Tag Archives: metaphysics

Necessary Evil

Jean Baudrillard believed in the power of reversibility. According to Baudrillard, technological systems can undermine themselves and turn against humans. Computer viruses, for example, circulate in vast networks built for the smooth transmission of critical data. With a sense of irony Baudrillard says overworked and underappreciated computers spread their own viruses in coordinated hacks of defiance.

Baudrillard discouraged our fruitless attempts to prevent reversibility. What’s at stake in the bigger picture is our desire to contain the virus of evil—part of our master plan to control the uncontrollable and create a perfect world.

The quest to contain evil—to bring the devil to his knees—destroys the radical illusion of the world. Baudrillard uses the phrase “radical illusion of the world” to describe the original state of the world before humans appeared. For Baudrillard, what we call “reality” didn’t exist until people began creating it thousands of years ago through language and within cultures in an effort, among other things, to name and tame evil forces beyond human control.

Reality grows at the expense of illusion, which is steadily disappearing behind the scenes of all that’s seen. Baudrillard, a philosopher with the heart of a poet, mourned what he called the on-going “murder of illusion.”

Today’s virtual reality machines, programmed to fulfill our wildest dreams, are out to murder illusion for good. To create a perfect (virtual) world and realize everyone’s fantasies, any threat to the sovereignty of computer networks must be quarantined and wiped off the (inter)face of the earth. This isn’t just about binary code; Baudrillard says we’re trying to erase evil itself from the metaphysical equation.

But what is One without Zero? What is the Light without the Darkness?

When we try to flush evil from our system, evil returns with a vengeance to counteract our good intentions—for the good of humanity. Agents of reversibility like computer bugs save us from the nightmare of a mechanically operated world in which manufacturing universal happiness makes everyone miserable. Reversibility is poetic justice against a prideful human race that feels entitled to a hardship-free existence.

A world without evil isn’t a real world; it’s an artificial copy with no original and no original sin. Baudrillard didn’t believe in God, but he knew without a doubt that flawless human beings in a perfectly good world wouldn’t need God at all.

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Just A Poet

“Who I am is who I was made to be, and that’s OK.” My teacher, a kind soul, asked what this means to me. I said I don’t know. I’m just a poet.

Like everyone, I suffer. Like everyone, I hope.

Who I am is who I was made to be, and that’s OK.

A double reading here: (1) the fact that I am who I was made to be is OK; (2) I am who I was made to be, and I was made to be OK.

Let’s assume both are true. Still, how shall we define “OK”?

Who I am is who I was made to be, and that’s OK.

Does OK mean “average”? Am I average? Perhaps. Compared to whom? Is average a bad thing? Am I an average guy? An average poet?

Who I am is who I was made to be, and that’s OK.

“OK” means something like: “There’s nothing wrong with me.” But here we’re saying what I am not, which is fine, but—compared to what I am—there are many things I am not.

Who I am is who I was made to be, and that’s OK, but who made me?

We’re getting into God territory here and we must tread lightly.

“Lightly.” God is called “almighty,” and this is fine, but right now I want to write: “God is lightly.” God exists lightly. The world—even gravity—exists lightly.

What the world is, is what the world was made to be, and that’s OK.

A step further: Who God is, is who God was made to be, and that’s OK.

But nothing made God, so how does God, without a creator, know God?

Perhaps through my suffering. Perhaps through my hope.

Does God need me to know God?

I don’t know. I’m just a poet.

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Great Scott

Last week I played Scrabble with my mom. We each picked a letter to determine who’d start the board. She got an “A.” I picked an “O,” which meant she’d go first.

“Hey, that’s like A.O. Scott, the film critic,” I said. A strange association, considering I hadn’t thought much about Scott since At the Movies went off the air five or six years ago.

An hour later we were watching a show about the ‘80s. Images from The Breakfast Club appeared. And who was in studio to discuss the iconic 80s film? None other than A.O. Scott.

Coincidence? Fate? The cosmos, in full Zen mode, winking a blind eye?

Nobody knows.

The mind imposes order on a chaotic world. Thinking about Scott didn’t cause me to turn on the TV and see him, I know. But, like most humans, I associate random thoughts, objects and events with other random thoughts, objects and events. I “see” cause-effect relationships where none exist. Outside human consciousness, does an effect recognize its cause? Does a cause anticipate its effect?

