Sunday, March 25, 2012

On Happiness and Its Nonexistence

  So, I can be a bit of a pessimist and a cynic at times. Jason's asked me to write about my views on happiness. I do, indeed, base my happiness, or lack thereof, on others' views of me. This is because one can't have an objective view of themselves, and I know for a fact that if I based my happiness on my own view of myself, I would be miserable, seeing as how I don't much like myself. To me, basing one's happiness on one's own perception of oneself is like the saying, "It's not your destination that matters, it's the distance that you travel from where you began." I think that's pretty foolish; if you don't get where you were going, you may as well not be travelling at all. I mean, if you were driving to New York from Houston and your car broke down just outside of New York, I quite doubt you would say, "Oh well, at least I drove pretty far from Houston." You'd probably be quite furious that you drove so far and still didn't get where you were going. Similarly, if you're the only person who likes you, I don't understand why you would be happy. You might as well not exist, no? It seems pretty selfish to base your happiness on your own views. (I'd bet Hitler perpetrated the Holocaust, heard all the outraged backlash, and said to himself, "Haters gonna hate," so to speak.) Of course, if you AGREE that it's selfish and do it anyway, I'm perfectly fine with that. Very Scarlett O'Hara-esque. "As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again!" (Mental thought: "Even if I have to marry the man my sister's in love with using lies and deceit and then get him killed!") I love Scarlett O'Hara. I never have a problem with people being selfish, as long as they accept that they are, in fact, being selfish.
  All of that being said, this pretty undeniably means that happiness is nonexistent and unachievable for all good and selfless people. Since, ya know, no one can be liked by everyone, anyone who does indeed care what others think can never be happy. So really, the world would be a much happier place if everyone was selfish and took care of their own happiness before anyone else's, by whatever means necessary. But that would inevitably lead to widespread murder and genocide, stealing, and other terrible practices, right? Because the powerful would take control of the oppressed to be happy, and the oppressed would destroy the powerful to be happy, and the world would degenerate into chaos and anarchy (which isn't necessarily chaotic, but would be in this case). So, we go back to the selfless definition of happiness. But no one can get everything they want if they also want everyone else to be happy. So, even if you are content with your life under this definition, you can't ever be truly happy, since you will always have an idea of all the things you want and can't have. I define happiness, personally, as the absence of a vision of, or the absence of a desire for, another side on which "the grass is always greener." (My friend Jason defines it the complete opposite way, so perhaps he can respond to this at some point and sort this all out.) Under this definition, then, you can't ever be truly happy.
  I propose, then, that true happiness doesn't exist. Unless you are religious and believe in a Heaven, in which case you've beat the system. Kudos.

-Adarsh Nednur


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

You, Sir, are a Lemming

            My high school has a government and economics teacher who is quite fond of complaining to whoever is listening that the American system has created a bunch of lemmings. For those of you who don’t understand metaphors, he isn’t claiming that America has turned the student body, en masse, into a pack of small rodents from the superfamily of Muroidea; he’s saying that us young folk have been brainwashed into following whatever we perceive to be a leader even if it causes us to march into a river and promptly drown ourselves.
            If we just ignore the fact that mass suicides of lemmings are a misconception brought about by the staged documentary White Wilderness made by Disney in 1958 where they launched lemmings off a cliff with a turntable (found it all on Wikipedia. Check it for yourself.), the poorly thought out comparison does bring to light a valid point. Too many of my contemporaries take as fact anything said by a man with a PowerPoint or anything provided for them by a higher power that has been there for a length of time.
            I’ll start off with some self-deprecation so no one thinks I’m preaching from a pedestal. I spent a good sixteen years of my life just letting the world happen around me. Yes, for a portion of that time, I was young enough to speak gibberish and eat glue, but suspend your disbelief. It wasn’t until I had a teacher that forced me to think for myself that I discovered there was something wrong with the fact that the first few months of my parents’ pay went to the government that didn’t even recognize them as citizens yet. I hadn’t thought about the fact that the school system in Texas is based off of the prison system for the sake of efficiency, and that chairs in public schools are made to be stackable and not good for posture or comfortable.
            With just a few moments thought or glances at your surroundings, you can find a multitude of issues that have always bothered you, but they’ve always been there so why challenge them, right? Wrong. Society stagnates if the people look up from their daytime dramas or stop listening to generic music long enough to realize one can have a conversation about something other than the anatomy of Girl A, where to buy new shoes, or how much everyone hates work and school. We can call this the Death of Ivan Ilych Complex, named for the short story by Tolstoy it came from where a small-time Russian judge slowly comes to the realization that his entire life was shaped to please those around him even though he found no true pleasure from it. I recommend the story; slow start, but good stuff.
            By no means am I suggesting that one should dissent against every established practice because they can, but pay attention! “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.” –MLK, Jr. The people who follow while just staring at their shoes stop and look around after too long and realize they’re utterly lost and have no idea how to get back to where they came from.
            Let’s tie this to morality as I am wont to do. If the herd decides to do something that ties your guts into a pretzel, does that mean you contain some flaw in your wiring? Again, wrong. It probably means that the herd is nudging you away from the natural law which is what’s using your guts for Boy Scout knot training. Here’s a direct example: My home-away-from-home, Bellaire High, is a gathering place for some of the brightest minds in the country. It’s also probably has one of the highest concentrations of cheaters in the state. In no way am I saying that everyone with good grades gets them from the people sitting to their left and right during examinations, but the high stress environment that is created by the natural overachievers chokes those with a willing spirit but unresponsive grey matter. I would love to be in the top 5% and have private schools throwing scholarships at my feet, but to do so I’d have to tattoo the entire text Physics for Engineers and Scientists to my eyelids and hold my old Spanish teacher at gunpoint until she tweaks my grades. Those are obvious hyperboles, but those are steps which I can’t rationalize ever doing because I’d never be able to look at myself again no matter what society thought about it.

