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Today, I drove to Great Brook Farm State Park. I have been since the fall just to take a walk, grab a coffee afterward, and write. As I was driving, I thought about topics I could write about, as I normally do. I thought about David Foster Wallace’s sentiments on worship:

“The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already — it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.” – David Foster Wallace (This is Water)

Which immediately made me think about John Rochester’s remarks on thinking beyond what is directly in front of us is “thinking like an ass,”:

“But thoughts are given for action’s government;
Where action ceases, thought’s impertinent:
Our sphere of action is life’s happiness,
And he that thinks beyond, thinks like an ass.”

which is the importance of being present (not thinking like an ass). Also, this is what I think David Foster Wallace meant when he said, “The trick is keeping the truth upfront in daily consciousness,” as he later indicates that one of the hardest things to do is to always beware of the most obvious realities in our life and how hard it really is to do.

Then, I thought about Walter Pater’s thoughts in his Conclusion to the Renaissance on success in life,

“To burn always with this hard gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life. Failure is to form habits; for habit is relative to a stereotyped world; meantime it is only the roughness of the eye that makes any two persons, things, situations, seem alike.”

I parked my car, got out, and began the trek. I looked at the fluffy, freezing snow covering the ground and thought about the pros and cons of the walk. My boots and socks would be wet and uncomfortable. However, I’d be energized and introspective during the walk and that’d carry over while sipping coffee at the local cafe. I was planning on writing and I needed the energy and introspection, so the pros outweighed the cons. I began walking and admiring how the sun danced and illuminated miniature diamond mirrors on the snow-laden path. I listened closely to the chickens peeping in their roost and the calm crinkling of snow beneath my feet. Up ahead, I saw two women cross country skiing, “What geniuses…” I thought. Then, I saw another guy skiing around a bend that was perfectly groomed so that you could see as much nature and have the best route around the State Park as possible. I thought of how ridiculous I must have looked walking around while everybody was skiing. I couldn’t believe how everybody had the same idea — to come here and cross country ski during the winter. I’d never skied before but the idea of it now seemed greater than ever. Why walk? Skiing was a faster mode of travel and it allowed you to see the trails with such a different perspective. All of my thinking about the sounds, sights, and prospect of skiing was abruptly interrupted when a skier fell in front of me.

“You distracted me! I’m blaming you…” she said.
Still caught up in thought about how bright everybody was for skiing, I laughed, “You guys are geniuses for skiing!” referring to her and her mother.

I kept walking and noticed off into the distance a male skier sort of hovering around and constantly looking at me (or so I thought). Unsure why or what he would be doing, I dismissed the thought. Suddenly, though, he stopped on the trail ahead of me. Just stopped and stared directly at me. I again diverted the thought and instead figured he might be waiting for somebody. I kept walking and veered toward the side of the path and as I approached him I greeted.

“Hello,” I said.
“Look, I just have to let you know that you can’t be walking on these trails. These are skiing trails only,” the skier said. “You know, he pays money, this park is a State-run, State-funded park. He pays money to groom the trails and I pay money for a season long pass,” he continued. He went on about how I shouldn’t be on the trails and if I want to ski or snowshoe there is a rental center.

I apologized, thanked him, and asked the quickest way back. I felt stupid. We talked for a moment about the cost of skiing and my obliviousness. I walked on the unpaved portion of powdery snow back to my car. Upon reaching the parking lot, I saw a yellow and black caution sign, “GROOMED SKI TRAILS. CLOSED TO WALKING”20170110_130541

Then another… and another… three signs. Three signs were directly in front of me as I drove in that I completely missed while caught up in all of the abstract thought about presence and the importance of obvious realities by David Foster Wallace, John Rochester, and Walter Pater. Ironic.20170110_130615

Bust of Socrates (470-399 BC) (marble)

Back in 2006, a close family friend who was a 29 year old male at the time and a hardworking blue collar plumber got caught up in some harder drugs and decided that his life needed more excitement. So, he robbed a convenient store, stole a car, and crashed that car into a police cruiser upon which he tackled the police officer. In the midst of wrestling the cop, the report says he grabbed his holster and fired off a shot from his pistol, hitting the cop in the leg. He claimed that it went off just due to the wrestling, the cop claimed otherwise, but alas his word is worth nothing due to his previous actions and impairment during the encounter and thus: 11 years with 4 years of probation.

