how modernist ethics ruined the good life

We live in a society.

I read this op-ed on the WSJ today talking about deleting social media. I had the same cynical reaction that I always do when someone announces they are going to be deleting their social media temporarily. For one — anyone who would truly wants to remove social media from their lives probably doesn’t need to write an op-ed about how their going to remove social media from their life. So, the mere act of writing the article already negates the purpose of the purge. But also — I consider this to be fairly intuitive, but I guess not — purging social media won’t purge the influence of social media in your life.

I think it’s quite naïve to believe we could return to a pre-social media world after we have lived in a world where social media did exist. The concept exists, and by choosing to not using it we are negative it. It reminds me a bit of Sartrean conception of emptiness and negation. Without social media, we can perceive a lack of something. It is our childhood bedroom with its contents stripped out. The interior no longer exists, but the emptiness speaks just as loudly as if it were still present. It is the same with social media.

Social media is life. Social media is structure. Social media is necessity.

Addiction is a necessary component of human experience. What we chose is what we happen to be addicted to. There isn’t a world without addition. Pretty sure God made they abundantly clear when he made humans addicted to water and air. Our lives mirror our instincts, and our most primal instincts compel us towards water and air. Without water and air, we die. If we don’t get what we need, then we die. It seems pretty clear to me that we weren’t born to not have addictions. If that were the case, we would just exist in absence of necessity, allowing us to live the contemplative life by diving deep into the depths of the ocean and never resurfacing. That would be the dream. The one thing standing between me and this dream is my addiction to air. Lame.

Clearly we were born to be addicted to something. Humans happen to be addicted to air. Cockroaches seem to be able to live without air, so if we’re being honest cockroaches are transcendent beings and we’re just fodder. Somewhere along the line, we confused our physiological needs and psychological needs. You might ask, can’t we control our psychological needs? The answer is yes. But never entirely. We can certainly tame ourselves from our animalistic instincts the same way you can train a dog to stop taking a shit on your carpet (except mine), but we will never reach a state where we are fully free from the psychological needs. The same logic applies here. If we weren’t born to have psychological needs, then why would we have them? Checkmate. If God really wanted us to be free from worldly desires, then he wouldn’t have created them in the first place. Since none of us are free from psychological needs, it is clear our anatomy wasn’t designed to live a life free from psychological needs. I say we lean in.

People say they want to be free from things — from social media, from consumerism, from want. Do they actually? That in itself seems like another want in itself. If we weren’t born for wanting things, what’s the point in being born at all — to not want things? That seems a bit ridiculous to me. What’s the point in challenging our nature? It seems like just an extension of this death wish that never left us since we were born. Why would you challenge your own life when you could just as easily embrace your wants and figure out how to reconcile the life you want and the life you think you want?

Realistically, I think a lot of people spend too much time doing what they think they want instead of what they actually want. Psychological defense mechanisms ranging from deflection to repression to projection make it very hard for us to truly understand the core of our psyche. Instead, we have a psyche that is all over the place and a sense of false rationality to make sense of our emotions. We have inherited too much from Early Modern thought. You can read Kant or Hume or whomever and think you have your thoughts straightened out, but that’s so last century. There has never been certainty, and if this century has told us anything it’s that nothing should be trusted — especially not your own thoughts.

We are detached from our thoughts as a byproduct of postmodern ethics. A major critic of postmodernism is that it is an illegitimate aestheticization of politics and discourse. I say, aesthetics precedes ethics, so nothing is really illegitimate. Claiming brackets of legitimacy and illegitimacy itself is a very modernist way of doing things, which is exactly what postmodernism is trying to avoid. Why does there have to be inclinations to do anything. All the exists is post-structuralist individualism, which is deeply internal and absent of canonical inherited ideology. The only thing that truly exists in our postmodern reality is our skepticism, our detachment, and our irony.

I personally like drinking tea a lot. So much that if I went without tea for a day, I would probably be very unnerved. Does it qualify as an addiction? Well, if I can’t live without it, probably. But it’s better than being addicted to soda or cigarettes. At least when I drink tea, I only ingest a couple of calories as opposed to a bucket of sugar. At least when I drink tea, I wouldn’t have to worry about increased risk in lung cancer when my hair starts to turn grey or putting on weight in my twenties when I’m supposed to stay lean for dem Insta photo ops. The only thing that really matters nowadays are Insta photo ops. You can get lung cancer treated, but you cannot redo a bad photo op. That shit stays with you. Some people think the meaning of life is to create art or make money or make a “impact” — whatever that means. The only sense of meaning I find is from detachment and skepticism. Personally, I think the meaning of life is to be Tik Tok famous, and that’s the direction I’m working towards.

I ask — what’s the difference between an addiction and a necessity? Addiction is an aestheticization of negative necessity. But why any necessity bad? Addiction, allegedly, is bad. Addiction wasn’t always bad. Addiction, in many ways, represents the pursuit of freedom — to want something the modernist world doesn’t want us to want. The subsequent vilification of addiction presents an attack on the fundamental freedom of being. The modernists did that to us. (Remember, if you want to blame anyone for anything, blame the modernists. The meteor that destroyed the dinosaurs? The modernists. The fall of the Roman Empire? The modernists. COVID? You guessed it. The modernists.)

I think it’s time we reclaimed the world from the modernism, starting with addiction. Obviously, we don’t consider eating food or drinking water an addiction. But, then again, there are some foods and some beverages that we do consider to be an addiction. If you drink too much water, it’s not called an addiction, but if you drink too much vodka, which is 60% water mind you, then it’s considered an addiction. If you eat too much raw spinach, it’s totally fine, but if you eat too much fast food all of a sudden it’s considered to be an addiction. At present, the medical community, specifically the psychiatry community, dictates what is and what is not considered to be an addiction. Why do a bunch of doctors who don’t have an interest to understand us get to label us as sane or not? While necessity carries the connotation of acceptability, addiction carries the connotation of undesirability.