-Jason Rossiter

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Value of Ugly Art

            I like ugly paintings, depressing books, and angry music. I believe that those things have both emotional and intellectual value, and sometimes I would go so far as to claim that they are beautiful. If that seems contradictory, it is, but I’ll take this time to explain. What is beautiful? Does art have to be beautiful? What is the highest form of art? What is art? These are all questions that fall under the category of Aesthetics, the philosophy of beauty, art, and taste. Any issue of Aesthetics is a touchy topic because of how distinctly different individual perspectives are, so I am going to abstain from making any presumptuous claims about whether anything is or is not a valid form of artistic expression. Instead, I want to focus in on the issue of what makes something have artistic value and what the highest form of art is.
            Let’s start with the more general question, “What makes something art?” To clarify, I am not talking about various mediums such as books, music, painting, sculpture, performance, etc. Rather, I am going to try and explain what “art” is in the most general sense. Many philosophers, artists, and critics have presented ideas on this topic. Some claim that sublime beauty is what makes something art. Other say that the act of creation at the hands of the artist makes it art. Still more claim that art is simply any creative expression of emotion or abstract thought. I want to contend that the work itself is not inherently artistic, but it derives its artistic value from the emotional and intellectual (I would say that the two are inseparable, but that is a topic for another day) response it evokes in both the artist and the audience. In this sense, there isn’t any universal work of art, because no piece of art can hope to provoke a response in everyone that sees, hears, or reads it. This also means that a work of art can be a very different experience for different peoples because of the already held beliefs, knowledge, and experiences of the viewer. A work could be beautiful, but if I feel no connection to the work, if it doesn’t make me think, then for me at least it has no value. On the flip side, a work could be ugly, brutal, shocking, or even revolting, but if I experience a deeper emotional reaction then it has artistic value. For example, the modern paintings of artists such as Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud are often considered ugly, but they are two of my favorite painters. I fully acknowledge that their works are not pretty to look at, in fact they make me uncomfortable, but that very discomfort forces me to ask harder questions, and that is why I would consider them high art while others view their works as nothing more than a deliberate shock.
            With that much room for different perspectives about what does and does not serve as art, how can I possibly decide what the highest form of art is? Easy, I’ll make my answer as abstract as possible. I claim that the highest type of art is that which makes the viewer uncomfortable. Art that makes one uncomfortable challenges what the viewer believes about the world, existence, and, most importantly, about themselves. The author Franz Kafka phrased it this way, “A book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul.” While he was talking specifically of books, I feel the statement applies to art as a whole. Art should force us to confront who we are at the deepest level, both the good and bad. Art is by nature a humanistic experience. Without an artist, art cannot come into being, and without an audience, art means nothing. Art doesn't transcend humanity, it comes down to our level and wrestles us to the ground kicking and screaming. Hell, if I want to be narcissistic (or optimistic depending on your perspective), I can hope that this essay meets my own definition of art. I hope I’ve made you uncomfortable.

