Telos as a concept is limited.

Telos as a concept is limited. It is a very good concept, don’t get me wrong–but it’s limited in much the same ways that other philosophies of frequently-lauded dead white me have been limited. It’s by-and-large never been questioned. At least I never read something that questioned it in my study of Aristotle while majoring in Philosophy at Yale, so I can assume that questioning, if it exists, is not part of the basic canon of education. But telos is limited. And it’s very important that it’s limited. And here’s why:

Telos means “the aim of a thing”. The telos of a knife is to cut. The telos of a physician is to heal people (or keep them healthy). That parenthetical is the point. The fact is the telos of a physician is somewhat more complicated than the telos of a knife. A knife is obviously for cutting. But what about two knives put together—scizzors[1]: what are they for? Are they for cutting, too? What about slicing? What about unscrewing a screw when you have a pair of scizzors and a screw that they would fit and no screwdriver? Scizzors have many uses, as does a knife, as does a physician. And most problems are scizzor problems, not knife problems. Here’s why:

There is physics and there is culture. Physics (okay, math) is the root of the universe. It’s what exists and how they interact. (Chemistry, biology, existing metaphysics—these are under that category of “physics” too). Everything else is created by humans. It’s culture. It’s rules we made up. And by gum, most of the time we’re living in that second world. Most of the time—almost every second of every day we’re thinking about a topic that has nothing to do with the limitations of the physical world and everything to do with what that person thinks of us. With whether that person did something unacceptable… not unacceptable physically, but unacceptable socially. See: we made the rules.

We made the rules… and they’re restrictive. Because when you operate from a Telos-centric place, you see solutions to problems. You don’t see existence. You see a physician and you think “a healer”, but you don’t see that she’s also a mother and an exhausted human being and a republican and a dog-lover. You don’t see that she’s made of organ tissue herself that is deteriorating over time and will one day die.[2] You just see a tool with the purpose “to heal”.

And yes, if she’s not a competent physician, she shouldn’t act as a physician. But that’s the point: being a physician is acting. It’s pretending. It’s putting on a role, and that role is your telos.

We use “telos” to communicate the specific solution of a specific problem. But humans and experiences are so much more. We’re vastly complicated organisms wandering around incredibly intricate social structures, and seeing other people as specific teloses is bad. It’s damaging. It’s dangerous. It’s unethical.

I would quote Kant here but I hate Kant because he was generally wrong (at least his most famous things), but there’s a Kant quote here, and a Jesus quote here and a quote that we teach kids that would apply here too. There’s an explanation for some of the cruelty of slavery and why we use the word “dehumanizing” in some of our most terrible ethical contexts. Because people are people, not tools. And animals are animals, not tools, too. So when we treat them as though they have a specific telos, with little regard for the other aspects of them, it’s cruel. And megalomaniacal. And paternalistic. And harmful. You can’t know the utility of another person, nor can you know their utility function (what makes them happy/sad/fulfilled/etc.) And that cruelty/megalomania/paternalism is something we’re seeing manifest in our lives these days. And it’s sad. And painful. And sad. And inaccurate, which is the worst of all of those issues because it’s the inaccuracy that causes all those issues. 

So what do we do? We try to take a wider approach. One of the correct Buddhist teachings (i.e. an accurate statement about the world) is that you’d probably benefit from metacognating. From noticing your thoughts and how they move. From seeing how the world actually *is* more frequently, and seeing the world how you *imagine it to be* less frequently.

So try it. See people as hammers. Notice while you do. Notice what it’s like to see that barista as a coffee-maker. Feel what it feels like. Ask yourself how much you like it and whether it makes the world closer to the sort of world you want to live in.

And then take the other, as just as fair, and having perhaps the better claim, because it is grassy and wanting wear… and that will make all the difference.

(Tl;dr: Use telos for objects, don’t use it for people. And when you use it for objects, start with the goal in mind, then see what’s around you. Or better yet, hold your goals very gently as you go enjoyably slowly through the world.)

[1] I spell this word the way it should be spelled.

[2] Proofreader’s comment: “This is why I think everyone of sound mental capacities should do a cadaver lab.”

