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Category Archives: philosophy

Hell is Other People

     Hell:  A netherworld where the dead continue to exist, where the damned suffer everlasting punishment, torment or destruction.  In Jean-Paul Sartre’s one act play, No Exit, the three characters discover that hell is a hotel room.  Garcin, the first to arrive – therefore the only occupant to experience solitude – later decided that “Hell is other people”.  If this statement is true, it is only because they have been given that power.  Other people are external forces and, as such, a distance or separation exists with them.  Whatever thoughts or opinions imparted from them are subject to interpretation.  In contrast, our own thoughts are internal, subject to self-deception and denial – both which collapse without reinforcement from external influence.  Hell becomes the search for self with no opportunity to experience self.

     In ‘Being for Others’, Sartre states “The Other looks at me and as such he holds the secret of my being, he knows what I am”.  The ‘Other’ has an impression of what ‘he’ sees, but how much influence can ‘he’ hold as an external force?  How can ‘he’, as an external force, hold a ‘secret’ that ‘I’ as an internal force, have not given him.  Sartre uses the word ‘what’ in reference to his ‘I’; this indicates that he is objectifying himself.  The objectification is not a reflection of what the other person sees of him, but rather what he perceives the other person sees.  This is indicative of how he sees himself in the others eyes.

     Sartre wishes to recognize the ‘freeze-frame’ that accompanies first impressions.  Sartre claims that Bad Faith is “…a certain art of forming contradictory concepts which unite in themselves both an idea and the negation of that idea … a facticity and a transcendence … two aspects of human reality that are and ought to be capable of a valid coordination.”  The idea of first impressions is an example these contradictory concepts and the possible breakdown in coordination.  First impressions are subject to circumstance, context or physical attributes such as gender or race, wherein the impression is a reflection of the other person’s biases or experience.  This first impression has little to do with the ‘I’ being observed, and more to do with the ‘other’ observing.  The breakdown in coordination occurs when the perceived opinion of another holds more weight than that which we have of ourselves.  To allow a strangers impression to influence one’s sense of self-image is a reflection on one’s own self-image.  If no interaction has occurred, then the impression perceived may or may not be accurate or well-informed.  We see ourselves in another’s eyes, but it is a reflection of what we present to them.

     In No Exit, Garcin initially wishes to continue in solitude, wishing the opportunity for self-reflection.  To the two women who have joined him in the suite he states “we’ll work out our salvation, looking into ourselves”.  He is not afforded his solitude.  He later reveals doubts regarding the actions that led to his demise.  He questions whether he was standing by his belief’s or whether he was a coward running from responsibility.  The only salvation that he can conceive is the affirmation of the former from another person.  Without that other person, or external influence, he would be trapped in this question alone, coward or martyr.  This is hell.  If one is in Hell for all time, then there is little to distract from the internal debate.  Every moment and every decision that one makes in one’s life would be measured to determine the validity of ones existence.

     Sartre states “…I choose myself from day to day, and I make it mine by making myself.” The day to day decisions we make shape our personality, our acceptance or denial of consequences shape our character. If Garcin saw himself as a coward, he masked it by hiding behind principles.  His evasion may be successful to onlookers, but never to himself.  A mask means nothing when no one is there to see it.  If a first impression becomes a lasting impression, it is because we do nothing to expand or inform that impression.  If we allow others to dictate who we are, then we are condemned to accept the role in which we have been cast.  If Hell is eternal, it is these decisions that we must reconcile or, at the very least, recognize.  Each of the characters in No Exit required affirmation of some sort from the other. They relinquished control of their self-image and consequently their self-worth.  They cannot find salvation from within because they do not recognize themselves from within; they only recognize how they are seen from another’s point of view.

     Hell as other people comes not in the condemnation of others, but rather in the affirmation of others.  As long as one can deceive an onlooker they can deceive themselves.  When the only company that remains is ourselves, it is ourselves that we must come to appreciate.  When we learn to appreciate ourselves we are no longer condemned to everlasting suffering, we are no longer in Hell.

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Posted by on May 23, 2013 in Confessions, philosophy, psychology

 

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Abstract Thought and Authenticity part two

For this post, I would like to focus on the concept of ‘abstract’ or ‘abstraction’.  I have a few reasons for this particular emphasis, the first of which is the necessarily vague dictionary definition.

