Thursday, May 27, 2010

ABCD

So how come that from 1985 to 2009 (25 years), 9 (that is, more than one third) spelling bee champions are Indian-Americans? And how come, that from 2000 to 2009 (10 years), six of the champions are Indian-Americans?

Remember, this speaks volumes about the contestant demographic. If six winners out of ten are Indians, what percentage of the participants are Indians?

Spelling bee is a rather meaningless contest, to spell obscure words. Why would an immigrant community be so interested in coaching their children to win this thing? Instead of, say, coaching them to become a baseball champion, or a gymnast, or a skateboarder?

The answer to this question may reveal something fundamental about the Indian-American mindset.

My hunch is that Indian-Americans are socially and physically at a disadvantage in the US, and to bolster their self-esteem, they try to excel intellectually. Moreover, to win a contest like the spelling-bee requires hard work and rote, not creativity. I think it is reflective of a slavish, colonial mindset.

Also, academic excellence, good educational credentials, and a salaried job are the safe avenues of making good money in the US. That's what Indian parents wish for their children, and it makes economic sense.

Moreover, social life in the US is considered dangerous and immoral by first-generation Indian immigrants. Better keep the child at home and give him a dictionary.

What do you think?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Seeking

N was thirteen, the only child of his parents in a small village.

Most of the time, he felt rejected and alone.

He loved a girl, but she did not love him back. His father was full of disapproval. His friends bullied him. He could not buy what he thought would give him pleasure. He was ashamed of urges which were only beginning to sprout in him.

Because he suffered and was in pain, N felt that the world of humans in its entirety was a place of suffering.

He could not see a way to come out of his suffering except through struggle, a struggle to be accepted and respected and loved by the human beings around him.

Because he hated those who insulted and rejected him, he hated to even contemplate the struggle to win their approval. He did not want to play "their game".

Today his family was away for an errand.

He went inside his house. He would play his own game.

He gave significance to his dolls and books. He started to talk to himself, in the absence of anyone who accepted him.

As the evening came, and the night fell, he felt proud of having not needed anybody during the day.

He picked up a book titled Kathopanishad. As he tried to read and understand it, he went further inside his house, to his small room where he would hide and read it. The book told the story of a child like him, with a name like his own.

As months went by, he spent more and more time sitting in a small corner of his room.

Years passed and he became a man. He did not know the working of the world, and was usually lost in his thoughts.

During the day, as his mother and his father asked him to do something, he thought it agony to again get up from his corner, out of his room, and out of his house into the street.

One day as he was going to the village market, he saw the picture of a holy man pasted on a wall. The holy man lived in the mountains and was inviting seekers who sought the supreme wisdom.

The next day, N became a monk, left his home, and started on his journey to be with the holy man.

After a grueling journey, he finally reached the holy man's abode. The holy man received him warmly, and without any hospitality or delay, they sat face to face, looking into each others' eyes.

N asked the holy man, "How do I attain to the supreme bliss?"

The holy man smiled and kept quiet.

N asked the holy man again, "How do I find fulfillment and enlightenment?"

The holy man smiled and kept quiet.

N started crying and asked him for the third time, "How do I escape from this cycle of birth, life, pain and death?"

The holy man gave him some water to drink and asked him to rest for a few days.

After seven days, the holy man and N again sat face to face.

This time, the holy man asked N, "Why have you come here, and not your friends, or your family?"

N answered, "Because they are ignorant and content in their miserable lives."

The holy man asked N, "And why were you not content?"

N answered, "I went within my house, where I started to seek the supreme bliss."

The holy man looked at N for a long time, and said, "What you seek is found if you do not seek anything outwardly. Do you seek anything outwardly?"

N waited fifteen years to answer, "No."

The holy man, now frail and old, whispered in response, "What you seek is found if you do not seek anything inwardly. Do you seek anything inwardly?"

N was perplexed. The path was a conflicting one: To stop seeking so that one attains to one's goal that one seeks?

He asked the holy man, "How does one stop seeking inwardly?"

The holy man answered, "By being content with what one is," and passed away.

