Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Death of A Soldier; Everyone's Anarchist; The Art of Human Life

Earlier today I established that I'm a dick. So it comes as no surprise that the summary of my response to this self-eulogy is 'bullshit!'

Many people are sad about it, and so am I. I'm sad because what this man entrusted to us in the event of his death shows so elegantly how deluded and screwed up he was, and despite his protestations to the contrary, it ruined his life. The reaction, totally unfeigned, only shows me, yet again, how widespread such delusions are.

As I'm coming to find I have to say a lot, I don't care what dead people think. However, rebutting this corpse's final post isn't about what it thought; it's about what you think. Or, if not you, then inevitably someone you know. These are pandemic.

And they are Sad. They are every synonym of sad all rolled up into a huge ball of grief and loss. But not because he died. Because his beliefs live on.

And I'll show you why.

First, a seemingly tiny part of his message.
"It's not easy asking anyone to do something for you in the event of your death, and it is a testament to her quality that she didn't hesitate to accept the charge."
It's not? I'm going to have to ask my friends about that, because to me it seems like a very simple request. That's not the point though.

The point is his philosophy says to him that he's allowed to leave something undone not just until the last minute but actually after he's gone.

Why the hell didn't he talk like this before he's dead? This is some of the clearest, deeply thought, deeply felt, and most sincere writing I've read in years. It's been said by many before, why the blasted hell does everyone wait until it's too late to decide to be themselves?

So, what do I do about this issue? There's a post on this site, about consciousness. Why is it there? Because I was thinking one day, and I realized that I wanted it out there. I think it's important. What would happen in the unlikely event that I'm hit by an exploding chicken tomorrow? Without this blog, that idea would evaporate with my life. If I want it out there, if I want it recorded somewhere outside my head, I have to do it now. So I did.
"Believe it or not, one of the things I will miss most is not being able to blog any longer."
No, you're dead. You're not missing anything, because the structure that enabled you to feel the feeling 'miss' is now merrily feeding microorganisms. If indeed your consciousness survived somehow, blogging probably doesn't even make sense to you. You've become a completely different being. (Possibly the type of being known as 'nonexistent,' as you acknowledge later.)
"Bottom line: if I got the chance to meet you through blogging, I enjoyed it. I'm only sorry I couldn't meet more of you."
Sure buddy. You'd have just loved my blog if you'd found it. If your new body is capable of perceiving my blog, I bet you're just loving the crap out of this piece. What a load.
"I died doing a job I loved."
His job was killing people. He loved killing people.

Let me emphasize that.

He loved killing people.
"When your time comes, I hope you are as fortunate as I was."
Murder: a job description we all aspire to!
"Those who know me through my writings on the Internet over the past five-plus years probably have wondered at times about my chosen profession. While I am not a Libertarian, I certainly hold strongly individualistic beliefs. Yet I have spent my life in a profession that is not generally known for rugged individualism. Worse, I volunteered to return to active duty knowing that the choice would almost certainly lead me to Iraq."
Important, so I've quoted it here in case you, dear reader, don't want to read the whole thing. He continues in this vein for a bit until the following.
"As passionate as I am about personal freedom, I don't buy the claims of anarchists that humanity would be just fine without any government at all. There are too many people in the world who believe that they know best how people should live their lives, and many of them are more than willing to use force to impose those beliefs on others."
So, he wants to be an anarchist, but assiduously avoids the idea that there might, just might, be a non-government solution to these people "who believe that they know best how people should live their lives, and many of them are more than willing to use force to impose those beliefs on others." On the contrary, that is one of the most succinct descriptions of government itself I've ever seen.

Why would he argue against this specifically? There are lots of unpopular theories of government. Considering his audience, it's like arguing that he had hair - not exactly going to raise debate. Instead it's like a couple of jocks poking fun at the fat guy - it's a game of "Team up on the outsider."

Or is it? Why team up on this outsider specifically, except that he's afraid that's it's true? That he's afraid people will actually believe it?
"A world without government simply wouldn't last very long; as soon as it was established, strongmen would immediately spring up to establish their fiefdoms."
So it's overwhelming likely, according to this dead soldier, that government is exactly one of these strongmen, these gussied-up thugs, who "believe that they know best...and are will to use force."

Everyone wants to be an anarchist. Everyone wants to be left alone, to make their own decisions about their life, to do what they want, say what they want, work where they want, or indeed not work at all if they want.

If I had a business, and I was selling something that guaranteed that you'd have full control of your own life from here on out, that the people you talked to were all chosen by you, that what you ate was chosen by you, that you made all your own decisions in finance and business and pleasure and in love, what would people say?

"Sounds too good. What's the catch?"

"The catch is that you don't have to pay taxes." Ironically, that is indeed the catch - people want anarchism, but they don't like what it would mean in their lives - today, right now - if they admitted it.

And that's Sad. Steve Pavlina talks about fear holding us back. I sometimes might say that we don't like the logical consequences of accepting that the government needs to be gone. Molyneux would talk about how you were mistreated as a child. I don't actually believe its anything like as simple as any of this. I think it's a huge, messy, seemingly self-contradictory snarl of problems and counter-problems and hidden problems. It's real, like life.

But it's true that nearly everyone avoids simply going after what they want. Our world would be so much better if we did. Sure, some people are going to just admit that they want power, or crime, or other unsavory things. They are going to lie, cheat, and steal to get it. But that's no different than what's happening now - it's only that if everyone just went for what they want, the rest of us would end up honestly pursuing our goals, directly and without compromise. We would, for the most part, just admit our true desires and do everything possible to achieve them.

