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Alienation

April 28, 2009

I just came inside from a long walk outdoors, and during my walk I couldn’t get my mind off the topic of alienation.

What is alienation?  In short, it’s when people don’t love and accept one another, for whatever reason.  A person, or group of individuals, treats another person or group of individuals, in ways that make them feel they are out of place, and do not belong.

I kept thinking about the fact that no matter what decision I make, and no matter what lifestyle I choose, I will always bring some closer to me, and will push others away.  It’s sad, but in life you can choose to be in with this crowd, or that crowd, but it’s rarely the case that you can be part of both.

It’s amazing that no matter what you do, some will admire you, and others will look down on you, for the same exact decisions and actions.  I’ve been pursuing my business adventures since I was 16, hoping to make enough money to be financially free, so I can pursue some of the things I’ve always wanted to do.  It’s been a rough road.  I can be around a group of business men and they’ll cheer me on, telling me to stick with it, and admire my resolve and determination.  Then I can spend some time around others, such as a group of college students, and they’ll start telling me things like, “Your business pursuits are consuming you.  It just seems wrong to me.”  I had one friend tell me I was “chasing my shadow”.  It doesn’t matter what you choose, some will like you, others will disapprove of you.

I talked to some of my friends about my recent experiences lifting weights, and how I’ve been gaining a lot of muscle mass.  I get mixed replies.  When I see the changes, I look in the mirror and see the new me and think, “This is nice.”  I talk with Greg and he’s like, “Yeah, that’s great.  You should keep that up.”  I talk to some girls, and they think the change is good.  But that’s not to say everyone likes it.  I showed a picture of how muscular I plan to get to one friend and he said, “I’d never want to look like that.”  The guy in the picture had veins slightly popping out of his arms, and he thought that was gross.  I thought, “The guy had just been lifting weights…”  But it doesn’t matter.

If you’re slim and in good health, some will hate you just because you look good.  Others will hate you if you DON’T look good.  You’ll hear something like, “Oh, she’s just little miss perfect”, “She’s a spoiled princess”, “She’s so lucky, all the guys like her!”  Then if she doesn’t look good, other people will be saying, “She’s so undisciplined.  People are so lazy.  Why can’t they make time to go to the gym!  She should put more effort into her appearance.”

If you’re clean and organized, some people will hate you for that.  My friend Greg showed a picture of his place to a girl, and she responded, “It doesn’t look like you live there.”  To her, a place isn’t “lived in” unless it’s a bit messy and at least a little disorganized.  To another person, Greg’s high level of cleanliness is the ideal, and they can’t stand messiness or disorganization of any kind!  They can’t stand slobs!

If you’re morally blameless, and have lived a good life, there are those who will hate you, telling you that you’re spoiled, and don’t know about the “real world”.  But this same sort of nastiness can be directed the opposite way, when people are found morally disreputable, for all kinds of reasons, and the other side stands with the halo and plays the saint.

With my parents, who are devout religious believers, I feel alienated when any topic of God or religion is brought up.  It’s not me either.  It’s religious intolerance. I immediately feel like an outcast, and do not belong around them.  My beliefs are most closely aligned to that of an athiest, but that’s not to say I am one.  I don’t think there’s really much difference at all between those who “believe” in God, and those who don’t.  People who generally tell me to “believe” in God rarely seem to have any conception as to what a human “belief” entails.  Generally speaking, a person’s actions show what they believe, and do not believe — not some confession out of their mouth.  Bertrand Russell defined “belief” very well.  Because it’s so important to understand the kinds of arguments a smart atheist brings up, I’ll quote some passage out of his book ‘Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits’:

“‘Belief,’ as I wish to use the word, denotes a state of mind or body, or both, in which an animal acts with reference to something not sensibly present.  When I go to the station in expectation of finding a train, my action expresses a belief.  So does the action of a dog excited by the smell of fox.  So does that of a bird in a room, which flies against the window panes in the hope of getting out.  Among human beings, the only action by which a belief is expressed is, very often, the pronouncing of appropriate words.

To put the matter schematically, with a more or less unreal simplication: The presence of a stimulus A causes a certain kind of behavior, say B; as a result of experience, something else, say C, may cause B in the absence of A.  In that case, C may be said to cause “belief” in A, and “belief” in A may be said to be a feature of the behavior B.  When words come in, all this becomes more precise.  The sight of a fox (A) causes you to pronounce the word ‘fox’ (B); you may learn the trail of a fox in snow (C), and, seeing it, say ‘fox.’  You are then ‘believing’ A because of C.  And if the trail WAS made by a fox, your belief is true.”

