Matus1976 Podcast Update - E10 - Comments on Love with excerpts from the Novel – “A Ship Made of Paper” http://tinyurl.com/kremjf
Matus1976 Podcast Update - E10 - Comments on Love with excerpts from the Novel – “A Ship Made of Paper” http://tinyurl.com/kremjf
"300" Is One of The Greatest Films Ever Made
Frank Miller’s interpretation of the tale of 300 lone Spartan warriors fending off hordes of Persian invaders is hands down one the best films ever made. Though 300 takes some artistic license and contains historical inaccuracies, the purpose of good art is not to teach history but to convey important ideals and themes. 300 is unabashed in its representation of the highest ideals of man, of clear cut good and evil, of right and wrong, and of a heroic defense, to the death, of freedom, justice, and reason. The movie invokes and justifies feelings of empowerment and a renews your idealism, giving you the moral and spiritual fuel for your struggles for the good life by witnessing one of the most spirited defenses of ideals humans have ever accomplished.
Should a sculptor capture the scar on a man’s body or a painter a cold sore on a woman’s mouth? Are these encouragements of humility, professing that mankind is flawed? Or are these dishonest concretizations of temporary flaws into a permanent representation of reality? A beautiful Hellenistic sculpture glorifies all the highest ideals of man; honor, pride, intellect, integrity, and beauty. The broken, disembodied, disheveled forms of modern art are anti-intellectualism, de-humanization, the destruction of ideals and values, brought into permanent physical form.
Art, according to Aristotle, is in it’s best form a representation of man as he ought to be, not as he is. Art, according to Ayn Rand, is the selective concretization of abstractions of the highest ideals of the artist. When someone chooses to capture something, especially an idea or principle, in a permanent form of representation, they are left with the options of how they wish to capture it, and what language they wish to convey the idea in. A modern artist might try to represent a complex idea in an abstract and objectively rational form but when the manifestation in physical form of an idea becomes so disassociated from any rational means to interpret it, it is indifferent from useless Rorschach ink blot tests and is much more an indication of the irrational nature of the thought of the artists, the subjective psychological biases of the viewer (as the French paper Le Monde demonstrated in it’s review of the film "Hostel" when it ranked it as the best American film of that year because they somehow interpreted it as a commentary on American Imperialism, instead of the violent pornographic sadism that it really was) and a thinly veiled abdication of any objective standard in art, than it is an idealized concretization of metaphysical value judgments. Is a spattering of incoherent paint drops on a wall, like any Jackson Pollack painting to be considered "art"? Is a novel of incoherent prose "art", Is a movie with no logical progression, consistency, or plot, like "Lost Highway" art? Is a novel encompassing an entire day of nothing like James Joyce’s "Ulysses" art? These things, lacking barely any objective distinction from randomness, or being glorifications of nothingness, are not art, even though they may hang on walls or have leather bindings, to consider these art, is to take any useful distinguishing character of art away from the word and idea. Readers may disagree on what Aristotle and Ayn Rand considered Art to be, but any definition if held consistently which includes meaningless intellectual vomit indistinguishable from randomness, does indeed renders the concept of art without value.
The proper form of art in a philosophy based on reason, reality, and life as an ethical standard is one that encourages a life based on reason, which can be tangibly connected in a meaningful manner to the reality of the witness to the art, and which advocates and promulgates a ethical system which holds life as it’s standard. Such art must be objectively understandable, but the setting, context, historical accuracy, etc are completely irrelevant to the conveyance of the message. Art is a selective recreation of elements which pertain in and understandable manner to the issues we deal with in reality, based, as Rand, suggested on the artist’s metaphysical value judgments. Art is not a literal recreation of reality (cold sores, bunions, societal flaws and all) but instead is a recreation of the critical elements of reality required for conceptual conveying a message or theme.
Consider then, what great art is, and understand that "300" is probably the greatest concretization of human ideals in visual media ever created. "300" is not a historical documentary and contains technical inaccuracies from the way the Spartan’s fought to the nature and makeup of Spartan society. But if you want a documentary, turn to the History Channel. This movie is absolutely NOT a historical documentary and to dislike it because it is not historically accurate is to assert that all art must be nothing more than accurate retelling of historical accounts. Yet we do not belittle the great works of Shakespeare because they contain linguistic anachronisms or the great epics of Ancient Greece because they contained gods and monsters. "300" is a moral epic told against a historical backdrop, containing real historical figures but representing them as profound human beings we can all look up to and admire, in situations and stories indeed conceptually similar to the factual historical reality. Stories that serve to inspire and encourage us to weather difficult storms, persevere against obstacles blocking our goals, and continue to fight; not because we might win and not because it is our duty, but because it is being true to our own ideals in defense of our deepest values, that these are things ought to do because it is right.
In classical Greek fashion, Frank Miller was not presenting Sparta (and man) as he is or was, but as he *ought* to be; physically perfect, morally absolute, passionate and intelligent, emotive and rational. When facing the Persian emissaries, King Leonidas does not call for negotiations and capitulations, he does not negotiate with his would be murderers, he kicks them into a well. When debating what to do against the coming Persian onslaught, Leonides abandons the advice of the corrupt mystics and gathers a volunteer force to face the Persian hordes. When faced with the corrupting offer of riches and rule over the entire Hellenistic empire, Leonides, facing certain death, declines, opting to fight in defense of his ideals instead of giving up what he values most to perpetuate his mere mechanical existence, a life which would then be of self torture as demonstrated when he condemns the Spartan Ephialtas who betrayed Leonidas and the 300 to the Persians to “a very long life". Facing absolute certain death, Leonidas and his mean nevertheless stay on and fight, knowing that delaying the Persians at Thermopylae would allow time for the rest of the Spartan army to join with other Greek city states and ultimately repel the Persian invasion - a battle which some historians rank as the most important battle in all of history.