He was just released and allowed back into society. I happened to encounter him as he came by the house just to “see if we lived there anymore.” We talked about all the people who had died while he was in prison. He talked about the shame he’d feel if he requested to go to their funerals in cuffs. I asked him what he did in prison, “I’d lift and fight,” he laughed, “and lift and fight, I gained 80 pounds.” That’s what he did for 11 years: lifted and fought. I asked him about probation. He told me his parole officer said something along the lines of, “Look, your record is this big, I don’t want you out. I want you locked up. So, try me, do anything and I’ll have you back in there immediately.”

My uncle has been a career petty criminal his entire life. He got caught up in hard drugs as well. He has been in and out of prison his entire life. I remember one time, unsure of the date and one of the few encounters with him, I asked him if he was going to stay out of prison. He snarled and explained that he didn’t really want to stay out of prison. He wanted to go back. The outside world didn’t care about him. In prison, he got meals, he could lift, and he had a place to sleep. Outside, he had nothing and nobody wanted to hire him. He was an outcast.

When I was in middle school, I was a trouble maker. I would do stupid things purposely to annoy. I used to drop my books in classes merely to distract from the lesson. I used to sleep during most classes. I threw stink bombs on occasions. However, whenever I got in trouble, if I was supposed to get an in-school suspension, I’d do anything to push it to an out-of-school suspension.

The point of the comparison of a middle school derelict to a career criminal is to illustrate that they are both rebellious to the system. They both would prefer to be in a society that utterly doesn’t try to restrict them (my house and their prison) than to be in a society that pretends to care about them through reform (school and society). In both cases, the perceptibly best avenue of comfort is to be a repeat offender. When you couple this kind of mindset with the innate pre-disposition to criminals or derelicts, it’s a slippery slope that the outcasts take joy in sliding down. It’s a spiral of carelessness and rebellion.

In 2013, 2,220,300 adults were incarcerated in US federal and state prisons according to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics. The cost of a used The Republic by Plato on Amazon.com is $0.09. Therefore, to equip the entire US incarcerated population with one would cost $199,827. This is excluding the possibility of the amount of unused philosophical texts in colleges and otherwise that could be up for donation. Relatively, though, under $200,000 to allot a population of almost 2.5 million Americans with a book is chump change.

The idea is this: we employ a system where prison populations are broken into groups of roughly the size of a college class (20-25). Each group gets a different philosophical text (which would just rotate between groups so eventually every prisoner would’ve read some large amount of philosophical texts). Prison guards become teachers and mentors. Each week, the prisoners are required to read some reasonable amount of pages (20-30) of whichever text they are assigned. Each group will meet a different day of the week and discuss the reading they were assigned. Every individual prisoner will be required to write and turn in a one page paper (but are encouraged to write more) on their thoughts (and maybe prompts from the prison guards) while reading the excerpt and one page of words that they didn’t understand with the definition of the word. Every week after the first week of their incarceration, they will be required to use at least one of the newfound words in their paper discussing their thoughts on the excerpt. They are given a dictionary, a pencil, and paper to write on. If they fail to turn in a one page paper with their thoughts and a sheet of definitions, then they are not allowed to go outside (recess) until they turn in next week’s paper. Also, as an extra reward, maybe prisoners would be allowed to help do a job around the prison if, for example, they completed a month of turning in papers. Maybe, even, if they complete a year of continuous papers their sentence could be re-negotiated.

Many philosophers and most philosophical texts have themes of rebellion, critiques on society, and lots of introspection. I think the prisoners would find resonance with the philosophers and get the mental wheels turning in the right direction. After a 4 year sentence, they’d have something relatively equivalent to a Bachelors in Philosophy (just without the degree). Rather than vituperative vandals that we cultivate in confinement, we’d have thoughtful, virtuous logophiles of society. This way, we’d have hirable, reformed people rather than the wayward, faithless people that the system currently produces.

Every year, this time is peaked with anxiety. Everybody has a different reason but it usually has to do with people being present or not. Or too many or too few. Whatever the reason may be, it’s important to step back and see that, few or many, we’re here.

