I’ve had this thought for a while, and it’s not a new one. However, I think we too rarely consider it. At least, we have done precious little to help the issue. The issue I refer to is the problem of advertising in modern media. There is hardly a form of media that is not tainted by the necessity of advertising to maintain profit levels, or even to stay afloat. Most startlingly, our news organizations are entirely dependent upon advertising.
It should not be necessary for me to explain how this is troubling, but I’ll summarize it like this: if our news organizations are dependent upon advertising, they are no longer reporting the truth, or at least what they believe to be truth. They are reporting what causes them to receive more attention, what causes them to increase revenue through advertising. The truth becomes fluid. Can we really know that our journalists are accurately reporting the news, if they are entirely tied to advertising revenue? Perhaps it is not to the point that they are being wholly inaccurate, but I suspect that the stories they choose to emphasize, the words they use, the tone they take, the pundits they hire, they are all significantly resultant of advertising influence. Whose free speech is being infringed upon? The advertisers’, or the news organizations? Is state-sponsored media more accurate? If there is inherent bias towards money-making articles and media, shouldn’t we aim to eliminate such an effect?
I am frequently criticized for my open belief that any real concept of truth is illusory. Through my own reading and critical thought on the matter, I’ve found that truth (at least in the traditional understanding of it) is either unattainable or nonexistent. It actually does not take a significant amount of reasoning to get to this point.
The most important factor in coming to this conclusion, for me, has been recognizing the fallibility of the human mind. One of the things I fault the Enlightenment for was its focus on reason. Reason, while useful, is not a path to truth. Reason is based on the human mind, which gains knowledge through past and present perceptions, and the assumption of accurate processing and storage of those perceptions. We are, at best, limited by our experiences in our pursuit of truth. It seems to me that our memories are flawed as well. Our perceptions are often tainted, as anyone can attest to. Truth, then, must be illusory.
I don’t really see why this is such a controversial idea. I find it more liberating than anything to know that I do not need to worry about being in-line with truth constantly. I do enjoy being “right” (a very different concept from truth), but that is only because I have the possibility of being right. When we remove the possibility of finding truth, we remove both the stress and the happiness that can exist from such a proposition.
So what does it matter? It does not.
One of the least talked-about aspects of the original American spirit is that of solidarity. In fact, when is solidarity ever spoken about in the national discourse? When do we talk about our obligation to each other? I find this to be deeply troubling, as my previous writing has indicated.
Solidarity, for my purposes here, is the idea of “we’re all in this together.” It is not a communistic idea of group ownership of property, necessarily. In fact, I’m a big proponent of private property. I like to think of myself as rather well-read, and it seems totally incoherent to talk about the real world as though it is a conceivable goal, at least for the near future, for everyone to own property in common (or even for smaller groups to do so, in my opinion). However, it is conversely a mistake to pretend that people, especially in our growing world population and economies, are capable of being “self-made” and to act as though we are capable of being totally independent. Not only is this a mistake, but it is a lie. It is a heinous lie that, if we are not careful, will tear us apart.
Virtually anyone who exists in a Western culture (and a growing number of Eastern cultures) is dependent upon the work of other people. I am dependent upon farmers, the grocery store, bankers, my employer, etc. Without these people (and scores and scores of other categories), I could not live in this society. I mean that in an absolute way. We cannot live in this society without one another. It is the division of labor that has brought us to this point, and without it, our way of life would perish. Even disregarding our moral imperative to our brothers and sisters throughout the world, it is in my own self-interest to ensure the safety and stability of my neighbors, my countrymen, and my fellow members of the international community. I stand to gain from this selfishly.
For this reason, we create systems that fight poverty, defend each other from enemies, and guarantee health care for as many people as possible (we do other things as well, obviously, and we ought to do more). However, the problem begins when we begin to withdraw from our obligation to our country. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that my tax contribution is a drop in the bucket. In fact, it is far less than a drop in the bucket. So why should I contribute? I will selfishly gain more if I do not. This argument is surprisingly popular, even if it is only usually hidden under the guise of people pretending to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
If people do not contribute to society, society has an obligation to coerce a person to contribute. That is why we have the IRS. That is why we have a justice system. It is a moral good to contribute. It is a societal good. It is a necessity. This is why we need to realign our priorities to people. If people were our real priority, and not money, we would find ourselves with, in fact, more money. As Franklin D. Roosevelt taught us, caring for other people is good for me too.
At some point I have a plan to write quite extensively on the topic of nihilism, but I wanted to briefly address it here, because I think it is highly relevant, especially in the coming election here in the US.