Two Delightful Ditties

I started a writing group. It was awesome. In our first meeting, we completed three 10 minute writing sprints, each followed by responses from peers. Here, my delightful darlings, you may find two of those creations:

Prompt 1: Picture an object from your childhood. Write something involving or inspired by it. 

I’m two years old and in a swing. A duck swing. A goofy, yellow duck swing. My sister stands behind me, pushing. I don’t have a fond memory of this first memory of my life but hey, isn’t that fitting for a constructed memory? See: 

I don’t actually remember being in that swing. I don’t feel my sister standing over me. I don’t feel what it’s like to be bald and big-eyed and have my lips puff out like Alec Baldwin doing a Trump impression. I can’t. It’s not a real memory. It’s a memory of a picture my mother (father?) took. A picture I’ve seen countless times and incorporated so much into my being it’s become what feels like my earliest memory. 

I feel sad when I think about it. 

It feels like the outside looking in, interposing on me in a nonconsentual way. Like we’re born and we die and in the middle we waffle around, buffetted and muffeted and ruffeted and scuffed by those bigger or stronger or wiser or older or first. Just first. Because first isn’t even a legitimate benefit. First is just first. It’s born at the right time or the right place or to the right sister or parents. And that reminds me of the melencholy in the world and that makes me sad.

I look back to that picture—that swing where I’m dangling form the ceiling, suspended in some ridiculous duck swing and I’m reminded no person is alone. No one is an individual. No being lives in true isolation. 

Still, at least I was supported. 

Prompt 2: Remember a time something made you angry. Like a 6 out of ten. Dial it up to an 8. Now a 9. Now a 4. What would it be like to live life feeling that level of angry in that situation instead?

“What is sanity?” The blue shrimp told me. 

It was tuesday, and tuesday is when the existentialists meet. 

“I don’t know, but he does,” he replied. 

“You can’t reply to yourself,” I told him, “It’s against the rules” and that’s when it 

broke. 

It shattered to tatters as my grey matter splattered. 

What’s it like to be an honest orange? 

How do orangutans pick a hand? 

What’s a perspective and how does it–? 

Can I please have another? or another? Or a hug. 

I don’t find myself flying most of the time. 

I don’t find myself crying most of the time. 

The words come in and I grasp what I can. 

Most tunas escape their captors. All salmon some day die. 

“This got weird”, I want to say, but then you’ll know that I could’ve stopped it, 

and we forgive those that can’t help it while

lighting aflame those that can. 

What is responsibility? 

What is it to be mean? 

I’ve always wanted to be Ellen. (A Crowdsourced Poem.)

Poems should have hyperlinks. This poem does.

Poems should give their readers commenting access.

This poem does.

Go. Read. Comment. Be merry.

Get in on the ground floor

because baby, we changin’ literature.

#Digitalism. <-Our new literary movement.

Musings on the future of work (or, why you should be excited–not concerned–that I’m currently nocturnal)

Individuals (and small teams) have always been the ones acting, but now they’re more movable (you could imagine the Google phone team basically “stealing” the Apple phone team by wooing them over. This seems unlikely 20-100 years ago). The game for corporations, therefore, becomes more along the lines of “make an environment that’s attractive to the right sort of individuals/teams”. Now, this is probably obvious for anyone who asks the question “why does every startup have pingpong tables and free lunch?” but let’s take it a step further:

The top performers have always been eccentrics. Weirdos. I live in a van and drive around the country. (Not that I’m necessarily a top performer, but I’m certainly working with more successful people than most people who have the job title “writer”.) These are people who will form their own unique strategy for working (I’ve been nocturnal for the last week because it seems to help my novel writing).

This is mainly interesting to me because it creates opportunities for people to create highly-specialized products/services that assist very specific (i.e. unusual) people with very specific needs.

If an individual is such a great, high, top performer, they often have an assistant. I bet the assistants for top performers in many fields have similar jobs, though, and there wasn’t previously enough value created by these oddballs to warrant tools to help them.

