Philosophy Majors Run Tech Support (Part 2)

Finally, the much awaited* follow-up to Philosophy Majors Run Tech Support (Part 1):


Customer: Lately, I’ve noticed that my laptop battery has been dying really quickly. I’m not sure what the problem is.

Tech Support: Well would you really consider that a problem, given the alternative?

C: Alternative?

TS: With the inevitability of death, the only alternative to dying quickly is dying slowly.

Which is better? It’s hard to say for sure.

Would you rather have a slow decline, with enough time to plan for the end–but also enough time to dwell upon every grain of vitality that slips away, until down to just a sliver? Or would you rather have that life yanked away with hardly any warning–but hardly any dreading anticipation either?

But perhaps the question comes down to not just how quickly it dies, but how quickly it lives.

Some seek to race through their existence, leading lives which end quickly, but not before getting their share of excitement and danger and joy and conflict and achievement and loss. Others are equally content to languor along the journey, leading lives which are longer, if less densely packed. Perhaps the only real tragedy is to die faster than one lives.

So you ought focus not so much on how much time passes before your battery trickles away to zero, but on what actions it produces in that fleeting window of power.

C: Uh yeah, I guess I was running a lot of apps at the same time, if that’s what you’re getting at.


C: I’m trying to update my software on my phone, but it says that I don’t have enough space. Do I have to delete a bunch stuff from memory before I can get the new version?

TS: Ah, the dilemma of progress. At times, it seems that we must choose between holding on to our memories of the past and moving onto to future. 

There are those who remain attached to their pasts and refuse to relinquish them in order to hop on the latest bandwagon of “progress.” They ignore the nagging messages to bring themselves up-to-date, unconvinced that the newest tools have as much worth as their stockpile of moments, conversations, and personal history, weighted with nostalgia and lessons learned.

Eventually, these people will get left behind, unable to function properly in the world we live in, unable to communicate with those who have moved on, unable to accept new developments.

But these people are not the only ones who are misguided.

You may be eager to wipe away your past for the promise of something newer and better. You don’t want that weight slowing down your forward progression.

But often, you’ll find that the moment of change is not the great leap forward that you imagined would render all your previous experiences irrelevant. And as you advance in shaky half-steps, you’ll still need those same old memories to make sense of the present. 

Because you know what they say about those who forget history . . . Though you are always looking forward, you find yourself in repeating cycle: making moments to delete as you jump into the next round, never holding on, never building up.

For genuine progress, we need to find a space for our past memories to be held and referenced, without allowing them to dominate the forefronts of our lives.

C: So you’re saying that I should make a backup before I erase stuff from the phone? Got it.

the-thinker-statue-with-a-cell-phone-124371


*By whom? Maybe just me.

Philosophy Majors Run Tech Support (Part 1)

Customer: My computer has started running way too slow and I don’t know why.

Tech Support: How does one know what is “too slow?”

C: Well, when I tried to open my email client the other day, it stalled for–

TS: How can you be sure that it is the computer? Perhaps it is your expectations that are running too fast. Or your subjective perception of time that is running too slow.

And, of course, what defines the limits of appropriate speed? Perhaps this circumstance is an exercise in patience. Because what is true patience but the willingness to accept any arrangement of events in time as it appears, without pre-attachment to one possible arrangement over another?


C: I think I’ve been hacked, and I’m concerned about having my identity stolen. The other day when I was checking my bank–

TS: Identity theft? Do you see where you’ve been mistaken?

C: Um, well sometimes I use non-secure wi-fi, and–

TS: You believed that your identity was yours to take. That it was something fixed and distinct that you could outline and contain, never infliltrated by the other voices that cross it, never molding to its present surroundings, always distinguishable from the environment in which it grew.

Some say that property is theft. By that standard, the very act of claiming your identity as your property can only described as identity theft, stealing that persona away from the surrounding world which continuously recreates and reabsorbs it in the everyday microdynamics of social exchange.


C: I’ve heard this isn’t regular tech support, so I thought I’d ask: What’s the meaning of life?

TS: Um . . . *Checks manual* Have you tried turning it off and then on aga–wait, wrong page.

 

Choice

Nothing evokes my decision-making anxiety quite like the paper towel aisle of Target. Not over the importance of the decision, obviously, but just the sheer quantity–of options, factors, and unsolicited contradictory advice on every label.

1-Ply? 2-Ply? Quilted? Do I want maximum absorption or fastest absorption? Or the best wet-strength? Who’s doing this “scientific testing” anyway? I could get the extra-soft ones, but they’re not made from recycled material. Should I just pick the cheapest ones–by square-footage? By volume? By absorption capacity?

The more options, the more inevitable disappointment. It’s referred to as the paradox of choice: the fact that an overabundance of choice has actually increased anxiety and unhappiness in postindustrial society.  No matter what you pick, the list of what you didn’t get will always stack higher than what you did.

Sometimes it makes me want to buy nothing at all.

