Women Who Support Bad Men

The hardest thing being me is that I have never really had anyone tell me when I have done something wrong or how I should behave, or even support me to better myself or improve, my parents so consumed with their own affairs that their youngest child was all but neglected and left to the whims of my older siblings who took advantage of my rather profound naivety. I spent my childhood being constantly conditioned, I should perhaps say threatened, that my duty was to serve and indeed from my youth all the way through to early adulthood I looked after their children, cleaned their homes, cooked for them and tolerated their constant mocking. Rather than appreciate the good I have done for them, they’ve shrugged their shoulders and said I have done nothing because even they viewed it as my duty. I was subjugated and ultimately knew nothing of myself, indeed through their constant ridicule I had genuinely come to believe that my worth was only present if I served others and did what I was told.

Gaslighting, for instance, is a tactic used in any kind of relationship to encourage enough doubt that may ensure the complete subordination of the other, an annihilation of their sense of self or ego, by using gentle and even loving reinforcement by complimenting and praising only to subtly confuse with indirect threats and manipulation techniques, things like intentionally portraying themselves as the victim in order to make you think you have the problem. If gas-lighting is a technique educated to children to make them doubt themselves and believe that they must follow and do as they are told, so let us say that if men grow up in a paternalism that educates exclusivity between genders, then their identification with reality will always be subordinated to custom especially if effective economic and social systems reinforce and enable this. What happens to morality? What is that woman who falls in love with a murderer in prison? Is there some vicarious responsibility despite the psychological abuse, given that each of us are endowed with enough reason that prompts emotional responses – such as anxiety or depression – and speaks to us intuitively telling us ‘something is wrong‘?

Driving someone to insanity is the devil’s work.
 

The bible is one of the greatest moral educators of our time, over 100 million published every year and the scriptures have come to be the very source that enables one to mirror ethical and moral agency, whether directly through religious or institutional connections or indirectly through how we have socially come to understand ethics and moral behaviour, even law. However, most of the biblical references are dominated by masculine figures that leaves very little about women for women to explore and admire, that the symbol of what is a good woman appears to be counteracted by figures who are submissive and quiet, obedient and does what she is told, a motherly figure such as Mother Mary of Jesus or mothers Saint Emmelia, Nonna and Anthousa of the three Hierarchs in orthodox Christianity? Why mother and not simply a woman? Jesus is the symbolic representative of what God would desire in man, to be loving and be righteous – he is not the literal son neither is he God, and there is no actual trinity – he is just a man who was mistreated and who remains a friend some of us never had by telling us when we have done something wrong and how to behave right. There are many other male symbols, but female?

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There is a dichotomy in the symbolism of biblical stories between the human and the unreal, that Abraham is both an honest man who is a real father but also the patriarch of monotheistic religions, that Isaac is symbolic of Israel and Ishmael the forefather of Mohammad and therefore of Islam. These narratives between the real and the imagined represent ancient methods of communication that depended largely on imagery to weave an understanding of the external world and there is a truth to both.  It was not a time where reason and science articulated reality as we have today and so when we read the bible, to understand the meaning behind many of the symbols requires more creativity and fluidity in our thinking to interpret the texts. Jung poignantly explained how cultural identity and the practices or customs we come to believe and understand as the very source of language to explain experience can implicitly or explicitly be expressed in our emotional responses and psychological narratives through dreams, that while the dreams themselves are imagined and unreal are nevertheless symbolic of truth or something very real. Interpreting the dream can explain this real problem.

I was recently asked for forgiveness, an apology coming from a woman who had done something terribly wrong to me and it is always in my interest to want to improve my relations with people, to find that forgiveness and move on as friends. Her state of mental health at the time was certainly not well due to her partner being very abusive towards her and she has claimed that was the basis of her decision to do this wrong. At the time, she was very supportive of him and it leads me to this very question of whether there is a moral obligation held against women who support bad men or is there an existing void of moral responsibility where psychological abuse has been inflicted? I can clearly sympathise as I too had once experienced bullying and not been consciously aware of my responses, but I can also state that I developed anxiety and depression as a response to an unconscious awareness that something was wrong. My intuition had reason prompting me – without words – that told me something I already understood but not at conscious level that I could articulate using language. I fought and resisted subjectively. She knew that he was bad as we each understand what bad behaviour is since every culture and society has a universal understanding of good and bad forms of behaviour; something else compelled her to submit.

Violence does not necessarily need to be physical; indeed, in the Serious Crime Act 2015, it is an offence to inflict “controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship,” and further still in § 1(d) that “(person) A knows or ought to know that the behaviour will have a serious effect on (person) B.” Types of coercive behaviour include stalking (including cyber-stalking), intimidation and emotional abuse where the person feels unsafe and afraid due to the threat of abuse. Indirect threats and psychological games are just as violent as physical abuse; so if a woman is aware that her partner has a history of such behaviour and continues to support him, are they morally liable since they ought to know that his behaviour may have a serious effect on someone else?

This is a pretty tricky question.

Returning back to biblical scripture, women in the Bible also represent a dichotomy between the evil ‘adulteress’ and the good ‘woman’ where no woman, save for perhaps Deborah and the Queen of Sheba, are both good but also empowered with righteousness and intelligence. A ‘good’ woman appears to be motherly, submissive and serves while a ‘bad’ woman enjoys compelling and controlling men or as said in Proverbs 5:3 “For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil” and a warning, yet again, for men rather than for women. This rather patriarchal language explained different symbols of how a woman should be viewed rather than teaching women how they should behave, giving men the authority to dictate this socially and culturally over generations, and leaving women today without any real understanding of what a ‘good woman’ actually means. Indeed, right from the beginning with Adam and Eve or even when reading ancient texts like Lysistrata, women have a sexual power over men that men ought to be cautious of, that they have the prowess to control men’s behaviour and responses (when Adam points at Eve and blames her for the temptation, it only verifies a lack of moral accountability on his part).

However, to be honest, there are instances where even I myself have witnessed the submissive nature of men toward rather silly women, where men can follow and do what their partners tell them to do, probably best articulated with the power Jezebel had over the King. The warning, to some degree, seems fair. In apocolyptic literature, there exists a ‘bad woman’ or the whore of Babylon who appears to be like the character of Jezebel that paints a picture of a woman interfering in good and moral behaviour. She is drinking ‘the blood of the prophets’ or basically all the effort the prophets have made in the name of God to teach people what is right and appears to be riding this ‘beast’ or this bad man who is aligned with the devil or dragon (as beast tends to refer to “Kings” or governments, although given this is the whore of ‘Babylon’ the dragon and beasts could be symbolic of ancient Mesopotamian mythological creatures such as mušḫuššu).

Conversely,  there exists a ‘good’ woman who appears at the beginning of the coming end, from the Book of Revelations or even other texts such 2Esradas 10, who appears favourable as the bride of good behaviour and epitomises what a righteous woman should be doing, which is calling people to good but doing so with a sense of empowerment or as said in Micah 4, with “horns of iron” and that through her a man is born. A ‘motherly’ figure does not imply a literal mother, but rather, as Jesus is the son of God but not literally, a mother is symbolic and illustrative of the care for and love of God’s children; it describes or is indicative of a covenant, a promise to uphold unconditionally the principles of good behaviour that lead men toward trusting the right way to behave. A submissive and obedient woman is not reasonable neither it is safe for women to believe that being good is being quiet and doing what you are told, on the contrary this is a mindlessness that has perpetuated violence against women.

Unlike Adam and Eve, a woman is not born by the rib of man but rather ‘good men’ are only possible through ‘good women’. For instance, if this whore of Babylon is exercising power over the beast by riding him, is it her fault that he is the beast? Herodias remained loyal to immoral behavior by ordering her husband to kill John the Baptist to the joy of Herod, her uncle and husband at the time. She supported and even used his bad behaviour to play out her own and while she may not be directly involved since Herod wanted John the Baptist dead, she is certainly vicariously liable for his death. She acted in bad faith and she is seen as a bad woman. And she is.

When I think of power and psychological issues like Battered Woman Syndrome, it really depends on the circumstances to confirm moral culpability. If a woman is aware that her partner behaves badly such as lying or stealing, remaining by him and even supporting him is morally reprehensible. I would imagine that while their support may have underlying mental health concerns, if they believe in and agree to remain close to such men, they are no longer within a moral dimension and are themselves devoid of agency. It is not as severe as being directly accountable, but the defense of insanity just wont cut it either. I think that an empowered woman, someone who is independent and convinced of the importance of moral accountability and agency, who fights the good fight no matter the threat, that is what women should aspire to. Generations of women support men because they may have been taught to do so, threatened into subordination, but ultimately there exists reason and it will always stand supreme.

