Baptism of Fire

I’ve always struggled with how many religions deal with forgiveness. In Christianity, to make your way into heaven, you must only accept Jesus into your heart and he will absolve you of all wrongdoing. This always seemed like a con to me. Simply believe what I tell you and you will have paradise. Why even bother to struggle and understand creation if it is that easy to get the ultimate reward? So much corruption and hypocrisy seems to stem from this.

There is an entropy to all things man-made, including religions. This message of forgiveness has been corrupted by church and priest far before it ever reached my ears.  I have only begun to reconcile it in my own mind through much reflection.

Being taken advantage of in my own life has been central to my own understanding. Time and time again, I would find myself in conflicts with some of the closest people in my life. Some sort of catharsis would be reached to give the false idea of an understanding. In truth, nothing had changed. The same sins against each other would be committed. Catharsis would be that much harder to reach the next time.

In order to truly end this vicious cycle, repentance must be given and forgiveness received. This is the same logic behind the practice of heretics and witches being spared if they admitted they had sinned. Forgiveness without repentance harms both. For the forgiver, only more disappointment awaits him. For the person being forgiven, she has cheated herself a chance to transcend her sins.

If no understanding can ever be reached, one must bear the suffering. If this is unbearable, the only action left is to severe the bond.

Without wisdom and truth, only suffering is possible. Wisdom is not easy to attain. It requires constant vigilance and much contemplation.

Only forgive those who have repented and understand their sins. For those where this is impossible, pity them.


Every so often, there is a mold that grows on my shower curtain. At least I think it is a mold. It’s the vaguely pink stuff that grows in damp places if you don’t nuke it with chemicals every couple of weeks.

Now my shower curtain isn’t really something I fret about. I pull it back once a day, in the wee hours of the morning when I am half asleep. I don’t really stand there and closely inspect to see if anything strange is growing on it. I’m a very utilitarian person. Unless something affects my day to day routine, I simply do not notice it. It’s not like I don’t care. It just never pops up on my radar.

Today is one of those days where I noticed it. I was cleaning my bathroom and as I went to pull back the curtain to clean the bath tub I saw all of this pink shit. I thought to myself, “how can I be such a careless person? There is a science experiment living on my shower curtain.” So I sprayed and sprayed away at it. After half an hour, I came back into my bathroom, which smelled of chemicals, and rinsed away the filth. It’s not like you can scrub a shower curtain effectively.

Lo and behold, the pink shit had gone away. It’s no where near pristine. I’d have to buy a new curtain for that. Instead, I’ll settle for no pink and continue to use it for another six months until I stumble across another plastic shower curtain at my local super store for $1.99.

I can’t help but think that so many thing follow a similar cycle: politics, jobs, fitness, friendships, relationships, hobbies. We simply put up with it until we decide “no more”.

Depths of stagnation

That human life must be some kind of mistake is sufficiently proved by the simple observation that man is a compound of needs which are hard to satisfy; that their satisfaction achieves nothing but a painless condition in which he is only given over to boredom; and that boredom is a direct proof that existence is in itself valueless, for boredom is nothing other than the sensation of the emptiness of existence. For if life, in the desire for which our essence and existence consists, possessed in itself a positive value and real content, then would be no such thing as boredom: mere existence would fulfill and satisfy us.
–Arthur Schopenhauer, “The Vanity of Existence”

Boredom is a curious emotional state. It is neither the absence or existence of a pleasure or pain, but rather it is the natural position of human perception. Much like the basic tenet of physics that states an object remains at rest unless acted upon, boredom is the state of emotion when standing still. From it arises a general sense of irritability, a lack of concentration, and a dull, persistent feeling of unrest. The immediate reaction usually entails self destructive behaviour. Often this manifests itself in provoking others with no reason, over indulging in food and vice, and an unproductive waste of time and effort. As the ancient truism goes, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop”.

The negative consequences of this emotion leave one wondering the neurological purpose for such an emotion. Purpose for humans is as important as other biological imperatives such as eating and drinking. Moments squandered through inaction are moments that could be spent preparing for survival. One must constantly be on guard to escape the clutches of ennui. If it is not fought off with careful and consistent preparation, it will catch up with you.

