Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

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Tarnished Mirrors

Not exactly mopey, but definitely introspective and meandering into meaning-of-life philosophy..

I've bumped into some people from my moderately distant past a lot recently, online and off, and it's been pretty weird each time. I haven't said hi to all of them, particularly those where my relation to them was mostly negative, but each time, regardless of how I felt about them, I felt a bit of the panics I've been largely free of for the last month come back a bit. I'm not sure why this is.

Thoughts on one of the problems with moving - each time I've done so, it's distanced myself a bit from another venue of my past - memories, building them revisiting them, reinterpreting them - they're an important part of who I am, and by extension, what I want to share with someone else to share with. There's a traction in having a past that one shares with someone, and having them understand who one was, who one is now, and how one has changed, which is why I've always viewed it as absolutely vital, when dating someone, to take them to as many places of my past as possible, from Outland to the Brecksville metroparks and the schools I went to. The writing these experiences made on me are very important to who I am, just as much as the care I take in reaching positions on various issues and constantly reevaluating them. Everytime I think about being with someone, I think of what to show them of my past, and what they'll show me of theirs - I want to see their childhood home, their schools, see all the environments that shaped them. This is not an easy thing to do, and I don't really expect people to understand why this is important to me intuitively - when I talk about building memories together, it's too easy to misunderstand that I'm placing the current relationship in the past, while instead I'm actually tying them into who I am. As time goes on and takes me more distant from who I was either gradually (as events and times cause things to drift apart and bring new things into my life) or suddenly (when I make big life changes, like what's coming soon), it feels like another barrier going up - it becomes more difficult for someone to really understand me. To understand each other and to witness each others lives - that's a big part of what companionship means to me, either in the partial (friendship) or the full (relationship) sense. I want to be understood as much as anyone else does, by the right people, and I fear the farther I move from each point that left a mark, the further I am from someone understanding me deeply, and I them - travelers become lonely in the same sense that people who branch out personally/philosophically enough to leave their culture become lonely, and that branching keeps on going as we keep on growing as people. There's no way to stop growing, nor should we, but we should not do it alone - there is a terrible loneliness awaiting us should we try, once we get old enough.

As it often comes up, this ties into the Buddhist notion of Anicca very strongly - from that perspective, impermanence is one of the three marks of existence, and those who cannot reconcile themselves to it are destined to suffer. As for the other two marks, Dukkha (lack of lasting happiness in any thing) is something I don't believe in, and Anatman (lack of a consistent self/soul/self-awareness) is something I have complex thoughts on. Dukkha doesn't resonate well with me because I believe that lasting companionship can rescue one from Anicca, partly in the sense of friends and wholly in the sense of a life companion. Companionship cannot last forever because of death and potentially other changes, but I believe it can be sufficiently lasting and provide enough meaning in life that people can survive Anicca without needing to sterilise their mind in the way traditionally interpreted Buddhism suggests - while life may remain impermanent, and people change over it, if they change together, ideally their companionship remains constant until one of them dies, and that's enough to hang onto. Of course, if they change in incompatible ways, the companionship may end or transform, and if they must seperate, then que sera, sera... but as an ideal, it lets us avoid Dukka in a satisfying and meaningful way. Anatman is much more complex - it gives us a cohesive alternative to both souls and the self, and meshes nicely with materialistic notions of the mind that deny free-will. Unfortunately, in order to coherently pursue several perspectives that are practically necessary to survive as an entity, we need to "practically accept" free will, even if we consider it a fallacy on the deepest level - it's a more "noble lie" than the traditional one discussed in the context of buddhism - the controversial claim of abilities that buddhist monks have that are used to draw people in to study of Buddhism, beyond certain levels of studies, they will no longer seek such abilities because, becoming successfully enlightened such things will seem as trinkets. Instead, we accept that while free will is false, it is a falsehood thrust upon us by living as intelligent, self-aware entities, and to lose it would cause us to cease to be able to think. So long as we live, we are forced to operate with free will as a foundational lie on which our being is based. Are we free of Anatman? In theory yes, in practice no (enlightened Buddhists may in fact be in practice, but I think that enlightenment is not for me until death).

It is in light of that distinction that I long ago selected my last words:
All subjectivity is a delusion
Death is but smelling salts
I am about to open my eyes
Whenever that moment comes, which probably won't be very soon, I hope I remember those words - not that I anticipate nirvana, or a continuation of the self, but in the moment before actual death I will be ready and able to give up subjectivity for good (provided I die while awake and non-instantly). With luck, a last companion will be there to hold my hand as it happens.