The Ethics of Nature

I remember as a child being completely overcome by the beauty of the Dandenong Ranges, the rain hitting the large ferns that danced to the ambience of the meditative bird sounds echoing from the colossal trees above, the smell of the moisture from the earth below that pirouetted with the scent of plants and wood of the forest and it kindled such joy within me that this emotional affinity continues today. I now often find myself retreating into the cool, forest enclaves across Victoria that ignite the same speechless feeling that I experienced many years ago. There are a number of sources that indicate that our time spent out in nature can improve our physical and mental health, from reducing blood pressure, stress, fatigue and even inflammation that lowers the risk of early death, as well as improvement of mood and even self-esteem that alleviates the symptoms of depression and anxiety and enables improved cognition and increased concentration. But, what is this therapeutic benefit, this strong bond or relationship humans have with nature? Like a person who smokes cigarettes, conscious that this is a major health risk but indifferent to the destructive nature of this pointless habit, humanity has become indifferent to the environment, and the ecosystem – like our body – is slowly being poisoned by the damaging effects of greenhouse gases. Do we have a moral obligation to ensure the preservation of our ecosystem and if so, what does the future of this discipline look like?

Several years ago, I went with friends to the Botanical Gardens to watch a movie at an outdoor ‘moonlight’ cinema they created and the noise from the fruit bats living in the surrounding trees brought to light the reasons for their controversial culling. The colonies of flying foxes are migratory and are both a pest as well as a risk to the plants and flowers of the gardens that make them a potential threat to the survival of many rare botanical species. In addition, the fruit bat – also known as the flying fox – carries the Hendra Virus that is transmitted to horses as it ingests food contaminated by bat droppings and other fluids, causing a number of severe symptoms leading to death. This virus can be transmitted to humans from the horse that causes influenza-like symptoms that potentially lead to death. The mortality rate is high and as a consequence fruit bats were ordered to be culled to reduce the growing numbers that reached crises levels. However, animal rights activists called out against the culling of the fruit-bats on account of their declining numbers and the reason for their migration being due to changes to their original habitat. This calls into question the actual problem that should encourage their protection. Indeed, the fruit bat was soon listed by the Federal Government as an endangered species that required an adequate approval process for culling.

When the Prickly Pear Cacti was introduced to Australia in the early twentieth century, the species quickly became an ecological pest that infested millions of hectares of land and devastated the Australian landscape that a radical method to destroy the outbreak was required in order to reduce the invasive botanical spread. Australia did not have the natural resources that could control the cacti and along with the warm climate and bird species that ate and ultimately distributed the seeds, the prickly pear wrought havoc on the land of the early settlers of New South Wales and Queensland. The tremendous effort required to manage the prickly pear cost more then it was worth that a prickly pear destruction committee was developed! It was until the introduction of the cactoblastis caterpillars that they found a solution to successfully control the outbreak and using this biological method – where the eggs and larvae extracted the plants moisture until the plant died – they were finally able to control the infestation of the weed.

It is clear that human behaviour can shape and control some aspects of our environment and our intellectual activity has enabled us to communicate and alter our decisions that allow us to ascertain our responsibility and forecast a sustainable or improved future scenario. To protect the integrity of our ecosystem, however, can sometimes appear to be bigger than us such as the consumption of natural resources including gas and oil that makes the average individual assume an abstract position in this ethical framework, that we can recycle our cans of drink and paper but still drive cars and use the gas stove. What is the difference in value between the prickly pear and the fruit bat? Why do we place more value on the fruit bat over the prickly pear?

Moral consciousness – what I call “love” or our ability to feel empathy and morally deliberate – originates from our understanding of value, where we give objects a moral status or as David Hume would suggest, that moral value is the value that I attach to the object and therefore relational and dependent on the agent. It is aligned with the theory that love is something that we give or entirely subjective and emotive and that what is value is simply what I believe is valuable and does not have an actual real, objective moral value. I clearly have an issue with this despite the logic behind such relational epistemology, because there is an absence of any value at all and thus if nothing has value then morality does not exist either. It also arouses questions on the exclusivity of moral actions – such as human life is intrinsically better than animal life for instance – or whether one outcome is more morally valuable over another. Intrinsic values are deemed to be valuable for itself or ‘in its own right’ whereas instrumental value are actions that are morally permissible based on a number of variables that leads to a moral outcome. If fruit bats were not an endangered species, would culling them be morally wrong?

Kant suggests that intrinsic moral value is the source of morality, that is, that since humanity exhibits as I suggested earlier the rational or cognitive capacity to deliberate moral agency, they thus contain moral value. Humanity contains intrinsic value and thus the agency to rationally will sufficient moral understanding, and while this may be anthropocentric, rights are also aligned with ethical responsibility or that our moral status is multi-faceted and thus we are enabled with the capacity to question and evaluate objects making values variable in nature. This is the nature of the ethical problem at hand, as human beings as moral agents have intrinsic value and with the criterion of rational cognition place value on objects that otherwise are instrumental in value that abandons the moral status to animals or our environment. What that means is that the effects of deforestation in order to power the economic engine of capitalism has more instrumental value than protecting forests, and those for or against deforestation will raise ethical pros and cons of both sides of the argument to try and justify the instrumental value of the environment.

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Let’s take a look at McDonalds, with what I believe to be the most strategic and incredibly intelligent marketing campaign that attempts to justify the immorality behind their business by pretending that they are actually going to make a difference to what is their global impact on our environment. McDonalds had started adding “healthy options” to the menu to lure a continuity of customers, to try and be open and accountable about their ingredients to remove doubt as to the quality of their meat, and now are perpetrating a marketing campaign that claims that they are going to reduce their emission intensity by 2030 because of the sheer scale of the food chain’s impact on our environment. How is that possible when aligned with this is their global growth strategy that aims to increase consumer and ultimately business profitability? If the predominant item in the McDonalds menu is beef, let us take a look at cows for a moment. Agriculture is the primary reason for deforestation and not only is this destroying the habitats of thousands of species, but cows that make the meat in the burgers people eat contributes to global greenhouse gases since they produce more methane that has a greater impact on the environment than C02 emissions. What shifty bastards. People are now going to think that since McDonalds is being so-called open and accountable to global warming that eating McDonalds will no longer be immoral when any real attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be to completely stop eating McDonalds, which would contradict their profit goals. It is value-nihilism at best.

Like the gas stove or using the car, people believe their ethical position in this network of environmental change is abstract and that buying lunch at Maccas is really not going to change anything. It challenges the anthropocentrism of our moral position. Intrinsic value is not something exclusive to rational beings who symbolically project from their own mental reality, but rather as Henry David Thoreau states, “to be always on the alert to find God in nature,” and there is no symbolic or spiritual relationship but that moral realism is present in the physical world and can be directly perceived. That nature has intrinsic value and this biocentric angle moulds together the schism between good or bad qualities that we force on nature and thus rational thought and values become inseparable. Consciousness is no longer separate from nature. That like McDonalds, the primary cause of our problems with nature is the coercive projection of our irrational suggestion that only humans have intrinsic moral value; we become a part of nature, giving spirituality or that symbolic or metaphysical moral system a concrete reality (excuse the pun). While there may be a number of limitations to this since everything becomes almost morally impermissible, it certainly avoids that disillusioned or disembodied separateness, an us and them, the same disillusionment between a person who smokes cigarettes and their own body that they treat as an inanimate mechanism.

At the rate of global destruction that has reached a point of existential crises, civil disobedience and our duty to protect the environment and engage against injustice is very clear. I am preparing to embrace this reality around us, that I am not distant or abstract in the world but that spirituality and that symbolic connection is physical and real. As said by Thoreau: “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”

The Desert of the Real

It was in Raymond Gaita’s book Romulus, My Father that exposed to me an intriguing thought. Romulus, living in an isolated town in Central Victoria, wrote letters to a woman, Lydia, back in his home country of Romania and she responded with the same feelings of affection that he had. His interest in her became so intense that he invited her to be his wife and she accepted. Yet, his deep and unswerving commitment to his principles put him into a state of disarray when Lydia betrayed him and married another man, developing into a madness that Raymond called, “a passion whose force and nature was mysterious and that anyone who came under its sway should be prepared to be destroyed by it.” This romantic love exposed the deeper vulnerability and loneliness he had within and the mysterious force is the powerlessness he felt for this isolation where a panic begins to manifest, so much so that insanity became the safer option than allowing the anxiety to continue and Romulus shut down, a man of resolute principles and dedication to his duty grew disillusioned before he gave up and admitted himself into an institution.

