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philosophy

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Smallness and Finitude

I have no wise words to offer during a time such as this. I never dreamed of such a scenario in my life; I always imagined the more mundane disasters: hospitals, accidents, bankruptcy. I’ve had a brush with none, and yet here I am, with all humanity, in this disaster.

Have I, this whole life, been picking my way through a labyrinth, each choice sending me down another corridor of choices? Or was I launched from a canon, my trajectory unknowable, and yet fixed? Am I the latter, thinking I am the former? Do I write silly questions, straw men in dual, false dichotomies, the truth an ineffable middle-place?

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Patriotic Millionaires

Sheelah Kolhatkar writing in the New Yorker; The Ultra-Wealthy Who Argue That They Should Be Paying Higher Taxes:

In the U.S., executive compensation has increased, on average, by nine hundred and forty per cent since 1978, according to one estimate; during the same period, worker pay has risen twelve per cent. Income inequality hasn’t been this extreme since the nineteen-twenties. Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman found that, as a result of cuts to estate and corporate taxes, as well as the 2017 G.O.P. tax bill, the four hundred richest Americans pay a lower over-all tax rate than any other group in the country. In a Times Op-Ed, Saez and Zucman wrote, “This is the tax system of a plutocracy.”

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Gratitude

I see people. Every day, I see them. Ostensibly, they’re there for a dental appointment but of course everything’s connected. I hear of sudden deaths, grinding mental illnesses, slow goodbyes. If I release the exigencies of those days from my mind, it leaves me with this low note: there’s not a lot we can do to make sure we are here tomorrow. We have the time we have, and nobody, no-thing knows when that time will run out.

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This Life

James Wood wrote a tremendous review of Martin Hägglund’s This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom called If God Is Dead, Your Time Is Everything. Since I’ll be quoting a review that quotes the book, we’re two degrees removed from the source, but I don’t have the book yet and there are tons of ideas here I want to mark. Here’s one:

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Born to Be

“I was born to be me.”

—Ess

OK

Mykala and I have what we call everything’s going to be OK moments. They occur when, unexpectedly, you take a deep, clear breath and, finding the typical tightness and anxiety missing, begin to feel the awareness, just over the fence of obligation and the ditch of depression, of a peaceful field of calm.

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Cagots

My thinking, years ago, went like this: people, groups of people, compete for limited resources. Even if one side is consistently committed to negotiation, to peaceful compromise (even if BOTH are), physical aggression from a few rogues on one side will inevitably cause armed conflict. How could even the most egalitarian, humanistic leader do anything else, upon witnessing killing of their own?

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Social Institutions as Games

I’m listening to a lecture by Alan Watts that begins with the topic “social institutions as games”. The term “games” in this context is not speaking of the trivial, but rather something that is always played for its own sake. Recognizing social institutions, (including identity!), as games, gives us perspective on our society and our lives that is sorely missing when we insist on taking everything deadly seriously.

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32

“Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to Dada…” is what I heard Ess singing in her pack and play on the morning of my birthday. She and Mykala sang it again later that day, and we drew with chalk on the sidewalk. Mykala baked a yellow cake (one of my favorites), and frosted a birthday greeting on the top of it. I visited my parents, and the sun was out for the first time in a few days. I tripled my age and got 96; I looked back and realized I started at my current job when I was only 27, and that Ess was born when I was 29. I recalled looking at my official birthday certificate when I was in college, and seeing my mom’s age at my birth: 29.

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Self-Evident

If you attempt to explain why you should vote to help others while exempting morality and selflessness (which can quickly veer into the tautological) from your argument, you’d be left with an argument from selfishness:

Why are you “owed” a police force, why are you owed a fire department, why are you owed clean water or electricity, why are you owed laws that protect your ideas through patents or copyrights, why are you owed anything you enjoy through a civil society that makes your life demonstrably better than a libertarian wet dream like Zimbabwe?

I’ll tell you why. Because as a civil society we’ve decided what’s a part of the commons, that which we can not individually afford but whose existence we recognize, serves us all. I have news for you: my life is better and more secure if you and your kids aren’t bankrupted by medical bills. My life is better if everyone has safe streets and food. My life is better when the next generation is well-educated to continue the prosperity of this great nation. No one is owed, but it is a gift we give to each other as citizens and the price we pay to enjoy the blessings of our forefathers. And it is the height of hubris to presume to take that gift of a civic society and act as if it never existed before you showed up.

