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Monthly Archives: August 2005

The nature of labels, what you describe yourself as has long interested me. There are many perspectives that people have of themselves cannot be apparent to a third person looking in. No matter how open the person, and how close the relationship, there remains a little window of the soul that remains opaque. No insight is gained here, or rather all insight is to be gained, but none shall have access to it. It is the ultimate sealed window of the soul. Behind this barricade I believe are our ultimate descriptors. They are what we label ourselves when we are most frank, most open and real about ourselves. And this is only done to ourselves, perhaps in the darkest of night, when the mind wonders on the cusp of sleep.

In a more everyday sense we all have the internal labels that we describe ourselves as. Things like introvert, extrovert, social, anti-social, friendly, grumpy and so forth. They are not necessarily real, they may not represent the actual us, but they are what we think that we are.

This brings me to a rather simple question; what precisely is the difference between these two concepts, and where does it stem from. To be precise what is the distinction between what I think I am, and what I am. Surely it should be that the second decides the first, that you are not free from your perception of yourself, and that to think you can be defies all common sense.

I think that there are two arguments to suggest that this distinction can be maintained. The first is that you can achieve what you did not believe was possible. It’s extremely rare, but its those moments where you look down the path which you have traveled, and are amazed what has bought you here, amazed that you possessed the requisite shove to get you this far. Of course others have also taken the initiative in parts, but the majority seems to be somehow your own achievement. Here in a very real sense, you have defied the limits of your description

The other is your ability to do new things, things that you are consciously aware that they are difficult or trying, events that you know will push against the natural inclination of your character, that will impose an additional burden on yourself, that you know you could refuse and deny if you so desired. But in spite of that, you persevere and push through the pain barrier. Things are different and uncomfortable, this is after all strange if not enemy territory, but you adapt, you grow to understand it and then your previous hesitation does not look so surprising to you then. The exaltation of achievement makes all the effort worthwhile.

They are perhaps twin aspects of the same argument, but I feel they are materially different in time and effect to suffice as two distinct arguments that prove that we can defy our self described labels.

Where it comes is a harder question. There is a fundamental divergence between what we expect of ourselves and what we can do. We kn0w that everyday, we aim low because you know you can succeed, you don’t try as hard as you can, only as hard as you need to. This I think also happens at this major level. We become comfortable with what we are now, today is all that matters and today we’re comfortable. We stop pushing ourselves, to explore new boundaries and try new things. And we fall into a rut, into a comfortable path, but with time it becomes harder and harder to diverge from.

We can become what we need to be when we allow ourselves to feel at risk. In vulnerability we can improve. Strength and comfort, routine and banality are the road to stagnation; exposure and challenge are the ways to growth and change, to a more able and better person.

I recently asked myself what made people change, and what could motivate them to want to be different to the person they are today. The answer to motivation, I’m sure there are millions, but it was with particular regard to how that I was more interested in.

Interestingly enough I have found my answer within the very words that you’re reading. What we all possess, somewhere within ourselves, is an idealized view of ourselves. The person we want to be. We know our own potential, no one but ourselves can be so intimately aware of our own boundaries and limitations, and more importantly what we could be.

It is this idealized version that I have tried to crystallize in my writings for the last month, and I do find that as things go up here, I start to really think about what I have just written, what they mean and what they require of me. I understand that often these demands are harsh, that the alterations that they demand are exacting, and will push me to my maximum limit. They will demand a self-discipline and focus that I have not traditionally ever found myself demanding of myself.

The other is from keeping my eyes open. There is an Islamic maxim that all people are your teachers, for anyone who teaches you one thing is your teacher, and there is no person alive from who you cannot learn one thing if you know what to look for. I try now to spend a few minutes critically assessing people and thinking about everything I now have learned to look for, in the form of an internal checklist. It clarifies the nature of the person in front of me, but it also readily clarifies for me my own nature and what I should be aiming to be, what flaws exist in my on behavior and how I should regard them, given how I regard them in others.

My writing has been a tremendous catalyst of potential change in me. I now have to put into effect all of its teachings, when my holidays end, and life in reality begins again with the start of the new term. Lets see how it goes.

It is a famous slogan, standing prominently on the gates of Auschwitz. In a twist of the most profound, I feel that in some insidious manner, this conception has survived the invasion of the Nazi Empire, and exported an idea equally insidious as that of the dangerous idea that was destroyed in the embers of the second world war.

In the modern capitalistic world, it somehow appears that in the vestiges of the American Dream, and its western counterparts, there is an exhortation to even greater labour, to spend more and more time working, so that one may buy more things, and that in things one will find solace. Work, time spent on the clock and on the job, will give you the means to freedom.