Like any other emotion, boredom has various states of intensity. The greater levels of boredom seem to arise in those who have a higher capacity for arousal. When one is satisfied easily with their environment, lack of stimuli seems to engender a sense of lesser boredom that is closer to relaxation than unrest. Like a high-energy system that is self contained with no outlet, those who are easily excited tend to react violently with nothing to devote their interest to.

The capacity for boredom is directly related to the scope and size of one’s appetite for excitement. As such, it functions just like hunger. When there is a lack of nourishment, those with a large stomach grown from overindulgence will feel the pangs of starvation more dramatic and more rapidly than those with more modest appetites.

Boredom also can set in through another way. If one is stressed by an unsolvable or difficult task, frustration can manifest itself as boredom. There may be is plenty in one’s surroundings to generate interest, but it can seem unimportant when compared with the subject causing him stress. The more he tries to focus on his task, the more it seems pointless. This leads him to lash out by ignoring the problem. In this sense, boredom is similar to depression in that it creeps and perverts areas that one would not assume is within its domain. This sense of powerlessness quickly becomes a no-win situation, where diversion into daydreams and secondary concerns only increases the feelings of desperation. It avoids the true source of the discomfort.

The only true solution for any cause of boredom is to attack the cause of it. One must present himself with challenges worthy of his attention. He must also remove himself from any situation that prevents him from doing so. Boredom is a warning. It cannot be ignored. A man that tries to endure boredom slowly cuts himself off from the vital process of survival. He will wither down to whatever level of decrepitude the situation allows him to be. If every environment was intrinsically satisfying, man would only need the bare necessities from cradle to grave. Boredom exists as the bitter taste left from the absence of growth.


One can truly never understand any time period beyond the ones he has experienced first hand. We might hear of earlier eras from our elders, but these stories will always be secondhand experiences to us. These time periods were experienced by another. Their perspective changes the particulars, filters out some and making others more potent. Furthermore, knowledge of the past gained this way is limited to only those that are alive. Any time period beyond the that has no living witnesses.

All historical knowledge beyond that comes from cultural artifacts. Some societies leave behind writings we can republish and read, art we can put up and view in galleries, and plays that can be recast and reproduced in modern theaters. In some ways, this is superior to having an actual witness relate the past to you. One can experience these works of art, assuming they are well preserved, in precisely the same way the people of past did. The universal methods and motifs great works of art utilize are just as effective on us now as they were then. How they are used tells us what values and ideals were important to the author and society that produced them.

In the same way that traveling to a foreign country can teach you of their culture, consuming art can be just as effective. One might not be able to travel to the past, but one can still read an ancient novel. Comparing and contrasting the societies of the past with the current is valuable, even if the work of art is from a culture that you are familiar with in the present. It allows you to get a sense of what has survived from the past as well as what has been lost. The bits of ourselves that we see in bygone eras can help us identify what is important in our own.

One of the most overlooked connections to the past is through architecture. Just as these ancient works of art can portray the people who created them, buildings can act as this sort of cultural mirror as well. Architecture has always lived in half in the realm of the practical and half in the realm of the expressive. Each building stands as both a testament to the designer who made it and the person he was designing it for. In this way, architecture can actually tell us just as much, if not more, about the societies of the past as any art form or archeology.

Architecture is one of the most enduring and present forms of the past. Every city in the world has buildings that are centuries, if not millenia, old. Many of them have been in use during all that time. People continue to live and work in buildings designed and made by a society long gone in their everyday lives. The use of these buildings is hard to misinterpret. A castle is clearly designed with defense in mind and an opera house is unmistakably for performers and audiences. In many cases, these buildings are the only tangible mark of their society still in use. The concrete, wood, marble, and stone was all harvested and cut by their hands. The technology, craftsmanship, and methodology required to erect it was all possessed by the society that produced the building.

However, there are some very strong limitations one should keep in mind when viewing architecture from a historical perspective. Not all buildings are equal. Some are built to last while others, by their very nature, are only temporary. Some buildings are made to be seen and are kept at the center of public life. Others are solely meant to fulfill a singular purpose and thereby abandoned. The most famous and longest lasting examples we have of architecture are the former type of buildings. We only see the buildings that were made to last from periods long ago. As such, our opinion on these cultures has an inherent bias to them if when we base it on these buildings. While we might stand in awe of buildings such as the pyramids in Egypt, The Parthenon in Athens, or Stonehenge in England today, these all had a very distinct and important use in their own time. They were not built for us to view them as tourist attractions now. Their original meaning can only be fully understood within the historical context of the societies that used them.

