means seeing that your actions and beliefs have an impact on other people. We want love and we want individuality, but responsibility is the mediator through which both can be attained. 

Let’s repeat that. We want love and we want individuality, but responsibility is the mediator through which both can [and are to] be attained. That is, if you want to retain a personal, non-homogenized identity and at the same time be something meaningful to someone else, you need to be an authentic person. Being authentic in this manner does not make you automatically stand out as weird, but as weirdly good. Someone people want to be, but are confused as to how to become. 

 

So is Authenticity just Responsibility? Not really. Responsibility is a term all of itself, meaning taking care of oneself as well as things that are put under the care of oneself. We aren’t so concerned about other people’s stuff just yet, as that kind of responsibility will inevitably stem from a solid foundation of authenticity. 

A little more reading. 

A key to understanding the owning up to our actions is to see every action as a choice, that which we choose because we think it is better. 

In his 1946 lecture ‘Existentialism is a Humanism,’ Jean-Paul Sartre said:

“To choose between this or that is at the same time to affirm the value of that which is chosen; for we are unable ever to choose the worse. What we choose is always the better; and nothing can be better for us unless it is better for all…In fashioning myself I fashion man[kind]….Action presupposes that there is a plurality of possibilities.”

This means that subjectively, that is, from the point of view of the subject (yourself), we choose things because in some manner we perceive them as overall the better choice. Not only that, but we believe it is the better choice for everyone, because what is good for one human being should be good for all human beings. This last point is something we learn to move away from, but the automatic associations of ‘good for me, good for you’ are always there to some extent, because it is something that we want to believe at a very deep psychological and emotional level. 

So how do we own up to our choices? They are the union of belief, thought (rationalization), and action (realization of thought and belief). Everything you are goes into doing every little thing you do. So when someone criticizes what you do, we feel that they are criticizing us as individual persons. This again is an automatic association which we need to dissociate from immediate negative emotional responses (that is, don’t be mad when someone criticizes you). 

It is against you in some manner. But being Authentic means you accept this, that there may be a tiny part of you, or a huge part of you depending on the issue, which may not be good at a working level. Authentic doesn’t mean you always have to change what you did, but that you will always seek to know yourself better through these instances of critique, to root out the bad and replace with something better through time consuming self analysis. 

Did I mention you have to spend a lot of time working on yourself to be authentic? It’s not that you, after hours of attacking your faults, become “Authentic.” It is that the type of person who would naturally spend some time analyzing any major critiques they have received is someone who we could call, to some extent, “Authentic.” 

 

Conclusion?

So, then. Here we are nearing the end to this first analysis of Authenticity. We figured out it means to take ownership of one’s self and all of one’s beliefs and actions, or at least, we figured out we have to pay attention to our actions. We didn’t spend a whole lot of time on our beliefs, but those are crucial as well. Our actions come because of our beliefs and reinforce or deconstruct our beliefs, in a constant cycle. We change our actions by changing our beliefs, we change our beliefs by setting ourselves up to act in a way in which what we want to believe and do lines up, thus the old believes are slowly eroded by thought and especially action, and the new ones built up by the same process. 

I think I’ll hit on this more later on, with more of the series.

I’ll be doing more in this vein, working titles include “Being an Authentic Christian,” “Individualist Movements in Commercial America: Punks, Hipsters and Alternatives,” “Individualism in the Center or on the Edge of Community? Or Neither?” “Authenticity in Literature, Art, and the Internet,” and maybe some others, including a political one if I feel like it. If you have any suggestions about things to put in the series, let me know in the comments section. I’m always around for questions, comments and suggestions. 

I declare this post:

Imageish

 

GF

Inspiration and Redemption: a Story

When I think about what it means to me, and to every artist, to regain or find one’s inspiration where once it was lacking, it brings to mind a million words and feelings and expressions. This is a story I write in an attempt to understand this feeling.

 

Inspiration and Redemption: A Story

And with his soul he grazed the summits of storm clouds, kissing each one and bestowing the greatest of blessings toward that great purpose: to bring life again to the desolate places through the terror of that falling river, through a cascadence of tears which falls upon an ancient cemetery with no keeper, no keeper and no rememberers bringing no flowers – upon this, my heart of inspiration, the rain fell, and behind my movements where once fell only dust now, slowly, painfully, and with a pointedness that tears asunder my old life and paradigm, falls a single drop of blood onto this dune of sand, out of which springs a single tulip.
Looking into the wind and rain, having been born again through blood and blessing, the flower becomes the power of God to me, blooming in an instant to reveal the nectar from which will come my redemptive reckoning. Ragnarok has arrived and all was as if it had never been, and now I am alone, in an eternity. But no longer am I dead in my aloneness, for the soul that flew in, and was part of, the sky and the world sent me this flower which I now smell and from which I come alive; in my blindness I smell and my eyes now perceive the darkness, where before not even darkness was known to me.
I take my cracked and vulgar fingernails, grown sharp in the grave, and wretchedly tear two holes in my skull so that my eyes may see the world and love it. Bloodily, I rip open an inverted mountain out of which comes
a whistel,
then a whisper,
a whimper,
then a moan,
a mumbling,
then a crackling,
a croaking,
then a speaking,
a shouting,
then a cry,
a curse,
then a scream,
then all of my thousand lives of which I have lived dead and destroyed in demotic dullness of agony I let loose through a cavern of terrified bats that screech through the cage that was my imprisonment until its walls have fallen and lay on the desolate ground accurséd to never rise again.

