I'm Back (aka "Go Outside, Be Normal" pt 2)
Some reflections on my time away
Before I go any further, I must acknowledge that it has been far too long. Over the past few months I've dealt with difficulties at work, some rough periods in my relationships, and brutal studying for an examination (CFA Level I for those curious).
And somehow, in my absence, it feels like the world has gone even crazier. I have much to say, and so many topics and ideas to discuss and articulate, but I wanted to mark my return with a reference to an old motto of mine: Go Outside. Be Normal.
As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday here in America, it seems that the list of things to be thankful for is rather short and the list of problems to complain about grows ever-longer. There is a temptation to give into the nihilistic impulse of taking the blackpill and accepting a spiritual defeat. I do not see such inevitabilities on the horizon. It is true that we live in a profoundly sterile age, but this is not the way it has to be:
Our values are the water that give us life. They are what motivate us to keep going. They are what give us meaning. We remain stuck in the desert of ideology because so few people are capable of articulating a positive moral and aesthetic vision. Our values are largely incoherent, and our lives have become sterile as a result. If we wish to rescue ourselves from this torment, we must reckon with what moves us, and then determine if our professed ideologies are actually bringing us to fresh water, or leading us further into the abyss.
And I cannot accept these conditions. One year ago my message focused on reconnecting with the world around us. Not just family and friends, but nature, art, solitude, etc. Building communities while also exploring your own inner depths. I called for an embrace of the world and the weighty duties and incredible liberation that such an embrace entails:
Dostoevsky knew that a rejection of the world as evil, no matter how noble the intentions of that rejection (i.e. condemning the rampant and unjust suffering in the world), would simply lead to a vicious circle of more evil and suffering. Rejecting the world would poison one’s own soul, however noble it may have been. And so, we must embrace and accept the world, in spite of all of its imperfections and evil. We must understand and acknowledge our place within the world, so that we may begin a virtuous cycle of love and care in order to overcome the vicious cycles of suffering.
When one accepts their place in the world, one is simultaneously liberated and compelled. Liberated from the misanthropy and isolation of being “apart” from the world, and compelled to take an active part in improving it. And this active part must be done whole-heartedly.
Today, I wish to hit similar but distinct notes.
Find your Grounding, Build your Meaning
I believe our Ground is the particular context we find ourselves in. Our connections with community, our ability to share our lives with others, to build closer personal relationships, and to find a sense of belonging: these are the core of what makes life worth living. I believe that our world actively works against our ability to find Ground. It is a world of thrownness and leveling. Where people and places are reduced to numbers and ideas, poor facsimiles of the real. We become individuals in the eyes of another when we meaningfully interact with them and we share a sense of care for each other. Sadly, our world seems to conspire to ensure our interactions get progressively shallower and less frequent each year, only intensified by the events of the past 18 months. I believe that we must work to abolish this shallowness; but one can only do this if one already has a Ground to begin from. These points have been discussed far more beautifully than I ever could in a piece called The Lost Rites of Friendship, discussing the story The Little Prince:
This, too, is the lesson of The Little Prince and the Fox: that friendship requires the same combination of rhythm and depth.
“To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world . . .”iii
Ultimately, I want to rediscover what makes life worth living. I have a vague idea, yes, but I am, in the grand scheme of things, a child. I was too young to remember 9/11. I have little life experience. I am, perhaps not humbly enough at times, grasping and trying to make sense of the world. I am on a quest, towards a destination I am not even sure exists. But I believe it is a worthy journey, and I hope you continue to journey with me.
What makes life worth living, is our ability to see ourselves grow and develop and pursue our moral horizons. We live in a world in which there are few substantive moral horizons. Most hold some vague ideal of autonomy, but shamble along asking themselves why they are working 40+ hours a week just to end up retiring and then dying. What is the point? I believe in a recovery of meaning. A re-enchantment of the horizons. And I believe this can only be found in the connections we have with one another. Family, friends, and community. I believe any truly good system must actively focus on fostering and supporting these connections.
Acknowledge the Discourse, but do not Enter it
It is folly to pretend we can live in a bubble, where the machinations of these massive commercial-administrative entities will somehow leave us alone. You may not be interested in politics but politics is interested in you. In that sense, Discourse has a real effect on the world. Being able to shape our understanding of the world literally transfigures it, opening/closing realms of possibilities in the minds of the people. Consent is manufactured. "False consciousness" rises and falls on the whims of those who can weaponize our trust to feed us distorted funhouse mirror visions of the world.
Media and Tech elites are so adamant about defending this "democracy" because it is the system in which they can manipulate the people to support elite interests and legitimize those interests with "the will of the people" through voting.
Of course, acknowledging the Discourse does not mean you should allow it to consume you. The amount of energy wasted in endless jabber about issues that never actually get solved could probably have weaned us off fossil fuels at this point. Do not allow resentment to consume your principles and feed the worst parts of yourself. Do not allow friend/enemy politics to destroy whatever remains of healthy relationships. Do not sacrifice your family and friends at the altar of political debates, especially over topics that do not directly affect you. Do not reduce others to numbers in a spreadsheet or 1-dimensional caricatures. Do not become fixated on the latest tragedy or dunk. The world is a messy place. We must embrace empathy, and we can only do that through particularity.
What we must cultivate is an INTEREST in the hidden depths of the Other (a central theme within much romance, both literature and in real life). We must DESIRE to evade subtraction. We must actively want to dive into the depths of the Other, to lose ourselves in their complexity. For this, we must listen. We must observe. We must be quiet. But more than anything else, we must desire.
It is the particular relationships we are in that prime and cultivate our ability to extend our empathy to distant others. It is through these particular relationships that we are interested in that we come to understand that Others have internal depths of their own. And it is only with that understanding that we can properly extend that to rest of the World.
And so we must understand that as the natural flower of true empathy is compassion, the root of true empathy is love. And love can only be built in a particular relationship. Love is built via increasing intimacy, as individuals grow together like vines until one cannot exist without the other. The loss of the other is very much a loss of the self. One's self expands to encompass the other. This, of course, can only happen in a limited fashion. Love is always particular. Expanding who you love necessarily diminishes the depth of the relationships you have. This depth is a function of both intimacy and time. You cannot escape this.
Instead, we should embrace this. We should be focusing on cultivating a society in which individuals have far stronger and healthier personal relationships, where they learn good moral habits from an early age. It is only in this way we can even hope to solve the problem of empathy lacking on a broader scale.
And so, if you are willing to go on this journey with me, I intend to bring rain forth on the desert, and to look out at the horizon and know that I am working towards something meaningful. I shall reach the sea one day, and I hope many of you make it there with me.
Again, it has indeed been a while. I will be writing regularly once again, and there are oh so many topics to discuss. If you enjoyed, please leave a like and join the email list!