"300" also un-apologetically and flagrantly disregards the false dichotomy between reason and passion. King Leonidas is no barbarian robot, but a passionate lover to his wife, and passionate fighter for justice. He respects and cherishes his wife, who is as morally strong as he, and he fights and dies for her freedom, not wishing to see her condemned to a life of slavery, while she fights to save his life.
When ordered not to fight by the superstitious religious elders, Leonidas disregards their feelings and edicts and mounts a strategic defense of a critical area of Greece, ultimately saving every thing and everyone he values. The coming of this movie reminds me of the context of Star Wars in the late 70’s. Where movies had disco sound tracks and nihilistic themes, coming out of the 70’s Vietnam protest and moral relativism era, Star Wars came along to tell an inspirational and uplifting grand heroic moral epic with a classical and powerfully emotive sound track. Today in our sea of moral relativism and ‘flawed’ heroes (consider the plethora of movies that actually glorify villains, like ‘Natural Born Killers’, mock heroes, like "True Lies" and "Die Hard", or celebrate violent death and torture, like "Saw" and "Hostel" ) "300" comes along to tell a powerful inspiring tale of moral absolutism and heroism. I can not recall the last time I heard people cheer at a movie, and it wasn’t just the style of the movie, it’s the message as well, presented in a good style, that resonates strongly with people. I for one find myself filled with a little more hope for America since a movie like this did so well in the box office. This movie appeals to our innermost capacity for idealism and invokes feelings of empowerment and justifies them. It brings us moral and spiritual fuel for the struggles for a good life we undertake.
Because of all these virtues, "300" has caused quite the firestorms of criticism. Most of them center around the historical inaccuracies in the film, focusing on petty details, such as the armor the Spartans wore and the methods they used to fight, while ignoring glaringly obvious historical inaccuracies, like Xerxes being 14′ tall and having a henchman with bone saw arms, neither of which had any remotely possible intention of being interpreted as a historical accuracy. These critics ignore these things and focus on petty details in an attempt to undermine the moral tale of the story. Yet nobody cries that Homer’s "Iliad" is a historical falsehood, because it is not meant to be a documentary, it is meant to represent the highest ideals of ancient Greek civilization. Nobody attacks Shakespeare for his inaccuracies in Julius Ceaser, nobody derides "Beowulf" because Grendel was not real. Nobody attempts to argue that Dante’s "The Inferno" is worthless because the hero travels into the fictional Hades. The great works of literature last not because they are historically accurate, they rarely if ever are, but usually because they convey great human moral truths in a powerful story and in a manner which people can objectively connect with. Likewise “300" is not a documentary, so critics attacking it’s historical inaccuracies (especially in a time where historical accuracies are difficult to ascertain anyway) are simply trying to make a name for themselves by attacking something better than they are ever capable of.
Many other criticism lay around attacks on the Spartan way of life in general. Critics will say that the real Spartans were mystical and collectivist. They might ask, why not play this movie in Nazi Germany and see all the Storm Troopers yell in delight with the same reaction and inspired Americans do? (Obfuscating of course the ideals which invoke the reaction with the physical reactions themselves, as if rallying in the name of freedom is the same things as rallying in the name of murderous tyranny merely because in both cases one is ‘rallying’) Sparta, they will say, had slavery, was a heavily collectivist society, treated it’s women poorly, etc. In all these cases they completely ignore the context surrounding Sparta and the context of the Ancient world. It was a world where EVERY SINGLE HUMAN BEING WHO EXISTED was a slave, and where most societies did not even have a WORD for Freedom. Only the world of Ancient Greece even had a word for freedom (eluethera) to differentiate a kind of existence from slavery, and had portions of their populations, large or small, identified as free men. Every Ancient Civilization had slavery, ONLY ANCIENT GREECE had freedom, and yes even Sparta had free men. Only Ancient Greece had the idea of Freedom and the ability for men to achieve it.
They might argue that one could represent the heroic soldiers of Nazi Germany in the same manner. But heroism in the name of murderous ideals is merely savage brutality, Nazism advocated forced nationalist servitude in a time where half the world had decent (though flawed) systems which were based on freedom, where every culture had the concept and words for Freedom, and Nazi Germany actively crushed this. The context of Nazi Germany was totalitarianism rising in a sea of Freedom and Liberal Democracy. Nazism was a step backward in a world of freedom, Spartan and Greek civilizations were a step forward in a world of totalitarian enslavement. This film emphasized the only bastion of freedom in an entire world of slavery, indeed, they were the first steps forward toward Freedom in a march which still continues to this day. If you were to make a movie glorifying extreme nationalism and dictatorial rule, Nazi Germany is an optimal setting because it contrasts the concept of freedom embraced by much of the world, if you are making a movie defending and glorifying freedom and reason, Ancient Greece is an excellent setting as it contrasts the prevalence of slavery and tyranny which dominated every other ancient civilization.
The very concept of "freedom" had to originate somewhere for it to develop into it’s modern form. Yes Sparta also had slaves, no not all Spartans were free. But let us not forget that women in the US did not get the right to vote until the 20’s and black men until after the civil war. Give the ancient Hellenes a break as the rest of the world would not even match their limited gains toward freedom for nearly 2,000 years. Would we chide a movie about the bravery of Union soldiers in the American Civil War by saying "well women couldn’t vote"? No, every salient step toward freedom should be celebrated, and the Ancient Greek city states steps took the first and most important steps in that direction, and at the battle of Thermopylae and in the greater context of the Persian wars, would come face to face with the greatest threat that ideal would ever encounter in a victory whose repercussions resonate throughout the world for thousands of years.
