Initial Thoughts on the Tao Te Ching

So in between crippling bouts of depression, I am reminded that I am still a philosopher with a job to do. As a result, I am doing my best to maintain a rigorous reading schedule, and to contemplate the literature and develop cogent ideas to submit for further consideration. Included in the heavier readings that I have to evaluate is a pleasantly “light” addition in the Tao Te Ching. The following are a few thoughts and first impressions from the first 10 chapters.

I’ll begin by noting the very strange style of writing that the Tao presents to the reader immediately. It is apparent that clarity is not especially important to the author. The text is very open to interpretation, and does not seem to come to “conclusions”, rather, it makes a series of open-ended assertions about things, and leaves the intent of the passage to be subjectively determined by the reader. At least this is the view of the text that I have developed so far.

I am immediately struck by the notion that there is a concept at work in the Tao that cannot be verbally expressed. This of course leaves open the prospect of communicating the concepts at work through other means, but it is not immediately apparent what those means would be. Naturally, we would assume that evocative means would be the next appropriate method because the implication is that one cannot simply transfer understanding of the Tao from one to another, but rather that the understanding must arise from within. In a way, this could be similar to the Socratic method of presenting the “building blocks” of understanding to the student, but making the student order the blocks such that they build their own understanding out of the constituent pieces of information.

Next comes the outrageous claim of chapter 1, specifically the claim “ex nihil omnia,” or “from nothing comes everything.” It is a widely accepted philosophical maxim in Western traditions that “ex nihilo nihil fit,” or “from nothing, nothing comes.” It is unclear what kind of “nothing” the author is referring to; if the “nothing” here is the total lack of any thing, and that existence comes spontaneously from literal nothingness, then the view of ontological nihilism has great weight in rejecting these claims.

On the other hand, if the view being advanced is that, from an apparent or suggested lack of meaning or purpose in life, one finds life’s meaning or purpose, then the claims made here seem to reject notions found in existential nihilism. In fact, Schopenhauer may actually agree with the Tao’s claims based on his idea that reducing one’s desires and emotions to the minimal levels possible are the most effective way of mitigating the occurrence of suffering in one’s life. It is, however, unclear thus far what kind of “nothing” is being referred to.

That said, I think I’ll return to my recent habit of obsessively listening to Bring Me the Horizon, and City and Colour. Whiskey soon to follow…

Yours in Contemplation,
Kierkegaard

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Interesting ideas in the works…

So I know that my last post seems… Well, a lot like shaking a fist at the heavens as opposed to serious philosophical work. If that’s your view, you’re pretty much right on. I was a lot less drunk than normal, but my internal dialogue has become a lot darker these days. God really does seem to have disappeared into the darkness, and life is getting shittier and shittier by the day.

Zerubabel won freedom for the Jews by answering a riddle posed to him by King Cyrus during Court. The question? What’s more powerful? Wine, woman, or the king? Much deliberation took place, but Zerubabel was the only to answer with enough profundity to impress Cyrus. Zerubabel accurately answered that woman had more than the others, but that truth prevailed against all powers. Now clearly I’m always concerned with truth, but I am, personally speaking, more affected by the power of a woman than by anything else. No misfortune that assails me has the power to reduce my mind or will to rubble quite like the careless and arbitrary will of this magnificently cruel and beautiful woman. I have had no fear of losing anything in life, save love. As I see its back turned to me, I struggle to function as a human being, much less an intelligent one.

At any rate, I have been reading up on esoteric morality, particularly Sidgwick, and plan to write some thoughts on it very, very soon. It will be good, as I imagine it will provide a release for so much of this debilitating sorrow.

Thanks to all those who have kept coming to my blog despite the long absence. It was nice to see that people were still interested.

Oh, and read Schopenhauer.

Yours in Contemplation,
Kierkegaard

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Been gone a long time

Sorry for the really fucking long absence, everyone. Shit has been severely, severely fucked up for a while. It’s like a giant shit bomb went off, and every single thing in my life was covered in it. Yeah, I’ve been studying a lot, but how good is study when you’re so depressed that you can’t even see straight? much less actually read complex arguments and propositions in technically dense text? So to say the least, I have been incapacitated for some time. Yes, I have aware that Schopenhauer says, “I have never known any trouble that an hour’s reading could not assuage.” But Schopenhauer also says,

“Suffering by nature or chance never seems so painful as suffering inflicted on us by the arbitrary will of another.”

Ain’t that the god damned truth. So I’ve been thinking a lot about life lately. I mean, its essence; what it’s about. Why we’re here, or what we’re here for. I know I’ve thought a lot about this before, but until I find a decent fuckin’ answer, I’m going to keep asking the question. So far, god hasn’t piped up, so I’ll go on speculating.

