Reply to: What If I Told You I Wanted to Die? A Gimpy Monologue



I feel the need to respond to some of the feedback I’ve been getting about this post, if only a blanket response to address the comments I received thus far. For those of you interested, the original post can be found here: http://https://tddr.wordpress.com/2012/04/09/what-if-i-told-y
God, our Father, on the rainbow

ou-i-wanted-to-die/


First of all, I want to thank everyone for their kind responses, regardless of if our opinions may differ on the subject. It means a lot to me to know that I’ve actually touched people’s lives. But that’s never been what this is about. I wanted to be very clear that this is not a decision that I arrived at out of some feeling of incompleteness, or a feeling that I’m abnormal, nor do I feel that I don’t belong in some way or another. I have been more clear headed lately, than I have ever been. And what most of you don’t realize, is that I made this choice for myself long before we had even met. The obvious exceptions to that statement already know who they are. I know my worth as a person, and I know that I am special. I know this because I have known lots of amazing individuals so far in my life, and I know with complete certainty, that I will continue to meet more. And to these amazing people, I have become special. I also know my worth as a person because I see how different I am in the way that I treat most of those I encounter, and the things that I’m willing to do for those that I allow in my life. 

I know that I’m a person who is intelligent, I have an agile mind, I am fiercely loyal and compassionate. I’m also aware of my less than desirable amount of stubbornness, my love of arguing for the sake of arguing, the fact that I can be infuriating sometimes for various reasons. All of these things and many more not mentioned, make me who I am. I arrived at this decision in light of this question of basic human dignity, and because I know with utmost certainty, that I have the right to choose how I live, and how I am remembered. And I refuse to leave this life utterly dependent on other people to survive. I refuse to subject anyone to that responsibility. And for those who have joined the discussion from a theological standpoint, for me it takes far more faith to believe in a God that is contrary to the way I was raised, that is, a God that knows my heart, motivation, and intentions so perfectly… Perhaps better than I do, that mercy would be shown on my behalf. This isn’t about a lack of purpose, I know what my purpose is, and I intend to achieve it. All too often, I see people take their lives for granted, because even though we intellectually understand that life is an unknown finite period of time, we don’t live it that way. I’m merely giving myself a soft deadline, with room for padding. I don’t know what the afterlife will hold, nor do I really want to. What I know that I have with the utmost certainty, is this life. What is here, now in this moment, and the moments to come. And I will savor them all.
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Thoughts on Walking With Judith

This is the internationally recognized symbol ...
This is the internationally recognized symbol for accessibility (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other day, I shared an excerpt from The examined life, touching on issues surrounding disability and society. Today, I would like to share some of my thoughts on the subject. We tend to conflate disability with a medical condition that impedes someone’s ability to function normally in our society.  That is part of what is at issue, but there is a mistake in just looking at it like that.  There are a few different components that we should look at here:

  • The Medical Component
  • The Psychological Component
  • The Social Component
  • The Institutional Component

Before I get on some more specifics on these aspects however, I would like to lay out a bit of a disclaimer. I can only speak about these things from my personal perspective, and I do not want people to think that I am speaking for all people with disabilities. I only want to give the people who read this some things to think about, I think there are many in the disabled community who would rather not vocalize these kinds of things because they would be seen as complaining. While others, I am sure if they had the ability to say these things they would. In addition, I cannot really speak to the experience of people with cognitive impairments, as I have not experienced much of this myself. With that said let us move onward!

The Medical Component

All of these are a bit tricky to talk about, but this one in my opinion is a bit trickier than the rest, which is why I chose to tackle it first. Let’s face it, if any of you know anyone with a physical disability then it’s very easy to see that they have better days than others. The physical ability to function varies sometimes widely from day-to-day, some even one hour to the next. Personally, I like to call these “gimpy days.” This is how I refer to days where it is unusually difficult for me to do things that I would normally do on an everyday basis. These things can include getting in and out of my chair, going to the bathroom, speech is sometimes a little more difficult, my ability to tie my shoes etc. we all need to understand our limitations. In addition, for disabled people, sometimes those limitations can vary more frequently than the average bear. Keep this in mind.

