July 17, 2013

TYE: A Yangist Breakfast

Hazelnut-chocolate spread on raisin bread, or bananas and peanut butter?  These two breakfasts reflect something very irritating for me.  Every day I am forced to compromise on one of my two deepest human desires -- the robustness and longevity of my body, and my indulgence in sensual pleasures.  In openly treasuring both, regardless of its perceived "shallowness" by "deeper" thinkers, I feel I identify well with the Yangist conception of treasuring the body.

It's obvious why Yang Zhu advised treasuring the body in both of these sometimes opposing senses.  Healthy bodies imply longevity, and longevity implies more time in which to savor and indulge myself in this only life I have.  But, in the words of Bill Maher, "Fun costs you."  The great many pleasant things on Earth, ingested, imbibed, or immersed, may eventually kill me, if some freak event doesn't kill me first.

Hence I have my breakfasts of contradictions.  Sure, fruit and bread have plenty of vitamins, fiber, carbohydrates and protein, and they psychologically help me feel that I'm actively choosing to eat healthfully; but a thin dallop of peanut butter spread on every bite of three bananas, or thin divots of hazelnut-chocolate spread spackled on all ten slices of bread, eaten in one sitting, undresses that pretense where it matters -- in my guts, in my blood.  I live to serve my taste buds, the pleasure centers in my brain to which they connect.  I need all of the mechanisms which serve them to run for a long time.  I have to make a tradeoff.  If living for a century means eating kale every day, I'd rather be dead.

This regular compromise of pleasure for survival, and vice versa, is not a unique dilemma.  What's unique for me, as a Yangist, is that I see it to be the only dilemma in life that deserves my concern.  I have a brain structures that crave certain stimuli, and I can use other regions of that very brain to feed those cravings and preserve the means that are necessary to do so.  I know my self to be my body and the actions of that body which compose the narrative of my life.  As those parts of me change, so do I, so to try to escape the workings of my brain is not any more sensible than trying to flee from my own heartbeat.  Any such effort would at best fetishize some self-external abstraction or ideal.  There's no workaround for human nature.

In the ideal situation, one which is rare, but occasionally achieved, technological innovations or knowledge eliminate my need to compromise my desires.  Maybe someone in the future will make delicious, healthful, and cheap peanut butter, allowing for my truly "guilt-free" breakfast.  Maybe a scientific discovery will uncover that I've unknowingly eaten my way to immortality one sweet, salty jar at a time.  Until then, though, I'm stuck with the painful truth -- Nutrition Facts.

In most situations, I've found that the following meditation has worked in helping me evaluate the directions that I've taken in my life.  Whenever I have a moment to reflect on my present situation, I imagine my life being taken away from me very suddenly.  I imagine a sniper shooting a bullet through my skull, plunging to my death as the building where I sleep topples in the sudden jolt of an earthquake, being stabbed to death in my bed, having a sudden heart attack or aneurysm, having my skull crushed in various freak accidents and psychopathic homicides...you name it!  While I imagine suddenly dying in these often gruesome ways, I invariably ask myself these questions, often assuming that I'm dead already:
  1. Is this really how you wanted to spend the last instant of your life?
    • In almost all instances, the answer is, "No."  I want to spend my last moments of my life laying with the person I love most, my eyes lazily gazing on her, her looking back understandingly at me, understanding that I'm at peace with her there, sharing perfect silence.
  2. What feasible thing would you rather have been doing before dying right now?
    •  Very often, the answers that I give to this question really provide a sense of direction and ambition to my life as a whole.  For me, it clarifies what my truest motivations and interests in my life are.
  3. Can you reasonably pursue that alternative now or very soon, conceding that you haven't died just yet?
    • If I can, then I'll go about doing just that, assuming that I don't get distracted.  I also happen to meditate in this manner frequently enough that I often can find the time to pursue the things that matter to me at those times.
I could die happily enough with some delicious food in my mouth.  And the perhaps nominal effort to prolong my life with the healthier palettes for my savory spreads gives that extra psychological comfort that I crave.  Either way, an imagined bullet through my brain hasn't changed my mind, and I don't bet that a real one will.

Unfortunately, that's the best that I can offer myself.  Beyond that, I just try to satisfy my impulses within the constraints of my budget.  At least my favorite breakfasts are cheap!

May 12, 2013

From "A Yangist's Musings" to "The Yangist Experience"

I'm changing the title of my blog to signal a change in the approach that I'll take to focus this stuff more on Yangism, while still remaining consistent with all of the cutthroat analytical anti-philosophy and reduction of any encountered "philosophical problems" to non-philosophical arenas.

