The Natural Grooves of Space and Time (Lyrics of an Unborn Song)

Take it or leave it,

you know that's the way.

You cannot get what you want

everyday.

You better believe you control

your own fate.

It's not in the seasons,

welcome to eternity.

All sides of the wheel 

keep the damn thing turning.

You plant your own seeds

with the thoughts you create,

between the soil that grows love

and the grit that spews hate.

Your feet they were made

so you could participate 

in the search of love 

and the drive to create. 

This chance we've been given 

to explore the soul,

so much has been given,

so, so much we stole. 

No need for despair,

no need to hide,

The world is long and the world is wide.

Post-Trump Reflections

If you’re surprised about what’s happening in the US Government, you’re part of the problem. The reason we study history, as my favorite writer Yuval Noah Harari stipulates, is to free ourselves from it. It is in ignorance of the past that we guarantee its repetition. This isn’t even my favorite Yuval quote. The idea that we must, “never underestimate human stupidity,” strikes me to the core. This is exactly what we did in the 2016 elections. I do not look down on anyone from a high horse as I say this. We are collectively stupid. I speak of the human race as a whole.

The nature of history is that it repeats itself. Human beings have, are, and always will be, susceptible to the same sentiments and behaviors when placed under certain specific circumstances. One could argue that this is not the case; that many have risen above the influence of misdirected fear and anger throughout the course of history. Though this is certainly true, the presence of fear and ignorance has the power to permeate a society and profoundly impact it regardless.

Issues of politics and social justice — of life in general — are far more complex than the terms “good” and “bad” indicate. The people who voted for Trump exist, and their decision was influenced by an experience that is clearly not uncommon. Circumstance is a major factor that is not to be ignored in these situations. I often ask myself how I would have voted in this election had I been raised in an atmosphere governed by ignorance and fear; in a world in which my education taught me to oppose anything that was different than what was familiar to me. Had I lived in a part of the country that was still largely segregated, had I never truly interacted with a black person on a personal level, would I have been able to identify the presence of systemic racism in this country? Had my community enforced a belief system rooted in prejudice for the entirety of my life, would I have the knowledge to rise above it? We have very little control over over the identities that are thrust upon us at the very moment of our conception, and clearly these factors; the very aspects of ourselves that we have absolutely no control over; profoundly influence our actions and outlooks.

The individuals who voted for Trump are not evil. Neither were those who similarly supported Hitler early on in his political rise (before shit hit the fan, I mean). Again, it is far more complicated than good vs evil. People certainly do evil things, but whether we like it or not, they are usually done for inherently human reasons. We are influenced by a full range of emotions, including anger and fear. And when these feelings take over, logic becomes scarily irrelevant. This is something we have all experienced. It is part of being human. Though I believe we have the power to rise above our petty emotions, this takes work and patience, and I highly doubt that there will never be a time in which everyone on this planet simultaneously learns to do so.

Conflict is not going anywhere any time soon. It is an unavoidable part of human existence. Not only is everything in this earth cyclical, it is also completely balanced. I often tell myself that life is both 100% good and 100% evil. 100% beautiful and 100% ugly. One cannot be without the other. I do not intend to justify violence and hate and all that Trump represents. I am simply doing my best to make sense of it, because we cannot deny that these forces are a part of our existence. They always have been, and I dare to say that they always will be. 

 

 

 

Not-So-Breaking News

I recently clicked a button, and in doing so, gave CNN permission to send notifications to my personal device at any and all hours of the day. I don’t know why I did that. I now find myself asking one question: How breaking can the news truly be if it’s coming at me roughly 6 times per day? Statistically, this simply doesn’t add up, and I will not accept it. If this supposedly “breaking” news -- world leaders doing crazy psychopathic shit, innocent young people getting killed in wars fought over resources, mass shootings -- if this breaking news breaks 6 times in a given day on average, how fucking breaking can it really be? Sorry CNN, but I take a shit less often than you send me a notification about “breaking news”.