It reminds me of Foucault’s Madness and Civilization, specifically to his point how society organizes individuals into desirable and undesirable categories and how science has authority to dictate this categorization. I think that’s totally out of wack, mainly because medicine has its own set of priorities that are not necessarily in line with what is considered to be accessible to most individuals. The role of medicine reinforcing certain conceptions of addiction in some aspects of life over others maintains its authority in dividing the world between acceptable traits and unacceptable traits. Who cares if you drink to much? I think most college kids drink to much. They turn out fine, so why do we give so much authority to scientific and medical communities to dictate what is right and wrong for us? (It’s because of the epistemological association between scientific knowledge and truth. Who came up with that? The modernists.)

I ask again — what is addiction and what is necessity?

I’ve picked up a habit of drinking a lot of sparkling water lately. Is that an addiction? What if, hypothetically, my sparkling water habit got in the way of my life? Well, it does, technically. I probably am unable to function without sparkling water. (Believe it or not, if I go one day without sparkling water I dry up into a raisin and can only be revived in a bubble bath of filled with the most pristine sparkling water from Costco. I generally prefer the store brands, but I guess I could settle with Perrier. It was a very unpleasant day, and I don’t want to talk about it.) When I work, I have to go downstairs every couple of hours to fetch a new can of sparkling water. It affects my life greatly in that sense because I could have spent the two minutes it took to go downstairs and back upstairs a lot more productively than I did before.

That brings me to another idea — productivity. A lot of the medication definition of addiction predicates on how the habit affects our life. Productivity is a virtue according to who? The medical community? Who cares if I’m productive or not? I generally like moving around, that’s really a personal preference. If I want to lay on my stomach for five hours while I listen to some Mitski every day of the year, then who cares? What is the medical community going to do, diagnose me as insane?

The medical community operates off a modernist sense of ethics, yet it portrays itself as an arbiter of truth. It holds a consensus over what is a good life and what is a bad life, and that begs the question — what is a good life and what is a bad life? The closest idea of what we have to a good life is a productive contributor to society, which is a spinoff of modernist thought, of which the medical community operates. Sometimes, I’m on the same page with this definition — I do like me some productivity — but I also recognize that a lot of people don’t necessarily have the same definition of a good life as me. It begs a series of questions: What is productivity? How do we measure productivity? Is productivity a virtue?

One way that we commonly use (but is pretty wrong a lot of the time) is income generation. The idea goes: if something makes us money, then it is clearly a productive use of our time, which means if you are make a lot of money you are pretty much immune to whatever the medical community throws at you. Medical ethics are tied with neoliberal ethics. This is a lot of layers of abstraction, but it’s still under the same philosophical system I’ve been using until now. It’s like this restricted laissez faire approach to medical science. As long as you continue to live a high-functioning life, then nothing you could possibly do could count as a negative practice of necessity — of addiction, for example.

I like listening to music when I study. If I don’t listen to music, I have a hard time studying. Is that an addiction? Well, I like listening to music. Since it’s in service of studying, which indirectly will help me make money in the future, it is not considered an addiction. In fact, it seems as long as I continue to live a life occupied with the same level of productivity, it seems that nothing I could do would qualify as an addiction because it does not adversely affect my life. If sparkling water helps me make money and remain a contributing member of this society, then I immune to sparkling water being an addiction. It is what we would consider to be truth since it came from the medical community, but it is far from the truth. The negative connotation associated with the etymology of addiction shouldn’t be there at all. Addiction is an inevitable part of life. The definition of addiction is political.

Life is quite boring. Even when you have things to do, you will still find opportunities to be bored. It’s that ingrained in the human condition. A good way to alleviate boredom is to preoccupy yourself with something. If you preoccupy with something often enough then it becomes a habit. The question is — when does a habit morph into an addiction? I personally don’t think there’s ever a difference. Habits are addictions, just innocuous ones by our standards of what is considered to be acceptable and unacceptable behavior based on criteria we don’t entirely understand nor agree with coming from the medical community. Ingrained in the idea of addiction is a set of values of what is considered to be an ideal life, and what is considered to be an ideal life differs greatly from person to person.

I have my idea of what I consider to be life I want. This life involves me drinking at least three cans of sparkling water a day. Some people would find that to be weird, and I would see where they are coming from. But, under my set of values, I consider drinking three cans of sparkling water a day to be a pivotal part of my life. There are many lives we exist in simultaneously. There is the life we have, the life we think we have, the life we want, the life we think we want, the life we don’t want, the life we think we don’t want, et cetera. This intrapsychic identity amounts to the internal representation of postmodern ethics. There is only way way to live life and that is by rejecting modernism.

temporal disassociation and existential detachment

My friend recommended that I play the game Undertale at the start of last summer. Since he shared his Steam library with me, I thought why not. I got about an hour in before I decided I wanted to do something else. The plot of the game is simple enough. You’re a child who fell into the Underground, and you are trying to make your way back home. In many ways, it’s eerily familiar to the angsty landscape I imaged adolescence to be; I’m sure the imagery was quite intentional. It exists in a weird transitional state between the beginning of the game and the end of the game. Similar to The Binding of Issac, it exists in a sort of purgatorial state — transitional — between one state of existence and the next. There is no beginning, just a middle and an end that I will never get to. A lot of darkness, weird supporting characters, and a constant sense of confusion — yup, seems exactly like my teenage years.