Francis Bacon painting
Painting (1946), by Francis Bacon

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Magic School Bus

The Magic School Bus

            I’ve spent the last seven days sleeping with a strict social conservative, and strange bedfellows lead to strange conversations. Perhaps I should elaborate; I’ve been on a government and economics trip to NYC and DC for the past week and have shared a hotel room with a Mexican, Jew, and the aforementioned Republican. During this trip to the North-East, I asked everyone possible where they found the legitimacy in government… No satisfactory answers were found.
            Granted, I never got to ask the President or Congressional members, but the Supreme Court guide and UN representative had no idea where legitimacy in government came from.
            The simplest way I can think of providing imagery for this conundrum is this; picture a bus. The bus driver is the government or the State, whichever you desire; the road is Existence; the bus itself is Society, and all the people are, well, the People.
            When you were born, you woke up on the bus. You weren’t given the option to pick your bus or final destination since from the beginning of your being you were sitting on that uncomfortable plastic seat, and the bus was already in motion.
            So, what gives the driver the right to take you anywhere? You didn’t ask to be driven. In fact, you can’t even leave until you reach a station (maturity level, independence level, and funds to move elsewhere perhaps. That’s a completely different topic), and you have no idea how long it will take to get there.
            The Implied Consent argument, put forward –I believe– first by Socrates, says that, since we owe our education, protection, and ability to be born to the State, we also owe our loyalty to the State and its laws. That would be true if we were born at the station as opposed to on the bus, but since the location in which we spend our formative years is generally decided by parents or guardians, how can we say that we owe anything that happens to us before we’re fully independent to anyone except parents or guardians?
            I merely want to scratch the surface with this essay since I could go on for pages on the topic. Here’s an extremely brief summary of the effects of different political ideologies on the Bus analogy.

*Implied Consent (along with general political opinions within the Democratic and Republican parties) – Sit patiently in your bus seat, and, every now and then, suggest a route for the bus to the take.
*Libertarian – Open a window so at least you can get some fresh air in the bus. Everyone is still at the mercy of the driver, though.
*Anarchist – Kill the bus driver.

I consider myself a Socratic Philosophical Anarchist (Suffer a wrong, but never do a wrong), but I’m not such a big fan of the Implied Consent argument. That doesn’t explain how I want the government to be run, but it does explain how I react to it.
As far as I can tell, there isn’t a name for my government ideas…
I believe we should phase out the bus driver by teaching everyone how to drive. If the bus driver is killed before Man is able to take care of Himself, how would that help anyone?

-Jason Rossiter

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Judging By Beauty Is NOT Superficial.

  So, I've recently been thinking about something, ever since I finished The Picture of Dorian Gray (another classic, an instant favorite, easily in my top 10 favorite books of all time, and an EXTREMELY intelligent book). This may not necessarily be a moral of the book, but it started me thinking nonetheless. My question is... is it really that bad to judge someone by looks?
  I know, I know, I may sound dumb and superficial and shallow, but hear me out. First of all, I'm not suggesting at all that people should be judged ONLY by looks. I just think that people who judge by appearance get an unfair reputation as shallow and superficial. Lord Henry Wotton of The Picture of Dorian Gray maintains that "...Beauty is a form of genius-- is higher, indeed, than genius, as it needs no explanation. It is of the great facts of the world..." and even says that "People say sometimes that beauty is only superficial. That may be so, but at least it is not so superficial as thought is. To me, beauty is the wonder of wonders. It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances." Interesting thought, no? I certainly thought so.
  Now, I presume (perhaps incorrectly, but this seems to be the most plausible explanation) that people who say that beauty is an invalid method of judging another do so because beauty, at least in their eyes and in a classical sense, is something that you are either born with and have, or something that you do not and will never own. It is unfair, they seem to say, to judge someone by something which they cannot change, regardless of how much work they are willing to put in. However, I propose that thought and personality function much the same as beauty. There are certainly people who are predisposed to be talented or intelligent (or willing to work to be so) in certain fields, and less so in other fields. It would seem, then, that judging someone by intelligence or talent is just as "superficial" and "shallow" as judging by beauty, the only difference being that the former is not based on something visible. Of course, there are no doubt those who would argue that everyone is talented or determined to excel in SOME field. As Albert Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” However, my response to these people is that, then, they have invalidated their own point. If they claim that thought and intelligence and talent are equal, albeit different, in all people, then they will have to agree that these are completely invalid bases by which to judge people.
  Perhaps one believes that one should judge people by a different kind of thought, such as their morality and ethics. I think, however, that while this is a valid point, one must agree that one cannot be sure that what one sees is what one gets on such topics. One can certainly imagine being lied to about another's moral standings, as often happens in politics, among other places. Besides, surely it is at least the slightest bit arrogant to judge someone's thoughts by whether they match one's own thoughts and positions or not. Surely one cannot consider themselves the standard by which to judge all others.
  Now, here I will cede ground. It as at least as arrogant to judge someone by one's own definition of beauty. It is often said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and so everyone's definition or ideal of beauty is unique and different. However, as far as beauty is concerned, at least you cannot be lied to.
  Or can you?
  In today's society, we have make-up and plastic surgery to cover up or change all of one's own imperfections of beauty. But I disagree that this is akin to lying about one's beauty. I see it as one displaying their own ideal of beauty, and allowing, even inviting, others to judge it by their own standards to see if the two match. I see judging by beauty, in this case, as a mutual compromise instead of a one-sided examination. And to those who would claim that make-up and plastic surgery are also superficial, surely this is unfair? You would deny people the right to achieve their own ideal of beauty (not necessarily those of others, as one might assume)? Isn't this similar to denying an artist the right to paint the most beautiful painting he could paint because the easel he owns doesn't already have this beautiful image on it? Both are simply a person's attempt to create their own reflection of beauty. And make-up and plastic surgery can be no worse than education, right? Since they are to beauty what education is to intelligence, I mean? Just attempts to reach one's personal ideal.
  In the end, I will grant that a large part of me agrees with those of you who would argue that it is arrogant to think oneself worthy to judge anyone at all. The rest of me agrees with those who would say that any method of judging someone is as arbitrary as the next, and so any method is valid. This article was purely my attempt to dispel a belief held by people purely because they are told that that is what they should believe: namely, that judging someone by appearance is "superficial" and "shallow" and "wrong". It is my strong hope that people will think things through before internalizing them instead of believing things at face value.
  Good day, reader. (I hope I didn't bore you TOO much.)

