Posts

Yearning for Strange Ideas

"Is it disappointing that “Midlife” arrives at the conclusion that “living in the present” is the solution to middle-aged unhappiness? A little. One might wonder if all that philosophy was really necessary. Setiya has the whole history of thought at his disposal. Drawing on Heidegger, he could have urged middle-aged people to find new ways of “disclosing” the world to themselves, perhaps by acquiring new or deeper skills. Adapting the work of Derek Parfit, he could have argued that selves are less real than we think, and that midlife crises are, therefore, about nothing. With Douglas Hofstadter, he might have concluded that it’s relationships that matter, since the patterns of thought and feeling encoded in our neurons will repeat themselves in the brains of the people we love, like musical echoes. Who knows what other intriguing suggestions Setiya might’ve come up with if he’d pillaged the history of philosophy with abandon? While reading “Midlife,” I yearned for such strange a…

An Unfortunate Premise

"Of course, sexual assault is real, and should not be tolerated under any circumstances. But assault is separate from the concept of victimhood. Feeling like a victim is a subjective headspace.... It’s no secret that female sexuality has long been policed. But today we’ve created an environment where (allegedly predatory) male sexuality needs to be policed, and (allegedly passive) female sexuality needs to be protected—which seems equally tragic to me. At the heart of the victim narrative is a familiar and unfortunate premise: the idea that, by having sex, men are getting something, whereas women are giving something up. It’s outdated, it’s offensive, and it’s psychologically destructive for women, because it has the power to mislead girls into thinking that having one not-ideal sexual experience means that they have lost a part of themselves."
Karley Sciortino, Victim Who?

Tomorrow will bring us shame

"Eventually, all of our heroes become villains. George Washington owned slaves. Famed suffragette Nellie McClung was a vocal advocate for sterilizing women with disabilities. Eleanor Roosevelt was wildly anti-Semitic. Winston Churchill? Utterly racist. Christopher Columbus? You don’t want to know.
Even the most virtuous among us right now, the pink-hatted protesters and the hemp-wearing vegans, will one day be seen as contemptibly, perhaps even criminally unethical. One ate meat. The other owned a car.... We have no reason to feel smug and self-righteous with our enlightened, modern sensibilities. Tomorrow is guaranteed to bring us all dishonour and shame."
James Bond was a rapist

Ontological Unease

"We live somewhere queasier—a world in which technology is developing in ways that make it increasingly hard to distinguish human beings from artificial things. The world that the Internet and social media have created is less a system than an ecology, a proliferation of unexpected niches, and entities created and adapted to exploit them in deceptive ways.... In other words, we live in Philip K. Dick’s future, not George Orwell’s or Aldous Huxley’s.... what he captured with genius was the ontological unease of a world in which the human and the abhuman, the real and the fake, blur together. 
In his novels Dick was interested in seeing how people react when their reality starts to break down. A world in which the real commingles with the fake, so that no one can tell where the one ends and the other begins, is ripe for paranoia. The most toxic consequence of social media manipulation, whether by the Russian government or others, may have nothing to do with its success as propagan…

Past Selves

"My eyes welled up. There was some sadness — the memory of a fall that had been so hard. And an aching sympathy for a woman who was so heartbroken that she fantasized about throwing her body off a bridge.
Who was that woman? I had come so far that I felt like I no longer knew her."
Elaisha Stokes, writing for Modern Love

Ingredients of Temptation

"We’re often the most stubbornly attracted to those who represent forbidden, or unresolved, aspects of our personality.... Perhaps being with this man allows you to indulge certain darker aspects of his personality that dwell within you while also disavowing them.... Nobody knows the precise ingredients of temptation. We can only attempt to know ourselves."
Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed

Delusions

"[The Americans] is about delusions—romantic, political, bureaucratic, tactical, marital, fashion (the year is 1981). And parental: Can Elizabeth really think that her children “understand” a father whom they believe is a travel agent but is actually a spy and assassin who’s just staged a sham wedding with a deluded F.B.I. secretary at which their mother pretended to be his sister? Can the K.G.B. really think that Al Haig might attempt a military coup after John Hinckley shoots Ronald Reagan—a major plot element in an early episode? Maybe they can.
It’s often said, admiringly, that “The Americans” is a show about marriage that is dressed up as a spy drama. One of its premises is that marriage itself is a matter of dressing up and performing, and that those enactments, particularly when children are watching, can be its most genuine part." 
New Yorker: The Secret of “The Americans”

I live my life in widening circles

by Rainer Maria Rilke

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not ever complete the last one,
but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, that primordial tower.
I have been circling for thousands of years,
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?

Witch Trials

"... the Salem witchcraft trials, in which a person was guilty because accused, since the rules of evidence were such that you could not be found innocent....
This structure – guilty because accused – has applied in many more episodes in human history than Salem. It tends to kick in during the "Terror and Virtue" phase of revolutions – something has gone wrong, and there must be a purge, as in the French Revolution, Stalin's purges in the USSR, the Red Guard period in China, the reign of the Generals in Argentina and the early days of the Iranian Revolution. The list is long and Left and Right have both indulged. Before "Terror and Virtue" is over, a great many have fallen by the wayside. Note that I am not saying that there are no traitors or whatever the target group may be; simply that in such times, the usual rules of evidence are bypassed.
Such things are always done in the name of ushering in a better world. Sometimes they do usher one in, for a tim…

Gazing Out of the Window

"Plato suggested a metaphor for the mind: our ideas are like birds fluttering around in the aviary of our brains. But in order for the birds to settle, Plato understood that we needed periods of purpose-free calm. Staring out the window offers such an opportunity. We see the world going on: a patch of weeds is holding its own against the wind; a grey tower block looms through the drizzle. But we don’t need to respond; we have no overarching intentions, and so the more tentative parts of ourselves have a chance to be heard, like the sound of church bells in the city once the traffic has died down at night. 
The potential of daydreaming isn’t recognised by societies obsessed with productivity. But some of our greatest insights come when we stop trying to be purposeful and instead respect the creative potential of reverie. Window daydreaming is a strategic rebellion against the excessive demands of immediate (but ultimately insignificant) pressures – in favour of the diffuse, but v…

Fara On Vagueness

NYT magazine on Delia Graff Fara:
"Fara’s theory, which she presented in a 2000 paper called “Shifting Sands,” had an answer. She argued that vagueness was an expression of our ever-changing purposes: that there is a precise point at which a heap becomes a nonheap, but it “shifts around” as our objectives do. In fact, because the act of considering two comparable heaps accentuates their similarity, “the boundary can never be where we are looking.” No wonder we think it doesn’t exist.
Imagine that a gym teacher has hastily divided a large class of students into two groups according to height. If you enter the gym, you will have no trouble declaring one group the tall students and the other the short ones. But had you been presented with the undivided class and asked to say where the tallness boundary was, you would have despaired of an answer. Tallness is not just a matter of height, Fara concluded. As with all such properties, what gets to be tall is also shaped by our interests …

Lovesickness

"Many psychoanalysts think that lovesickness is a form of regression, that in longing for intense closeness, we are like infants craving our mother's embrace. This is why we are most at risk when we are struggling with loss or despair, or when we are lonely and isolated... 'People who are lovesick put off testing their fantasies against reality.' But given the anguish that lovesickness can cause - the loss of mental freedom, the dissatisfaction with one's self, and the awful ache - why do some of us put off facing reality for so long?
Often it's because facing reality means accepting loneliness. And while loneliness can be useful - motivating us to meet someone new, for example - a fear of loneliness can work like a trap, ensnaring us in heartsick feelings for a very long time."
Stephen Grosz, The Examined Life

Isn't this a little bit like fun?

Fraction

"I am persuaded that
if truth is a number
[...] it never comes out even
ends in a fraction
cannot be rounded off."

