Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Envisioning Life

I’ve been thinking, of late, of some other ways to envision my life.

Life as Nightmare
I am increasingly, of late, gripped by the suspicion that my life is a dream. Each time it seems to be nearing some normality it shifts in increasingly bizarre and unpleasant ways. It no longer seems as comprehensible as reality is supposed to be. I can no longer see the form of truth behind it. At any moment I expect to wake up, sometimes it is a happy prospect, sometimes fearful.

Life as Demonic Assault
I have had the feeling, of late, of a presence following me. When I am alone I see it at the corners of my vision and around the edges of things. When I am still it whispers into my ear all of my most hated memories, of which I suspect this day will become one. Surely there must be some malicious strength wrecking all of my intensions, for as soon as I grasp strongly some goodness, misfortune and despair come crashing down around me, the greater the goodness the worse the wreckage. The demon wants nothing more than for me to be afraid and alone and totally hopeless, and it knows well how to twist these thoughts within me.

Life as Equilibrium
Cormac McCarthy wrote in No Country For Old Men that “by the time you're grown you're as happy as you're [going] to be. You'll have good times and bad times, but in the end you'll be about as happy as you was before. Or as unhappy. I've [known] people that just never did get the hang of it.”
I am not really any more or less happy than I was two years ago and I see little reason for that to change. Except for one thing, and I don’t really know what to make of it. There are possibilities on the horizon in ways I had not thought I would ever see. Perhaps a time is coming that will bring my adolescence into balance, so that my life is not an equilibrium of constant mediocrity but blackest despair and wild joy in equal parts.

This shit is like a car accident, you just keep replaying it over and over in your head like there is something you will see that you missed all the other times.
I was not drunk. And I was not on a motorcycle. But I’m not sure I could have fucked things up any more supremely if I was.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Determinism Explained

I believe in absolute determinism.
I have my justifications - the world is composed of cause and effect and free will is an illusion created by our decision-making experience. I could lay out the entire proof but no one who believes in free will would be convinced. They never are, and there is a large sum of gratitude waiting for the first person who can tell me why. The best I’ve been able to come up with is that it has something to do with the mechanistic conception of the human mind I picked up in my high school Psychology class.
But the proof is not why I believe it. The proof is rarely why anyone believes anything. We believe things because of what they mean not rationally, but emotionally.
So here is my emotional justification for determinism.
I think those who believe in free will should be able to understand it. If it is still incomprehensible why someone would believe that there is not a special human faculty apart from causation capable of making a “free” choice, please let me know.

Years ago, before I knew why, I felt determinism to be true. Yet what I felt was not the truth of the idea, but the power. For in determinism all things are decided. All history is written - my life, all lives. And it is useless to speak of responsibility or guilt or right or wrong. There is what happened and why it happened and it could not have happened any other way.
This mantra I repeat daily because determinism was my way out of the all-consuming guilt from which I could not free myself. Luther found grace by faith, but I never understood forgiveness. Calvin found predestination, which is close but still requires a trustworthy god.
Guilt from what you may ask, I am not a murder or a rapist. But I read and I believe that he who hates his brother has murdered him in his heart. I have not done these things, but I am as bad as those that have.
But only if there is free will. If there is not, I am just the product of my causes; if those causes have made me violent or lustful I am not lesser for it. I could not have been any different. I am not imperfect if perfection was never an option.
Determinism was my escape from the despair every (ex)Protestant fights against, the despair of knowing there is nothing you can do to justify yourself.
Under the gentle tyranny of determinism I no longer have to care about the world or what goes on in it. These things had to happen and there is no use in tearing myself apart over them.
This is no idle hyperbole. I believe in determinism so that I do not tear myself apart over the imperfection of the world.

This is why I believe, ardently and completely, in determinism.
So each night when I face my failure and my weakness and am consumed by self-hatred I can calm myself and remind myself that however things went, it is the only way they could have gone and under those circumstances there was nothing I could have done differently.
Then instead of throwing myself off of an overpass or falling on my knife I can go to bed and hope that tomorrow things will be determined differently. So far they haven’t but you never know.