This game came out in 2015, but it has the feeling of one of those games that came out in the early 2000s — you know, the ones that demanded a lot of grinding before you could get anywhere, partly because they didn’t have the technology for more complex processes but also because they probably didn’t have the money to hire new software engineers so they copy-pasted some of the mechanics. There’s something about games made in the 2000s that demand a lot of attention out of you. It was a time when commercials still existed, which meant that you had to sit through something annoying and unpleasant before you get what you wanted. Nowadays, I just watch everything on Netflix or YouTube (but my Ad Block prevents ads from popping up there). I don’t think I have the patience to sit through commercials ever again in my life. I have the money to afford services that don’t have commercials, and I think I’m going to stock to it that way. I don’t even watch through shows in their entirety anymore. I just skip through scenes until I have a vague understanding of what’s going on, and then I call it a day. I don’t think I’ve had that much attention to watch commercials much less play a game like Undertale since I was a child, and I definitely do not have enough commitment to finish this game. I have no idea what happens in the end; I’ve heard that there are different endings depending on the choices you make throughout the game, but honestly the game is too hard for me to finish, and I don’t care to get good.

I keep on going back to St. Augustine’s notion about the past and future — how they don’t exist, and that they are just constructions by our mind to make sense of time. If Descartes was the first dude to quantify tiers of metaphysical reality through the count of attributes, what would he say about our spatial understanding of time (or was this Boethius?)

But how is that future diminished or consumed which as yet is not? Or how does the past, which is no longer, increase, unless three things are done in the mind that enacts this there? For the mind expects, and considers, and remembers, that that which it expects, through that which it considers, may pass into that which it remembers… Future time, which is not, is not therefore long; but a “long future” is “a long expectation of the future.” Nor is time past, which is now no longer, long; but a long past is “a long memory of the past.

-St. Augustine, Confessions

I reflect back on my past memories. They aren’t particularly real. There is this sort of air of falseness to it. Honestly, a lot of my memories are pretty distorted because I can only reconstruct them through pictures I review afterwards. It is the same with history – around 75 million people died in World War II, but it seems quite distant, and I can’t quite conceptualize it. It wasn’t that far ago — only 76 years since the end of the war. That’s literally one person’s lifespan. All that separates bloodiest modern conflict and now is just one person who was born at the end the world who is in retirement now. If you go back further the Black Death wiped out 2/3 of Europe’s population. That’s even worse than when Thanos snapped his fingers with the Infinity Gauntlet. Around the same time, the Mongols were literally burning hundreds of cities to the ground. If you really want to go back, you can curse the meteor that killed all the dinosaurs. That wasn’t all that nice.

The point is: All of these things happened, yet we don’t particularly care about it. Sure, WWII happened. It sucked, but how many people still feel connected to the events that happened to WWII? (It is probably quite a lot of people.) Sure, the Mongols basically destroyed centuries of scientific and cultural progress in their conquest for world dominance, but no one is really mad at the Mongols now. I’m not getting anywhere in life by not ordering Mongolian beef whenever I go to a Chinese food truck. I guess there are people still mad at Spain and Portugal for basically wrecking political institutions in Latin America (only me tbh), but definitely no one mad at Genghis Khan. The Black Death happened, but you can’t really be mad at a disease. I mean, you could be mad at Genghis Khan for spreading it, but then again no one is still mad at Genghis Khan. But, if I’m being honest, I’m still pissed at the meteor that killed the dinosaurs.

I try to be detached from my memories because they don’t seem to be quite real, but I still don’t understand why Augustine thought that our current present is more “real” than the past or future. What is causation in this case? Are we detached from the past because it is not real, or is the past not real because we are detached from it? Does our mind originate our reality or does our mind perceive reality as it is? So many questions. If we really want to be idealist about it, then nothing exists in reality and everything is in our mind, which is probably true but also a lame answer. There is some choice we have over what type of reality we wish to perceive. All I know is that I don’t feel particularly attached to my present either. Sure, the past is whatever. But why does that mean the present isn’t also whatever?

The present very quickly becomes the past. If you really want to get technical, we can say that we’re not experiencing the present at all; we’re just experiencing a phenomena the moment it becomes part of our past. Things happen in the present. If we do not react to them in the same way we do not react to things that happened our past, our actions do not speak to the reality in which they supposedly occupy. With this way of looking at the world, everything is reduced to passivity, and once we embrace passivity we no longer are can observe our life passing in the present. It is a choice how we perceive our lives — whether in the past or present and how much in the past we want to perceive our lives. While reflection is a necessary component in living a “free” life it is also reductive to existence in absence of activity. When faced with these two contrasting realities, our perception serves as a the fork in the road to the life we want to lead.

It’s weird — the only thing that supposedly separates present from past is placement. The present is placed at the foreground, and the past is relegated to the background. However, if we simply move the present to the past, then it becomes the past. There is nothing grounding its present-ness (presence?). It is just a temporary state of being we could negate by not perceiving its relation to the past. If we perceive the present as we perceived the past, then it automatically becomes the past. In other words, the present isn’t a standalone thing. Its reality is given through perception, which means its reality can also be negated through the lack of perception. If we refuse to acknowledge the present as forefront, then there is no reality to it. If we refuse to allow presence in phenomena, then there is no difference between past, present, and future.

All we know is that we feel something, but even that is a jump to make. If there’s any concession to make, it is that the present accompanies stronger emotions than the past. We can recognize that our past carries emotions as well. In another world, I would also advocate the future carries emotions (literally just from watching Dark lmao), but since I didn’t just fall into a swimming pool of LSD, I think I’ll shelve that idea for now. However, there is a difference between passive and active emotion. Depending on the magnitude of relegation, individual consciousness transcends passive emotion. Active emotion is a product of the near past. If I recall correctly, the Cannon–Bard theory suggests that emotions are a product of neurological reactions to neurochemical stimulations (it could very well be the James–Lange theory, but I’m definitely not going to double-check). We perceive active emotion through active stimulation, while passive emotions exist as internal reactions found as conflicting memories are probed into existence through subliminal consciousness.