N had never known contentment. Now himself an old man, he wearily walked back to his own home. As he reached it, he saw it was now decrepit and utterly worn.

As he sat on the stairs at the entrance of his house, he looked at his hands, now the hands of an old man, with innumerable wrinkles and lines.

He turned his face around and saw a portrait of his old parents hanging on a wall of the house. His parents had passed away many years back.

He was surprised at himself that he had never really looked at their faces and into their eyes, the way he had looked into the eyes of the holy man.

The portrait was an old one, from the days when he was still living with them, and it showed the mildly nervous and smiling faces of a couple, who seemed neither ecstatic nor melancholy, nor did it appear that they were seeking anything. They seemed content with their lot in life.

Silent tears started streaming down his cheeks, and through his tears, he saw a few children playing in the street. One of them had lost a round of marbles and was on the verge of crying.

He got up, walked up to that child, and lifted him into his lap and while kissing his forehead with his old lips, whispered, "I will give you some new marbles tomorrow. But if you want to cry, cry here, don't go inside."

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Culture of Narcissism, Revisited

A postscript to The Culture of Narcissism (Christopher Lasch, 1979).

This is a profound essay, coming 11 years after the publication of his book, and attempts to explain the flight to spirituality as well as the fight against nature, both being the responses of a being ill at ease with his limitations and mortality. I recommend reading this essay from start to finish.

I have scanned the essay from the book and uploaded it here.

If you are bothered by the tilt of the scanned pages, you can read this essay in full via the Look Inside the Book feature on this book's Amazon.com page. Use of this feature requires a free registration at Amazon.com.

On another note, I found this video clip (by Victor Frankl, the author of Man's Search for Meaning) fascinating:

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Then, Now, and Then?

A cartoon, an image, and a question:

(image courtesy WSJ, via Who is the Absurd Man)


...

(image courtesy Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP/Getty Images, via Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Dish)

...

So what if this was not simply gene implantation, but what if they actually succeeded in fabricating a live cell? We might as well all go home and watch TV till the end of our lives, in that case. Or no?

But not all of us, I guess. At least the Godmen would be in a tizzy trying to explain how the vital has been created out of thin air!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Criticism of the "New Atheism" by David Hart

What an article!
Above all, Nietzsche understood how immense the consequences of the rise of Christianity had been, and how immense the consequences of its decline would be as well, and had the intelligence to know he could not fall back on polite moral certitudes to which he no longer had any right. Just as the Christian revolution created a new sensibility by inverting many of the highest values of the pagan past, so the decline of Christianity, Nietzsche knew, portends another, perhaps equally catastrophic shift in moral and cultural consciousness. His famous fable in The Gay Science of the madman who announces God’s death is anything but a hymn of atheist triumphalism. In fact, the madman despairs of the mere atheists—those who merely do not believe—to whom he addresses his terrible proclamation. In their moral contentment, their ease of conscience, he sees an essential oafishness; they do not dread the death of God because they do not grasp that humanity’s heroic and insane act of repudiation has sponged away the horizon, torn down the heavens, left us with only the uncertain resources of our will with which to combat the infinity of meaninglessness that the universe now threatens to become.

...

For Nietzsche, therefore, the future that lies before us must be decided, and decided between only two possible paths: a final nihilism, which aspires to nothing beyond the momentary consolations of material contentment, or some great feat of creative will, inspired by a new and truly worldly mythos powerful enough to replace the old and discredited mythos of the Christian revolution (for him, of course, this meant the myth of the √úbermensch).

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Rage against the Machine

From the Swaraj University FAQs
Being in the system, most of us start becoming so dependent on being fed structured knowledge and are accustomed to being told what to do with our time that we have difficulty remembering what it is we really want to do. So, when learners have unstructured time at their disposal it initially becomes difficult to deal with. However, it provides an ideal space for reflection, knowing oneself and one’s passions, understanding the world around and to unlearn their dependence on external sources of knowledge
A partial list of assumptions implicit in the above obviously truthy passage:
  1. Structured knowledge is a bad thing. (Written without a sense of irony on a webpage being driven by cutting-edge technology halfway across the world) The news for these lost souls is: Knowledge is structure.

