Category Archives: Philosophy

Intuition

The bedridden king of Macedonia showed little sign of recovery. Fever attacked his body and many wondered if death was imminent. Philip, the king’s personal physician, ministered to his needs as best as he could. Conquests removed them all from their homeland so Philip worked with what means he had to create medication. The king’s sickness came at a time of military action and his soldiers saw his condition worsening instead of getting better. Though not present yet aware of the situation, the general sent word to the king that he suspected treachery.

Believing a warring nation enlisted the physician to assassinate the king, the general sent a letter of warning. After reading the letter, the king knew the matter had to be addressed and that unquestionably. At a fitting time, specifically as Philip came to administer medicine, the king exchanged the letter with him for the medicine. As the king prepared to drink the medicine he told Philip to read the letter. As Philip looked up from having read the letter, he saw Alexander the Great taking the last sip of the medicine.

In reflection, some believe Alexander studied Philip’s expression as he read the letter. Had the king perceived guilt, shame or fear his actions would have been different. Others believe Alexander wanted to display to everyone his level of confidence in Philip’s fidelity. Either way, Alexander knew…he knew that he knew.

Intuition.

The etymology of this word is found in the Latin ‘intueri’. A translation of this word gives us phrasing such as ‘to look inside’ or ‘to take hold of’. Beyond perception, Intuition is an understanding on an explicit level. In philosophy, it pertains to unlearned (yet known) knowledge that’s of a ‘non-inferential’ origin. I discussed a closely related subject in my post TABULA RASA. Defining intuition is not any easier than understanding how we utilize it. Something just occurs to us and we know it is a sure thing.

“The more we know the more we see”

Trees can be categorized differently but the two main groups are evergreen and deciduous. Someone educated in the differing qualities sees the distinctions in the leaves, branches, and the makeup of the trunk. When some people listen to music, they hear the tempo and may discern individual instruments used. Others may focus on the lyrics and through an understanding of references hear a message foremost.

Within genres of music, artists are easily identified by those who follow them closely whereas others who are unfamiliar would not know where to start. ‘Foodies’ do not simply taste food; they experience it by way of identifying seasoning, temperatures, and individual ingredients.

The chiropractor knows the origin of the referred pain; the massage therapist identifies the twisted muscle. A friend of mine was being seen to by an ophthalmologist who identified a gall bladder issue by looking at his eyes. Recently a professional pool player remarked to me that novices break the billiard balls then look for the easiest or open shots. But he said after the break he sees a ‘road map for where he should go’, not necessarily the easiest shots to make. Of these examples, it stands to reason that experience has developed their understanding. But the role intuition has in polishing an understanding is incalculable – it streamlines it’s application.

Dr William Bates proposed in 1891 a disputed set of exercises that was purported to resolve vision problems. Known as the Bates Method, it achieved popularity by efforts of author Aldous Huxley in the 40’s. Huxley eventually wrote a book about this entitled “The Art of Seeing”. In it he explained how the Bates Method supposedly helped him regain his sight. Criticizing modern day efforts to correct vision he emphasized a duality in the process of sight; specifically that it is a physical and psychological effort.

Declaring corrective lenses as merely a crutch, Huxley affirmed sight was an issue of memory and one’s “ability to interpret imagery”. He claimed that utilizing the Bates Method corrected his vision problems and he was not short on people who sought to challenge this claim. It was concluded that he (and others in favor of the Bates Method) never corrected their vision but rather retrained their eyes. Essentially they learned to use their mind’s eye to see what their physical eye could not. Obviously, this would not be the kind of folks we would want the DMV to issue driver’s licenses to. The Bates Method doesn’t lend itself to sound medical practice but it does offer an interesting metaphor for intuition. Dr Bates efforts in this area fit better within a philosophical framework rather than a medicinal one.

A consistent training of our mind by study and by life experience is how we sharpen our intuition. Our mind is like a sponge; whatever we immerse it in is what will come out when it is pressed. Those who display skill in their craft have not only seen the outside of it, they have taken hold of it by seeing it from within as well.

Copyright © 2013 J.M. Cortés

a belief

a belief

The story is told of two men, who desiring to safeguard their riches, decided to conceal them by burial. One of the men selected an area below a tree, the other choose a place within his garden. Having selected places they deemed safest, both men went about burying their gold, silver, and jewels.