Balance: The Universal Remedy

Two artists stand at the feet of a single elephant. One stands in front of the elephant and another stands behind it. Each is asked to draw what he or she sees. The images are lain side by side. They look quite different from the other, yet they are equally valid representations of the same entity (under the assumption that both individuals are of equal artistic ability, that is). So truth is to the elephant as the drawings are to the works of a philosopher. Concretely, the practice of philosophy is the pursuit of truth in its simplest form. The truth, however, is a 3 dimensional (likely more than 3) and all encompassing entity -- the scope of which far exceeds individual human perspective. Relative to truth the elephant is puny, just imagine! But alas, we are incapable of imagining concepts of such magnitude (if we were, philosophers would be out of work!). Human constraints not only birth a wide range of perspectives, but lead us to misinterpret them as being in discord with one another. While each artist may be positioned in varying locations relative to the elephant, the backside is just as much a part of the elephant as its front. Just as the drawings reflect the same ultimate source, so do the various philosophical traditions.

In comparing Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics to the works of other philosophers hailing from various corners of time and space, repetitions become apparent. The most powerful and universal components of truth arise time and time again, regardless of the context in which they are presented. Chinese philosopher Hsun Tzu writes in the opening lines of Dispelling Obsession, “The thing that all men should fear is that they will become obsessed with a small corner of truth and fail to comprehend its overall principles.” Aristotle is far from alone in considering virtue to be the means through which to rise above mankind’s sensory-driven vices. More specifically, he was neither the first nor last person to understand that all paths leading to virtue are guided by balance. Balance is an intrinsic part of all that flourishes in the natural world, thus it is only sensible that it be a recurring theme in philosophy and the pursuit of good. Buddhism embraces balance through the “middle path”. Yoga lists balance as one of its five core yamas. In Confucianism we have the Doctrine of the Mean. Central to Taoism is the balance between yin and yang. Hinduism deals with balancing the chakras. Aristotle, perhaps less metaphysical than his eastern contemporaries, addresses balance through the practice of moderation. While the “small corners” of balance may alter, its nature, its means of being attained, and its ultimate purpose are fundamentally unwavering.

An essential characteristic of the natural world, the success of virtually everything in the universe appears to be a function of balance. One need only to observe in order to understand this. Prominent social thinker John Ruskin reflects on this phenomenon, “in all perfectly beautiful objects there is found the opposition of one part to another and a reciprocal balance.” This rings true in virtually every possible field. Good art, good food, good music, good architecture, and good human beings all have one thing in common… It must be noted, however, that the perfectly beautiful objects of which Ruskin speaks are also capable of ugliness and imperfection. Aristotle championed this idea, writing that, “every habit of the soul by its very nature has relation to, and exerts itself upon, things of the same kind as those by which it is naturally deteriorated or improved” (p. 23). Where there is opportunity for balance, there is also that for imbalance, and it is the responsibility of the individual to refrain from the vices associated with extremes.

While Confucius viewed balance as a natural force with which man could harmonize, Aristotle was of the belief that balance originated from within the individual as a result of character. This represents a contextual and cultural difference - two different sides of the same elephant. Aristotle comments on the matter, writing that, “we deliberate not about Ends, but Means to Ends” (p. 40). Patanjali expresses the same sentiment in The Sutras of Patanjali, reflecting that. “we needn’t search for who copies whom. Truth is the same always. Whoever ponders it will get the same answer. The Buddha got it. Sri Patanjali got it. Lord Jesus got it. Prophet Muhammed got it. The answer is the same, but the method of working it out may vary this way or that.” In other words, the final destination is the same for all men, but the paths are many. Despite superficial variations, the quest for virtue boils down to moderation, the avoidance of extremes, and the embodiment of balance through external actions. Attachment to the sensory pleasures is widely attributed to human suffering, a paradox wired into the human genome. Pleasure births desire, coaxing us further and further towards extreme and destructive behavior. Balance is the universal antidote for the vices wired into the human condition. The Doctrine of the Mean stipulates that, “the superior man cultivates a friendly atmosphere, without being weak. He stands erect in the middle, without inclining to either side.” Aristotle correspondingly writes that, “moral virtue requires that we aim at the mean in both feelings and actions,” and that we do so “to the right person, in due proportion, at the right time, with a right object, and in the right manner” (p. 32). This claim echoes that of Hsun Tzu almost word for word. Tzu claims that “appropriate emotions” must be practiced with proper timing, object, degree. The Buddhist doctrine similarly stipulates that, “the middle way … avoids both these extremes; it gives vision, it gives knowledge, and it leads to peace, to direct acquaintance to nibbana”.