If we are detached from the present, it does not mean we are detached from reality. There is a false equivalency between present-ness and real-ness in the sense that their respective phenomenologies are constructed through different epistemological structures. While reality cannot be negated through transcendental idealism, presence is subject to transcendental selectivity. It is subject to perception. If we do not perceive the present, the present does not exist.

identity formation through consumption and redemption

Mom, get the camera — I found the meaning of life. It’s to buy shit and make shit.

I don’t particularly like ascribing modern phenomena to capitalism because I think capitalism is actually a very small part of our way of living. A capitalistic society is a society before it is capitalistic. Rhetoric criticizing capitalism has gained a lot of popularity over the past couple of years, but I think these criticisms are misplaced. They are critiques against society, not against capitalism. Society exists as a formulation of collective identity, and capitalism is a trait of society.

It reminds me a bit of Spinoza’s distinction between modes and attributes. Capitalism is the mode. Capitalism exists as a trait of society. Society is the thing with essence. Capitalism cannot exist without society, but society can exist without capitalism. Yet, in a non-capitalistic society, would the same problems that we often ascribe to capitalism go away?

One such problem is comparison-derived unhappiness. I once wrote a paper on the metaphysics of price — how the existence of price backed in currency allows us to compare objects against each other, which translates into our psyche a need to compare all things in life against each other, which leads to unhappiness. At the time, I ascribed it to capitalism because bombasting capitalism is quite popular in critical theory (read: I wanted an A on my paper), but I don’t think price as a concept is inherent to capitalism. There are markets in socialism and feudalism and other -isms as well. In fact, markets are a bare function of society that transcends whatever political and economic systems that exist within it. As long as society exists, comparison-derived unhappiness is inevitable. Since society is an inherent part of human nature — in the sense that human nature cannot exist without society — it also seems that comparison-derived unhappiness is necessary byproduct of nature.

One such way we try to overcome unhappiness is through art. I think Proust articulated the idea of artistic redemption the best through his 1,267,069-page magnum opus that I never actually finished reading nor will ever finish in my life (read: I think reading original texts are convoluted and unnecessary compared to reading commentaryMarcel, you obviously have the hots for your mom. Gilberte doesn’t like you; get over yourself. Why aren’t books skim-able like TV shows?). But the thing about Proustianism is that it assumes you’re actually doing something with your life when you are creating. Art has purpose; therefore, by creating art, life has purpose.

The fault in this is that it assumes that art has purpose at all. The act of creation — at maximum it’s just a feeling derived from the need to have meaning in life. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that per se, but it I often find people (including myself) attempting to say that art is anything more than attempt to console yourself for issues that are inherent in human nature. Feelings are feeling. Feelings can be a great guide for us to live our lives; maximizing the amount of good feeling in our life is probably a lot more enjoyable of an experience than living with a lot of bad feeling. But at the end of the day feelings can be reduced to their corresponding neurochemicals. In absence of these reactions happening in our brain, feelings do not exist. The essence of art is derived from chemicals. The phenomena of art is derived as a product of chemicals. It is a mistake to believe the phenomena of consuming art can exist in the absence of neurochemistry.

Existentialism is a branch of philosophy that studies the relationship between existence and essence. Because, as Sartre annoyingly put it — “existence precedes essense” — we’re in a bit of a pickle of navigating life in absence of inherent validity to define. We exist initially in a state of ontological absence before we figure out how we want to identify ourselves. But, by then, we are already too far in life to control how we want to be identified. We have control one way or another, but identification isn’t instantaneous. Identification is a product of creation and consumption, and it is only through the act of creation and consumption that we are able to do anything at all with our identity. In absence of these forces, we are relegated to beings who do not have the freedom to identify.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that lately I’ve been feeling extremely detached from what I create. I don’t see a point to it, yet I’m still doing it for some reason, deferring to the same logic that got me here in the first place. There is a sort of schism between what I want to say and what I actually say. What I actually want to say is that my life is a lot more boring then what I write about on occasion. My thoughts are not as interesting as those I put on paper, and my near past is not nearly as glamourous as I try to convince myself it was. There’s not much going on, if that wasn’t clear, and I’m living a sort of purgatorial state — when this part of my life is just a phase that leads to the next phase in my life.

I have lived quite a different life from some of my friends. For one, I write on a regular basis because I am also sad on a regular basis, and that doesn’t seem to be a common experience shared with those around me. I have my writing habit mostly because I encounter something that makes me feel a little discomfort, and I write to ease the discomfort. We all have our coping mechanisms; this just happens to be mine. I am also extremely bored on a regular basis, and this seems like the thing to do. The thing with Proust, however, is that it supposedly creates meaning out of your experiences, whatever that means. I definitely do not see any meaning out of this.

Sometimes my friends bring up how they feel guilty not creating something of value all the time. Then, I remind them that we’re all going to die and that none of our life experiences are going to be remembered, so there’s no point feeling guilty of not creating something of value in your life. The position with the most amount of power in the world is probably the US president, and I don’t see anyone fretting about not becoming president. If you’re not president, you probably can’t influence the world in the way that you want to, and your impact will always be less than if you were president. So, it’s quite unfortunate that we can’t all be president, but it also doesn’t matter because if you can’t become president what’s the point in trying to leave your “impact” on the world, whatever that means? If you really want to think long-term, Earth probably won’t be around in a million years, so there won’t be enough “impact” made where it would transcend thousands of years; it’s all local.

It always struck me a bit dark how messed up the world is. But, at the same time, how do we know we have a stake in the world at all when it does not matter in an existential sense whether we intervene or not? Arendt kept on going off in about how evil exists when individuals are stripped of their political identity into economic agents, but why is politics necessarily an aspect of identity? Why cannot economics be the sole factor in our identity — after all, Bataille did say that we pursue self-destruction through Eros, so what is there to say we do not seek self-destruction through economic alienation?