These buildings have survived due to their significance to the society in which they were built. They were built in important and sacred places. There was no expense spared in building them. They used the best and most durable materials available. They provide a timeless sense of style through their grandeur and impracticality for daily use. If they were co-opted for use by later societies, they would have been worn out or changed beyond recognition. What we get instead is a sort of time capsule and window into the societies that made them.

Perhaps, this is where their true value lies. Even though they were built them to last and as a testament to their religions, they were only used for this purpose for a short part of their life time. Their “second life” as a cultural artifact affects far more people than their original purpose.

When one considers this, an interesting question emerges: what modern buildings would survive into the future in our own society? Many of the buildings considered architecturally significant today were built for practical reasons. Skyscrapers, government buildings, and bridges all require an immense amount of upkeep to keep them in a durable state. They are made from glass that is easily broken and must be washed every few months. Reinforced concrete provides a stable base but it is nothing more than the skeleton of the building. Strip away all of the aesthetic materials from modern constructions and you would see it as plain, austere, and ugly. This has been the case in architecture ever since the late 19th century.

There have been a few interesting exceptions to this trends since then. Most notable were the architecture of the fascist movements in Europe in the 20th century. The head architect of the Third Reich, Albert Speer, explicitly made this one of the goals of his work. In a paper titled “Die Ruinenwerttheorie”, he describes the value he sees in designing buildings in such a way that they would “age gracefully”. Originating in Late-Romantic ideals, Speer notes that buildings are eventually, not matter what precautions are taken, are doomed to disrepair. The society they were built for is not permanent. Once the people are gone that used it, the building will fall into ruin. It is an eventuality that entropy will take is course. The only way that the architect can combat this, in his view, was to design buildings in such a way that limits this decay.

The most famous application of this theory can be found in his design of the 1936 Berlin Olympiastadion. It is replete with Traditional German and Classical Greek motifs. The primary support came from stone pillars quarried in Germany. Steel and modern materials were used but they were unessential to the support of building. The building would stand even if every scrap of steel rusted and every bit of glass shattered. The building was open and clear, allowing for natural lighting to penetrate to deep within the inner part of the structure. It was built in such a way that it supported all of the events the 1936 Olympics required but still retained a “monumental” style.

The stadium, unlike so much of the architecture in Germany from this period, remained relatively untouched by war. Away from the city center, it was protected from the bombing that ravaged most of Berlin. It was neither important enough strategically or symbolically for it to be a major target for destruction. While many other buildings of this nature were completely transformed by the war effort, the German government was able to repurpose it into a bunker, an arms factory, and a radio station without touching many of its distinctive qualities. Its durability made it one of the most important buildings in the post-war era Berlin. It was quickly reopened to be used for recreation and sports and remains so to this day. Despite some major renovations throughout the years, it retains much of the original design and grandeur it had when it first opened.

The fact that the Olympiastadion survived some of the harshest times in the 20th century is a testament to its design and the philosophy behind its construction. Despite the billions of dollars thrown at new construction projects at cities all around the world, very few of them are resilient or notable enough to survive the ravages of time. Buildings like this provide an invaluable link to the past in ways that no other form can. It goes to show that no matter the era something is made in, diligence and dedication to higher values can survive and be remembered. As cities crumble and time changes all, the very few that live up to this high standard will be passed on to future generations of admirers.


Mountains held an important place in almost every ancient culture. If a society lived near any sort of alpine terrain, it was inevitably woven into the culture’s myths and legends. More often than not, it was seen as the realm of the gods. Perhaps the most recognizable example in Western culture is Mount Olympus as the home of the Ancient Greek pantheon. Mount Sinai, in all Abrahamic religions, is the place where some of the most important teachings of God were handed down. Mount Fuji in Japan is home to countless Shinto temples all long its base. Mount Kailash and Mount Meru both play an important part in many Hindu myths. Native peoples such as the Taranki in New Zealand, the Incas in Peru, and the Wintu in California centered their religious life in nearby mountains.