My only major complaint with 300 was that the Spartan 300 did not in fact stay and fight out of duty, as was depicted in the film, but in fact stayed and fought, even knowing it would bring their deaths, to give their land the vital time necessary to collect an army to defend the city states of Greece. Though this is a historical inaccuracy, I cite it because the accurate story was thematically much more powerful. Leonidas appealed to the Spartan honor code of never surrendering in the movie, yet it was in fact this very event which founded the Spartan tradition of never surrendering.
Also, as Leonidas left his wife for the final time, the narration insisted that the Spartan code did not allow the expression of love or regret at this moment, as it would have been a sign of ‘weakness’. This, to me, deviated from the intense passion and love of values that Leonidas showed at all other times with his wife and the Spartans embraced. A minor complaint, but it was out of place with the character the Miller had established with Leonidas.
Additionally, Frank Miller appears to feel that true heroism is sacrificing ones life in the name of a higher ideal. Sacrificing ones own life for a higher ideal, for something that is more important to someone than their life, is noble and just, but only when it is the last and necessary course of action. Fighting for ones highest ideals, perpetually and indefinitely through the whole course of one’s life, is far more difficult and far more admirable. Dying in the name of a cause, many people think, is the highest and most noble sacrifice, but in reality it is a fleeting moment and temporary decision made permanent, Living for a cause and fighting perpetually for it is far more noble, far more difficult, and far more rational.
This film is not about the Greeks versus the Persians, nor is it a historical docudrama, these are only the setting where a theme is played out. Good stories transcend the backdrop they are performed on and speak to people of all eras because they speak to an important ideal. The theme of this movie, the message it was conveying, the ideals it’s characters were embracing and fighting for, was not in defense of mysticism and slavery, but was in defense of individuals fighting to their last breath for their highest ideals, but not just any ideals, specifically the ideals of reason and freedom. The theme is of these brave men (brave because courage in the name of evil ideals is not courage, but savagery) fighting against the brutal enslavement of them and the people they care for at the hands of a murderous tyrant.
Like great historical fictional figures of Antigone and Hector, like the true to life historical figures of Cicero and Cato, and Raul Wallenberg of the modern era, and countless others who refused to capitulate and turn in their loved ones or loved way of life and died because of it at the hands of murderous thugs, the theme is of these valiant people standing up for and defending what they know is right and just in the face of the most brutal forms of oppression and savagery. It is a theme not only of moral courage but also of perseverance and overwhelming tenacity, of struggling through the most tremendous odds for what you know to be right, even if you face death along the way.
For the purpose of life is not to perpetuate the mere mechanical structure of our existence, it is to perpetuate not just life but a particular kind of life, an Aristotealan Eudaimonic life, a life of productive and intellectual growth, a life of goals and challenges, a vibrant life of learning and experiencing new ideas, new cultures, a life where your highest values, the health and well being of yourself and your loved ones and the growth you pursue, are passionately identified and defended at all costs, and are never surrendered and never abandoned. Where your passion and your goals drive your life and your friends and lovers are fellow travelers in your journey.
When you struggle at pursuing your goals and values, think of Leonidas and the brave 300, fighting for days on end through piles of bodies, the Persian hordes in front of them and their wives and children in the cities behind them. Know you have it in you to push yourself that much harder in pursuit of your goals and ideals. But be sure your goals are sound and ideals are good, fancy clothes and big houses do not necessarily make a good life, and pursuit of the irrational may actually damage the things you do value. When you are exhausted and battered, think of the 300 Spartans facing millions of Persians, fighting for freedom and justice and reason, think of their courage and tenacity and find strength in yourself that they as fellow humans found and that you know you have in you. Always fight for your ideals and the things you value in homage to Leonidas and the 300 and your own highest potential. This is one of the greatest movies ever made, see it, enjoy it, feel it, love it.
Newsweek ran an interesting article recently
“Why Young Men Delay Adulthood to Stay in Guyland”
What this article identifies and attacks is the cultural celebration of masculine immaturity. The celebration of this aversion to responsibility in men can easily be seen in men living their college party years far into adulthood, or mooching off their parents well into their 30’s, whose mothers keep track of their checkbooks and pay their car insurance. Men well into their 20’s or 30’s who do nothing but party and play video games, who do not conceive of looking beyond the expediency of the moment and who subsequently can not pursue long term goals.
Some notes from this article particularly astounded me
- To turn on television or see a movie is to find a smorgasbord of regressive adventures for the single man of every stripe. Movies like "Pineapple Express," Judd Apatow’s latest celebration of beta male bonding; TV shows like HBO’s hypermasculine pal party "Entourage," and beer commercials like Miller Lite’s "Man Laws" ads make delayed adulthood seem like a lark—roguish, fun and, most of all, normal.
- According to a study released last month by the Parents Television Council, prime-time broadcast audiences are three times more likely to hear about people having sex with pets, corpses or two other people simultaneously than they are to see a blissed-out married couple between the sheets…"Today’s prime-time television," the PTC concludes, "seems to be actively seeking to undermine marriage by consistently painting it in a negative light."
I feel the fashion trends of uncombed hair, pre torn and faded clothing, to be manifestations of this as well. I doubt we will ever see a mainstream idea of women being ‘dressed up’ to be something which includes hair artfully styled to look like it is not styled at all, or wearing pre-torn, pre-faded, and pre-stained ‘new’ jeans. I’m always inclined to laugh when I see a ‘dressed up’ man with disheveled hair and torn $100 jeans next to his dressed up girlfriend, who looks stunning.