Kant explains the possibility of transcendence from learned knowledge, the ability to occupy thoughts that are independent from our experiences of them, an autonomy where we contribute to our own understanding of moral principles. Our cognition as children develops through conditioning that articulates the relationship between you and the external world through ‘good’ or ‘bad’ behaviour and we are automatically prompted to react with the same fight or flight response when confronted with a problem. It is an automaton mode of being or relation that is inherently limited and consciousness develops as our brain matures that enables one to become conscious or self-aware. Synaptic pruning occurs in all humans that sheds neural connections that are formed in the brain during childhood in order to make room for a more refined capacity for adult use. The young adult begins to experience conscious impressions of objects that enables him to experience a self.

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We become conscious of ourselves and this self-awareness lacks the solidity that we have in our orientation with the external world, a ‘nothingness’ between our mode of being and our interconnection within an object-oriented world. There are a number of barriers such as childhood trauma, lack of education or adequate guidance such as problematic parenting that disassociates this natural engagement with our own cognitive abilities. The social and religious constructs that are entrenched in our environment conditions one to respond against any deviation from the rules as ‘bad’ (fight or flight) that impoverishes our capacity to reach self-hood. The experience of independence and self-realisation becomes fragmented as we are not prepared to acknowledge the responsibility for our decisions and this is further thwarted by feelings of anxiety that deters us from proceeding down the rabbit hole of consciousness. It is like – for a moment – the plug in your brain that treated your existence as a safe, virtual reality awakens to see that reality is, well, real. The emotional response to this realisation is anxiety and it is anxiety because we simply do not know how to be ourselves. There is no language in this independence because we have never used it before and so we cannot explain and articulate our perceptions and identification to our experiences. This is referred to biblically as being born again, the path which is narrow and few are able to find it.

We naturally want to avoid anxiety and are compelled to things that give us happiness. Ignorance is devoid of these emotional responses. Like Romulus, we either retreat to insanity – a realm where one gives up entirely any cognition or responsibility that thus removes the pain of the emotions – or one completely conforms to a belief-system, society or even a person and in effect becoming what Hegel would call a slave where they lose their ability to feel because they get others to think for them. To avoid retreating, familial support can enable a gradual move toward transcendence or independent thinking however reliance on this is ambiguous particularly with the fact that in Australia 132 divorces occur every day and 1 in 4 children are exposed to domestic violence. As language is a tool that enables us to articulate and communicate our understanding, education becomes the primary necessity for building adequate knowledge that explains this ‘unknown’ self hood.

A person who has not been completely alienated, who has remained sensitive and able to feel, who has not lost the sense of dignity, who is not yet “for sale”, who can still suffer over the suffering of others, who has not acquired fully the having mode of existence – briefly, a person who has remained a person and not become a thing – cannot help feeling lonely, powerless, isolated in present-day society. He cannot help doubting himself and his own convictions, if not his sanity. He cannot help suffering, even though he can experience moments of joy and clarity that are absent in the life of his “normal” contemporaries. Not rarely will he suffer from neurosis that results from the situation of a sane man living in an insane society, rather than that of the more conventional neurosis of a sick man trying to adapt himself to a sick society. In the process of going further in his analysis, i.e. of growing to greater independence and productivity, his neurotic symptoms will cure themselves.

As it is a cognitive disposition that we each possess, we are not capable of retreating without forming an imagined meta-narrative, an abstract representation of reality that becomes an apparatus to form an identity within the margins of something imagined and that can be rationalised. Our temporal and spatial representations become linked to a faux ‘unity’ with our environment that conceptualises our identity as homogeneous and timeless, similarly like what Romulus felt when he fell in love with a picture and a letter. In romantic love, we form a symbiotic attachment as a way to possess our beloved and we imagine that this possession – which stems from that inner anxiety – is actually a real connection by framing it within a meta-narrative of true love and other imagined ideas drawn by social constructs and further fed by a false authenticity. It is a self-defence mechanism that enables us to experience the world without being overwhelmed by the emotional impact honesty and authenticity can have, which explains why people become very defensive when this fictional meta-narrative is openly discussed. Social constructs give validity to the imagined narrative and the more people do the same thing, the more real the experience becomes since there is a shared acceptance of this imagined transaction.

Love is something that we give. It is a process that is only enabled once we reach that state of transcendence because authenticity – which is a state of mind or how we interpret our perceptions and experiences – is necessary since love can only be real when we express it through this self-hood. That is, when our motivations and intent are no longer tainted by these imagined meta-narratives but expressed in synthesis or unity within ourselves. Without this, our engagement with the external world is about receiving – where people present themselves like a Hegelian slave by adhering to socially constructed archetypes – where they imagine they are connected to society – and yet there is really no inner connectedness. We are prompted or motivated by the need to be recognised by others and by adhering to social constructs we receive recognition. There is no giving. It is all about wanting. It is essentially a deep vulnerability and these superficial connections based on how well we perform socially only further alienates one from this self-awareness.

Most people are not even aware of their need to conform. They live under the illusion that they follow their own ideas and inclinations, that they are individualists, that they have arrived at their opinion as the result of their own thinking – and that it just happens that their ideas are the same as this of the majority

We each have layers of cognition similarly to the Freudian triptych between the Ego, Id and Superego, and Bandura explains these stages of cognitive development (coming of age) where consciousness, the unconscious, and our imagination structures our responses through socially learned expectations. Our motivations are filtered and controlled by probable reactions and rewards that we will receive from others. This is why people lie as though they are protecting themselves from punishment, just as much as these meta-narratives protect one from the pain of anxiety since our emotional responses can be just as unpleasant as the threat of punishment. Heidegger concludes that this anxious response is causally rooted to fear, the fear of something threatening and that compels us to lie and to be self-defensive. The cure is to overcome this fear, to have the courage to be actively engaged with your inner self and accepting the responsibility you have for this cognitive freedom and independence. Moral consciousness suddenly switches directions; it is about developing your own awareness and deciding your own moral standards where you are motivated by an authentic connectedness with your own being. One transcends the narrowness of the imagined narratives and the self-defensive responses to make decisions independently and thus become aware of our cognitive faculty and the possibilities of knowledge a priori and thus reach our epistemic capacity by overcoming all the barriers. It is a type of love for oneself, a belief or faith in your ability.

To have faith requires courage, the ability to take a risk, the readiness even to accept pain and disappointment. Whoever insists on safety and security as primary conditions of life cannot have faith; whoever shuts himself off in a system of defence, where distance and possession are his means of security, makes himself a prisoner. To be loved, and to love, need courage, the courage to judge certain values as of ultimate concern – and to take the jump and to stake everything on these values.

 

Forgiveness 

Words are physical. They can be as violent as hurting someone physically and carelessly scolding someone with hurtful words can be as violent as physically injuring them. I know this because I have experienced this and it hurts even more when these words come from people you love. They can penetrate deep as though poison that changes the way you feel, think and behave until you depart from such toxicity, where following the time needed to withdraw from both the experience and the spatial dependence you may have had, eventually recover enough to become conscious of your vulnerabilities. However, so many fear or feel trapped from departing or separating themselves from such people and to adapt to their circumstances delude themselves by normalising their experiences, conditioned to tolerate as though subconsciously believing some validity exists behind the experience. If you work with people who are terribly abusive, changing the layout of your desk is not going to alleviate the abuse. Those who prolong toxic relationships by making superficial changes are merely prolonging a bad environment and there appears to be no prompt in their mind to tell them that they are worthy or that they deserve better, their motivations filtered by socially learned expectations that react unconsciously to superficial rewards

The youngest of three sisters and one brother, I grew up in an environment where each of them mistreated me and it was not uncommon to hear you are dumb or you are ugly from them on a continuous basis, sometimes even harassing me to do things and threatening me if I did not oblige such as ostracising me from family activities. They would together justify their behaviour as though I deserved it. One attack after another they would nevertheless claim to be my fault. I was a non-person. And I tolerated the abuse – being only a child –  since all my siblings being older than me and being the people that I wanted to love and wanted to be close to, knew better than I did. I was a non-person to me too. In similar vein to a slave, I would serve them and silenced my own suffering almost to a pathological point where I was not even aware that I was even suffering. I was able to confront this self-awareness during the process of my transcendence where I came to recognise my self-worth and who I was. This reality was frightening to me because I never knew who I was or how to think for myself.

