Marx, Freud, Darwin and Stoicism

Biology and physics are the modern philosopher’s only hopes in the seeking of truth. Language games are no longer a valid or compelling means of arriving at the fundamental mechanical and moral systems of the Universe and Human society. I doubt they ever were.

And I doubt they ever were.

Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud are the two most important figures in the history of modern philosophy, and those who pontificate on the great mysteries without taking those two giants into consideration accomplish absolutely nothing.

I think Karl Marx himself would be horrified at what he has wrought, not only in terms of the formation of socialistic states but also in turning philosophy into a means of measuring pain and oppression.

“People were mean to me, and I am a victim of societal forces” has become a profound axiom, a cornerstone for discussions that lead nowhere but towards a spineless resentment towards the very laws that philosophy proclaims the objects of its speculations.

Perhaps the resurgence of Stoicism has occurred in opposition to this trend towards useless and disempowering philosophies. It makes the individual subordinate to nothing but the gods and the avoidable follies of the impulses.

In times when the most profound questions about the mechanics of reality are being answered by empirical science, perhaps the best philosophy is simply that which is most helpful in enhancing human happiness and performance.

The Magic of Principles

Without principles, life is a never-ending series of increasingly complex and exhausting decisions. If we do not recognize the categorical patterns common to our failures and successes, we necessarily lack the raw materials needed to construct a calibrated and effective strategy for future action.

If we do not recognize the categorical patterns common to our failures and successes, we necessarily lack the raw materials needed to construct a calibrated and effective strategy for future action.

In many cases, our time would be better spent in first extracting the lessons from the problems in our lives, before endeavoring to devise a solution. Before analyzing the origins and probable duration of a problem, finding a tenable solution is nearly impossible.

The mistake we make multiple times is like a thread waiting to be pulled, by which we can uncover uncomfortable but infinitely helpful defects in our own personalities. We can only hedge against our own bad habits and biases if those biases have been identified, and systems put in place to compensate for them.

It isn’t easy to study our personal histories with the critical and impersonal objectivity, but it is possible to a great degree, as evidenced by the many people who have overcome their worst tendencies and achieved incredible, almost unbelievable results.

To study your personal failures as economists analyze the Great Depression or military leaders dissect Napolean at Waterloo is at least as useful as it is difficult.

Obsession and Success

Our minds are capable of obsession so potent that it can result in self-effacement, and even self-destruction of both the body and the mind.

Why is that the case?

Why are we not a moderate, even keeled, and emotionally mild species?

It would take contact with intelligent life to know if consciousness necessitates the existence of powerful and often self-defeating emotions. But if we take a look at the world in which we exist, the apparent utility in obsession and its accompanying emotion comes into view.

Obsession, more than any other mental state, bestows upon its object meaning and value so that all possible avenues of attaining that object can be explored. When something must be obtained, our minds strain and calculate ingenious strategies that anything less than obsession would not have brought about.

But for every scenario where obsession breeds innovation, there are more that result in destruction and pain of both the obsessed and the object.

Equally pernicious is the plight of those who have succeeded in their aims, and find an emotional and motivational void upon reaching the other side of obsession.

There is nothing so dangerous as failing to assess the worth of your aims, and the realistic outcomes of both failure and success upon achieving them.

Culture Heroes

The human mind left unattended is bound by its functional purpose to imagine, predict, and emotionally react to the worst possible outcome. But only at the scale of minutes or days.

In matters of months, years, and decades, our default prediction patterns are worse than worthless, always assuming things will continue to be good if they are good now, and seldom preparing for future days of want and scarcity.

But luckily, the human mind has a startling capability to attend to itself.

We can watch ourselves doing something wrong and even look back at the delusional thoughts that caused our past mistakes.

We are all fools, but we are not blind fools. Through system and strategy, as well as good old-fashioned moderation and discipline, our worst tendencies can be accounted for, and our greatest gifts exploited to the point of compensation for our errors.

Any look back at the plethora of modern cultural heroes shows how willing we are to forgive those who did a few great things.

Generally, we ignore the mediocre, ridicule the bad, briefly enjoy the good, and revere the great with almost religious fervor.

The good is found in the bargain bin, while images of the great are plastered on every tee shirt next to 50-year-old records still being sold as if they were new.