Occasionally, I engage in some retail therapy. The other day, I bought a Tumi messenger bag. That was probably the highlight of my life for the past year. I mean, graduating college and finding a job is pretty nice and all, but personal accomplishments can never measure up to enjoying consumerism in terms of raw emotional output. I haven’t been able to use my Tumi messenger bag yet because I haven’t left my house for the past eight months, but it’s nice to have around. I’ve never seen any marketing materials surrounding Tumi, but it just seems like one of those bags that young professionals should have. By purchasing it, I am further solidifying my identity as a young professional. I’m not even sure that I want to identify as such, but how could I possibly understand this identity without its corresponding consumption.

The other day, I was thinking of buying a Rolex for the meme, but then I thought better of it. There’s only so much you can do for the meme. This is not one of them. I was bored, and I wanted something to make my life interesting. Since I’m living with my parents again, there’s not exactly that much going on in my life at the moment. I spend most of my free time studying more exams (even though I have already graduated) and attempting to kick-start my career as a late-blooming, k-pop star. It’s not going that well, at the moment, but I’m optimistic. I just finished the k-drama Startup, and if randos working out of an apartment in outer-city Seoul can make it in the tech world, I can definitely become a k-pop star at this point in my life. Life is a k-drama, after all.

For some arbitrary reason beyond my understanding, owning watches is very tied up with masculinity. I haven’t seen any girls who are very into collecting watches (how is that actually a hobby?), but I could name a couple of guys who are. It’s like why… watches are just moving pieces of metal associated with a brand that gives it legitimacy to charge premium prices, but I guess that’s also a lot of other things in life. I get having watches that look cool. Design is important in modern life. There’s also the obsession with automatic and mechanical movements, which I guess makes it slightly more interesting than battery-powered watches. Rolexes are watches whose identity is predicated on the idea that if you reach a certain level of success in life you’ll buy a Rolex. Then, there are the other watches on the same “tier” as Rolex but no one has heard of. Like IWC or Zenith. Or watches on a “higher tier” as Rolex like Vacheron Constantine. What the fuck is a Vacheron Constantine?

I thinking back to how Baudrillard thought we used our consumption habits as a proxy of identity. We buy things because we don’t know what kind of person we would be if we didn’t buy things. I didn’t buy a lot of things for most of my life, mostly because I didn’t have the money to buy things I wanted. Now, I do have money, so I am able to create identity through consumption. Without the money to consume, I do not exist. Writing and singing and gaming are fun and all, but it doesn’t lead to anywhere. It’s an activity for its own sake, while consumption is a directive authority in quantifying the translation between capital and happiness.

Benjamin thought of boredom as a force that affects all social classes, although he also thought that boredom affected the poor more since they couldn’t spend money on not being bored. I see the sentiment, but I don’t entirely see the logic. Nowadays, there are tons of things that are free that all social classes consume equally — like reality TV. I’m not sure exactly how tied together boredom and consumption are. I think most of the things I do — like writing, singing, and gaming — don’t really require that much money. Well, a WordPress Premium account costs like $60 a year, which is money that I really don’t need to be spending, but I’m also narcissistic and like sharing my writing, so what the hell, right? League of Legends is free though.

Who came up with the idea that the only way to be fulfilled in life is through consumption? It’s quite an annoying little piece of ideology that somehow makes it very hard to live a fulfilling life outside of consumption. Unfortunately, per the nature of consumption, it also means that it is very hard to live a fulfilling life without the resources necessary to take part in consumption. No argument about consumption would be be complete without mentioning people who have the capability to consume but still lack some sort of meaning in life. Well, in absence of cultivating relationships with others (which according to Angela Duckworth is the meaning of life), there is also the absence of creation, which fills the gaps that cannot be filled through consumption.

In life there is nothing in the beginning. It is only through consumption and creation can we make anything out of ourselves. Consumption serves our future selves for the person we want to be; creation allows us to make sense of our past and redeem our regrets. It is only through both of these acts can we achieve some sort of equilibrium in our lives. Our consumption habits direct us towards the person we want to be, and our creation lets us move on from the past we want to forget.

imperogative humanism in absence of moral absolutism

In other words, why should we devote our lives to helping humanity when realistically we don’t know if what we are doing is helping at all?

The golden rule says that we should treat others the way we want to be treated ourselves.

I don’t like this rule very much. For one, how we treat others heavily depends on how others treat us. There is no vacuum where we can evaluate how we would treat other in absence of the anticipation of how our actions will be received. Values do not exist in isolation. Ethics is the study of values, but ethics is also the study of the relationship between individuals and the people around them. In addition, we are not immune from our history that propels us to act in one way or another. It is entirely possible that we model our behavior done unto us in the past, regardless of whether it is just or not. The golden rule is one of those theories that have little practical application in the world.

I was thinking back to Arendt’s criticism of the contemplative life as a basis for formulating philosophy, wondering if she probably thought Kant was completely out of touch with reality when he came up with the categorical imperative. My criticism of the golden rule falls within this strain of Arendtian thought. Analytical philosophers tend to blast continental philosophy for not following the “philosophical” method of approaching philosophy. But analytical philosophers also tend to be college professors, and college professors are also tenured and get paid to exist and occasionally publish a peer-reviewed paper. They also tend to be very out of touch with realities of working a job they could lose at any moment, and their writing is geared towards other academics as opposed to non-academia people (which ignores 99.99% of the population).

Our actions emulate things that happen to us more than reflecting the values of how we think we should act in the world. When you have your heart broken, you tend to also break other people’s hearts because that’s just what is familiar. We emulate behaviors that we experience. It does not matter if we should or not; it’s just what we do. Morality is something we ascribe to our own actions afterwards to be able to live with our lives. Morality is a product of emotion tinkered with some retroactive logic.

