Friday, October 30, 2009

The Trouble With Meaning In Itself

Of the things I most enjoy, I find meaning in the things themselves thus rendering them ends in themselves. Contrast this to the more typical notion, conscious or not, that the things we do are themselves simply a means to an end.

For example, many aspire to undergo years of schooling and vocational training so they can one day accumulate wealth and renown, something or other. Since I find meaning in knowledge itself, knowledge is the end. In this sense, I have little or no ambition to "use" my knowledge to some further end leaving me struggling with my finances and "making my mark on the world". If only I had ambition and vision to do something more with my knowledge than just enjoying it for its own sake! I believe this speaks to many of the "underachievers" out there.

On the one hand, there seems to be something respectable and "pure" about one who finds meaning in the things themselves as it is clear he is not driven by ulterior motives and other vain pursuits. On the other, it seems incessant "doing" and "performing" is necessary for our very existence (at least a respectable one), with most of these "achievements" motivated primarily by ulterior motives. But of course even one with ulterior motives can be seen as respectable just the same if his vain pursuits compel him to find the cure for cancer, something or other. For what will I, doing nothing but enjoying knowledge in itself, ever do for humanity?

However, as is the case with me and undoubtedly many others, there can be a heavy price to pay for experiencing intrinsic meaning in things: there is often little motivation to go any further as fulfillment is already achieved. How then is one to make a living?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What's The Use Of Trivial Knowledge Or Any For That Matter?

Trivial knowledge seems, well, trivial. The issue I have with trivial knowledge is that there is little or no practicality to the knowledge itself. For instance, the fact that Venus is the only planet in our solar system that rotates clock-wise with respect to its axis is useless trivia to me unless, that is, one knows why it does so?

Another example, to know the author of a particular book but know nothing of the book itself.....meaningless I say! On the other hand, one could legitimately question why it is any more practical to know why Venus rotates clock-wise or what an author's book is all about? Perhaps trivial knowledge could be more practical than the more detailed sort?

It seems to depend on how practicality is defined. If practicality is defined as that which aids one's living, for instance, then perhaps trivial knowledge can actually be practical if one earns a generous living by being a repository of what I deem "useless knowledge". In this case, what I previously implied as being "useful knowledge" could easily be seen as having no practicality if it fails to provide something practical like "income". But I would then argue that the practical benefit of what I deem "useful knowledge" could easily be predicated on the notion that knowledge is practical in itself. In which case it would seem that knowing Venus rotates clock-wise but not WHY would be practical in itself just the same. As would knowing the author of a book but nothing of its premise.

So much for my argument that trivial knowledge is meaningless. I seem to have defeated my own proposition! In the end, one need not earn income off his knowledge in order for it to be practical because knowledge can be practical in and of itself.

On the other hand, if one fails to find practicality in knowledge itself, then perhaps he can find practicality in knowledge as a means to help him earn a living? This obfuscates any absolute claim as to what is or is not useful knowledge. It depends on one's point of view!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Skepticism.....Friend Or Foe?

What values can a skeptic reasonably justify? How can a skeptic justify any if he is skeptical? I can think of a value which systematically stems from skepticism and is thus implied.....humility. This further corresponds to open-mindedness.

What arises from those that are most certain about any given issue? Close-mindedness and hence lack of humility. Anybody who has chosen "once and for all" has forever closed off his mind. New found information which contradicts this "closed-off" mind will likely be seen as erroneous and hence disregarded.

How is one to progress in life if he does not acknowledge new found information which conflicts with his "closed-off" mind?

Monday, October 26, 2009

One Of The Many Problems Of Big Societies

Big societies expose the absurdity of absolutes and the necessity of relatives! Of course my own reasoning suggests that if things are relative, they can simultaneously be absolute. click here for clarification This then exposes the absurdity of relatives just the same. How then are we to address the problems of society, asks the inquisitive skeptic such as myself?