And so the water falls to the ground, clasps itself to the molding of life that is blood; out of blood the life rises and spreads itself to all that was dead so that all may become alive and I accept; my blood gushing out but I let it: it is proof of my existence. 

So I am new; I am not whole but I am.

And so the last of the moment passes away in sighing silence.

 

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T.S.Eliot’s “Convictions” and its Significance to the Essence of Humanity

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Convictions (Curtain Raiser) by T.S. Eliot, in the “Inventions of a March Hare” 1909 – 1917 Collection, a collection of poems which was never published during his lifetime. 

Among my marionettes I find

The enthusiasm is intense!

They see the outlines of their stage

Conceived upon a scale immense

And even in this later age

Await an audience open-mouthed

At climax and suspense.

 

Two, in a garden scene

Go picking tissue paper roses;

Hero and heroine, alone,

The monotone

Of promises and compliments

And guesses and supposes.

 

And over there my Paladins

Are talking of effect and cause,

With “learn to live by nature’s laws!”

And “strive for social happiness

And contact with your fellow-men

In Reason: nothing to excess!”

As one leaves off the next begins.

 

And one, a lady with a fan

Cries to her waiting maid discreet

“Where shall I ever find my the man!

One who appreciates my soul;

I’d throw my heart beneath his feet.

I’d give my life to his control.”

(With more that I shall not repeat.)

 

My marionettes (or so they say)

Have these keen moments every day.

He is one of my absolute favorite poets, for reasons of a great similarity in spirit and a conscience of simultaneous faith and doubt. 

I have much I could say about it, though the poem itself speaks volumes and I do not want to detract from the experience by offering my interpretation; but I feel I must state briefly what this poem means and expresses to my own consciousness. 

The heroic couplet at the end (the last two lines) comes to me as being the pointed end of this poem, a sardonic comment on the nature of mankind. Perhaps it is even a prophecy of sorts, for his time.

I mean that only “marionettes,” people which are people only in outward appearance (or so I understand the symbolism), have “keen” or “genius” moments every single day. It’s not possible. Genius and wisdom takes great effort and much time of contemplation. It must spend time amongst people and away from people then with people again, in order to find inspiration, contemplate its significance, and then examine the practical effects of such philosophizing (in such an order). 

The modern news is kept up not just daily but every minute of each 24 hour period we sometimes call a day (as if the sun had anymore to do with when news is written). It seeks for insight every minute when there is none to be had. Inspiration is dead and wooden as the marionettes, which speak but are unable to listen, reverberating other’s comments back to each other, one after another without any processing. 

As the media is such a part of our modern milieu, the symbol of our 21st century zeitgeist, we run the risk of its domineering influence on us, helping us to become ourselves marionettes – other people’s puppets to pull as they would. So often do we speak without any inspiration: what more evidence of this is needed than Facebook, where so many hearts and friendships are broken by the mockery that is constant conversation? 

Become a man. Become a woman. Become a human. Cease to be Pinocchio and become real. Reality is sought through a humble and enduring process of recognition of need, cognition of significance, and production of the elements that perpetuate the good or change the bad.

If you have nothing good to say: say nothing. If you have nothing of your own to say: say nothing. But always be willing to listen – because people are worth listening to. 

Let us all be more careful and precise with our language, or we risk losing our very humanity.

One more piece of paper, or, The College Diploma

I am nearing the end of my undergraduate university experience, graduating in May of this year. It is, or should be, customary at this point in time to look back and ask a few questions about my years here at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, USA. Queue the Q&A session with myself. 

Q: Starting out, what did you hope to accomplish by going to college?

A: Starting out, college was simply what I was supposed to do. I was in the top of my class in high school, had great recommendations from some wonderful teachers, and was automatically accepted into Texas A&M per the controversial “top 10% of high school class auto-enroll” program for Texas high school seniors. I actually started out in Aerospace Engineering, but after a couple months, I changed to the International Relations and Diplomacy program, focusing in Russian; I simply couldn’t see myself continuing in the Engineering program, which was stifling for someone who needs to be creative constantly, though I still have a great fondness of mathematics and science, and try to keep learning in those fields through resources available to me (i.e., not college courses). So starting out, I had no concrete concept of the purpose and purposefulness of the University, especially pertaining to my relationship with it and its relationship to society at large. Too much was going on and I didn’t yet have the frames with which to discuss these questions, the ‘conceptual metaphors’ (a la George Lakoff) that comprised University life. I was a baby hit with too much for my senses to fully comprehend. 