Taking this as a tentative definition for what a “belief” is, then what would it mean for me to “believe” in God?  My Dad tells me to ‘believe’ that Jesus died and rose again, and those who believe the Biblical account of his death and resurrection will have eternal life, and their sins forgiven.  So say some prayer and confess it in the presence of the church body?  That’s what it means to believe?  No you say, it’s my actions?  You’ll know a Christian by their fruits? A lot of people live morally, far better than a lot of Christians, and I wouldn’t say they’re “believers”.  All I could envision “believing” in Jesus to mean, for me, is that I tell people “I believe in Jesus”, if they ask.  It’s a mindless, meaningless blurb of words I spout out as a conditioned response.  It sounds so superfluous to me to not even be worth anything.  I don’t know Jesus, he never talks to me, I’ve never seen his face.  And as for those who say Jesus DOES talk to them, how could this be?  How could they BELIEVE in Jesus by FAITH, if they KNOW Jesus?  If they know him, it’s not a test of their faith to believe, and really no faith is even involved.  None of it even makes sense to me, yet so many people think atheists are immoral people, who lack all virtue!  But these sorts of things divide people, and alienate family members.

The educated alienate the uneducated, and the uneducated alienate the educated.  When I’m around very intelligent people, they can’t stand those whose views aren’t rooted in strong empirical evidence.  They have a lot of trouble tolerating idiots.  Whether it’s the constant misunderstandings, the stupid retorts, or whatever, they just can’t stand to “debate” with a person who hasn’t even taken time to pick up a book, and can’t even follow basic logic.  But the uneducated are the same way.  There’s religious people who will burn books they haven’t even read.  They won’t respect anyone without faith.

The poor alienate the rich, and the rich alienate the poor.  Movies are geared to the masses, who are in general relatively poor, and their films tend to play out the rich as these miserably greedy individuals, whose life is empty.  The rich are shallow people, who haven’t learned to enjoy the simple things in life.  And the fact that a lot of rich, powerful men marry women for reasons other than what most normal people are accustomed to, they find even more reason to deride them.

The poor hate the rich because they find them too ambitious.  Then the rich can’t stand the poor because they lack ambition.  The rich get mad because they work so hard, and their money is taxed so heavily, and handed to people who work much less.  The poor feel the rich have too much money, and there’s an unequal distribution of wealth.

I find my greatest joy in studying books, and reading.  I love to learn new things.  That’s my passion.  My thoughts resemble those of the great philospoher and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead:

“Our minds are finite, and yet even in those circumstances of finitude, we are surrounded by possibilities that are infinite, and the purpose of human life is to grasp as much as we can out of that infinitude.”

To him, life is about understanding as much as possible before he dies.  If knowledge is a mountain, he wants to climb as high as he can, and see the world from the highest point possible.  When he grows old, and stands at a great height overlooking the world, he finally reaps his reward.

The Nobel prize winning physicist Richard Feynman wrote a book specifically about the joys of finding things out.  To relive the adventures and discoveries of past ages, and to resolve every problem that has ever been solved! For what reason? There is no reason!  Knowledge is its own reward.

I read their books and think, “I want to be like you guys!”  You’d think you’d be univerally admired for ambitions like these, but in reality, not really.  Most girls you date will find you boring.  Instead of watching movies with her, you stay in your study working on mathematical equations representing various physical phenomenon.  I’ve had girls tell me I’m boring.  One girl I’m fond of told me, “I wish you’d live more.”  When I read that I thought, “What do you consider life?”  Running a successful company, and dreams of science pursuits of space, physics, and depth psychology are boring I guess.  I tend to disagree.

My parents don’t admire me for my studies at all.  The only thing they see is me “losing faith” in Christianity.  To them, I’m “backsliding”. As for what I may or may not understand, they could really care less.

Everyone has their own way they think life should be lived.  I’d go so far as to say everyone is living their own ideal.  That’s not to say their life is “ideal”, in the sense that they’re happy and successful.  What I’m saying is they all have a big torrent of views in their head, swirling about, which is how they think themselves, and others, should live.  As for why they themselves are not successful, or why their own views aren’t bringing them happiness, they typically blame others, such as the corrupt politicians, or the bankers, their spouse, their children, or someone else.  These views in people’s head, without other levels of psychological and spiritual understanding, are what cause alienation.

I once saw an anti-drug commercial, which I’m very fond of.  Unfortunately I’m not able to find it on YouTube.  It shows a kid who wants to fit in, so at first he dresses like a prep, then a punk, then a cowboy, then a gangster in baggy clothes, then he gets tattoos and shaves his head, then he grows out and dyes a red mohawk, and several other transformations.  New friends keep coming into his room each time he changes.