  2. To have someone dictate how to use one's time is a bad thing. ("I don't want a job. I want to do my own thing. I won't fit into a mold")

  3. We all have something specific and long term that we "really" want to do. (Hint: We want to be loved and accepted in this competitive world which judges us mercilessly.)

  4. Knowing oneself is important and is hindered by knowledge. ("I am unique. I was born to fulfill a dream. To know myself in my glorious uniqueness and then to express that knowing out in the world.")

  5. We all have unique passions which need flowering. ("The stressful system is responsible for thwarting ME. If left alone, I would blossom. The world sucks. Earning money means I have to listen to what matters to others. No way! How can a spiritually advanced person like me serve less evolved people?")

  6. The dependence on external sources of knowledge is a bad thing. ("The only real knowledge is self-knowledge. I am all that matters.")
The irony is, in the guise of rebellion against the System, against technology, against modernity, this kind of "unschooling" is pushing people further into individuation, the mantra of modernity.

So, mass schools create people with similar materialistic aspirations. Not good. Agreed.

However, spiritual schools let people "flower" into being moochers, into kind beings (ironically) surviving on the "gift economy" (= kindness of materialistic people).

Once upon a time, there were two friends. One wanted money and bruised himself and the world in the process. The other wanted to spread the message of love and healing. One put his feet on the ground, and his money where his mouth was. The other walked in the clouds, and put others' money where his mouth was. One lived the message of selfishness, and felt guilty about it, and paid his taxes and tried his hand at charity. The other spread the message of altruism, didn't earn a penny, was proud of his humility, and survived on others' hard work.

One was called a worldly man, the other was called a saint.

Quick-Fix solutions for NRI mid-life crises

  1. Start volunteering for an NGO which does something dubious in India but gives presentations (with suitably pitiable photographs of poor, malnourished children) in the US.

  2. Start running marathons. This is generally seen after a year or two of getting married.

  3. After being sick of the IT industry (the very mention of "struts" or "query optimization" makes you puke), go for a mid-career MBA from a well-known business school in the hope of entering the financial world which is so much more meaningful and exciting. No doubt!

  4. Have a green card? Give up being a wage-slave for a big firm with >$10B market cap (you already switched to this safe big firm after working for a few years in start-ups which didn't go anywhere, but YOUR start-up will be different, remember?) and dream of being a CxO of a small one. Get a few other angst-ridden souls together and start working on a Internet 2.0 start-up. Learn how to talk smoothly to a bunch of half-bored VCs dressed in shorts, while you are dressed uncomfortably in a suit and a tie. Since you are techies, educate yourself about entrepreneurship by reading lots of blog posts on venture funding and monetization of traffic. Constantly keep yourself motivated! Important for success!! Don't think negative!!!

  5. Have a kid or two, give them some obscure Sanskrit name which nobody has heard of but which makes people ask you the pronunciation and meaning of, so that you can give a 15-minute history of their name (if you are really good, you will have a scriptural text bookmarked).

  6. Buy a home in a suburban "good school" (read: white-collar workers only) district, have a treadmill in the garage, and invite relatives from India to gush over your appliances and big LCD TV (and to save you the cost of a babysitter). Frequently go to Ikea, but decorate your home "tastefully" with Indian paintings etc. which you then love to explain (let me tell you about Raja Ravi Varma, James, he was like the da Vinci of India) to colleagues who stare at them interestedly.

  7. Wistfully think of moving back to India, where life is so much more community-oriented and meaningful. Yeah! Actually return when kids are around 4 years old and are in imminent danger of being morally corrupted.

  8. Get some fellow NRIs together and have guilty Indian dinners (where you talk of Manmohan Singh and Mayawati and wax eloquent on the Naxal problem), temple visits, and Holi/Diwali celebrations, knowing that this is all a rather pathetic show (Dal Makhani via an internet recipe served in Corelle! English-speaking priest who just wants your dollars!) with no substance. It is different in India, you think with a tear in your eyes. There the priests are actually holy and the dal is so pure.