In essence, I describe the triumph of materialism, the triumph of the idea that not only are wants unlimited, but that wants ought to be unlimited. That the main duty is possession, the duty to buy more stuff, to gain more things. So many people nowadays, even I find in my own house, we have so much stuff so much that we don’t ever use. Things bought today, for the express purpose that it is conceivable that some day we might find the use for it. Things bought to satisfy potential wants.

The mind boggles. It is clear to me I think, even at this stage that such an argument is fallacious. It does not follow that continual spending will eventually enable you to buy what it is you desire. Its a trite proposition that money will let you buy the husk of a thing, but the core of it can only be given. Sex can be bought, but not love. Acquaintance purchased, but never friendship. I need not illustrate with anymore trite examples. Suffice with these ones.

The real problem is that of the essential conflict. The few people I’ve managed to talk about this with have recognized the fundamental truth. The things that you want to do our in fact the very things that work prevents you doing. If you work for so many hours, in so zealous a pursuit, you’re not able to do the things that make life worth living. You have a big house, but no time is spent in it. A fast car, but no time to drive it. You have all the things, but ultimately are denied the ability to use them. It’s surprising that no one realizes this. Rather what may be surprising that if they do realize it, that they chose to ignore it. Not preferring to make any changes, or make plans in the management of their time, they just accept that they do not have the time at all. The mind boggles.

I’ve had the chance recently, to have a long conversation with someone who used their words in a really interesting manner. Instead of just using words in a banal manner, to convey meaning, they bought their conversation to life, they infused it with exaggerated metaphors, drew on references both mortal and mythological, and with every sentence sought to seek the boundaries of their language and knowledge with their words. The words had vitality beyond their meaning.

It was the most fun I ever had talking to anyone in such a long time. Its a very distinct style of speaking, and I find it leaves some people quite easily flustered. They’re not used to the sheer variety of language, the twists the turns, the intricacy and even the false intimacy a word can generate. Those who don’t get it, eventually end up tongue tied, lost without any response to words that revel in such flights of fancy. I myself was at a loss for large chunks of the time. It was only with careful listening to what was being said, to here the nature of the words and not just the meaning conveyed that I began to appreciate the game, and then to realize that it is a game.

I’ve discovered that the only response to such verbal repartee, is to engage in it yourself. To respond to each pointed edge with a quick verbal parry and a bit of ones own quasi-poetry. Conversations sound fabulous when played out in this confrontation, words swing by from side to side with an elegance more apt on the ballroom floor then the lips of men. I’m trying and talking like that to others now, and I find that they find talking to me much more interesting, though they do tend to be a bit flustered as to how to respond. Maybe in time they’ll figure it out, or they may read this and understand.

Then the game begins again, twice as fun, because now both know that meaning is not confined to the words, it floats ethereal around the entire conversation. But more importantly that infused in the heart of this conversation, lies a small portion of nonsense, a casual happiness that is both welcoming and entertaining, while all the while being serious.

Try it, it’s fun.

There is a tendency to play what is called the blame game. The idea is that if you can blame someone, anyone other then yourself that you can divest yourself of the taint of failure. There is something dangerous in the common conception of failure, that it critically undermines a person forever, or at least that seems to be the myth.

Failure is an undeniable part of life, the world is not certain in any way of course, it comes with its ups and downs. In the modern world somehow, this fundamental truth, this duality of reality, has somehow been denied. The idea is now to associate yourself with all the ups, you play for credit undeserved, even if it is gained at the expense of the real achievements of another being unrecognized. There is somehow a belief that acting like this will bring you the greatest advantage, in both the long and the short term.

To associate yourself with the taint of failure in any form is a cardinal failure. Even if it is assuredly your own mistake and failure that was responsible. One must ensure that you are not responsible, or at least that if you can handle it, that you should shirk the blame on to someone else. Never should it be you attached to the problem which you are connected too.

It invariably something that I find myself doing, its the easy thing to do, but I’m trying to ensure that I cease to do. The problem is that it’s seductively easy to do. It requires a great strength of character I believe to be able to say that you are wrong, that you made a mistake. It’s also amazing that when you do this, people’s perceptions and reactions change radically. They feel the stress that they were labouring under is gone, and that they too can confess to what they did wrong in a situation, realize that things were too complicated to be reduced to a blame game, and move onwards with things. More then that they react better to you then they did before, they recognize the great strength that it displays.

Isn’t it odd therefore that we try to avoid behavior that we are in fact given the highest praise when in fact we do the behavior that is seemingly discouraged.

There’s a trite quotation that is amongst one of my favourites which states simply that “A mind is like a parachute, they both work best when they’re open”. Its a powerful illustration of what is needed to make a person functional in the world. The ability to hold an opinion, to hold strong opinions even, needs to be balanced against the relevant counter force, which is to be able to keep a mind so flexible that it can adapt to the latest evidence, to change when change is warranted.