Without doing so, how would you ever know? Sure, you might fail. We might decide that we all want anarchism, but when we just go for it, it doesn't work. We fail. But you know what? At least then, and only then, we know for sure we can't have it. Then, and only then, we know it's time to pursue something else, something we didn't necessarily want as much. And we have no regrets.

Going for what you want and only what you want at the very least leads to half of inner peace - you aren't fighting yourself, nor are in conflict about what you're doing. You're just trying your darnedest to do it, and damn everyone who tries to stop you.

Either we're good people, or we're not. If we are, we have nothing to fear by pursuing our true desires. If we're not, then who the hell are we fooling? Bad people don't worry about being selfish. Bad people don't worry about looking themselves in the mirror. Only good people do these things. Only a good person could be persuaded to give up their goals for the sake of morals

Don't you understand? Only the good people are harmed by thinking they're bad people. Bad people don't worry about it.

That's why is Sad.

And here's another thing. What if I'm wrong, and not everyone truly wants anarchism? The fact is, we don't have to hang around those people. They don't much like us either, and it would be better for both sides if we just decided to live apart.

If someone really wants to be ordered about, or simply can't live without ordering other people around, let them. Just don't let them do it around you.

But I don't believe anyone really wants to be told what to do. If you don't believe me, then let's try it; contact me and I'll tell you what to do. How long will it be before you start arguing with me? Ten seconds? Five?

No one wants to be told what to do. Sometimes, though, even you don't know what to do. This is the time for someone like a grandfather. They're similar to you genetically, and so too will be their style of living. You spend a lot of time with your family; they know you well. So too do they know, through their long experience, life itself. So you ask your grandfather, what do I do? And a wise grandfather doesn't tell you one thing about what they would do. They ask questions, they help you live your life as you, instead of trying to graft on bits of other people. Ideally, it seems as if they know you better than they know yourself. They help you remember who you are, instead of trying to make you into who they think you should be.

Just like you don't hang around people who think they know your life better than you, if you really don't like your boss that much, you can quit. And guess what else? If you hate your family, you don't have to hang around them. "But they're your family!" isn't an argument. "But you owe them!" for whatever reason, isn't an argument either, especially if they're insulting or abusive. If you hate or fear your family members, if going to a Christmas gathering with people you supposedly love fills you with not joy but terror, don't fucking go. Sure, they'll say mean things about you. But you hate them, what do you care? Just do what you want.

Just do what you want. Or don't ever, ever complain if you don't get what you want, because it's nobody's fault but your own.

There's an art to human life. It's not just go to work, pay off your family with calls and visits, spend time raising your kids, then snatch a few minutes for the things you really enjoy before going to bed and starting the whole thing over again. It's not just bits of physics grinding up against other physics. It's an art.

Music? Movies? Poetry? Painting? These are but tiny sub-arts to the great dance that is a human life. But interesting blips compared to the true swelling orchestral beauty of a well-lived life.

And it's your art. Not your mother's, not your god's, not your spouse's or your children's or the poor and needy's or your government's or any of the thousand other people that will try to lay claim to it.

Yours. Yours and yours alone.

It cannot be any other way. Your mind is your own and no one can take it from you unless you let them.

The people who claim that they can paint your life better than you? They can't. They don't know you, they can never know you well enough, and they're just trying to supplement their own failure to live up to themselves by taking your talent.

The best advice I've ever heard was, "Don't take advice."

It's an art. It's poetry and symmetry and contrast, light, colour, arpeggio, forte and pianissimo. It's the way the clutter of your house - or lack thereof - reflects your inner life. It's the people you choose, the foods you choose, how you divide your day. It's the way you try to integrate the things you can't control into the things you can. It's the details and the wholes they make up. It's whether you choose to do things exactly right, or if good enough is good enough.

It's the integrity of the thing, the way it all fits together. It's what people are talking about when they say self-expression. It's not what these things are, but how they fit together and what they mean. It all combines and expands and becomes more than even you meant it to.

It's an art. It's a dance through existence and it's always your move.

Ah, you may ask, but what is art? One of the points of art is to show things that otherwise can't be shown - to play with the senses.

You can paint a landscape. But why? You could also just visit the landscape, and see it in its full interactive glory. You paint the landscape to show things the landscape itself can't. To emphasize to the eye details that are never emphasized, to add colour where there is none or take it away from where it is.

This is why I loved Escher so much at first. He takes the paintbrush and plays with the rules of the eye, showing us things we never thought we could see. He explores our reality on our behalf and lets us learn new things about ourselves.

All art should do this. Fiction displays events that could never happen, so we can feel thing we'd never otherwise feel. Music are sounds beyond that we can find in nature, giving us moods previously impossible. Poetry is a game of the mind and language, evoking unheard-of connections. This is also why photography seems so silly to me as an art - it's just a natural scene, and yes there's a certain craft to portraying it accurately, but it's inevitably less than the actual thing itself. For the most part, it's better to just go yourself to wherever the photograph was taken. By contrast, photoshop reawakens the playful and exploratory, taking the natural scene and cranking the contrast or inserting illusions or combining two things we'd never otherwise see together, and ultimately making it mean something, about you.

In a human life it's all this and yet more. The harmony and disposition of your choices is the most subtle, yet intense, everyday, yet sublime art there is. Through nothing else can the real purpose of life be seen but by living it, by appreciating the greatest work you'll ever see: your own life. Though this art there are an infinity of things you never thought you could experience.

"What's the catch?"

"You have to do what you want."

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