Q: What now do you think was the purpose for you attending a university?

A: That’s a big question, Garrett, and I’m not sure I can answer that. It has had a great effect on me: I am now capable of learning anything, that is, I know what resources are available to me and I know how to critically analyze all that I come in contact with, distilling the messages into learnable concepts and techniques that I can use in my life. I think that is the greatest purpose of the university, to impart this kind of awareness and understanding. Of course, I think this ability was gained in perhaps only three or four of the fifty or so classes I have taken. So what was the rest? Information, usually. But without those few classes teaching me how to learn and to know, that information would have often fallen far from my understanding, as I think it does for the vast majority of students who never learn nor are taught how to learn. I am very thankful to those few professors who taught me so much, especially Drs. Brett Cooke, Robert Resch and Stephen Daniel. I don’t know if any readers want to find out more about them or their work, but I know it is available through the internet in some fashion or another. 

Q: You say most students didn’t receive instruction on how to learn, but you also say this is the purpose of the university. Does that mean universities are not living up to their purpose?

A: Perhaps. This was the greatest thing the university experience gave to me, so I would hope such an incredible lesson would be ubiquitous to college graduates. But I also know that this is hardly true, which really does make me very sad. We are hit with millions of messages via the internet, radio, music, television, street advertisement, etc., every day, and without proper abilities to distill these into not only ‘useful’ information about the world in which we live, but actually into real action on our part toward the attaining of a better world, we are left slaves this mass information download, which will, whether we like it or even realize it, leave vast amounts of emotional tags on our subconsciouses. This I think is dangerous. And this, I think, could be remedied by universities focusing on real critical thinking. Of course, to define what real critical thinking is would seem to take books. I’ll just say that you can’t assume common sense, but it may be, but isn’t necessarily, simply repetition of messages throughout your life separated from virtue and value.

There is more purpose than critical thinking skills to a university, this I could never deny. There is a lot of information that needs to be learned in order to keep society functioning in an efficient and healthy manner. Engineers need to be skillful so infrastructure does not collapse. Foreign language students need to be skillful so relations between very diverse and different parts of the world can be maintained and wars avoided. Agricultural scientists need to be skillful so food can be grown more efficiently, especially in very difficult and impoverished parts of the world. Physicians need to be skillful to keep citizens alive and well so that they can do what they need to do. English majors need to be skillful so our children are taught how to read well and critically and choose literature that will create in them healthy minds and not wasteful spirits. Et cetera, et cetera. 

There is always the danger, though, that everything that is wrong in a nation such as the United States, as part of the status quo, will simply be re-ingrained within students of primary, secondary and university education, as many of the Frankfurt School, especially Louis Althusser, pointed out, and others continue to point out. Students learn these things, grow up, and teach them to other students. Among other points, this is how terrible economic policies, in government and at home, continue to be propagated and considered common sense. This is how politicians continue to make awful decisions that have nothing to do with the benefit of individual citizens. This is how the loudest media is funded by enormous corporations whose sole motto is that viewership = profits, instead of truth = valuable and active citizens of a democratic society. Just something to think about. 

Q: You entitled this discussion ‘One more piece of paper, or, The College Diploma.’ What message did you want to send with that title?

I simply wanted to point out that, fundamentally, this piece of paper is a socioeconomic footstool, which is really some silly wording to say that it represents an advantage in terms of higher paying jobs, jobs that will not hire you without that piece of paper. It is odd, that, it rarely has anything to do with the actual classes you took other than some vague field of study. Most jobs do all real training on site or at the office, apart from whatever you learned in the classroom.

Why then, do they insist on this college diploma? It has to be a symbol, or representation, of a certain type of person. Since knowledge could come from anywhere, not just a university, it cannot simply be about people who know things – even very useful things, as people with experience often are trumped by those with a diploma. So knowledgable people are out. So what are college graduates apart from knowledgable? They are often, at this point, in debt. Perhaps jobs find this appealing, the desperateness of certain skilled laborers. Maybe that’s too cynical. Let’s try another point of view. College graduates, apart from being in debt and knowledgable, may have certain life values. But those also have nothing to do with a college diploma. You can graduate without any specific religion or moral outlook. So it isn’t about a person who is moral, knowledgable and in debt, has any type of family or relationship, or has any specific ethnic background.