Time passed and soon proved both men had failed in the choices they made. The man who buried his treasures in the garden mistakenly assumed someone stole his treasures because he could not find them. However he had simply just forgot the exact spot where he had buried them. The other man who had buried his below a tree was unaware a thief was watching in the near distance. No sooner had he tamped the dirt and departed, the thief came and exhumed the treasures.

Both men continued on living under an illusion, one thinking he had plenty yet had nothing while the other thinking he had nothing but had plenty.

Earlier this year I mentioned in my post Shadow or Substance a term used in the financial industry known as a “market bubble”. Recently I was reminded of that when I read something Al Gore said regarding oil. Calling out fossil fuels he categorized them as a carbon bubble: “Bubbles by definition involve a lot of asset owners and investors who don’t see what in retrospect becomes blindingly obvious. And this carbon bubble is going to burst.”

The blindingly obvious – that statement stands out to me. We’ve both heard it and phrased it in other ways ourselves: “Hindsight is 20/20” or “If I’d only knew then what I know now”.  What is about the obvious that’s so elusive? Like sleight of hand, an act is carried out right before our very eyes yet something else had our attention.

Charles Mackay wrote a book in 1841 titled Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds. In it he describes the events that unfolded in Europe when the country was first introduced to the Tulip flower. Imported by the Turks, the tulip became an item of renown. As their fame spread, tulips became a status symbol and were considered a luxurious item. Some growers aiming to set their tulips apart began transmitting a virus into the bulbs. By creating unique color patterns, their bulbs would stand out from the rest. Everyone else caught on and moved in the same direction.

As time went on, contracts to buy bulbs at the end of their growing season were bought and sold. In his book, Mackay gives an account of people selling off or trading valuable possessions in order to participate in the Tulip market. At the height of Tulip Mania as it would become known, single tulip bulbs sold for more than 10 times the average annual income.

Today you can buy 10 bulbs for less than $6.00.

We shake our heads at the idea of masses being influenced by a flower. We laugh at the idea that an entire country could think something so temporal could possess such value. But how is it any different today? Our culture permits items with basic function and single purpose to net a return which generations before would scoff at. Purses, sunglasses, watches and a host of peripherals exceed the cost of cars, houses, or logical investments. Yet today society permits this and even celebrates it. Some prices are driven by inflation, some are driven by demand, and some are driven by ignorance.

“A fool and his money are soon parted”

A belief about something does not substantiate a reality…there may just be too many letters present.

Copyright © 2013 J.M. Cortés

TABULA RASA

The dichotomy of mind-body duality and the basis for intellect was never resolved by Plato or Aristotle. The idea of ‘innate ideas’ did not sit well with Aristotle and we know Plato had a problem; how could someone understand something but not know how they understand it? This problem came about when his student, Socrates, purposely engaged an uneducated servant in discussion of the Pythagorean Theorem. The servant had never been taught any geometry so how could he comprehend the theory Socrates presented him? Plato’s conclusion was people must have a preexistent soul or some reservoir of innate knowledge.

Aristotle, though a student of Plato, countered his theory by stating humanity appears on earth with an ‘unscribed tablet’; just as the brain grows in size during development so can the mind. This unscribed tablet becomes ‘written upon’ by the environment in which it is placed. About 7 centuries later, Avicenna of Persia advanced this ‘unscribed tablet’ theory and it would become better known by its Latin rendering “tabula rasa”. Then about 6 centuries later, Rene Descartes of France (the ‘I think therefore I am’ guy) articulated, the mind, unlike the brain was a nonphysical substance. Recognizing a distinction between consciousness and intelligence, he stated “…something that I thought I was seeing with my eyes is in fact grasped solely by the faculty of judgment which is in my mind”.

Place a stick in a glass of water and observe how it appears bent. The mind could perceive it is really bent though logic states otherwise. That’s where the rub was with Plato; a presumption that either 1) the viewer thought the stick was truly bent and 2) the stick straightened out when removed from the glass of water. Simple deduction tells us the stick never bent at all, it was merely a distortion by an improper view.

I don’t understand all I know about what they were fussing over. But I do appreciate the idea of a Tabula Rasa.

An unscribed tablet speaks to me about opportunity; it demonstrates the hope of a new beginning. We have often wished for a ‘clean slate’ to start over with. Like the old green chalk board, a good swabbing down with the dusty eraser and smears of white chalk is all that remains. Sometimes life will not offer a clean slate to us so we have to exercise our own power to create one. Sometimes you are the only one who can change what’s going on in your life. A fresh start awaits you but you will have to seize the moment and take dominion over your life. Find your eraser and do not be afraid to start over.