We’re sitting on the couch, eating too much, and drinking excessive alcohol. We’re indulging in gifts, people’s smiles, and their newest deep insight. We’re here. That’s the most important part of this time of year.

It’s a beautiful thing to step back in your mind just so far to see what’s in front of you. It’s sometimes so easy to slip into cynical comatose and derange yourself into an absurdist’s paradise of abstraction. Instead, sip your coffee more slowly, love your significant others more deeply, and recognize your thoughts inside as much as you recognize the floor below your feet. Take your time. Cheers!

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There is a concept in existential philosophy by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir called, “Bad Faith.” It is the idea that we can consciously deceive ourselves into shifting from being a subject within the world to being merely an object. The example Sartre most commonly gives is a waiter who is too “waiter-esque.” S/he moves too quickly, rigidly, and enunciates his words too perfectly so that they are recognized as a waiter. S/he does this because s/he is so entirely aware that they are a waiter and so instead of being a person (a subject), they become essentially a cardboard cutout waiter (an object).

Amy Winehouse when asked if she thought she would become famous said, “I think I would go mad. It’s a scary thing. Very scary” and, “I don’t think I could handle it.” In Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace said, “To be envied, admired, is not a feeling. Nor is fame a feeling. There are feelings associated with fame, but few of them are any more enjoyable than the feelings associated with envy of fame.” Fame seems to be society’s tool to producing bad faith. As somebody becomes more famous, they shift from being a subject to being a commodity; an object. They become a product. They are expected to produce and their production is consumed. It’s hard to ever shift back into the subjective and being a subject because they are followed around by the looming shadow of fame.

Ultimately, even if the artist is able to retain their subjectivity, fame follows closely as a reminder that they are still a product in and of society. That there is now a supply and demand on them, on their thoughts, and on their creations. They are not so much sought after as them-as-them but instead as them-as-a-product. With each new “product,” society’s demand increases until the person, even if dealing with real, subjective, human shit has to create, has to produce as them-as-a-product rather than them-as-them. If they are unable to meet the demand, then society begins to cannibalize them-as-a-product through media and sensationalism. The real horror of fame is that you are constantly forced into bad faith.

Amy Winehouse, while becoming a meme of drug addiction on the internet, really died due to fame. Her personal issues were prompted due to fame and then trying to sort her personal issues out were exasperated by fame. She was unable to escape paparazzi. She died of alcohol overdose which she was very aware would kill her. Her doctor had told her that if she drank heavily again her heart would stop. She essentially committed suicide.

David Foster Wallace in This Is Water, said, “Think of the old cliché about ‘the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.’ This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in the head.” Yet, he hung himself which is revealing when coupled with his views on fame. He hung himself seemingly symbolically as a cessation of speech. The immediate fame from Infinite Jest would be the death of him so he ended himself preemptively.

las-vegas-welcome-sign

Traveling is incredible. Seeing new places prompts a multitude of thoughts in the brain. We recognize how fortunate we are for where we live. We recognize how fortunate we are for being in whichever particular place we traveled to. Yet, traveling cost money and time and so we are almost always met with a catch-22. In order to travel, we must have money. We must work to acquire money. Working takes time and thus we are bound to find a lot less time to travel and even while working long hours not as much money as we expected.

I’m going to suggest that there is a form of traveling that elicits all of the electric revelation we find at the Hustler’s Club in Las Vegas that is entirely free. Yeah, free.

There is an area outside of your house, in the center of town, that you have never seen. There is a state park that cost maximally a couple dollars to park that even if you’ve been down the trail a hundred times, you haven’t been down it today. It’s amazing how different a trail can be from day to day.

So, there we are, you can travel on a budget by not going to places that cost money. It’s a foreign concept today but it’s a revelation. Take a hike!

Yeah, it’s probably an old subject but it’s a worthwhile one. I’ve realized this in the past, but not to the degree that this week has revealed. Mind you, I am well aware that I live in Northeastern United States in an industrialized nation of individual freedoms that are noble in their cause and extensive in their nature. I am well aware that I drive a Hyundai Elantra that is a fuel efficient car, I am capable of writing this blog (so I have both of my tangible limbs), I can see, smell, hear, taste, and talk, I don’t have a terminal illness, I don’t have bills because I live with my parents, I have a smart phone, I have food, shelter, and essentially a good life.

