Archive for September, 2006

September 27, 2006

new philosophy explained

i’ve added a wiki over on the New Ethics page that tries to explain a bit better what i am trying to do here. Note that to do so i’ve had to describe a New Philosophy of which this New Ethics of mine is but a sub-section.

A quick summary (for the hurried): the New Philosophy is divided into three levels. Level 1 is the one this blog of mine is working at: it is the personal reflections of an individual and the comments others offer. Level 2 is the one the New Ethics is situated at, a theory created by a community of people from Level 1. Level 3 philosophy, the last level, is the reflections of all people from Levels 1 and 2 about the methods they use on the two first levels. But read the book.

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September 26, 2006

stepping back from life

sometimes we just need to step back from our own hustle and bustle and precisely not ‘just get on with life’:

One of my little indulgences is to take a little quiet time to just sit down and watch the day as it unfolds before me. I don’t mean to ponder and reflect on what is going on, but to simply stop and watch life as it is happens, just as we would a play at the theatre. I have a favourite place I go to do this – atop a steep hill near my home. From the summit I can see the City of Sheffield nestling in the foothills of the Derbyshire mountains, with the M1 motorway that takes you there running along the valley bottom below.

more at life 2.0. This is an activity that comes in many flavours, the most structured type probably being transcendental meditation. Some suggest that you simply take 5 minutes a day to stand in a corner and think about your breathing. I am not sure exactly why this helps, but i will try again for a week or two and see. I think i’ll go with the 5 minutes cross-legged on the floor version for starters.

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September 24, 2006

good coffee

My neighbor brought me a cup of coffee just now with a spoon in it. Assuming the spoon meant that he had added sugar, i stirred and then took a sip. The coffee was excellent, actually much better than any i’ve had in the last few days. Obviously, he had gotten the quantity of grounds and then the sugar just right. Wonderful coffee. Only then did i notice, just before my ante-penultimate sip, that the liquid appeared unusually light brown: he had put milk in it! Being a black coffee kind of guy, i quickly revised my opinion and the coffee stopped tasting all that good: it had suddenly become too creamy and sweet.

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September 23, 2006

theory and practice

One could construe many of the contemporary problems with ethics, and perhaps with our moral life in general, by pointing to the fact that one can nowadays know a lot about ethics, even teach it, without being a moral person. The practice of ethics has been severed from the theories about it. Some have lauded this division of labour; but many have doubted how appropriate it is in the realm of ethics.

This New Ethics tries to unite theory and praxis on two levels: first, the writing of the blog (theory) directly modifies my behavior (praxis) inasmuch as reflecting upon my ethical problems to some extent solves them, ie necessarily implements what i am writing about. In a second sense theory and praxis are united because a fair portion of the blog is concerned with methodological questions, ie i am discussing (theory) what seems to be working and what not in the way i am implementing this New Ethics (praxis). In effect, this New Ethics has no essence or definition since, by definition, it is supposed to improve upon and thus change itself.

This is obviously an attempt to reach back to older types of ethics (stoic, christian) that denied that one could say anything interesting about ethics without having first implemented the suggestion in one’s life. The main difference between the New Ethics and the older ethics is that i have eschewed as much as possible any substantive constraints, that is the New Ethics only wants to be a framework within which i might develop any kind of ethic, or no particular one. The only goal is simply to structure my attempts at living an examined life.

September 23, 2006

romantic quagmire

I have been in a romantic quagmire for quite a number of years now. The basic problem is that of one of the standard romantic tragedies, namely: A loves B, who in turn loves C; and since none of the loves are requited, the protagonists must persist in their unresolvable standoff until time tragically wears them down and they give up. Now the tragedy can be much prolonged if C turns out to be much younger than A or B are: B will only give up on C once she finds true love and marries, which in this case might take long enough that B will have slipped well into his mature years, at which point A will probably have settled for her second best choice, leaving B stranded in the non-matrimonial desert of his lonely 40s.

Now there are many directions in which this situation could be analyzed and a solution perhaps even found. I will consider three. The first is to cut the gordian knot with the ever more believable but nevertheless defeatist contention that the institution of marriage is no longer suited to our day and age, and namely to B. I do not wish to enter into a sociological analysis of marriage and shall let this solution remain acknowledged but not seriously considered. It sounds too much like a cop-out anyway.