Friday, November 25, 2011

On Contradictions

Here’s the thing, people contradict themselves on a grossly regular basis; which, on a deterministic level, is really weird. I think it means that stated intensions have nothing to do with actual intensions or actual actions. Here’s a few examples.
I don’t like dogs. Or social networking. Or modern ideas about gender relations. Or stupid memes. But a brief scroll through my browser history would reveal that I am either very confused or a liar.
But despite the fact that I spent a couple hours Monday night reading about Tibetan Mastiffs I really do not care for dogs. I wouldn’t let this distaste get in the way of obtaining a couple of them if I was going to live in a small A-frame cabin in the Alaskan wilderness, but this is a highly specialized circumstance.
And then there’s the Batman Begins moment, sometimes what people actually do matters more than what they think they mean on the inside.
I think the conclusion here is that sometimes things happen, other forces, other causes, intervene and produce an effect different from what you would hope. But sometimes you have just been fooling yourself.
Here’s another example, sometimes people say that they like you, and that they are your friend. I don’t know what they mean by this. What is a friend if not someone who, if you have fallen into a pit, will fix and lower a rope? This seems like basic human courtesy to me, like maybe the bare minimum of what it might be to treat someone like a fellow person. Yet as far as I can tell some people use the word friend to mean something more to the effect of, let the man who has cut the rope fall. It is not like the sentiment doesn’t make sense on some level, it’s just not friendship.
So here’s the thing, do I take it that the people who have treated their friend in this way genuinely do not care if he lives or dies, or do I assume that, just as I have many times, they are contradicting themselves? That other circumstances have intervened and they simply did not express whatever it was that they truly felt? On the other hand, might these events reveal deeper feeling that their words so carefully hid?
There is, of course, no way to know. I can only judge my own intensions, and even those rather badly. I’m not going to assume the best of people just because I can. But I also need to be able to deal with these people, whose stated feelings I can no longer trust in any way.
It is a dilemma for which time may be the only solution.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

On Social Justice

To those who feel underprivileged,
I understand your plight. You want to be able to do what you want to do without worrying about conditions that are beyond your control. It is a reasonable enough thing. You have every right to pursue it. But I’d like to offer a word of warning.
I am a middle-class, white, male raised protestant in a healthy two parent household with a stay-at-home mother. I attended public school but took advanced classes, academics always came easy to me because my parents cultivated an environment of introspection, creativity, and literacy. My parents are also helping me pay for college. I have never had trouble finding employment.
I am the essence of middle-class privilege. And I have spent the last five years largely alone and miserable. It does not matter that I can choose whatever career I want - the system of privileged you bemoan has not made me happy or content.
You look at your life and you see very real boundaries, and you think that if you could somehow get past these you would be content with your place in the world. Maybe you would. Maybe you are a woman who wants to be a high powered executive and you struggle with never being taken seriously. Maybe you are an immigrant and you want to hold high office but you know that if nothing else the difficulty English-speakers have pronouncing your name will bare you from it. Maybe you are gay and you know that even within the liberal urban culture that claims to be accepting you have been pigeonholed as a curiosity. Whatever manner in which you feel underprivileged, you believe that if you could become privileged, or if the system of privilege could be dismantled, your life would be appreciably better. Again, maybe it would.
I don’t know you, I don’t know your life. But as someone who does not feel underprivileged, I can tell you that it doesn’t make your life wonderful. It is nice being the ethnic majority and the gender that traditionally wields power, but I cannot think of a time in my life that this has made any appreciable difference to me.
One day things may be different and whatever you are that causes you to feel underprivileged will privilege you. But you still won’t be able to do whatever you want or be whoever you want. You still will not be able to control your life. You will still have to accept your place in the order of things.
So fight your fight, battle the forces of injustice and tyranny. But first think very carefully about what you want, because if it is happiness there is no guarantee you will find it in victory.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Where I'm At

disclaimer: I don't really believe in secrets. I like being able to trust people. I have a hard time seeing the negative consequences of being uncomfortably truthful. 

It is pretty clear at this point that I am unable to handle the ordinary pressures of college. going to classes, writing essays by due dates, being around attractive people, etc. 
But I don't really see any other good options and I've tried all the normal solutions - talking to professors, counseling, going home more often, being academically responsible, etc.
Somehow I always end up feeling trapped and alone and mildly suicidal. 

It feels like I have to prove that I am capable of this with everything I do. Like I can't get past the slightest block.
Feeling incapable of writing an essay? - better drop out or, better yet, kill yourself.
Can't complete a reading? - same, if you can't manage the basics of the academic life you shouldn't be here.

So the options are as follows
1. stay in college
pros - I'm already here
cons - it brings me to where I am now

2. drop out
pros - it's an escape from where I'm at now
cons - there's nothing to do but get a menial job

3. kill myself
pros - I don't have to deal with anything any more
cons - much, much, much more difficult than doing nothing

Any input would be great.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

On Gods v.2

This is what happens when, over the course of a few weeks, I am assigned Descartes and Milton and then get into a long discussion about redemption and multiple arguments about free-will. You get to decide whether my idea-digestive-tract produces analogous results to my food-digestive-tract.