From my handy-dandy:

abstract  adj

1: Considered apart from a particular instance.

2:  Expressing a quality apart from an object

3:  Having only intrinsic form with little or no pictorial representation.

abstract  n

1:  Summary, Epitome

2: An abstract thing or state.

abstract  vb

1:  Remove, Separate.

2:  To make an abstract of: Summarize

3:  To draw away the attention of

4:  Steal

abstraction  n

1:  The act of abstracting:  the state of being abstracted.

2:  An abstract idea

3:  An abstract work of art

I  have reread these definitions three times and still cannot attach any interest to them.  So, I am going to quote Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/abstraction)

“In philosophical terminology, abstraction is the thought process wherein ideas are distanced from objects.  Abstraction uses a strategy of simplification, wherein formerly concrete details are left ambiguous, vague, or undefined, thus effective communication about things in the abstract requires an intuitive or common experience between the communicator and the communication recipient.  This is true for al verbal/abstract communication.”

I would like to use the above references – or rather the sources of those references – to make my point.  Our society is being held hostage by miscommunication.  We lack the intuitive or common experience necessary for effective conversation.

Where do we find information?

My first instinct is always to reach for my dictionary.  In this habit, I am a product of my generation and those that came before me.  I have adjusted with advances in technology (for the most part), but I adjust from the foundation of ‘before’.  Before the internet was on your phone, before laptops were smaller than hardback books, before you could download and read a book without having to turn a page.  I even remember when home computers were a luxury rather than a necessity.  In truth, ‘before’ was not that long ago.

Sadly, my handy-dandy failed me.  I turned instead to the internet.  I typed a single word into a search engine, and almost immediately received thousands of options to choose from.  In utilizing an internet search engine, I began thinking on an abstract level.  I stripped away the specific characteristics of inquiry and approached the subject broadly.  Using this approach I can use deductive reasoning to narrow my field of interest to suit the aim I wish to achieve.

From:  www.scrassociates.com/glossary.html

Deductive:  Reasoning from the general to the specific; to chunk down.”

From:  www.dfamily.com/philosophy/teach/hswtl/glossary.html

Deductive:  Given a set of facts of assumptions which are supposed to be true, deductive reasoning is the mental process to extend these facts into new conclusions using logic; ‘Top Down’, or from the more general to the more specific.”

This method of reasoning was favored by such intellectual giants as  Descartes, Galileo, and Hobbes (www.psychnut.com/gloss.html) and yet, it is not the preferred method in our education system.  Rather, the opposite approach of Inductive Reasoning monopolizes the academic opportunities afforded young scholars.

From:  www.scrassociates.com/glossary.html

Inductive:  Drawing a general conclusion (abstract) from specific facts; chunking up.”

From:  www.philosophy.uncc.edu/mledrid/logic/logiglos.html

“Unlike deductive arguments, inductive ones promise only probability, not certainty.  Thus, if one argues that having watched several different newscasts in several different cities on many different nights, one may infer that newscasts emphasize, in Bob Inman’s phrase, ‘mayhem and misery’, then one is making an inductive argument (in this case, and inductive or empirical generalization).  Another kind of inductive argument is an argument from analogy.  Inductive arguments are judged by their reliability, where one expects only a high degree of probability, not one hundred percent reliability as with deduction.”

In an academic environment, students are ‘supplied’ with examples of a principle idea.  Oftentimes, the principle idea is omitted or addressed only after the examples have been presented.  In English class, students read short stories, poetry and essays from respected authors’ representative of their time and society.  They are familiar and well explored so much so that the ‘meaning’ and ‘interpretation’ of their works have lost subjectivity.  The analysis of their work has come from a long and distinguished line of ‘reliability’, as a result, differing interpretations are often classified as ‘wrong’, ‘misguided’ or ‘misunderstood’ and in need of ‘correction’.  The negation of individual responses cripples the students’ ability to form their own opinion.  They are denied the journey of exploration and enlightenment that comes with increased knowledge.