Its a difficult line to draw when one thinks about it. What amount of evidence is needed to keep yourself sure, when do you start to change to get in line with the latest effort. In Tesauro a case before the European Court of Justice, the Attourney Generale gave his opinion on what constituted the cutting edge of scientific knowledge for the purposes of a defense at law. One of the more interesting observations was that the cutting edge of scientific thought, of thought in any fields, was that the right view was usually championed by some lone wolf, who was considered to be on the outside of mainstream opinion. Gradually the evidence for a position would mount up, and eventually the mainstream would move to adopt the position that was previously considered fringe.

There seems to be that what amounts to evidence to change your mind are heard to quantify. There is clearly no security in following the main stream, the main stream is never certified to be correct, in fact the mainstream seems to change its position with enough alacrity to justify little faith in them.

The question then becomes, besides our own subjective experience, what else justifies a change of opinion. I guess that there must be some procedure, an amount of evidence that satisfies that our previous thoughts were incorrect, but I’m left without any answers as to what changes the mind, except an assurance that somehow it does, in a gradual or a sudden manner. Just how is hard to know.

The most important question that one can ask about the world that one inhabits, the most powerful and the most meaningful is ‘why’. I understand that its not the most common question to be asked, and in certain scientific circles the question is reviled as being redundant or even meaningless. I cannot accept this and I have no intention of doing so.

There are two implicit questions asked when someone says ‘why’. The first questions reasons, and asks why a specific event has occurred in a specific way, in specific form. It presumes a level of causality and coherence in the universe, that things have reasons, that cause precedes effect, and that from effect one may deduce cause. These are fundamental axioms of the macro world, that we can understand it. It is the only way that we can come to terms with the world that surrounds us everyday.

The second aspect that I think is inherent in asking why is that it asks what justification a certain position has, and implicit within that is the challenge to the outcome. It requires a certain critical awareness of the world around, the desire and the perspective to realize that it is not immutable, it is subject to frequent change, but that change may be directed and focused towards a particular end result. More then that though, it implies that one end is qualitatively better then another end, that there is a certain way that things ought to be. It reminds us of basic principles, the firsts from which all our other edifices grow and develop, and which must always be placed in the most prominent position.

The very power of ‘why’ is that it forces critical assessment of what we do and why we do it. It asks what things mean and within it subsumes all the who, what when where and how questions, they all being only tangents of the meta question. It is the question that is the catalyst for change in oneself, and which allows one to realize your full potential. It is a powerful word, but an even more powerful idea.

There is a certain shift in scientific thinking, especially after the development of quantum theories on the micro scale, that why is an utterly meaningless question in the quest of science. That why is indeterminable, that the question has no meaning because the answers are beyond our scope to offer. I think that is pathetic. If one cannot answer the question, the technique or the technology to solve it being non-existent does not mean that the question itself is invalid. There is nothing wrong in admitting that one does not know.

The further more disturbing implication I feel is that such a blanket denial of the why question seems to undermine the very nature of scientific investigation, or certainly what it should be at its core. The notion of Einstein of “wanting to know the mind of God”, the big plan, the big picture, is subverted by saying that the picture is unresolved by us in any form. It should be this noble motivation, this desire to the highest aspiration of knowledge that should motivate those who live on the frontiers of knowledge. Instead now we must turn to inferior motives of pride or payment to motivate, but these are selfish attributes giving rise to a selfish culture of learning.

I strongly feel that ‘why’, the ability to question the very base and foundation of every aspect of our lives, to draw our own conclusions to seek and understand properly the structure of all things, is within the scope of humanity. It may be that we have not the tools in our possession to do it now, and that tomorrow or the next day may yield no answer, but the quest is eternal and is not to be so lightly discarded.

It is without doubt one of the great virtues of the world, but its hard to understand what its limits are and where it properly fits into the balance of everyday life. The conventional wisdom goes along the lines of ‘all good things come to he who waits’ but at the same time, it seems that things only fall into place for the go-getters. The conflict is between where one waits, and where one stops waiting and goes for what one must do

I’ve always been a very patient person, an unduly patient one I’m starting to think. There seems to be a certain point where you have to stop being patient with people and to let vent to your anger and frustration towards them. I have no idea where this point is, but I do feel that certain people that I know have crossed the line. They keep pushing the limits of your tolerance, one goes out of your way to accommodate them, to keep lines of communication and hopefully understanding open and viable, but they respond continually with a casual coolness and a lukewarm reciprocation.

I know they don’t dislike me, that I’m not intruding on them or anything like that, and I do know that if I was to cross over in to that field I wouldn’t press them anymore. But I don’t feel that I am there yet. Where I am is people who don’t mind you doing all the running in a friendship, but don’t want to even walk at a brisk pace when you ask them to carry the baton for a while. How am I meant to accommodate them, to keep them happy at the expense of my effort. There are people whose company I enjoy so much more, and that I could put the effort into keeping the vibrant lines with these people open even wider, but some sense of duty and hope of success keep me also involved with those who try my patience just as much.