What the fuck are we here for? Life is much less a thing that we enjoy and flourish in than some thing in which we battle, struggle, and fight against all the myriad forces of unhappiness that assail us. Life then, is not something to be enjoyed, but is rather something to be overcome.

How fleeting is our joy! How temporary our rest from the troubling waves that crash upon the shores of our hearts! The only safe harbor from all that assails us is some lonely, solitary place. And even there we are left with the torment of our loneliness; the questions that we ask of some shadow, to which we perpetually await the answers with sorrow and tear filled eyes.

Cries to the “benevolent” god above (or wherever the fuck he or she is supposed to be) always go unanswered. So what solace is left to us in our darkest night of the soul? AS Kierkegaard says, we can face “dread” full on, or wilt from the challenge. But I part company with my namesake; his version of facing that dread, that “sickness until death” is doubling-down on faith in god. For such a brilliant man, he was a fucking dumb ass. I say the way to fully face life, which is nothing more than the zeniths between suffering and boredom, is to acknowledge that life is fully defined by suffering.

God does not want us to be happy. Oh yes, I am certain he or she exists, but he is not benevolent. He cares not for your wishes, supplications, or goals. He is as obstinate as the small child with keys to the kingdom, and just as much knowledge on how to run things.

My advice to everyone (one supremely beautiful person in particular): steal your happiness from the jealous hands of god that deprive it from you. Morality exists, yes. Don’t superimpose your will upon another, but live your life as if you are in control of it, and as though your will is the sole plotter of its direction because, my love, it is. Live your life. Take every opportunity for happiness afforded you. Expand your intellect beyond what religion says is necessary. Question god to his face. Challenge all preconceived notions about living, and tell Immanuel Kant to go straight to hell with his bullshit “Categorical Imperative.” If truth and justice are the fundamental virtues upon which all others are based, then my theories stand as sound as the proposition that tomorrow, the sun will rise. Yes, it’s Hedonistic, but at this point, Hedonism is superior to the other options presented.

Remember kids; life while in the sorrowful abject servitude of god and his morality will deprive you of life itself. Remember Kierkegaard…

He was deeply religious, and set upon by the guilt complex of European Christianity. He fell in love with Regina Olsen. She loved him back. He didn’t feel worthy of the love, and felt that in order to prove his worthiness to god, he would give her up (dump her), and wait for god to restore her to him as an acknowledgment of his piety and morality. She pursued him for years, and he remained aloof. She finally disappeared, and returned to Copenhagen two years later, married to a man she loved less than Soren. Soren then spent the rest of his life in anguish, questioning his decision.

Don’t be like Soren Kierkegaard. Steal your happiness…. or end up like Schopenhauer.

Yours in Contemplation,

Kierkegaard

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A Leviathan is the answer to Mid East turmoil?

Has anyone yet noticed the pattern of events in the Middle East? Surely some of us have read the daily news about the region over… well, however long they’ve been alive, and noticed something quite peculiar about the people who inhabit the states that comprise the region. Perhaps they’ve noticed something about the kind of leaders that rule with such ruthless and unforgiving contempt for their subjects. One would hope that those observant among us would have noticed both, and with any luck, noticed a correlation between the two. Does the situation remind you of anyone? If you said Thomas Hobbes you are ahead of the curve. If you don’t quite get the reference, allow me to elaborate…

… Jesus H. Christ! I probably should have elaborated before drinking a half a bottle of Fireball whiskey. To the whiskey purists out there, I feel you. Trust me I feel you. I used to think that whiskey was meant specifically NOT to taste like candy, but rather like a campfire, or at least a lightening-struck-oak. A friend of mine, nope, wrong word… one of the best people I’ve ever known introduced me to Fireball whiskey. Since their taste is nothing to (generally) scoff at, I recently indulged. (Well actually I indulged back in December ’11, but I tasted it for the first time that I can remember.) I attribute my future cirrhosis to Fireball whiskey.

