November 5th, 2016
I begin writing to you for the first time, after a reasonable period of procrastination and thought. I’ve determined that starting this series of blogs, vlogs, articles (or whatever this project will end up as) will be both valuable and dangerous – for both of us, reader and writer. My brief journey down the path of philosophy has been incredibly eye-opening, scary, exciting and motivational beyond what I can explain.
Learning something new, or seeing something I’ve seen a million times before with new clarity is energising! But this philosophy thing – it’s a double edged sword. At first, the truth is a hard thing to stare at directly in the eyes. It feels brutal, painful, confrontational and harsh, but after a time, you adapt and start to see truth itself differently. Contrary to the claim of many, the truth is not sexist. The truth is not racist. The truth is not offensive. It is simply – the truth. You will begin to enjoy searching for it, and eventually it will be the ONLY thing you desire from your relationships, your conversations, or any source of information.
This pursuit of truth we are about to begin, may end up with you putting a flamethrower to many (maybe even most) of your relationships. If you choose to come on this journey with me, have no doubt it will change us both. Even if you don’t choose to read any further, it has likely already changed you, because you realise that you might not want to change – or, that you might not want truth.
I have used the word “journey” in this preface, because I believe it to be the best way to learn. The answer to a mathematical equation can only be understood if you traverse everything left of the equal sign. A judge should only pass a sentence once all evidence has been examined. The journey is the key, and the fundamentals must not be overlooked, so I will take you to the same place I started in this first article – truth and relationships.
Stefan Molyneux, one of my favorite philosophers, defined relationships into three categories in his book “On Truth – The Tyranny of Illusion”. I will paraphrase these first, and follow with a summary of integrity.
I challenge you to think of a relationship in your life that is voluntary, free of obligation and provides both you and the other person great happiness and meaning (by voluntary – I refer only to relationships you initiate only by choice). Sadly, these relationships number far too few for me (and likely you also). These relationships are only pleasurable, they are free of aggression, guilt, manipulation or control.
The second kind of relationship is voluntary but provides only mutual benefit. These are mostly bereft of happiness and meaning. Examples of this relationship might be the one between you and your employer, or someone working at a supermarket checkout. This relationship is very common, often unimportant and usually ends without guilt, regret or remorse.
Then we have the relationships that are involuntary, and it is these relationships that we will focus our gaze upon, as these are the kinds of relationships that often contain the most obligation, cause us the most pain, and strip us of our happiness and integrity.
INTEGRITY – don’t overlook this word – I’m not using it for a filler or for fluff. Integrity is our strong principles and values that we must keep consistent with reality.
Involuntary, meaning YOU DO NOT CHOOSE YOUR _________
I’ll give you some examples; Parents. Grandparents. Siblings. In-laws or extended family. Government. Culture. Country.
It’s an interesting thing – you were brought into this world with no choices, and sadly even as you grew into a toddler (and then to a child), choices were still so very few. The world was already “happening” when you entered it, yet even from childhood, everyone will try to convince you that you are responsible for “how it happens”.
I claim that this kind of responsibility should always start with yourself, and it is your foremost responsibility to ensure your own integrity stays intact, through your own choices. Therefore, if any involuntary relationships exist that only cause you pain and strip you of your integrity, you must remove them.
Why? Consistency must always exist for integrity to remain intact – between your reality, ideas and behavior. Without consistency between these things, you disregard truth in favor of dishonesty and lies. You allow these relationships to continue to strip you of your integrity and become a person you do not want to be.
To provide examples of consistency;
1.) Telling your partner that you have a headache when they want affection, is not consistency with reality.
2.) Spanking or yelling at your child, because he hit or yelled at you (or others), is not consistency with behavior.
Consistency with ideas is probably the most interesting to me, and the most difficult to maintain. It’s entirely based around ethics, which are nearly always taught by parents to children. Therefore, you must re-learn or re-develop your own ethics in order to be consistent with them.
To try explain “consistency with ideas” further, consider your own parents for a moment (or even you and I) – we all have different opinions on what is right and wrong. There is no “universal handbook” that dictates what is right or wrong. When you and I were children, what was the most common question we asked our parents?… “why?”
Why… can’t I do ‘this’?
Why… can’t I tell that person he has a massive nose?
Why… do I have to put down that knife?
Why… can’t I lie?
There are many questions your parent’s didn’t actually know the correct answer to. Try to remember what your parents did when you asked them a question they didn’t know how to answer. (Or, if you have children, what do YOU do when your kids ask you a question you dont know the answer to? It’s not a good place to be in, is it?).
