Notes on Personal Agency

“Suffering is the experience of the impossibility to escape oneself–an inescapable passivity.”

Are you truly free? Are you aware of your actions, why you do them, and are you actively choosing them?

You must have self-awareness in order to be free. This freedom is a kind of maturation of selfhood, which in turn increases your responsibility.  I refer to selfhood because I define the self as being a reflecting, self-aware individual, who is not entirely defined by its past experiences and environment. The self is necessarily an effectless cause, such that the part of it that is a true self is not an effect and has the ability to cause with the force of will. He who is not self-aware at all has little responsibility. With true freedom comes great responsibility, but can we say that if you have the ability to choose otherwise, you are automatically free?

This self-awareness or knowledge of oneself is not a step toward freedom; it is a condition for freedom. It doesn’t “push” you towards freedom. Self-awareness is not an action in itself; it is a precursor. It participates, but it does not drive a person to act. So if it doesn’t, then what does?

But you can never exist independently of your own habits. They influence our judgment of them and any change we can will to take place must always define itself in relation to the habits from which it emerges.

So then, our freedom, if we are to achieve it, seems to be always bounded.

Let us examine the case the we have sufficient motivation to do otherwise. An agoraphobic person who cannot bring himself to leave his house finds his house has caught on fire. Driven by the instinctual motivation to survive, he finds sufficient motivation to leave his house. Some psychologists say that because this motivation that exists to do otherwise, this person is not entirely pathological. They think their is an openness to their psychology from which a will can be built open to act otherwise. I do not think this necessarily follows, as the ability to act otherwise is a result of a motivation that is just as unchosen as the compulsion in question.

So then, are we still always compelled but by other, conflicting motivations?

Freedom must be the ability to do otherwise and consciously deciding in a directed manner. If desire underlies all motivation, to what extent can we force ourselves desire otherwise?

I am inclined to think that a person is free insofar as they can act without motivation. So where exactly is the “opening” where free will exists if motivation is a requirement to change? That motivation comes from somewhere, unless it is a spontaneous impulse, but that isn’t a choice either. I can only conclude that it is necessary for us to create our own motivation, being born entirely of our own reasoning, and choosing values that guide us by careful, independent reflection.

The ability to interject requires a sense of empowerment in the individual, and this largely comes from the ability to reinterpret your own story and embrace and account for your own narrative. True freedom is only attainable if you are not compelled by anything that has not been chosen consciously. We all have the capability to be free, as human beings with minds capable of distancing ourselves from desire. I suppose then, in order to be free, we must create sufficient motivation to be free. I do think that such motivation can be born entirely out of the self. It is the self’s own drive to further manifest itself.

 

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For Those Who are Lost in Life

The problem I have often found people to have is that they don’t know what their purpose in life should be or what their passion is. They are looking outside of themselves for something to be born in them that they believe is otherwise absent.

I think these people are asking the wrong questions. Each of us is already an individual. If you don’t already know who it is you are, then you haven’t exposed yourself enough to the world. But I think this is rarely the case. What are the things you are already drawn to, naturally? What are your preferences and desires? What qualities attract people to you? In what areas in life do you find yourself already excelling? And then once you can answer these questions, ask yourself, how can I be more of that?

If deep down you feel anxious or dissatisfied with your life, or even a vague melancholy that seems to follow you like a shadow, that you often distract yourself from until quiet moments where you find it there waiting for you, then this means something. It means there is something missing and that in order to be who you are, to express yourself more fully, then you must fill that space.

I suspect that many people, though they aren’t likely to admit it, know exactly who they are. Deep down, they know what it is they are drawn to and what areas in life they excel at naturally. I suspect that fundamentally, it’s not passion that these people lack, because a mind that feels anxious for deeper meaning is one that is already passionate. I suspect that these people are afraid. They lack the confidence to build their lives around who they really are. That requires a degree of boldness and comfort in yourself, to trust that your own self is a sufficient source of skill and meaning.

Don’t think that you should find a mold that suits you. We have only one life to live, so why not customize your life and your path to fit exactly who you are and who you feel compelled to become?

Don’t let an unwillingness to embrace yourself define you and your life. Trust that the answers are already within you and that you have a unique power that your mind is pressuring you to manifest, with all the signs it’s giving you.

 

 

 

On Rationality

When it comes to our behavior, we have a tendency to rationalize, finding order and justification for our actions. When we maintain a contradictory belief and behavior, often times we naturally change one or the other. We are driven to do so by our cognitive dissonance.

The same is often the case in rational thought alone. We adapt our reasoning to logically follow from certain axioms and assumptions of which need not accurately apply to the world. Believing that there is an inherent openness to all starting points in our reasoning is a deep skepticism. This could lead to a compulsive predilection for denying all claims, asserting that the stronger it is the stronger its unfoundedness must be.