Okay, getting back to the Middle east, Hobbes, and the Leviathan…

Thomas Hobbes believes that that we are all born into a state of nature, and that being in a state of nature (SON) we are all at perfect liberty to do damn near anything the fuck we feel like. It’s true: being fully endowed with all of the liberties that the Grand Architect has designed us to have, we have full privilege to do as we please with respect to satisfying our desires, governing ourselves, pursuing our amusements, and so on. (Locke, and Mill disagree, but more on that to come.) So in this state, there’s shit we want. Unfortunately, there’s more people wanting “X” than there is “X” to go around, so now we have the birth of conflict. This conflict typically has nowhere to go but even worse, that is, that people will start aligning themselves with either side of the conflict, and shit starts getting super crazy and escalates. Before long, all-out-war has broken the peace of perfect freedom. Why is this so? Why couldn’t people, as Rodney King so aptly inquired, “Can’t we all just get along?” Here’s why…

Psychological egoism. People, Hobbes avers, naturally are looking out for number one, number one, of course, being themselves and their interests. This psychological egoism that we are all said to have provides ample conditions for shit “getting real.” It makes it so that instead of just being happy with all that is required for your sustenance, people are driven to want more, and more, and more, until the point where it’s necessary to take from others. As will most often be the case, those people will not just give up what they have; what they have worked for, what they have potentially fought for, and what they have very good reason to claim as entirely theirs is, in fact, fuckin’ theirs! But Hobbes avers that in a state of nature, anything goes. In a SON, it’s the survival of the fittest. The one, or one’s with the most strength are properly exercising their rights in a SON.

It goes further than this. Hobbes goes on to say that it is a lack of development that leads to these conflicts, and it will not, and does not ever stop at the mere acquisition of things. He states that even those who disagree with the ones with the most power in the SON will seek to bend everyone’s will to their own, in essence commandeering even the independent will from those whom they have despoiled. There, then, is literally no end to the barbarism that follows from such a state of “nature.”

So what’s the solution? Hobbes avers that the reason that the people, endowed with such a precious gift as liberty, behave so badly is because there is nothing to reign in their behavior. Anyone ever hear, “While the cat’s away, the mice are at play?” We humans aren’t much more civilized than mice, evidently. Well, at least some of us aren’t. Anyway, Hobbes has quite a good point that we do not have the “sensus divinitatus” that Calvin suspects we do; we have no natural sense of God, or his version of right and wrong, so we do whatever the fuck we feel like if it makes us happy. Solution time: instill the fear of God into the people by an earthly agent of his, perhaps duly elected, or perhaps he is just the one that God puts into the position of power to properly subject the people into conformity of his will. The point is simple:

People misbehave by nature -> People need authority -> God can’t/doesn’t intervene -> a human authority figure is needed -> if that human authority figure is going to be successful, they’d better have the might and power of a vengeful, sin-hating god -> the only way to have a civilized society is to have an absolute monarch, or, Leviathan.

There’s Hobbes in a nutshell.

So how does this apply to the Middle-shit-bag-east? Wake up stupid – every time the US “frees” some shithole out there, the people go buck wild and end up killing way the fuck more people than ever before, even under the insidious reign of whatever 2-cent dictator was ruling the mudpile. I don’t (or shouldn’t) need to remind you all of the recent turmoil throughout the land, and how the turmoil has invariably gotten worse when the iron-fisted dictators are deposed with our help; chaos ensues, and when it is, the US is typically on the receiving end of the shit explosion.

So here’s my rather unsophistical appraisal of the situation…

The commoners in the Middle East NEED a Leviathan to keep them in check, to maintain peace, and to subdue to will, passion, and vitriol of their unevolved underclass. Remember that even Plato recognized the danger of this low-dwelling populous; he views them as dangerous, and entirely subject to the will of the authority of the upper echelons of society (the Philosopher Kings). The “auxiliaries” in place are meant to remind the base humans that they are allowed to live and be “free” withing due bounds; bounds clearly drawn by the tenancies of that groups propensities. It just so happens that the propensity in the Middle East is one toward non-stop and pointless violence, murder, misogyny, arson, theft, rioting, and so on. They have NO RIGHT – deontological or otherwise – to behave the way they do. As such, Hobbes’ solution works. They don’t deserve the freedom to voice their opinions because they can’t do it as civilized human beings. As such, they need to be oppressed. They need to be subdued by the unshakable power of an absolute monarchy that guides them to the decisions that they clearly cannot rationally make for themselves.

Middle East peace = problem solved.

Yours In Contemplation,

Kierkegaard

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Music: Advice from the Universe, God, or just coincidence?

So I was listening to my iTunes collection today, and a song came on that I didn’t recognize. In fact, I doubt that I had even heard the song before that moment. It was by a band that I really enjoy, The Gaslight Anthem, but I didn’t have the latest release or any single from it as far as I knew. So while I’m doing some legal research for a tort case I’m preparing, the song comes on. The vocalist’s (Dallas) lyrics are easy to understand despite his whiskey and tobacco worn vocals, and through the catchy-ness of the music, the lyrics spoke clearly and forcefully to me. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since…

Aside from the strange appearance of a song I thought I didn’t own, the lyrics were the most perplexing. They seemed to convey just exactly what I’ve been dealing with. Now, the rational and expected explanation for such a thing is that at some point, while wasted (which is pretty likely), I downloaded this song. However, my amazement at the song seems especially high, even when assenting to the possibility of having procured it through some act of volition at an earlier time. Generally speaking, however, I never forget songs.