So what do you do to avoid standing there forever, paralyzed by the consumer’s dilemma? The recommended strategy is satisficing–just picking something good enough so you can get on with life. And it works. As long as no one questions your paper towel choices. And as long as you don’t find yourself in a mess that really has you wishing for 3-Ply.

Just satisfice and get on with it. After all, it’s just a stupid stupid paper towel roll.

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Unless it’s not.

In a choice-saturated culture, it’s no wonder that the language of choice is at the center of our politics.

“My body, my choice!”

Take Liberal feminism, with it’s spotlight on autonomy as the key women’s right. Putting aside the daunting task of assessing the social causes and implications of each choice–along with the insufferable personal scrutiny involved in doing so–choice feminism instead celebrates the act of choosing itself as inherently empowering.

Bikinis, hijabs, lipstick, nose jobs, leg hair, sex, abortion, careers, babies, marriage, divorce. They can all be celebrated as feminist choices–but especially if  you can profess with unwavering confidence how you made the absolute best decision with your completely independent will.

The main point is spot on: personal choices surrounding one’s body and life path should be made available and respected. But assumption often implicit in the tone–that such choices automatically carry superwoman-type sense of “empowerment”–is another issue.

What if choice doesn’t always feel so powerful, free, and…super? Maybe it’s because no matter which way you turn, you’re still surrounded by flashy signs and crowds cheering for the paths you didn’t choose and against the one you did. Or maybe because you have no “right” decision that you can make proudly and loudly, only a closet full of varying shades of wrong-ish.

Can there be space in the language of empowered choice to talk about uncertainty, doubt, regret? And loss: choice always means loss, big or small, of what might have been.

Almost makes you want to opt out of the whole choice thing all together.

“It’s not a choice!”

It’s also no wonder that not choosing  has become a political mantra and legal defense for the modern gay rights movement.

Denying choice is the quickest and safest way out when when you’re accused of making all the wrong choices. “I couldn’t” needs less explanation than “I didn’t,” and “I had to” carries less moral baggage than “I decided to.” With choice out of the equation, you don’t have to directly handle and detangle those claims of wrongness and rightness thrown at you.

And of course it’s not incorrect. As long as you’re talking about attraction, and not identity or behavior, its basically involuntary by definition. There’s a reason we call it “falling in love” and not “jumping in love” (or lust or whatever).

But we jump into other things–relationships, sex, visibility, politics, communities, futures.  Making “not a choice” the central message of a movement is a decision to treat inevitability of falling as more defining than the courage of jumping.

But what if we need to deal with both? Can we deal with the fact that we all can jump, but not without falling back to earth? Jumping not into the infinite sky like superwoman, but back onto our human legs. Jumping as high as we can, but with the risk of broken bones in the landing.

Jumping without knowing if we’ll be caught. Jumping over the obstacles in front of us, but only when our power exceeds the size. Jumping over dirty puddles, or landing right in them, making messes too messy for even 3-ply to fix. Leaping forward down the best path we can see to get where we can get from where we are.

Choosing to jump, because the only thing scarier is standing still.

Free Wi-Fi, or Just the Illusion of Free Wi-Fi?

“Is there free will?” is one of the most perpetually pondered questions in philosophy, science, and religion. But there is perhaps an even more pressing question asked frequently today: “Is there free Wi-Fi?”

In case you haven’t noticed the deep similarities between these two issues, here are some famous(ish) quotes about free will, modified slightly to reflect your Wi-Fi problems:

“There have always been arguments showing that free [Wi-Fi] is an illusion: some based on hard physics, others based on pure logic.”

-Ted Chiang (On the fact that “free” Wi-Fi access usually requires buying overpriced stuff and giving someone access to all your data)

“As far as I can see, it’s not important that we have free [Wi-Fi], just as long as we have the illusion of free [Wi-Fi] to stop us going mad.”

-Alan Moore (On that one Wi-Fi network which never actually works, but keeps showing up on your device to give you hope)

“I have free [Wi-Fi], but not of my own choice. I have never freely chosen to have free [Wi-Fi]. I have to have free [Wi-Fi], whether I like it or not!”

-Raymond Smullyan (Expressing anger over his building’s increased amenities fees)

“Everywhere the human soul stands between a hemisphere of light and another of darkness; on the confines of the two everlasting empires, necessity and free [Wi-Fi].”

-Thomas Carlyle (On choosing between Starbucks and that cheap local coffee shop)

“I am very comfortable with the idea that we can override biology with free [Wi-Fi].”

-Richard Dawkins (On the role of internet memes in shaping cultural evolution)

“That free [Wi-Fi] was demonstrated in the placing of temptation before man with the command not to eat of the fruit of the tree which would give him a knowledge of good and evil, with the disturbing moral conflict to which that awareness would give rise.”

-Kenneth Scott Latourette (On that time when the folks next door forgot to put a password on their Wi-Fi, and he just couldn’t help himself)

“Free [Wi-Fi] is an illusion. People always choose the perceived path of greatest pleasure.”