While Eastern philosophy is said to be holistic, that of the West is fragmentary. This plays into the analysis of the ultimate purpose of balance. To what ends should we practice balance in our lives? For the betterment of ourselves, or of society as a whole? Generally speaking, it seems as though the West prioritizes the success of the individual over that of the collective, while the East views it in the opposite way. Aristotle’s world is one in which success and legacy are measures of individual happiness. In the East, individual happiness is secondary to the benefit of the whole, hence the frequency with which terms such as “harmony” and “equilibrium” are used. This is reminiscent of an interesting sociological study. Two groups—one from the East and one from the West—were shown the same image. It depicted a smiling face surrounded by a sea of frowning ones. The subjects were then asked whether the smiling individual was happy. The results were fascinating. While westerners consistently agreed that the individual was happy (this would have been my response), easterners concluded that the same individual was obviously unhappy. The fundamental societal values of the east and west were revealed in a strikingly simple way. In the eyes of the east: How could a person be happy when surrounded by a community permeated with sadness? In the eyes of the west: Why should a person allow the behavior of others to affect them? Although Aristotle acknowledges the inseparable overlap between ethics and politics (that is, the duty to implement ethical values for the betterment of society), the final goal is the attainment of good by an individual through his or her voluntary actions. Good exists of it’s own accord and in a wide range of forms within an individual who has worked to attain it, and its incorporation into society is an obvious byproduct of such, whereas in the views of Confucius and many philosophers under the scope of his influence, this incorporation is the ultimate goal in itself.

All philosophical and spiritual pursuits aim at defining and attaining the utmost good - that which is bigger than us. However, the prescribed means through which said good is attained as well as the motives for doing so differ as a result of contextual cultural perspective. The concept of balance is universally valued, regardless of perspectival discrepancies. Balance is an intrinsic trait of nature, and beauty is the product of favorable proportions - consider the golden ratio, the fibonacci sequence, fractal patterns reemerging on different scales throughout the universe. Nature’s natural state is one of intimate and infinite balance, and mankind is certainly a part of nature. It should be no surprise then, that all modes of intellectual thought, specifically in relation to the pursuit of good or happiness, touch on the power of balance. In reading Aristotle’s Ethics, supplemented by various other philosophical texts hailing from a variety of cultural perspectives and time periods, the manners in which various philosophies overlap and diverge in their analysis of balance reveals much about what it is to be human.

 

 

Another Woman Nearly Written Out Of History

In salient contrast to the liturgical works of her predecessors, Sappho’s bittersweet emotional world was ahead of its time, capturing sentiments of modern pop culture some 2,000 years in advance. Few and far between are the women whose voices speak directly to us through the thick and silencing veil of time - and of those few, Sappho serves as an especially unique example. A renowned poet and educator in a literary world dominated by men, Sappho represents a particularly rare window into the times in which she lived. Famous and infamous for her homosexuality, she certainly had no shortage of muses working at an academy for unmarried girls (supposedly dedicated to the cults of aphrodite and eros). Her fiery passions, brought to life through brilliant, yet tender language, have tugged on the heart-strings of many generations and marked her as the first female poet to go down in western history. Sappho’s striking expressions of vulnerability were circulated so widely that she was referred to as Homer’s female counterpart, the “poetess”. An incredibly unique character to go down in history, she is in many ways the exception that proves the rule.