  9. Go gaga over some 15-minute BMW-sponsored whoopie-clap-ridden AWESOME TED presentation (if you are really the man, you actually attended the TED lecture in-person) and tell/blog/tweet everybody about it (since you don't actually have time to read a serious book).

  10. Don't talk about what occupies/concerns you most of the time: your work, your kid(s), your husband/wife, your parents who are getting older, your bigger and bigger bank balance which you have no clue how to put to any use, your lifestyle diseases, your own advancing age and limiting options, your isolation and loneliness, a feeling that life has passed you by despite having everything... but pretend to be happy, say "Yay! WooHoo!!" at every conceivable occasion, shake hands with confidence, be so natural at faking it that even you don't notice it anymore.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Films Seen Recently

  • The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke, 2009): The strongest film I have seen in the last few months. Titled Das weisse Band - Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte (The White Ribbon - A tale of German children), it is an adult film which might elude most adults if not reflected upon. With austere and stark black and white cinematography, and having an exceptional sense for composition and editing, and possessing a narrative that is not meant to be absorbed in a single viewing, this is an essential film for the modern age. It attempts to explain the origins of callousness and violence in human beings, and the voice-over ending by the narrator makes one's hair stand on end. Haneke lives up to his name, again. This film justly won the Palme d'Or at Cannes last year. It has scenes of emotional cruelty which take your breath away and which far outstrip any gore or torture porn in the theater these days (some of which is quite radical).

  • A Serious Man (Coen Brothers, 2009): A rather strange meditation on existentialism, atheism and non-determinism in the form of a black comedy. Heartily recommended. I love films which end when you least expect them to.

  • A Single Man (Tom Ford, 2009): An expressionistic film about loss and loneliness, ultimately rather trite, but magnificently filmed. Colin Firth's performance is nuanced, flawless, and grave. Of course it is also a gushing view of a certain opulent lifestyle. Meandering at times, I particularly liked the courtship rituals between the professor and the student.

  • The Green Zone (Paul Greengrass, 2010): Well-filmed, and though seemingly politically incendiary material ("We didn't invade Iraq for the WMDs"), gets no more than a "Duh!" in 2010. Far more incendiary is the WikiLeaks video about the wanton disregard of the Rules of Engagement in Iraq, resulting in many deaths, which has invoked curious little discussion outside the US.

  • Up in the Air (Jason Reitman, 2009): A quirky little comedy of corporate manners, a feel-good film in the post-bubble world, but not memorable.

  • Iron Man 2 (Jon Favreau, 2010): Sorry I watched this piece of drivel. A wish-fulfillment story for the adolescents, it is not even engaging. But this did made me reflect on this analysis of Wanted (Timur Bekmambetov, 2008), a film which thankfully I have not seen. The analysis is far more engaging read than ten such films put together. It is a sign of our times that bigger and bigger explosions (2012, Transformers, Avatar, and this film) are now needed to satisfy the overstimulated, attention-challenged moviegoers of the world. These films are the biggest hits of the year, in case you are wondering.

  • Home (Yann Arthus-Bertrand, 2009): A polemical documentary about our environment and the planet which makes no bones about its activist bias, it is remarkable only for its imagery in the first half. The second half feels repetitive and preachy. The Qatsi trilogy is much more understated and, hence, poignant.

  • Disgrace (Steve Jacobs, 2008): A faithful retelling of J M Coetzee's acclaimed novel, it is an interesting take on the postmodern man trying to again find some meaning in life, and perhaps succeeding. John Malkovich's acting can be considered wooden, but perhaps it is intended as an affectation of the character. I understood the novel only after watching this film.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Commandment Six

Ajmal Kasab, 22, sentenced to death by hanging.

That is the law of the land.

A man, a criminal, a terrorist, a murderer. Caught. Tried. Sentenced. Hanged.

The question is: why do we celebrate it? Revenge, of course.

He cried when he was sentenced. I can understand people ignoring his tears, calling his pain just, a lesson to future terrorists (if at all it works that way), but to call them "crocodile tears", as the prosecution attorney did, is to dehumanize him, to mistake his pain as pretence.

