The Individual vs. The Collective

Americans often like to say things like, “I’m an individual,” or, “I’m an individualist.” I would have to imagine much of the western world feels this way.  It seems like the east and south are more communal, but I doubt these people say, “I’m a communitarian,” or, “I’m a collectivist,” all that often.  I have always thought of myself as an individualist, of sorts, but whenever I have this thought I am immediately stopped by my communal side.  I would like to be myself at all times and all places.  I would like to choose only that which I would like to choose.  But, I can’t.  There are people I love and that means I must sometimes choose what they want over my own desire.  My individualism is stopped dead in its tracks.

There has been many philosophers that advocate a certain radical individualism.  Friedrich Nietzsche and Ayn Rand Come to mind.  Both writers argued that the good life comes from the individual and not the community. Ayn Rand, and many classical liberals, believe that an individual’s good is synonymous with the good of the whole.  Everyone stands to benefit from self interest. I agree with this point, but everything has its limits.  While radical individualism is a philosophy I would like to accept in whole, I just can’t.  I have found too much reason to look for the good in the community.  Not just for my own sake, but the sake of community itself.

This problem of the individualist versus the collectivist extends to politics and economics as well.  Much of the second half of the 20th century was consumed by this battle.  In fact, it literally almost consumed the world in fire.  While individualistic capitalism won the battle, many, in the wake of the recession, have already begun to question its principles and practices.  I tend to agree that economic self determination is a good thing.  However, capitalism, as it is practice in the west, does seem to have a lot of victims.  Many of the goods we enjoy are built by workers laboring under slave like conditions and, on the other end of spectrum, relatively well to do  members of the middle class often complain that the demands of this system are both tedious and unfulfilling.  These feelings often lead to anxiety and depression.  I certainly would not prefer some soviet style system to replace a free market, but this does not mean I have not found this system seriously wanting.

In my journey to find my way out of the forest of conjecture that is ideology, the battle between individualism and collectivism keeps finding its way to the forefront of my mind.  As in every battle, my tendency is to pick a side and take it as far as it can go.  But is taking one side over the other the right choice?  Every human is an unique individual with his own idea on how the world should work.  At the same time,  every human is a social being looking for some kind of connection with another.  When we find this connection, we are ready to sacrifice a bit of ourselves to keep it.  The dualism between the individual and the collective is unavoidable.  It is of our nature to want both and struggle for a balance, both in thought and practice.

 

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Is It Time To Rethink Our Education System?

Recently, a successful friend said something to me that I have heard a lot since I dropped out of school in the eleventh grade, “high school was a complete waste of time.”  When I tell people that I’m a dropout with a bachelors degree, they are often shocked.  Friends have made me retell the story of how I ended up in community college so many times, I’ve grown sick of telling it.  But, I’ll do it one more time, just for you good people.

When I had just turned eighteen, I ended up at an adult secondary school.  If you are not familiar with such institutions, they are essentially second chance schools for delinquents, burnouts and other assorted degenerates.  The only people who tried were pregnant girls, forced out of the big leagues by practical necessity or social stigma, and almost everyone else tried to sell me drugs.

One day in english class, we took a break from learning where the comma goes to hear a guest speaker from the local community college.  I figured that anything she said had little to do with me, so I laid my head down and took a little nap, which was generally considered an acceptable practice.  I faded in and out of consciousness as she talk for almost an hour about the school she represented.  Her words were blurring with whatever sort of stuff is found in my subconscious.  I thought I heard her say that you could attend community college once you turned eighteen even if you didn’t have a diploma.  So, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask her if I had heard this right.  She told me that I had and I walked out of class.  The next day I drove across town and registered for college level classes.

Everyone’s K-12 school experience is a bit different.  I still meet people who say that high school was the time of their life, but many more call college the golden days.  For me personally, high school was an oppressive and creatively deadening experience.  It wasn’t until college that I was able to reach my full potential and become an A-B student, instead of a C-D student.

Part of my problem was simply the rules.  There were a million of them and they were enforced with almost no discretion, a strict zero tolerance policy.  The principle once told me that I had no right to free speech as a student – I’m not kidding.  This was during the Iraq war.  I was told constantly that men and women were dying for my freedom, while being told I have no freedom.