The second solution is to council B to do what A does, namely to give up right away and find someone else. This however, does not take into account the sometimes enormous biological impossibility of such a wise suggestion. What should B do if he knows that whatever relationship he initiates, he would immediately quit should C come around. It seems dishonest to try to build a solid relationship with another while still “madly in love” with someone – were this even psychologically possible. B could certainly train himself to no longer like C, repeating to himself that she’s not that pretty, that her character does have its shadier patches and that she’s changed; but again that seems to be dishonest self-manipulation that in effect only really covers up the ‘problem’ without getting at the root of it: a mostly uncontrollable biologically-conditioned attraction. The only real solution is for B to wait until someone else fortuitously comes along and sweeps him off his feet. The tragedy remains in full force: B is left to sway in the winds of his emotional storm – waiting for a !@#$%ing butterfly to flap its wings somewhere down under.

The third solution (let us hope this one works) must somehow counteract the hopelessness of the emotional fate on which the last paragraph abruptly ended. How can one take the matter into one’s own hands and regain a modicum of control over oneself? I think the answer might well lie in a modified version of the first, untried solution. B must realize that if his emotional attraction is not to be changed, it can nevertheless be dealt with. This might sound like damage control (and perhaps it is), but it can also be a making-the-very-best-of-whatever-situation-one-is-in. If romance will always arrive unannounced, then so be it. We will find something else to do in the mean time, something that will prove durable and interesting enough to last a life-time, should no one at all come knocking in the end. I do not believe there is any specific activity that can be put forward as a good example; rather one must simply get into the habit of finding rewarding long-term activities, even if that activity is to spend one’s life trying to figure out how to solve the problem of our ever so unreliable emotional surprises.

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September 19, 2006

cleaning things up

Yesterday was a bit of a downer, all of those little happenings that added up to a decent serving of sadness. So, after a good night’s recovery, i decided to clean my life up a little bit and vacuumed my room, did my laundry and washed my sink out. I even hit on the idea of hanging my socks up by pairs rather than wait until they were dry to try and match them up.

Even though nothing really changed as far as the structure of my life is concerned, this little vicarious cleaning excerzise did help put me back into a good mood, one where my life seems more organized and thus manageable.

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September 18, 2006

goals

Goals are dangerous items in one’s ethical environment. They are at sometimes very important, necessary and beneficial. However, they can also be at times stifling and unproductive. A goal can provide meaning, but setting a goal for one’s life can be exhausting and is often downright impossible.

I have recently given up trying to set a goal for my life, and am the better for it. I used to always try to have a final goal in life, even if it constantly changed as the hours wore on. However, whenever my life suddenly changed enough that my current goal no longer matched up with my surroundings, i was thrown into existential angst until i could formulate a replacement goal.

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September 18, 2006

day of rest

It is important, i believe, to keep at least one day of the week free of one’s usual types of work. Not working does not seem to be so much the key to a successful ‘sunday’ as not doing the types of things you do during the week, or at least not having a fixed schedule of how much needs to get done. I have always, rather than forbid myself any work, simply let myself do whatever i felt like doing (even if it was doing whatever i had been doing the day before) – but always under the proviso that i didn’t have to, that i could stop at any point and that i needn’t finish. “It’s ok to not do anything because today’s Sunday” i will often explicitly remind myself.

This one day a week of non-stress (rather than ‘complete rest’ as the Old Testament requires) works both forwards and backwards, giving me the courage to work hard during the week because i can relax on sunday but also energizing me on sunday for the coming week, knowing that i will be well rested after today (sunday).

The benefits of a day of rest are well known. However, they are also easily forgotten, hence this post.

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September 11, 2006

staying alive

This philosophical diary keeping is helping me stay alive. (Today is a depressed day.) It has so far been able to minimize the strength of my depressed moods by reminding me that i can write about the fact of my being sad, which is a means of purging the mood itself. At times this new ethics simply serves to perform the function of a good listening friend. As an added feature, you cannot really encourage your feeling bad for yourself since you are constantly striving to write about yourself as if from someone else’s perspective: the vicious circle of self-pity is broken by the fact that you must generalize your case while attempting to formulate a solution and cannot therefore talk about your feelings so as to generate more such feelings; you must rather cooly reflect upon your feelings – which in turn cools your feelings down.

September 7, 2006

keeping happy

Yesterday i had a mild attack of depression, which i thought had left as i went to sleep. This morning it came back during tennis however – bringing my return serve to an all-time low. I seemed to be right at the edge of the depression and thought i could almost get myself to land on the better side, if only i wanted to. Of course, i didn’t have enough oomph to want to. Then towards the end, as brian and i switched back from playing games to just hitting the ball back and forth, i suddenly had enough fun at it, that i started to try – wanting to succeed. I think the solution was not generally deciding to be happy, but rather concentrating on the more definite task at hand, namely hitting the balls back into the court. I also started playing as hard as i could, which probably created just enough of an adrenaline rush to get me over the hump (or out of the hole).

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