To understand the progression of a child becoming a man like Ajmal Kasab is harder than to burst crackers at the judgment.

Ajmal Kasab is 22. A "bad" human being. Probably too young to realize what he has done.

To kill him is self-defense or deterrence or justice or a trial-by-media or a punishment for the rarest-of-the-rare crime. But to celebrate his killing is demonic. It is to celebrate when one's child fails in the school examination and commits suicide. One less loser in the world, eh?

Ajmal Kasab, I mourn for you, and for a world of hate which twisted you up and made you kill those poor victims of you, whose families had their lives torn apart.

I know you were a child once.



(The ending of Come and See (Elem Klimov, 1985), where a child, a premature man, a child whose whole village was massacred, with wrinkles wrought by war, full of hate and anguish, starts shooting at a photograph of Adolf Hitler, who gets younger and younger. When finally Hitler is an infant in the arms of his mother, the shooter stands paralyzed.)

Recent Posts, indexed

Nature and Man

Notes on Modernity.

Notes on Suffering: part 1, part 2.

Notes on Intellect: part 1, part 2, part 3.

A note on Morality.

Notes on Meaning: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9, part 10, part 11, part 12, part 13.

Notes on Meaning (last part)

From another feel-good article:
Today, we have so many things that make our life easier and less stressful. Yet many seem so stressed out. You see many children who are easily bored and restless. Often, people have to have something going on, something to do or somewhere to go. They always have to have music playing, the TV on or something to distract them.

Maybe this is so because often people are feeling empty, lost, and without purpose. They feel a need to fill up their lives with noise so they don't have to face the fact they have no purpose in life.

If you are feeling that way, I challenge you to create you own purpose if that is how you feel. Identify what you truly value. Be true to yourself, and don't get caught up in the idea that it has to serve others. Once you find a purpose that resonates with you, it will ultimately benefit the world as well, but you have to start with what is important to you.

It may be through a cause that is close to your heart for which you take a stand. You might want to find an opportunity to volunteer in your community, such as working with the homeless, driving people to appointments, or sharing your expertise with others through training or public speaking.

...
Doesn't work.

The problem of meaning in the modern world is essentially this:

Autonomy is the freedom to create one's own meaning. Nobody pushes you towards a larger meaning.

It's all about control of one's life. You will not walk to work, but will walk on the treadmill. You will be irritated at a beggar ringing your doorbell, but will organize a fundraiser. You will use air-conditioning and hot water (sometimes on the same day) but will debate global warming.

This is not hypocrisy; this is controlled, choice-driven (as opposed to circumstance driven) goodness. Forced goodness is called morality, oppression, authority, and is out. Voluntary goodness is in.

But this autonomy also means that the push behind this meaning is your own circumstances, mood and motivation.

Since your meaning is your own, you are alone, and therefore alienated. Since nobody is essentially dependent on your goodness, and you can choose to not do it, it is a surrogate activity, a pastime as it were.

Pastimes cannot fulfill a man. Artists live empty, agonized lives.

Freedom/Autonomy and Meaning/Fulfillment are in opposition to each other.

Similarly, Intelligence/Cognition/Modernity/Knowledge (the progressive virtues) and Feeling/Intuition/Faith/Belief (the regressive virtues) are in opposition to each other.

Meaninglessness is the future of man. The vast universe, dark, empty, infinite, beckons.

(respectful nod once again to Peter Wessel Zapffe's strange essay: The Last Messiah)

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Notes on Meaning (part twelve)

From an article about Unschooling
Unschooling, by contrast, starts with the realization that you 'own' your time, and have the opportunity and responsibility to use it in ways that are meaningful and stimulating for you. When you have this opportunity, you just naturally learn a great deal, about things you care about, things that will inevitably be useful to you in making a life and a living. Your learning environment is the whole world, and you learn what and when you want, undirected by curricula, textbooks, alarm clocks and school bells. You develop deep peer relationships around areas of common interest, once you're allowed to explore and discover what those areas of interest are. And the Internet and online gaming allow you to make those relationships anywhere in the world, to draw on the brightest experts on the planet, and to communicate powerfully with like-minded, curious people of every age, culture and ideology.
Once again, fellow netizens, do you SEE?

