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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

worldview


Guy: Hey, good to see you!


Girl: Oh, hi. What's that you have with you?

Guy: This? Oh this is my new Weltanschauung. You like it?

Girl: It's very... nice. What do you do with it?

Guy: Ha, what DON'T I do with it! It's so much bigger and better than my last one.

Girl: I'm going to see a movie with some friends. You want to come?

Guy: Oh yes! Maybe my Weltanschauung can interpret the plot for us.

**thoughtful pause**

Girl: Actually I don't think there's anything good showing today.

Guy: Oh well. My Weltanschauung is kinda heavy anyways, I don't want to lug it all the way over there.

Girl: I think I might just go home.

Guy: Can I come over?

Girl: Sure, if you want.

Guy: Well, maybe I'll just stay here with my Weltanschauung. It's raining outside and I don't want it to get all wet.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Why I Need Friends

No one identifies the "self" in a vacuum. There's an intrinsic necessity for outside influence in order for one to define internal existence. There's a “we” component to existence that isn't subsidiary; rather the "I" is more a corollary of an understood "we." A person can't be individuated without a larger social context in which the distinction becomes apparent. “I” as I am now and as I see myself to be, am not defined apart from the other individuals with whom I exist. I don't believe a human being can psychologically bear the weight of existence when turned in completely upon itself. That is, there's internal necessity for outside grounding; one needs a footing in time and space against which existence can be felt. One doesn't feel Self suspended in existence without contact against other beings. If the self is sensed in isolation, the perception is vague and inaccurate at best.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Nietzsche and Passivity

Nietzsche was really into proactivity –assertive, individual morality determined by an inner strength of will – as opposed to reactivity –a passive morality which only responds but never directs of its own volition. Honestly, it's refreshing to read The Geneology of Morals for a change of pace. Say what you will about Nietzsche, he picks apart the flaws of Christians with relentless precision. Note, I'm not saying the flaws of Christianity itself. But he gets to the heart of moral passivity (decadence), which is the refusal to exercise one's will.

In a nutshell, “turning the other cheek” is ultimate passivity, the clearest exhibition of “sin” in Nietzsche's estimation. Well he can't be right there, because Jesus told us to turn the other cheek. Fair enough, we'll concede that Nietzsche's reading of the gospel's was flawed at best. But all truth is God's truth, so let's not give up on Nietzsche yet, if for no other reason than he's pretty fun to read.

Jonathan Edward's famously rearcticulated (and improved upon) Augustine and Luther's “bound will” arguments. He said people are free to choose what they want the most. Out of sheer laziness, I'll quote John Gerstner summarizing Edwards' position instead of doing it myself:

“Your choices as a rational person are always based on various considerations or motives that are before you at the time. Those motives have a certain weight with you, and the motives for and against reading a book, for example, are weighed in the balance of your mind; the motives that outweigh all others are what you, indeed, choose to follow.”

I'm not sure who would feel more awkward by this comparison, Edwards or Nietzsche, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say they're not all that different. Sorry guys, I know it makes you squirm. And seriously? Wasn't Edwards all into compatibilistic determinism, and Nietzsche all into human autonomy? Yes, yes, I know. And I'm not saying they're identical –they're conclusions are entirely opposite. But I'll take a chance and assert their underlying motivation is basically the same.

Nietzsche's theme was the pure assertion of will, and general rocking-awesomeness. “Do whatever you will, but first be such as are able to will.” The will is truth. Unapologetic. Fearless. His beef with Christianity (apart from a general dislike of anything good) was the absurdity of willing against oneself. Christianity's “take up your cross” message was weakness. The passivity of choosing against one's own existence undermines the will to live. What kind of twisted motivation is this? That Jesus would allow himself to be killed, even choose it, indicated to Nietzsche an offensive decadence beyond comparison. How weak God must be to choose death at the hands of his creation. How is that a good thing? For Nietzsche's underlying motive was his own self-interest. In Christianity he saw a deep-seated fear of one's own self-interest. Christianity promotes shame, guilt, remorse, and a lack of self-confidence. Christianity fails to see or understand self-interest, and in doing so gives birth to nihilism.

Where Edwards and Nietzsche ring harmoniously is this: man is motivated by self-interest. Here's where their discord is blatant: the only independent and unbound self-interest is God's, and Nietzsche foolishly refuses to accept this. Nietzsche figured God must be otherworldly, detached and disassociated from the world – basically useless. That Christianity's God-man was killed only confirmed this for him. I don't think Nietzsche ever came across Edwards' Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Maybe he would have thought differently if he'd pictured the flames of hell licking at his heels. Maybe he'd have reconsidered his indictment of Christian morality had he been aware that the unsuppressed will of Übermensch was vividly personified in the wrathful God he'd spent his life mocking. Probably not, but who knows?