Almost unbelievably, the article states this
- Almost 20 percent of college guys said they would commit rape if they knew they wouldn’t be caught
- College guys believe that 80 percent of their friends are getting laid each weekend, says Kimmel, whose survey of 13,000 kids, mostly 18 to 22 years old, puts the actual figure at closer to 10 percent.
- But on their own and without their liquid courage, there is also isolation and discontent. A 28-year-old Emory graduate, who declined to be named for fear of ridicule, talked of feeling ashamed of his life, which has led to countless conquests but not the literary success he’d hoped for; he’s living at home in New Jersey and working at a hotel front desk in the meantime. Another guy, 26, an Arizona State alum who lives in Tempe, is a coupon-book salesman, but clearly self-conscious: he carries fake business cards touting him as an MTV entertainment executive
The hedonistic pleasure for it’s own sake life, full of parties, sex, and drugged euphoria’s, is characterized, more than any other lifestyle, by the economists concept of the “diminishing margin of utility” What this fancy term means is that the more you do the same thing over and over again, the less value you derive from it. Ultimately, if you do it too much, you are merely swimming against a current stronger than you. Expending all your energy but moving nowhere, or even backwards. Diminishing marginal utility, if left unchecked, leads to disutiliuty. The perpetual conquest of video games, women, and consciousness, leave a man nowhere to go but downhill. Each successive conquest is less meaningful than the previous ultimately spiraling into an unfulfilled unhappy confusing mess.
By contrast, the value based goal orientated productive life, Aristotlean Eudaemonism, is the only life characterized by a perpetual increasing margin of utility. Our goals must be rational, and achieving them leaves us with an objective standard of our ego, we feel confident that we can face the world, and succeed in it, not by manipulating other men, which is in essence living parasitically off of them, but by engaging in voluntary beneficial trade for every other man, and wanting what is best for each person for their own sake, as they do for you. Our goals must be productive, our lives should be full of intellectual, physical, and emotional stimulation and challenges, not the parasitic conquest of women, but the conquest of nature, the vagaries of existence, and responsibilities and challenges of consciousness.
On Happiness, the article states:
- A raft of recent studies suggest that married men are happier, more sexually satisfied and less likely to end up in the emergency room than their unmarried counterparts. They also earn more, are promoted ahead of their single counterparts and are more likely to own a home.
Thus we are led to a culture which idealizes sex, partying, the evasion of responsibility, the pejorative Machiavellian manipulation of individuals. You might rightly call this attitude, the of celebrating masculine immaturity, as the “Peter Pan culture” or, as one of the most interesting blogs I’ve found on it refers to it as “Pyschological Neotony” [http://alfin2100.blogspot.com/search/label/Psychological%20neoteny] which is this psychological state that comes from a parental shielding of children from challenges in life, from the things that might hurt their feelings, and from deliberately avoiding challenges and growth in life. This parent usually does not prepare their child to live a life on their own, but instead shields them from all the difficulties of life, leaving a child psychologically crippled with they face their first real challenge.
Lest you paint me an advocate of traditionalized marriage, let me espouse my major qualifier. As most well know, about half of all marriages end in divorce. Of the remaining half, it’s safe to say a large portion of those (my guess will again be half) are bad enough to warrant a divorce but one or both members are too afraid, cowardly, abused, or confused to seek one. Of the remaining quarter, half of those are probably merely mediocre, stifled and without passion, with partners just going through the motions. Of the now remaining eighth, let me suppose that half of those are ok, or even pretty decent by most standards. To determine these real numbers a detailed philosophical and psychological study would be required, in lieu of such a large study my educated guesses will have to suffice for the purpose of this article. That leaves us with about 1/16th of marriages being fulfilling, happy, perpetually positive, and even encompassing a increasing marginal utility, to use that economics terminology. Another term might be capitalizing on the growth of the compound interest of mutual admiration, respect, and quality interactions can provide.
My guess is that only 1/16th of marriages are good? Well, the outlook is not so gloomy, the reason why so many are so poor is because so few people hold their partners up to any significant standards. They associate love as a mystical quality or an emotion of duty, feeling obliged to love someone because that is what they are supposed to do, promised themselves they would do, or have been convinced by society to do. But the rational integration of a few core values, and an objective estimation of one’s self and one’s partner, coupled with a mutual ideal of striving for a fulfilling relationship together, can do marvelous wonders for a marriage. It is the fact that so many people put up with poor behavior that so many people perpetually get away with it. When we are taught that love is unconditional, the abusers and thieves receive as much love as the honest hardworking compassionate respectful partner. When we abandon our standards for love, it is those who are least deserving of it that benefit the most, and those who are most deserving that are hurt by it.
Imagine the life of the Peter Pan man as he attempts to convince a seemingly virtuous girl of his worthiness as a partner, that sleeping with him will give her an elevated sense of self esteem. And by her surrendering to him, his self esteem is superficially boosted as well. The worth of this interaction is the doubt, the ‘challenge’, the control, and the conquest. Repeated affairs with the same person are of no value, the chase and conquest are over. The short term elevated sense of self comes only from the conquest, not from the tribute that such an act represents. Now imagine this situation removed of all pretenses. The woman says to the man that she is his, he has won her, perpetually. She will sleep with him at any time. She likes him as he is; there is no race, no challenge, no competition, but only the naked and explicit recognition of self worth. At first, the man will derive value from sex with this woman, it still holds the potential of a conquest and challenge. But as the sincerity becomes more obvious, the source of their spiritual fuel for their ego is put in doubt, and the sexual act is robbed of the stolen value and relegated to a mere physical hedonistic act. Ultimately, the man would stop sleeping with this woman, because he’s all ready got her, he already conquered her, and so gained his short term ego boost. Sex to him is not a celebration of self worth, existence, and admiration and respect for his partner, as it is for her. It is little more than a Machiavellian power struggle sometimes topped with an orgasm.