It was inspired when I first thought I loved a man and that mirrored a reflection of my own consciousness, that I actually existed, so when I thought he may have liked me in return it produced within me a severe anxiety. This anxiety exposed all the barriers that I created, those imagined ‘truths’ that I was a non-person and when this disintegrated, I was left with nothing but me. I became real. It was deeply disturbing and it exposed a vulnerability because I suddenly became aware of the abuse from my siblings and how much I had actually been injured by them. It took a long time from that point, but removing myself from the toxicity and with the right care, I recovered from the injuries and over time have healed.

The main way I know is  I have learnt that despite any antagonism towards me, I remain self-assured, that I do not believe in the antagonism. I believe in myself. I healed by having the courage to continue to learn and develop my own language or voice – despite being new to it – and I did this through continuous self-reflective practice. I found forgiveness because I found the ability to love, to give love. This forgiveness is primarily self-directed.

The Cycle of our Nature

Everything in the universe has a life cycle, where nature destroys and renews itself cyclically. For instance, stars are made from a fusion between two hot and light gases – hydrogen and helium – whereby in the core the former burns into helium and gradually begins to form heavier elements such as carbon.[2] Eventually, our sun – considered a yellow dwarf – will become an inert white dwarf but will continue to emit light as it will fall below the main sequence and it emits light as the temperature is still hot due to the presence of nuclear fuels until depleted, becoming black dwarf. Depending on the mass of the star, once hydrogen has been depleted the core will begin to contract [the helium is displaced and the outer surface begins to expand due to the thermal pressure and this contraction loses elements or materials] while the surface expands, leading them to either become supernova or a planetary nebula [the remnants of a supernova] though there are other types of nebulae such as protoplanetary that is causally a result of stars shedding or detaching from the surface.[3] Stars are also born in nebulas. The cycle eventually moves towards – as mentioned – white dwarfs, but also neutron stars where protons and electrons collide to form neutrons from the collapsed core of the star.

That is, a black hole, which is formed when matter is squeezed into a very dense space as a result of the stars’ supernova where the force of gravity is so great that it, collapses into itself. And yet, it is from a black hole that stars are born, driving the galaxy into continuity.[4] Life itself – along with a range of other factors – is only possible through the light emitted by stars, our very own sun a g-type main-sequence star with a temperature between 5,000 – 6,000K.[5] We can see stars such as Bellatrix with our naked eyes despite its distance of 244.6 light years[6] or 76.92 parsecs because it is 8.6x solar masses or the equivalent of 1.671 × 10^31 kg and is 3.16 times bigger than our sun with a radius of almost 2,200,940.06km.[7] All the stars will collapse and form into new ones and when our sun dies, our planet – which is pulled by the gravity of the sun – will ultimately float aimlessly into space until captured by the gravity of another star and be renewed once more. Perhaps intergalactic travel is the very reason why we have life on earth in the first place.

The cycle of our very own seasons is continuously rounded and renews every six months due to our perfectly precise location in orbit around the sun along with our moon orbiting around earth. The celestial sphere is an imaginary radius with earth fixed at its centre (since the earth’s position or axis remains fixed) and earths equator is aligned with the celestial equator, as are both the north and south celestial poles. Since the rotational tilt of the earth that sits at precisely 23.5° and its rotational axis around the sun, the ecliptic plane – which is the path of the sun in this sphere – as it travels and rotates the northern and southern hemispheres are doused with either more or less sunlight.[8] You can see this movement or rotation when the sun rises in the morning or sets in the evening, or as the stars move when gazing at night. The earths circular orbit around the sun and distant stars is the sidereal period, a sidereal day or for a star to reach the same point is 23.56 hours and they rise earlier each night [up to four minutes] as the earth rotates around the orbit.[9] Equinoxes are the rotation when the ecliptic touches the equatorial plane, and a summer solstice contains the most amount of daylight while the winter solstice contains the least or shortest amount.

Everything in nature is a cycle. Everything is born and then dies. As people living in a world where everything dies, including us, well then in that vanity what could possibly be our purpose?

Our capacity for self-reflective practice and to reverse the temporal arrow of time as our experiences remain locked in our memories, this pattern illustrates a cyclic repetition where we are able to study ourselves objectively. When one thinks of scientific cosmology, it is the study of the large, the whole and by understanding the origin, one is able to articulate the evolution and the properties that make up the universe. If we think of cycles, is the universe itself going to infinitely expand or is it going to collapse into itself, or is our universe only one of many ‘pocket’ universes each dying and creating new ones?

Hegelian cosmology is just that, a reality that “is composed of a plurality of finite persons”[10] inclusive of ourselves; being a finite property, our lives are finite and ultimately determined, however rather than analysing the individual components or properties that make our lives, the objects and properties become the tools that enable consciousness, allowing us to transcend and become aware of our personhood as being part of a greater ‘whole’ which, to Hegel, is a supreme Being; that is a part of God.[11] God has no contingent parts and consequently “God is Spirit.”[12] Questioning the nature of reality and being a part of this whole rather than an individual component, immortality or an eternal continuum becomes possible and that our very lives are also non-temporal.[13] If we are a part of something greater than ourselves, our death becomes meaningless and in our lives our only purpose or obligation is to the well-being of that which is greater than ourselves. It being practical, a moral application. ‘I’ may die, but ‘we’ continue to exist.

While it may appear that I am endorsing an atheistic naturalism, I must clarify that I am not here attempting to identify the existence of God through this thesis, but rather attempting to explicate why the transcendence of consciousness enables us to realise the significance of being morally responsible; what becomes our ‘purpose’ and St. Thomas Aquinas also developed a similar thesis that argued a continued existence is dependent on beings.[14] McTaggart who critiqued Hegel’ cosmology, believed that the “passing of time is an illusion, and that nothing ever changes.”[15] His interpretation of time involved a series of contrasts and incompatible determinations between past, present and future through two notions entitled A series and B series and that the world is composed of nothing but souls.[16] But questions of time are impossible to empirically verify and therefore should only be viewed symbolically as representative of our subjective place in an external world.

While we may be a product of a whole, where exactly do ‘we’ or our personhood – free will – come into being? It is sufficient to say that freedom is an extension of determinism, that we possess the faculty through rational knowledge and will that enables us the capacity to become self-aware. That is, consciousness is a product of this deterministic social whole, which is why those that attain this transcendence become aware of their moral obligations and the value of virtue. There is a temporal anomaly here: we get caught or stuck repeating the same mistakes and fail to transcend to this freedom or autonomous consciousness. When I think about individual experiences broken into a shattered narrative that I attempt to dissect and understand, who I am is intricate and complex but when I view myself as part of a sum of all my experiences, there is no longer a temporal domain, but I exist as I am in present and thus view the product of my being as part of the whole. Upon doing so, what I am becomes clear.

[1] Ecclesiastes 1:2
[2] John R. Gribbin, The death of the Sun, Delacorte Press (1980) 180
[3] John Bally, Bo Reipurth, The Birth of Stars and Planets, Cambridge University Press (2006) 181
[4] http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2009/12/new-discovery-supermassive-black-holes-create-their-own-galaxies.html
[5] Gunter Faure, Teresa M. Mensing, Introduction to Planetary Science: The Geological Perspective, Springer Science & Business Media (2007) 461
[6] http://www.astronomyenthusiasts.com/constellations/
[7] http://astropixels.com/stars/brightstars.html
[8] William Millar, The Amateur Astronomer’s Introduction to the Celestial Sphere, Cambridge University Press (2006)
[9] Ibid.
[10] Jacob Gould Schurman, James Edwin Creighton, Frank Thilly, Gustavus Watts Cunningham, The Philosophical Review, Cornell University Press, Volume 12 (1903) p 189
[11] M.J. Inwood, Hegel: Arguments Philosophers, Routledge (2013) 202
[12] John 4:24
[13] G. E. Moore, “Mr. McTaggart’s “Studies in Hegelian Cosmology”” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, New Series, Vol. 2 (1901 – 1902), pp. 177-214
[14] http://www.aquinasonline.com/Topics/essencex.html
[15] Brian Garrett, What is this Thing Called Metaphysics?, Routledge (2007) 76
[16] http://www.iep.utm.edu/mctaggar/

Love Is The Only Way To Experience The External World

How can we be sure that we are experiencing the external world? While we may have conceptualised an external world within our own minds and interact with friends and family and a plethora of external stimulation, but just like how my dog hears that I have come home and becomes excitable, experience is not merely forming concepts as a passive observer. One may experience fragments of the external world where ideas causally evolve merely by a complex yet functional process of cognition within the parameters of the quality of our mental faculties, but that would mean that perceptions and experience are synthesized solely on an objective order of our physical activities. So how can we have an awareness of an external world without the experience, the very subjective quality that enables us to intuit representations, to capture a conceptual framework that transcends the mere cognitive ability to order complex physical events into an effective information system?