So many people will see a commercial like that and say, “Haha, so stupid for someone to give in to social pressure like that.”  I think this commercial is deeper than social pressure though.  I believe the most important message conveyed is that people oftentimes won’t love others unless they’re part of their “clique”.  Notice, new friends come and go, as his image changes — which is true to life.  What the kid is really looking for is acceptance.

The same people who make fun of the kid in the commercial are the same ones locked into cliques, and think their identity is formed by “choosing who they are”.  They’ve found something they like, and have found themselves, unlike this boy in the commercial, who lets others define him.  They’re the “authetic” cowboy, or the “authetic” prep, or the “authetic” gangster.  They don’t realize their own misconceptions, which are the cause of so much misery in the world.

The commercial is geared to teenagers, so it talks about social groups of preps, cowboys, jocks, etc.  But in the real world, it’s not much different.  There’s the Christians, the Muslims, the Democrats, the Republicans, the rich, the poor, the in shape, the out of shape, the beautiful, the ugly, the scientist, the factory worker, and on and on.  All these different social clubs.

Very few people can see through this facade of being an “authentic” whatever, and notice that they’re all just masks, and none of them embody the real us.  Considering that we can always change, there is no such thing as an “authetic” anything.  Jean Paul Satre, in his book “Being and Nothingness” calls this “bad faith”.  It’s when you believe you’re something, when you’re really not.  In his book he compares it to a waiter in a restaurant.  The girl waiting on your table does not have to be a waitress, but she chooses to be, and plays that role, much like an actor.  She’s not a “waitress”, in a metaphysical sense.  There’s nothing insider of her, in her biological constitution, which is telling her, “You must be a waiter!  This is the true you!  Sarah, this is your DESSTTIINNNYYYYY.”  She’s only acting the role of a waitress at that moment, and in the future she could easily be something different.

There’s nothing wrong with choosing a role.  In fact, we HAVE to choose a role in order to interact with each other, and live.  You have to be able to see behind the masks, however.  Behind every role is a living essence.  It’s indefinable, and always transcending the present and moving toward the future.  People are not their masks, they’re what’s under the mask.

If you’re like me, and would like to see a world where people get along, respect one another, and live in peace, one of the first things we all have to do is realize that all these choices we have available to us in life are not embodiments of who we are, but are more akin to roles in a big theater like environment, which we call life.

That’s not to say every role is equal.  There are roles that are horrible, and it’s our choice what roles we play.  Some roles, and combinations of roles together, make for a much better performance, and a much better life for all of us on stage.  Being Hitler is a role any of us could choose to play, but that’s not to say it’s a good one.

I also think it’s worth noting that selecting our role in life is a difficult process, and more often than not, we sort of end up in our role after a long complicated series of events, much of which are unplanned.  That’s not to say our life is determined. I’m just saying that life has a tendency to blow you around if you don’t fight the currents.

I think we all start off life in a blank room, surrounded by unmarked doors.  It’s most often the case that we go to open doors, and have no idea what’s behind them.  We choose that path, and find ourselves in one of those roles, and from then on we do what we can.  It’s not effortless to change roles either, especially when you’ve made your way through countless hallways and passages.  It takes time to backtrack.  That’s why people are so resistant to change.

Sometimes we’re lucky enough to have people who help us along the way, and tell us what’s behind various doors before we enter them.  A lot of us don’t have this luxury, however.  Life, in general, is very difficult and complicated.

As for helping others select “good” doors to enter, that’s worth talking about as well.

About eight years ago, I started my philosphy quest, hoping to one day be this wise sage in my old age, who could warn the young as to all the pits and dangers, and keep them from making the common mistakes in life.  I’d study all the literature and books, and find out all that’s most important in life.  I’d learn how to prosper and be rich, and teach others how to life a life of abundance and happiness as well!

It’s an admirable quest, I think, but the problem I’m experiencing, and what others before me have already experienced, is that wisdom is something everyone has to acquire for themselves.  Belief in authority can only work for so long, and has too many drawbacks.  When it comes to helping others, it doesn’t matter how intelligent you are.  An idiot is incapable of understanding things at your level, and will not even listen to what you have to say.

I saw Richard Dawkins interviewed on Bill O’Reilly’s Factor (Fox News), and they were talking about God and atheism.  I saw countless comments on YouTube, and everyone was saying O’Reilly’s arguments “crushed” Dawkins.  Somehow O’Reilly had proved that God existed.  If you study philosophy and logic, Dawkins was clearly far more intelligent, and his arguments more refined.  The problem is Dawkins arguments are complicated, and require serious study to understand whereas  O’Reilly’s arguments pander to pre-existing instinctual drives, which people are already pre-disposed to believe.