Unfortunately for humanity there isn’t a universal constant for the common person. There are no “common people” in the world. People are deeply individualistic, and there cannot be a universal set of ethics governing behavior against a bodiless mass because there’s no such thing as university humanity. People have their own lives and own expectations about how the world around them acts. They act in response to this world, and no matter how finite we can boil down the criteria of someone’s decision, they still act in accordance to their own values and respond to the value of others.

I was asking myself the other day — is there something real about ethics, or is it just something we tell ourselves to make sense of our feelings?

The world is pretty fucked up. It’s saddening, but there has also never been a point in time where the world hasn’t been a fucked up place. Granted, it’s a lot less fucked up now than it was in the past, but will there ever reach a point in the world where it isn’t fucked up? Where does the idea of duty fit into our lives? Do we have a responsibility to un-fuck the world?

In the face of an unjust world, we have two ways of looking at the world: we could either fight for a more just world, or we could just try to live our best life despite injustice.

I keep on going back to negative and positive duty from this one guide to the libertarian social contract I read for high school debate, mostly because I am unoriginal and unread, so I have to borrow the same few ideas over and over again to discuss the same point. Negative duty is the duty not to do something, while positive duty is the duty to do something. I think we can all agree that we have a duty not to do harm unto others. How people interpret that is up to them, but I think it would be very hard to to justify actively harming other people unless there’s some justification like revenge or necessity. This is more-or-less decided by how we live our live. We can control the amount of harm we do to the world; it’s a lot harder to control how much harm the world does to us.

I think it’s a lot harder to justify that we have a responsibility (I mean, active responsibility) to fight for a better world. For one, none of us actually knows what an ideal world is. There are trade-offs to everything, so who gets to decide what is an ideal world and what is not an ideal world? If, at the end of the day, our conception of an ideal world turns out to actually be a shitty world — I can’t imagine how many times that has ended up happening in history (e.g. every war ever) — then we just spent out entire life fighting for a shittier world. Not only have we not made the world a better place, we have also made the world a worse place. That’s some pretty bad vibes. I prefer to default to the belief that I have no idea what a world better than the current world looks like. I mean, in practice. There are a lot of things I would like to change in theory, but theory never really got civilization anywhere, did it?

Beyond that there’s just this idea of wanting to live the best life. Fighting in general involves a lot of bad juju. You make enemies. There’s not really an end goal. It’s just negative vibes all the way around. When you want to live the best life, a lot of times it’s easiest to just forget that the world around you exists. There’s a reason why gated and utopian communities exist; people just don’t want to be in constant contact with the real world because the real world can be really shitty sometimes. When given the choice to live in a shitty world or a world that’s disconnected and shitty in other ways but less shitty than the real world, who wouldn’t want to make that choice?

So how do we decide? What is the correct choice? Personally, I think it all boils down to emotion. How obligated do we feel in making the world look a lot more like we want it to look (under our current conception of justice, of course, which is probably subject to a lot of change and by no means considered universal). It is discomfort in one direction that defeats discomfort in another direction.

Asian American literature, or any racial literature really, is big on this concept of inherited trauma. Hegel talked a lot about inherited history, and I suppose he could have been referring to this idea of inherited trauma, at least unintentionally. What actually actually meant in any of his writing is beyond me or really anybody really. In the face of trauma, we have many coping mechanisms. From denial to projection to sublimation to displacement to repression — the great part of being human is that you can convince yourself of anything really. If you didn’t really care about what happened in the world, you can easily convince yourself that you have no impact on the world and that nothing you do would ever make a difference, so there’s no point in trying. If you did care about what happened in the world, you can also easily convince yourself the opposite: that what you do does have an impact on the world and that things you do do have an impact on the world.

It is all a bit out of wack to me. I remember a while ago I was reading about this philosopher (I think it was Marshall McLuhan; I’m probably wrong) that was bemoaning the cultural influences of Post-modernism, whenever they surface in the 21st century — particularly the indifference and lack of objective moral centrism. As of now, I think our society is still going through the final cries of Victorianism and Romanticism — trust in scientific discourse is slowly dying and the emphasis of the individual subjectivity is facing copious amounts of backlash. Alas, as someone who ironically identifies with post-modern ethics, I don’t particularly care. People care about different things and have their own sense of what is correct an what is not correct; why does that matter in my life? Such is post-modern reality — a world without moral absolutism.

viatical ownership

Sartre kept on going off about the meaning of life is to pursue freedom, but I still have very little idea of what it means to live a “free” life. He says something along the lines of acknowledging that we have freedom in the first place, I find that quite underwhelming.

There is a lot I want to do in life that requires the sacrifice of other things I want to do in life. I want to eventually have kids and move to a house in suburban New York, but that requires sacrificing other parts of my life. Effectively, if I want to be able to afford a house in New Rochelle, I won’t be able to work at the US embassy in Mozambique doing some variety of administrative work. Everyone keeps on saying that you should do what you want to do, but they often fail to acknowledge that doing some things means that you can’t do other things. I really want to move to Mozambique, but it probably means that I won’t be able to afford a house in New Rochelle when I approach my 30s and want to move to suburban New York.

When we are younger, our parents exist as the source of our money. They give us money, and we implicitly do what they tell us to do. In a sense, they have equity in our lives because they provide capital for us to continue living. We are willing to sacrifice our freedom to do what our parents want us to do because they have ownership over our lives. When we grow up, we obtain jobs for ourselves, and we are no longer dependent on our parents to financially support us. We can listen to our parents less because they no longer have their equity stake in our lives. We still do because that’s what we do to pay them back for all their investment into our lives, but they no longer have final authority over what we can do or not do. We think we financially support ourselves, but in actuality we are dependent on our employer to support us now. In return, we do what our employer wants us to do, which also involves additional restrictions in our lives.