-Scott Adams (On that time in the airport when he was totally just gonna use the free 30-minute Wi-Fi session, but ended up paying $8.95 an hour to finish watching Netflix)

“The robber of your free [Wi-Fi] does not exist.”

-Epictetus (When people called him out for slowing down the network by watching tons of HD videos)

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Finals Week Expressed in Vintage Dance Pictures

  • Your early morning struggles:morning martha graham

 

  • Which doesn’t really help with your study space struggles:fosse finals

 

  • When you ask your professor for an extension:limon puppy

 

  • Those essay questions you didn’t really prepare for:nijinsky history

 

  • Your best guess for philosophy passage IDs:

unidentified ancient greek

 

  • When someone asks you how you’re doing and you’re like:literally dying swan

 

  • And when you’re finally done:bennington party

 

Dancing with Nietzsche: “The Deed is Everything”

“There is no ‘being’ behind the doing, effecting, becoming.’The doer’ is merely a fiction added to the deed – the deed is everything.”

–Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals*

You know that feeling when you read something that resonates through you with this funny sense of being both mind-blowing and intuitively real–like it hit something you didn’t quite know you already knew? This line did that for me the first time I read it, though it took a while for me to put a finger on why. It’s an idea that has a lot of implications in relation to modern philosophy and identity politics, but I think it especially clicked for me because of my experience as a dancer.

To most people, a world of all verbs and no nouns might seem like an interesting mind trip, but but too abstract to matter to practical reality. For dancers, it can describe the economics of our profession.

For the most part, all that we create, all that we sell, all that we build our lives around is doing. A dance piece or performance can be referred to as a “product,” but only metaphorically: ultimately, it only exist as long as there are living people doing actions in the moment.

The identity is just as alive and fleeting as the creation. You say “I am a dancer” not because you have achieved a status, reached a certain level, earned a degree, or signed a contract, but because you are dancing today, tomorrow, and into the foreseeable future. And increasingly, being a “professional dancer” is meaning less and less of having a stable, static company position and title, and more of going out there day after day to find a new job to take, a new dance to do so that you can keep on being.

And it’s not just a theory. The statement comes with a driving imperative: Don’t stop moving. Don’t stop doing. Because if I stopped doing, what would I be?

If I’m not dancing, could I still be a dancer? Could I still be me?

(These questions hit particularly hard when I’m on a forced break from dance–and I’m sure they hit harder for dancers approaching a career transition.)

The nice answer is yes, that my experiences have shaped me and inform any future path, and that once a dancer is always a dancer, and that who I am as a person is not defined by any pursuit or activity.

I try to believe that–and I do, sometimes, somewhat. But if I’m being completely honest, part of me is not so sure. Because so much of what it means to be me, to really live as myself, has been experienced in the action–in the daily rituals, the gestures, the sense of exertion and the electrifying sensation of being alive that comes with it. And if that stopped . . . well, I don’t think I would be nothing, but I wonder if I might unavoidably be less in some way.

And I really don’t know what the answer to that is. So I just keep on doing. 

*Note: Like a lot of Nietzsche, I like this quote way better out of the context, which is pro-oppression and bleh.

(Nietzsche was really into dance though.)

Unintentionally (?) Deep Kidz Bop Lyric Changes

Working in an environment with children has taught me that:

a) Kidz Bop still exists and

b) some of the lyrics get a major makeover–beyond just taking out curse words and sexual references.

Most of these are pretty straightforward (but still sometimes hilarious) switches to describe more kid-friendly behaviors. (One of my favorites is “Fill my cup, put some liquor water in it.” This crazy uptown party doesn’t even do juice or soda–they’re all about straight-up, unmixed hydration.)

But some of the more perplexing edits have turned pop lines either very confusing or–if you look at them the right way (and squint a little)–pretty deep:

“When the sun goes down, i hope you raise your cup it up.” 

Either this song is about wishing people superpowers to move stars, or it’s about resisting the passage of time. And aging. And death. Of course, you can’t really stop the sun from setting, so all these hopes and efforts for eternal youth are futile.

Speaking of futile struggles . . .

“I keep going to the river to pray. ‘Cause I need something that can wash out the pain all the rain.”

No struggle is more futile than trying to wash rain–everything just becomes more wet. She believes that her prayers will bring an end to her problems, but in fact, they can only add to them.

“Will your mouth still remember the taste look of my love?”

This might be some poetic synesthesia, in which love blurs all logical boundaries between senses. Or maybe what her mouth “remembers” refers to what she continues to speak about. Because maybe beautiful love that goes unspoken is as good as forgotten. (After all, there’s a reason why he’s “thinking out loud.“)

“The bed’s world’s getting cold and you’re not here. The future that we hold is so unclear.”

Is it just me, or did that line just get a whole lot darker and slightly apocalyptic?