As philosopher Pierre-Daniel Huet wrote, “let any one be convinced that man is an animal so formed by nature, that what appears to him to be true, is false; all you shall propose against this opinion will appear to him to be false or true; if false, he will justly reject it; if true, believing himself to be so made he will still be obliged to reject it as false. Thus it will be easy for him to subvert all reasons that can be objected against his opinion: and we cannot invent one, which will not fall under this general law, that what appears to a man to be of must truth, is most false.”

I do not think this approach would inherently lead to such a regression. I think it is possible for someone to accept assumptions as such and the possibility that one is wrong in whatever subject, be it what you should do in a given situation, politics, or the nature of the universe, and to consider some theories as being still superior to others in their measure of certainty. Yet we must still be skeptical of what it is that is influencing this judgment. Rationality can be preserved at the same time skepticism is maintained; it produces no dissonance.

You have to always acknowledge the assumptions you are making, as a matter of principle, or you are allowing yourself to be blinded. Holding steady to this principle, you will find uncertainty in most everything, and yet much clarity is still be had once the assumptions are accepted. You must have them if you are to have any ideas at all, and to accept them consciously allows for even greater clarity. Clarity is possible in the face of uncertainty. That we should be so certain when we are not even aware of or actively ignoring our assumptions is irrational. To be aware of all assumptions and biases all the time is impossible, but to at the least allow for their existence and search for them is critical if your highest aim is truth.

The Successful Entrepreneur


The life of the entrepreneur is chaotic. The mind of the entrepreneur is steady. They know exactly what they want and their desire is relentless.

The successful entrepreneur detaches the pursuit from the particular yields of the world at such and such times and places. The pursuit is everything, it’s a universality that remains unaffected, and there is nothing and no one that can stop it. The successful entrepreneurial has a similar innate drive to thrive as one has to survive. It is a constant that they never tire from fighting for.

It’s like walking home in a storm… It’s raining, they have to navigate around many obstacles, and they can hardly see two meters in front of them, but they are certain of one thing and that is that they must get home.

Everything in their way is irrelevant. Part of the mind shuts off its experience of discomfort because the destination is not in question.

The successful entrepreneur treats problems like puzzles that they must solve. If they are backpacking and there is a river between them and the path back to civilization, and there is no other certain path, then they build a bridge, because they do not question whether they really want to survive. Survival is a decision that has been made from deep within, a decision so firm that it is no longer considered a choice–it’s considered a given, an instinct, something inherent. To realize one’s dreams, one must not consider, one must act and continue to act. It must be a decision so unreservedly accepted that the awareness of choice is lost.

To be driven to such an extent requires passion. Passion trumps fear; passion makes one lose sight of fear altogether. Fear is a distance, a hesitance, a consideration… the true entrepreneur is like the impassioned painter, who does not fear himself, criticize, or give into self-doubt during the act…they just paint. They do not separate themselves from the activity. For them, a lacking of some skill is only an impediment to the actualization of self-expression. They must improve so that they can paint exactly what they see and feel, because they are deeply driven to do so. Similarly, the goals of the entrepreneur serve as vehicles of their self-actualization. To be who they really are, they must overcome everything that stands in their way.

Passion is the ultimate strength. It is illogical, stubborn, and focused. If one has it, one must lose oneself to gain oneself.

 

 

The Joy of Every Art Form

The following describes my own personal experience and opinions and I do not mean to make general statements claiming to be objectively accurate.

 

 

I LOVE art, art of most every form. I love making art–music, drawing, painting, writing and dancing. In the past I have learned to play the guitar, drums, piano, and I even took cello lessons for a while. I am currently actively pursuing painting and ballet. With painting, I am experimenting with acrylic, watercolor, and oil. With dancing, I am trained primarily in ballet, but also considerably in jazz, contemporary, modern, and hip hop. I took 2 years of tap and a few sporadic years of ballroom, including salsa, samba, and even of bit of waltz, swing, and tango. I also love writing and literature. I have a minor in creative writing and I love a good book. I am a huge fan of Russian literature, the dark existential stuff.

I’m also a huge fan of classical music concerts, opera, and theater. I love Bach, Chopin, Strauss, and Tchaikovsky. Thais is currently my favorite opera. I took an intensive Shakespeare class in college and spent a week in Ashland, Oregon at the annual regional Shakespeare festival. I even helped write and act in a short play. I loved it. I loved acting. I was the lead role in a play in middle school and I remember really enjoying that. Someday even if it’s just for increasing my confidence I’d love to take acting lessons.

Art speaks to me in a very deep sense.