A child is being asked to disregard how the world works, to totally disregard patterns of authority, and to be a narcissist.

And I'm no fan of rote learning, but this is a solution worse than the problem.

The author just doesn't get it.
If every child was unschooled -- given the chance to explore and discover and learn in the real world what they love to do, what they're uniquely good at doing, and what the world needs that they care about -- then we would have a world of self-confident, creative, informed, empowered, networked entrepreneurs doing work that needs to be done, successfully. We would have armies of people collaborating to solve the problems and crises facing our world, instead of going home exhausted at the end of the day seeking escape, feeling helpless to do anything that is meaningful to them or to the world.
First you take away their anchors and make them autonomous, then you hope that they will live far more meaningful lives.

I had a suspicion that the writer would want the children to have his meanings instead of traditional meanings, that the writer wasn't being upfront about it. And moreover, the writer was probably financially benefiting from such feel-good writing.

Some further research brought the following gems:
I'm an expert on: Knowledge management (e.g. personal productivity improvement, just-in-time knowledge canvassing, knowledge harvesting, personal content management, the cost of not knowing, adding meaning to information), business innovation, all aspects of entrepreneurship (e.g. researching unmet needs, the innovation process, finding partners and allies, organic financing, viral marketing, building networks, strategic improvisation), social networking, information architecture, the virtual workplace, complexity management, cultural anthropology, business valuation, business sustainability, collaboration strategies, the future of business, the new economy, capturing employee and customer intelligence, differentiation strategies, and personal effectiveness coaching. I've written, lectured and presented at conferences on most of these subjects. You can find many of my writings on these subjects in the business category of this blog.

...

... my search to find better ways to live, and make a living, and a better understanding of how the world really works

...

Preparing for civilization's end: Articles about sustainable living, how our civilization emerged and why it is no longer viable, what we can learn from nature and from history, building community, activism, alternative economies, animal sentience and how to prepare ourselves, and our children and grandchildren, for civilization's twilight and aftermath.

He has willing customers. Happiness abounds!

Notes on Meaning (part eleven)

(From a Q&A by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev)
Q: In the process of making myself happy, if I make somebody else unhappy is it OK?

A: Now, you’re talking about happiness as something that you borrow from people around you. See, you must understand, you being happy has got nothing to do with what is happening outside of you. Right now because your energies are so deeply enslaved to the outside, the outside is deciding your inner happiness. Once it is like this, conflict is inevitable. Please see, the conflict in the world is just my happiness versus your happiness. My happiness is Shiva, your happiness is Allah, we have to fight. Because we have decided, we have become incapable of being happy by our own nature; we have to do something to be happy. When you have to do something in the world to be happy, then others also have to do something else to be happy. Today or tomorrow our paths will cross and we will fight. We may pretend that we are all brothers, but when our happiness is under threat we want to shoot the other man!

Let’s say, right now your happiness is in climbing a pole… Now there is somebody else who is sitting on the pole and saying you should not climb this pole because it is a holy pole. The moment he stops you, you become unhappy. If you are weak, you will go away; if you are strong you will pull him down and climb the pole. It is because your happiness depends on climbing this pole that you want to climb it somehow. Suppose you are already happy, and just like that you want to climb this pole and this man says, “No, please don’t climb this pole”. You will go and climb some other pole, and there will be no problem. If you are already happy in your own nature and your life is an expression of your happiness, then there will be no conflict in the world. But as long as you spend your life in pursuit of happiness, today or tomorrow there will be conflict in this world. It doesn’t matter how much you educate people, how much civilisation you apply to them, they will fight.

If my happiness is within myself, and I have organised my energies in such a way that I am naturally happy, then whatever happens in my life, my happiness is never at stake and I will simply do what is needed for the situation I live in. There is no particular reason that I must be doing something, I can sit here without doing anything. If the situation demands I will act and if the situation doesn’t demand I will sit quietly. In your pursuit of happiness, please see how you are burning up the whole planet.