It’s plain to see why so many cultures were inspired by the grandeur of mountains. Their peaks represent a place beyond humanity. Mountains impose their immense figure on the surrounding landscape for leagues in every direction. It is hard to look at a far-off mountain and not get a sense of power. The mountain seemingly leep up to the stars and clouds. Its rocky peak is the only thing to break up the monotony of a clear, azure sky. Mountains were as distant and insurmountable to the ancients as the heavens above. The gods were seen as a bridge between the human and the divine forces. It’s only fitting that they would call the mountains their home.

Human settlement has never touched the highest peaks. It is simply impractical to sustain civilization at great altitudes. All of the necessary ingredients for a society such as agriculture, commerce, and architecture are made difficult. Because of this, most ancient cultures were uninterested in conquering them. Life at the lower elevations was difficult enough. The activity of mountaineering for pure pleasure is a thoroughly modern pursuit.

A good candidate for the first mountaineer is Petrarch, a 14th-century scholar and poet. He completed an ascent of Mont Ventoux in southern France in the spring of 1336. He described the entire event in a letter to a friend, which has made it into the general body of his work. Being an unknown activity at that time, he goes to great lengths to justify his desire to climb. He describe to his friend how he was inspired after reading a text by Livy. It told of a general who desired to survey the terrain an upcoming assault with his army. Only the highest vantage point would satisfy the general, so he climbed a nearby mountain. Petrarch thought this sort of act was singular to the heroic nature of the ancients. To better understand this ethos, he too would climb a mountain.

He spends the remainder of the letter describing his ascent of Mont Ventoux. On his way up, his thoughts wandered to his every day life. He became pensive in a way that he had never been before about such things as the woman he loved, the books he was reading, and the direction of his life. Upon reaching the peak, he was struck by the new appearance his surroundings took on. He able to see across great expanses into France, including the path of the river Rhône and the neighboring Cévennes range of mountains. He stood on the peak for quite while, contemplating the beauty of nature and why men are almost universally moved it. On his descent, he grew silent and melancholic, bemoaning the insignificance of men’s actions on the larger world.

As with Petrarch’s climb hundreds of years ago, mountaineering today gives an immensely personal experience. One cannot simply see a photo from the heights and be inspired in the same way a climber can. Mountain climbing is a inherently heroic accomplishment. It is only through struggle that the activity gains meaning. No one but climber can bring himself to the top of a mountain. It must be conquered through perseverance, an active application of strength, and the endurance of one’s own will. It is not an accomplishment that can be attained through patience, prudence, and passivity. The climber can turn around at any point on the ascent. The path downward will always be easier than pushing forward.

There is a rare kind of purity and simplicity in mountaineering not found in other sports. It does not require any special equipment except in the harshest of conditions. It offers as much or as little challenge as one desires and at any pace the hiker sees fit. The easiest hike can be a peaceful stroll while the most dangerous peaks kill thousands every year. Mountain climbing reflects in life in this sense. More satisfaction is derived from a hard accomplishment than an easy one. By their very nature, mountains bring out the will to excel and push oneself to greater heights. The ever present peak is in the distance throughout the entire journey. The climber has a constant reminder of what he is struggling for.

Once the climber approaches the zenith of the mountain, he is greeted by an intense and inhospitable environment. The very air itself is hard to breath. Shelter from sun is non-existent. He might be lucky to find a boulder large enough that can protect him from unhindered gusts of wind. No water, plants or animals can exist here. Only the everlasting snow and glaciers break up the monotony of the stark landscape.

The world below has changed as well. The climber is free to peer over the precipice on the opposite side of the peak and see an entire world once obscured to him. Even the largest of trees are now only part of an indistinct sea of green. It carpets the slopes below as far as the eye can see. The contours of the valleys hills are now plainly visible. Cities and towns are no longer made up of homes, stores, and offices but rather a sprawling mass of concrete, brick, and asphalt.

Beside the climber are the other peaks of the range. Their silent majesty appears even clear now that he is on equal footing with them. Each of them in turn, beckons him to ascend once more. They might provide a tougher journey, filled with wider horizons, freer skies, and clearer air.