P.S.  One shouldn't assume that I'm being selfish and trying to make people judge me less harshly with this discourse, since I'm hideous myself. : D

-Adarsh Nednur

how to draw beast from beauty and the beast 245x300 how to draw beast from beauty and the beast

Thursday, March 1, 2012

On Aiming Low

            I am not a person who accepts myself or anyone else giving less than their best effort in any situation, which is why I want to write a defense of underachieving. Together, we’ll see if there are any legitimate holes in that mantra. And I will do my best to keep sarcasm out of it. Ironically, the act of writing this piece is –in and of itself- an act of overachievement. Whaddaya know…

            Life is much too short to spend it stressed and developing stomach ulcers because you have three papers due this week, events and escapades scheduled for the weekend, and various responsibilities heavily sprinkled on top of it all like the cheap off-brand sprinkles ice cream parlors use on your sundae. John Maynard Keynes said it best, “In the long run, we’re all dead.” And since we’re all going to eventually turn into rotting corpses, we might as well enjoy the time we have.
            Think of it this way; there are two things anyone really acquires during his or her life, money and memories. Uncle Sam (or whatever personification of your own State you desire, o reader) takes the money, and Alzheimer’s takes the memories. Viewing one’s existence in this light makes underachiever seem like such a derogatory term. Instead, the underachiever is now someone whose goals are in a different realm. Instead of telling myself, “Well, Body, let’s see how little sleep you really need and how much stuff I can really do,” I tell myself things like, “So, Soul, what do you want to do?”
            To those who rag on the underachievers who coast through school, what’s wrong with that life plan? Of course, the general argument is that we “waste potential” –air quotes- and have so many opportunities before us that are shirked off and ignored because they require effort. I say, why do we have to delay our satisfaction? There’s no reason to get addicted to caffeine and 5 Hour Energy at a young age just to possibly, perhaps, maybe achieve greatness later. Contentment now trumps contentment later. Memories of the good times now trump memories of busy work, sweat, and sleepless nights.
            My pastor told a story once: The captain of a fleet of fishing vessels came to port in the afternoon to unload his nets and saw a poor fisherman sleeping on the roof of his rusting little boat. “Why are you just lying around?” The captain exclaimed, “There are fish to be caught.”
            The man who had been sleeping looked up and asked, “What do you propose I do with the extra fish I catch? I’ve already got enough for my needs.”
            “Why, my friend, sell them at market! Buy a bigger boat and stronger nets. Eventually, you’ll end up like me, the captain of many ships! Then you can bathe in the sun and be proud of your work.”
            “But sir,” the poor fisherman said, “I’m doing that already.”

-Jason Rossiter