I get it. That being said, stress is still a benefactor in even the best lives, so what better way to vent than to write a giant blog post acknowledging your ignorance and still illustrating a perfectly beautiful picture of human turmoil that reeks?

Well, that’s what I’m about to do.

I got a speeding ticket a little under a month ago and just paid it off about a week ago. I felt good doing it. I thought: “I broke the law by going 70 on the highway,” and then in a burst of spiteful subconscious thought, “even though everyone fucking goes 70 on the highway,” but then continued, “so I ought to pay this fine to show that I acknowledge the laws and acknowledge my infraction.” Fair enough. I paid it, $100 down the drain. The next day I got a letter from the RMV. Those letters, capitalized, and in that sequence send chills down everyone’s back. But, this time, I thought, “Well, looky here, they’re sending me a letter of recognition that I was a good Samaritan and paid my dues for breaking the law, how kind!” Nope.

In the most formal way and with the most formal font, the letter read, “You are hereby notified that the Registry of Motor Vehicles intends to suspend your license,” the rest of the letter really isn’t necessary to read. You can see the natural disparity in thought: “I paid my $100 dollar ticket, so they want to suspend my license?!” Oh, but it makes perfect sense, see, if I had known the laws and recollected on the past two years of my driving, I would have found that I had three surcharges within a two-year period. They give me two options to get out of this suspension of license that are nice.
1) Take a driver’s retraining course for a measly $125 for eight hours one day or four hours split between two days

2) Commit suicide
(this wasn’t a formal option, but the other option was to go to a hearing in which the only thing disputed would be the charges and since they’ve already convicted me on the charges over the past two years, the option they’re really giving you is figurative suicide)

So, I chose the first option. This past week I spent $350 on a parking pass at school. So, that’s two weeks of pay down the drain between a parking pass, a speeding ticket, and a driver’s retraining course. Sweet.

There are two other issues that are largely a reason why I’m writing this post, but half way through this post, I realized something. Humanity sucks precisely because of posts like this.

EDIT: The funniest part about this is that I decided against publishing this post until now when I had initially written this post about two years earlier.

First off, showers are seemingly the greatest place to conduct thoughts. It’s as though your thoughts, apparently electric, conduct the water in a brainstorm above your head.

Anyway, the point of this post is to address what I think is at the heart of contention in the religious sphere of our society: authenticity. What I mean by this, is that currently in the United States (and really, the world over), there is deeply rooted sentiment that there is “one true religion.” Essentially, that, every religion thinks that all other religions got it wrong; the God, the principles, how to pray, what is right about marriage, and how to treat someone that is different than you. Then, there is the atheist’s stance, which I think was nicely displayed in a meme on Facebook the other day, so rather than typing one thousand words, here you are:

UniverseMeme.

Which, at the time of sharing it, I liked it. I liked it, but I didn’t love it – because, as you can see, subtlety, the atheist is taking his piece of the pie. There is condescension in the post. The words, “insignificant, little, fighting, scribbled, coolest,” and the phrases, “Middle Eastern desert sect,” and “fairy tales,” are all designated words to captivate the selective crowd (atheists) in an echo chamber of superiority. Recognize that the atheist’s failure here is the same as the devout religious person’s failure, which is attempting to claim a truth higher than their truth. These are attempts at desperate self-righteousness, in all their humor.

Ultimately, however, we might find that, for the religious person, rather than the Judeo-Christian God being the only one in Heaven (because this is the current mode of thought in the United States), maybe Heaven is a big enough place to accompany all of the Gods of all of the religions, the world over. And the takeaway point for the atheist here, is that at the very least, what we can recognize from religion and ourselves is that scrambling to be correct about something, especially one of such an abstract degree (and in all fairness, even multiple universes can’t outright deny the potential existence of a place such as Heaven, and actually probably promotes it) is worthless except for attempting to pursue a greater condition or moral value in the world. Therefore, maybe we should all recognize that every religion or religion-less person has a way of identifying their spirituality or relation to the world and be okay with the fact that we all do so differently.