Men naturally want to believe they’re the center of the universe.  We’re born selfish.  It took us countless ages to finally realize the Earth is not the center of the universe, and that mankind means little in the big scheme of things.  In fact, after centuries of study, the intelligent among us are realizing that we’re ignorant fools, waltzing about the Earth for a short while, touting mostly nonsense, then die.  We evolved from primordial slime, which orginally was just a chunk of the sun which broke off a long long time ago.  Our universe, as far as we can trace it back, started off as a gigantic explosion, and the formation of planet Earth was just as fantastic.

When you become more wise, you start to realize that your life means very little in the big cosmic scheme of things.  In fact, when you become very intelligent, you find that there is no intrinsic “meaning” to be found in anything.  “Meaning” is relative, and it’s up to us, as humans, to give meaning to things.  Meaning only exists in our brains and emotions, and oftentimes changes from human to human.  What’s “meaningful” to one person, is “meaningless” to another.

You can take three different people, and have them listen to a speech by a great man, such as Martin Luther King Jr.  After you play the speech, ask them to tell you what it “means”.  If they’re not intelligent, you’ll get three different answers, but the more educated they are, the more alike their answers will be.

It’s easy to tell people the earth was created by a God, who is a nice male father figure, just like us, and that he flew around in space and created everything.  God creates man, in his own image, and then creates the animals, for us to rule over.  It’s a nice pretty picture, until you study biology, cosmology, physics, and other sciences – it all falls apart.  Biology will remove the distinction between species and show you their true origin, and how they change over time.  Cosmology and physics will tell you about the formation of planets and galaxies, the big bang, movements of the stars, and the laws that govern our universe.  But O’Reilly conveniently dodged all these difficulties by just saying, “Oh, so you [Dawkins] are admitting that you scientists haven’t figured it all out?”  How could scientists figure it “all out”, when there’s literally infinite knowledge to find out?  We’re as sure evolution took place as the Earth goes around the sun… how much more certain do we have to be?

I’m sure there’s already a huge percentage of people who read those last paragraphs and already disagree with me.  I read a whole library of books, and condense it into a few paragraphs.  I’m sure a lot of people have no idea what I just said, or the importance of anything in this entry.  But that can’t be changed I suppose.  I send some of my philosophy journal entries to scientists who work at Lockheed Martin, and NASA, and they respond to me saying, “That was wonderful!  Such an insightful read”, and give me glowing praise.  I send the same material to others who aren’t anywhere near as intelligent, and they quarrel with me on just about every point.

There’s generally a consensus among people who read books on a lot of things.  That’s because, generally speaking, such books contains facts and information, which changes the reader’s opinions on things.  They come to trust in empirical research and science, and all opinions tend to disappear, and only truth remains.  This truth is the unification factor, which makes all people who know it universally agree.

There’s sure to be a confusion when I tell people to love everyone, regardless of what they believe, or what they think, yet at the same time, only acknowledge empirical reason as truth.  If science points to evolution as true, than how can I reconcile this with a person who believes the Biblical account in Genesis?  The answer is, I don’t try to reconcile anything.  People who don’t know the truth, and haven’t studied into the science and biology of it all, I view them more akin to a child who is doing something stupid.  I don’t hate a kid in school just because he gets a math problem wrong.  I try to help them if they’ll at least listen, but if not, I don’t worry about it.  I don’t look down on them though.  And that’s what’s important.

Most people’s views are held because of the information they’ve been exposed to.  If they get a hold of the right information, and the right arguments, they’ll make the right decisions, most of the time.  I think what’s most important is to have arguments, documentaries, and books readily available for when the person is finally ready to open their mind, even if just a little bit, to hear out what others are saying.

It’s also important to say that everyone is a work in progress, and none of us complete.  We have to be patient with one another.  It’s silly to spend 10 years studying books, and then charge into a school building and start yelling at all the kids, because they don’t understand it all.  It’ll take time, and many people will never put forth the effort the learn.  Knowledge is a gift only given to those willing to seek it out and work for it.  It’s something that truly has to be earned.

I think when it comes to this subject of alienation, in the beginning people have to adhere to a simple precept of “masks”, where this principle tells them to accept other people and their ways of life out of a moral duty.  It may be a struggle for them, but they’ll adhere to it as a moral principle, and just do it because it’s the “moral” thing to do.  Later, with intelligence, if they hopefully acquire it one day, they’ll learn what I mean when I’m talking about the masks.  They’ll read books like Satre’s Being and Nothingness, think about what it means to even be human, and then realize that it makes no sense NOT to live this way.

Unfortunately I have doubts whether that would even be effective.  Morals enforced and fueled by will power are never as effective as people UNDERSTANDING why they should obey certain moral rules.  We run into another instance of my favorite quote: There is no solution to a lack of knowledge.  It embodies everything I’ve ever learned, including all treatments and problems of alienation.

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