So, the questions swirling around my mind now are:

“Did I download this and forget?”

“Did I download this and forget, but some force saw fit to play it at a time of great despair?”

“Did I download this and forget, and random chance played it at a coincidental moment?”

“Did I never download this song at all and some force is trying to encourage, or otherwise communicate with me?”

“Why the fuck can’t I find any case law on motorcycle passengers suing their boyfriends for injuries?”

These are the contemplations of my emaciated mind at present. Let us all will for a swift and complete return of my mind in its more forceful and agile glory.

Just for fun, here are the lyrics:

“45” by The Gaslight Anthem

Have you seen my hands?
Just look at ’em shake.
And the song just keeps on repeating,
Drop the needle again.
And I dance with your ghost,
Oh, but that ain’t the way…
I can’t move on and I can’t stay the same.

And all my friends say…

“Hey hey, turn the record over.
Hey hey, and I’ll see you on the flip side.
There you go, turn the key and engine over.
Let her go, let somebody else lay at her feet.”

Have you seen my heart,
Have you seen how it bleeds?
And the nights are so long, baby,
Out here in the deep.
The tick, ticking of hours, lonely.
I hear the alarm
I used to hear when she would sleep in my arms.

But “better sense” says…

“Hey hey, turn the record over.
Hey hey, and I’ll see you on the flip side.
There you go, turn the key and engine over.
Let her go, let somebody else lay at her feet.”

And all my friends say,
“Hey hey, turn the record over.
Hey hey, and I’ll see you on the flip side.
There you go, turn the key and engine over.
Let her go, let somebody else lay at her feet.”

Where you used to be… here with me.

Yours In Contemplation,

Kierkegaard

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The Sudden Walk, by Franz Kafka

The Sudden Walk
by Franz Kafka

In the evening, when you seem to have definitely resolved to stay home, have put on your housecoat, are sitting at a lighted table after dinner and have undertaken some type of worker game, after the completion of which you usually go to sleep; when there is unfriendly weather outside which makes staying home a foregone conclusion; when you have already been sitting at the table so long that to go out would cause general astonishment; when additionally the stairwell is dark and the front door locked; and when despite all this you stand up in a moment of sudden discomfort, change your coat, immediately appear dressed for the street, explain that you must go out, and after a short goodbye, actually do it, believing, depending on the haste with which you slam the apartment door, to have left more or less anger behind you; when you find yourself on the street again, with limbs that respond with special mobility to the unexpected freedom you have obtained for them; when through this one decision you feel all ability to decide gathered in you; when you recognize with greater than accustomed significance that you have more power than you need to bring about the most rapid change easily and to bear it; and when you walk into the long streets this way — then you have completely stepped out of your family for the evening, and they dissolve into non-existence, while you yourself, thoroughly strong, outlined in black, slapping the back of your thigh, raise yourself to your true form.
Everything is amplified even further when you visit a friend at this time of night to see how he is doing.

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The emaciated mind

I hate this. I hate the rapid pulse, the lump in my throat, the muted sounds, the shortness of breath, and the burning feeling in my eyes. I truly, fully hate this- in every manifestation of hate that is currently known. I would do anything to relieve this burden too heavy. No prayers seem yet to grant solace, and bottles yield only terrifying dreams.

I do not see how the mind can flourish without the heart to give it life.

-Kierkegaard

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Hope and Grief

How do people deal with grief? More specifically, how does grief ever get “properly” dealt with? We all hear that time heals all wounds, and that God has a plan, but when you’re in the midst of a profound loss, what the fuck can can anyone say to assuage any of the hurt that someone is experiencing? For example, a brother of mine has discovered that his wife is not long for this world, and will be traveling to the undiscovered country very soon. I can think of no solace to offer the man; no words of placation or reassurance will make him happier, less fearful, or less hurt. No deeds of mine will replace the love he is about to lose, and surely no profession of God’s love for him will replace the love of the woman he loves, and will soon lose. What then does a man say to a brother in such incredibly and hopelessly trying times?

