4/28/17

Lessons From: Marcus Aurelius' Meditations

How to use stoicism to get rid of your negative emotions


Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus was emperor of Rome and the last of the Five Good Emperors. He was beloved during and after his reign and was generally considered to be intelligent and wise, having dedicated his life to studying what was known of the natural sciences, the arts, and philosophy, which he was eager to learn. He even slept on the floor until his mother stopped him from doing so. 

He is considered one of the greatest stoics, despite the fact that he never called himself one, and he kept a journal while on military campaigns for ten years which he called To Myself but is popularly known as his Meditations. It's not really organized by themes, but is more of a collection of thoughts which he would write down every now and then, and still it is considered one of the greatest works of philosophy to exist. 

Meditations itself is divided into 12 books, and is pretty straightforward and written pretty much so anybody could understand it, which reflects his nature of dressing like philosophers would instead of carrying himself in the emperor's garments. In this post we'll focus on his ideas on perspective, and how to use them to have a more tranquil mind. 


Everybody will run into terrible people from time to time, and sometimes that can ruin the whole day for you, but you must realize that life is too fleeting to focus on this. Anger deteriorates the mind, and yet the mind is the most important part of your existence and letting it be a slave to reactions and selfish passions, or letting it be injected with fear of the present or anxiety about the future is a waste. Sure, you can't tell where you're going to be in five years, or one, or even tomorrow, but you can keep your mind calm and do the best with what you have, whether you have nothing but yourself or the world as your oyster. 

Remember, too, that there is always solitude in the mind so you might as well learn to deal with it, and that you should not worry too much of what others think of you because you cannot control it, and it is not as much as you usually would presume anyways. Still, to avoid any bad impressions, think and act like you would want to be seen thinking and acting, and live with virtue, for the pursuit of good will leave you with a mind unburdened with guilt or shame and will let you focus on actual personal growth. 



Be aware of your judgement of self, because you must love yourself best and value your self esteem above that of others, with the caution of not letting it get over your head. Generally negative emotions, especially if left to ferment and grow, will lead you to underestimate yourself and undervalue your actions. It would still be wise to underestimate yourself, not from a position of weakness, but from a position of acknowledging that other people can have great capacity as well, but overvalue your actions while being humble so you are not taken advantage of. 

How can we apply this?

There's a reason stoicism has remained popular throughout the millenia, and that's because it's probably the most practical philosophy that there is. In modernity it's pretty much Buddhism and Taoism without the religious aspects, although there were some metaphysical thoughts thrown around back then, but these have been largely ignored with the advance of science and our understanding of the universe. 



If you're feeling a negative reaction to any situation, be it immediate or long-term, remember that it is not what happened that is affecting you deeply but your perspective of the event itself, and so you must allow yourself to let go of this and realize that there are always more important things to take care of so you might as well do so. 

Say a close relative died, they would not want you to suffer long for them and they would want you to live your life, for it is a privilege that they do not have anymore and if they could, they would realize it is precious. 

Say you've been dumped by your significant other, or worse, caught them cheating. Realize that it is no longer your problem and you must walk away both to protect your dignity and to begin the transition to move on, and forgive yourself for feeling sad, because emotion is human, but do not allow yourself to dwell on it.

Say you've been fired for any number of reasons that don't have to do with you. Realize that you have skills and are therefore valuable and can promptly either find another job or create a company yourself, and if you are not skilled enough, then you must pull yourself up by the bootstraps and learn, so you can actually make something of value. 



This time of year is pretty complicated to handle for a lot of young people because they're usually in exams, and sometimes the amount of work you have to do is too much for them to deal with. Remember this: It's a big effort in a small amount of time and the fact that you even have the possibility to study and prove your knowledge puts you in a privileged position compared to most people, so chin up. The rest of the world will still be there when you're done, and if it won't, then you need to reassess your priorities. 

So it goes, generally you'll confront adverse situations and thus need a solution in one way or another, and dwelling on the bad will not let you focus on the good. Change the way you see the world, and the world shall utterly change for you. 

Read more about Marcus Aurelius here:

4/27/17

Lessons From: Gorillaz and Style

How Gorillaz redefined being a band by constantly changing its style

In honor of their new album coming out tomorrow, April 28, 2017


Once you've seen it, you can't really forget 2-D, Murdoc, Noodle and Russel.

Gorillaz has been around in my life for almost as far as I can remember. Damon, of course, has been making music for a pretty long while, but this little project which has grown to a critically acclaimed band started around with a strange album which nobody could really define. It had elements from punk, rock, but all in all its style was pretty alternative to what everybody was listening at the time. They began in 1998 but I remember it was 2001 when they caught my attention. Of course, I was five years old and I was really attracted to the animation style, but as I grew up, and after Gorillaz came Demon Days, and Plastic Beach, and in between those, a bunch of B-sides albums, remixes, singles, and even a dub mix of the first album, and in each of them you could notice a pretty distinct style, which begs the question, what defines Gorillaz?

This is more or less related to yesterday's post about Heraclitus with change being the only constant in life. Besides flowing rivers, few examples are better than Gorillaz to show how change comes. If I asked you what genre the band is for you, I can assure you that you'd be pretty hard-pressed to describe it in one word, and you'd have to go from album to album and you would still struggle pretty much. Let's go over the phases that they've had.

Phase 1: Celebrity Takedown (2000-2003)



This phase began back in 2000, when Tomorrow Comes Today was released as an EP. Clint Eastwood was the first single released, featuring vocals by rapper Del da Funky Homosapien, who was in Deltron 3030 at the time. His cartoon was a spirit living in Russel. That same month the rest of the Gorillaz album was released, and Rock the House rose through the charts, then 19-2000. There was a collaboration with D12 called 911, which was about the terrorist attacks back in September 11, and there were rumors that a DVD was being made, but James Hewlett, the comic book artist who gave life to the band members, said that the project had been cancelled. During this phase, G-Sides was released, which was the B-sides for Gorillaz. 