When societies reach a significant enough size, social issues can no longer be addressed with absolute, easily drawn lines to separate something from not something. For instance, if there are 15 members in a society, the difference between the goodness or badness of them can likely be interpreted fairly discretely. For example, of the 15 members, suppose 3 are really bad and 3 are really good with the remaining being of average morality. In this case, the 3 really bad members can be punished for being bad and every member in the group will agree. Just the same, the 3 really good members can be honored and every member in the group will agree.

But when a society numbers in the millions, there exists a more or less uniform continuum spanning goodness to badness making it impossible to reach a consensus as to how to distinguish between good and bad! As such, the discreteness of what makes somebody standout as being either really bad or really good, deserving enough of punishment or honor is LOST! This is the ideological war that is forever apparent in societies, especially large ones!

For example, at what point should one be considered worthy of an entitlement (think tax credits, welfare, scholarships)? At what point should we embrace what is best for the collective or what is best for any given individual (think health-care reform)? At what point should we sacrifice human pursuits for the sake of ecological balance (should we begin regulating population like China and/or lessening our relentless pursuit of "progress" which would in turn violate many commonly held notions of freedom)?

At what point does any given decision, all of which are inherently discriminatory, become what society would call "unfair" discrimination? For instance, it seems reasonable to discriminate against the crippled if I am interviewing candidates to work in a saw mill but is it reasonable for me to discriminate against Muslims or blacks if my patrons dislike them? These issues become impossible to answer with definitive moral standards.

It is my opinion that there is ultimately NO certainty and that ANY answer is merely arbitrary. The trick, if you will, is to get everybody to agree on ONE arbitrary answer to any given issue thus potentially leaving society with the false impression that the agreed upon answer is any more "right" than countless other arbitrary answers might be.* But once again, because society is so large, it will be very difficult to get it behind ONE answer to any given issue. Hence all the arguing and name calling and resentment and suspicion and labeling of dissenters as STUPID or EVIL only because they do not agree with their arbitrarily chosen answer to said issue!

Perhaps the only hope for large societies is to have one collective mind CONTROLLED by a benevolent dictator or any other for that matter? Maybe God or some highly advanced alien civilization or perhaps even our own technology of the future? To many this would seem despotic and evil, but what is the alternative? Incessant fighting and arguing over who is "right"! If we were unaware that our minds were controlled by a collective simply to engender agreement and hence peace, perhaps this ignorance could be the bliss we yearn for?

On the other hand, maybe incessant fighting and conflict is something we unconsciously yearn for and, dare I say, NEED? Might this be a vestige of our evolutionary past? Or perhaps it is God that has instilled in us a desire to be in constant conflict with somebody or something?

*This perhaps illustrates the societal benefit of the "herd mentality". For what will likely result from sheep not following this method of standardization? Anarchy. However, myself being a free-thinker with little or no inclination to side with a collective(s) simply for the sake of being "part" of something, I can honestly say I have never felt any compulsion to become anarchistic. Reason being, I see anarchistic thought as just another collective to be a "part" of and hence something less than free-thought. In my opinion, a "true" free-thinker sees everything as it is in its essence, thereby avoiding the distinctly human hallmark of placing LABELS on everything. For example, anarchists tend to be very critical of religious institutions and the "damage" they do as a result of effectively indoctrinating others with what they consider to be fallacious information. Notice how anarchists label religion as bad IN ITSELF similar to how religious zealots label atheistic thought as bad IN ITSELF. However, as per what I consider to be "true" free-thought, I label neither religious indoctrination nor atheistic thought as bad or good IN ITSELF because not all religious indoctrination and atheistic thought is bad or good and hence some forms of either can be beneficial or detrimental to society. But the "herd mentality" aspires to place labels on things IN THEMSELVES** most likely because they foster clearer, more concise answers when confronted with the most dubious of crossroads. This creates animosity within and antagonizes dissenters, in turn strengthening the identity of BOTH groups further perpetuating the conflict. Once again, because we are social animals, we have a need (perhaps more accurately just an irresistible instinct) to be "part" of groups to give us a sense of "social" identity. But this "need" to be "part" of clearly defined groups is antithetical to other groups. This in turn creates "artificial" conflict and disagreement.