Reading Plato or Aristotle, to some degree, we get what they aimed at. But we also find issues with some of the theories they conveyed. An open mind is essentially what Aristotle was in support of. The mind is capable of comprehension; it just needs environment and opportunity. As I write this, I am reminded of the first commentary I wrote this year that spoke of The Scapegoat. We are already approaching the 5th month of 2013 and time seems to pass so quickly. As I reflect upon events that have occurred in my life over the last 6-7 months, I think about that Scapegoat but more importantly about a Tabula Rasa.

I would hate to think that I was a prisoner to a predetermined fate. That nothing I did or said could ever make a difference in the direction my life takes. If a preexistent soul has always been, then the condition displayed by fragile humanity offers little hope! I am thankful that God alone has always been, always is and always will be. And I am more thankful that He provides erasers.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

The Flow…

cooltext979783979

First it was a week, then it was two, then it was a month. While I was bothered by the second week, I was upset when a month had passed.

I am referring to the time that passed since I have written anything.

While I accept that writing for me is a diversion, I must admit it also serves as a creative outlet for me. Daily thoughts and ideas are at work in my mind but they cannot always manifest in written form. There is not a single cause for this but rather a combination of reasons. To write without invested thought is the same as firing a gun without aiming, hitting your target becomes nearly impossible.

In the moment of conception, a thought’s lifespan is not instantly known; it might abide awhile or soon dissolve as vapor. Regardless, until it evolves beyond a seed-like stage it cannot be trusted. It’s been said that hardest thing for a writer is writing and then William Goldman’s truth conveys the other side: “The easiest thing on earth to do is not write”. To my fellow bloggers and writers these words, without doubt, resound within your spirit.

We are not alone either; the musician understands, the painter can relate, and the public speaker knows. Regardless the medium, those who quarry within to mine out expression know the aggravation of creative stillness. Suppressed by schedules and censored by a full calendar the creative expression is there but it is captive.  What will set it free? Time? Perhaps…however creative expression will not always embrace opportunity just because it’s there. Creative expression can have all the time it needs to manifest but only inspiration will truly set it free. Inspiration possesses the keys to the lock which holds creative expression prisoner. As the lock disengages and the chains hit the floor; creative expression takes flight with inspiration.

So first there must be inspiration!

When the well spring of inspiration flows unhindered, creative expression simply enjoys the ride. Surely you have heard of the lake called the Salt Sea also known as the Dead Sea. It is found at the lowest geographical point on earth situated between Israel and Jordan. The Dead Sea is a lake in which no fish can live and it’s water cannot sustain plant life. This is the result of having all inlets and no outlets. The Jordan River pours into it and other tributaries stream there; but they flow in and only abide. Thus the lake is known as the Dead Sea.

We can have plenty of things which produce inspiration but if they are going to live, they must have an outlet to flow out of us. We must remain in contact with those things which inspire and avoid the things which stifle inspiration. An open eye, a listening ear, and sensitivity to that which inspires will ensure our creative expression’s freedom. There are things which can damn up the flow of inspiration. Busy schedules have already been mentioned. But being busy and remaining inspired is possible. We just have to ensure the outlet (s) remain unobstructed. The things which contaminate our inspiration are like logs that pile up and impede the flow of a river’s water. The end result of this can be stagnation. Water than cannot flow will stagnate and inspiration that cannot flow will too.

 

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

I can HEAR clearly now…the rain is gone

“Can you hear me now?” “How about now?” “Now you’re cutting out.”

We all have endured the frustration of an unstable cell phone signal and the inevitable dropped call. It is usually preceded by someone engaged in full discourse while we listen to the other person cutting in and out. Hoping against hope the signal will recover, we let them continue on until the infamous 3 beeps tells us they are gone. What follows next is a string of attempts by each person to call the other one back only to hear an immediate voicemail greeting – because both lines are tied up. Ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

An exchange of ideas with some can be equally as complex.  My last two articles (Perspective and misINTERPRETation) cover why and I will not replicate that material in this one. Simply put, a price tag cannot be placed on effective communication. When someone has it, they just have it! But the onus rests upon the communication’s recipient; that which is done with what is heard matters most. I believe a keen mind possesses the ability to listen to a matter in full before responding to it. Defensive and congested hearing arrives at a conclusion before its presentation is fully accomplished. Responding to (or rejecting) a matter without hearing it fully is nothing more than narrow-mindedness.