This phase's album could be defined as alternative rock, depending on the tracks, but then again, there's also Punk, which is punk, and the songs with Del were definitely more hip hop than alternative rock. There's also a bit of dub, some reggae, some Britpop, and of course, Latin music with Ibrahim Ferrer. In this album alone, probably the simplest one in terms of collaborators and styles, you can identify at least ten genres.


Rock the House


19-2000


Latin Simone (Qué pasa contigo)

Phase 2: Slowboat to Hades (2003-2007)




December 8, 2004 was the day that Gorillaz repoened their site (which had been about Kong Studios before) with a video for a song called Rock It. In May, 2005, Demon Days came out and debuted as No. 1 in the U.K. Albums Chart. Dirty Harry was the third single the band released. In this album, you can find classics such as Feel Good Inc., DARE, and Kids With Guns. There was way more put into production of this album, including top-notch collaborators like De la Soul, Shaun Ryder, Bootie Brown, and Neneh Cherry. It outperformed the first album and has sold eight million copies worldwide.

Although the first album had somewhat of a coherent story, Demon Days was where everything began to be tied in, taking place in the world during the night, and like 911, followed a trend of criticizing the destruction that humanity can make, either of the planet, like seen in Fire Coming Out of the Monkey's Head and Demon Days, or each other, as seen in Dirty Harry. 

The album's style continued to be a mixing of hip-hop and rock, but some of the more tranquil, experimental tracks were exchanged either for another sort of experimental track, or a sound which can be described as alternative or dark pop. The bass definitely put some more funk into the album if you compare it with the last one, where it was pretty elaborate but atmospheric at times. Sometimes they used holograms of the band members when they were playing concerts. Many of the younger Gorillaz fans view this phase as the one they remember fondly.

DARE


November Has Come


O Green World

Phase 3: Escape to Plastic Beach (2007-2013)



In 2007, Albarn and Hewlett were working on a project called Carousel which eventually came to be the album Plastic Beach. Many people were put off by the style in this album at first because it was definitely more pop than the others, but once shock passed you could see that this wasn't an ordinary album at all. In this one, there were more collaborators than ever before, with even bigger names, like Snoop Dogg, Mos Def, Lou Reed, Little Dragon, Gruff Rhys, Bobby Womack, De la Soul, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, sinfonia ViVa, the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music, and others. Shortly after the album was released, Doncamatic came out featuring Daley, and during the tour for Plastic Beach, Damon recorded The Fall in his iPad using Garage Band, then released it exclusively for paying fans. Later, DoYaThing with Andre 3000 and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem was released for Converse, along with a pair of shoes with a unique design.

In this album, the clear "winner" in popularity was On Melancholy Hill, which in a sense is very tranquil and upbeat, with melancholic lyrics. The interesting thing about the album is that it begins with pretty traditional instruments, and as it goes, it slowly starts using more synthesized sounds, until it eventually abandons the traditional and goes for the new, in a way reflecting the theme of nature adapting to the artificial. The whole message of the album is that, in the end, nature will find a way to thrive, it's been here before us and will be after.

Rhinestone Eyes


Empire Ants


Doncamatic

Phase 4: We are still Humanz (2014 - Present)




The current phase of the band, in this one, hype has been built since back in 2014 when rumors of unreleased recordings, wishes of recording new songs, and teases about having written new songs were released through interviews. In 2016 is when Gorillaz began using social media to display its history since back in 2000, both as a way to catch new and prospective fans up and as a way to promote and generate hype for whatever was coming. A song called Hallelujah Money was also released, and Demon Dayz, a festival organized and curated by Damon Albarn himself, was organized and will take place June 10, 2017 at Maynard. As you can imagine, it didn't take long at all for tickets to be sold out.

Although the full album isn't out yet, we have pretty much seen the style through the songs that have been released, including Ascension, Andromeda, Saturn Barz, We Have the Power, and Let me Out, which already have their own remixes. It's definitely pretty different, and even though it's taking some used to just like Plastic Beach did, I am glad that Gorillaz still hold true to their change and try new things out. There are a lot of collaborators in this album, many of which I've never even heard of, so there's also a lot of new music out there to discover for fans of the band. Until now we have seen songs with Vince Staples, D.R.A.M., Popcaan, and Jehnny Beth, among a few others.

Andromeda


Let Me Out


What can we learn from this?

A lot of people are pretty eager to tag themselves as one clique or with one style of thinking. The metalhead, the rapper, the nihilist, the anarchist, and though many do change, not many actually do the effor tto see the context that they're in and adapt to what is needed at the time. Gorillaz couldn't even be defined at first, and although you could say they're more pop now than ever before, they're still doing their own thing, and they're all the better for it.


So if you find something that's pretty unique and groundbreaking, go ahead and do it but don't get stuck with one single style or pattern. After all, once you've done it, it's been done, so you might as well find another new and unique thing to do.

Visit the official Gorillaz website here:
www.gorillaz.com

4/26/17

Lessons From: Heraclitus and Flow

How to understand change and adapt to it

Shoutout to Balbina. For her birthday I'll cover the origin of her favorite philosophy. 



Heraclitus of Ephesus was one of those rare jewels that got to thinking about humanity's existence before Socrates came to be the wise leader of the youth in Athens. Not much is known about his early life, but he is said to have been self-taught, and truly a pioneer in wisdom and philosophy. You probably know his famous phrase: "A man never steps in the same river twice." Otherwise, you might know him as the Weeping Philosopher. 

He certainly was paradoxical, ever changing in his statements, saying he knows nothing, then he knows everything, he heard no one, but questioned himself, and he was all in all a misanthrope by the later part of his life. He decided to live a secluded life in the mountains, living off the land, and eventually he died of a disease incurable in such times. 