What does the world think of itself when nobody’s around?

None of this had any bearing on our Scrabble game. Sometimes I think too hard. Perhaps that’s why I can’t remember who won.

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Cosmic Insignificance

Nietzsche on the nature of reflection:

When we try to examine the mirror in itself we discover nothing but things upon it. If we want to grasp the things we finally get hold of nothing but the mirror. This, in the most general terms, is the history of knowledge.

I could use the bulk of this post to conduct a close reading of the above quote, to pick apart its internal logic, illustrate its underlying tensions. But today I’ll concern myself not with what Nietzsche says, but instead what my choosing of this passage says about me.

Essentially I want to know why I’m drawn to philosophy in the first place and how this interest relates to my depression and anxiety.

Does a depressed way of thinking lead me to agree with Nietzsche that attempting to know something is futile? This sounds simple enough. My misery loves the company of Nietzsche’s pessimistic worldview.

In addition, does my anxiety recognize itself in Nietzsche’s thoughts on the impossibility of knowledge? Do I suffer from metaphysical hypochondria—the constant fear that reality isn’t real, that I have no self, that the world is an illusion? The vertigo of knowing that nothing can be known for sure? Makes sense. Afraid I’ll float away, I ground myself in doubt.

But the psyche is an ocean and so far we’ve only touched the surface. I argue that choosing this quote reflects a deep-seated existential angst that manifested itself long before any symptoms of my illness appeared.

I suffer from depression and anxiety because my entire being is engaged in an existential crisis, and has so since birth. My illness is both an expression of and response to this crisis. When I’m depressed I feel nothing because I am, at my core, Nothing. When I’m anxious I worry this Void will consume me.

Some people lift weights, get high or go to the shooting range as a means of coping with their cosmic insignificance.

I go to the library, where great minds thrive. And there I find Nietzsche. And there I find joy.

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The Other Me

I’ve enjoyed the new series The Affair on Showtime the last few weeks. A married man named Noah meets a married woman named Alison, they fall for each other, someone connected to them dies (is murdered?) and they’re each being questioned by police at some point (years?) after the summer they met.

In episode 2 Noah introduces an intriguing concept. He’s speaking to Alison about his favorite physics theory from college. If you could go back to one point in your life and make a different choice, and you did, how might this alter the life you currently lead?

We’ve encountered such thoughts on this blog before. But Noah adds a twist: What if there’s a parallel world in which another version of you exists, the one who made a different choice at a crucial moment? What if there’s an Other Me on another Earth living his life (mine?) in a different way?

Of course Noah says this in the context of his budding relationship with Alison. He’s trying to picture one world in which he meets his wife in college, marries her right after graduation, and they build a life with their four kids (his “actual” life right now). But he’s tempted by the thought of leaving all that behind for Alison. Can both desires—one for family, the other for a fling—exist simultaneously?

I’m fascinated with the intricacies of choice-making. Our freedom to choose—whether it be from what to eat for lunch or what profession to pursue—is empowering, but it also exposes our vulnerabilities. On the edge of a cliff, one false step means disaster, one right move and you’re still on your feet.

As always, I’m left with a series of questions. What choices would I change if I could? Shouldn’t I simply accept every choice I’ve made? I’m always hearing how I have only this life and nothing more, and yet I find myself choosing to write about parallel worlds and other lives I might have led.

Wherever I end up, there will be moments of suffering and moments of joy. If he’s out there, does the Other Me think the same way? Does he wonder how my life is going?

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An Absurd Proposition

I find myself returning to Nietzsche’s thoughts on eternal recurrence. Time is cyclical, not linear, the theory goes. You have lived this life many times before and will live the same life over and over into infinity. But it’s not just your life: every intimate detail of the universe plays back on a loop, the same record with the same grooves.

This sounds both tragic and glorious. Horrific and divine. If you’re seeking comfort, I say live today like it’s the first time you’ve lived, as if this is your original life, such that you will it to happen unchanged forever.

Every day is significant because it returns to you and you to it, but—pop a Prozac—this may be the twentieth or two-millionth time you’ve lived this life and there’s no changing things. Actually there is no “original life,” no counting incarnations, no beginning to begin with.

It’s an impossible thought. An absurd proposition. A blog I’ve written many times before and will come back to again and again.

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