The mind-body dualism is a conceptual division between our mental states and the physical properties of the external world and the problem therein is whether one is capable of being able to distinguish themselves as separate to this external world. The experience of the external world can never adequately be explained, according to solipsism, beyond the limits of an individual mind and thus we become fundamentally incapable of moving beyond our own mental state and that therefore concludes that only our mental state exists. Indeed, the greatest flaw in metaphysics even until today is the inability to clearly and distinctly demonstrate the existence of an external reality. The problem, however, is that the notion sets in an entirely subjective experience that becomes devoid of an objective world, where – like the movie Matrix – our bodies are sitting warmly in a vat with plugs attached to the back of our brain that stimulates virtual experiences that we assume to be reality. Descartes’ cogito ergo sum is an epistemological inference that if one is capable of thinking, the latter being what he defines as the, “first and most certain of all to occur to anyone who philosophises in an orderly way”[1] then there is no doubt that the person exists, but the nature of this Cartesian aptitude is very specific, that one is required to have embedded in their nature an exclusivity that would enable the conditions necessary for ideal cognizance. Similarly, the psychological theory of introspection vis-à-vis the problem relating to the structure of our experiences with the external world suggest that we have the reflective capacity to examine our own mental state, but the practice relies exclusively on the quality of this self-examination that cannot guarantee an absence of error. A key to this is the authenticity that enables a reflective practice which can overcome the preventative thresholds that envelope the honesty necessary to facilitate a genuine narrative, what John Locke refers to as “the perception of what passes in a man’s own mind.”[2]

A phenomenology of this introspection, however, differs from an empirical view of the mind. While the mind as a functional tool necessarily requires the complex ability to maintain an order of the continuous inflow of experiences, empiricists such as Locke would say that all knowledge is formed by sensory experience of the external world alone and that we place experience within a framework based solely on this causal evolution. The first-order level of the mind or the rules that govern the cognitive resources and the sensibility that enable the objective conditions for understanding and perception exist that any phenomenal consciousness would need to move beyond empiricism. While phenomenology is the study of being and experience within an external world, introspection is fundamentally the epistemological relation that studies the inner experience of this being with the external world; consciousness is fundamental. That is, the introspective experience of phenomenal character or the subjective and intrinsic quality of qualia is accessible and is central to the nature of consciousness.

‘A sociopath may mimic A Streetcar Named Desire by telling himself that the woman he raped is crazy and that she wanted to have sex with him, but this clearly lacks the interpretative accuracy of the external world. Human beings, according to Kant, are innately evil that subordinates morality to self-conceit and the only solution to this is by overcoming our propensity to evil through the cultivation of moral agency.’

The phenomenal character of mental life is a feeling of this sensory experience, that is, perceptions have a distinct phenomenal framework that differentiates between a mere perception with consciousness of the perception, an actual awareness of the activity where each experience has a distinct, conscious character so to speak. It is lived action. Unlike the empiricist who believes the contents of our being are made up of a series of perceptions, Kant takes it one step further and claims that the transcendental conditions enable us to have the experience rather than being a result of this experience. His interpretation of the transcendental differs entirely to transcendence, which purports something that exists beyond perceptual experience or non-sensory modes of understanding, which is a realm that one cannot verify and thus ultimately irrelevant to our epistemological system since if it transcends knowledge, it is beyond knowledge and falls into the dimension of faith. The transcendental conditions that extend beyond the grounds of reason is defined by Kant as what enables knowledge to not just be occupied solely with objects, but the very mode of our a priori knowledge of these objects.[3]

Our experience of the external world is spatiotemporal, separated causally through an arrow of time that evolves over the period of our cognitive existence and thus while there exists an external world, time is entirely a subjective experience. The transcendental aesthetic is an a priori mode of engagement with space and time, where patterns of sensations and experiences ascribed spatiotemporally to cognition a priori that enables the coherence of the external world, rather than space and time being actual, external entities.[4] Yet, we are capable of non-empirical representations of space, where we can see a human in front of us without that person actually being there spatially that leads Kant to label this mode as Intuition and hence why he famously stated that, “[t]houghts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.”[5] Time enables the intuitions to make sense of the spatial experiences in an orderly fashion and this succession organises the mental states where knowledge of thus formed. The difference is that that intuitions are the representations themselves given in sensibility: “In whatever way and through whatever means a cognition may be related to objects, that through which it relates immediately to them, and at which all thought as a means is directed as an end, is intuition. This, however, takes place only insofar as the object is given to us; but this in turn, is possible only if it affects the mind in a certain way. This capacity [to acquire representations] is called sensibility. Objects are therefore given to us by means of sensibility, and it alone affords us intuitions.”[6]

‘It is not simply a disposition that one emulates and there needs to be an authenticity that one feels autonomously that evokes a strong sense of duty to moral principles themselves independent of the required obligations set by others.’

If we are capable of non-empirical representations of space, what exactly are the conditions that enable our sensibility to authentically be receptive to the external world? A sociopath may watch A Streetcar Named Desire and mimic the plot by telling himself that the woman he raped is crazy and that she wanted to have sex with him, but clearly the conditions therein lack the accuracy that interpret the external world correctly. Human beings, according to Kant, are innately evil that subordinates morality to self-conceit and the only solution to this is by overcoming our propensity to evil through the cultivation of moral agency. This is via a ‘revolution’ so to speak, an acquisition of a way of thinking that personifies moral goodness. But it is not simply a disposition that one emulates and there needs to be an authenticity that one feels autonomously that evokes a strong sense of duty to moral principles themselves independent of the required obligations set by others. If we look at this from a geometrically different angle (namely through the lens of Husserl), intentionality is the property of mental states themselves, the very internal experience that functions independent of the external world.[7] The mental states are thus empowered with the function to take an experience of an object and transcend beyond that experience, the nature of this property enabling a moral transaction. When one considers existential feelings of angst, for instance, the isolation and emptiness of feeling estranged from the company of the external world embodies an intentional state where one is conscious of this separation via possibilities that enable a non-empirical narrative and reconfigure consciousness to interpret ones place in the external world beyond space and time. It leads one on a path to ascertain the possible phenomenal connections that echo this potential merger between ‘I’ or my subjective experience with the external world.

It is thus through empathy that one is enabled with the sense experience of the external world, where ones ‘conscience’ becomes the key to consciousness of an external world beyond this self-conceit. It transforms that intuitive ‘possibility’ into an experience that enables a channel to the external world and objectifies a narrative of shared experiences, thus becoming the very foundation that builds an ethical mindset, but it nevertheless requires reason as a basis for being able to interpret and identify moral consequences. Conscience, the very sense of right from wrong and the will that propels one to act morally, is sensually the very experience of giving love, but universally even though this ‘revolution’ may have been initiated by love for one object or person. Moral agency embodies the ability to conceptualise abstract principles and for Kant is derived from pure reason; the duty that motivates the will to conform with these principles by sensually experiencing the suffering of others establishes a sense of sympathy and emotional angst that moves the will to act ethically. This very act of expressing moral standards sensed by a subjective pain irrelevant to our own experiences in the physical world is an act of moral consciousness – love – the very desire to want the pain or suffering of others to be removed, to want their lives to be improved, the very desire to care for another person and thus authentically explore the external world.  While this ‘revolution’ may be stimulated by a specific object or experience, this intuit becomes a principle that one conceptualises into an abstract form that becomes universal, hence the categorical imperative.

The question here is, is this shared experience merely a simulation or is it a genuine exploration of sensing beyond the subjective mind? Further discussion of this continuum cannot be furthered today as alas, the limitations of this poor blog post prevents me in doing so, particularly since a variety of complexities vis-à-vis developmental epistemology and other relevant features would be required to be discussed. I will touch more on the latter part of this subject in a later post.