What is left? Skill? Does a person with a paper college diploma have, as Liam Neeson says, a very special set of skills? Well there are all sorts of majors and areas of study at a university. So there are no specifically identifiable and quantitative sets of skill which can be easily articulated. There are many sites and employers who try do to such a thing, but their lists are different often even over time when written by the same person for the same job.

So you still can’t say “All college graduates all have ‘X’ skill and ‘Y’ ability.” What’s left? Nothing. The only thing you can say, quantitatively, empirically and logically true is that “All college graduates have graduated from college.” This tautology is the full meaning of hiring someone because they have a college diploma. 

Huh?

Employers must then perceive that college graduates are a ‘special kind’ of people. Since their jobs are higher paying, they must often believe that college graduates are a ‘better kind’ of people. Better than who? Those without college diplomas. What makes them better? They have college diplomas.

This has the unfortunate effect of making people believe, often only subconsciously, that, because they have a degree, they are better in some qualitative, unquantifiable way. They have that je ne sais quoi, that special quality which is imperceptible but completely real. 

It is called, the middle class. I say this not to criticize the middle class, but to draw attention simply to where the modern notion of middle class is coming from, and that its existence is more real in the minds of its class citizens than in any quantifiable reality. 

So that’s the meaning of the title.

Q: You seem very critical of universities. Is there something you would do to change them? Do they not still function in a very necessary manner?

A: That they provide further education, this is very necessary. I am very grateful to the university I attend and the opportunities it has afforded me. However, is the manner in which the university carries out its function necessary? I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s even an answerable question. 

Would I change anything? There are a lot of good ideas going around. The usual european model of secondary and tertiary school in terms of its structure, not its finances, is becoming quite in vogue with reformers, and for very good reason. The vast majority of students simply do not need the last two years of math and science, the physics, chemistry, trigonometry and calculus, that are taught in high schools. They waste time on something which does not afford them any useful ability, in terms of use working and living a comfortable and socially useful life. It is extremely demoralizing to many students, and prevents them from seeking higher education. (Find your own sources on this point. I am drawing mine from experience tutoring and discussing the issue with educators themselves, not from any specific ‘academic’ article, as I think those are few and far between, and that is quite on purpose.) 

In many European schools, high school, or secondary school, students have the option of finishing at 16 years of age, after their second year of high school, and finishing at a trade school. Others can go on to university proper. In the United States we have an incredibly useful and altogether un-utilized system of community colleges, those college who offer two year degrees in specific subjects. However, the community college is often seen as lesser than university, insomuch that its graduates are seen as ‘lesser’ people than university graduates. But many of the degrees taught at Texas A&M university could be easily taught at a community college for a fraction of the price to students, who could be well on their way to decent jobs, if the community college and trade school diplomas were perceived in the American society as something worthwhile. In part, it is because of the poor quality of many community colleges; but little attention is given to them to start with, so funding is scarce. We have made them a joke, worry that they are so, and then ridicule them for the way that they are run. 

This is hardly a lengthy discussion on what could be done in this regard. But I merely want to put the beginnings of ideas into people’s minds, to give them a direction toward which they can put their energies more usefully and helpfully. Education reform needed to be done decades ago, but it sits here still, untouched, as those who seek its reform are attacked from all times. Popular desire for its reform, and a serious plan for its reform, would go very far toward its actually being reformed. 

Q: Any advice for those entering university soon?

A: Learn all that you can. There is so much available and it should be made use of. Keep learning beyond the classroom however. Choose classes and professors who can provide you with further reading and read that absolute heck out of that stuff. Try and find legitimate academicians and writers who have different points of view than those of whom you read in the classroom. There is a brilliant Marx for every Adam Smith, a Vrubel for every Repin, a Hegel for every Hobbes, a Berkeley for every John Locke, a modern for every classical, a postmodern for every modern, a Bible for every atheist text. Establishing an understanding of the multi-sided nature of all conversations and arguments will help you to find and understand the points that really matter. 

Talk to your professors. I have developed friendships with some, and these friendships are very useful and enlightening. Ask when you have questions. You can’t always ask “what’s the point” when given homework, but find those professors for whom you can ask, and those of whom will give you a serious answer. If they can’t give you a serious answer, they haven’t thought it out themselves. Professors come in all kinds. Don’t think because they have a PhD that they are better than you. The best ones want students to work with them, not for them. 

Do so much more than sit in classes. Life has a lot to offer, and university isn’t everything that is life, even while you are in the midst of it. People are all that really matter in this world, before school, during undergraduate, during your career, after you retire. Learning how to build and maintain healthy relationships will be very important for a healthy college experience. But remember, before you can have healthy relationships with others, you have to learn to take care of yourself and really take time to know who you are and who you want to be as a person. Don’t be afraid to spend time along in thought, but make sure you balance that with time with friends. 

That’s all I have today.