There is a second component to the medical side of things I would like to discuss briefly. There is a tendency in our society to look at people with disabilities as patients who need to be treated and/or fixed. It is as if the things that we can observe are the only things that the person has to contend with on an everyday basis. When I was growing up in the mid-80s and the 90s, it was often the social conditions in which I found myself, and not the ones most closely associated with my medical condition that were most difficult. We have to remember to treat someone as more than a diagnosis; we have to treat the entire person. This means that more emphasis needs to be placed on creating a support team to help disabled children better deal with things like social misunderstandings, and instill the concept of self-advocacy.

Psychological Component

I grew up with very loving, well-meaning people in my life. But they could not have seen how their well-intentioned words of encouragement may have influenced me in a very negative way. My grandfather is one of the smartest people I will ever have the pleasure of knowing, he taught me many things about personal fortitude, and about pursuing one’s interests to their logical conclusion and finding fulfillment in them. He taught me how to write essays beyond my grade level, among other things. One thing that he always used to say to me was “your body may be broken, it may not work like the others, but you will always have your mind… And that is exceptional.” This is a very well intended sentiment, and for the most part, I took it well. I have a pretty well developed intellect, and I can keep pace with graduate students on most topics even though I only have an Associate’s degree. However, one of the ways that this turned on me happened later in life, when I shifted focus intellectually and was no longer pursuing a subject that my family saw as valuable. I began to wonder, “If my intellectual pursuit has no value, and all I have is my mind, then who am I?” My first inclination was to say, “What am I?” There was no acknowledgment of my physical desires as a human being, my need for physical companionship and physical activity were always looked at as secondary attributes unless they were part of a regimented physical therapy program. This left me feeling as though I was not an entirely integrated human being.

Social Component

This one is easily tied to the other two: people are going to look at you funny if you are different. However, in this instance, I am reminded of the first time I ever tried to ask a girl out on a date, and her reply was “Ew! you’re in a wheelchair.” that’s all I’ll say about this one for now, because I’m going to talk a little bit about it more toward the end of this piece.

Institutional Component

It is no secret in this country that disabled people have the highest percentage of unemployment. 70% of disabled persons are unemployed. This scares me. I know there are exceptions to this rule, but having the odds stacked that staunchly against me, it would be enough to petrify anyone. It does not help that in my experience, the vast majority of interviewers that I come across typically assume that because I am in a wheelchair, I am somehow otherwise deficient and incapable of even performing even the most menial tasks in an office. That is okay, I fucking hate offices anyway. Moreover, I know that the state and federal governments are the largest employers of disabled persons, and back when being a state or federal employee actually meant job security that may have been a good thing. However, many people I know that were in government jobs are not exactly what I would call fulfilled, and by the time they retire, they are completely burned out. But when you can’t even guarantee job security, is it really worth it? This brings me to another point: Social Security. It is a system designed with the intention of giving those in need a helping hand until such time that they are able to find gainful employment. But with a 70% unemployment rate among disabled Americans, many persons with disabilities end up simply living off the system, the system that is said to be running out of money very quickly. Most people would suggest that someone in such a position should save a portion of the money. This is next to impossible, if one accumulates a certain amount of money and assets, Social Security will in fact either reduce or halt your benefits, and for many of us that also includes medical and dental benefits, which makes finding suitable employment even more difficult.

Another thing about the institutional aspect of disability has to do with education. There is simply not enough disabled education in America today. I mean that both in terms of having options for persons with disabilities (i.e. access to adequate facilities, reasonable accommodations academically and professionally, the ever present physical barriers) and I mean that in terms of a lack of education about disability in American schools. For those of us who are able, we are allowed to participate in regular classes without much intervention from special Ed. However, this presents a new kind of problem, because we are left to try to learn how to socialize with able-bodied people who have no idea how to deal with us, and this is a problem. Very few people know what cerebral palsy is, muscular dystrophy, osteogenesis imperfecta, spina bifida and so forth. Nobody’s having the important conversations to find out what people need from each other in the classroom. Therefore, this attitude is carried into the workplace, where people simply politely attempt to hide their reservations and insecurities about working alongside persons with disabilities. There is still a social barrier present. And it needs to begin to be broken down.