In the age of information, blind acceptance of majority opinion is dangerous.  As a society we have come to accept ‘probability’ as ‘certainty’.  We view ‘exceptions’ as ‘aberrations’ and ‘originality’ as ‘defiance’.  Rather than seek a personal understanding we rely on the explanations of others.  I am left to wonder where we would be in Descartes, Galileo and Hobbes had been satisfied by accepted ‘truth’.

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2011 in Coffee Shop Whore?, Confessions, philosophy

 

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Day Jobs and Life Callings

         16 days ago I  had a job interview; 15 days ago I was offered a job; 14 days ago I accepted the job, and 13 days ago I posted about authenticity (rather, I was easing into the concept of authenticity).  12 days ago, I started the job that I now view as the ‘entry-level position’ to my life calling.

            Now, before I get too far into the ‘job’ post, I have to tell you something about the past year. 

                                    I discovered Existentialist Philosophy.

I had planned on a gradual and detailed account of these new insights, but, well… abstract half-thought… to be continued…  The important thing now is the idea of authenticity.

            Those who have read my posts of the past know that I try to live my life openly, honestly and without reserve.  For many who meet me in person, this can be a little unnerving and overwhelming at times.  At times I have doubted the wisdom of my choices.  When I discovered the existentialist concept of authenticity … vindication!!!!!

            So, segue completed, circling back to my new job.  I am happy to report that I love my day job.  I am working as an Instructional Assistant at a high school.  My duties include:  taking notes for students who, for various reasons, cannot take notes for themselves; help students organize assignments and complete assignments in a timely manner; find new and interesting ways to explain confusing or difficult material, and assist instructors in non-academic ‘chores’ that detract from quality teaching time.

            Many of the students I work with remind me of a teenage me.  Some have unusual learning styles, some have a single-minded focus on one subject, and sadly for some, life has taught them lessons not found in a classroom – lessons no child should have to learn. 

            High school the first time around made little impact on me academically.  It was an escape or a chance for creative exploration through theater and music, but rarely was it inspiring on an intellectual level.  I appreciated concept and significance, while the faculty appreciated memorization and regurgitation.  I rarely went to class.

            Now, after all this time, I get to experience a little bit of high school again.  I finally made it to US History and I can truly appreciate how far my country has come in such a relatively short period of time.  I feel a renewal in my optimism.  I also have the privilege of sitting in on a fundamental English class.  I finally understand the ‘comma-splice’.  I know, I know, its basic grammar, but I must have been absent the day they taught subordinating, coordinating and correlative conjunctions because I have been faking it and passing the buck to ‘grammar check’ for years.  I was in BAD FAITH!!! (I just had to throw in another term from existentialism).  So, while my posts may be a bit irregular for a while, I am taking notes and forming thoughts.  

 
 

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Abstract Thought and Authenticity – part one

        “Falling under the influence of mass opinion, we become inauthentic because we neither seek nor create what is most meaningful to us as individuals.  When we live the way everyone else does, think the way everyone else thinks, and hold the same values everyone else holds, we do not use our freedom to create ourselves as unique individuals; instead we become slaves to a communal standard that more often than not, is mediocre and repressive.”                                                       Linda Patrik – Existentialist Literature

 

In the past I tried to tackle some abstract ideas, but I merely scratched the surface.  For every published post, there are three or four incomplete drafts.  I ask myself, and all who read this, is it necessary to complete an abstract thought?  In fact, is it not a sign of arrogance to claim complete understanding of an abstract idea? Indeed, such a claim is counterproductive; limiting the possibility for deeper revelation.  As I am on a quest for enlightenment, I shall endeavor to avoid the intellectual trap of arrogance. I hope that some of my half-thoughts compliment the half-thoughts of another.

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2011 in Confessions, philosophy

 

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Retrospection

            My decision to blog again has much to do with the tenth anniversary of 9/11.  I didn’t go into detail about how that day influenced my life in my early posts, truthfully, I skipped the experience entirely.  Everybody has their own version of that day, and each one carries a unique burden in that experience.  Those experiences should not be trivialized or diminished as so often happens when comparisons are made.  I have held my memory of that day close to my heart, protecting it from cynicism and recrimination.