Although some of his philosophy was intentionally obscure so only the "capable" would understand it. This is the logos and understanding what the logos means is in and of itself a nightmare. Panta rhei, though, is significantly simpler and is where his fame comes from. Everything flows.

Ever-newer waters flow on those who step into the same rivers. 

All entities move and nothing remains still. 

Everything changes and nothing remains still, and you cannot step twice into the same stream. 

I will not say that the constant of change is the result of the cosmos moving the four elements across the universe in ever-flowing fashion nor will I say that it's the result of some universal energy that makes things happen. Energy exists, sure, and we use it, and the change is there simply because there are so many factors that affect the circumstances around you, and though you can control your inner self and your environment to some degree, you are still adapting to your circumstances and not they to you. 



Heraclitus also believed that flux was a result of duality, opposites that are attracted to each other and in a way two sides of the same coin. He said that the sea is pure and polluted, for the fish can drink and breathe in it but for men it is harmful. We are asleep and wake up, and we are awoken then go to sleep, so both qualities can be found in us, just not at the same time. Hitler loved dogs and drawing, but he also committed genocide. Mother Theresa spent her days helping the lepers, but at the same time denied them medicine for she believed in faith-healing. There is good and evil in everyone, in different times, even in the same day, and there are opposite qualities in everything. Does ice not burn if you hold it too long? 

What can we learn from this?

The ever-constant change in people and situations is not something that should surprise you. Look at a picture of yourself from six months ago. One year ago. Five, ten, you will notice that you have changed a lot, not only in image, but in how you are as well (maybe with the exception of incredibly stubborn people). 


You cannot control the change in others, and you cannot avoid the change in yourself throughout the days or ages, but you can allow yourself to adapt to the circumstances instead of letting your emotions get in the way. Of course, there are sad moments as well as happy moments, but you might as well avoid what Heraclitus did and be remembered by something else than weeping. 

Read more about Heraclitus here:

4/22/17

Lessons From: Schopenhauer's Will to Live

How to lose the "Will" to live to let go of suffering and live a happy life

Note before you begin: I know the subtitle is strange when the Will to live needs to be lost to reduce suffering, but when you get to the end of this article, you'll understand what Schopenhauer tried to say. 



Arthur Schopenhauer was a man greatly influenced by Immanuel Kant, considered by some to be the greatest philosopher to have ever lived. Post-Kantian thought was generally about a few key topics, including the idea that people are an end rather than a means, and critical philosophy, which was acknowledging our limits of understanding through philosophical thought. The movement was called German Idealism, which meant that properties we see in objects are a result of our perspective and not something which is necessarily in the essence of the object itself. Schopenhauer hated this. He was, in a sense, an Eastern philosopher in the West, supporting the notion that the world is what it is and he believed asceticism, which is abstinence from pleasure to focus on improvement a.k.a. "monk mode", was the way to go. 

His most important work, The World as Will and Representation, deals with what he considered fundamental to nature in general and humanity itself. We all have an insatiable Will to life, which is the source of both our ambition and our suffering. This is where his support for asceticism comes from; if you rid yourself of desire, you rid yourself of pain, and though this sounds pretty similar to Buddhism, it is not exactly the same, for this "wanting" is not considered part of human nature by those who adhere to that dogma. 


The first volume of the Will is split into four books. It is quite esoteric because you need to have a pretty good understanding of Kant's philosophy to understand what he wrote about. The first half of the volume deals with the world as an idea, and the basic gist of it is that our inner experience is the result of a manifestation of the world's essence, so to say. Electricity and gravity are said to be the forces of Will, and knowledge was invented to serve it be it in humans or others. The pessimism in Schopenhauer's philosophy can be seen here, for he says that unfulfilled desires are the cause of human suffering. 

Book 3/4 talks about genius, and Schopenhauer claims that everyone has a certain degree of it in one way or another, and this is what permits you to enjoy the aesthetic experience, or understanding what an object truly is in its platonic form and not the object itself. Anybody who could explain the aesthetic or display it was truly a genius in his eyes and music was, in his opinion, the most pure expression of the aesthetic because it showed raw articulation of the Will. 

Book 4 is about ethics, and supposed to be a descriptive account of our ethical behavior. There are two behaviors, the affirmation and the denial of Will. According to him, the essence of the Will is conflicted with the egoism in humans and animals, and transcending this egoism leads to compassion, a display of the possibility of leaving the Will behind. The Will can be released or denied but never changed, and he praised some forms of Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism because of their asceticism, while having disdain for Protestantism, Judaism and Islam because of their optimism and cruelty. He also talks about suicide and doesn't see it as a destruction of the Will, but an affirmation of it, and asceticism, the denial of the Will, the individual may be weakened but will be saved from suffering, and he who has gotten rid of the Will has gotten rid of its hold on him and is nothing but a bad dream from which one awakens. 

What can we learn from this?

Again, this all goes back to asceticism. I won't tell you to get rid of your ego or desire for more, because I agree with Schopenhauer in that it's a part of human nature. What I will tell you is that if you let ambition consume you, you will suffer even after you achieve your goals because you'll suffer from chronic dissatisfaction. Instead, like I mentioned in Lessons From Amelie, simply take a breath, enjoy the little things and realize that there is no true endgame, so you might as well be happy while you build your future instead of waiting for that future to come. 

Read more about the Will here:

Lessons From: George Orwell's Animal Farm

Orwell's rendition of the working class and how to make yourself essential

Shoutout to my cousin Daniel for suggesting this topic.


If you've been to a British or American high school chances are you've read Animal Farm and saw the obvious allegory regarding the rise of Leninism in the early Soviet Union, and all the problems that communism can generate, and to be frank, they really are many. Through different animals establishing this economic political system and their interactions, you get to see the nuances of communism and what were the fears of western intellectuals who were against the Bolshevik movement. 