When I was growing up, if I want to go on a two-week trip to Mozambique my parents wouldn’t let me because they don’t want to travel alone in a place without an established tourism network. Now, if I want to go on a two-week trip to Mozambique I won’t be able to because I have limited vacation days every year. Different phase of my life, different restrictions. The only time I would be able to go on a two-week trip to Mozambique is when I retired with enough saved up when I don’t have to work again in my life. By then, however, I would be so tired and frail that I won’t be able to take the 20+ hour flight to Mozambique.

If I want to own a house in New Rochelle, I would have to work all my life. If I want to take a two-week trip to Mozambique, I would have take a hit on my career. These are both things that I want to do. At present, however, I value owning a house in New Rochelle more than I value taking a two-week trip to Mozambique. As long as I continue on the career track that I am currently, never in my life will I ever have the freedom to take a two-week trip to Mozambique. It is the limitation of my freedom. Nietzsche kept on going off about not listening to other people and do things for yourself, but where did that get him? His life was sad, wretched, and I wouldn’t trade my life for his for the world.

Something I feel Sartre and Nietzsche never really addressed in their philosophy is the ontology of opportunity cost. It seems that after Kierkegaard’s Either/Or there isn’t much discourse surrounding how choice necessitates unhappiness. Economics is quite different now than it was back then, but I don’t ever remember them discussing how choice in one direction precludes choice in another. Living according to freedom, according to Sartre seems more than anything a myth of “having it all.” It’s like that episode in Bojack Horseman where Princess Caroline tried raising a kid and scheduling a party and being swamped at work in the same week. She wasn’t able to accomplish it even in this fictional universe. If you live in accordance to freedom, then you would have a free life, which is the life that he said you should supposedly have. What about the life that you don’t have because you chose to have another life?

It is seldom that our choices have a clear and contrast right and wrong division. There is nothing that tells me I have to get a house in New Rochelle or I have to go to Mozambique. They are just both things that I am interested in doing. Pursuing absolute freedom would be able to accomplish both of these things, but it is not possible to do so. We certainly do have some choice over what direction we want to guide our life, but we do not have the capability to do two things that are at odds with each other. That is the limitation of our freedom, and it is a choice that necessitates sacrifice. In this sense, the human condition necessitates a limit to freedom — therefore, we are not born to be free.

The closest thing we can come to freedom is financial independence — from our parents, from our employers, from everything. Financial independence means that I could afford a house in New Rochelle and go on a two-week trip to Mozambique. It means being able to reconcile this paradox of choice that precluded freedom. In that sense, having money equates to having freedom. It means coming one step closer to living the freest life.

Granted, money can’t buy everything. A famous aphorism I’ve heard: money can’t buy style. Although, if you’re rich and can afford a personal shopper, I guess you can buy style. Money also can’t buy friends, but money makes it a lot easier to make friends. Money can’t buy friends, but money can buy experiences that make making friends a lot easier (3-day EZoo passes don’t come cheap, but 3-day EZoo friends make making friends a lot easier than not having a 3-day EZoo pass). Also, there’s that quote from Avengers End Game: “No amount of money ever bought a second of time.” I disagree with this quite a bit. What is the point of time if it is not to make money and spend money?

When we reach adulthood, we spend quite a bit of our time working. Why do we work? It gives us something to do (so we don’t get bored), but it’s also to make money. What do we do when we don’t work? We spend money, among other things. If you make a lot of money very quickly, it buys quite a bit of time actually. If I had money, I could spend more time with my friends and less time making money. If I want to purchase a house in New Rochelle, I would need to accumulate quite a bit of money, which takes a lot of time. If I had money, I wouldn’t have to work as long as I need to purchase a house in New Rochelle. It gives me time to earn money for another purchase, such as a Toyota Camry. If I want to buy a house in New Rochelle and a Toyota Camry, I would need to work for a significant period of my life. Mortgages and loans means that I’m indebt to the bank, which takes away even more of my freedom. Having money means being able to afford a house in New Rochelle and a Toyota Camry without sacrificing your time to obtain the money needed to make these purchases. It gives you time to pursue other things, such as making more money.

I used to think the meaning to life was art and literature, but I think the meaning to life now is participating in consumerism and achieving freedom from all the ontological impossibilities that result from not having money. As long as we are dependent on money given to us from someone else, we cannot live the freest life that we can. The only way to achieve true freedom, true ownership of our lives, is to live life without worrying about money ever again.

when childhood role models grow up

The concept of a mentor is a very “adult” thing to have. The closest concept you have to a mentor when you are a child is something along the lines of a teacher, but teacher aren’t anything close to mentors because teachers don’t particularly care about your personal development. To them, you are still a student in a sea of other students. There’s no reason for them to pay particularly close attention to you. Eventually, you move up a grade, and that’s the last you will ever hear from them. But, before you have mentors, you have role models, which is something you feel out yourself.

Personally, my role models when I was a child were other children who were slightly older than me, maybe a grade or two. It didn’t really make sense to me to idolize adults who accomplished much in history because it seemed all so far off. It’s cool that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and stuff… but what do we actually know about Neil Armstrong? Since reading biographies were far outside of the things I wanted (or could) do at the time, I figured I would just learn from the people around me. The closest otherworldly figures that still had some sense of semblance to me were students who were slightly older than me, and those were my role models at the time.

The thing about being a child is that it’s quite a inferior level of awareness. Social cues don’t come as easily. Feelings are less specific; everything more-or-less seemed like an angsty blobule snipping away at your last strand of self-confidence. When we gravitated towards other people, we do so for reasons we don’t quite understand. There’s a superficial limerence to it all. For traits beyond our understanding at the time, we devote more of our attention to some people more than others. And, as life dictates, the things we devote our attention to eventually become solidified in our identity.