Socratic subversion

To understand the importance of Socratic thought in European civilization, one must first understand how it arose. First and foremost, one should keep in mind the Athens that he lived in. The most well known parts of Socrates’ life are the events leading up to his trial and death. He was an old man of approximately 70 years at the time of Plato’s dialogues. He was born around 470 B.C., just as the Athenian empire was rising to prominence as a true power in the Mediterranean. He was not born into a noble family. His parents would probably be best described as “working class” today.

In the early years of his life, he was stonecutter by trade, working on all sorts of projects to build the ever expanding city of Athens. He was even to have said to have made statues that stood near the Parthenon. He also was a soldier, fighting in several battles that lead up to the Peloponnesian war.

His was life intimately entwined with the rise and fall of ancient Athens. By the time of the dialogues, Athens, who had once been the most powerful of all city-states, had been reduced to the puppet of Sparta. The hubris and arrogance of the Athenian government had lead it from a golden age to rubble. No city in Greece had ever been so high or fallen so low. His characteristic irony and sarcasm are known for having a general sense of disappointment of humanity in them. The fall of Athens and the flaws in its democratic government played a formative role in such attitudes.

The ideological and scholastic developments that Athens displayed during Socrates’ life are just as important as the political. In his elder years, Athenian academics was thoroughly sophist. Many of the wealthy and powerful in Athens were taught by Sophist tutors. As a school of thought, its core teachings espoused the superiority of rhetoric in all things. The tools of argument, if properly wielded, could be used to sway any audience to any conclusion. It did not matter the truth of what was ultimately being said. Sophist thought is a prime example of “form over function”.

From what the dialogues tell us, Socrates was consistently and vehemently an anti-Sophist. He saw their use of rhetoric as a nihilist abomination, an affront to the gods. He held that the underlying truth of the universe was unchanging and could be reasoned with. Disaster was the only outcome for those who would seek to subvert this fact.

Socrates actions in the dialogues, when viewed through this light, take on a new significance. He is no longer just a wise man, exposing the folly of the citizens of Athens, but a critic of his society. One cannot help but see Socrates’ Athens as a civilization in decay, rotting from the inside out. Whatever ethics they had that brought them glory in the past had fled.

Socrates fought against this pervasive attitude by using the own tools of the Sophists against them. Rhetorical flourish depends on exploiting uncertainty caused by the inexactness of language. One can say something vague enough so that it has an effect on any listener. The Socratic method thrives on absurdity. His method of overcoming this vagueness was by raising questions that demanded exact answers. It immediately put his subjects on the defensive. This easily put himself in control of the debate, from beginning to end.

Most of the people Socrates conversed with in the dialogues were much younger and higher born than him. They had lived their lives in a world dominated by Sophist thought. Things they saw as completely reasonable, Socrates saw as foolish. However, it is important to see that he was not arguing with these people for any personal reason, as they were often strangers to him. He argued for the sake of Athens. Ultimately, he was put to death for this very reason, “corrupting the youth” of Athens. The case brought against him was not for any individual offense. His accusers saw the danger he represented against their society as a whole.  The worst punishment comes when the heretic speaks the truth.

There are many parallels between the Athens of Socrates and the modern world. Both are societies who quickly rose to prominence but now are in constant existential doubt. Deep down, both are aware of their tenuous right to authority. They lost the will to create greatness because most realize that the logical conclusion to their way of life creates nothing. It only brings about destruction, yet both societies are too cowardly to change course. As a consequence, they try to stamp out any that might challenge this order as quickly as possible.

Socrates found an effective method for exposing the absurdity of the time he lived in through irony and logic. By questioning everything, including the beliefs held common by most Athenians, he could get people to consider ideas that would otherwise be alien to them.

So much of the opposition to modernity today is pointless. It takes the path of most resistance when it comes to argument. Persuading people against deeply ingrained held beliefs by arguing directly against them is, for the most part, impossible. Trying to save the environment by stopping loggers or picketing an abortion clinic only serves to create contention. Those sort of methods don’t help anybody because they don’t attack the root cause, the insane beliefs brought us here in the first place. One only has to expose the absurdity of the modern world for what it is. Lies collapse in on themselves when the slightest amount of truth is introduced in an understandable way. The Modern worldview is its own worst enemy, but only if people see it for what it truly is.