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Notes on an Unhurried Journey

In Notes on an Unhurried Journey, John A. Taylor reminds us of the nature of childhood:

When we adults think of children, there is a simple truth which we ignore: childhood is not preparation for life, childhood is life. A child isn’t getting ready to live, a child is living.

The child is constantly confronted with the nagging question: “What are you going to be?” Courageous would be the youngster who, looking the adult squarely in the face, would say, “I’m not going to be anything, I already am.”

We adults would be shocked by such an insolent remark, for we have forgotten, if indeed we ever knew, that a child is an active, participating and contributing member of society from the time of birth.

Childhood isn’t a time when he is moulded into a human who will then live life; he is a human who is living life. No child will miss the zest and joy of living unless these are denied…by adults who have convinced themselves that childhood is a period of preparation.

How much heartache we would save ourselves if we would recognize the child as a partner with adults in the process of living, rather than always viewing him an an apprentice. How much we could teach each other: adults with the experience and children with the freshness. How full both our lives could be.

Little children may not lead us, but at least we ought to discuss the trip with them; for, after all, life is their journey, too.

Forget You Exist

I’ve largely discontinued my previous practice of linking to every little thing that I see on the internet that is interesting. I’ve done this because I find the most satisfying posts that I go back and read are the ones where I talk about how I feel and what’s going on, not the posts where I link to the latest article I’ve read. After all, one would rather know the person that all that reading and thinking produced, and not necessarily all the reading and thinking that person did.

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Vacationing

Ok, have a seat. This is going to take a little longer than my heavily-edited moderately-stilted prose attempts at wit, wisdom, and condensed life experience. That stuff falls flat more often than not, anyway.

Some things have happened over the past few days that knit themselves into a little ball that I feel the need to tug the strings of. You know that part in a TV show where you know it’s the season finale because you can just feel the writers pulling hard at these strings they’ve strung between characters? I always imagine a sweater, and you have a hold of a few of the pieces and you keep pulling and the fabric is bunching and warping in places. You really see how it is all connected. Ok, this is possibly not edited enough. Starting again…

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Unknowable

There is a strong tendency, and I think it is a universal one, to want to say the right thing so that we may give solace in the form of a wise statement to a fellow suffering human. I find this compulsion to be particularly strong when confronting death; I always assumed that this was because death was this common endpoint we all share. This is of course true, but I don’t think that’s why we try for these wise phrases. I think, instead, it is the unknowable nature of death that makes us attempt to say something profound. You want to be that person who sighs, swirls their drink, and says the perfect thing. You want to be that for the sufferer, for yourself, but most importantly, for this reason: to be capable of making a wise statement about death would mean you have somehow put a logic fence around it. That you have it surrounded, reined-in, controlled. That you have somehow made the unknowable into something manageable. That the scintillating spotlight of your human brilliance illuminated the blackness, however briefly.

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Blue Pearl

Inside David Foster Wallace’s Private Self-Help Library:

We’re suspended for a moment on this spinning blue pearl, here together and alive right now, conscious, though no one knows why. It is a question of caring. When one of us considers the experiences of another, all the failings and the achievements in someone else’s life, we are seeing from this common place, knowing that it’s all taking place in doubt and the absolute solitude and terror of being human, and knowing that it’s all temporary.

Tree of Life

I’ve been thinking about the movie Tree of Life, and I haven’t really gotten anywhere. A nice, attempted partial explication of the themes was written by Matt Zoller Seitz, but take a look at this quote:

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A Girl A Boy and A Graveyard

Jeremy Messersmith - A Girl A Boy and A Graveyard:

She says, “Life’s a game we’re meant to lose.
But stick by me, and I will stick by you.”

Milton Quote

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”
John Milton
(Paradise Lost)

Learning

Are you more interested in being right, or understanding?

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Graphing Your Emotional Life

I was listening to This American Life’s most recent show “Family Physics”, about the application of physical laws to relationships. I didn’t hear much of the actual episode, but it caused my mind to wander off on a tangent beginning this way: your emotional range increases as you become older, more mature, more experienced. But, earlier in your life, you can not comprehend the depth of pain and joy you’ll experience in the future. So, at any point in your life, you think that your extremes of happiness or sadness are the limits of your emotional capacity. In fact, you think you are plumbing the depths of despair or scraping the ceiling of joy at a variety of discrete points in your life. What is actually happening is an increase in your emotional distance between happiness and sadness. Instead of representing this with physics, why not use math (specifically, y=0.5(x)*sin(x) )? Indeed, in mathematical terms these emotional points are signified by local minima or maxima of your emotional capacities. This idea can’t be new, but I was so excited about it I made a diagram explaining it.

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