For some objectivity is not possible; this is due to faults such as intimidation, arrogance, and ignorance. These character flaws have the same influence on “connectivity” just as poor cell phone signals hinder quality conversation.  Aristotle said “it’s the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it”. We do not have to agree with a premise to agree with a conclusion. No two people think exactly alike; and if they do its likely only one of them is doing the thinking.

When we think of what intuition is and what it means, we think of snap judgment and insight. The terminology of “rapid cognition” as made famous by the works of Gerd Gigerenzer or Malcolm Gladwell, taps into that ability “to know something” aside from an evident basis for knowing “why or how you know”. I love their material on this subject but the etymology of the word intuition is what I want to highlight for this article. Intuition is a word originating in Latin (‘intueri’) which translates as ‘to look inside’. This conveys a sense of investigative thought, an analysis of meaning with intent to ascertain more. We may see a window but unless we direct our gaze through it, we will not see what is on the other side.

In closing, consider the wisdom of Bill Cosby: “Every closed eye is not sleeping, and every open eye is not seeing.

 

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

Shadow or Substance?

cooltext880630749

Emerging dream, may form now be told

Earnest move toward, only now behold

Ere substance is seized, shadow ensuing appears

Embrace the corporal afore the surreal

Essence as vapor will not apprehend

Ensure it be substance for shadow a tale spins

Substance o’er Shadow

 by J.M. Cortés

 In the financial industry there is a term known as a “market bubble”. Some may question its existence but just defining this “bubble” reveals an essence of this is true. Simply put, a market or economic bubble occurs when something is being traded on at prices inconsistent with its intrinsic value. Typically this is due to a perception or forecast on a particular trade which inflates its value beyond a reasonable norm. I remember witnessing a financial bubble ‘pop’ in the town I grew up in.

It all had to do with Emus, flightless birds that stand around 5 to 6 feet tall and weigh about 150 pounds. In the mid to late 90’s their value was expected to ‘soar’ and ranchers were adding them to their livestock count. Texas became the Emu capital of America with nearly 3,000 breeders working to create an Emu surplus. Driving the Emu Mania was an idea that their lean flesh would be the steak of tomorrow. But that idea quickly proved false; the bubble popped and thus the Emu wasted many a rancher’s investment. When reality set in ranchers and breeders, were the not so proud owners of birds that could not yield a profit. Unable to ‘do anything’ with them and unwilling to feed or care for them, many owners released their Emus by the droves into the countryside.

Ownership of these birds was not limited to ranchers or owners of large land areas. I recall seeing these birds in the backyards of residential homes. All kinds of visionaries at the start were ready to capitalize upon the great Emu. But when the bubble popped, no one needed or wanted them. Some killed their Emus while others just let them ‘run off’. When people saw them running down the highways or wherever, it was known why. One morning as I walked out to my car I heard the rapid footfalls of a large animal coming at me. I turned in time to see an Emu running towards me before it jolted off toward another direction. Truly, there is no degree of embellishment in what I have written. Today all that remains of the Emu Mania are some folks promoting (and selling I might add) Emu “Oil” for it’s medicinal benefit. Perhaps it is residual brain fluid from Emus euthanized by baseball bats? (That really happened too)

There are other examples that could be given concerning the infamous market bubble. But the crux of the matter is we should look for substance before awing over a shadow. People duped into pursuing “something for nothing” have been manipulated by shadows rather than influenced by substance. And all the “get rich quick” schemes have played out; those who fall prey to them have an unrealistic view of what defines value. Anything of true value has met certain criteria and is supported by established standards. Nothing costs nothing! Before a shadow can be cast, there must first be a substance to create it.

Without a doubt, there is a market for shadows and the multitudes have lined up to purchase them. Purveyors of the generic and counterfeit capitalize upon this by providing a substitute. Individually these will never garner the return true substance renders but a profit by volume awaits. As you are reading this, you might be thinking of generic versions of various products. While mainstream businesses manufacture their clothing line, beauty products, electronics, and etc. someone else is preparing an alternate version right behind them. There is not an industry that we cannot find a mainstream and generic representation. One has an appraisal that establishes its cost (Substance) and the secondary has a cost established because of the original (Shadow).