The majority of the humanities’ characters are men facing physical and external obstacles symbolic of their internal moral and existential struggles. Said struggles are presented as ultimate archetypes of the human experience. Woven throughout the winding landscapes of these epic tales are the concepts of identity, war, and mortality. While these stories touch on many ultimate truths, they are nonetheless limited. There are a myriad of perspectives and stories to be told, many of which were neglected or out-shone by those of characters like Odysseus and Achilles. In light of this, Sappho offers us a valuable alternative to our understanding of life’s most important themes. Her work’s divergence from the status quo is felt most palpably when she makes direct comparisons between the glories of love and war, claiming the former to be of a superior quality:

Some say an army of horsemen,

some of footsoldiers, some of ships,

is the fairest thing on the black earth,

but I say it is what one loves.

I would much prefer to see the lovely

way she walks and the radiant glance of her face

than the war-chariots of the Lydians or

their foot soldiers in arms.

Sappho described the earth as black, calling attention to the darker dimension of love. For even the fairest thing - that which one loves - isn’t entirely pure. The beloved exists in a world permeated with shade. This explains why the longing said beloved incites is often quite painful. Just as a rose’s delicate petals are contradicted by its menacing thorns, so the thrill of passion is countered by the unbearable pang of desire. The juxtaposition between love and war not only points to the greater value of love, but adds depth to the complicated feeling, begging us to consider its painful and war-like qualities. After all, it’s no coincidence that they say all is fair in love and war... Ultimately, the relationship between the two concepts is up for interpretation, calling the reader to reflect on both the pleasures and pains of love.

The search for meaning through physical and mental strife (such as that of Odysseus) certainly represents an essential characteristic of the human experience, but it mustn’t be mistaken as the only one. There is (among others) a more subtle, but equally powerful dimension of humanity: the messy, overwhelming, and involuntary experience of falling in love. Until Sappho came along, this dimension was largely dismissed in the world of lyrical poetry. Rather than using godly and prophetic language to shed light on the existential plights of men, her intimate verses speak from one individual to another of the excited but aching sense of vulnerability birthed by hopeless enamorment. To read her poems is to feel her whispering into your ear with a quivering voice. Known for vivid depictions of the “bittersweet” (she is in fact credited with creating the very term), Sappho draws powerful parallels between internal emotions and physical sensations and phenomena in the external world - referring to love with such images as, “limb-loosener”, “crawling beast”, and the “assault” of “a wind in the mountains”. Such comparisons draw attention to the incredible, even subjugating, power of lust. In a male dominated historical narrative, Sappho is a breath of fresh air - calling attention to a more fragile, yet equally intrinsic, side of humanity.

It must be noted that femininity and power wasn’t mutually exclusive in the world of Ancient Greece, as made evident by the dynamism of women like Hera, Athena, and the mortal Dido. Driven by their strong beliefs to speak their minds and act on their intuitions, these were influential women. There is no denying, however, that mortal women play a passive role in the narrative, usually confined by such limited concepts as physical beauty, motherhood, loyalty, and victimhood. With the bracing exception of Sappho, the female experience was portrayed not by females themselves, but rather was funnelled through the interpretations of men (an early example of “mansplaining” - a behavior loathed by women everywhere).  Even in Sappho’s case, a significant portion of her surviving body of work lives only through references found within the works of men writing centuries later, many of which took the liberty to make assumptions about her personal life and pass judgement on it - as if her sexuality somehow relates to her profound contribution to the literary world.

It was written by an unknown Greek author that, “the white columns of Sappho’s lovely song endure and will endure, speaking out loud . . . as long as ships sail from the Nile.” This prediction ironically foreshadows the later attempts made to censor and destroy her work. Mendelsohn reflects that, “It would be hard to think of another poet whose status is so disproportionate to the size of her surviving body of work.” Of nine papyrus rolls reported to contain a complete record of her work (each scroll containing roughly 1,000 lines) in the library in Alexandria during the third century B.C., no more than 500 lines have survived. Considering the widespread circulation of Sappho’s work during her time, how is it that only a minute fraction of her poetry has been preserved? Why do the works of Homer, for example, survive in perfect condition while hers have been found only in scraps? What does this tell us about the way her work was received? Christian censors in Alexandria, Rome, and Constantinople condemned her in words such as those of Tatian, who called her "a whore who sang about her own licentiousness." Saint Gregory of Nazianzus and Pope Gregory VII burned her works. A hardly surprising phenomenon, the church strongly opposed her work - as it has historically done to virtually any female expression that ventured beyond the constraints of the pious and obedient virgin.