Nihilism, as I purport it to be, is the idea that purpose is pointless and that life should be lived for the sake of the individual. Anything beyond that is meaningless, vain, and illusory. Where do we find nihilism in our culture?
Oddly enough, we find nihilism, a philosophy absolutely anathema to the message of Jesus Christ, in the evangelical Christian church in America and with American conservatives. What do I mean by this? What I mean is that in comparison to less fundamentalist believers and nonbelievers alike, fundamentalist evangelicals are highly dedicated to the extreme principles of Martin Luther. Martin Luther was a huge proponent of individual spirituality, as opposed to the more communal spirituality of the Catholic church that he desired to reform. Because evangelicals take such a literal approach to the Bible and Christian teachings, they tend to hold rigid individualist views of the world. Whether or not these actually follow from the Bible is unimportant right now.
The nihilists and, most dangerously, the nihilist Christians tell us that the glory days are behind us. They tell us that humanity has already reached the pinnacle of its potential and that, in fact, we are on a downward slope of potential. I mean “potential” to be a term referring to our collective abilities to progress society to better standards (equality, less crime, etc.). These nihilists say that there is no point in continuing further in our pursuit of bettering the world, because we’ve already passed it.
Why is this a problem? Can’t people have their opinions? The reason I single out Christian nihilists is that these individuals set nihilism up alongside their religious faith. In fact, the two are intertwined. Anyone who has ever had a conversation with a person who is staunchly religious will understand how difficult it can be to convince that other person to acknowledge even the potential for truth in another point of view. When nihilism is weaved into headstrong faith, there is really no real way to combat it. It’s an “you’re either with me or against me attitude.” There becomes no room for compromise.
To be clear, what I mean is that nihilists, especially Christian nihilists, pose a threat to progress in American society. By denying the opportunity to take a leap of faith, to take a risk and try new, perhaps better strategies at tackling our problem, all because “it can’t possibly work,” we are being handcuffed in a way that is absolutely dangerous. If we cannot continue forward, we will either be left behind or stifled in a way that could cause a litany of real, massive problems. Nihilism is no good.
Hope. Have faith. Take heart and take a risk. Every great leader makes compromises, thinks ahead, and takes a hit in the present to make a better future for everyone.
In the United States, we are facing what many have called the most critical election in recent history. I tend to agree with that to a certain point. I also believe the Bush-Gore election in 2000 was absolutely enormous in terms of the Republican (conservative) momentum that continued throughout the nation. Had Gore won, we would probably not have had a Second Great Depression (as I’m inclined to call it) or Great Recession, whichever you prefer. Had Gore won, we would not have gone to Iraq or Afghanistan. We likely would have continued with Clinton’s economic plan, which would hopefully have allowed us to maintain surpluses throughout his hypothetical presidency. Moreover, I would like to believe that a Gore presidency would have spurred real growth in alternate energy sources and electric cars and so forth. Climate change would be a major campaign issue. Doesn’t that sound nice?
The election of 2012 poses an important question to Americans. The Romney ticket is one of nihilistic self-righteous independence. A vote for Romney is not a vote for returning to the past, like Obama has claimed. A vote for Romney is a vote for a miniature dystopia. The society that Paul Ryan and other rugged individualists propose is backed on the cynical personality that he and Romney both possess. I mean this in a very serious way. We joke on the left about how many different incarnations of Mitt Romney we’ve seen over the campaign, but this is a very serious issue. The idea that a candidate can win on sheer nihilistic negativity (attacking Obama, no core foundational beliefs, lacking real substance) is something I find very frightening, and yet totally unsurprising. Our issues in politics here in the US today are legion, but one of the most egregious problems is our fact problem. Facts are tools for us, not guides as they should be. All politicians use facts to their advantage and to their opponent’s disadvantage. However, to my knowledge, no candidate has led such a cynical campaign as has Willard Mitt Romney. The very notion that he can win by saying “no” to working together, by saying “no” to progress, by saying “no” to facts, by saying “no” to love is something we need to acknowledge.
Is this really the face of half of today’s electorate? “No” is all they know how to say now? I refuse to believe that.
Freedom is a delicate concept. To invoke it colloquially is to completely deny all the Framers believed. They were Enlightenment guys. They were intelligent. Freedom was not some word they toss around like everyday people. Freedom is important. Freedom is not the ability to say “no” to love, to working together as a people, to improve our collective lot, to make exorbitant profits while the nation burns. Freedom is fundamentally the ability for a person to be free to live their life, to be unafraid for the sake of their family, the ability to feel secure financially and physically, to progress and make all our children’s lives better than ours were. Isn’t that a goal nearly all Americans have had since the beginning?