If you know how the story goes in real life, then you can pretty much work out how it goes in the book. Regardless, I'll do my best to avoid spoiling the story, but some of it will be mentioned because we will look at Boxer's life and learn from his mistakes. One important aspect in the system that the animals established, though, was this: 

From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.


Boxer is probably the most sympathetic character in the novella because of his personality. He's loyal, dedicated, and being a horse is very well-suited to taking on big and heavy assignments that the other animals couldn't handle. This meant that he had a great skill to produce and little need besides a place to rest and nourishment. He could protect himself, and he didn't mind the grind. 

His biggest issue was his naivety. Now, this is generally discussed as one of the biggest themes in the story for all the animals were "deceived" in some way or another, but Boxer's case was particularly heinous. In the new system working for the animals, he was exploited by the others, but he never saw it and always told himself he would work harder. He eventually collapses from exhaustion and is taken to a glue factory to be melted. 


What can we learn from this?

Although the character is another factor to the whole critique on communism, that's not what this post is about. If you're working yourself to death in real life, just as the poor horse did it until his lung collapsed, and you're a one trick pony, you're doing it wrong and will eventually become obsolete and be disposed of without any real acknowledgement of your effort. 

That's not to say hard work isn't good, on the contrary, it's pretty important that you make a strong effort in whatever you do. There's a book that is pretty well-known in the self-help communities called The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. It basically tells you 48 different maxims that will help you with certain dynamics in your life, and it can help you in other areas beyond acquisition of power. Illacertus has a great series of videos on this book in case you don't have the chance to read it. Boxer could have done well to learn Law 11: Learn to keep people dependent on you. 



You may ask how if Boxer's whole schtick was working hard than other animals. It's pretty simple. He was twice as strong as any other horse and could have basically kept some of his energy to himself to avoid exhaustion in the long run, which would have allowed him some time to recover and actually be able to work better, and maybe even teach some other horses how to be as strong as he was once he could no longer do that. Instead, he gave his life because he felt he had to do more and more. 

Don't work hard. Work smart. 

Lessons From: Charles Darwin taking all the credit

How Charles Darwin took more credit than he deserved


Today is Earth Day, so what better day to talk about a man who helped us understand the way the world works? Charles Darwin, author of On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, published in 1859, was a clever man for noticing a pattern of change that had not been noticed before. The fact that every creature in the world's evolution can be traced back to the dawn of time was a pretty groundbreaking discovery for the time, and it is still denied to this day by fundamentalist religious groups convinced that fossils are the devil's plan to destroy our faith in God. 

If you were asked to quote Charles Darwin, you would probably say "Survival of the fittest." Fitness as a biological term means reproductive success, which doesn't necessarily come from strength or endurance but general adaptability, and the phrase itself was even proposed by Alfred Russel Wallace as an alternative to saying "natural selection".

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but Darwin never actually said this. It was actually Herbert Spencer who coined the phrase after having read On the Origin of Species, and actually linked it with his ideas on economics and society. If you've heard of Social Darwinism, the belief that some in society are meant to fare better than others because they're predisposed to do so, then you can finally see where the theory was coming from. 


You'll also be interested to know that, although Charles Darwin did come up with the theory of evolution, he was not the only one to do so. Indeed, Alfred Russel Wallace, nicknamed the father of biogeography, came up with the theory himself when he noticed patterns in nature himself. Whereas Darwin observed the symbiosis in the Galapagos Islands and unique traits certain animals and plants had, Wallace worked in the South America and in Southeast Asia. They even corresponded and sent each other samples, and when Darwin received Wallace's theory, he was surprised to see that they were almost identical. 

You might be wondering, then, why Darwinism is the word associated with evolutionary theory and not Wallacism, and why indeed Alfred Russel Wallace isn't really remembered. When they both lived, they were both pretty famous and since the latter actually lived longer, he had the chance to be Britain's most famous living biologist for a while. Darwin was way better at showing his role in developing the theory, while Wallace tended to downplay himself towards the later years and even mentioned Darwinism in his papers, which, in a way, was passing the credit to his fellow biologist. 

What can we learn from this?

Napoleon Bonaparte said once that soldiers win the battles and the general gets the credit. Although there wasn't a relationship of subordination between Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, they were indeed equals and that is not how the world sees it now. 

When you ask people about who made Apple be what it is, you'll generally hear that it was all about Steve Jobs but they tend to forget that Steve Wozniak ever existed. When you read an investigation, you'll tend to recall the first name and forget the rest of the authors, conveniently writing them off as an "et al." to save yourself the trouble. 48 Laws of Power, Law 7: Get others to do the work for you, but take the credit. 


Whatever you do, be it a collaboration, discovery, project, make sure that your name is the first one on the list and that it's there for all to see, because people will have a bias towards you and give you the credit for what everybody did. It's always the case in big companies, it's been the case with big theories, and it will keep being the case because, if you remember what Sun Tzu said, placement is vital if you want to win

More about Darwin and Wallace:

4/21/17

Lessons From: Amélie

How to enjoy the little things in life like Amélie


There is no country on earth that can handle romance better than France. Therefore, who could be better than Jean-Pierre Jeunet at filming romantic comedies? I have absolutely no idea but if you know then I'd be delighted to see it, because to this day, Amélie is one of the greatest movies I have ever seen and it is full of little lessons that you could learn and use in your daily life. 

In case you haven't seen it, I won't spoil much of what goes on in the film, but a big theme in it is how the little changes in life can snowball into bigger circumstances until you've done a 180 and ended up somewhere you never imagined you'd be, and this was so well-placed into the story that if you asked most people what the reason for change in Amélie's life was they genuinely wouldn't be able to say because it's a pretty tiny detail.
Not exactly this but pretty close

Today, we're going to focus on the little things, and not necessarily those that will transform your life completely, but you'd be surprised at what you can find if you stop and smell the roses. There is so much that you can see in the places that you've been to a hundred times, if only you would stop and observe, just like you will always notice new details in the background every time you see this movie. 