An article on Sappho published by the Academy of American Poets explains that, “Three centuries after her death the writers of the New Comedy parodied Sappho as both overly promiscuous and lesbian.”  Midway through the first century, treatises regarding the possibility that Sappho was a prostitute were published in Greek Academia. It went so far that it was believed that two different Sappho’s existed - “one the great poet, the other the notorious slut” (There is an entry for each in the Suda). Entire plays have been written not about her literary career, but her “promiscuous” lifestyle. In a sense, Sappho became a projection of the moral values of others. In his New York Times article, “How Gay Was Sappho?”, Daniel Mendelsohn’s reflects on this trend, “The eagerness to come up with “innocent” explanations for the poet’s attachment to young women persisted through the late nineteenth century and into the twentieth. The most tenacious theory held that Sappho was the head of a girls’ boarding school, a matron whose interest in her pupils was purely pedagogical.” The Poetry Foundation also published a striking account of Sappho’s role in history, writing that, “the facts of her life have often been distorted to serve the moral or psychological ends of her readers. Christian moralists pronounced anathemas upon her. Many modern editors have exercised "gallantry" and "discretion" by eliminating or changing words or lines in her poems that they believed would be misunderstood by readers. This history of her reception is itself part of Sappho's significance.” Despite her unquestionable skills and accomplishments, Sappho has been repeatedly chastised for her sexuality throughout history, serving as evidence of an unsavory reality: To be a female in this world is to constantly be measured and judged according to one’s physical rather than intellectual existence.

 

 

Quotes I Read and Liked

 

"The cannot degrade Frederick Douglass. The soul that is within me no man can degrade. I am not the one that is being degraded on account of this treatment, but those who are inflicting it upon me."

-Frederick Douglass, quoted by Booker T. WashingtonUp From Slavery

"No white American ever thinks that any other race is wholly civilized until he wears the white man's clothes, eats the white man's food, speaks the white man's language, and professes the white man's religion."

"I have begun everything with the idea that I could succeed, and I never had much patience with the multitudes of people who are always ready to explain why one cannot succeed."

"The temptation often is to run each individual through a certain educational mould, regardless of the condition of the subject or the end to be accomplished."

"The reputation that I made as a speaker during this campaign induced a number of persons to make an earnest effort to get me to enter political life, but I refused, still believing that I could find other service which would prove of more permanent value to my race. Even then I had a strong feeling that what our people most needed was to get a foundation in education, industry, and property, and for this I felt that they could better afford to strive than for political preferment. As for my individual self, it appeared to me to be reasonably certain that I could succeed in political life, but I had a feeling that it would be a rather selfish kind of success—individual success at the cost of failing to do my duty in assisting in laying a foundation for the masses."

"How many times I wished then, and have often wished since, that by some power of magic I might remove the great bulk of these people into the country districts and plant them upon the soil, upon the solid and never deceptive foundation of Mother Nature, where all nations and races that have ever succeeded have gotten their start,—a start that at first may seem slow and toilsome, but one that is nevertheless real."

"Any other coarse my daily observation in the South convinces me, will be unjust to the Negro, unjust to the white man, and unfair to the rest of the states in the Union, and will be, like slavery, a sin that at some time we shall have to pay for."

"I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed."

"I have great faith in the power and influence of facts. It is seldom that anything is permanently gained by holding back a fact."

-Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery

"Most societies create an 'image of the future,' an ideal state that serves as a goal and a goad, an incentive and a prod toward which to strive. These images of the future incorporate the dreams and visions, hopes and aspirations, of the collectivity. The state is the caretaker of the communal vision. Effective rule, in every society, depends on the ability of those in power to establish a compelling image of the future and then convince the people to sacrifice their time in hope of gaining access to the perfect kingdom that exists just beyond the time horizon."