An allegory is the deeper purpose of this commentary; there is a dichotomy between Substance and Shadows. The valuable, dependable, and overall useful is found in the Substance. It is that which has been built with quality materials and purposeful workmanship. Going throughout life taking shortcuts and settling for the inferior is living in the Shadow. It may be cheaper and easily accessible but will it last? And remember, though there may be promotion of some great new thing it may be just another form of Emu Mania.

Every day we are constructing the life we live. We must exercise caution in selecting the material and tools we build with. Cutting corners and sloppy workmanship for the sake of speed or ease is foolish. Obviously what we are building we intend (or hope) to last. But its capability of lasting is dependent upon what we are using.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

What is the Greater Good?

train

There is a tale of a drawbridge keeper who operated a drawbridge which extended out over a deep chasm. Each day a train carrying travelers would pass over this chasm and he was there to ensure the drawbridge was lowered for their safe passage. One day the drawbridge keeper asked his son to accompany him to the drawbridge so that they might spend the day together. That day there were 3 trains that would pass over the chasm and the first 2 passed by as scheduled. Both times the father was able to demonstrate the working of the drawbridge for his son and they would watch the travelers pass by. “Oh father, how their safety depends on you.” said the son as he peered over into the deep chasm. “Yes, my son” the drawbridge keeper replied, “it is my duty to remain here to lower this drawbridge for them or they would surely plummet into the chasm and perish”.

The day passed on and soon the sound of the final train was heard in the near distance. The drawbridge keeper quickly made his way to his station to lower the drawbridge. As he prepared to lower the drawbridge he heard the cries of his son. The boy had climbed down to the area where the mechanical gears turned to lower the drawbridge. Somehow his foot had become lodged in one of the gears and he could not free himself. He began to call out to his father to help free him. As the drawbridge keeper realized where his son was, his soul filled with terror. To continue with lowering the drawbridge would cause his son to be pulled in by the gears crushing him to death. If he climbed down to free his son from the gears he would not be able to lower the drawbridge. This would guarantee the death of all the travelers for any moment they would plunge in the chasm. The fate of his son as well as that of hundreds of unsuspecting travelers rested upon this drawbridge keeper. Regardless of his decision, as a father or as a drawbridge keeper he would be the harbinger of death this day.

Whether through philosophy or religion, it is likely you have heard this tale before. In a religious context it serves as an allegory to the vicarious sacrifice of Jesus Christ (though there is noticeable theological discrepancy). In a philosophical context, this tale is used to demonstrate a position (or positions) and the corresponding affects that result from a particular ideology. Specifically, this tale serves as a fitting catalyst for the discussion of Deontology. Deontology is a philosophy of viewing actions based on how they fit within the boundaries of rules that determine if the actions are right or wrong. Restated, Deontology is submission to a system of rules which are enforced by an individual’s duty and obligation. The etymology for this philosophy’s name is found in 2 Greek words: Deon (Duty) and Logos (Science/Study). A central figure to this philosophy is Immanuel Kant, who maintained that people have an obligation to always obey rules of duty and obligation. It is never acceptable, regardless of any positive outcome that might result, to venture beyond these established rules.

Immanuel Kant declared that the moral codes of a duty or obligation must be obeyed without any thought. For example, lying that could result in the saving  of someone’s life would be absolutely forbidden. The lie must be avoided and the life must be lost. Obviously that is an extreme example but it literally conveys the essence of Deontology. In direct opposition to Deontology is a philosophy known as Consequentialism; this set of ethics establishes the morality of actions based on the results they can produce. Simply put Deontology is about adherence to Duty and Consequentialism is about adherence to doing what some consider Right (or the Greater Good). During the Holocaust, a family lying to prevent Nazis from arresting the Jews they secretly hid would be acceptable in light of Consequentialism. The preservation of the Jew’s lives would be considered the greater good; it would be valued higher than the moral failure of lying.

In consideration of the tale found at the beginning of this commentary, what influence could Deontology or Consequentialism have on its outcome? There are always exceptions, but what parent would sacrifice their child for the lives of strangers? Its possible those without children would not identify with this as strongly as those who are parents – but what is right? Kant’s position would say his duty was to his role as a drawbridge keeper – but the drawbridge keeper also had a duty as a father. How can the greater good be extracted from such a horrible situation? What if we replace the drawbridge keeper’s son with an individual of ‘less importance’? What if a person unknown to the drawbridge keeper had wondered down into the area and become trapped in the mechanical gears? Does the paradigm shift?