The following is an examination of the Judeo-Christian understanding of God. How Islamic monotheism or Hindu polytheism and it’s offshoots would relate I do not know, as I am not anything approaching thoroughly read in those traditions.
The basis of the total trust in and devotion to God demanded by Judeo-Christian religion is the nature of God as omnipotent, omniscient, eternally unchanging and loving.
It thus follows that whatever happens, God is totally in control and will always do what is best, no matter how insane things seem to us at the time. And things seem extremely insane. The world is in no way an ok place, the only way God can be good and the world be the way be evil is that the evil is part of a process toward a higher good. Any lessening in our ability to trust God must then result in a breakdown in our faith in this process, and therefore any notion of God as good.
Unfortunately there is a contradiction at the very core of this definition of God. No being can be both loving and unchanging, and without both total trust is irrational.
Without being infinitely loving God’s motives cannot be trusted.
Without being eternally unchanging God’s control cannot be trusted.
The bible frequently speaks of God being affected by the actions of men, being grieved, made angry, pleased etc. If he is eternally all-powerful and all-knowing this makes no sense what-so-ever. All of these emotions require some element of surprise, of the unexpected. For such a god there could be no unexpected, and therefore no emotional response. Love however, demands these responses; love demands affection. If one cannot be affected one cannot love. And if one is able to be affected one cannot be unchanging. Thus if God is loving, we are able to change him, and therefore, because change opens the possibility for error by calling his omnipotence and omniscience into question, he cannot be fully trusted.
Likewise, if we hold that he is eternally unchanging, he cannot love us and therefore cannot be trusted because his intensions will always be suspect.
Of course the radical determinism I find logically necessary in the causal (rational and mechanistic) understanding of the universe makes resistance to God on these ground futile. In a Miltonic sense, no matter how much we rebel we can never get away from God’s will. This of course takes the latter of the two options for the nature of God - whatever love the eternal God has for men he is outside of the time-space continuum and cannot be affected by us (If the opposite were to be assumed, and God was inside the time-space continuum, we would be faced with the impossible task of proving his physical existence), therefore his love is fundamentally different from ours and not able to be understood.
This incomprehensible love, as well as any more general appeal to the mystery of divinity (i.e. God is beyond all your logic), has the similar effect of negating rational trust. I cannot (and it is irrational to) trust something I do not understand.
Fortunately, the existence of this sort of person-God is not necessary. The various proofs of God I have come into contact with, Thomistic (relating to ultimate origins), Ontological (relating to the inherent necessities of perfection), or Cartesian (establishing the existence of perfection and infinity and positing that there must be a being to possess these things because they are not present in our world) are not all that convincing and regardless, prove the existence of only the most shadowy, Aristotelian prime-mover type deity.
In conclusion - the two options for the theistic structure of the universe are:
1. Deistic Agnosticism - there must be something that started the universe, we can call it God if you like; other that that, God is unknowable.
2. We are trapped in a nightmare scenario akin to that of Satan in Paradise Lost, unable to justify a trust in God and utterly incapable of escaping his will. Doomed to hell, internal and external, until God deigns to destroy us.
The second option does have a certain philosophically masochistic appeal to it but for the sake of my sanity I’m leaning toward the first.

Monday, November 14, 2011

In You Is Lebanon

The earth has a long memory but
Awash and shifting,
Men and rivers,
The history it tells is like skin.
The deeper wounds remain
And the old colors do not fade,
But the middling things -
They are gone with the rain.
The swelling and the burn,
All returns to the place of its birth and
Yet there were cedars in Lebanon
And mastodons on the scabland.
Of these things there is a remnant or none
And little mark of their life
But fossils like scar tissue and
Histories of what once was verdant.
Thus within you is the memory of all contained,
For you and in you
The cedars will grow forever.

Monday, November 7, 2011

In Heaven Falls Night

I am ice.
Have you touched something so cold you
Found painful the tearing away?
Nothing is on fire.

I saw once, blue flames and
Have tried to set light to the ruins we
Found in the glacier, but there was
Nothing left that would burn, and the djinn chased us into the forest.

I have washed my face in melt water,
Have you felt such frigid streams?
Found is the dirge and found is the hymn,
Nothing else to sing.

I am ice?
Have you seen within me the collapsing matrix and
Found the melting core?
Nothing is a fire.

In heaven falls night,
And though the stars and moon speak of a coming dawn,
It is not brighter for the hope.