Now, we’re recognizing that (a) no number of Walmart greeters could equate to one Sam Walton (just as no number of gazelles would ever hunt a lion [it’s a bad analogy but you get the point]), and (b) we can see how much value Sam Walton created (he built Walmart!) as compared to your average joe, so we’re able to create tools that will help, say, the 10 Sam Waltons in the world be 1% better, which is huge value but would previously be uncapturable. (Or, more accurately, provide tools to make the 1000 people in the world who are 2 orders of magnitude lower than Sam Walton be 5% more effective.)

I guess, what I’m saying is: could someone please make me a business-casual onesie that I could wear in public?

Travelog 191023 (Redacted Version)

Start: [Redacted], Pflugerville, TX

End: [Redacted], Pflugerville, TX

Quotent Quotables: 

  • “Even god couldn’t take the Israelites into the promised land. [It means], ‘you can’t get people to do things they don’t want to do.’” -[Redacted]. 

Delicious Delectables: 

  • Made poached & scrambled eggs using my sous vide machine. Delicious!
  • Ate ham & pepperjack & mayo roll-ups. Yum! 

Real Realizations: 

  • Hourly work that’s scheduled every day [redacted] is GREAT. I could do this for 6 months [redacted]! This must be what it’s like to have a job. Except BETTER! 
  • In school, teachers train you to wait until the last minute to do things (because they change the requirements so often). Turns out this is actually GREAT training for the real world [redacted]!
  • When you care about someone (and ask questions accordingly), they think you’re down to earth. 
  • People like people who care about them. If you stay in control and focus on them, you can get anyone to like you. 

[Redacted]

Exciting Events: 

  • Wrote a new recipe for my cookbook.
  • Talked with [redacted] for a while.
    • Smoked a cigarillo together. 
    • Discussed our old highschool passions. 
  • Phone call with [redacted]. 
    • Just joked around a bunch. 
  • Phone call with [redacted]. 
    • Talked about serious stuff. And our [redacted]. 
  • Worked on [redacted] for 5 hours. Made [redacted]. 

Alluring Activities: 

  • Traveling to New Orleans. Seeing [redacted] & his crazy parties.  

The day I decided to trust myself.

On following others:

School is following others. Culture instills following others. Corporations, countries, and organizations require following others. Following others is not for the individual. It’s for the safety of the herd.

On freedom and the individual:

I need the freedom to express. I need the freedom to explore. I need the freedom to create. These are only taught by the world’s best teachers. Learn to learn from yourself or risk living someone else’s version of your life.

Water your thoughts? My opinions on water in various contexts.

SECTION 0. MY FIRST DISPUTE WITH THE TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

In 2006, the TSA banned liquids. Being a clever, pedantic, and thirsty child, I arrived to the airport with a bottle of ice.

“You can’t bring that through security,” the agent explained.

I asked why.

She said, “It’s a liquid.” With a shit-eating grin, I replied, “But it’s ice.”

“I know,” she answered. “Ice is a liquid.”

SECTION 1: THE MOUTH

  • Saliva is under-appreciated.
  • Drool is disgusting.
  • Spit should be avoided at all costs.
  • The saliva of a lover requires further research, currently accepting applications.

SECTION 2: COMMON APPLICATIONS OF WATER

  • The water that makes up 80% of my body: Great.
  • 80% of your body: Passable.
  • 80% of Donald Trump’s body: No comment.

 

  • Water-based lube: good.
  • Tears: Bad, unless they’re being used as water-based lube.

 

  • Water is great for fish, camels, and rainforests, necessary for farmers, and hit-and-miss with New Orleans.

 

  • Showers are good, baths are great, and hot tubs are excellent.
    • The four differences between a bath and a hot tub are friends, chlorine, jets, and clothing. Realization: Friends and jets must be fabulous, because chlorine is awful and clothing is the worst.

SECTION 3: LOCATIONS WHERE ONE MIGHT FIND WATER

  • Cup: good.
  • Bottle: fine.
  • Pool: excellent.
  • Syringe: concerning.
  • Computer: oh no.
  • Bed: your fault.
  • My van: bad rust.
  • The statue of liberty: somehow delightful rust.