[1]Rene Descartes, Key Philosophical Writings, Wordsworth Editions (1997) 279
[2] John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, P. H. Nidditch (ed.). Oxford: The Clarendon Press J. (1975) 115
[3] E. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (A11, B25)
[4] Ibid., (A23/B37-8)
[5] Norman Kemp Smith, A Commentary to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Springer (2003) 80
[6] Op. cit., Kant (A19/B33).
[7] Susi Ferrarello, Husserl’s Ethics and Practical Intentionality, Bloomsbury Publishing, (2015) 101

Book Review: Ethical Writings of Maimonides

For centuries, from Aristotle to Confucius, Aquinas and Thoreau, moral philosophers have endorsed the idea that a balanced, moderate regularity of character is an important step towards genuine happiness, that excess or deficiency of any sort and the failure to attain a principled attitude toward guiding and cultivating the self toward this mean will lead to the reverse. Thus, one who leads a life attempting to walk down this dutiful path toward a balanced and constant frame of mind is demonstrative of a noble and even a superior person. As said by Socrates, “with his eyes fixed on the nature of his soul, naming the worse life that which will tend to make it more unjust and the better that which will make it more just… all other considerations he will dismiss, for we have seen that this is the best choice.”[i] This choice to lead a life of virtue and justice and abandoning all that is vulgar, vulgarity being interpreted as “the masses and the most vulgar seem – not unreasonably – to believe that the good or happiness is pleasure. Accordingly they ask for nothing better than the life of enjoyment,”[ii] will allow one to adopt a standard that will link them closer to what is beautiful, namely love and honesty.

So what constitutes perfect virtue? Is it defined by the strength of individual will? Is it how one determines right from wrong, the capacity to overcome the influence of a defective ego, the intelligence and the confidence to be autonomous by engaging independently with the world around them? Is it to identify and distinguish the kind of moral values that are functional, valuable and aesthetical, of what is prohibited, useful and authentic, to be capable of ascertaining intent and to act on and maximise moral principles? It is simply the strength of will, the capacity to overcome the proclivity of the ego and the wayward pleasures of our instinctual drives, to recognise the scope of the activity of leading a morally virtuous life by searching for the golden mean. It is to be courageous enough to deliberately abandon a false environment and find the veracity and sense of honour to pursue a life of virtue, to maintain and personify it. “True virtue can only be grafted onto principles, such that the more general they are, the more sublime and noble they become,”[iii] thus distinguishing between the subjective aesthetic toward a universal aesthetic, the former having the possible inclination to waywardness as it remains dependant on the moral disposition of the individual.

It is for this reason that the disposition of the individual and obtaining the correct character traits necessary to reach true virtue is indispensable. Moses Maimonides discussed in detail the importance of this mean in several of his works including Hilkhot De’ot or the Laws Concerning Character Traits and Eight Chapters aside from his more famed work in Guide of the Perplexed. All of which can be found in the Ethical Writings of Maimonides (Moses ben Maimon), edited by Raymond L. Weiss with Charles Butterworth. Maimonides (1138 – 1204) was born in Cordoba, during the short-lived Moorish Almoravid Dynasty that ruled over present-day Morocco and Spain. Known as Rambam, he trained as a physician that later enabled him to become court physician to the Sultan Saladin and was well versed in medicine both in reading and in writing. His writings stretched out to include Rabbinic Law and Jewish Philosophy and his influence as a scholar has maintained his place as authoritative figure in Jewish law and ethics. His metaphysical and epistemological writings are included in his prolific repertoire but his studies on ethics and virtue exemplify the type of obedience and dedication required to preserve the divine wisdom and the t’amei ha-mitzvot that explained the reasons for the commandments.

According to Maimonides, there exists two types of moral standards in an individual, namely those that are pious and those that attempt to find the golden mean, the former considered to be obligatory since such a characteristic is required to encourage the subjective poise required to engage in the middle way.[iv] In his Laws Concerning Character Traits (27-59), he traverses through eleven commandments that attempt to direct one toward the equilibrium required to reach a state of moral virtue that epitomises the ‘right way’ or as said by Solomon, “Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.”[v] All people have different character traits, different personalities and dispositions, whereby one person may have the calm that another may not as they become intensely angered and impatient. One can be lazy and gluttonous while another ascetic by nature. Maimonides writes about eleven commandments that include 1. to imitate God, 2. to cleave to those who know of God, 3. to love your neighbours, 4. to love converts to God, 5. not to hate brothers, 6. to rebuke, 7. not to put (anyone) to shame, 8. not to afflict the distressed, 9. not to go about as a talebearer, 10. not to take revenge, 11. not to bear a grudge. “The right way is the mean in every single one of a man’s character traits” (29). The golden mean is to find the balance toward establishing a good character indicated by the way they conduct their affairs, by being humble and loving. It is to reach for ‘wisdom’ by finding the mean between the extremes of our character traits before sensibly and continuously practicing until it becomes firmly established.

For Maimonides, it is wisdom to walk in the way of God, to seek the path that leads to God and therefore replicate the virtues or commandments and test your obedience to God as exemplified in the Old Testament. To become “slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness, just and righteous, perfect, powerful and strong… and a man is obliged to train himself to follow them and to imitate according to his strength.”[vi] It is to uproot the flaws that one may have and ‘cure’ the ailment of immorality by training oneself to understand opposites. If one is wealthy and has a conceited attitude, he should clothe himself in worn-out, shabby garments that will endure him with much degradation until the haughtiness has left him and he is humbled. Whatever the problem may be that causes one to lose the way of this required balance, the individual should move themselves toward the other end of the same extreme until reaching that unaffected balance. As said by David Hume, “[t]he richest genius, like the most fertile soil, when uncultivated, shoots up into the rankest weeds.”[vii]

Although he discusses aspects of one’s personal conduct, including the way that one may eat or drink, sleep and have sexual intercourse, there is one particular aspect that merits further discussion and that was his view on cleaving to those who lead the way of wisdom. “[A] man needs to associate with the just and be with the wise continually in order to learn [from] their actions,”[viii] and by associating with fools one will ultimately enable evil to prosper within. Accordingly, evil is living without adequate care or thought to this measure of behaviour. The human being, says Kant, is aware of the moral law but has failed to incorporate it into his or her maxim, and is thus fundamentally evil.[ix] Regarding the conduct of ones affairs and perfecting eating habits, the way he or she engages with body and desires, and the consistent consciousness to dedicate oneself to moral well being is not simply for the happiness that it enables but also as a way to keep his or her body healthy and strong. There misery therewith when surrounded by the wrong people will prevent one from conducting their affairs correctly. In On the Management of Health (105-113), any such undesirable people and overindulgence leads to excessive mental and physical health issues where strength is spent and “his life and eyes dimmed”[x] or conversely, improving his character traits by cleaving to those who are wise, modest and righteous, his soul ultimately becomes tranquil.[xi] In similar vein, Confucius states that one should, “make conscientiousness and sincerity your leading principles. Have no friends inferior to yourself. And when in the wrong, do not hesitate to amend.”[xii] But it is not merely the afflictions physically, but the afflictions of the soul and the impact of the misery, anxiety and despair that befall people. The remedy is to enable the soul to eliminate the passions and learn to compose oneself ethically and morally by becoming subservient to what is righteous and good. “Thus the passions will diminish, [obsessive] thoughts will disappear, apprehension will be removed, and the soul will be cheerful in whatever condition a man happens to be” [109].

While it is possible that the ego could choose the wrong people to have and thus misconstrue what it means to be surrounded by the right people, the general rule of propriety is that self-development and dedicating oneself to a life of wisdom would enable the faculty accurately observe right and wrong conduct in others and ourselves. The propriety of character and how people conduct themselves and their affairs is a matter of observation and since depravity of character is expressed through impropriety and the product of their behaviour seen by the fruits they produce, the clarity of choice becomes simplified. Those who embody moral virtue and right or wrong behaviour, who – as Mencius expounds – feels a sense of shame[xiii] and is reverently careful in his conduct and affairs is clearly one of right character and mind. This standard establishes a virtuous culture or environment where members equally possess the same will to moral virtue that enjoin to equally share in the development of principles, a formula known as the Kingdom of Ends.[xiv] For Maimonides, “Certain actions necessarily stem from one soul and other actions from another soul” that therefore exemplify the importance of relations with our fellow community.