What is to be done about them I wonder?

Its a common enough occurrence, to hear people say as if the most natural and logical of things, that religion ought to change with the times, that it ought to adapt to the particular foibles and perceptions of the modern age, that somehow modern man’s great intellectual advances and tolerant society behoove that even God should modify his diktats to conform with our newly realized erudition. This notion is often called in Christian circles that of the Liquid Church, in Islam they call for a return to Ijtihad (Intellectual Striving) and wait for the Islamic Reformation to ‘update’ an religion out of synch with the demands of modern day life. These are but examples, and you will find such false progressives in every faith.

I think this notion is the most patent rubbish that I’ve ever encountered, all the more dangerous because of the importance of the topic that they try to mold in this manner. I think three telling arguments demolish any argument on this matter.

The first is what proof do you have that man has really changed? This minor aberration of civilization in the last 200 years? And what real civilization do you see there? Millions are starving, millions deprived of the basics at the expense of an elite few. Jealousy, hate, petty revenge and materialism probably still the dominating driving force on the planet. Prejudice, racism and sexism run rampant, heck I would say that we live in a even more sexist era then ever before, feminism now a corrupted idea of female objectification rather then any liberating ideology. How is that progressive against religious ideas that command you to treat each as his brother, and to give all you can in the trust that the Lord will provide you more. Tell me again how things have changed that we can discard such demanding standards in favour of lower standards.

Even if people have changed, then one wonders what basis that they have for thinking that the rules God laid down hanged. His message and the revelation still stand unchanged, no new prophet has arisen to show people that their is a new religious order that is both right and true. God in the conception of most of these religions is entire, eternal and unalterable. How presumptuous then to decide when to alter our covenant with God, and the never to vary it unilaterally. We don’t allow two people to vary their contracts unilaterally, but we presume God won’t notice or care when we alter our oaths to Him. Keep dreaming.

The second aspect of the same argument is that no one in their right mind expects the laws of physics to change between today and yesterday. They are eternal and unchanging, a veritable physical reminder of the nature of the covenant with God. Fixed eternal and unchanging. One would be a fool to presume that when one woke up tomorrow, that you could unilaterally repeal the law of gravity, just because you didn’t like it anymore. This deals conclusively with the argument that people feel internally incapable of accepting the stricture a religion places on them, that it somehow cramps their ability to be themselves. The argument is patent nonsense, if it restricts then it does so in the same way that the laws of thermodynamics restricts, naturally, obviously and without an escape clause. To think that somehow you are too clever, too precious an individual to be subject to Gods law, is the height of arrogance and folly.

It follows logically and of necessity, that religion should be fixed, timeless and its edicts eternal. To do otherwise is to consciously err, and to believe that somehow you know or understand yourself better then your Creator. It is the most rampant delusion.

There is no substitute in the world, for the industriousness of a man. There are no shortcuts, no quick paths, no untroubled glades by which to circumvent this most demanding edict. Intelligence is unhelpful, unsuccessful genius is almost a proverb, wealth is no panacea, squandered wealth is also a proverb, and wisdom is a resource unavailing, the poor and wise are cliché in many stories.

I do not disparage all these other elements, I do not say that they are unnecessary, but rather that they are rendered nugatory by the absence of hard work. The other attributes are attributes of potential, they are the acorn seed with all the potential of the oak within, but are not and can never be, the means by which the seed may be bought to germination.

I have only slowly come to grips with the nature of hard work in the world. For many years, I have been fortunate. coasting by on the wings of my intelligence, and have scrapped through many a situation, worse for the close calls endured. I found enough leeway to scrape by, and scrape I chose to, confident that I could always get away in the same manner.

It has taken me two years of university to realize that this cannot be, and that the margin for error now has grown tragically thin. And I understand that the only way to reclaim that margin is through work. The focused mind, the discipline, the desire that accompany hard work will enable me to transcend the limitations that I labour under, but it comes with the accompanying understanding that it will, if it can be harnessed, lead to much greater and better things.

Its not an easy thing, to be so always proudly lazy and unapplied to change my course so radically will require great stubbornness of mind, a trait that I know I have not been blessed with, and a heartfelt desire to achieve the results. I know now thought that I have potential greater then I have ever exhibited to this date, that I have let myself down by not pushing to the greatest extent my boundaries and limitations, and to truly try and transcend not the examiners and the markers, but myself. To push my abilities to their maximum and to endure the inevitable failures that are on the horizon, but to fight back their down heartening effect and to rise again messianically, to fight another day.

I do not know whether such a program can succeed but I mean to find out.