After reading this, you are probably thinking, my god, this girl is spreading herself way too thin. It’s absurd. And yes, to an extent it is a bit absurd. But art isn’t a career for me with clear goals. It’s a lifestyle; an emotional outlet; a realm of various possible experiments and experiential journeys.

I’ve gone “all in” for every art form I’ve tried, and each offers a unique corresponding beauty.

It’s like different types of music that you connect with emotionally–there is a uniquely pleasurable experience associated with the different types. There are differently sublime experiences.

When I was very serious about the piano, and I was good enough to play intermediate pieces by Chopin and Tchaikovsky, I lost myself and I was swept away by something deeply resonating and immediate. Perhaps my appreciation of classical music stems from my 12+ years experience of ballet. Not every piece speaks to me but it’s always very obvious when it does. I never wonder what I feel about a piece of music. When I play the piano and when I passively listen to it, these are very different experiences and pleasurable in different ways. Each way of experiencing art offers a different way of losing yourself and connecting deeply.

When I paint, it’s silent. There is an entirely different sense at work reaching for something aesthetically pleasing. There is a similar critical voice inside of me loathing failures to harmonize and a similar satisfaction in finally creating something harmonious. The piano is immediate and powerful, like a gust of wind that carries me away. Painting, however, is slow and not so obvious. It’s isn’t as logical as music in the sense that there are chords and harmonics that I could describe mathematically, as if the aesthetics are somehow objectively discoverable. Painting is more deeply subjective and intuitive. I can say that I connect to this and no one could dispute this. If someone just randomly banged their hand on a keyboard, sure, someone could call it post-post-modernist avant garde, but they would most likely be a narcissistic, tone-deaf fool. I also lose myself when I paint, but I’m abstractly connecting to concepts and visual imagery. When I am really in the zone and flowing, I am experiencing a certain kind of sublime.

Dancing always was, is, and always will be my favorite art form to execute. It combines three senses: vision, sound, and touch. By touch, I mean raw ‘physical’ sense, the sense of physicality. This includes the sense of ones physical presence and movement. Because the instrument is ones body, and I must be able to achieve exact visual elements, an incredible amount of strength, flexibility, and technical control is required. Most other art forms utilize only a couple of these characteristics. For example, painting combines visual aesthetics with technical control. Different types of dancing offer different emotional experiences.

 

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When you look at me, maybe you wouldn’t expect that I would be into hip hop dancing, but I have been known to start dance offs at clubs :). I grew up in pretty ghetto areas, so this is a part of my identity that will forever linger. Hip hop is predominantly about empowerment. The feeling I get when I appreciate hip hop music and dancing is a combination of empowerment, strength, and the showcasing of one’s social ‘smoothness’ or coolness, which is very prideful. It’s the most fun type of dance to perform with groups of people and it connects you directly with them between your mutual egos. You’re psychologically more present while you’re dancing–like here I am, I’m dancing, watch this. Ballet is quite the opposite. It’s more dignified, disciplined, traditional, and regimented. It has a very different history and the music it’s paired with is obviously quite different from hip hop. Dancing ballet is much more of an internal struggle and it’s classicality is less ego driven and directed more toward something beyond oneself.

One of my favorite types of music and dance go together and meet at the intersection of classical and modern. It’s the combination hip hop and classical music. When they meet, something truly extraordinary happens. The best of both worlds joins and givens birth to something that is in my opinion greater than the sum of its parts. The movie Save the Last Dance comes to mind. Search on YouTube Hip Hop Violin. The hip hop provides energy and a vivacity that is otherwise lacking in classical music. The classical music provides structure, sophisticated sounds, and sublime elevation otherwise lacking in hip hop. When both are combined in dance, a kind of complex personality forms. The language is more robust; the range of what the dancer is able to express greatly widens. The experience of it is therefore similarly more robust.

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Obviously everyone is unique and appreciates different music to different extents. Someone could listen to one particular song and experience the sublime while for me it could just sound like a collection of sounds completely devoid of emotion.

But every type of art offers a unique possible sublime experience. This is why I have involved myself in so many different kinds of art. They all make me feel things that the others can’t. There is a type of joy that each art form and type is responsible for, and I love to discover and experience as many types as I can.

Many people think you have to be good at art to do it, and to a certain extent I think the pleasure I am speaking about it only attainable with a certain amount of skill. But art is subjective and it is personal, and there are no standards that you must measure yourself against if you are wanting to connect emotionally and create and experience something beautiful. If you haven’t discovered a joy in art I encourage you to explore and discover something inside yourself that only art can draw out of you. The ability to connect and draw pleasure from something that feels beyond oneself is unique to the human condition and it balances the ugly, the mundane, and the painful. This is what it means to be human–to find love and joy that make life meaningful and the suffering we experience worth it.