In Eight Chapters (59-105), Maimonides critically explores piety and the discipline that encompasses morality. Good moral habits initiates the formation of ethics; by obtaining good moral habits, it becomes that very connection between moral virtue and the social and political. Written as an introduction to Pirqei Avot (Chapters of the Fathers), he attempts to isolate the permissible and erroneous and the relevance of been rational as n instrument to become empowered to control the appetitive desires. The soul has the power but disobedience through transgressions and the highly imaginative fails to enable the will to become subservient to moral virtues. “For example, moderation, liberality, justice, gentleness, humility, contentment, courage, and others.” (65) This disobedience becomes a disease to the soul that is seen externally in the body, taking pleasure in things that are not good for the body and the mind and never reaching physical excellence. His references to statements made by Solomon enables clarity on his combined efforts to involve Biblical connections to his ethical and medicinal approaches.

And the reason for living a life dedicated to finding the Golden Mean? Virtue – which is mental health – and the golden mean are necessary for a healthy life. In his Letter to Joseph (113-129), that he writes to his disciple Joseph Ibn Aknin, it is to lead by example and develop a pattern of excellent. The chapter provides some extraordinary insights into the man himself, about his vision and his enormous commitment to his moral objective. “In sum, if you are indeed my disciple, I want you to train yourself to follow my moral habits” (120). His affection and criticisms shed an amazing light on his dedication to justice and his love of knowledge, or as St. Thomas Aquinas states, “Love takes up where knowledge leaves off.”[xvii] Love is the unity formed through knowledge and establishes a state of happiness resides, making knowledge fundamental to this development. Through Rabbinical law and adherence to the commandments along with the dedication to attain a balance of mind will the adherent become suffused with love. It is not simply the mean itself that supplies the individual with the tranquillity required to be happy, but the righteous ability to discern the right time and way to think and behave, to rationally approach ones own emotions.

By improving your character and reaching a state of clarity in mind and reason, one will enable the qualities necessary to reach the balanced standard that Mainmonides expects. In the Guide of the Perplexed (129-155), which is one of his most famous works, is to guide those possessing positive character traits by learning to understand God. The work is addressed to Joseph ben Judah and elucidates ways of overcoming the disillusionment and existential angst of philosophy and law by understanding the differences between the practical and the subjective or speculative. Having strong theoretical foundations and thus continuously ameliorating knowledge, one can uncover the mental capacity necessary to acquire to attain a solid understanding of themselves and the world around them. That laws are not natural but necessary to manage the natural. “The Law as a whole aims at two things: the well-being of the soul and the well-being of the body. As for the well-being of the soul, it consists in the multitude’s acquiring correct opinions corresponding to their respective capacity” (139). The final chapters, Treatise on the Art of Logic (155-165) and The Days of the Messiah (165-177) continue along with the same themes. By distinguishing biblical themes such as the world to come, formulations that deal with immorality and the benefits of the laws particularly the coming messianic era will provide one with an understanding of repentance. “It has become known that the life of the world-to-come is the reward for performing the commandments and is the good that we merit if we have kept the way of the old referred to in the Torah” (169). Discussing the instrument of logic as a necessary condition of the mind in order to appreciate the correct approach of practical reasoning and to think and behave correctly remains an important aspect to the power of rational thought.

I was compelled to his work for my love of history whether it is ancient or medieval, in this case the latter. I have a strong appreciation for literature such as the Ethical Writings of Maimonides that promotes the value of ethics and the moral concerns relating to our conduct and behaviour. His criticism is harsh, views absolute and his beliefs that the actions of our soul, our intent, the choices that we want to make and whether we are thinking correctly formulate the groundwork necessary to compel the right choices that we act out in reality. The book provides additional insight into rabbinical literature and the significance of moral laws that authoritatively posit the necessity of moral conduct. By finding the golden mean and teaching oneself to discover a proper balance of thought and behaviour, compelled by our desire to lead a virtuous life, Maimonides believes that we can reach both physically and mentally excellence in health and in moral virtue.

[i] Plato, Republic [618e]
[ii] Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics from I.M.N. Al-Jubouri’ History of Islamic Philosophy, (2004) 74
[iii] Immanuel Kant, Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, 2:217
[iv] Raymond L. Weiss, Ethical Writings of Maimonides, Dover Publications New York (1975), 7
[v] Proverbs 4:26
[vi] Weiss and Butterworth, op. cit., 30
[vii] David Hume, Moral and Political Philosophy, Simon and Schuster (2010)
[viii] Weiss and Butterworth, op. cit., 46
[ix] Immanuel Kant, Religion within the Bounds of Mere Reason, 6:32
[x] Weiss and Butterworth, op. cit., 40
[xi] Ibid., 43
[xii] Confucius, The Analects, Chapter XXIV
[xiii] Menicius, Bk. vii., pti., c.vii., v i.
[xiv] Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, 4:439

An Uncertain Will

“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.” George Orwell

I am disturbed by the fact that people have turned animal rights into a fashion statement, telling the world around them to ‘be yourself, be an individual’ while pouting their lips and taking selfies, where advertising ploys utilised by the globalised marketing industry to entice people to purchase products has subliminally replicated to define the identity of the masses that they are no longer able to distinguish between what is morally and ethically genuine and what is a mere superficial display of appearances. This pervasive youth culture of buying and selling themselves has now firmly solidified into an inescapable cycle where taste, thought and opinions, even the mode of expression has become virally duplicated that it has diminished the opportunity for people to reach a genuine state of moral well-being. People are becoming the same ‘thing’ as though the sanctity of their existence is nothing more than a mere product with no substance and where there is quite a lot of talking but no one is really saying anything. And how are we able to ascertain that line where the boundary between subtle conformity transmogrifies to a society that demands conformity hidden behind the agenda of a falsified ‘good’ – that injecting your lips or getting other forms of cosmetic surgery is justifiable as long as you like animals, since if you like animals than you must be a ‘good’ person and since you are a ‘good’ person then cosmetic surgery must be a ‘good’ thing and the more people approve of it, the more ‘good’ it becomes.

It is clear that a capitalist is solely driven by profit and ultimately power since it is power that strengthens capital gain. Whether we would like to admit it or not, our world contains a profoundly dark reality where capital gain has through the expense of people, the environment and a number of species that are now extinct, fuelled civil wars by supplying weapons, enslaved children for clothing, poisoned our seas and clear-cut our forests that has – I dare say despite the wilful ignorance of our O so delightful conservative morons – permanently damaged our ecosphere. History has shown to us that power through domination and the exertion of force fails to be sustainable for long enough to influence the longevity necessary to stimulate capital growth, necessitating the strategic process of finding the imbalances and vulnerabilities of a given society and exercising the conditions necessary that use these divisions against them as a matter of control. It is an unintelligible power because unlike coercion where resistance follows, our adversary appears to be our friend and we appear to be making our own decisions since what ‘I’ buy is ‘mine’ that negates the reasons for the complicity and desire for the object in the first place. True power, therefore, is not something acquired, it is an ideal that speaks without a voice and whispers invented beliefs that people conform to, when vulnerabilities cause people to trick themselves to think that they are making the choice as a free individual and to avoid ever confronting their own deception they will defend their ignorance tooth and nail especially when at risk of being exposed. “That’s the power of fear… and you always fear what you don’t understand.”[1] When the Master imperceptibly manipulates and convinces a slave to gradually and willingly choose to be his slave through enticements of pleasure – the pleasure being the avoidance of pain that the Master is causally responsible for giving in the first place – it gives the Master the sustainable permanence required to attain maximum capital, particularly since the willingness additionally amounts to a more productive slave.