Only a fool would take pleasure in the chance to stand as judge, jury, and executioner in things pertaining to the greater good. In closing, I invite your response to this commentary.  What duty does the drawbridge keeper have? What is the greater good? What would you do?

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

Relativism…the road that leads nowhere

road

Anaximander, a pre-Socratic philosopher, is thought to have been the first to create a map of the known world. His visionary efforts at cartography would serve as a foundation for modern day geography. He, like other early map makers, created their maps with Greece as the centre of the world. This was primarily rooted in national pride with an idea of Greece as the world’s epicenter. But on a deeper level, this revealed a great deal about their overall world view. This “center of the world” mentality did not end with the map makers of antiquity; it is alive and well today. One of the ways it manifests today is through ‘Relativism’.

Relativism is a philosophy best defined, not by what it affirms, but rather what it denies. Relativism denies the idea of absolute truth and views “truth” as subjective. The saying “Beauty is in the eye of the Beholder” could be the sum of Relativism – “Truth is in the eye of the beholder”. What drives Relativism is an idea that what is true for some might not be true for others. Truth becomes relative to some point of reference rather than actually existing in a tangible fashion. Again, Relativism is best defined by what it denies not what it affirms. The first recognized father of Relativism was Protagoras who said: “Man is the measure of all things”. He placed humanity as being the author and definer of Truth. Both Socrates and Plato opposed Protagoras’ philosophy by pointing out its foundational compromise. To emphatically deny the existence of absolute truth would also be an admission to a truth’s existence (i.e. emphatic denial of absolute truth).

Relativism is duplicity in the least and a precursor to anarchy at worse. I say this because I believe the end of a thing should be the basis for its beginning. What is the ending point of Relativism? How would Relativism and our Legal System coexist? Is there a basic and universal code of morals that humanity should abide by? According to Relativism’s end, these morals become subjective; one may believe they are right while another chooses not to. Proponents of Relativism fancy themselves as anti-establishment which is driven by a perception of free will. I recognize that perspectives are influenced by cultural, racial, and educational points of view. But there has to be a prevailing reality; there also has to be an absolute truth.

A term associated with Relativism is Postmodernism. This term retains some use in westernized culture but is dissolving in parts of Europe. Postmodernism claims that realities are social constructs subject to change. This is upheld by Relativism’s assertion that absolute truth is nonexistent and “binary classifications” are what creates a division. Thus a reality’s existence becomes dependent on a demographic with its ideals and agenda. When the demographic shifts its focus on something else, the reality adjusts or dissolves. As the demographic evolves the reality evolves with it.

You are perhaps familiar with the parable of 7 blind men and an elephant. The lesson presented in this parable depicts blind men attempting to describe what they felt an elephant was like. To one man an elephant was like a wall for he felt its side. To another an elephant was like a pillar for he felt its feet. To another an elephant was like a brush, for he only felt the tip of its tail. Thus each blind mind’s perspective was right according to their experience. Relativism would say all of them are right because they are basing their concept of an elephant on their perspective.

But is an elephant a wall, pillar or brush? No, an elephant is a mammal in the pachyderm classification. This is not a subjective truth, this is a quantified reality based on a scientific classification. Systems of Law, Morality, and such like are the same. For a society to remain intact it needs boundaries otherwise it will fall into barbarianism. Relativism may fancy itself as enlightened thought but I say it is reductionist thinking and a pretext for people to do what they want. Some folks are like the original map makers, wherever they are is where they think the world begins. There is a reason the great thinkers of antiquity opposed Relativism; it is a road that leads nowhere.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

The Nobel Being

flickr-3337757100-max_2560

A 13 year old boy was brought before Aristotle to become his student. Already proving to be intelligent and eager to learn, Aristotle found it easy to inspire this child to love literature. He taught this child how to fortify arguments in a debate and how to present them. He taught this child how to intellectually justify the need for self-control and self-denial. He placed high emphasis on the need for honor so the young man would see its importance in the life of a ruler.  This child absorbed these lessons and more. But one of the lessons that Aristotle placed in the heart of his student that would eventually impact the whole world was that of taking Dominion of Human Nature.