Amélie Poulain was a very shy and nonchalant girl from her childhood all the way through adulthood, whose mother was neurotic and father was probably obsessive-compulsive. In the first five minutes you get to know her parents intimately because the narrator gives you a list of quirks that both of them had, and although they were explained in a broader sense at first, you didn't quite get it until the mold was filled with these grains of sand. 


You can imagine how growing with strange parents would affect her, and all her childhood is explored through the small things as well; the goldfish she had who would eventually be let go in the Canal de Saint Martin, or the photographs she would take with her Polaroid camera, the way she would meddle with a neighbor's antenna during soccer games because he would prank her, and as she grew it was very clear that she wasn't any regular person, but a self-contained world bursting with emotion, and the catharsis she had was through, you guessed it, the little things. 



If you pay attention to the movie, things that were mentioned pretty briefly at the beginning would be shown in one way or another. Amélie liked to collect small, smooth stones to skip at the Canal, and you get to see her bend down and put them in her pocket from time to time. She likes to find forgotten pictures at the photo booths in metro stations and put them in a scrapbook. You see her looking for photos from time to time, and even piecing together certain special pictures. 

The whole plethora of small details you can notice goes way beyond Amélie and her parents. Little things about other characters the narrator tells, you can see being shown from time to time, and sometimes there are many traits left unsaid but shown subtly. You won't get them all in your first viewing, and you might not even get to notice them all, but this is what keeps you coming back to the movie. 

How to apply it

Whenever you feel unhappy or unsatisfied with your life, pay attention to your thoughts and realize that you're generally thinking about a future that's far away or a past event that cannot be changed or relived. You must stop these thoughts and realize that happiness is not the destination, but the journey itself and everything you come across in your path. 

There is a stereotype in romantic stories about couples who got married in a very young age or in bad circumstances, and once they pulled through, became unhappy with each other, remembering the times they were struggling with fondness. Why is this?

When you struggle, you don't have time to think yourself into a spiral of depression, because you already know that there is much to do if you want to live a better life, and during times like this, people tend to focus on what they do have instead of what they don't. It is natural to want more than what you have, even if you already have what you need, but when you focus on the big picture in some far-off future instead of staying in the present and appreciating life for what it is, you're not going to enjoy the journey. 


Stop and smell the roses. Go outside and look at the mountains, or the trees, or the horizon far away in the distance if that's what you can see. Pay attention to your family's quirks, see what little details make them happy, what grinds their gears. Observe your coworkers, take a good look at what your boss does; sometimes what's always there can be pretty amusing if you think about it, because a lot of people tend to live their life in autopilot and you get to see some habits that just don't make sense, and it can be pretty fun to notice. After all, the big picture is made up of the little things, so you might as well enjoy them. 

You can watch Amélie on Netflix (or buy the movie somewhere)

Lessons From: Plato's Virtues

How to apply Plato's 4 cardinal virtues to your code of ethics


Plato was an interesting man, to say the least. He is widely known for being a student of Socrates who went on to become one of the quintessential philosophers of Western canon, and even went beyond being a thinking man, instructed in grammar, music, and gymnastics as well. He was also a wrestler said to have competed in the Isthmian Games and was dubbed by his coach "Platon" for being broad. Whether this meant fat or strong, I cannot say, but the Greeks were very focused on fitness so I believe he was the latter. 

Plato, like many other philosophers of the time who looked to improve themselves and their fellow man, seeked eudaimonia, which is well-being achieved through excellence on account of good moral thought and conduct, and the tools for achieving these goals were called the virtues. In Republic, Plato established the four cardinal virtues as such:
  1. Prudence (Wisdom)
  2. Temperance
  3. Courage
  4. Justice

In order to understand these virtues and know how to apply them to your life, we will go through them one by one. 

Prudence (Wisdom)

The first of the virtues is prudence, the capacity to govern yourself using reason. Prudentia in Latin implies foresight, and although nobody can actually predict the future, the wise can tell what is virtuous and what is vicious in the given context of an action or situation. In modern times, prudence is also a synonym for cautious, but this is not the exact meaning of the virtue. 

In a sense, the capacity to tell what is good from what is bad is the most important of all the virtues, for it is the way you can find the others, and you need it to prevent your vices from overpowering you. 

What exactly constitutes prudence? Knowledge is pretty important, but you can know just about everything and be unwise. Experience is also important, for situations you have lived in the past can be a good point of reference in similar predicaments. Common sense is vital to wisdom, for many times complex problems are created from simple ones and can oftentimes have simple solutions themselves. 

How to apply it

There's no real guideline on applying wisdom, but before you make any decision you must stop and think. A few questions that can help you are:
  • Am I doing good by taking this decision?
  • Is this the smart choice?
  • Would I like to be treated like I am treating the other?
  • What are the consequences?
There's a joke about a man who is offered by some sort of magic either one million dollars or to become the wisest man in the world. After thinking for a minute, he chooses the wisdom, and when his friend asks him what he's thinking, he replies, "I should've taken the money." Had he asked himself if that was the smart choice, he surely would've chosen differently. 

Historically, there are many people who are considered extremely wise. Socrates was one of those, for in his denial of being a knowledgeable man, he prevented any humiliation if his knowledge was proven wrong. Siddharta Gautama, the first Buddha, was also considered wise for he let reason dictate his decisions, not his ego. Confucious said that wisdom could be learned in three ways: By reflection, which is noblest; by imitation, which is easiest; and by experience, which is the bitterest. If you look at the lives of these men, you will see that applying wisdom is all about stopping to think before you act. 