            I avoided all media exposure on the anniversary.  Instead, I sat outside in the sunshine and read a romance novel, avoidance in a truly self-indulgent fashion.  When I had read the last page and the sun had dropped below the horizon I felt ashamed.  Without my distractions I began to feel that I had desecrated the sanctity of that day, that I had disrespected the memory of the lives that were lost.  Some days later I read a memorial blog that changed my perspective.

           From ‘Ephemera and Pseudo-Events’ by J.N. Nielsen:

                        “An anniversary is an arbitrary thing – the length of a year is utterly arbitrary – but it is natural to want to commemorate a loss, as it is natural to want to celebrate some joyous occasion. … To memorialize an event is to prevent its repetition, the render it singular, although we must relive the trauma in each memorialization.  Failure to memorialize an event means that it will be visited upon us time and again, though we will be spared the retraumatization of the continual consciousness of the event.”

             My experiences of that day have shaped every aspect of my life, but not in a negative way.  I honor the memory of that day by living each subsequent day with deep appreciation in my heart.  When I remember that day I don’t linger on images of destruction or fear, I am overcome by the humility and compassion I felt all around me.  I tremble not with grief, but with awe.  Remembering now feels like a renewal of hope, and hope and shame cannot coexist.

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2011 in Coffee Shop Whore?, Confessions, philosophy, psychology

 

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The Truth About Social Self-Concept

This is not an easy post for me.  My last little post was optimistic, but it was not really how I was feeling.  Yes, I have been having an interesting week, and yes I have  had many great ideas, however, I have not been able to act on many of those ideas.

The truth is, I have not been liking myself this past week.

I am in a new place where I don’t know anybody.  I have never really had that  many ‘friends’ per se, but I usually have people who know me and who accept my eccentricity, despite the nature of eccentricity, mine is rather consistent.  That is no longer the case.  I find myself having to explain myself once again.  There is nothing quite as disheartening as justifying why I am the way that I am.  And, no, I can’t just ‘be normal’, it is far too late for that.

For all that I have learned so far in my life, I am still frozen in fear when faced with a job application.  Somehow I find it difficult to fill those darn things out.  How do you explain gaps in employment in three lines of ‘additional information’?  How do you explain that you haven’t known someone for two years but that  you know more about them after two hours of real conversation.  How do you ask that person to be a reference?

How do you explain that you have a phone number from one state, a mailing address in another and a driver’s licence from yet another.  These have been the circumstances of my life for as long as I can remember.  In fact, I  have never lived at the address on my driver’s licence, but I needed a stable street address, I had to give the DMV my mother’s address.  Why can’t I stop moving?

I have no reason to stay other than to stay.

The jobs that I have had in the past – well, since the Navy – have been dissatisfying.  When I am hired, I am told the guiding mission statement for a company – and I believe it.  It all seems to make sense, yet as the month’s go by, a corner is cut, a shortcut is taken, the bottom line comes to light.  I find that I no longer respect the company I am working for… I move on.

Does that make me a runner?  I guess so.  Perhaps I have held on to the dream of purpose and of pride in accomplishment.  I like to think that it is more important to lose a sale and keep the customer than the other way around.  I like to think that people are more important than  profit margins…. this does not make me a team  player.

I have hidden in academics, a way to avoid disappointment in the working world, but more and  more, the lines are blurring.  Textbook costs are through the roof, teachers are disenfranchised by limitations on what they can teach, they are stressed about how to stretch their  paycheck a little further because number crunchers say that it is more important to buy the new computer thn it is to invest in creative minds.  Frustration rolls down hill and students seek a piece of paper rather than information and education.  Conversation and curiosity dies.

I fill out applications for jobs that minimize my exposure to hu,man beings, not because I don’t like people, but because I don’t want to have to explain why I am the way that I am.  I don’t want to be asked why, if I am so smart, why am I doing this job or that job when the answer is very simple.  I need to eat.

I think about applications, and then job interviews and I wonder where I missed the lesson on the ‘right answer’.  Is there such a thing.  What do  they want to hear?  What do you want to hear?  What do I want to hear?  It all gets so complicated… I want to hear silence.

I have tried to stop apologizing for myself, but in this case I am sorry to be so morose.  Normally I am pretty good with me, but on paper it is difficult to see much that is redeeming.  I guess that is what happens when you only look at the bottom line.

 

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