I'm not at all offended by Nietzsche's caricature of sissy-man Christians. I agree with him in a lot of respects, and don't think it's “good” or “equitable” to live in passivity and weakness. Perhaps he wasn't far off in criticizing the ascetics and mystics for their lily-livered version of God-fearing. Or maybe he didn't quite understand their motivation or the tenuous circumstances of his own existence.

So what about this turning the other cheek thing? Weak, right? Sure, on one hand it's easy to see his point about passive existence. “Turning the other cheek” could be a rejection of self-interest, a “decadent” passivity that eats away at the soul. This could be no more true than if it were the ultimate force of will, God himself, rejecting his own existence. And it would be true of Christ on the cross had he only been executed. If he'd been arrested because of poor choices or bad timing, or (worse) weakness, Nietzsche would be right. But Christ did not passively submit himself to the wills of lesser men. He actively submitted, and submitted himself most fully to the ultimate objective of his own will.

Nietzsche's will is a will unto itself – a will that's propelled only by itself and directed only by itself. Nietzsche famously said “To forget one's purpose is the commonest form of stupidity.” But if his purpose is only to exercise his own self-interest, how can he be certain he's doing this? What if what his will comes into conflict with his own self interest? For example, if God does exist, Nietzsche's little “will to power” thing would be completely out of line with his self interest. And if this is the case, wouldn't choosing his own active will be choosing against himself?

Because I'm getting myself in a logical knot, I'm going to do what I always do in these situations: I'm whipping out Soren Kierkegaard and plunking him willy-nilly into the center of my argument. Nietzsche never got around to reading Kierkegaard (according to Wikipedia). If he had, he might have learned a thing or two from The Sickness Unto Death. Here the venerable Kierkegaard isn't dealing with the will, but he has the same basic concerns as his existential thought-brother. Kierkegaard cuts to the quick of human despair, the problem of existence. Despair is the natural condition of humanity, not merely a symptom of Christian morality. It permeates our selves, because our selves must relate to themselves and we cannot relate to ourselves perfectly. There's internal disconnect. The only freedom from despair, he says, is to see the self in relation to itself transparently against an absolute self, that is, God.

Here we can change out a few words, and hopefully it will make sense. Nietzsche saw despair only in the failure to exercise the will. Kierkegaard was more perceptive and more realistic. Despair persists in even the fullest exercise of the human will, because the will cannot exercise itself in perfect harmony with itself. The will is internally disconnected from itself – it's unable to will for itself because it is bound in opposition to itself. Edwards would say this is depravity, and I'm right on board with him.

That was my point in regards to purpose being undermined by willing only itself. Edwards and Nietzsche both agree that the will can will whatever it wants. But Edwards also stipulated the will cannot choose what it wants it will. Another way of putting it: you can choose to do what you want, but you can't to choose to want to do something other than what you want to do... Even if that thing is in conflict with your best interest.

Nietzsche was fine with this shortcoming. He figured that by doing his own will he was following the path truest to himself, the most independent exertion of his existence. But it wasn't. Because he embraced his depraved will, he also embraced despair and destruction. There's nothing active about his morality. Nietzsche's so-called “will to power” is just the path of least resistance. Wide is the gate and easy is the way leading to destruction. He's gravity's whipping boy. No, the will can only exercise itself perfectly by submitting to an absolute will. God's.

Nietzsche tried to storm the gates of heaven with his tower of free will. He tried usurp God's morality with his own. Of course he didn't quite make it. Nietzsche was strangled in the twisted circle of his own free will unto itself. He accounted only for a weak God, a passive Platonic God that could only exist within his imagination.

Nietzsche hated Platonism, and next to Christianity his most leering jabs are directed at this school of thought. Christian morality does have the danger becoming Platonic, or worse, Neo-Platonic. The idea there would be “God's will is the ultimate will, and our wills participate in ascending levels of will through contemplation of his will” or something along those lines. That's the sort of thing that Nietzsche was opposed to. He thought it was stupid to try to participate in some higher being from another world. Nietzsche's philosophy was interested in immanence. And I like that. Platonic influence is bad: the floaty, flaky stuff, the wishy-washy moralism of “ideals.” It's surreal, it's weak, it's dissatisfying.

This is where Nietzsche is valuable to us, and where a generous reading of Genealogy of Morals deconstructs a lot of Platonic synchrotism within Christianity. God's morality is not merely a morality of ideals. It is very real, and very immanent. God's will isn't detached from his creation – it's not otherworldly. It powers the world. The driving force of God's will moves the world. The world itself is singed around the corners by his wrath. We're dangling from a thread, we are, and God's indomitable will is the only power that can save us.