However, my rebellious ways are generally the exception.  Since high school, I have asked many of the A students how they managed to do so well.  Usually, they tell me that they studied, a lot.  This got me thinking.  Most students spend forty hours a week at school.  The studious ones then go home and spend two or three hours a night over a book.  If you add in an extracurricular activity, many good high school students spend sixty plus hours a week working.  This is more than most adults work.  Contrast this to college, where a student will spend only fifteen to twenty hours in class each week.  Why are some high school students working harder than some college students and working adults?

I’m not saying that I can supply all the answers to America’s education problem.  But I do know I can’t go a month without reading some article about our slipping education ranking compared to other industrial and postindustrial countries.  One the other hand, our colleges are ranked best in the world.  Should high school be a bit more like college?  Or do teens need the strict regimen of a high school day?  Maybe I’m completely wrong and a better solution is needed.  A solution that may be forming in the mind of a high school student as I write.

 

Should You Believe Your Own Opinion?

Since I spend far too much time thinking,  I have had a number of opinions over the years.  Some I still hold, but far more have been discarded.  Sometimes I find myself with an opinion so dumb that I can’t even believe I thought it in the first place.  Occasionally, I like to toy with opinions.  I’ll argue a position that I think is nonsense to people who get really mad about my made up point of view.  It’s fun.  If someone is pro-life, take the pro-choice argument, and vise versa.  Debate societies do it regularly and it’s a great way to sharpen your logic skills.

Should you believe your own opinion?  Many people will think this a dumb question.  In the west, we tend to hold opinions sacred.  This is a good thing considering opinion is a liberty many don’t possess.  I would rather a person tell me the worst opinion I have ever heard then not be able to tell me one at all.  My belief, like most Americans, is that one of the greatest things to ever happen to the world was the idea of free speech.  It is one of humanities greatest characteristics, free will, made manifest in the world.

Does this make all opinions equal?  I think very few people would say yes and truly mean it.  As an ideal, I think all opinions should get equal attention, but even that gets a bit murky.  Do I want pseudo Nazis making anti-free speech speeches in the streets? Hell no.  Should they be allowed to anyway? Probably.  Even as I hold the opinion that opinions should get equal treatment, I contradict myself.  I hold an opinion I don’t even believe.  How strange.

When we hold the belief that we are entitled to our opinion, we tend to take it for granted.  If an opinion is sacred, shouldn’t the sacred be handled with care?  This is why I tend to try on opinions, almost like clothes.  I want to know if it fits, if it is actually conveying something meaningful.  I want to question its very fabric, its essence.  If people, as they say, have died for my right to an opinion, I don’t want to take any opinion too lightly or too seriously. I want to question each opinion I hold and make sure I have a damn good reason for holding it.

   

Are Atheists and Agnostics Destroying The World?

I recently appeared in a pre recorded episode of The Culture Monk Live where we discussed the effects of agnosticism on culture.  Particularly, did agnosticism destroy western culture?  Now, I’m not too sure if western culture has been destroyed. Many aspects of our society have certainly been relegated to the lowest common denominator.  The list is actually pretty long.  Reality TV, the decline in literature, and communication through 140 characters or less immediately come to mind, but there are many, many more problems.  Is this a sign that America is heading the way of Rome, or are these things just the hiccups of a society grappling with the problems post-modernity and advanced consumer technology?

If our society is crumbling before us, are atheists and agnostics to blame?

Has the existential way of life robbed us of the sacred beliefs that we need to create an ordered society?

When people argue that atheism and agnosticism lead to immorality, meaninglessness, and societal degradation, they do so from a viewpoint that insists that you need God or a extra natural order to create positive social conditions.  They cannot imagine why an atheist would want to be good, because, from their point of view, good only comes from God.  Their first premise is usually, “God must exists, thus . . .,” instead of what it would need to be in order to refute an atheist’s view of morality, “If God doesn’t exist, then  . . .”

When I hear a believer begin with the second premise, it is usually followed with the assumption that anything would be permissible: if there is no God, you can do as you please.  You can kill, cheat, or steal with cosmic impunity – Enjoy.  Despite the insistence that atheists must believe this, it is difficult to find one that does.  The only people I have found in my small experience that do believe this were gutter punks that didn’t give a damn about anything – true nihilists.  I’m sure they didn’t believe in God, but they were probably too dumb to care either way.