I suppose it's accurate to say that Buddhism long ago came to resonate with me far stronger than any Abrahamic religion (or philosophy close to one of those traditions, e.g. Kirkegaard, whom I don't think can be properly be called Christian) has - I couldn't follow it entirely to its conclusions, but I think the Buddhists have identified the problems we face more strongly than any other thinkers in the sphere - the problems that stem from our being sentient, self-aware beings in a universe that needs meaning created by us to be emotionally satisfying, and those meanings have a very tough time being deeply satisfying. In practice, I think the laypeople in a Buddhist society live closer to the way we should live than anyone else - they don't deny the self to the extent that the monks do, and still have attachments while regarding them as dangerous when taken too far, and they have the personal relationships that monks forego. It's this "middle path", not that of the Mahayana of developed Buddhism, that forms what I think as ideal - corrupted primitive (pre-religious, no Bodhisatva, just philosophical) Buddhism is close to an ideal personal perspective on life.

I was recently weirded out to discover the reason that my server was getting hammered is that a spam/pr0n site (surprising how many of those there are) randomly (?) selected an image of my face that was included from Livejournal and included it in a bunch of machine-generated text (in Spanish). Not that it would stop the hammering bit, but I told Apache to give a 304 redirect for any requests with a referrer set to that site to a giant picture of an Iguana on Wikipedia. I find Iguanas beautiful, perhaps purveyors of pr0n will too (even if they're not particularly sexy).'s daily stories they use to showcase their item-of-the-day really crack me up.

Le Mond:

  • Militant Lesbians suing each other... kind of :)
  • Adobe to open/document the SWF/FLV formats. This is awesome. I am still irritated with them over how PDFs work - I recieved some PDF forms recently and while I could type into them, Adobe's Acrobat reader had the chutzpah to tell me it could not save the modified form (some googling said that apparently that feature is something that document providers have to fork out a lot of cash to allow).
  • Discussion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how it works out in community-content websites, among them Wikipedia. I dealt with this all the time when I was more involved with Wikipedia, not just with organised groups with the intent to spin things, but also with individuals who "thought with their heart". This is an area that I find generally frustrating with people I know who have a strong personal identity as a Muslim or strong identification with Israel (I've had good friendships/etc with people in both groups) - there's an almost universal disregard for the truth and lack of both care and fairness in their arguments on the matter, and the history that's visible academic journals is distant from the self-serving "common knowledge" from either mainstream. People approach the matter so wed to a side and building the strongest possible arguments towards their desired conclusion that they embrace fantasy as history, denying every atrocity whatever side they identify with has done, when it's should be visible to a more careful outsider that horrific atrocities and fabrication has come from every angle. It was very challenging to get people talking to each other (although I daresay I was pretty successful at it) from across these lines.
  • Shimon Peres on recent events and positions he feels Israel should take. I largely agree with his statement - that Hamas has greatly hindered the recent momentum towards a lasting peace and were it not for them, there likely would be a Palestinian state right now. One of the things he's misrepresenting is Ahmadinejad's control over Iran, as while he's having some success at courting certain portions of the population, Ahmadinejad is taking some very risky stances both theologically and ideologically that have cut him off from most other parts of Persian politics, among them:
    • Endangering his support of the clergy are his theological statements, areas where he is unqualified to comment as a university professor
    • Endangering his support of the right are his efforts towards women's liberation, starting with his loosening of dress code restrictions and lifting the ban on women attending soccer and rugby matches (not that this is a bad thing from my perspective, of course)
    • Endangering his support of the moderates are his percieved mishandling of the economy and endangering the nation with his radical antagonism on Israel. This affects more than the moderates, of course, bringing harsh criticism from all across the board (something relevant to threat assessment of Iran, I think, as Ahmadinejad would probably be stopped were he to attempt something)
    • Endangering his support of the left (who frankly never liked him to begin with) is his stopping the process of political reform that Khatami began in his presidency
  • OpenSolaris is theoretically usable. It's time to give it another spin - ZFS is a very attractive filesystem, and apart from it being too SysVish and being too wed to YP/NIS+, Solaris is a very likable Unix.
  • Another instance of Thailand's lese majeste law biting someone. The ability to openly criticise/dissent (so long as that is not a call for revolution or similarly dangerous acts) is one that should be preserved as broadly as possible, both because self-expression is important to individual happiness and because it helps avoid invisible problems tied to official infallability.
  • Belarus has, in my opinion, a corrupt leader who has done a poor job improving his country. Recently Lukashenko has had jailed several people who took part in protests against his reelection, prompting a diplomatic spat with the US. I'm glad to see the US exerting its political muscle in a positive way over the matter - while I don't think democracy is the end-all of political systems, I do think that, as stated above, the ability to criticise is very important, whether in a monarchy, a dictatorship, or a democracy. Lukashenko's leadership is problematic in a number of other ways as well..
  • Karzai ("leader" of Afghenistan, or "Mayor of Kabul" if you take the cynical tack) was almost assassinated by Taliban forces, cutting short a major public ceremony.
  • Awesome event in Germany - the village of Bad König-Zell had an office chair race!

Would people be interested if I made "quizzes" every so often that would ask interesting questions about current events and history in a short-answer/essay invitation format? I would suspect they might lead people to look into events and history that they otherwise might not, and that might lead people to a better understanding of how the world fits together today.

Tags: philosophy

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