SECTION 4: LINGUISTIC ANALYSIS

  • SUBSECTION 1: FICTIONAL ETYMOLOGY
    • “Water” derives from the Latin “Wah-tah-ré,” meaning gift of the gods.
  • SUBSECTION 2: SYLLABLES
    • Wat: the Thai word for temple
    • Er: the sound often heard during the search for a hard-to-find word.
  • SUBSECTION 3: CURIOUS INSIGHT
    • Food, air, sun, earth, touch, love, mom, dad. Why is the word “water” two syllables when all other life necessities can be described in one?
  • SUBSECTION 4: WORDPLAY
    • Passable:
      • Water you doing? Water you talking about? Water you looking at?
    • Desirable:
      • Water you want to drink?
    • Too far:
      • Water you want her, the waiter, to wither while we a-waiter to order?

SECTION 5: TRAITS

  • Warm water: good for bathing.
  • Cold water: good for drinking and borscht. Otherwise to be avoided.
  • Hot water: Excellent for cooking.
    • Also means “trouble,” as in the phrase, “While exchanging saliva, Carol and I overheard the deafening footfalls of Principal Jerickson’s rotund personage and knew we were in hot water.”

SECTION 6: ENDING

  • Some say the world will end in fire, others in ice. I say the world already ended in a flood… or at least that’s what the Salt Lake City billboards taught me.

 

Special thanks to Brine Waves, a Salt Lake City writing group that invited me to their gathering this week, themed “water.”

Did you like this piece? Hate it? Throw a comment below so I can know what to write in the future. 

The Golden Calf and You

There’s a Jewish summer camp for adults. That sounds so fun. I get a scholarship because I volunteer with a Jewish youth group. The scholarship required an application. One question asked about my favorite Jewish teaching. This is what I wrote:

As a child in Hebrew school, I was the troublemaker. The kid who wouldn’t sit still, whose desk was separated from others by a distance just longer than his arms. Only on one day did I stop making trouble:

I had been scooting around the classroom on my belly when my teacher scratched the side of his nose, our signal for “You’re goofing off, Julian. Stop it.” I ignored it. He signaled for a second time. I ignored it again, because “What’s he gonna do?” Then, he began the story of The Golden Calf. I stopped scooting. I knew this one was going to matter the moment he began. See, The Golden Calf is about worship. It’s about how easy it is to make things sacred. It goes something like this:

“Once upon a time God gave Laws. The first one was “I’m God and that’s it.” Then, Moses, God’s go-between leaves his people alone for TEN MINUTES and they make this statue of a cow, made out of gold. And they were dancing and praying, saying it was their God. Moses got pissed and smashed it.”

Now, why does this matter? What can you learn?

  • You’re going to worship. A man locked in prison worships the sunrise he sees through the bars. Deprived of all your senses, you’ll still worship. Consciously choose what you worship, because you’ll act like it’s all that matters.
  • Physical objects are easily broken, so don’t make them into Gods. This one sounds obvious, but actually drove human history for a while. Did you know one reason Jews were successful was that they didn’t have physical Gods? If your God was a lump of wood or a rock or a statue, invaders could storm in, steal it, and subjugate your people easily… because they literally have your God! But the Jewish God wasn’t represented in idols. Also probably a good analogy for life: if you worship material goods (or money, say), you’ll be crushed whenever they’re broken. Worship ideals, however, like Honesty, Truth, Love, or Honor, and you’ll be much more resolute.
  • It’s easy to build Gods, even accidentally. A friend gifted me an obsidian stone a few months ago. I jokingly began referring to it as “Birdbrain, creator of the universe.” After a while, I noticed I started treating the rock with more respect. I began keeping it safe. Watch out for what you worship, because it’s easy to worship the wrong things. In this case, a stone. Stones are easy to stop worshipping. Hedonism? Codependence? Those are tough worships to drop.

Life advice:

Life advice:

  • You can get worried. Just don’t worry that you’re worried.
  • When one is sufficiently “out there”, one needs to explain what one is doing.
  • What if you just permanently paid attention to your values?
  • If money is speech, then businessmen are the most aligned with the way to acquire power.
  • Perhaps suffering builds discipline and discipline is a force-multiplier.
  • Money is a force-multiplier.
  • “Charity, clarity, levity, and brevity.” – The principles of JFK’s speechwriter.
  • One begins to keep things clean when one has sufficiently appreciated the value of habit.
  • Chicken broth always makes you feel better.