- Jeremy Rifkin, Time Wars

"Most top predators of the planet are majestic creatures. Millions of years of dominion have filled them with self confidence. Sapiens by contrast is more like a banana republic dictator. Having so recently been one of the underdogs of the savannah, we are full of fears and anxieties over our position, which makes us doubly cruel and dangerous. Many historical calamities, from deadly wars to ecological catastrophes, have resulted from this over-hasty jump."

"History is something that very few people have been doing while everyone else was plowing fields and carrying water buckets."

"Complex human societies seem to require imagines hierarchies and unjust discrimination. Most sociopolitical hierarchies lack a logical or biological basis — they are nothing but chance events supported by myths. That is one good reason to study history."

"Whatever is possible us by definition also natural."

"Some religions, such as Christianity and Nazism, have killed millions out of burning hatred. Capitalism has killed millions out of cold indifference coupled with greed."

- Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens

"Identity politics are a moral and intellectual dead end."

"A label is an intellectually lazy way to assert that you know more than you actually do."

"Freedom of speech is the only value that allows us to reliably correct our errors — both intellectually and ethically."

"Dogma are doctrines people demand people to align to without justification."

- Sam Harris, Waking Up With Sam Harris Podcast

"Someone who doesn't respect your body cannot respect your mind."

-Thich Nhat Hanh, The Mindfulness Survival Kit: Five Essential Practices

"Know nature well. Don't try to run from it. Escapism never helps us. If we try to leave something now, we will have to face it in a more difficult form later on."

"A liberated person can come into the world and be useful to it but is not affected by it."

"We needn't each for who copies whom. Truth is the same always. Whoever ponders it will get the same answer. The Buddha got it. Patanjali got it. Lord Jesus got it. Prophet Muhammad got it. The answer is the same, but the method of working it out may vary this way or that."

"If we burn a finger, instead of saying, 'Oh I'm burning!' we should all ourselves, 'Who says I am burning? Who feels the burn?'"

"Our attitude should be constant. Either we are responsible for everything or God is."

"Symbols should be used to help you transcend them."

- Patanjali, The Sutras of Patanjali

"The most painful anguish that mortals suffer is to understand a great deal but to have no power at all."

- Thersandros of Persia, Herodotus' Histories

"Judgements too quickly formed are dangerous."

- Oedipus Rex

"Accepting the dominant belief system is not very interesting or intellectually problematic."

- Erich Ghoode, A Sociological Study of Paranormal Beliefs

"One can approach the truth only through a slow and careful ascent."

- Diotima, The Symposium

"One cannot realize the truth if he cannot see beyond the dualities of life: pleasure and pain, success and failure, even the heat and cold."

- The Bhagavad Gita

"A woman's issues of soul cannot be carved into a more acceptable form as defined by an unconscious culture, nor can she be bent into a more intellectually acceptable shape by those who claim to be the sole bearers of consciousness."

- Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women who Run with Wolves

"Several of the stages of feminist grief: the shock of waking up to the fact that the world does not also belong to you; the shame at having been so naive as to have thought it did; the indignation, depression, and despair that follow this realization; and, finally, the marshaling of the handy coping mechanisms, compartmentalization, pragmatism, and diminished expectations."

- Carina Chocano, You Play the Girl

 

 

 

Vessels

As a female, why is my naked body understood only as a sexual object? I mean, for fuck’s sake, it’s me! This is the vessel I eat, vomit, and shit in. Get used to it, folks - women fart too! My vessel is also the place where I dream, create, and learn. It is the means through which I connect with the world and travel through life. My happiest and most painful moments have taken place here. My vessel also happens to have boobs, a butt, and a vagina, so that I can play my role in procreation and contributing my magical genetic code to the next generation of homo sapiens. So what? The existence and purpose of my body expands an intellectual and spiritual territory much greater than its sexual existence.