John Stone,Even Though

Village

"A good relationship is a village in which people share parts of themselves with various people and that doesn't mean sexual parts, it just means that there are numerous people that reflect back on you, your sense of self-worth, your value, how much you mean to them in their life, that you don't just exist for one person, and just not one person that is meant to make you feel like you matter; there is a community that makes you feel that you matter.... give up the model that one person will be there for everything."
Esther Perel, talking about relationships and infidelity on Dear Sugar Radio

Words

Every period of self-growth in my life has been accompanied by acquisition of a new (set of) vocabulary of self-identification... words to describe who I am, signposts to navigate the psychological landscape. Without the right qualifiers, important elements of identity remain a mysterious vague feeling, a nagging discomfort without validation, a muted voice. There is no liberation without the right words.

Fiction

'... a familiar, but also ridiculous, paradigm of marriage, one in which we collude in the fiction that no one of the opposite sex ever draws our interest.'
Susan Dominus, writes for NYT Magazine on open marriages

the most intoxicating other

“so often the most intoxicating other that people discover in the affair is not a new partner; it’s a new self.” [Esther Perel]

quoted by Susan Dominus in NYT Magazine

Dating is wasted on the young and the single

"Dating... is wasted on the young and the single. A young person in his 20s, unformed, skittish, goes out into the world and tries to fall in love, a project complicated by the bulky defenses that allow him to undertake so risky a venture in the first place. Now imagine that same person, many years into a stable marriage, anchored. He is no longer a stranger to himself; he is more likely to have forgiveness for human frailty. He can — theoretically — retreat to the safe harbor of his marriage at any time. What would it be like to be entranced by someone new, without needing, simultaneously to lay claim?"
Susan Dominus, writing for NYT Magazine on open marriages

An Exploration of Non-Monogamy

NYT magazine's cover story this week is a very fascinating long-read on open marriages and non-monogamous couples. Monogamy has such a moral dominance in our lives that an earnest exploration of non-monogamy, such as this article, makes a lot of people uncomfortable. 
Below are some excerpts, which do not serve as a summary, but they struck me for various reasons, and which I'd like to preserve. I'll post some excerpts and quotes in independent posts as well.
* "Would you rather be asleep and have things fall apart? Or rather be alive and have things fall apart?"
* Most monogamous couples labor to avoid [jealousy] at all costs; but for the philosophically polyamorous, jealousy presents an opportunity to examine the insecurities that opening a relationships lays bare.
* It took decades for sex researchers to consider the possibility that women’s fabled low libido might be a symptom of monogamy.
* ... the deluded idea that your partner is knowable and entirely safe…

Invitation

"I cordially invite you to join me in contemplation of the infinite."
The Casual Vacancy, Episode #1.1

free affections and wide interests

"The happy man is the man who lives objectively, who has free affections and wide interests, who secures his happiness through these interests and affections and through the fact that they, in turn, make him an object of interest and affection to many others."
Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness

Co-opt

One of the reasons why I like poetry, songs and literary fragments is that I can co-opt them; personalize them with my interpretations... I can take the beauty in their words and make it my own.

So tell me how long, love, before you go

Yesterday I watched a documentary The Bridge, an stirring account of people committing suicide by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge over the course of a year. It was striking to see the ambivalence in family and friends as they struggled to make sense of an act that is paradoxically so comprehensible and incomprehensible at the same time. Some friends and family knew in their gut that something like this would happen but felt helpless to stop it.  As I was listening to the song Agape (Bear's Den) this morning, I suddenly realized -- influenced by the documentary, no doubt -- that it could very well be about a significant other who is afraid that the beloved will die by suicide at some point. For I'm so scared of losing you
And I don't know what I can do about it
About it
So tell me how long, love, before you go
And leave me here on my own
I know that I don't wanna know
Who I am without you

Gjallerhorn

'Odin gave Gjallerhorn to Heimdall, watchman of the gods. On the day the Gjallernhorn is blown, it will wake the gods, no matter where they are, no matter how deeply they sleep. Heimdall will blow the Gjallerhorn only once, at the end of all things, at Ragnarok.'
Neil Gaiman, Norse Mythology