Conversely, consider two partners who have a deep respect and admiration for each, even through their non-essential faults, and who both strive to be the best person possible, who embody to a significant degree the core values of each other. When sexual they will be celebrating their own ego, celebrating their own self worth, celebrating their love for existence and paying the greatest homage they can to the person most important to them. They both continue to grow and change, in a positive direction, and with each other. These are the people who find fulfillment and lifelong love.
A person can not have a thousand best friends, both logistics and psychology prevent it. Similarly, he can not have 10 loving partners that he shares the deepest of intimate connections with. The depth and strength of an intimate connection is inversely proportional to the number of people one tries to have that connection with and directly proportional to the quality and length of time of interactions with the few individuals they choose to wholly devote their intimacy with.
It’s not just that marriages generally produce happier people, who live longer lives, who are less stressed. A bad marriage can sabotage all of those, it’s important not to confuse the average with the particular. The point is that that a good marriage can be all of those things, but can also ultimately produce the most fulfilling life possible to us, forged on the most profound intimacy once can share with another human being built up over time with the best match possible and sharing the best quality interactions possible.
On this, the author sums up nicely
- “Guyland is not without its charms, but it pales next to what I have known with my wife over the past three years.”
A friend of mine posted this.
"Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means someone can get inside you and mess you up. You build up all these defenses. You build up a whole armor, for years, so nothing can hurt you, then one stupid person, no different from any other stupid person, wanders into your stupid life… You give them a piece of you. They didn’t ask for it. They did something dumb one day, like kiss you or smile at you, and then your life isn’t your own anymore. Love takes hostages. It gets inside you. It eats you out and leaves you crying in the darkness, so simple a phrase like ‘maybe we should be just friends’ or ‘how very perceptive’ turns into a glass splinter working its way into your heart. It hurts. Not just in the imagination. Not just in the mind. It’s a soul-hurt, a body-hurt, a real gets-inside-you-and-rips-you-apart pain. Nothing should be able to do that. Especially not love. I hate love."
My comments -
I think that’s a sad and very nihilistic sentiment, and not a surprising one from someone like Gaiman who makes his living focusing on angst and suffering. Love (good love), even when unrequited, is a beautiful and amazing thing. It is the embodiment of all the greatest essences of humanity: the recognition of values, a cherishing of ones own existence and of happiness, striving for a life of flourishing, and the use of reason in the recognition of values. ‘True love’ or, the best kind of love, is not dependant on reciprocation but is instead based on an intrinsic recognition, appreciation, and deep admiration of a persons qualities. Lives may lead people on different paths, but their essence, that which we love, remains the same. If you love someone, you love ‘them’ as a person, as an identity. Part of them may choose a different course in life, but this is no reason to not love. Being hurt by someone choosing a different course in life is a testament that Gaiman thinks reality and everyone else’s dreams, passions, and desires ought to change entirely to satisfy each of our own whims. To scorn love so as to never be hurt by it is nihilistic Buddhism to its core - advocating never valuing anything because it’s loss might cause you to suffer. Why stop at love? Why not eradicate joy and happiness as well, but the only way to do this is to never care about anything. Is this the life Gaiman advocates? Would this be a good life to live? To love a person includes wanting what is best for them for their own sake, not for yours. A flourishing fulfilling healthy relationship exists where two people who love each other and admire each other for their intrinsic qualities travel and grow together on the same course in life.
My aunt, Delores, died a few days ago. She was 78 years old, had been married for 62 ½ years, had 8 children, 24 grandchildren, and 15 great grandchildren, with 2 more on the way. I haven’t seen her since thanksgiving and she died on January 6. I am glad she got to live the life she did, she had a wonderful and fulfilling life. But couldn’t it have been for a much longer time?
I remember playing in her yard, the stories she would tell of her children, and getting accosted by a bat in her barn. All the times we came to visit and she and Hub were always so warm and welcoming. Ready to give you some freshly cooked food, or some cookies. Or some Tea. I sit and write this as I sip on some tea, I remember that she would make me a cup of tea every time I went over there, even when I was very young, it is how I started drinking tea. The many days spent there just sitting at her table talking. I love her, she was a good person and I will miss her terribly.
We are only able to express our emotions, our love and affection for our family, through words, and words will always be but a pale shadow of the ideas and feelings they are meant to represent. Just saying “I love you” as I often did to DeeDee, does not ever do the core feeling enough justice. I wish that I could have conveyed to DeeDee what I felt for her, how much I admired her and value her, but whenever I try to extrapolate on such things I always seem at a loss for words, and I can never seem to get as close to someone as I want to be. A person’s mind is such a rich and complex place that you could explore it for their whole life and still never truly know them. We have difficulty in even getting to know ourselves, after all. Maybe some day we will have the technology to transfer a feeling directly to another mind, we may be able to capture the very feelings and emotional power and convey it to another person, imprinting the pattern of your feelings in your mind on theirs, in the way a physical embrace imprints the warmth and presence of another person. But until then we must struggle to truly convey our feelings through only words and embraces.