Putting the rage in suffrage

“There’s really no point to voting. If it made any difference, it would probably be illegal.”

–H.L. Mencken

One of the most sacrosanct values of modern government is the ability to vote. The last 300 years, particularly in the Anglosphere, are a litany of ever expanding suffrage to more classes of people. The path of extending this privileged from white, land owning, adult males to anyone over the age of 18 is a long but steady one. It’s clear when you look at politicians and political movements of days gone by and see if they were on the “right side of history”, in this regard. Small battles are still being fought over technicalities, but the war over who can and should vote is long over. Any attitude besides universal suffrage has been banished from mainstream thought for decades.

If you ask anyone if you should vote in an upcoming election, the answer will be a resounding yes aside from a few malcontents. Ask the same person if they plan on voting and you will most likely get a polite lie in return. Barely half of the eligible persons in “the great democracy” of the United States show up to cast a ballot. The disconnect between these two attitudes is obvious and apparent. The highest civic duty and privilege of democracy is barely being utilized.

If you press somebody on this, you might get a bit closer to the truth. “It’s too much of a hassle and one vote never makes a difference anyway.” It takes a rare kind of person to do something even when they know their action will have no affect on it. In fact, it sounds like a form of insanity. Most people with OCD know that nothing changes when they perform their tics ad nauseum. In this light, it is somewhat amazing that half of the population still feels compelled to take half a day to vote. They will put off whatever they were doing to pull a lever in a cardboard station to vote for someone they will never see in person, let alone meet.

The last time I voted, it was out of sheer boredom. The polling station was literally outside my front door and the line was an obstacle to get out onto the street. My curiosity got the better of me, and I thought it would be interesting to join the line.

What ensued was the most potent soul-crushing mix of boredom and frustration in recent memory. First off, the line only had 30 or so people in it, so I figured it would pass fairly shortly. There were several polling stations and five or so odd people assisting the process along. It took me over half an hour to reach the front of the line. The only thing that compelled me further to stay in the line than five minutes was my own sense of stubbornness.

Once I had reached the front of the line, it took them an additional five minutes to verify my identity. I couldn’t simply hand them my drivers license or tell them that I lived on this block, they had to look me up by name in some arcane tome of bureaucracy. After some fumbling around, the half-awake poll worker finally realized the correct order of the alphabet and found the right record.

This got me a ballot in a manilla folder and a cheap ballpoint pen. After wandering over to the makeshift privacy stations they had set up, I proceeded to look over the options on the ballot. It instantly brought me back into my childhood, when I took public school standardized tests. I saw a few names I had recognized from TV ads and sign posts, but the majority of options were faceless people filling previously unknown positions. Part of me just wanted to randomly mark names that sounded nice, and the other part of me wanted to rip the elongated piece of paper into shreds.

I left leaving most of the options blank. I think one of the poll workers might have put it in the wrong box when I left. It made me wonder if my ballot would be thrown out on a technicality. It is too bad you don’t get a revote in that case. The entire process is designed to make it as hard as impossible to do anything right.

The essential flaw behind voting in a modern democracy is that is voluntary while other parts of society are compulsory. Even in countries where voter turn-out is mandatory, abstaining is still an option. Abstaining from paying your taxes, dodging a draft, or ignoring a court subpoena are not. As a consequence, these are the parts of government that people actually pay attention to. It doesn’t matter if you feel these things are honorable or not. It does not need propaganda and peer pressure to speak well of it. You either do it or bad things happen to you. The action taken is based in fear of consequences and a sense of powerlessness.

In this, one can see the true operational capacity of democratic governments. The sense of cooperation and appreciation of diversity are nothing more a facade for the uglier and more necessary parts of government. It’s success relies on the combination of these two forces. They both need each other to thrive. In a society deprived of any sense of commonality or nationhood, something else needs to jump in and fill the void. Otherwise, people will never work together. The farther a society falls into this trap, the more propaganda and fear are needed to patch the gaps.

I sure as hell know that I’ll never go out of my way to vote again.