Christianity isn't passivity. It's an exercise of will in submission to God. The Christian actively submits the will, and aligns it with Absolute Will. It's not an abstract, mystical ideal of will either. It's real. It drives the world around. Christian morality doesn't choose weakness when taking up the cross. Far from it. The Christian chooses truly enlightened self-interest. The Christian wills to live, beyond the weakness of depravity and despair, in the immanent will of God. This is real pro-activity, real freedom.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

I'm Fine Now

Tonight I was given fairy AND angel guardians for my Korean travels. I was also told I have a going-away present forthcoming via psychic communication. I doubt a first time ESL teacher has ever been so prepared.

I hope the fairies actually stick around. I mean, really, nothing's more encouraging than fairies. I'm sure the angels will help a lot too. Though if they're Christian angels they might be a little wierded out that the Goddess is watching over me.

Anyway, barring an inter-deity dispute I should be good to go.

Various Theories and Beliefs Regarding Women

The history and world-wide extent of woman-lore provide complex and fascinating studies. This mythology extends far, permeating arts and culture almost universally. Who hasn't heard songs and stories of womanly creatures? Who hasn't imagined wild fantasies of Succubi, Sabines and sirens? What prince hasn't dreamed endlessly of a “princess?” Who among us can say he hasn't seen a womanish being out of the corner of his eye at some late and foggy hour? Myths pertaining to women are arguably the most commonly recurring and varied fairy-tales in all of history. Almost every human culture and sub-culture has its own version of the woman, from the Judeo-Christian creation account of Eve to the Navajo myth of Áłtsé asdząąn. Societies spin their tales with varying amounts of seriousness and satire or terror and treachery. But the basic features of this creature are surprisingly consistent.
With brown, soft hair close braided by her ears,
And longing eyes half veiled by slumberous tears
Like bluest water seen through mists of rain:
Pale cheeks whereon no love hath left its stain,
Red underlip drawn in for fear of love,
And white throat, whiter than the silvered dove
The woman was conceived as a “fe-male” counterpart to man. Women are typically human, but endowed with vastly different characteristics making them infinitely more beautiful and physically attractive. The idealistic form of these characteristics varies from culture to culture.

Even a cursory survey of the arts show the various legends and beliefs surrounding women to be widespread. The body of music and poetry composed to describe womanly beauty and the woes that perpetually follow it is a remarkable collection.
It was on that day when the sun's ray
was darkened in pity for its Maker,
that I was captured, and did not defend myself,
because your lovely eyes had bound me, Lady.
It is important to note the progression and turns of woman mythology throughout history. Debates as to the categorization and classification of women have spawned hundreds of sub-genres within the larger context of this mythology. However, it is generally accepted that most womanlore has evolved from two basic traditions of “goddesses” and “demonesses.” Carl Jung argued that these respectively embody man's greatest desires and fears. The goddess (or good woman) is what man wants, the object on which he wishes to place his affection and love. The demoness on the other hand (also called succubus) is the personification of all horror and disgust. Part of the terror of a demoness is that it is often indistinguishable from a goddess. Woman literature deals with the subject of men trying to discern between the two and the horrible mistakes that inevitably result. In every woman tale, men are found enslaved by their passionate desires for women.

Holistic philosophy tends to view womanology as a necessary polarization that takes place within humanity. Woman exists within the realm of humanity yet is essentially different from man. It's a view of “unified diversity.” Woman's place as an opposite counterpart to man plays a huge role in Sumerian creation mythology, representing a balancing force of nature as it does in Eastern mysticism.

In ancient times, the depictions of women were typistic and ethereal. In the earliest recorded histories women represented ideals or strong feelings. Attic Greece envisioned Artemis and and Athena. These personified love and wisdom respectively. Basic woman archetypes were propelled into the succeeding Roman culture and find similar counterparts in Norse legends as well. Additionally, areas of unexplored science were given womanly attributes. The Mesopotamian cultures each had a version of the “moon goddess.” Various stars were considered to be heavenly women and the spirits of women were said to haunt the rivers and forests. In addition to ascribing the highest affections and desires to womanly creatures, people often attributed their shortcomings and conflicts to them as well. The Genesis account of the Fall of Man is the primary example. Horrific creatures such as Lilith and Medusa (demonesses) are examples of base womanly conceptions. At other times, human conflict is depicted as a contest over the highest ideal of woman, such as Helen of Troy or Guenevere. In these stories, the idea of woman as representative of “unified diversity” is quite clear. The woman is the source or center of conflict, providing an explanation and an underlying meaning for the conflicts and miseries that are encountered by humanity.