There is a conundrum. To use the question “Why cant i lie?” as an example; If we tell our children that we don’t know why lying is wrong, we lose our position as the “authority and source for all knowledge”. If we tell them that we do know why its wrong, we keep our authority – by lying to our kids. Sooooo, what do we do?
Here’s some very popular options!
1.) Sigh very loudly
2.) Act overwhelmed
3.) Redirect the conversation
4.) Distract them with something else
Undertake an experiment for yourself.
Sit with your parents and ask them a trivial question that they would not know the answer to. Observe the reaction – they will not know and will likely help you find the answer. There will be no hesitation to admit they do not know.
Then ask them “what is goodness?” and observe the hesitation/tension to follow. It is likely that they will do almost anything to avoid the question, or they will stumble over an answer that will not satisfy your question.
The point here is not the answer. The point is that the people who have been teaching you “right from wrong” and “good from evil” since childhood do not know how to answer “what is goodness?” themselves! All of your ethical questions as a child were likely answered by people that have no clue.
Philosophy – to me – is simply knowing yourself, and the world in which you live. How much of “who you are”, is actually “who you are”.
To know thyself, we must revisit and relearn everything we know of ethics. Personally, if my daughter asks me an ethical question I do not know the answer to, I will tell her that I will prepare an answer for her soon, and re-learn it for myself. Otherwise, I would simply be relaying to her what I was told as a child, and this can be a dangerous thing.
I want people to think independently, and therefore must keep my reality consistent with my idea by not repeating cultural norms as though they are facts. Many parents do this – particularly when religion or politics are involved. Muslim parents may teach their female children that its OK for an older man to marry them at 6 years of age, and consummate that marriage at 9. A Catholic parent may teach their children that absolution from sin may be purchased with money. African parents may teach their female children that she must be circumcised to be properly part of their community.
Every parent believes they are teaching their children to be good, when they probably cant define know what goodness is themselves. Every parent believes they are teaching truth, but they might simply just be passing on cultural myths and bad practices.
If people think they know what goodness is, they inevitably stop trying to understand it. Similarly, if people think they know what truth is, they inevitably stop trying to find it. If people think they already ARE good, they stop trying to become good.
Continually trying to understand what goodness is, is my personal goal. I think the answer may be very long, but I’ve arrived at the first part of it – honesty.
We must stop lying. I see a world where it’s almost impossible to tell the truth without being overwhelmed with claims of offense. People get uncomfortable when you point out truth to them, and often respond in turn with attacks to evade their own discomfort.
I presented my own father with some truth when I made the decision to no longer visit him anymore. A few people within my family came to me and pleaded my fathers case on his behalf, but the truth of the matter was, they were pleading on their own behalf. To them, my own preferences did not matter. Their preferences were more important – they would have preferred that I continue visitation with my father, as it would rectify a discomfort or abnormality in their own mind.
Without really comprehending it themselves, they were telling me that my choices and actions were causing them discomfort. They were lying to me, and were trying to eliminate their discomfort by trying to inflict their own morals on me. That’s the thing with psychological pain – it’s transferable.
The reality was, these very people themselves had vast problems with their own family. My own choices illuminated to them that they also had choices, when they perceived there were none before.
It’s only when choice is introduced into people’s lives, that they feel anxious and uncomfortable. Everyone knows choice is always there, but most believe it to be wrong to even consider it. This leads back to the infliction of cultural norms we place on ourselves and children mentioned previously.
Anxiety is painful, but pain exists for a reason. It’s job is to tell us when something is wrong – when something needs attention. If a wisdom tooth hurts, it needs to be removed right?
It’s also easy to understand that sometimes we must endure more pain to become healthier. The tooth needs to come out. Pain is not meant to be pleasant, but we have to accept it and endure it (albeit temporarily) to make things better.
If you ignore the “tooth” – you are not being honest with yourself or others, and therefore you are not maintaining your own integrity. You must pull it out!
I feel this is enough for the first blog. I certainly have a lot to learn about writing – I did a great job of muddying the waters so I hope you understood the messages within this blog post.
There is so much to discuss and learn, and my original intention was actually to discuss “how to know what is true”, but the issue of family raised it’s head recently in my life and I have been thinking a lot about relationships. I feel this blog does hardly any justice to the topic of relationships, and I encourage anyone interested in further reading to look into the aforementioned author Stefan Molyneux. I will link the free e-book here http://cdn.media.freedomainradio.com/feed/books/OnTruth/On_Truth_The_Tyranny_of_Illusion_by_Stefan_Molyneux_PDF.pdf
I look forward to discussing “What is True” in the next blog.