Temperance (Restraint)

The only way you can prevent a vice is with a strong willpower that will hold you back. As they say, moderation is the key. This can go from substances like drugs and alcohol to not allowing your emotions to take control of you, manifested in non-violence and forgiveness. 

In most esoteric philosophies you will see the notion that letting your desire for anything take control over you will take you away from the path to virtue, nirvana, heaven, or any other representation of the ideal world. 

There are multiple areas in which you can exercise temperance, and if you succumb to your hunger without moderating yourself in any of these, you will see dire consequences. 
  • Thought - Vice can lead to extremism or self-induced depression
  • Physical - Vice can lead to eating disorders, obesity or even self-mutilation
  • Sexual - Vice can lead to hedonism and disease
  • Humility - Vice can lead to arrogance
  • Forgiveness - Vice can lead to resentment
  • Mercy - Vice can lead to cruelty

How to apply it

The trick with temperance is to look at your own life objectively. If you're wasting your days on a couch watching T.V. or surfing the web, if your scale is going up and your clothes get tighter, if your mind seems to be on a downward spiral and you feel your intelligence slipping away or your happiness fading, if you're running out of money because you always eat out or you're consuming (sometimes illicit) addictive substances, then take a look at your habits and change them, either by yourself or with professional help, like therapists or counselors if you have access to them. If you're paying attention the relationship between temperance and wisdom becomes clear: You need to understand the consequences. 

Courage

Inner fortitude is very important for you to have courage. How willing are you to go through pain, danger, uncertainty, intimidation, or hardship? If you are able to go through these willingly in order to do the right thing, then you are corageous. 

It is probably the most difficult of the virtues to cultivate because human nature dictates we stay away from pain and hardship in lieu of pleasure and easier times. Perseverance is, in a way, the manifestation of courage through our actions. The lack of it is, of course, cowardice, but one must not be excessive either or one risks being reckless. This is where courage is tied in with temperance and wisdom. 

How to apply it

Courage is not something that will come immediately. You must build yourself up as a person in every aspect of your life, and courage will come along with self-confidence. The biggest impediment of this virtue in modern life is the comfort zone; when you get so comfortable with where you are in life you are unwilling to make a change because you're so used to the routine you're in that anything different is unappealing to you. If you want a different life, you must live it differently. 

I'm not telling you to drop out to work from your garage, or to step up from that couch and go run a marathon. Remember your temperance. Plan your projects, but don't overplan lest you be stuck there, and take it one day at a time. Run a couple of kilometers at first and add another one every week. Excellence is a habit. 

Justice (Fairness)

I won't say this is the most complex virtue of them all, because every person handles different aspects in their own way, but justice is definitely one that is hard to agree on with others. Let's take it one step at a time. What is fair? What is righteous?

What makes justice difficult is that it regulates how you handle yourself with others. It is the moderate point between selfishness and selflessness, and it requires looking at situations objectively while still being charitable to a point. We can start by looking at the concept of equity; not necessarily equality, but a situation in which different parties are entitled to a proportional claim and are thus equally satisfied. 

Real life is never that simple, though. There are two extremist sides to this coin as well; the lack of justice being cruelty, and the excess of justice being a bleeding heart, or what we call in this day and age the Social Justice Warriors, people so concerned with helping out those who they consider opressed that they themselves end up opressing others. 

There is a belief called moral relativism, which some people use to say that there is no culture better than the other, but I do not believe this is the way to go with justice. I believe that there is an objective good and an objective bad, but we cannot know for sure what constitutes them until we look at the context. I will never support any culture that intentionally treats people unfairly, though, and always will do my best to help educate and change humanity's ways for the better. 

How to apply it

Justice requires you to look at every situation objectively, just as temperance and wisdom do. Courage is also a necessity because justice requires you to have a strong system of ethics which you believe is right, and you need to stand up for it, but what is fair for you might not necessarily be fair for me. There are a few points where you can begin, though. Avoiding hypocrisy is a must; you cannot say one thing and then contradict yourself. Nobility, as in protecting those who are weaker than you are, is also good, for not everybody has the means to do so. Stand up for what you think is right and always question whether what you think is right or wrong is actually so, and you will generally be a just person. 

How to apply them all together


Normally, you won't have to use one of these virtues individually. Eudaimonia is about constantly using all of these together to the point where your life becomes better and better as a consequence of you being a better person in every sense of the word. Like I said, live the life you want. If you want to be intelligent, then spend your time absorbing knowledge from different sources. If you want to be pysically strong, spend your time at the gym or doing some other form of physical recreation. If you want to help those that can't help themselves, volunteer. Always remember to think about the consequences, make sure you don't indulge in excess and make sure you don't slack off, always stand up for your beliefs, live by your own code as long as your code is good, and be fair to others. 

Read more about Eudaimonia here:

4/20/17

Lessons From: Ray Bradbury

The story of Ray Bradbury and his interpretation of Fahrenheit 451



Published in 1953, and one of, if not the best work that Bradbury has ever published, Fahrenheit 451 is by this point considered one of the classics in Western canon. It's a dystopian novel about a society in which books are burned by "firemen", and its explanation for the title is: "Fahrenheit 451  - the temperature at which book paper catches fire, and burns..."

People like to interpret what they watch and read, especially academics, and many say that the book is about censorship because reading books is forbidden and back in Bradbury's day, it was a more common way to push down on dissenting ideas, either in the infamous Nazi book burnings or the Stalinist campaigns in political supression, and the author himself in a radio interview stated that some of it was influenced by his fears in the McCarthy era of witch hunts and whatnot. 



Of course, it never was quite about censorship at all. 

I won't spoil major plot points but I will mention a few situations and characters that are in the novel. Guy Montag's wife, Millie, is addicted to sleeping pills spends the day watching soap operas in the "walls" which were actually flat televisions, and despite Guy's best efforts she spent her days absorbed in a world away from reality. Her friends constantly brag about ignoring life's issues and think children just exist to ruin lives. All in all they are the display of a hedonistic society. 