What does this have to do with my work regarding sexuality and disability? A better question would be how is it not related? Think about it this way: Sex is one of the ways in which human beings solidify social attachments to one another. Mate selection ensures genetic propagation. This is basic evolutionary biology here, but here’s where it gets tricky. Back when we were hunters, having a physical defect or a mental defect (now reframed rightly as difference) pretty much ensured that you were dead. So, people cared for you until they could no longer do so, and you passed away. There’s a problem here. That’s not important anymore, but we’re still treating it like it is. It doesn’t matter how successful someone in a wheelchair is, they’re still going to be looked at as overall less capable than their able-bodied counterpart. And if you’re looked at as being less capable, you’re less likely to be chosen as a sexual partner, which means lack of pair bonding opportunities… This can lead to a lack of perceived intimacy, which can lead to depression and poor self-esteem… You get the picture. That is all I have to say for now, I hope you contemplate that gimpy love.

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The Evolution of Personal Responsibility: Nietzchean Supermanism and the Spark of the Individual

I’d like to take a brief break from disability, and share with you a paper that I’ve written on creating a professional ethical framework that doesn’t kill creativity. A la Sir Ken Robinson. Enjoy!

Friedrich Nietzsche
Cover of Friedrich Nietzsche

 

The Evolution of Personal Responsibility

“Creativity is as important now in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status,”  (Robinson, 2009). Ever since Henry Ford changed the world with the invention of the moving assembly line, global institutions of all kinds began to grow exponentially, and with that expansion came the exhortation of the idea of personal responsibility, which often appears in its corporative form as a “Code of professional ethics.” To understand this term better, it must first be broken into its fundamental components; defining the terms professional and ethics in order to construct a functional definition of the term “professional ethics.” Professional is typically defined in the relevant context as either “a person following a profession, especially a learned profession or a skilled practitioner; an expert” (Professional, 2003).  The term ethics or ethic in turn is typically simply defined as “A set of principles of right conduct.” The term “professional ethics” can therefore be defined as a set of rules governing right or acceptable conduct of someone engaged in the practice of a given profession (Ethics, 2003). This definition however useful in a typical work environment or an academic setting, has some problems, but has also revealed how one typically thinks about the term personal responsibility and personal ethics. The concept of personal responsibility and personal ethics are essentially synonymous, one ought to be held accountable to one’s own moral standards. There is a blanket failure in the assumption that the result of good ethics ought to be a universal system that is applicable to mankind without exception. This stance fails on two fronts: First it takes the personal out of personal responsibility and second, it fails to take into account differences in personal and cultural perceptions, which can hinder and quite possibly even halt personal growth, personal, and professional development, as well as damaging the root of business’ driving force; innovation.

Zarathustrian Ethics

Since this is the case for most codes of professional ethics as well as those traditional ethical systems from which they are derived, it would be useful to take the term “ethics” back to its philosophical roots in order to explore other possible ways of looking at ethics, and exploring the possibility of an ethical system that can both foster long-term acceptable professional conduct, without stripping away the potential gains to be had by way of innovation. Ethics, in the more traditional philosophical sense can be defined as the philosophical study of the moral value of human conduct and of the rules and principles that ought to govern it; moral philosophy (Ethics, 2003).  By that definition it is possible to find a less rigid philosophical framework that can be used to foster right conduct without suffocating a potential creative spark in the process, creating a greater potential for personal, professional, and academic success.

One such philosophical framework that can be considered in order to arrive at goals that are mutually beneficial in both fostering right conduct as well as creative thinking is that of 19th century Prussian philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s two major concepts that are most useful to the application of personal responsibility and personal ethics are those of the superman (Ubermencht), and the idea of radical individualism which stems from the former concept.  The ubermencht, often translated as either overman or superman. The idea of Nietzsche’s superman is of one who has undergone a major personal transformation by means of perseverance through great personal conflict. This enables one to see the world in a whole new way according to Nietzsche, and leads to an internal separation of the individual from his or her own society, then giving rise to a kind of personal morality; a morality in which a personal moral code is formed out of the sheer will of the individual, and because said moral code evolves out of an individual need, such a person is more likely to exercise self-accountability to it (Nietzsche & Hollingdale, 1961).

The twin idea born out of the idea of Nietzsche’s superman is that of radical individualism, not to be confused with the radical egoism espoused by pseudo-philosopher Ayn Rand, a system in which Rand believes an individual acting purely out of selfish motives, will inevitably produce results that are beneficial both to the individual, and society at large; rather Nietzsche’s view of radical individualism is not necessarily one of unlimited egoism. Nietzsche believed that the only way a human being could come to know true morality was to discover it through one’s own will and reason (Bramann, 1998). It is because of this that in Nietzsche’s view it would be possible to still have a personal code of morality and responsibility that in many cases would be societally agreeable as well; however, Nietzsche stressed that it was important for the individual to think for themselves, lest she fall to some nationalistic movement that suspends reason, and strips one of one’s own personal responsibility. In today’s global corporate community, this sort of personal code of ethics should be prized now more than ever. It enables one to reconcile one’s own reasons, and to assess potential problems within corporate structures, business plans and the like without fear of reprisal. It also allows one to create innovative solutions to a set of problems without the weight of having to consider whether or not the proposed solution goes against a particular corporate office culture. In such a case it’s clear that the individual would not only be thinking of self-benefit, but also the benefit of the company, in turn raising his or her potential value and improving the quality of work produced overall throughout the environment of the company. It is precisely this kind of thinking that enabled people like Henry Ford to revolutionize the business world for generations beyond his time. This is an idea of personal ethics that has the ability to infuse business culture with the synergy of both terms to their fullest extent; personal and responsibility.  In fact,  it is often those that set themselves apart in an academic setting who most frequently succeed in transitioning into professional life.

The counter-argument: Kant and Universalizability

One highly used argument against the idea of personal individualism as promoted by Nietzsche, is an idea refined by a 17th century philosopher by the name of Immanuel Kant. The linchpin of Kantian philosophy as it concerns ethics can be thought of as the Golden rule: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Put in Kantian language it is expressed in the following way: act only according to that maxim which, at the same time can be turned into universal law (Thiroux, 2008). If this concept is given any sort of deep thought, it is easy to see the link between Kantian thought and the modern idea of a professional code of ethics. People go to work for a company, after they have the opportunity to become accustomed to the company’s culture, their behavior then begins to conform to that culture, and over time as the company grows those cultural morés are then codified into a professional code of ethics. For example, let us say that there is a newcomer to Company X, a new start up in the heart of Silicon Valley. The newcomer finds that every morning at 9am, the necessary documents for the day’s meetings are made and distributed 30 minutes prior to the first meeting of the day. Over time, the newcomer then suggests that all new employees should be made accustomed to this moré of the culture of the company, that rule is then codified and distributed as part of a new hire packet, so that all new hires realize from the beginning that this is part of their professional responsibility, and that continued failure to comply would result in the employee having to take personal responsibility for said failure.

 

One of the major flaws with the Kantian system and perhaps one of its most blaring problems is its inability to cope with extreme and/or novel situations.  For example, Kant would have us think that his moral and ethical system would prohibit the causation of pain from one human being to another, but in the case of a pairing between a sadist and a masochist the causation and the reception of pain is seen as mutually beneficial to both parties, Kant’s system is ineffectual in dealing with these types of situations. Likewise, such rigidity may leave an individual or a group unable to cope with rapid change.  In the case of academic success, an overly rigid academic structure can lead to uncreative individuals who ultimately will never supercede either entry level or middle management positions.

It is time for the overarching primary institutional structures in our global community to begin looking for ways to restructure themselves so as to foster a higher degree of educated innovation.  As we are beginning to see, business structures of days gone by are now collapsing to make room for structures that are more flexible and are more readily able to adapt to changing market conditions.  There are also coincidental occurrences in the realm of education.  More classes and institutions are exploring new interactive rich media solutions to pioneer more creative and effective delivery of educational content.  The traditional Prussian Kantian mode of thought is passing away, hopefully a more Nietzchean approach will help us better understand the coming age of innovation and enable a new definition of academic and professional success.
References

Bramann, J. K. (1998). Nietzsche’s Zarathustra. Retrieved from http://facultyfiles.frostburg.edu/phil/forum/Zarathustra.htm

Nietzsche, F., & Hollingdale, R. J. (1961). Thus Spoke Zarathustra. London England, Uk: Penigin Books.

Professional. (2003). American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Retrieved from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/professional

Robinson, K. (2009). The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. New York, NY: Penguin.

Thiroux, J. P., & Krasemann, K. W. (2008). Ethics: Theory and Practice (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

ethics. (n.d.) The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. (2003)

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The Bathroom and the Gimp: Restrooms As a Reflection of Societal Attitudes Towards Disability

A few years ago, when I used to attend a church that a friend of mine pastored, I wandered into the place as I normally do for a Wednesday night Bible study. But on this particular night, I had to go to the bathroom, so I decided to use the restrooms at the church. I had never used the restrooms there, so my friend accompanied me to the restroom also not knowing how handicap accessible the restrooms would be. As it turned out, the restrooms were not very friendly, and the stalls were retrofitted to barely meet ADA compliant standards, and they were by no means wheelchair friendly. I

English: An icon for Accessibility, since the ...
English: An icon for Accessibility, since the International Symbol of Access is copyrighted (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

ended up leaving my chair outside of the stall, and crawling into the restroom because I cannot walk. As anybody in a wheelchair will tell you, that is a rather humbling experience in that it is rather humiliating. As I finished and moved toward my chair, I remarked to my religious friend, “situations like these are why people in wheelchairs generally are either really humble, or really pissed off.” Now this was just my opinion, but I came to realize that experience backs this up fairly well. This situation made me think. I watched as a passive observer as I made my way around the city of Sacramento, and I realized something; that the attitude of an establishment towards disabled customers can be most often determined by the type of restroom facilities that a place has. What I’m basically saying is, you can tell whether or not a disabled customer will get decent service at a place by looking at the bathroom.
In the case of my friend’s church, it was very easy to see what their attitude was towards disabled people. Although I don’t mean this necessarily in the sense that the congregation held negative attitudes toward disabled people; my experience was quite to the contrary, they were quite welcoming of me. However, what I’m saying is that this particular church was not accustomed to disabled patronage, and it was reflected in the fact that their bathrooms completely lacked any real means of handicap accessibility. And often times, the congregation was not sure how to respond to someone with my physical disposition. What is my physical disposition you ask? I am a 28-year-old mixed-race male of Pacific Islander descent, and I have cerebral palsy; more specifically, a form of cerebral palsy known as spastic diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy which is classified by two limbs being affected in a symmetrical manner. Basically, my legs don’t work very well.
Throughout my life, as I moved my way through and around the city of Sacramento, I visited many popular restaurant chains, coffee shops, bars, clubs (this includes strip clubs), parks and other various kinds of public establishments. And my thesis has been upheld. If I go to a strip club for example, I will most likely be the only person in a wheelchair at the club, and if not, there is only one other person there in a similar condition. As such, as everyone knows, the bathrooms in strip clubs, and for that matter normal clubs are horrendous. No one would mistake any of these types of facilities in the area for being handicap friendly by any stretch of the imagination.
The second most common type of establishment I often visit are coffee shops. If you spend any time in Elk Grove or South Sacramento coffee shops, chances are you have probably seen me. Coffee shops are a peculiar thing, particularly the chain of Starbucks coffee shops that seem to spring up with every new neighborhood development project. Most Starbucks are pretty uniformed in appearance, most of which have a bar, a cash register, places to sit, and identical bathrooms with separate gender labels; though to most people it would be more prudent to make these bathrooms unisex rather than gender specific, but that will never happen. Most of these bathrooms are simply a single toilet and sink, meaning that there is no room for a second occupant to do his or her business. In this case, it is important to look at how clean the bathroom is. If the bathroom is clean, chances are that particular Starbucks coffeehouse has a few regulars with a physical disability, and they are made aware of the fact that from time to time a disabled patron may slip due to a wet floor, or may have to prop themselves up on their knees in order to pull up their pants. And in consideration for such events, the floors are normally clean and dry. And at such establishments, when disabled patrons come in to enjoy their overpriced lattes, most baristas will often automatically bring the drink to the table of the disabled customer without a second thought. In a Starbucks location whose bathroom is not what most would consider close to immaculate, typically the service for disabled customers is poor or otherwise subpar. Often times one will find obstacles that are rather difficult for the disabled consumer; such as displays in the middle of the establishment which a wheelchair is then required to circumnavigate in order to reach their original setting place, and often the employees at such Starbucks locations are inconsiderate of the fact that it is very difficult for disabled person in a manual wheelchair to both hold a cup of coffee, and roll themselves back to their seat.
I would think that aside from strip clubs and Starbucks, the most surprising example would have to be department stores like Macy’s. Macy’s is an interesting case; on the one hand, they have adequate fitting rooms for disabled patrons, but their bathrooms are quite often not very clean. This could be due to the fact that Macy’s locations are typically found in shopping malls, which are known to have a wide variety of customers passing through them for various reasons, but being that Macy’s advertises itself as an establishment that caters toward the middle and upper middle class segment of the population, you would assume that their bathrooms would be cleaner. That is however not the case. And when one walks, or rolls into a Macy’s as the case may be, most of the time I get glaring looks wondering what I may be doing there, as if I have no desire to present myself in a manner befitting of a 20 something-year-old adult male. I often feel the glares of people behind the cosmetics counters and in the men’s section, glaring at me as if I had no need for such clothing. This attitude is clearly reflected in the Macy’s restroom experience.
Before I end this opinion essay, it is worth talking briefly about the title of the piece, as well as the usage of the word gimp to refer to a disabled individual. Let me start off by saying that yes, I am aware that typically it is used to refer to people with physical disabilities in a derogatory manner. But let me also tell you that one of my favorite nicknames happens to be Captain Gimpy, I’m proud of being a disabled American, and I am proud of my intellect and the accomplishments that it is allowed me to achieve. I intend to give that word new meaning, not because I feel as though I need to reclaim some sense of culture, but because disability needs to be talked about in a more frank, and open manner. In order to do that sometimes we need to be shocked into paying attention. And to be quite honest, I think it just sounds awesome. It is a simple word that rolls off the tongue with ease. And I don’t mind being a gimp, after all, everyone is disabled in some way, my impairment just happens to be more obvious than most. With that being said, I hope that this piece has made you think about disability in a different way. And I hope that the next time you consider using a restroom intended for disabled persons, you would think twice. There are some people out there that need the stall more than you do. And if you’re curious as to what kind of service your disabled friend may get when you’re not around, look at the bathroom.