Most atheists and agnostics are confronted with the same moral decisions that believers are.  Yet, very few say, “why am I thinking about this?  I’m an atheist.  I can do whatever I want.”  Why is this?  From the point of view of the atheist, there was never a good before humanity invented it.  God did not literally die.  It was belief in him and his transcendental good that died.  If this is the case,  humanity actually created morality.  It is probably something bred into us.  It could simply be empathy, which told a different way simply mean, “love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Does this automatically suggest that morality is completely relative?  I don’t think so.  If humanity is the creator of morality then it was not an individual effort, but a collective one.  This explains why virtues like courage and honor,commandments such as don’t kill and don’t steal, are more or less ubiquitous to all humans.  It could also be, from an evolutionary standpoint, that empathy is part of our genetic make up.  It is not insane to think that without this trait, humans may have died off long ago.

Do atheists have to decide how to live their life?  Of course, but believers do as well.  They first have to to accept their parents religion or choose a new one.  Then they have to decide if they will follow all the tenants or just some.  What does this person do when their religious leader tells them to kill in the name of a higher power?  If they have already decided that they must accept every aspect of their religion, they are liable to choose killing.  Most atheists and agnostics will never face a choice like this.  This is the benefit than secular modes of thinking has brought to our society.  A disposition to question, which most atheists and agnostics possess, makes it more difficult for evils to be committed.  Disbelief does not encourage amoral thought, it supplies a person with the skepticism often needed to choose the right path.

 

Star Trek Vs. The Bible

A friend and I were arguing a few weeks ago over coffee.  “Oh Star Trek,” he said, “the show where people just magically show up to work with no money and no incentive.”  I tried telling him about replicators and how the goal of humans in the Star Trek universe is to aggrandize themselves and a whole bunch of other things that made me sound, in his ears, like a pimply faced nerd wasting away in my parents basement watching Star Trek reruns ad infinitum.

For some reason, I just had to score a point for Roddenberry (the creator of Star Trek).  I wouldn’t call myself a Trekkie in any proper sense and neither would a proper Trekkie. I more so believe that Star Trek and its philosophy are incredibly important and influential.  So I told my buddy, “I think that the two most important opposing viewpoints of the contemporary world are the canon of scripture and the canon of Star Trek.”

He looked at me sideways, demanding an explanation.  Many of my generation, and of older generations, have rejected Christianity for something else.  Some millennials who reject Christianity, opt for some sort of universalism or vague spiritualism.  These philosophies all have something in common, a metaphysical explanation.  Nietzsche called Christianity, “Platonism for the masses.”  I think this is a fair description and most monotheist and spiritualist hold beliefs quite similar to Plato – we are not seeing the whole picture with our senses, there is something ultimate behind and beyond it all.

So if Plato, Jesus, and Deepak Chopra all think along similar lines, what about Kirk, Picard, and Janeway? Both sides, one we could call Platonism and the other humanism, believe in going beyond what is immediately apparent.  However, Roddenberry wouldn’t call this a spiritual endeavor, but simply a human one.  We are not separated from the beyond by sin or the flesh. It is merely our own self set limitations that separate us from a greater existence.  The Star Trek universe doesn’t buy into the realm of forms, heaven, or nirvana, but instead buys into the universe itself, believing in the infinite possibility of a seemingly endless cosmos.

The whole argument between the two canons comes down to this.  Should we be striving for a better world, one where people work to better themselves, rather than earn a paycheck?  Or should we be improving ourselves in preparation for a wholly different, probably perfect, world beyond our senses?  These are, I think, the defining questions of our time.  This is also why everyone should be reading their Bibles and watching their Star Trek

 

Live long and prosper and God bless

“The End Of Ideology” What the hell does that mean?

If you have stumbled across my blog, you may be wondering what the title is all about.

Did I choose this title just to try and sound cool?  Maybe that was half the reason.

Am I talking out of my ass?  I’ve been known to do that.

Is there actually a meaning to it?

Let me explain . . .

In my first post, I gave a very brief bio of myself.  A big part of my life for many years was seeking out truth and meaning.  I looked for it in the Bible, the Communist Manifesto, newspapers, history books, literary novels, all over the place.  I talked endlessly with anyone who cared to talk  about such things.  I drove myself mad trying to answer this question: what the hell is it all about?