The Master – i.e. marketing strategies – constructs the perceptions of what is unattractive and what is attractive, utilising the vulnerabilities of people against them and strategically exercising the conditions necessary to falsify a sense of independence in the decisions that compel people to purchase in order to feel beautiful. It employs the strategy that alienates the person from reality and develops within them an insatiable ressentiment[2] that the Master actually makes you feel ugly and you in turn are compelled to purchase as a way to feel beautiful. Over time, this conformity enlarges and as each person submits, they defend their ignorance so as to never confront their self-deception by treating those who fail to adhere to the customs as outsiders as though forcing them to either comply or be ostracized and thus in turn subjectively justify their submission. Think of it like this; in the Sudan, women who are circumcised are considered ‘attractive’ to men and despite the sheer immorality of female circumcision, if it is a custom and the majority are performing their duty, the practice itself must therefore make it ‘beautiful’ – the submission to the custom that is – and those who choose not to participate are ostracized from the community. Nietzsche’ theory of ethics purports that conventionalism, namely that value is created by the will of the greatest number of individuals, weakens the independence or power of our own individual will. “The moral ideal is a person who is not great, but a ‘herd animal’, who seeks security and comfort and wishes to avoid danger and suffering.”[3]

Marx defined this as a type of alienation from our own nature or free will and our capacity to explore activities of our own choosing.[4] Just as Rousseau believed that the state of human nature is good but corrupted by civilization[5], Marx believed that this alienation is formed as part of a historical development – though I myself have the preferable opinion that it is more a subjective alienation to our own consciousness – and that a class war develops between the alienated and the forces of capitalism.[6] The individual is thus presented with a choice to either become a nihilist – a signal of the despair in the soul of the individual[7] incapable of breaking away from the herd – or the new philosopher,[8] the nonconformist who has the strength of will to challenge the blind submission. If we strip down the nature of the individual, what exactly is slave morality? Is it a mere mindlessness such as being told what to do and how to think, further still being convinced that happiness can only be found in truths that are – whether moral in nature or not – popular in its conventionalism and that value in our own existence is therefore dependent solely on the approval of the majority, or is there a subjective agenda, perhaps the intensity of our fear of aloneness – anxiety being a form of subjective pain – that we sacrificially choose to abandon our will to exercise independent rational thought to allow others to think for us. From a cultural perspective, some groups illustrate the strategy of ostracising ‘dissidents’ or those members of the community who refuse to adhere to the regulations required of them, thus leaving them isolated and unaided with the threat of poverty, violence and other angst-inducing potentialities; those who submit enjoy the pleasures that come with such obedience including the welcome approval, the economic satisfactions and social warmth that communal environs enjoy. So then why exactly is this submission wrong since the desire for the latter pleasures is only natural in its normative structure? “The formation of a herd is a significant victory and advance in the struggle against depression.”[9]

Let us assume that morality is universally inherited yet its properties are merely interpreted differently relative to social circumstances [including the cognitive constitution of the individual etc &c.,] if moral judgements are motivated not by an independent, self-reflective consciousness but merely the photocopying of the requirements as dictated by the social environment, self-knowledge and awareness becomes limited. With such limitations, a person is unable to feel empathy as moral judgements have not properly formed and as – instinctually – fear is imbedded in our nature, they become susceptible to conformity to anything, including evil. If advertising and marketing is capable of influences mass opinion, Propaganda is by extension the next phase of advertising, that the fascist man is a ‘strong’ man and with the right appearance, including the clothing worn and other ritual behaviour? What is the difference between wearing the swastika armband to prove your social position and wearing the Nike tick to prove your social position? What is the difference between wanting to be Aryan and wanting to be a Kardashian? As the current social conditions necessitate an element of ‘good’ in its advertising, it is no wonder neo-Nazi’s themselves are now beginning to design a promotion of hate utilising the globalisation of this type of perfunctory culture, making hate to appear cool and attractive. “Experts have noted that the German neo-Nazi presence on Tumblr and other social networking sites has become sleeker and more sophisticated. Neo-Nazi clothing has become more stylish and difficult to recognize. There’s even a vegan Nazi cooking show.”[10]

I remember seeing the dismay of a man who seemed to believe it unfathomable that I own a $50 Microsoft phone that I purchased from Woolworths several years ago and despite that it consistently causes technical issues when browsing online that appears to make decisions on my behalf, I am nevertheless content in its utility. “Why don’t you have an iPhone?” he said, looking at me as though I were an unknown species. “Why an iPhone?” I replied to which he stared out blankly into space, whilst speechless his expression appeared to be saying ‘whoa’ as though my question instigated a deep philosophical and spiritual awakening. Conversely, there have been several instances where I have met people who contain within them an ingenious form of hatred, a type of spiritual hate[11] as though conscious of having conformed to the social conditions but troubled with their capacity to take an independent command of their own existence. This powerlessness substantiates the presence of a subjective weakness that emasculates him and he slowly begins to hate himself and again, if ever confronting this reality – the truth that he merely follows others and therefore has no identity of his own – he begins to confront an unbearable anxiety that to prevent this from happening develops ‘games’ that he essentially is playing with himself to trick his conscious mind from ever facing this emasculation. Eventually, he begins to inject himself with hormones to build muscle as though the larger the physical attributes the easier it is to hide the smallness he feels within, office politics and the conquest for power, even being ultra-nationalist, fascist or right-wing politically that supplants an opportunity for aggression against the Other and thus projecting the hate he has for himself onto something else. Personal identity becomes a given rather than a developed and the genuine properties that make him who he is are concealed, crushed, silenced as though his heart were a creature attempting to find safe ground and the owner seeking to murder it with his own feet, depriving himself of his own natural and inherent qualities and irrevocably changing his human nature from a living organism to a heartless machine. It is why Confucius believed that a ‘superior’ man is one who ceases to emulate others. “What the superior man seeks is in himself; what the ordinary man seeks is in others… The mind of the superior man is conversant with righteousness; the mind of the ordinary man is conversant with gain.”[12]  It challenges the notions of what we consider to be masculine and feminine as the moral properties and intrinsic conditions are challenged by subjective contradictions; that is, how is a ‘man’ someone who actively exercises his rational capacities rather than his physical? How is a ‘man’ who turns the other cheek stronger than a soldier?

If societal views are continuously in a state of flux, renewal is also possible but the frightful reality is that this renewal is potentially cyclic, thus historically repetitive in its continuity. That is, would it be honest of me to accept that much of society fails to adequately think with independence and thus requires direction, that the only fight necessary is hidden one, that sweet and gently voice that whispers all the wrong things and compels people to conform to immorality? If a man is incapable of being morally independent since “[t]hey who know virtue are few”[13] then would it be wise to promote what the sages have over the centuries, namely that it is better for him to cleave to what is ‘good’ by guiding him toward a system of ethics that structure a society which regulates general motives and wills toward conditions that compel independent thinking and thus moral well-being? “The aim to excel, if respected of all, approved and accepted by common consent, would appeal to every child and, logically presented to its mind and enforced by universal recognition of its validity, would become a conviction and a scheme for the art of living, of transforming power and compelling vigour.”[14] When one abandons their will out of the fear that the result in thinking independently may mean the experience of aloneness and separateness, that following their heart may mean losing their identity and place in the world, no falsification of being ‘good’ by pretending to ethics and morality can change the fact that they have conformed to something aside from themselves. It is undeniable that whilst all people with functional cognitive faculties are capable of thinking for themselves, our social and cultural environs dictate our value-beliefs and that what the majority deem to consider happiness must therefore be happiness. Aldous Huxley’ Brave New World exemplifies this thesis: “One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.”[15]

Or perhaps I should just go off to my own Island and in solitude and silence live out my days wishing that the clones of the earth – or even just one clone – had the wisdom to understand what it felt like having true passion, feeling love, experiencing danger, committing a sin, being aesthetically swept away  through the creative arts and sensing what it is to be truly free? Where are you, O wise man capable of love????

[1] Quote from Batman Begins (2005) when Carmine Falcone explains to Bruce Wayne the meaning of power.
[2] Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, A&C Black (2006) 107
[3] Michael Lacewing, Nietzsche on morality and human nature, Routledge: http://cw.routledge.com/textbooks/alevelphilosophy/data/a2/nietzsche/nietzschemoralityhumannature.pdf
[4] David Leopold, The Young Karl Marx: German Philosophy, Modern Politics, and Human Flourishing, Cambridge University Press (2007)  231
[5] Kenneth L. Campbell, Western Civilization: A Global and Comparative Approach, Since 1600, M.E. Sharpe (2012) 70
[6] Nicholas Churchich, Marxism and Alienation, Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press (1990) 47
[7] Op. cit., Lacewing.
[8] Laurence D. Cooper, Eros in Plato, Rousseau, and Nietzsche: The Politics of Infinity, Penn State Press (2010) 230
[9] Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, III.18
[10] http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/heil-hipster-the-young-neo-nazis-trying-to-put-a-stylish-face-on-hate-20140623
[11] See Nietzsche
[12] Analects, bk. xv., c. iii and bk. iv., c. xxi.
[13] Analects, bk. xv., c. iii.
[14] The Ethics of Confucius, by Miles Menander Dawson, [1915]
[15] Aldous Huxley, Brave New World