It would be a noble, near perfect meritocracy, if not for the questionable taste of the general public and its strange tendency to occasionally latch onto something truly bad and elevate it to a position of taste-making for popular culture.

 

 

 

Of Effort and Magic

Great writers will often type out great works, just to feel what well-structured language feels like as it comes out onto the page.

Painters learn by copying the great works with an exactness that forces them to the same solutions and techniques that the masters used.

In school, we learn science by repeating experiments that were once groundbreaking and demonstrative of the Universe’s foundational laws.

Great athletes review film, generals study battles from the past, and musicians must learn the songs of others before they can compose their own.

In learning and perfecting any skill, there is a constant balance between the fresh energy of the beginner and the studied discipline of the master. It is the interplay between these poles that generates true excellence. Neither the undisciplined talent nor the technically skilled but stagnant veteran creates works that resonate and endure over large spans of time.

It is the serendipitous convergence of tremendous effort and spontaneous inspiration that fixates and mirrors the vicissitudes of the human spirit. Western culture tends to revere the spontaneous more than the cultivated, while in the East this value is flipped.

In spending our novice years in a long apprenticeship, prostrating ourselves before and imitating the great masters, we create the substrate in which our own coherent style and the accompanying techniques may arise.

Piccaso, both a great master in his middle and old age, as well as a prodigy in his youth, articulated this notion eloquently.

“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

Not everyone is destined to paint like a child. But every great artist and craftsman have some novel contribution for the greater culture, and the pursuit, as well as the honing of that gift, is of great importance no matter how meager its impact may appear to be.

 

 

The Mind of a Master

As children, our creativity was bounded only by the duration and depth of our attention at any given moment.

As adults, our creativity is bounded not only by the quality of attention but also our specific evaluation of the worth and personal enjoyment interaction with a system might generate.

To put it simply, adults achieve consistent episodes of childlike creativity in those undertakings which they believe to be appropriate for their competencies, and most of all worthy of extended commitment of time. 

The most helpful deficiency of the immature brain is its inability to schedule and manage time. This removes a distractor and allows for profound engagement with systems that would not even be noticed by someone who had a conception of places to be and important things to accomplish.

A child can spend several hours working on chalk drawings because every child has no reason to doubt their own competence in the art, and the worth of their works. They approach the sidewalk with the same confidence and excitement as the professional adult sculptor goes to the clay.  In this way, the minds of the novice child and the adult master are the same.

In attempting to cultivate states of intense creativity, we must first believe in the value of whatever we might make. Otherwise, hours spent at the canvas will seem a waste of time, and thus those hours will not be spent, making mastery impossible.

 

Laughing at Life

Whats disturbing in one moment is hilarious the next.

Humor is usually the release of tension caused by a change in context regarding a shocking or absurd event.

People who don’t laugh are usually bitter, cynical, and resentful of the cruel nature of the world. The reasons for this are more than chemical. It is all too easy for one to despair in the knowledge of our condition; as mortal members of a young species existing on a floating piece of rock in a largely empty and barren Universe.

Yet that very description of our existence could function as the set up to a joke.

I’ve heard that morticians usually go to their work with a light-hearted attitude. Because what other choice do they have?

If every mortician woke up every day considering the dark implications and meanings implied by every part of their work, none would ever last more than a month.

We, as humans have no other choice but to laugh in the face of our absurd position as self-aware monkeys capable of gaining control and understanding of physical laws and conditions. Our options, if we are to confront the reality of existence, rather than ignore it, are only this; cradle our heads and weep, or throw them back and laugh at the stars.

The moments we forget that smirk and glimmer in the eye, whenever we cast our eyes down to consider graveyards and names long forgotten, we lose the emotional levity and leverage required for a productive experience and existence. The agoraphobes and the shut-ins aren’t laughing very much–, and from a certain perspective, their attitudes toward the world are accurate. It is risky out there. Chaos reigns supreme everywhere, successful though we might be at managing specific processes and outcomes. To live is to risk, to be in danger, to get hurt, stumble, fall, get embarrassed, and fail as many times as not.

But to despair and retreat from all that, to hide in safety and sadness–

What is that but a death for the living?