Captain Beatty, Montag's boss, has actually read books and come to hate them because of the unpleasant contents. Faber is an english professor who regrets not doing anything when the first movements to ban books began. It is clear while one goes through the book, though, that the process did not begin from the government. 

As Beatty said, the hatred of books was a bottom-up thing, meaning that the people themselves were those who asked for the censorship. Media consumption tends to be shallow when it's just for entertainment, and as attention spans become shorter, and content which requires critical thinking skills to understand becomes unpalateable for most people, you will see jealousy turn to hatred against those who still cultivate the skills to understand complex information, just as those "body positivity" movements tend to shame people who have cultivated skill and kept their discipline long enough to have good bodies. 



So it goes in the plot. The burnings weren't issued by the government just because, they were issued by the government because they were giving people exactly what they want. Bradbury felt that in forty, fifty, sixty years, the reality he presented in the book would come to pass in real life, and to be fair, it does appear to be happening. The author was scared once because he was walking in Beverly Hills, and saw a woman with a miniature radio and a "cone" plugged into her right ear, oblivious to her dog and her husband. 

It may be far from a dystopian image for some of us, especially those who are pretty used to technology and grew up with either the birth of the internet or its refinement, but back in the day, it was pretty hard to imagine that you could be in the same room with ten different people and all of you would be living a completely different reality from each other, without any interaction or even acknowledgement of each other's existence. I won't say Ray Bradbury was a prophet, but he was one of the first to see the dangers of technology in a more realistic way regarding the psychosocial implications it could have on people. 



Generally when talking about a story that's been transcribed from a book to a movie, or a radio show, or a play, we refer to the original source as Word of God, and in a book's case, Word of God is always what the author says about it. Sure, your philosophy teacher might think that Friedrich Nietzsche was a nihilist and your English teacher might have told you that Kerouac's On the Road was about the glorification of the Beat Generation, when really Nietzsche felt that nihilism would be humanity's doom and Kerouac thought beatniks were a bunch of losers. 

Knowing about Word of God, you can't help but laugh about knowing that Bradbury gave a lecture about Fahrenheit at a college once, and was interrupted by a student who shouted that, no, it's not about mass media dumbing people down, but about censorship. You can imagine he was livid, and he tried to correct the kid. After all, he wrote the damn book, so he should have a say about what it means, but then the rest of the group agreed with the other guy and he vowed never to give a lecture about his book again. 


What can we learn from this?

This is a way to show the futility of interpretation. Generally, if you take a literature course, you will either see a teacher that tells you the obvious meanings behind a story either by taking every theme in the book and going through them one by one, or your teacher will try to derive a psychoanalytic thesis because the narrator mentioned a spot on the wall. Sure, you can imagine a corpse is the representation of the fear of death that we all carry with us, and sometimes it just means there's a corpse in there, but it's just as accurate as Freud pointing out that everything was sexual in one way or another.

This isn't dissing on works where it's up to the consumer to interpret the meaning. Some things are just meant to be ambiguous, like Blade Runner, if you're talking about the theatrical version. If it makes you feel better that Harrison Ford is a replicant, or human, then kudos to you. But then you have situations like that picture where two people are watching what could be a six or a nine, like a way to justify that some things can be interpreted, ignoring the fact that somebody had to draw the number on the floor looking at it a certain way. Sure, discussing themes can be fun and all, but if you're telling the author of the subject matter that you know more than he does about it, then take a look in the mirror and see who's doing it wrong.



More on Bradbury's college fiasco here:
http://www.factfiend.com/ray-bradbury-told-interpretation-book-wrong/

Lessons From: Sun Tzu's Art of War

From Sun Tzu himself: Three main ideas that will help you win every battle in your life


War. What is it good for? Showing off your strength, that's what. 

All jokes aside, the Art of War is an excellent book that you need to read at least once in your life in order to find your inner strength and take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Because not everybody has the time to read, I'll help you understand it so you can apply the knowledge in the meantime. This knowledge is not only good for war, and I would prefer you don't use it for that if you can avoid it, but when it comes to business strategy, politics, and gossip at the office's water cooler, you will always come out on top. 

There are three main ideas in Art of War, which are position, expansion, and situations. They do not necessarily come in that order because the book is written in a circular fashion, but we will explore these ideas in that order. 

Position


Sun Tzu says: All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.

In a related note, he also says: If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.

There's an old motto that talks about selling a product: Position, position, position. In many ways, it is the key to success. In Taoist philosophy, nature has a five-point cycle of creation and destruction, where each point creates the next, just as in war, are five main elements to position: 
  1. Ground
  2. Climate
  3. Mission
  4. Command
  5. Methods
From the ground is created climate, for each area has its own pattern of behavior. From the climate, is born the mission, for there is change and with change come objectives. From mission comes command, for a leader needs people to follow his objectives. From command come methods, for these are borne from the decisions of leaders. 


If you try to apply game theory to real life, you will soon find out that there is a lot of information missing. Not every game is as simple as the Prisoner's Dilemma, wherein two criminals involved and arrested for a crime know the consequences of confessing or denying their crime, but if you were one of the prisoners, then you would be missing information yourself for not knowing what the other one's decision would be. In real life, you don't even get to know every rule of the game. Information is valuable in situations where it is scarce, and you must be making sure that you're working with objective information. What is reality and what you percieve as reality can be two very different things. 

Competition has an economic nature, in the sense that winning must be worth it, so efforts or cost must be limited. You don't send the best squadron in the Mexican army just to capture a measly place like the Alamo, and you don't spend a million dollars if your revenue will be less. This means that efficiency is the way to go when it comes to conflict, and you always need to do a cost-benefit analysis to make sure that winning is worth it and not just a way to inflate your ego. 

