Thursday, October 25, 2012

Le Monde 100: Being and Nothingness

I'll admit that I have had in my life a fair amount of personal delusion.

A particularly vivid example occurred twelve years ago, deep in the heart of Westchester County, in the ancient woods of Valhalla. I was deeply involved in getting to know my lovely, spending reckless hours of the day and night persuing, perusing, and perambulating with her, towards her, and around her. Because she lived in Brooklyn and I lived an hour away, this led to very late nights, which I felt was no obstacle at all to the general function and execution of my normal life.

After one very long day in construction, I spent an equally long amount of time in Brooklyn with the object of my desire into the night. I left for my hour long ride at 3:00am with no regrets.

However, as I sped up the Saw Mill Parkway in my yellow Isuzu Trooper, I felt a great weight descend upon me as if I had been plunged to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. My awareness became blurred in every direction. As the parkway snaked up through the ancient American woods like a long lazy sea eel, the space between the road and the forest disappeared, creating a dark corridor that my  Trooper pushed through that was as murky as my conception of space and time. I should have known better. Six years previously, thanks to another long day of stacking railroad ties and a most relaxing rocksteady beat, I emerged from a delicious sleep only to find myself in the grassy valley between the North and South highways of Interstate 684 with my cruise control set at sixty miles an hour. A sobering event that left me auditing the rest of my days.

As that forgotten spectre of slumber returned, my Trooper wound its way through those treacherous curves only by means of some deeply ingrained animal instinct. My arms and legs responded in the manner of the doomed Korean Octopus that continues to exert its lifeforce after being submerged in a communal hotpot. This means of autopiloting, though, generally has a very short lifespan. Mere seconds would pass before I would no doubt find myself careening off the dark road into a ravine to  join the loamy humus well before my time.

But, just as my eyelids were about to droop to their most comfortable position and as my eyeballs prepared their final ascent to a most useless degree, they observed an incredible sight. Like a cannon trained on my windshield, a massive owl burst from the undergrowth, exploding into a ball of bloody plumeage! The sudden energy of its violent demise transferred into every dormant adrenal in my body, emptying themselves into my blood stream, infusing me with a powerful stimulant, erasing every trace of sludge from my consciousness.

After I had pulled over and reflected on the crimson halo of owl blood on my windshield, I became convinced that my days were not numbered and I was, in fact, THE CHOSEN ONE. Chosen for what, though, hardly mattered. Destiny had guided the night creature to protect me and my future in order to fulfill the essence of the person that I actually was and had been predetermined to be.

As I said, this was a delusion. Some sort of Messiah complex.

In Being and Nothingness by John Paul Sartre, he writes AGAINST the concept of essence coming before existence. We do not strive to become something that is predetermined and intractable. We become whatever we decide. The possibilities, which start out as NOTHINGNESS'S, come into BEING through choice. For some, this is depressing because it means that there is no larger story to fit into and that brings about a crushing nihilism. However, for others, this is empowering! It means that you may be the Chosen One because YOU have done the choosing.

I mean, how many owls have to die for us all to have meaning?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Le Monde 100: Brave New World

While Diary of a Young Girl shows how humanity finds a way of transcending its base animalistic nature, Brave New World looks shows how it can overcome our base computeristic nature.

Until our individuality recognizes and manifests itself, our brains are just big wet computers with inputs, processors, and outputs. The beginning years of our lives are when we do the heavy lifting of setting up our internal computers. Neuroscientist Michael Merzenich goes into great detail the plasticity of our brains and the way we take in information in this TED talk:

So, the OUTPUT of our brains are very susceptible to the INPUT that, not only gets processed through the machine of its wetware, but goes into the constructing of the processor itself!

In Brave New World, the leaders of society understand the power of conditioning and craft their entire society into conditioning babies and children to build values for the benefit of the state. The genius behind conditioning is building brains to have wants or desires that may be against their own benefit. I was going to write "own self interests," but that's incorrect. Their self interests are the very things that have been tampered with!