It’s time to end our subservience to nihilism. We’ve seen where it gets us. When we pretend that progress is pointless, that it is unattainable, or that the best way to advance the nation is to ignore the very people who are all around us, we all lose. It’s time to advocate real freedom and to promote a society that is safe for everyone. No one’s life should be left up to the roll of the die, the whim of a corporation or politician, or the direction of the breeze. We’re all in this together, and it’s about time we recognize that, pick ourselves up, and start fixing some problems.
I just now came to a major realization about Facebook. I was reading this article from Business Insider that was discussing, to summarize, the fact that there are many people who have been using Facebook for a long time. These people, when they were younger, posted things on Facebook that they never would have wanted to be public. In fact, they think there is a “glitch” allowing people to see private messages they sent years ago. The fact is, these people posted all sorts of things (that should have remained private) publicly so that all can see, and they don’t even remember. That tells me a lot.
Firstly, and this should come as no surprise to a person of any sophistication, people, especially young people, tend to have a very limited scope of vision. We don’t tend to look very far into the future when we do things, like post embarrassing things on Facebook, that might cause us harm in the future. (For the record, this is one of the reasons that people my age tend to get hooked on smoking and other vices - they’re not stupid, they are just mentally incapable of seeing past the short term.)
The most interesting part of this comes next. The delusion. The complete separation of mind from reality. These people simply do not remember posting this things publicly. It is as if their minds were (are?) on autopilot - they cannot remember their actions because they had no control. It is as if because they were thinking only in the short term, that the memory was stored only in the short term. In other words, these people simply did not think. The only other option is that they knew what they’d done, regretted it, and are now under a self-delusion. Even assuming these two are equally likely scenarios, Occam’s razor tells us that they simply did not think in any sort of deep sense before this.
I think we can tease out a few insights on human psychology from this. Although it is surely dependent upon the individual person, in general (teenagers especially), people primarily operate on a present-minded state. That is, they operate on a sensory basis - reacting to items in the present based on subjective information from the present. This should come as no surprise, as it pretty much agrees with basic psychology. What is more interesting is how well it fits in with Myer’s-Briggs Temperaments. According to Keirsey, roughly 70% of people are sensors (as opposed to intuitives). To keep it simple, sensors are the individuals I described above. They mostly live in the present. Intuitives tend to live in the future (sometimes the past). They are planners. As an intuitive, I can tell you that there are upsides and downsides to this. I frequently miss things that are happening right in front of me, which have all sorts of (often negative) ramifications. My point is this: our minds are flawed, and we need to improve on the things we’re bad at. For most people, that means becoming better planners, better focused, and less easily influenced by short-term benefits. For people like me, that means coming back to reality, stopping and smelling the coffee, and focusing more on the present instead of our fantasies that will probably never come true.
Also, please take a look at your privacy settings on Facebook. You don’t want future employers seeing any of that, no matter how benign it might be. You want to be able to control what part of you certain people see. It gets too complicated when authority figures can see everything.
I think I’ve been saying things along this line for a while, but I am increasingly more convinced that technology is harming my generation. Even moreso those younger than me, I must say. Technology has brought to young minds a few very important, very new things: virtually unlimited beauty, intrigue, and other such things; impersonalization of communication; and the plague of instant gratification.
I honestly cannot decide which one is the biggest problem, or if they are all so important that it is not really worth weighing them against each other. Either way, I will begin in chronological order. With the internet and social media has brought a virtually unlimited store of photos, videos, and other forms of media through which we, I believe, overload our brains with extremes of beauty and other things we tend to seek in our lives. Because at any given moment we can simply look up whatever extreme we want and experience it, the small things in our lives are dwarfed even more. Sitting back with a cup of coffee and enjoying the birds chirping in the morning or watching the a sunset becomes so much less meaningful when one can experience that much more beautifully online. The actuality of life becomes servant to our subjective experiences.
I think the impersonalization of communication is probably the one most easily recognized. It should be common knowledge at this point that through the advent of text communication that many of us have completely lost the will or ability to communicate with one another face-to-face, perhaps even just over the phone. It’s so much easier for most of us to type a quick text message than it is to actually take the effort to speak. However, that easier communication is even enticing to us should worry us. We should desire to communicate with those we care about. We shouldn’t try to make those communications more efficient, but to enjoy those things. Communication with people we care about should not be a means to an end. It is the end goal. Moreover, I think that we lose a lot of the concept of manners and respect for one another when we can simply ignore text messages or claim that “I never got your message” or whatnot. We’ve all used the excuse before, and it’s quite frankly shameful. I personally have tried to be more vigilant with my dealings and not allow myself to fall in the trap, but it’s a difficult habit to break. Anyhow, my main point is that through technology, we have morphed communication with one another even further towards a cold, unemotional, unthoughtful game we play in order to entertain ourselves.