Though ethnocentric at its root, an ideology was instilled in the young man which became the framework for his method of rule. Aristotle taught him barbaric people are controlled by impulse to satisfy every base desire. Therefore he should rule his nation as a honorable leader and become a despot to the barbarians of the world. With these and many other lessons, Alexander the Great would go on to conquer the known world before age 33.

Because of how humanity has evolved socially, its current view of “barbarianism” would deem Aristotle’s lessons as intolerance at the least. (Perhaps even tyrannical at worst) Literally, Aristotle put it into the heart of Alexander the Great that uncivilized people should be treated as beasts. Aristotle viewed barbarians as people who were incapable of restraint. And yet we must also recognize today, if restraints are cast off and every appetite was allowed to be indulged society itself would crumble in anarchy. Barbarianism is alive and well today; its manifestations appearing in the form of horrible crimes such as murder, rape, and robbery. It also manifests through means less consequential but severe nonetheless. Individual indulgences gratified with complete disregard for its impact on others. An attitude prevailing that says “I will do whatever I want and whenever I want”. This is not the mind set of rational civilization; this is the mind set of barbarianism.

Aristotle expanded his view of human nature from what he had been taught at one time by Plato. Plato divided the natures of humanity into two principle categories, one side he called Rational and the other he called Animal. “We are good when reason rules and bad when we are dominated by our desires”  He presented a dichotomy of human reason and animal instincts to pursue wants. He concluded that “self-mastery” would always be paradoxical because to master one’s self would also mean to equally be subject to one’s self.

I believe Aristotle took this concept and placed it in a paradigm of society where mankind cannot prosper as an authority to himself. Containment of nature would be the product of education and societal expectation.  In closing, I want to expound upon the origin of this commentary’s title which also happens to be the inspiration for writing it. It comes from something that I read Hsün-tzu (Art of War) say regarding civilized humanity:

“Fire and water possess energy but are without life. Grass and trees have life but no intelligence. Birds and beasts have intelligence but no sense of duty. Man possesses energy, life, intelligence, and, in addition, a sense of duty. Therefore he is the noblest being on earth. He is not as strong as the ox, nor as swift as the horse, and yet he makes the ox and the horse work for him. Why? Because he is able to organize himself in society and they are not.”  

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

The Quest for Identification?

religious-symbols gangs7_09_175 WW2_Iwo_Jima_flag_raising

The nature within humanity causes it to set out early on a quest for identity formation. The established ideas on this vary concerning exact age or specific catalysts that initiate the quest; but for the most part all agree it begins in adolescence. We first become aware of social dynamics then we subconsciously construct an identity for our social interactions. For each social arrangement, an identity develops and this creates a place for us in them. Identity formation assimilates us into our demographic creating perspectives for us in things such as cultural or religious beliefs.

The power that identification possesses is significant. Wars have been the direct result of contrary religious, cultural, and political views. Social distress or racial tensions are typically the result of identifications that seem to oppose one another. Opinions, ideas, and beliefs are inextricably connected to identity. When these are opposed or perceived to be opposed, it can be viewed as opposition to someone’s identity.

At the beginning of this commentary are three pictures which symbolize some manners in which humanity identifies itself. The first picture has symbols of religious systems: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Taoism. Each system has a ‘mother land’, revered texts, leaders, and an overall structure to follow. While each of these systems has core beliefs, internal factions arise due to identities that are distinct from each other. These are examples of how human nature enters into a quest for religious identification.

The second picture has members of the Almighty Latin Kings. Casual designation would simply classify them as gang members. But within their organization they possess a manifesto and multiple paradigms exist which identify them uniquely from other street gangs. Members are in pursuit of higher levels of membership (Kingism or Kingship). They have uniformity in colors and patterns for the clothes they wear. This is an example of how human nature enters into a quest for social identification.

The third picture is the Pulitzer Prize winning photograph by Joe Rosenthal. In 1945, these men in his photograph are shown raising the United States flag upon Mount Suribachi. This took place during World War II and the raising of this flag demonstrated the triumph of America over Japan on the island of Iwo Jima. This act embodied the conquering power of the American military with the flag serving as national identification. A nation’s flag is an emblematic display of its essence, organization, and constitution. Since 1776, people living on the North American continent entered into a quest of national identification.

The world is what it is because of humanity’s quest for identification. A natural desire for distinction and individuality is at the core of this quest. We see this displayed in commercialized business by use of unique logos, slogans, and operational plans. We see this displayed in The Arts by unique genres of what is seen, heard and tasted. Why is identification so important? Why does humanity have this within its genetic makeup?