Sun Tzu says: Where the army is, prices are high; when prices rise the wealth of the people is exhausted.

Sun Tzu also talks about using spies. Although you can maybe hire a private eye, most of the time you don't have to take it so literally. Information is key. He says that there are five sorts of spies: 

  1. Local spies - People who live there
  2. Inward spies - People who work with the enemy
  3. Converted spies - People who worked for the enemy but are now working for you
  4. Doomed spies - People who do things openly to decieve the enemy
  5. Surviving spies - People who bring information from the enemy's camp
Every one of these will have to be managed in a different manner, but you must always make sure you get along with your sources of information, after all, information is key. 

Expansion


This deals with advancing your position. What is the nature of strength? In order to survive, you must advance your current position. Defense is cheaper in the short term, but in the long term, change is what defeats entrenchment, just as a river erodes stone. 

Sun Tzu says: It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.

How do you get into a competent position? Recognize that as man cannot play god, you cannot alter the environment in order to create opportunities. Instead, observe, and find your opportunity to advance. There is an energy behind humanity, and that is imagination, which is infinite. This makes competitive environments unpredictable, for the possibilities are infinite, but by itself, imagination can do nothing. When imagination comes together with reality, or in our case, actual knowledge that we can apply, we have what Sun Tzu called force. Applying this force is what will get you into a competent position. 

Sun Tzu says: It is the rule in war, if ten times the enemy's strength, surround them; if five times, attack them; if double, be able to divide them; if equal, engage them; if fewer, defend against them; if weaker, be able to avoid them.

What is behind change? When you open a window in a spaceship, air flows outward to fill the void (and probably your internal organs). This is how opportunity works as well; need is a form of emptiness, and production is fullness, and when you can put yourself into the flow you find opportunity, but be careful about forcing opportunities, for, direct conflict is dangerous and costly, and creativity can help you avoid dire circumstances. Should you come to direct conflict, then you must tip the balance in your favor by knowing yourself and knowing your enemies. 

Sun Tzu says: For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.

Situations


Just as every place has its pattern, every situation you find yourself in will be different and you will be forced to adapt. Despite this, there will be certain elements you will find in common in some situations, and here is where your creativity will help you excel and win every single battle, and if you've been paying attention, you'll do it before there even is a battle. 

The marching army is the first of these situations. You must fly over mountains and stick around in the valleys, and you mustn't fight uphill battles, or your expense will be extraordinary. If you cross a river, go ahead so your enemy crosses it, and fight when half the army has reached the ground, for the other half will not have the time to gather its bearings. Although you will rarely use geography for warfare, adapting to a change has its own geography and you need to understand the advantages that knowing the landscape bring. 

Sun Tzu says: And therefore those skilled in war bring the enemy to the field of battle and are not brought there by him.

The general mentions different terrains in warfare, but these can be separated into early, middle, and late-stage terrains, and they go from easier to harder to access. 

In the easily accesible terrains, you must always arrive first and be uphill. Discover a genre, invent a new product, be the first to cast the stone. If the ground can be abandoned, but be difficult to recapture, you must defeat your enemy when he is unprepared. If the enemy is prepared, ignore it, for you will not be able to return. 

Sun Tzu says: Speed is the essence of war. Take advantage of the enemy's unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions.


You then have situations where he who makes the first move will end up losing in the long run. If you make the first move in chopsticks, the second player can always make you lose if he knows what he's doing. Your enemy will try to bait you, but resist and retreat, and when your enemy thus advances, get him while he's unprepared. Narrow passes are on a similar level. If you can get control of one, heavily reinforce it and wait for the enemy. If your enemy is already there, observe if it is heavily fortified or not, and if it is not, attack with all your might so you may occupy and defend it. 

If the ground has a steep rise, go to the highest point, the advantageous position, and if your enemy is already there you must retreat and put a bait. In a personal situation this can be the moral high ground, in a business situation this can be the preference of your boss or business partner. 

If you're far away from your enemy, be aware of his strength. If the enemy is as strong as you are, abstain from chasing him, and make him come to you with bait or impatience, which will tire him out. Otherwise, do not fight, for a direct conflict in even terrain with an equal is very costly. 

Sometimes, absolute destruction of your opponent is the only way to proceed. This is known as attacking with fire, and there are five ways to go about it. 
  1. Burning soldiers in their own camp. Sure, in real life, you can't just go to your rival's house while he's sleeping with a container full of kerosene and a couple of matches, but you can catch your enemies off-guard in their own terrains every once in a while. This is the theoretical equivalent of opening a Walmart in a small town. 
  2. Burn stores. Just as Julius Caesar wrote a book about burning fields of corn and made it his guideline on winning the Gaelic Wars, you must make sure your enemy does not have any incoming streams of resources in order to win. 
  3. Burn baggage trains. Cut the outflow. 
  4. Burn arsenals and magazines. If you make your enemy's stash of resources worthless in some manner, then you will win in the short and long term. 
  5. Hurl dropping fire amongst the enemy. In war you set your arrows on fire and shoot your enemy camps. In business you prove your rival's product is inferior to yours and drive his sales down. In academics you sneer at your intellectual enemy and make sure the inner circle disapproves of his theories. This one is the most direct, but it must be done carefully, for dripping fire can drip on you as well. 

If you treat the whole book as a metaphor of sorts, then you will see that all it takes to winning is making sure you know everything and putting yourself in the perfect position. If you can avoid conflict and win your battles before they even begin, you will avoid many troubles which can be costly and even win the heart of the enemy while you're at it. 

Sun Tzu says: The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand.

If you want a version of the book with commentary, click here
https://suntzusaid.com/

Lessons From: The Socratic Method

How Socrates learned and taught the truth Shoutout to all the teachers If you've taken a class with a good teacher, and you...