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Reply to: What If I Told You I Wanted to Die?



I feel the need to respond to some of the feedback I’ve been getting about this post, if only a blanket response to address the comments I received thus far. For those of you interested, the original post can be found here: http://https://tddr.wordpress.com/2012/04/09/what-if-i-told-you-i-wanted-to-die/

First of all, I want to thank everyone for their kind responses, regardless of if our opinions may differ on the subject. It means a lot to me to know that I’ve actually touched people’s lives. But that’s never been what this is about. I wanted to be very clear that this is not a decision that I arrived at out of some feeling of incompleteness, or a feeling that I’m abnormal, nor do I feel that I don’t belong in some way or another. I have been more clear headed lately, than I have ever been. And what most of you don’t realize, is that I made this choice for myself long before we had even met. The obvious exceptions to that statement already know who they are. I know my worth as a person, and I know that I am special. I know this because I have known lots of amazing individuals so far in my life, and I know with complete certainty, that I will continue to meet more. And to these amazing people, I have become special. I also know my worth as a person because I see how different I am in the way that I treat most of those I encounter, and the things that I’m willing to do for those that I allow in my life. 

I know that I’m a person who is intelligent, I have an agile mind, I am fiercely loyal and compassionate. I’m also aware of my less than desirable amount of stubbornness, my love of arguing for the sake of arguing, the fact that I can be infuriating sometimes for various reasons. All of these things and many more not mentioned, make me who I am. I arrived at this decision in light of this question of basic human dignity, and because I know with utmost certainty, that I have the right to choose how I live, and how I am remembered. And I refuse to leave this life utterly dependent on other people to survive. I refuse to subject anyone to that responsibility. And for those who have joined the discussion from a theological standpoint, for me it takes far more faith to believe in a God that is contrary to the way I was raised, that is, a God that knows my heart, motivation, and intentions so perfectly… Perhaps better than I do, that mercy would be shown on my behalf. This isn’t about a lack of purpose, I know what my purpose is, and I intend to achieve it. All too often, I see people take their lives for granted, because even though we intellectually understand that life is an unknown finite period of time, we don’t live it that way. I’m merely giving myself a soft deadline, with room for padding. I don’t know what the afterlife will hold, nor do I really want to. What I know that I have with the utmost certainty, is this life. What is here, now in this moment, and the moments to come. And I will savor them all.