**Once again, I find myself in contradiction. I seem to place labels on things IN THEMSELVES just the same. When I claim Jesus taught us to forgive not arbitrarily but absolutely, does this not imply that forgiveness is or at least should be good IN ITSELF? In this way I am claiming forgiveness should be unconditional and hence ALWAYS good. It matters not what extraneous circumstances there may be, JUST FORGIVE BECAUSE IT IS GOOD IN ITSELF! This is equivalent to claiming that both religious indoctrination and atheistic belief are good or bad in themselves, a notion I just finished criticizing!.....To experience this life fully seems to me a paradox.....

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Drawing Lines_______ _______ _______ _______

This is a multiple part discussion on how we draw lines concerning any number of life's most contentious issues. Project your most passionate issue(s) onto this argument for maximal effectiveness. It will be most easily seen and understood by drawing the letters of the alphabet across a piece of paper.

By drawing lines (especially on the most difficult issues), there is a paradox which crops up with reckless abandon when analyzed rationally and objectively. O.K., take your piece of paper with the letters of the alphabet written across it. It is not difficult to imagine there being 26 people each with a slightly different viewpoint regarding any given matter on a spectrum represented by the letters A through Z. Slightly different in that, though each is certain as to the veracity of his view, he must realistically concede at least a small amount in order to come across somewhat humble and understanding. In this way, his view will likely be agreed upon by those who differ very little in their views.

Meaning, person A will be sufficiently in agreement with person B on any given principle, person B will be sufficiently in agreement with persons A and C on any given principle, person C will be sufficiently in agreement with persons B and D on any given principle, all the way through person Z such that those next to each other anywhere along this spectrum are in general agreement concerning any given principle. This is the inevitable paradox created when one attempts to intertwine discontinuities with continuities.*

As such, suppose person A might be considered a “bleeding-heart liberal" whereas person Z might be considered a “die-hard conservative". Is there anything person A will agree with person Z about aside from their contempt for one another perhaps? Hell no! But if each person agrees with his “neighbors” on either side of himself, amongst whom does this opposition arise? This is essentially what is known as the barber paradox! It can not arise but it must! Or if you prefer, it must arise but it can not!

People instinctively like to draw absolute lines which in turn create this paradox because just about every issue, especially the most difficult ones, brook no discontinuous solutions. They beg for and seem to require continuous ones. There is no discrete point at which any person on either side of himself becomes disagreeable. Yet person A and person Z will undoubtedly disagree on everything!

The answer to this “riddle”, if you will, seems to be either nobody should be in agreement or everybody should be in agreement! But if nobody is in agreement, how in bloody hell could anybody know who is “absolutely” right assuming anybody even is? On the other hand, if everybody is in agreement, it seems everybody can be right in spite of opposing views! HUH? Might it be wise to not care who is right as if rightness were anything more than an illusion created and projected by the ego?

Perhaps one should not let dogma drive his affairs? Stop trying to be right all the time! Many out there will now feel justified in accusing ME of being arrogant and self-contradicting to imply that I am right about nobody being right. I humbly concede that SO DO I!