Could it be that this is the result of a struggle between two natures seeking identification? The struggle between the tangible and the intangible; the evanescent and the eternal? The Hebrew language offers insight about this struggle through the etymology of its word for ‘face’. It appears that the Hebrew word for ‘face’ (which is ‘panim’) is assigned a pluralistic meaning as though it could never be used in a singular sense (i.e. faces). This theory is upheld by the idea that all humanity has two faces (natures), their physical and their spiritual.

There are multiple lists compiled by various thinkers regarding what are considered “fundamental human needs”. Almost always, Identification is listed as one  with supporting points in the human need for Being, Having, Doing, and Interacting. It appears that the basic need for Identification is the sum of our communal nature. If we are to find our place in ‘our community’ we require Identification first.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

The Vice Grip of Vanity

Vanity is a self-destructive trait. There are those controlled by it with understandable cause; their beauty, money, possessions, and status of life are considerable. Then there are those filled with vanity but for reasons that are far less discernible. When held captive by the grip of vanity, what is taken exceeds what is given. What does vanity give? Self-affirmation, feelings of accomplishment, and a sense of greatness. In moderation these concepts are not inherently wrong. But what does vanity take away? It takes away far more than it gives.

To be manipulated by vanity surely means to be set on a never ending path. Vanity has an appetite and therefore it will need to fill that void.  The all seeing eye of vanity is never satisfied. When that hunger is filled something comes along and provokes a greater appetite. Some people are never satisfied with what they have because all they see is what they do not have. Their line of sight is on things beyond their possession so what they have is no longer within their focus. Vanity takes away contentment; someone said the greatest enemy of contentment is comparison and I believe it.

When a person is controlled by vanity, it causes them to lose the respect of those around them. It doesn’t mean that people will not admire their ‘things’ or who they are. But when a truly vain person is in action, they turn off those around them. Placing themselves or their things on display creates distaste in those observing with a discerning eye. When a vain person becomes aware they are turning people off, a straw man argument such as accusing them of envy or hating is available. But that informal fallacy is easy to disregard. A person’s true nature always manifests, no matter how much they attempt to suppress it.

I do not think that the only prevention to vanity is to be unattractive, poor, or unmotivated to accomplish anything in life. A person who parks their vehicle in a highly visible area so all can see it and the person who parks theirs where no one can both have an issue with vanity. The assertion I make is control your spirit and outlook instead of allowing external things to manipulate you. Be you and be the best you. I believe a person can attain any level of success, be attractive, and accumulate possessions without being a prisoner to vanity. A proper perspective is acknowledging nothing lasts forever. External beauty fades, physical abilities end, and possessions cannot be taken to the grave.

We are not defined by ‘things’ we are defined by who we are. If our identify is reduced to what we have or a status in life, we turn ourselves over to a world of illusion. Possessions only derive their significance from the imaginary importance we attach to them. Refuse to be a prisoner held by the grip of materialism, lust for position, and vanity.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

If you want to see Success come before Work…

…then look in the dictionary because that’s the only place you will see that.

Success is, as someone said, when preparation connects with opportunity. To achieve success we must position ourselves for it. Success in any endeavor is rarely an accident but rather the result of intentional design. To a certain extent success is subjective; the standard we set for our definition of success is basically right. Inspiration is the driving factor behind how high or low we set our standard for success. Some are more inspired, more driven, and more aggressive than others. The inspiration that establishes the level of success sought after overlaps into another subject. Zeal can be tempered with wisdom but if a lethargic disposition is the norm, it is nearly terminal. Success will not be served to you, it is only self served.

Success to some is defined by accumulation, to others it is defined by accomplishment. Success is like beauty, it’s in the eye of the beholder. Even attaining success through means some might consider dishonorable is still success to the one who achieves what they want. There is always a cost associated with exchanging our ideals for what we want but that’s usually a lesson learned later rather than beforehand. I believe in the idea of aggressively pursuing goals. I believe in the idea of challenging others if they stand in between you and your goals. But if in the end you have everything you want but it was attained at the expense of others or your own ideals, what do you really have?

Joe Paterno was the head coach at Penn State for many years once, he was quoted as saying “Success without honor is an unseasoned dish; it will satisfy your hunger, but it won’t taste good.”. Go after your goals, work hard to achieve them. But do it right.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés