Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Love of Language

Overheard, "She'll anticipate his coming with ennui."

A lovely little phrase I thought. Normally, we don't use 'anticipation' in quite this way; anticipation implies some sort of excitement or emotion. Witness' "His coming filled her with anticipation." Even "She'll anticipate his coming with apathy." feels more correct.

But I think the overheard utterance tells an entire story in one sentence. We infer that he comes frequently, often enough that there is little to anticipate it any more. His coming is part of a routine, a pattern that she no longer sees any purpose in. The situation is filled with emotional inertia, and the meaning of the scene has become lost.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Salute

As I traversed the river bridge today, I passed a man. He was an older gentleman, with greying hair, shirtless, getting round about the middle. He was jogging, struggling through the sun and the heat and the humidity. Cars whizzed passed on the freeway mere steps away.

Over his shoulder rested a flagpole. On it were flying a full-sized U.S. flag over a black MIA-POW flag. Both flags whipped back and forth under the turbulence of the freeway and the steady river breeze.

The tableau had all the sanctity of a profound religious ritual. An onerous ritual performed at some cost; a ritual requiring commitment and will, one that could be easy to blow off as too hard. Yet it was a ritual with no exoteric meaning. He conveyed no clear message: this was no protest, no political statement. What intrinsic meaning he intended, only the man himself would know. Any other meaning is only that which the viewer chooses to ascribe to the sacred rite from without.

Still, I'm left with the unshakable belief that some sacred truth was on display. A sacred truth that required strength, will, and commitment from its prophet. Sir, I salute your truth, and honor your sacred rite - even if it remains unnoticed by everyone else on that bridge. Perhaps I honor it because no one but you and I will?

The most sacred rites of all are those done for no-one but oneself and one's spirit.

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I spy with my little eye an 'I'

From the SJGames forum.

I would continue to assert that language structure still affects thought, at least in terms of patterns of reasoning. Furthermore, there are certain assumptions inherent in language that prefigure modes of philisophical speculation and discourse. Indeed, much of academic philosophy these days is an attempt to move philosophy beyond the strictures imposed by language, or to open up language so that it can better serve the needs of philosphy.

One of the more basic problems is that language is capable of formulating questions that can't be answered by philosophy, science, or art. Mostly because the language makes assumptions that aren't necesarilly logically required. "Who made the sky?" is a well formed utterance in English, but humans have spent 6,000+ years chasing the answer, mostly without asking themselves if it makes any logical sense.

Most Indo-European languages assume that every verb has an explicit or implied subject; that every action has something that performs that action. But that's not necessarily the case in 'objective reality', at least it's hard to prove that is the case. Does 'making' require a 'maker'? And if not, then what happens to poor DesCartes when 'thinking' (or 'doubting' to be more accurate) doesn't require a 'thinker' or a 'doubter'?

Neitzsche has gone on at some lengths on this topic, of course.

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Friday, August 7, 2009

Buddha and Nietzsche, Isiah and Christ

"If the Christian Hell does in fact exist, then it is the duty of every compassionate Buddhist to become damned there, so as to do what he can to comfort the souls therin."
-attributed in some similar form to T.M. Suzuki

"If you feel this is the way for you / if you here this kind of call / if you feel you're really meant for this / if you find love / here's what you have to do / become indifferent / lock yourself out."
- Jean-Luc Demarco

Here's the funny thing about the teachings of Prince Guatama Siddhartha, sometimes known as the first Buddha: what he preaches is not a religion. The Four Noble Truths are statements about human psychology, independent of faith. They don't require one to believe, and will go on being true or false whether one chooses to believe or not. "Suffering exists. Suffering exists because of our attachment to the things of the world. Relief from suffering comes through detachment from the world. Detachment from the world happens by walking the Eight-fold path." Four simple statements. They don't ask you to believe; if you wish you may disbelieve them and see how far that gets you.

Beware attachment to the world, for the world of the senses is mere illusion. Mere illusion? The map is not the landscape, yes, we've been over this a hundred times. But if illusion is all that we have, with nothing but intuition (the intuition of Merlin, Dee, and Crowley perhaps?) to reach beyond the mere illusion, then doesn't the merest illusion become reality? We may believe that we do nothing, that the bottle is an illusion and does not exist, but there's that goose, still stuck. It seems that the merest illusion is illusion enough. Neitzsche asks that we embrace illusion, that we embrace the suffering that is the lot of we, an purely illusory people. To love the bottle and all it brings - terror and beauty, suffering and pride. The truth of illusion, or an illusory truth?

It's a funny thing, though. This detached compassion of the Buddha. A friend once created a board game representing the Buddhist cosmos. The goal was to advance through each stage to reach Nirvana in the center. Once you'd reached enlightment, and achieved the Bodhisatva, one could freely give the pips on one's dice to the other unenlightened players, in order that all may achieve enlightenment. No one may win the game until everyone does. But the last thing you want to do is care too much - there's a universe at stake here.

This will to help relieve the suffering of others, without becoming emotionally involved. "Teach us to care and not to care..." So very Christlike and so very unChristian. Christ - or Paul and John, at least - invoke us to do good works upon this Earth in order to ensure "storing up treasures in Heaven". Sounds good, right?
Do the right thing, and God will reward you with eternal life (TM) - accept no imitations! But is that really moral behavior? Or is this just behaving correctly, in the hopes that future happiness will be one's reward? Is that really the pinnacle of ethical thinking? Do good and get free stuff?

Isiah and his contemporaries once preached "Give unto the neighbor and the orphan and the widow and the stranger, for remember, you were strangers in Egypt." Not, "and God will reward you, and your children, and your children's children." "...for remember, you were strangers in Egypt." Do the right thing. Why? Because it's the right thing to do. It's so blindingly obvious, it's a logical tautology. But isn't this the emergence of actual, honest, ethical thinking? "Be excellent to one another, and party on dudes." Not, "Be excellent to one another, because then you'll be able to party on."? Nope. Just "Do x and y."

Neitzsche said that "God is dead". No rewards for you, little kiddies.

What's left for us, then?

Detachment leads to the end of suffering?

Do well by others, because in some way, we're all strangers here?

"We are on our way to being gods." - Jean-Luc Demarco

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