This led me to a lot of conclusions, and then a lot of backtracking, then on to more conclusions, and finally more backtracking.  I didn’t know what to believe.  Every answer has an opposite and that opposite has a rebuttal from a different answer.  In the midst of this storm of conjecture, I, for some reason, assumed there must be a single answer – an Ideology that was the truth.

To many reads, this may sound like non-sense.  “Of course,” they might say, “there is no single truth.” Many people believe that truth is completely subjective or varies from culture to culture.  I couldn’t accept this and still don’t.  If I did, I would have to say that cultures that execute nonbelievers and so called sexual deviants are justified in their actions.  I would have to accept that psychopaths, murdering others in some haze of fantasy, are merely following their own personal truth.

But, rejecting relativism doesn’t mean that there must be a single philosophy or religion that holds a monopoly on truth.  I’ve come to find that truth is probably both objective and subjective since it is most likely a human creation, but, at the same time, has no meaning whatsoever if it can mean anything.  A paradox I doubt I could resolve in a lifetime.

At any rate, I’ve found that using a particular ideology to understand the world is much like looking out a newly cleaned window.  At first you can see everything and your eyes convince your brain that everything is known at first glance.  The world seems to come alive, full of meaning, full of hope.  If you were to stand in front of that window for too long, the window would collect dust.  Slowly, you would know less and less of the outside world and eventually nothing.  Yet, you are still standing there using the same window view to interpret the world.

The place at the end of ideology is the place where you open the window and decide to look at the view as it is, without all the dust.  It is the place where humans ask questions, not expecting to know all the answers.  It is also the place where we may find answers and begin to solve the plethora of problems facing mankind today.

A Brief Introduction To A Blog Meant For These Strange Times

I have made many choices in life that most respectable people would consider idiotic, irresponsible, or just plain silly.  These choices have gotten me absolutely nowhere from a worldly point of view.  But from a different point of view, one I could call my own, they have given me many incredible experiences, and a chance to encounter many interesting people, some of whom I call loved ones and friends till this day.  It is also these experiences and these people that have given me the inspiration to become a writer, an aspiring one at least.

I was quite disillusioned as a teenager, which wasn’t a rare occurrence for millennials coming of age in the wake of 9/11.  I remember thinking that  almost everything anyone told me didn’t quite seem to make sense.  Maybe it wasn’t what they were saying, but how they said it.  They said it from a position of authority and this meant that they must be right.  This seemed to work well enough for most people, but I was a little bastard.

When I was sixteen, I figured it was a good idea to go on a year long drug binge.  It was a time of excitement, desperate misery, utter jubilation and, to borrow a phrase from one of my favorite writers, of “fear and loathing “.  In my mind, I was trying to discover the limits of freedom, both personal and practical, in a society that claimed to be the freest on earth.  Conventional wisdom would hold that if any person took as many illicit substances as my friends and I did, we would certainly die, but none of us did.  So I learned that the man or woman speaking at the podium, the one who claimed to know everything, the one who demanded to be obeyed, was fallible.

By the time I was seventeen, going on eighteen, my disillusionment had reached a fevered pitch and I could no longer stand waking up each morning and going to school, so I dropped out.  I cut out the drugs though.  Very free people have the ability to continue with the hard stuff and not end up worthless junkies.  The last thing I wanted was to be was a junky.

I wondered to myself, if all these people out here in the suburbs didn’t have the answers, well then who the hell did.  I became obsessed with learning, wondering if there was an answer.  I digested huge tomes about philosophy and religion, science, and the arts.  If you would have came in my room when I was nineteen, you would have thought me a crazy person, with books and papers scattered across my floor, desk, bed, and nightstand.  It was exhilarating, like a drug unto itself.  I would become obsessed with a particular philosophy, then disregard it for another.  In retrospect, I was a bit nuts.

For a few years, I became a Christian and decided to study religion and philosophy at a local private university, after receiving an associate degree in liberal arts at a community college.  By the time I graduated in 2012, I had become completely disillusioned with Catholicism as with most philosophies.  Put more simply, I just didn’t believe a single one of them to be completely, even mostly, true.

That may all sound pretty depressing considering my passion for philosophy.  Believe me, at the time it was very depressing.  But then I realized, and I’m certainly not the first one, that maybe it is a fallacy to think one system of thought is completely true.  Maybe the human experience, and the possibility of something greater than ourselves, is far too vast, yet far too detailed, to every be explained in a series of propositions.  Maybe the beginning of true thought is at the end of Ideology.