On Plato and “Love”

Love is a lofty concept, and in a sense it is something very concrete to the human mind. It is something we actively seek and yearn for, and yet, very few of us make an attempt to understand it. I could write for days about that notion alone, but today I’d like to talk about platonic love. The way we understand it, it is a friendship devoid of any erotic or romantic components and undertones, a sort of relationship composed of a kind of distant affection. But is that actually what Plato intended? After all, he is the man for which the term platonic is used. It indicates a concept that comes from his school of thought, and I don’t think that our contemporary definition of love in its platonic form would not make any sense at all. In fact, I think Plato would indeed gasp in horror and maybe even mild disgust at our rather severe bastardization of his notions on love.
It is important to understand that Plato was first and foremost a philosopher, a lover of knowledge. His ultimate concern was to create a fellow lover of knowledge, but lover is a more important word than you might think. What do you think of when you think of a lover? A midnight tryst? A night of passionate sex? Perhaps that feeling you get when your in the arms of the one you love. For Plato, all of the things that we normally associate with eros, more commonly referred to as romantic or erotic love, are an important part of one learning to cultivate a love of knowledge, to becoming a philosopher.
Plato sees eros as being an absolutely central part of his love equation.
Think of falling in love. Your heart races in the presence of the one you love, you might even tremble slightly in anticipation of their passionate embrace. That feeling that you can do anything, that adrenaline rush, that feeling of complete rapture and euphoria, that feeling of complete love… Along with that comes something equally beautiful, an all consuming desire for them, and the drive to make the life of your love better. Through this process, through loving an individual in all ways; physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually, we gain a truly deeper appreciation for that person.
It was Plato’s hope that we would experience this kind of love, and we would learn to extend that love, and its associated feelings of total goodness, and in turn learn to love knowledge and humanity in the same way. He had hoped that through eros, we would learn to love all. So platonic love the way we see it, is quite the opposite of what Plato had originally intended. Platonic love is indeed wholly erotic, and it is that element of the erotic and romantic that, in his mind can lead us to a love of both knowledge and humanity.

A Rather Odd Path to Spiritual Truth

Before I begin, I would like to say a few words in preface to the weird chain of thoughts that dawned on me during a particularly stressful moment in my life. The chain of thoughts I am about to espouse may seem to be merely nonsensical ramblings of an idiot on the surface, but I implore the reader that if they should find this worth any of their time at all, to consider carefully what I’ve said and try to see beneath what seems like the ramblings of an angry man. My goal is simple, to find something that most people in the world can at least agree on enough, that we are able to strengthen one another in times of difficulty regardless of individual religious convictions. I write this with the deepest sympathies for all of my fellow man, and it is my hope that in this brief exploration of mine same train of thought, but some may find and a sense of enlightenment.

It is common knowledge that things live and die, in a continuous cycle. When confronted with this thought as I had been so many times before, I simply thought of the clichéd song Circle of life found in the Lion King and tried to laugh it off. This time however was rather different. I was confronted with the thought of a human embryo that grows into a fetus, which grows into a baby, and is born into the world. From the moment that child is born, it begins a slow descent into death and decay. This presented me with a single thought, that the only thing that is certain in life, is the eventuality of death. This is a grim prospect to any human being, and when faced with it myself I began to despair. I began to wonder if life is simply futile, and is not worth living, and then contemplated suicide briefly. I then began to wonder if this sense of futility was simply a product of my own depressed mind, or if there was indeed some nugget of truth that could be gleaned from such a thought.