No one tells you, that as you grow old, your heart and mind remain that of a person in their 20’s. They never tell you that you dream just as much, want to do just as much, want to live as strong and as vibrantly as you ever did at the prime of your life. That while you desire all of that, your body fails and crumbles, withers, weakens, creaks and aches. That your spirit is young and alive and wants to jump up and race and run and fly at any age. But your body protests every step of the way, and even now as I enter my 30’s I feel the small hints of it, and I know enough to see it when I look into the eyes of the people older than I and see that spark flicker at the life they *ought* to be living right then, railing against the reality of their bodies. I know that my aunt was young and full of life even to her very last moments.
I didn’t get to see her as much as I would like but I have spent so much time working on things. I kept wanting to go and visit her and my uncle, I love them both very much, and of course love them as relatives, but as individuals I love them. I didn’t see them because I always chose to work on things instead, to work on my projects and my long term goals, because ultimately I wanted to help them when I got successful. I wanted to get a membership to Alcor so I could go see them and tell them about it. So I could show them my bracelet and necklace and possibly have more of an impact than if I didn’t have a membership, if I wasn’t signed up for what to them would be a strange procedure that I was asking them to sign up for they would have a much harder time giving it a fair hearing. I didn’t see them. I chose to work. When challenged with the question ‘What would you do if your loved one only had a few days to live?” I always answer that I would do everything I could in those few days to try to save them. But that means you would not be spending quality time with them. Which is more important? I guess it’s best to weigh the chances of success. But to not try and to see them die, is unbearable to me. I must act in accordance with my values. I could struggle and struggle to try to save them and no one would ever know, it would just seem like, to them, that I was distant. That I didn’t care. So it seems with DeeDee perhaps, that I was distant, and didn’t care. The truth couldn’t be more wrong, I love her and wanted to try to save her, I knew she was sick and dying, the only chance I would have would be for them to try cryogenic preservation. I doubt they would have, but I could have at least tried. But I didn’t, I never got the chance to. I couldn’t afford my own Alcor membership and so was trying to get one of my businesses successful enough to afford it, so I could go to them and try to get them to sign up. The night of her death was a message on my answering machine from Alcor, asking if they could assist me in signing up.
Now she is gone. Forever, Delores is dead now. Her last breath has slipped out and her cells stopped working. Her mind immediately starting to deteriote. Gone forever, a beautiful, wonderful, fascinating mind, person, gone for all of eternity. There is no afterlife, no heaven, no resting in peace, she is just gone. She ceases to exist. We can not begin to wrap our minds around such a thing. We can not imagine not existing. But one day I will not exist, and you will not exist, and everyone you know and love will not exist. Why? Why do we let happen? It is not right, it never has been, and never will be.
A single person is more unique than a whole galaxy devoid of sentient life. Then even a whole universe. Life. Conscious life, is the most precious thing in the universe, yet we waste it foolishly. We risk it so we think we might value it more. Our lives are so short that we’ll do crazier things since we have so little life to protect. We all have known for months she would die soon, and I know my parents and brother will, and I will someday. There is no escaping it, no evading it, no delusions that comfort me. Just the real and tangible lack of existence. There is no real way to console someone on the death of a loved one. Consolation is not possible when there is absolutely nothing that can ever make you ok with something like that. The closest we have is distance. Our memories fade, the pain becomes constant, and then dulled, and then in the background. Our minds adapt and get used to the world without them. We learn to live with it, but we never get over it. I did not mourn outwardly much tonight, I was sad, and I cried, but there was not anger, no rage at the world. I know what kind of world we live in, I know what preciousness is lost every second, every day. I am used to it, I think about it constantly.
90 Billion lives since the dawn of human existence, gone forever. It is not right. It was never right, it never will be right. Death does not give life value, the end of something does not make it’s beginning worthwhile, death is the destruction of values, all values, the end of something is the destruction of that something. We tolerate it because we can do nothing about it. We make up stories and delude ourselves so we don’t have to deal with the real horror of it. Life is the source of all values, it should always hurt, immeasurable, when a fundamental value is lost to us, forever. They did what they could, people will say. But we didn’t. We didn’t do all we could. We sat around, watching TV, playing video games, chatting it up online, going out to eat, partying, hanging out with friends. All the while it looms over our every actions. You will all die. Everyone you know and love will die, will cease to exist. What are you doing about it? Nothing. We aren’t doing anything. Well tell ourselves that we can not become experts at things because we are not born that way, that we can not learn and do the things required to fight aging and death, to give us all indefinite life spans. That no matter how hard we try we can’t do anything anyway. But is that true? Are we really being honest with ourselves. To do so means coming to the full and conscious recognition of how horrific death is, something we are not eager as a people to do. So instead we all fade, deteriorate, suffer, cry, and die. Persons slipping away into eternity forever. You, your loved ones, everyone you know and love will die and disappear forever. What are you doing about it?
Death is terrible and tragic, with every single death, the sun should dim, a cold wind blow across the world, the seas should calm, all sounds and lights should fade, and everyone stop in their tracks and bow their heads, knowing that one of their own is gone. That a magnificent human being now ceases to exist, lost to the ravages of entropy for all of eternity. But today it would happen so frequently that we would all become numb to it, and the sun would flash like a strobe light. We lower our flags to half staff when a member of the government passes, or there is a great tragedy. But every death is a tragedy, and our flags would never raise if we captured them all.
Each of us, every human in all of history, values deeply their own life. And faced with it’s inevitable demise, cursed as the only animal on the planet consciously aware of it’s own mortality and imminent cessation of existence, we have been forced to psychological compensate for such an unfathomable horror.