Other examples of this type of paradox:

Assume the same kind of spectrum as before. Have the left side represent the idea that God will be gracious and merciful to everybody and hence “save” us all and the right side represent the idea that God will only “save” the cream of the crop, if there are any. Imagine, and this is not at all difficult, that people all over the world harbor views spanning this spectrum in a continuous fashion. What might God actually do? How could we ever know this side of death? This is the same problem as before. There is essentially an unbroken “chain of agreement” amongst nearby neighbors along this entire spectrum yet there will undoubtedly be disagreement amongst outsiders. (see next entry for clarification)

Suppose person B agrees with persons A and C and person D agrees with persons C and E. But suppose person A lacks sufficient concordance with persons D and E to agree. Do you see the problem? Apparently, unless an absolute is absolutely absolute, this paradox is unavoidable. But rarely if ever do people see anything as absolutely absolute because there always seem to be at least a few valid exceptions. But a few valid exceptions will only ever beget a few more valid exceptions. Where then must this inclusion of exceptions end? Presumably wherever somebody arbitrarily declares it must end. Will all these “somebodies” be in agreement with one another? Of course not! Who is right then?

*please see blog post entitled “More Uncertainty!” with following link:

The Status Quo Always Dies Hard!

Many are incensed that Barack Obama received a Nobel Prize for having accomplished little or nothing "tangible". After all, it's just rhetoric and intentions! And rhetoric and intentions don't change anything!

Oh really?

Being a cynic myself, I would concur that rhetoric and intentions rarely do anything useful, but are they always futile? Here is a consciousness raiser: being that the status quo (which often is or becomes harmful to society at some point in its life) dies hard, how are we ever to move beyond the most dangerous ones? By paving new and untraveled roads.

Because the status quo is so entrenched in the mindset of a society, rhetoric and intentions must be sufficient to sow the seeds of change. Since Homo sapiens seem motivated predominantly by reward, how then do we pave the way for change? By rewarding and honoring rhetoric and intentions! This will then attract others to travel these new and untraveled roads. Over time, the status quo relinquishes its unshakeable grip and tangible changes ARE accomplished!

The BIGGEST of all questions is, which status quos have overstayed their welcomes and which have not? A tempting question to be sure, but this is not what I am addressing here. I am simply addressing WHY it is or at least could be beneficial for society to REWARD rhetoric and intentions alone.

If there was never incentive to change the status quo, how would it ever have changed?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What Makes Genocide So Heinous?

What's worse? Killing 100,000 people of a race numbering in the millions or killing the very last person of another race (for instance, European invaders killed the last Tasmanian man)? Most would undoubtedly claim that killing 100,000 of a plentiful race would be far worse than killing the last of another.

This then makes it wholly apparent that it is not the cleansing of one particular race that makes it so despicable but the act of murder itself, especially when it involves multitudes. So why all this talk of genocide in the world? Why not just call it murder?

In the same way, today's society seems determined to distinguish "hate" crimes from "non-hate" crimes. This would seem to discount the "awfulness" of someone murdered under the mere guise of "non-hate".

Another corollary to this line of thinking is how many view and respect other living things. Some just have a deep-seated respect for life in general, with seemingly no caveats. But what about mosquitoes? Or deadly bacteria and parasites? Hmm? At this point is it not sufficiently obvious that we are very arbitrary in choosing which life to respect and conserve? It is very anthropocentric but understood as we strive to better our odds. Hence the reason we seek to eradicate deadly pathogens and bacteria and parasites and so on and so forth.

But what puzzles me is how arbitrary it gets with other living things. For instance, if we hold dear particular species, certainly we make every effort to conserve those struggling to survive. But others we hold dear (or deer if you prefer) that happen to be plentiful, we show little or no inhibition in killing them more or less indiscriminately*

This seems to suggest that it is not the killing that makes it so bad, rather it is the eradication of the species or race. Which further suggests we care less about one particular animal and more about the perpetuation of the species or race itself. In which case, perhaps it SHOULD BE a lesser crime to extinguish 100,000 human beings of a plentiful race than to have killed the last remaining Tasmanian?

*Why do we hold deer, among many creatures, so close to our hearts when they are struggling to survive, but kill them indiscriminately when they become a nuisance? Why not do the same thing with humans? Well, perhaps we DO just that? Might this be the purpose of WAR? The question is, WHO gets to determine which is the nuisance among us?

Hmm.....I guess it depends on whom you ask?