Role models as a child is quite a one-way relationship. Most of them time, at least for me, it was someone around my age. We were friends, but it was more of a hang-out-a-few-times-a-year friendship as opposed to a hang-out-every-day friendship. In adult standards, hanging out a few times is already considered more than most of my friends, but things were different when you were a child. You grow more slowly as an adult, so time apart felt less significant. But when you’re a child, every day is a day of growth, so even mere months apart seemed like worlds apart.

My role models usually have a certain set of traits that I find admirable, that I might not be able to articulate at the time, and then I would try to become as close I could to them. It’s quite unlike the modern phenomena of simping in the sense that I don’t ever attempt to live for the other person. It’s not about what I could contribute to their life as much as it is what they could contribute to my life. Quite selfish, if you asked me.

But, as we age, our childhood idealization no longer takes hold, and we have more accurate pictures of people. When we are children, the traits we have projected onto others do not seem as otherworldly as they do now. By the time we reach our 20s, we have been through enough friendships and relationships to understand when we are falling into limerence. But, when we are children, we are still unable to recognize the lack of reality that identified our conception of others. We grow up, but the world doesn’t grow up alongside us. The world is more-or-less the same, and everyone in the world is more-or-less the same.

I’ve come to realize that when we are children, there is very little that we value. We low-key steal the values of others because we either aren’t bothered or do not have the capacity to formulate values for ourselves. I was thinking about how I ended up picking my college majors, wondering if it was an aesthetic decision after all this time. I don’t think there was ever a time in college when I had this profound realization that I enjoyed what I studied.

For English, I never really understood the appeal of the books found in the English canon. I don’t think Shakespeare was particularly a good writer, much less the greatest British writer of all time, at least compared to his contemporaries. Guilliver’s Travels is like an 18th century meme more than anything. There was this book I read about traveling the Scottish Highlands in 19th century, and I swear I could not finish more than 10 pages in one sitting. Clarissa is one of those books I would like to read for the clout but I refuse to dedicate at least 100 hours of reading 1,500+ pages of letters between a drama queen and a sociopath.

Economics is cool, I guess. It’s cool only in retrospect. Actually learning econ was painful. I liked stat, but I was also pretty bad at stat. There was also a lot of calculus that I neither liked to do nor did well. Thankfully, I will never need to take another Lagrange multiplier ever again in my life.

There were moments throughout my undergraduate career when I thought to myself, maybe this isn’t so bad. For a long time, In convinced myself that I enjoyed what I was studying, but that’s more Learned Optimism-esque Pascal’s wager more than anything else. I think, after all this time, it was just me thinking it was a cool thing to do. It was the aesthetic of studying what I studied as opposed to what I actually studied.

It’s a lot like studying in a coffee shop. It’s a cool aesthetic — studying in a coffee shop. You are, after all, studying in a coffee shop. I did it a lot my sophomore year. In fact, I spent every Saturday and Sunday at Green Line Cafe from 11 AM to 6 PM, when it closed. Realistically, the aesthetic of studying in a coffee shop composes of turning on your volume too loud to drown out the chatter of voices around you, waiting around for a table near an outlet, realizing the only working outlet in the entire room is taken by some wannabe hipster with a pierced nose and an iced chocolate latte, and exiting after two cups of coffee realizing that you actually got jack shit done the entire day. Yeah, it’s like that.

So why did I study what I studied? Because cool people around me studied what I did.

Specifically, some childhood role models that ingrained this image of what I want to be that I never grew out of, even as I descended into adulthood with the alleged validation to determine my own destiny. One of them became a writer. The other, a hedge fund analyst. The imagine never left me, so I studied what they studied and did what they did, even though they are so far from being directly relevant to my life right now. I haven’t forgotten that the image I had for myself entering college was to become a doctor.

It’s really interesting watching your childhood role models growing up. They don’t change much. They fall perfectly within what you imagined them to be. At the end of the day, you don’t become them, but they aren’t what you want to become anymore. One way or another, you end up discovering what you want for yourself, and you no longer need these idealized images of others to guide you for what you want to be. The unfortunate thing about growing up is that you don’t see yourself too far from them anymore. You more-or-less understand how they became the way they became. If you ever had the misfortune of talking to them again, you would realize that they weren’t that special all along. It was all in your head, a technique constructed so you could acquire the character traits you wanted as a child. Once you no longer need this sheltered existence where everyone existed as their idealized self, it turns out people aren’t that glamorous.

When we were in elementary school, the difference between second grade and third grade was immense. Age seemed like such a big part of our lives back then — it was; a year difference when we were ten was literally a tenth of our lives. If your role models are slightly older then you, they seemed like they were so much older than you. They were always ahead of you. When you were in fifth grade, they were in middle school. When you were a senior in high school, they were already in college. Your experience was vastly differentiated from them, and they always carried this image of what you imagined the next phase in your life to be. And when your life doesn’t turn out the way that you wanted it to, how could you compared against the idealized existence you created for someone else?

Out of all the schooling I have received, I do think college was the biggest differentiator in experience. More or less, when you are raised with similar parents, you have roughly the same childhood and adolescence. Outside of the influence of your parents however, that’s where personality truly becomes individual. That’s were values are created — through experience, particularly experience where you don’t have a particular idea of what you want to latch onto. it is also a space with enough failure and rejection to lead to the realization that there’s not much to the world except cultivating what you value for yourself. You have a lot of first experiences that were previously portrayed in media but now exist in reality because it actually happened to you. Turn out, it’s not as great as it was in the movies. It’s what I would truly quantify as the loss of innocence.

The thing about watching your childhood role models grow up is that it’s a bit like a death. Gone are the days of simplistic idealization when values can be picked from a tree like peaches. I’ve come to realize after graduating college that the world is pretty barren. There aren’t many peach trees around to feed you peaches. You have to cultivate your own land, plow your own fields, which unfortunately means growing boring shit like wheat.