Fortunately, 50 per cent of the world consists of lazy people. If all the seven billion people were very industrious like you, this world would not last for even 10 more years, it would be finished. This world exists not because of the industrious people, but because of the lazy people. They are the ones who are really saving the world. These so-called industrious people with good intentions and absolute stupidity are uprooting the world in so many ways. They have great intentions for people, but if their intentions are fulfilled, the world itself will not be left. So don’t be in pursuit of happiness, know how to express your happiness in the world. If you look back at your life you will see that the most beautiful moments in life are moments when you are expressing your joy, not when you are seeking it.
Well, Well, Well, my fellow netizens. As the character of Francis Dolarhyde says in The Red Dragon, while showing his prowess and while preparing to burn alive his captive, "Do you SEE?"

No wonder, once a Guru strips a man of his meaning, he will have to surrender to Him. How can he go back to his now empty life?

This insistence on absolute, continued, untrammeled, autonomous happiness is the mark of a narcissist, mark my words. He is unable to reconcile with any diminishing in his happiness due to a vagary of circumstance. He wants it all, at his terms, for all the time. Others can die, for all he cares.

Ayn Rand was wrong in so many ways, but she was right about these moochers.
"For centuries, the mystics of spirit had existed by running a protection racket - by making life on earth unbearable, then charging you for consolation and relief, by forbidding all the virtues that make existence possible, then riding on the shoulders of your guilt, by declaring production and joy to be sins, then collecting blackmail from the sinners." (Ayn Rand, The New Intellectual)
The problem is not that these people are seeking and finding some "spurious" meaning in their lives. After all, an industrious man is finding meaning in his work etc, driven by mass media, and is enslaved thereby. The problem is that the spiritual "establishing in oneself" depends upon a condemnation of the world outside, the world which you are objectively a part of, and take sustenance from. It is to condemn the very air that one breathes from.

A spiritualist is self-righteous to a rather extreme degree, and looks down upon others' "shallow" lives. He has to do it, that's the path to grandiosity, to "abiding in oneself". His meaning derives from the condemnation of meanings of others. Smug is the word.

In short, a spiritualist's meaning is dependent upon the rejection and condemnation (as above) of others' normal pursuits. A religious man may rail against another religion, but a spiritualist rails against the whole "sorry world".

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Notes on Meaning (part ten)

From The Specter of the Absurd
... Our capacity for suffering is the necessary concomitant of our capacity for commitment, caring and loving. Were we creatures of indifferent or dull sensibilities, our susceptibility to pain would be drastically reduced. But to be committed and to care and thus to feel deeply, is to be involved in relationships or ventures that do not always turn out in ways we hope for or expect. Such involvements can profoundly enrich our lives, but they also contain the seeds of disappointment and loss. To have persons and purposes for which to live and willingly to dedicate ourselves to them with intensity of concern, is also to run the risk of losing them or failing to attain them, or of getting hurt in the process of serving them. But only in this way can we hope to have things worth living for.
The next time somebody tells you to remain detached, to just do "one's dharma" without attachment to results, to have no desires and fears, you might want to ask him whether, when he makes love to his wife, his wife knows that he is just fulfilling his duty.

No attachment, no suffering. Vigorous nod, eh?

No attachment, no passion. Not too bad, is it?

No attachment, no motivation. A little shake of the head, non?

No attachment, no commitment. Getting it now, yes?

Desire, Attachment, Passion, Motivation, Commitment, Suffering. You want out?

A seeker goes into an ashram to ask his handicapped guru how to remove a thorn from his foot. The guru hacks his leg and throws it away. Both are happy.

Walking and reaching a real-world destination is never the motivation of the narcissist seeker. The removal of the thorn is, whatever the cost. Whatever the cost.

The Message (part two)

Meher Baba (February 25, 1894 – January 31, 1969), born Merwan Sheriar Irani, was an Indian mystic and spiritual master who declared publicly in 1954 that he was the Avatar of the age.


