Prose Reflections

1.“Frustration and Staying Present”
Frustration often arises when things, people, and other forces in the external world fail to react as we had hoped or to yield as immediately and painlessly to our control as we had wished. We often become frustrated when multitasking—which includes thinking about one thing while doing another—results in mistakes. For example, while making plans for the day or watching television, we might pour our coffee carelessly and make a mess. Then, the mess, which we have to clean, frustrates us because it challenges our illusion of control over the external situation; contrary to what feeling “so busy” might lead us to assume, multitasking has made us less efficient. Rather than recognize our accident’s relation to our dispersed mind, we tend to blame our luck and to say to ourselves things that suggest that the world is conspiring to ruin our day.
People who claim to have no time for this “mindfulness, staying in the present mumbo-jumbo” underestimate the extent to which being somewhere else, such as the “future”, makes us less efficient in the present.

2.“On the Relation of Pleasant Past Memories to Present and Future”
1st Version: Clinging to a ‘better’ past state fills the present with unsatisfied desire that we experience as suffering; the present becomes the time in which we mourn the passing of a better time and dream of a future in which that ‘better state’, experienced in the past, will be re-attained. [Ghosts of past joy become present misery that will lead to future misery because one will continually experience the present as the time in which better days have passed and better days are hoped for. The present is transformed into memory-induced suffering. People spend much of the present mourning that which has passed and that which might not come; anxieties ruining the “now” often relate to obsessive desire to recover past joy and fear that such recovery will not be achieved. ]* As long as we experience the present in this way, we condemn ourselves to lives made of present moments in which we mourn the past and anticipate the future.
I think I could compress everything above into the following two sentences:
2nd version: Clinging to a ‘better’ past state fills the present with unsatisfied desire that we experience as suffering; the present becomes the time in which we mourn the passing of a better time and dream of a future in which that ‘better state’, experienced in the past, will be re-attained. As long as we experience the present in this way, we condemn ourselves to lives made of present moments in which we mourn the past and anticipate the future.
I would appreciate constructive feedback regarding the comparative effectiveness of the two versions. Believing that concision is the best policy, I prefer the second version.

3.“On Inconsistency”

-How unfair it is to criticize a thinker for changing a view considered earlier or perhaps only briefly! Should thinkers revere what they have written? Should they defend it, as if it were a child, solely because they gave birth to it? Should they cease to question, to explore, to consider? Should authors treat their own words as dogma to be defended rather than blocks on which they and others can build? When being refuted would better serve the advancement of knowledge, should ideas become pieces that thinkers must force into a scheme and view solely with an eye for “evidence” and “confirmation”? Why make consistent adherence, i.e. stubbornness, such a virtue?
-The stigma of “fickleness” should attach only to those who change views for so-called “pragmatic reasons”. Those deserving this stigma are insincere political “flip-floppers,” trend-chasing courters of academic acclaim, and avowed intellectuals interested only in greater mass appeal and the profit and fame that accompany such appeal; in other words, the fickle are those who only pretend to seek the noblest way or purest truth. There should be no shame in ceasing to hold a weak or false position once presented with a better alternative. What some call “inconsistency” is sometimes intellectual growth, maturity, and integrity. It requires more courage to say, “I was wrong,” than to persist in error or—as some people do—to deny that one ever held the discredited view by switching slyly to the new view once it receives authority’s sanction or attains popular acceptance.

4.“The Great Ideal”
An ideal state, sometimes called “perfection,” remains “ideal” only until it is seemingly realized. Perhaps the “Great Ideal” is the existence of unfulfilled ideals that, like mirages of oases in the desert, compel travelers to keep seeking. The mirage, remaining distant regardless of one’s progress, is more beautiful than the handful of sand slipping through the fingers of travelers who, having reached an illusory oasis, try to cup its water.

5. “Skepticism”
-Skepticism would benefit from being rebranded “suspension of judgment.” [“Agnosticism” would not be an adequate substitute because the term, now associated almost exclusively with religious beliefs, carries a negative connation—likely resulting from some people’s conflation of it with “atheism”. ] Despite the popular misunderstanding that skeptics insist on contrary positions’ correctness, true skeptics refuse to assert confidently that any position is beyond doubt.
-Considering skeptics’ reservations about proclaiming truths, I find it bizarre that so many people call skeptics “arrogant” for having the audacity to challenge “certainties” that have held for centuries. One might more appropriately attach the label of “arrogance” to the skeptics’ “humble” critics who defer arrogantly to traditional authority. The “endurance=truth” equation falters because beliefs—after becoming part of a culture’s inheritance—were placed in the realm of the untouchable, and anyone who would question them would face powerful opponents. Traditions often last so long because they are defended fiercely and remain unchallenged. If a fort is never attacked, should we praise its endurance? Endurance in the realm of ideas should mean little if a position endures only because it has not been considered honestly by those holding it. A rock might lie on the floor for centuries if no one touches it, and it might eventually come to seem immovable. Much of the rock’s apparent strength derives from its defenders who—despite claiming to believe in its immovability—zealously guard the door to the room in which it rests. Why not let people handle the rock to experience firsthand its immovability?