The thought that everything is in every descending state of decay is a rather depressing one. But even more depressing, is the thought that because of this perpetual decay the only other thing certain in life is suffering. From this thought I moved on to evolution. I’ve often wondered if there was a reason humanity had come into being; if there was perhaps some purpose humans served better than any other animal on the planet. Upon closer examination, I came to the conclusion that humans are the only species hardwired to dominate their surrounding completely rather than make some adaptations to it. Think about all the high-rises we’ve built, all of the amenities that exist in everyday life here in the West, do other animals really seek to make their environment as comfortable as we seek to make ours? Do other animals pollute their environments for the sake of the mining of natural resources, or in order to simply increase daily comforts? Do other animals hunt for sport, and simply leave the carcasses of their prey to rot in a wasteful ritual? In my mind, the answer to these questions ended in a resounding no. Humankind had simply become a parasite upon here, and a disruption to the natural flow. Why then should humans exist?

My answer was that they should not. Human beings should simply kill themselves and cease to exist. Or at the very least, cease to procreate until the species reaches some sort of natural extinction. The problem that presented itself however, was that human beings, like all other animals, have a biological imperative to procreate that is hardwired into every man and woman. So, by the very nature of our biology, humankind must continue to exist. And if humanity must persist, there has to be, given all of these futile outlooks on the existence of human life, some reason humanity should be allowed to persist. But why? Why should humanity be allowed to exist? If we have not learned our lessons by now, how could we possibly hope to learn them in future?

Humanity has a history of treating its brethren with utter contempt. The solution to this is simple: we as a species must realize we’re in the same boat. But if life is shit, and there is no point. And if there is no point to life, why can’t I do whatever the hell I want? The answer is also simple. Once we realize, that the only two things in life that are permanent are the eventuality of death and that everyone suffers, why not take it a step further? Why not let better understanding lead a man into compassion for his fellow human being?

We only have this life to live, at least in our own capacities to be certain. If all life must eventually come to an end, why not make the best of the time we have? It is the enlightened one’s duty, the one in whom this truth resides, to show his fellow human being that though the suffering of this life may be great, every other thing besides death, is impermanent. The hurt we feel when a loved one breaks our heart for the final time, the pain we feel when we lose someone dear to us to death, the anger we feel when we are betrayed by a close friend; these are emotional states that are impermanent. And by being kind to one another, we can show such things to be impermanent, that they soon will pass. It is important to remember, that we all suffer together as a people, and as a race. I know these thoughts seem scattered, but please bear with me as I try to make them more clear.

Let us look at an example. An enlightened man, one who has realized this truth is walking along the freeway one day, and he notices Someone has a flat tire. After seeing that the individual with a flat tire is becoming increasingly frustrated, comes to the aid of the person with a flat tire, in an age where helping one another is no longer the norm, the formerly frustrated person with a flat tire asks the enlightened man why he stopped to help. The enlightened man simply replies, there is always someone who has it better than I, and always someone who has it worse. But the one who has it better than I can sometimes have it worse, and the one who has it worse than I, can sometimes have it better, of this I am always mindful. The enlightened man seeks to help others for the sake of helping them realize the broader context in which they live. By doing so, he helps them realize that in the broader scheme of things, we are all the same, we are all suffering. And by alleviating those things which we are able, we have managed to in some small part make the world a better place. And if a man should act in accordance with this teaching, if people begin to realize that their mental states are impermanent, they will cease to worry about inconsequential matters and work toward a greater positive change.

Some of you may notice that I did not bring in any real talk of how one ought to behave, nor did I talk of God. There are reasons for this which I will briefly attempt to explain. A belief in God is not requisite to live by this knowledge. The only problem I really see in the world today, is an attitude of environmental dominance, and dominance over one’s fellow man. This requires a shift in attitude to change, not simply behavior. If one can understand the attitude that one ought to have, then the behavior ought to change in accordance with attitude.

The other main reason I chose not to talk of God is because I have seen many atrocities committed in the name of a supposedly kind deity. Condemnation of homosexuals simply for living as they were born, racial persecution and discrimination, discrimination on the basis of religion, all of these are ideas that stand firmly against the foundational principles of the country in which I live, and for these contradictory ideas, I cannot in good conscience stand. I am not saying that belief in God is inherently bad, nor am I saying that it is inherently good. I am saying that people are responsible for such a horrid treatment, as well as kind acts of charity as exemplified by people like Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and many others. Please think on what I’ve said with an open mind, and an open heart. And it is my sincere hope that one reads this and sincerely understands will find peace. If some of you find this to be a perversion of spirituality, remember one thing, I am the Perverted Sage.