My opinions on how life is best lived, and their justificatory grounds, align most closely with surviving Yangist material, but my anti-philosophy (or, as an epithet, positivistic tendencies) bars me from approaching the topic in any way which is typical to academic philosophy, and it doesn't allow me much freedom to discuss what I feel is most important about any doctrine -- an understanding how living by a certain code, moral, or ethos really impacts a person, as opposed arguing on the supposed pros and cons of the hypothetical adoption of one.

One potential route which will resolve these problems will be to turn away from an analysis of what texts say and how they jive with other ethical precepts, etc., in abstraction, and instead focus on concrete instances of my own life (or those of other living Yangists who happen to find this blog) in which being a Yangist proves to be advantageous or disadvantageous.  Instead of thinking of my (meta)ethics as theoretical fields of philosophical debate, I'm going to consider relevant effects that people who might consider adopting it might think are directly relevant to them.  I'm using myself as a lab rat in my own experimentation, offering data points that might guide people to adopt or avoid this lifestyle.

Now, without a few checks against myself, this self-reporting on life according to a position with which I strongly agree could dissolve into polemical diarrhea, so in the interests of checking myself against that, I'm going to stick to a few guidelines in the interest of giving an even-handed view of what it's like to be a Yangist.
  1. I'm only going to discuss autobiographical bits about myself wherein I attribute my behaviors to following or attempting to follow a claim that Yang Zhu advises.  That is, I'm not going to describe how I act in ways which coincidentally correspond with Yangist claims.  I'm going to describe how I act, think, feel because the Yangist position advises it, or because I justify it explicitly on Yangist grounds, even if other reasons tell me not to do so.
  2. I'm going to evenly distribute claims to advantages and disadvantages in my life, or even write more about the disadvantages of my Yangist life than about the advantages of it.  I do this to actively curb cognitive biases in which I would be more prone to positively assess behaviors that result from advisement with which I mostly agree (i.e. avoid whitewashing).
  3. I may describe how I act in ways which do not meet Yangist suggestions, but will not comment on whether not acting according to Yangist proposal is advantageous or disadvantageous.  Instead, I will outline a plan to adhere to a given Yangist proposal (within the scope of the law of my place of residence), execute it for a few weeks or months, and then comment on the results afterwards.
I think that these guidelines should keep this effort descriptive, a statement of results that have followed from years of actually conforming aspects of my life to Yangism, or of living according to beliefs which Yangism pretty clearly advises (and after the fact, defending my practice on Yangist grounds).  In these forthcoming expositions, I leave the normative or prescriptive questions to my modest readership.

March 17, 2013

Some Might Call Me a "Metaethical Pluralist"

In January, 2011, I published a blog post which provided a means of dismantling normative ethics and paving a way for a strictly empirical program to deal with the problems therein.

I usually turn away from a subject whenever I've worked through it, so I left it be, linking back to it and making small revisions whenever it seemed appropriate.

About one year or so later, a friend mentioned a LessWrong.com article which argued something quite similar, and which did so six months after I published mine.  Since I remembered some decent hits coming from that work, my knee-jerk reaction was to accuse that LessWrong blogger of plagiarism, which I finally bothered to do, jokingly, in my response to the problems that I found with his article.
 What was more interesting, the LessWrong article links to an article that Richard Joyce, a bigger big shot in metaethics, wrote at the same time when I was writing my blog post here:

Joyce's essay appears to agree with me in many areas:
  1. Denying that a thing exists as we previously conceived it does not amount to a total denial that such a thing exists.  My only contention there is that there are better ways of demonstrating that than he does by discussing Ramsey sentences (ibid. 4~5), since in my estimation, Russellian descriptivists have pretty much nailed the process of reference down (because there can be multiple sufficient conditions [or descriptive paths] which isolate referents with a common label).
  2. The question of ethics's use is an empirical question.
    "One interesting and possibly surprising consequence of conceptualizing the problem in this manner is that it makes the debate between the moral naturalist and the moral error theorist at bottom an empirical debate."
    -- ibid. 5
  3. There's no inference or evidence from which one can claim that doubts or non-moral reductions in ethical values results in the breakdown of peaceful cooperation among humans (ibid. 13).  In fact, I would argue the exact opposite.  In far more historical cases, the people who could justify or ignore harming others, abiding then-claimed absolute moral principles, and approaching then-claimed absolute ideals were less self-critical ethical realists.
He would probably disagree with me in some areas, though, since I'm a fallibilist about how we might premise people's wants and motives when we prescribe behavior to others, but am not an error theorist.  But that's a diversion for another day.