Buddhism, recognizing the immense suffering caused by the loss of a life one deeply values, sought to eradicate values so one would not suffer at their loss. That is, in order to not be upset at the loss of a loved one’s life, one needs to absolve themselves of values, and in doing so will absolve themselves of suffering. Such a state devoid of values is what “Nirvana” literally is. But this is wrong. When a loved one dies, it should be upsetting, the loss of a value is the nature of sadness. It should wreck you to the core of your soul. When a loved one survives, we should be happy, because happiness is the getting or keeping of a value. Values are the basis of suffering, but are also the basis of joy and happiness.
The Judeo Christian religions and offshoots, in an attempt to stave off the immense psychological horror that comes from death, simply made up an afterlife where everyone is miraculously resurrected to live for all of eternity in the presence of their loved ones. Death is not so bad to them, because it means literally that we are in a better place, free from pain and suffering.
Death is horrible and unconscionable, and there are very few psychological mechanisms we have to deal with. They are, essentially, to be indifferent to life, and thus indifferent to death, to devalue life, as Buddhists do, to convince ourselves death is not real, as the Judeao Christian and related religions do, to convince ourselves there is value in death, or last to be honest with reality and recognize the grievous and horrible nature of death, thus suffering psychological consequences for the whole of one’s life.
It is difficult and burdensome to choose the last, but I will not fool myself into believing something just because it makes me feel better. I will not fool myself into believing someone loves me, that I love, when they do not. I will let her go and live her life. I will not fool myself into believing that there is a bag of money buried in my yard, when there is no such thing, just because it would make me feel better and more financially secure. I will not fool myself into believing we survive bodily death when absolutely no evidence exists that even remotely suggests such a thing, just to feel better about it.
As I stood at my aunts graveside service and listened to my strongly religious cousin, one of her children, re-iterating some of these thoughts on the afterlife, I thought about the root of this desire, and I empathize with what drives people to think these things. Do they really truly believe that she is in heaven looking down on us and smiling? Probably. As he begin to admonish non believers while at her grave side, my mind begin to wonder ignoring his insulting and disrespectful tangent. I asked god, standing there, lets see it. Bring her back, right now. Lets see a blinding white light and her rise from her grave, healthy and restored. Reunite her with her husband. Show me, I said. Where are you? Do you ever do anything? She is dead, in front of you. Bring her back and I will believe. Of course nothing happened, and my eyes rose to the forest above as I cried.
In the modern secularly enlightened west, it is popular to try to find some value in death. Since these secularly enlightened people won’t be so egregious as to convince themselves into thinking there is an afterlife, and will not renounce values as a Buddhist would, they seek to convince themselves that there is value to be had in death. We see this effort manifested in some of the popular euphemisms of our day. Things like “Death gives meaning to life” (it does not, it takes away life) “Death makes you recognize and truly value things (It does not, it is the destruction of all values) “Death makes you appreciate life more” (it does not, since you will not be conscious to compare non-death to death, you can not value non-death more because of it, you will simply cease to be) “Things that have beginnings must have ends” (I prefer never ending stories) “We must die to make way for later generations” (I would prefer to know and love my great great grandparents then to have them ‘get out of the way’) “Death is a part of life (or natural)” (so were small pox and the plague, and today so is cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, ‘natural’ is for unthinking animals and plants) “The impermanence of life is what makes it special” (all things have intrinsic value to you whether permanent or not) The corollary to this last point is responsible for some of the depression atheists allegedly feel, that the transitory nature of things make them less valuable (as opposed to more) but to me, having something for sometime is better than having nothing ever. But having something you value forever is better still.
The problem with all of these evasions and psychological obfuscations, which no doubt had a lot of value when humanity had no option in the matter, is that it takes away the psychological motivation to do anything about death, and it also demotes life to nothing but the means to an end; death. But life is an end of its own, it doesn’t need to be there in order to accomplish something else, it has its own intrinsic value to each and every one of us.
I love my life, and want to live it forever. I think that most people, if raised outside of the dominate cultural philosophically narratives that devalue life, demote values, or outright fool oneself, will eventually come to the rational understanding about the intrinsic value of life that I have, and not be so ready and willing to give it up. They would also choose, if able to make an informed choice, to live their lives for as long as possible, coming to explore the world, solar system, and galaxy, and coming to know and truly love people important to them in the deepest sense possible, living with ancestors and descendants many many generations removed.
We can keep a car running for generations, and as good as new, by fixing and replacing worn out parts as they fail. But our body, that which is most precious to us, withers and fails. Why can we not repair our bodies like we do our vehicles and homes? For 100,000 years humanity had no choice in death. For some 99,750 of those years, people would mysteriously get ill and drop dead for no apparent reason, until we discovered and understood viruses and bacteria. Today we live much longer lives on average then we ever have in the history of humanity, and an average persons life in a post industrial western nation is like that of a king’s from a thousand years ago. Our household gadgets and electricity do the work of an army of slaves. We live in ornate palaces with running water, heated, able to communicate nearly instantly with anyone, anywhere, and demand and receive entertainment at a moments notice through tiny wires strung across the nation. A king of 1,000 BC could only dream of such things. Yet today more of us have these, and more and more people continue to get better standards of living. Still much of the world lives in brutal poverty and oppression, but the world is getting better. Too slowly, but it is getting better for people. But even in all of this wondrous technological achievement, we still grow old, sick, and die. But we might be the first human generation living on the cusp of a technological breakthrough, that of real, tangible mechanisms to slow and defeat aging and all disease entirely. We may one day soon be able to perpetually repair our bodies as parts fail, and even make some parts better than before. We may all have the ability to live as strong young healthy adults for as long as we’d like. And if our children and parents embrace the same path, we would live forever with people we love dearly. Combined with the rapid technological progress of humanity and the tremendous growth in global standards of living, it could be that one day, mankind, with his reason and passion for life, creates a literal heaven spread among the stars. If there ever is a heaven or a god, it will be made by humans and in their own image.