6. “Childhood and Golden Days”
I.People often view childhood nostalgically as a happier, less troubled time, but few of them when children enjoyed the carefree, exuberantly happy existence that they associate with childhood. Adults often trivialize children’s problems and think, “I wish had problems as ‘serious’ as those of the children.” What these adults fail to recognize is that a child’s pain when, for example, not picked for a playground sports team is sometimes as acute as that felt by an adult dealing with social or sexual rejection.
II. When adults think that they would like to be children again, they likely mean that they would like to be a child/adult hybrid. They would need their current perspectives to appreciate being children; after all, children usually want to be adults. Adults have the freedoms a child wants but have little time in which to enjoy them, and children have the time an adult would like but not the freedom to use that time as they please.
III. It is easy to remain nostalgic about “Golden Eras” of history or one’s life because these times cannot be repeated. In other words, there is no danger of experience clashing with and contradicting one’s idealizations because there is no possibility of putting the imagination to the test of reality.

7. “On the Futility of Anger”
I. There are two ways to deal with the past: We can learn from painful, destructive errors that changes in mind and action need to become a priority if we want a brighter future; or we can decide that the dark past—despite being irretrievably gone—should become the dark present, which in its turn becomes the dark future.

II. Punishing someone might make the punisher think that “justice’ is being served, but revenge is not true justice, and attempting to heal one’s emotional wounds by making others suffer is as ineffective a remedy as stabbing someone else to heal one’s own stab wounds.

III. If a house burns, we should seek the cause of the accident and rebuild the house more securely rather than kick and curse its ashes. Kicking the ashes seems superficially to be futile, yet harmless, but—viewed rationally—such an act clearly harms its agents by throwing dust in their eyes, soiling their clothing, and maybe even burning their bodies.

8. “A Brief Reflection on Nihilism”
Some people are like hypothetical astronomers who have convinced themselves that life could exist on only one other planet. They focus their instruments on Mars and fight to prove the correctness of theories devised before adequate instruments were available. Once newer technology allows thorough exploration, these astronomers often react in one of the following ways to the apparent absence of life on Mars: some contort reality by insisting that life is only visible to the virtuous or faithful astronomer, while others conclude that there is no life anywhere else…even though they have looked at only one possibility among millions.

9. “What if it’s true?” and “Join the right club!”
PLEASE NOTE: The following post is not about religious beliefs. Careful readers will understand that the post criticizes the ways in which some people express their beliefs and phrase their attempts to convert others.
I. “What if it’s true?”
This phrase, which I have often seen on billboards and bumper stickers, resembles the “persuasive” words an armed robber uses to influence his victim’s way of thinking. When the robber says, “Give me your money, or I’ll shoot,” the victim likely wonders, “What if it’s true? What if he will shoot me?”; unwilling to take such a risk, the victim fearfully surrenders his money. The robber might hold an empty gun, and he might not have the “guts” to shoot, but he succeeds because he understands the psychology of fear. [Do you really think the best analogy for religion is that of a casino in which cautious gamblers must be talked into making what seems to be a safer bet?]
Our world has enough fear in it. Preach of peace and love, or remain silent.
II. “Join the right club!”
Another phrase found on several bumper stickers reads: “I believe in God. Join the right club.” While I respect people’s right to express their beliefs, I wish that these people would use less childish and petty ways of appealing to others. Phrases like “Join the right club” prey on insecure people’s need to belong, to avoid feeling inadequate, or—in schoolyard language—to be “one of the cool kids”. Is the point of spirituality to be right, to be popular, to be praised by others? Christianity has dominated the last 2,000 years of Western civilization; considering that many of the Europe and America’s greatest writers have been Christians, there surely must be a wealth of inspiring phrases that can top something on par with the taunts of a playground bully.
[One must also consider whether such phrases are likely to convert nonbelievers or only to “pump up” and amuse believers. Implying that people belong to the wrong club—i.e. that they, their parents, or their culture chose poorly—is more likely to provoke them than convert them. True communication occurs only when no party feels disparaged or threatened. ]

10. “The Underdog Effect”
– Consistent winners are often polarizing. While hated by many, they are loved by others who enjoy sharing vicariously in their glory. Consider the envy and hostility many spectators feel towards athletes and teams that seem indestructible, and think of the appeal of the ‘underdog’ with whom many identify.
-Perhaps the underdog effect is related to its ability to inspire in people the following thought process: “I, little lowly me, could also succeed at slaying the big dragon. People might look at me as meek, but I have potential. Look at those other underdogs who’ve proven the world wrong! I’d love to obtain similar vengeance on public opinion […or what I’ve perceived as public opinion when I’ve narrated my life’s dramas to myself]. I’d love to have “them” feel that they were wrong […although they likely never think of “me.”]
– Sometimes people who are not underdogs like to feel that they have been in order to experience a sense of vindication in defying the supposed expectations of the doubters; they imagine the abstract crowd of doubters –often dubbed ‘the world’– thinking to itself, “I sure was wrong about so and so.” What fantasies and narratives we weave about ourselves!
-Might some people’s love of underdogs be motivated by pleasure derived from opposing prevailing opinion? Betting on the underdog means to go against “the crowd” while remaining in the security of another crowd (i.e. the “underdog’s supporters”). Some people might side with the underdog because they enjoy fantasizing about the malicious joy of taunting the mighty. Whether mighty or meek, people often indulge in thinking of themselves as underdogs whose failures can be attributed to their participation in a rigged game; when they succeed despite facing ostensibly long odds, they expect “the World’s” applause to resound more loudly than it would for the entitled victors of “the Establishment”–an abstract group containing miscellaneous “types” with whom they do not identify.

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