From the Wikipedia article on Meher Baba:
From July 10, 1925 until his death in 1969, Meher Baba was silent. He communicated first by using an alphabet board, and later by unique hand gestures which were interpreted and spoken out by one of his mandali, usually by his disciple Eruch Jessawala. Meher Baba said that his silence was not undertaken as a spiritual exercise but solely in connection with his universal work.

...

Meher Baba often spoke of the moment "that he would 'break' his silence by speaking the 'Word' in every heart, thereby giving a spiritual push forward to all living things."

"When I break My Silence, the impact of My Love will be universal and all life in creation will know, feel and receive of it. It will help every individual to break himself free from his own bondage in his own way. I am the Divine Beloved who loves you more than you can ever love yourself. The breaking of My Silence will help you to help yourself in knowing your real Self."

Meher Baba said that the breaking of his silence would be a defining event in the spiritual evolution of the world.

When I speak that Word, I shall lay the foundation for that which is to take place during the next seven hundred years.


On many occasions Meher Baba promised to break his silence with an audible word before he died, often stating a specific time and place when this would occur. His failure to fulfill these promises disappointed some of his followers, while others regarded these broken promises as a test of their faith. Some followers speculate that "the Word" will yet be "spoken," or that Meher Baba did break his silence but in a spiritual rather than a physical way.

According to all contemporary accounts, Meher Baba remained silent until his death, but more than thirty years later one close disciple recalled that Meher Baba had spoken to him a few hours before he died, although this recollection contradicted his own earlier accounts.

Each July 10, many of Baba's followers celebrate Silence Day to honor him.
Do you get the message?

Notes on Meaning (part nine)

"I am angry at the world."

"You are nobody to tell me."

"I don't owe you anything."

"Mind your own business."

"I will not take shit from anybody."

"I don't give a shit about what they think of me."

"I want my "Fuck you money.""

"I am me."

"How do I look? How do I feel? What do I want today?" (Duane Reade)

"Where do you want to go today?" (Microsoft)

"Be Yourself."

"I wear my attitude."

"I am true to myself."

"I am unique."

"I create my own meaning."

"I ... I ... I ... I ... I ..."

"I am lonely."

"I am depressed."

"I am loveless. I can't love."

"I feel nothing."

"I don't know the meaning of life. Why am I living?"

Individuation, Rebellion, Freedom, Anonymity, Autonomy, Atheism, Amorality, Angst.

Q: What will make *me* come alive?
A: Maybe your deadness is due to your self-focus, the disease of modernity.

The Message (part one)


What do you make of this man, his expression, and the exhortation?

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Notes on Meaning (part eight)

Since all meaning can be demolished by sincere application of intellect, the information revolution is exacerbating meaninglessness. How?

The hallowed nature of belief systems, morals, passions cannot stand wikipedia.

If you believe in "x", you should not search for the words "x critique" on the internet. Who knows what facts, what well-argued studies, what deconstructions, lie in wait at the the next click?

The more channels there are on TV, the less "innocence" there is. Now we know everything, or rather, now we can criticize everything. And that is the tragedy.

I went further. I willfully sought taboo-breaking films (Catherine Breillat!), I voluntarily bought Dawkins, I questioned every emotional response of mine, I browsed literature which made me shudder at its irreverence, I called the holy sages by their full names, prefixed with a Mr., ...

I am a modern man, who made full use of the resources available to me.

"God is Great" has been thoroughly, and decisively, replaced by "Google is Great."

As a child I used to enjoy singing patriotic songs. After I read the history of my country, I was without a nation.

As a child I used to enjoy visiting a temple of Ram and Sita. After I studied the criticism of the feminists, I was without my myths.

As a child I used to enjoy Star Trek. As I studied Film Theory and Jung, I recognized the archetypes and the montage, instead of Spock.

As an adolescent I used to cry over a girl. As I questioned my libido, and studied the very foundations of sex, I saw a woman as a biological machine, a fellow human being, a vehicle for her parents' genes. Nothing to cry about. And as I read Freud, Kinsey and Masters, I laughed about love and its neuroses.

The modern man can now laugh about everything. A man who gets outraged needs further education.

And now that there is internet, and google is digitizing all the books in the world, you don't even have to get up.