On the Autodidactic list I am a member of I came across this article:
‘Thirst for knowledge’ may be opium craving
This conception is a blatant reversal of cause and effect. Your brain does not give you an opium dose so that you will learn things, if that were true than all people everywhere would immediately become compulsive autodidactics, everyone compelled irrevocably to achieve, attain, and understand, and we would all be living indefinite life spans all ready and spreading among the starts because of the collective achievements of all these great, but right now idle, minds. The billions of man hours spent watching reality TV shows and bimbo heiresses clearly suggests otherwise.
The obvious flaw to me in this article is that the gestalts that produce this effect can only occur with things that have a significant meaning to the person who learns them. I could spend my whole life studying a great puzzle of nature, finally and ecstatically answer it, and get that neural opium shot, and then run through the streets shouting the answer. But even if I took the time to coalesce all the complexities of my discovery into a short conceptual statement, and people ‘got it’ when I said it to them, they are not rewarded by a neural opium shot as well, even though they have learned a new concept, because they don’t care about that concept in the first place, nor place any importance to it. I should think this would be obvious to anyone who spends some time reflecting on it. It’s not the grasping of a concept that we are rewarded for, it’s for answering a question that we have made important to ourselves.
This chemical mind \ body emotion causal reversal is something I find very common, especially in areas pertaining to love, where the tendency that seems at the forefront of academia today is for scientists to act on knowledge only as blocks of perception. Lacking conceptual descriptions of bodies of knowledge, scientists are led to make perceptions, that is observations, into causal proclamations! This is quite simply an abdication of our volition to the forces that guide blind automatons. They do so by making the measurements, and descriptions of affects they discern, into the actual causes of the variables they are measuring.
Consider in addition to this article, Dr. Helen Fisher’s book “Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love” where in this review http://www.firstscience.com/site/articles/love.asp they specifically sum up Fisher’s thesis as "…this fire in the mind is caused by elevated levels of either dopamine or norepinephrine or both, as well as decreased levels of serotonin." Note the book is called “Why We Love” followed by the answer of course, which is “The Nature And Chemistry of Romantic Love” clearly implying that nature and chemistry are the reasons why we love. It would be more apt to call such a book, if it did not confuse cause and effect, “How We Love” (That is, how a physical body manifests the emotions of love). Why is the ‘fire in the mind’ caused by the elevated levels of either dopamine or norepinephrine instead of the elevated levels of dopamine and norepinephrine being caused by the “fire in the mind”!
When a person who is in love exhibits elevated levels of these opium like drugs, the scientists then interpret that to mean that they are in love because the brain has produced that drug! Which is ridiculous, of course, you do not fall in love because your brain produces a chemical, your brain produces a chemical *because* you fall in love. The difference is superficially subtle, yet vitally important to all of our conceptions of humanity and emotions. It is the difference between being a slave to your emotional whims originated in the mindless mechanistics of your biological chemistry and having your emotions be the logical consequences of the deepest values you choose. It is the difference between being a robotic slave and a thinking, feeling person.
Similarly you do not seek to answer questions because your brain will give you a fix, your brain gives you a fix because you have sought so hard to answer something that’s important to you. The pre programmed emotional response is to reward the discovery of hard sought information, but what you seek and whether you seek it at all (since the question must first become important to you) is decided by you, and valued by you.
Your body is a physical entity which exists in the real world and your mind is an intangible pattern that can not be weighed or touched. The latter must then have a physical mechanism by which it can interact with the former, and these mechanisms are primarily hormones and drugs. When you identify values important to you, and integrate them fundamentally into your person through habitualization and repetition, your emotions respond in kind. That is what emotions are in a healthy brain. They are automatic responses to stimuli based on your deeply ingrained fundamental values. The response of your emotions is automatic and instinctual, but what they respond to and why is up to you. Your emotions are a complex neurological and biochemical program, but you decide what variables that program focuses on.
If you value honesty and integrity, and you integrate those values wholly (which necessarily includes becoming an honest person of integrity yourself, since you can’t honestly value something you flagrantly violate) and you recognize those virtues in person, your mind responds by rewarding that recognition with a biochemical response that affects both your mind and body. You respect them. And to the extent at which you recognize and value other attributes, and to the extent that they are manifested in another person, you come to respect, admire, cherish, and even love them.
How much of a leap will it be for a society which frequently says “no one ever invents anything because they were inclined by society to do so” to take these kind of causal reversals and move to “all the great inventors and scientist of the world were only ever drug addicts and were addicted to the opium their brain released when they figured something out, the greater the inventor, the worse the addict who lost all control over his own functions and normal humanity” The same can and will be said of any great scientist, artist, musician, or poet. Can I help but think that an obvious implication of this is that they are saying the greats of humanity are weird and crazy drug addicts, while the average persons are really healthy and sane. The greats failed and gave in to their cravings, the mediocre and average, were strong and resolute. Of course there is nothing wrong with not wanting to achieve great things, it is after all your own life and you get to live it as you please. But to attack and belittle those who do, who have made all the great things that have made our lives so easy, pleasurable, and enjoyable, and to attribute their accomplishments to anything besides their hard work, dedication, and massive effort is not only beyond outrageous and insulting, it is entirely factually incorrect. Only the post modern scientific nihilist would assert that values are unimportant, that human emotions are deterministic and materialistic, that the great achievers of the world were slaves to cravings, that knowledge has no intrinsic value, and that rational intelligent beings don’t seek it because they live on earth and desire to survive and prosper on it, but only to get high.