It is interesting to note the contrasting parallels between the evolution of woman myth and philosophical thinking. With scientific progress, it has become increasingly common to portray women in a very human light. “Love encounters” with womanly creatures were always an essential part of the lore. But following the Renaissance, the focus on woman was less on her otherworldly aspects and more her physical presence. Some argue that this is simply because womanology in Western culture had diversified in its mainstream development. However, others counter that this trend is directly related to the changing perspectives of humanism and rationalism. These formative ideals are clearly evident in the writings of Petrarch and Shakespeare. In modern times, tales of woman are relayed far less mystically and in a more “earthy” tone and manner. The commoner elements of human life are explored with the imaginative input of women. Some writers have gone as far as to explore the supposed psychological realm of women. The 19th century novel “Jane Eyre” is a classic example. Highly complex and human emotions are portrayed from the standpoint of a woman. The attempt to “rationalize” woman into existence is evident everywhere. The writings of Descartes and the Enlightenment thinkers are the fruit of their inability to resolve the discontinuity between rational knowledge of nature and the irrational desire for woman's existence.
What would I have to give you if I married you!
Do you need oil or garments for your body!
Do you lack anything for food or drink!
I would gladly feed you food fit for a god,
I would gladly give you wine fit for a king,
The bulk of literature and music have dealt in some measure with this struggle. There are still occasions where some bold artist or writer will attempt a more realistic piece and avoid adding the presence of women to the story. (Examples of this would be the 1963 film “The Great Escape,” Solzhenitsyn's novel “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” and many of the woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer). However, the whole of artistic achievement is so uniformly centered around the concept of these creatures that visiting an art gallery or listening to popular music might easily lead one to assume they actually exist, or did at some earlier point in history.

Womanology plays an important role in Christianity as well. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches limited any recognition of womanology to vague abstractions such as the Virgin Mary and a few loosely espoused biblical narratives. In contrast, the Protestant Church is considerably more tolerant of realistic portrayals, both in the Bible and in popular culture. Some theologians contend that the Apostle Paul's admonition that “women should not speak” is figurative language aimed at keeping discussion of womanology out of corporate worship. Paul's comments that it is “good to remain unmarried” do indicate that he sees spiritual communion with God to be a much higher ideal than the creatures of man's imagination. It goes without saying that the frequent mention of women throughout the Bible has led many scholars to question the historical accuracy and reliability of scripture. However, most conservative scholars would assert that these descriptions are purely figurative and metaphorical.

The Islamic religion forbids tales of women walking on the earth. The Muslim faith has no tolerance for these fairy-tales. However, womanology still finds its way into Islam's eschatology. The idea of women is held up as something eternal and transcendent. The Koran includes descriptions of “vestal virgins” as part of the heavenly reward for devout believers.

As aforementioned, the Jewish tradition has been highly formative in womanology, particularly with the Genesis account of Eve and the apocryphal stories of Lilith.
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food
and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom,
she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her,
and he ate it.
The continued and widespread belief in women has led to scientific inquiries into the possibility of their existence, particularly with advances in space travel over the past fifty years. In fact, at its inception the NASA program was often satirized by critics as a “wild woman hunt.” This was vehemently denied, but later private documentation revealed “research into the possible existence of women” to be a serious concern of government officials. While these efforts may seem laughable, a recent Gallop poll shows that a large percentage of the population “believes fervently in the existence of women.” In all corners of the world, men speak of hoping to“go out” with a woman (a contemporary expression for encountering a woman alone). As many as 23 percent of all men assert to having encountered a woman at some time. These accounts are most prevalent among uneducated rural peoples, though a surprising number of respected religious and political figures have made similar claims.

The perpetuation of stories about woman creatures clearly demonstrates a consistent psychological trend among human beings. In all religions, races, and social stratas the legend of woman lives on. The congenial human relationships afforded by life are ultimately un-fulfilling and man continues in pursuit of deeper intimacy and more intense expressions of affection. Visions of women take shape behind all sorts of fantastic and wistful dreams of love. At it says in Genesis, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Stories of women are clearly symbolic of this kind of relational-existential quandary. It has been argued that man would not have survived as a people-group without this continued belief in the existence of woman. With the positive strand of “goddess” mythology, the ideal of woman gives him fortitude and yearning hope. With the negative “demoness” branch of woman-thought, man sighs with relief that his worst nightmare has not come true.
The pearly lustre of the moon went out:
The mossy banks and the meandering paths,
The happy flowers and the repining trees,
Were seen no more: the very roses' odors
Died in the arms of the adoring airs.
All- all expired save thee- save less than thou:
Save only the divine light in thine eyes-
Save but the soul in thine uplifted eyes.
I saw but them- they were the world to me!

Special thanks to Oscar Wilde, Petrarch, whoever wrote the Epic of Gilgamesh, JEDP, and Poe.