I suppose that a rational mind can look at the 80+ years this woman has lived and would surely count her lucky, and perhaps even suppose that death at such an advanced age is to be expected; that the shock and hurt of impending death should be tempered by the reasonable expectations that accompany the consideration of age. I’m not saying that the loss isn’t very real, or that someone would not have the right to be upset, and to grieve deeply at the loss of some great love, but surely none of us expect immortality… I’m not sure what I’m getting at. Perhaps never having a loved one of any significant familiar duration die on me makes it hard to relate, and thus, hard to console a grieving friend in such a situation.

And then what about love? Suppose that the person you’re in love with doesn’t die, but is nonetheless taken away from you. Is such a loss even the same? It seems that in both cases love is lost, but one is so final, and so beyond control or human influence that it seems, dare I say, easier to cope with. No amount of hope, wishing, planning, plotting, or scheming will ever bring back the dead. But what of the love lost while both former lovers still live? It seems infinitely more painful having lost such a love because of the hope that remains; the hope that things will somehow workout, that things could be repaired, and that eventually everyone will return to the person with whom they belong (as opposed to the person they end up with).

Hope, then, is an immeasurable source of grief. There is always so much more grief by virtue of hope than by certain doom. It isn’t as though hope is the source of all grief, but it is the case that hope turns grief into an almost unbearable condition; a condition in which the mind becomes consumed by ways to make things better… If only this, if only that. Hope condemns the sufferer to a life without a present, as if the “moving spotlight” that is life illuminates only the past, and the future, but leaves the present in bleak, desperate darkness. The light shines so brightly on the past, with all the joy and beauty, and all the sad missteps, that the present becomes a mere silhouette of what used to be. Hope illuminates the future with such ferocious and radiant a light that it burns and withers the eyes, leaving one to sadly close those hope-weary eyelids and resign themselves to the fantasies of what might be.

So this is life with hope. The clear and familiar past, the blind and gloomy present, and the burning hope-filled future that sets a soul on fire.

Just thoughts tonight everyone. No real point to it I guess. Just reflecting on my grief, my hope, and the accompanying sorrow. To these I raise my glass again…

Yours In Contemplation,
Kierkegaard

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Ultimate love

Let’s have a quick thought experiment.

Think about love. What makes it profound? What makes it worthwhile? What makes one love more significant, or, dare I say, real, than other kinds of love?

People often say, “You can’t love a dog,” but ardent dog lovers would disagree for myriad reasons. People generally accept that love among human beings is easy, but it’s always categorized as friendly-love, erotic-love, and all-encompassing-love (phileo, eros, agape).

The highest order of these is said to be the all-encompassing-love. But is it really? Read all of the greatest stories, poems, tragedies, and parables of love and you will find a common theme in all of them.

What is it? Suffering. The highest order of love that we tend to value and revere (sometimes even desire) is a love fraught with some kind of sacrifice; some kind of tremendous pain endured for the sake of the love. Think of Courtly Love, and the great Troubadours, or some of the best music about love (perhaps a subjective qualification, granted), but then think of mythology, and the Bible; sacrifice and suffering are the ultimate execution of the highest order love.

So what am I getting at? Well, I am postulating that for all the dizzying highs and “warm fuzzies” of love, the one thing that defines love in its highest sense is suffering. Without suffering the love is just a combination of emotions that produce a sort of euphoria, or state of well-being. When you add suffering to the mix, that’s when things start getting interesting; at that point the lover is making a conscious decision to endure whatever pain they are being faced with for the sake of that love. Rather than run from difficulty, they face the anguish with devotion in an effort to keep the love that they treasure alive. Perhaps this sort of innate appreciation for suffering in love is why most people say that one cannot truly love a pet, for what real suffering does one endure with an obedient pet?

Now surely some of you will say that battered wives stay in relationships for far too long, and that that would point to the “highest order love” on my view. No so; you would almost assuredly be obliged to point to codependency issues as the root of staying in this sort of scenario as opposed to real love. So for the sake of this idea, let’s just assume preliminarily that the love is between people who are not abusing one another.

Yours In Contemplation,

Kierkegaard

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Frederick William Robertson and My Favorite Quote

It is an awful moment when the soul begins to find that the props upon which it has blindly rested are, many of them, rotten, and begins to suspect them all; when it begins to feel the nothingness of many of the traditionary opinions which have been received with implicit confidence, and in that horrible insecurity begins to doubt whether there be anything to believe at all. It is an awful hour – let him who has passed through say how awful – when this life has lost its meaning, and seems shriveled into a span; when the grave appears to be the end of all, human goodness nothing but a name, and the sky above this universe a dead expanse, black with the void from which God Himself has disappeared.

Frederick William Robertson
Life and Letters of Frederick W. Robertson (1847 – 1853)

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