This makes me think of the current war between NYC Mayor Bloomberg and the soft drink companies (BIG SODA). One thing that Huxley left out of the equation between the individual and government was the presence of corporations. In Brave New World, the media outlets were controlled by the government, effectively crafting all the communication and propaganda to their wants. In America, a majority of advertising is owned by corporations, who have their bottom lines behind their motivations for advertising. Thus, we live in a culture, where consumerism is the key tenet and portion-sizes hold the highest virtue. Bloomberg has been lambasted by supporters of Big Soda as being a vanguard for the Nanny State for putting a ban on any containers larger than 16 ounces. They claim that its a ban on soda. But, is it really? There is nothing preventing someone from buying an unlimited amount of soda if they wish. But, in the battle against obesity, which is one of our nations biggest health problems, should the government ignore the concepts of conditioning and allow soda companies to profit from man's instinctive desire to consume? The situation with Bloomberg has turned into an inverse Brave New World with the government fighting the conditioning of the public.

 If you don't think that portion size is a corporate tool, look at the difference from the original fountain drink in 1955 to what the KID size is now to what's available for a single consumer:

Diabetes, anyone?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Le Monde 100: Diary of a Young Girl

When Diary of a Young Girl came out, there was a whole lot of nay-saying as to the credibility of the claim that this book was written by a girl from the age of thirteen to fifteen years old. This was primarily done by Holocaust deniers and ex-Hitler Youth types, persons of their own limited credibility. However, when reading Anne Frank's diary, one may find one's self legitimately asking if that it could be possible that someone so young could be so incredibly self-aware and so powerfully articulate. For instance, this passage:

"I was suffering then (and still do) from moods that kept my head under water (figuratively speaking) and allowed me to see things only from my own perspective, without calmly considering what the others- those whom I, with my mercurial temperament, had hurt or offended- had said, and then acting as they would have done."

This sounds like something a beta version cyborg programmed to write from the perspective of a young girl would come up with. If you read that passage in Brent Spiner's voice, it may sound quite at home.

But, there seems to be a recurring theme that appears throughout Le Monde 100. Like a tiny sapling pushing through the thickest concrete, the humanity of the individual will assert itself, even in the smallest ways, when society attempts to erase it. In his book Man's Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl, a psychologist who survived the concentration camps, noted that the deprivation of certain basic needs push men towards a state of animal instinct. Every waking thought gradually becomes overwhelmed with the procuring of those needs, depriving the brain of the focus to self reflect, which is the hallmark of what separates men from beasts. Victor and his fellow prisoners would be allowed cigarettes, which they would purposefully not smoke as they would be used in barter and social interaction. It would be a disturbing sight for the prisoners to see one of them smoking his own cigarettes because it would mean that the smoker had now given up on his humanity and would always die not long afterward.

Anne Frank was put in a similar position. Along with food, clothing, and shelter, man needs to be social. Locked in an attic with a handful of people, Anne's social needs were severely constricted. Her humanity asserted itself by turning inward and exploring in great detail herself and the few interactions she had had in her life as well as the minutia of the social relationships in the attic.

This inward exploration was confirmed when the unabridged version of her diary was released in the early Nineties. Here we find Anne going into great graphic detail about her vagina, nuanced aspects of her sexuality including her early exploration of lesbianism, and menstruation, which all was a bit of a shock as I had originally read the abridged version in the Eighties, which included none of that.

One could see why her father Otto, who compiled the notes would not choose to include those parts for general release. However, they reveal a lot about the human condition under duress as well as solidify their authenticity.

This human imperative was allowed to bloom in the soil of her leisure. This is important. Aristotle refused to allow farmers, skilled tradesmen, and women from entering the Academy as he felt they did not have the necessary leisure time required for true self reflection as they would be involved in fulfilling basic needs, such as growing food, building homes, and rearing children.  For Aristotle, to teach them the disciplines of self-reflection would be a disservice to them as they would not properly be able to give them mental room necessary to be useful. That's why you always see a lot of lounging in old paintings of philosophers. Anne Frank basically developed her own Academy spreading her mental wings in the open space of time even though she was constricted in her physical place.

That is how we can explain the credibility of her eloquence.