Instant gratification is also a term that many of us are being familiarized by pop psychologists and others. Of course we would rather have things we want sooner than later. I personally think that in terms of gaining things, it is better to have an element of work, because it keeps our minds and bodies sharp. However, I think we’ve applied the concept of instant gratification to people. We now expect certain results from people. We want communication with someone at all times. If we have a thought to communicate, or if we’re simply bored, we channel it through chatrooms, forums, and the like. We are more interested in strangers, it seems, than we are in our own friends and families. I’m a little alarmed by the idea that many of us are willing to share things through the internet with people we don’t even know that we wouldn’t dare say to people we do know. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that such a thing is unhealthy.
I don’t know how these problems can be solved, but they are absolutely problems. Problems that should be dealt with, because I think the societal paradigms that could result from generations with these behaviors unchecked leave quite negative results.
I have not been able to decide, for years, whether I trust too little or most other people trust too much. I can’t count the number of times where I have been correct in mistrusting the people I surround myself with on their day-to-day dealings. Quite frankly, we all lie to each other all the time. It’s disgusting, really, that we aren’t willing to be honest when “I’m in a meeting” really means “I’m out with friends, and not you, buddy.” What good comes of a relationship based totally on farce?
We, especially in the West, seem to do this almost as second nature. We “make contacts” and “rub elbows” with each other and try to “move up the ladder” by negotiation. Our socialization has become just another machine that we work with. People are tools in our minds so much of the time, that we cannot comprehend their very emotional value. There becomes two people: the one we see, and the one we do not see. We’re trained from a young age that we are to hide part of ourselves in order to protect ourselves. Why? Because if we do not, the entirety of ourselves are tossed aside whenever we become useless to other individuals. This is why we separate the emotional from the outward self. (Please note, I’m not talking about emotional reactions. I’m referring the the emotional self - the inward thoughts and feelings that we all experience and, usually, hide.)
It seems strange (and, animalistic) for us to base so much of our lives on the outward expressions and judgments of other people. I mean, what deep meaning can we possibly derive from the fact that I have a really unsightly blemish on my nose today? And yet, we allow those small things to dictate parts of our decisions, whether we are conscious of it or not. I think that only by allowing our true (that is, full, complete, honest) selves to outshine our shells can we actually break free from our unfortunate instincts. I don’t expect many people to try, because we are, at heart, shallow, animalistic beings in an unhappy number of ways, but I hope that over time we can move towards a goal of honesty and trust in one another. Not only because it’s the right thing to do, but I’m quite frankly really, really tired of having to second-guess each and every thing people say to me because I cannot ever be certain that they’re being fully truthful with me. It’s quite time-consuming, and it makes me look like the jerk, when in reality I’m just observant.
Just over the past ten minutes, I have realized that I am completely and utterly bored with my life. Whether that is something that has been chronically building up or is suddenly appearing in my life, I am really rather frustrated by it.
One of the many journeys I have taken throughout my life has been one in search of purpose. I’ve found that the people who naturally possess purpose in their lives are typically very lucky or self-deluded. As a person who tends to follow existentialism to some degree, I’ve never been able to simply “have” a purpose. It has always been something that I create given the circumstances in my life.
For one reason or another, a lot of my purpose has fallen away, or at the very least it has been forced to take a backseat to… nothingness.
Schoolwork has typically been something which I am naturally good at. Here and there I find challenges, but usually it’s pretty much a breeze for me. Now, however, it seems that there is no challenge whatsoever to me. There is no challenge. It’s all just a routine. I know where the answers are, so it’s just like “knowing” the information. Just as easy, at least. Work is usually monotonous. The same thing day in and day out.
Part of my restlessness is certainly from the fact that I know I am fully capable of skipping around various parts of “the system,” but I feel like there is something else. Purpose is something that we all seem to struggle with in our comfortable Western lifestyles. Some of us have it handed to us, but I think it would be most accurate to liken it to the statement that ignorance is bliss. When we actually begin to think about our purpose, we realize that we are completely and utterly lost. Only through the context of our own lives, our own endeavors, and our own friends and family can we actually create a purpose. From where else could anything so intensely valuable be derived?