 

 

 

The Balance between Business and Braininess

I have two main passions in life, which I am pursuing seriously and not just as hobbies: business and academics. I am also quite interested in bettering my artistic skills. I am passionate about ballet, painting, and writing. I am not very ambitious though with art; it’s a private, personal journey. Perhaps one day I’ll pursue them more seriously, but right now I don’t have the time. As for business and academics, the two are very, very different activities. Business is real world, practical, and all about action. Academics is in the clouds, impractical, and all about contemplation. They occupy very different mental spaces, and the more I do each, the stronger my desire for the other becomes.

Business makes me feel strong, capable, and powerful. It makes me feel in control of my life and like I can at once create useful value in the world and freedom for myself. It’s fun, like a game. The object is to steadily increase cashflow andmath-manipulatives maintain the organization of the operation and the happiness of everyone involved. When I go to a new place now, I think about its potential, its economic activity, and the constraints on its improvement. I want to realize my own potential. I want to build an empire. There’s something about building something from scratch that brings me a very deep satisfaction.

 

Academics, on the other hand, makes me feel intrigued, genuine, and existentially fulfilled. The pursuit of intellectual clarity speaks more to my soul; it represents a more fundamental part of myself. Perhaps a better word than academics is intellectualism, because academics implies the involvement in an institution devoted to intellectualism, but an institution is unnecessary for the pursuit of knowledge, and in fact, in many ways, institutions are increasingly stifling for continued intellectual development for more reasons than one. But that is another article.

Without intellectualism, my devotion to business would leave me feeling empty. Without business, a full commitment to intellectualism would leave me feeling cut off from the world, indulging in a kind of narcissism, and would otherwise leave another part of my character unexpressed. And so I am left to attempt to balance the two, which as I said occupy very different states of mind. It is difficult to switch them on and off. If I indulge in my obsession over business, I will spend every moment counting numbers, planning aggressive tactics, and doing everything in my power to make shit happen. I forget about the truth in the world. The world that is sitting there indifferent to my blind participation in society. And when I obsess over ideas, I grow uninterested in petty real world details and I forget about what needs to get done.

Both engagements at once increase and decrease my incentives in the other. They increase it because they are like yin and yang; one makes up for what the other lacks. They decrease it because they are each mentally addicting in the sense that I forget the other state of mind exists when I am preoccupied with the one of them.

This is a conundrum. I fantasize about being in an office full of books and paint and chalkboard scribbles while somehow being available to oversee my businesses. I still don’t know how much this fantasy is actually possible. But for now I see no other possibility for myself other than to try to realize it.

It is fascinating in itself just how different these two careers are and how it could be possible to do both. There are no rules for our paths in life, only judgments, fears, and perceived limitations. It is my personal philosophy, perhaps naive, that if you desperately want two different things, if they are not morally conflicting, then you should find a way to have both. If in them there lies a contradiction, then you should ask yourself if there is a real contradiction there and not just an imagined one, because we only have one life to live and the fact that we can choose exactly how to live it is a beautiful thing. Our path in life should be a creative one, not one fashioned for us by society.

 

 

 

 

 

The Poor, Poor Rich

I have started to notice something while reading public discussions, Facebook comments, and other expressed sentiments, and that is that normal people tend to have a great deal of disdain for rich people. This is probably obvious to most. It’s common to hear people talk about ‘the rich stealing from the poor’, ‘exploitation’, and of course the catch-all Wall Street.

Business, perhaps surprisingly, is often times very fair. Every participant in a business relationship is accepting of their role. Unfairness does make its appearances, but very often it is the case that people take mutually beneficial actions. Profits are to be maximized, and so under that operating premise, labor, for example, tends to get displaced overseas where it is cheaper. Many say that these workers who make very little each day are being exploited, and yet they don’t know much about the conditions these workers live in and what they would otherwise be doing with their time. It is often the case that this new labor is a big step up for them, and the addition of jobs en masse provides a significant boost to their local economies.

Overseas workers are jumping at the opportunity to work for U.S. companies. Perhaps you should ask them whether they feel exploited. Personally, if I had the option of working as a farmer and working at a call center or factory for a U.S. company for relatively more money, it would be very obvious to me what the better option would be, and I would think it rather strange for you to call me exploited because of it.

What is it with this idea that the middle class has about the upper class, that they are mostly over-privileged, greedy, an unworthy of compassion if they are to ever suffer? This attitude speaks little of them and volumes to the person who is clearly resentful.

When Humans of New York posted a series on attendees of the Met Galla, there were popular “woe is me” comments disparaging the personal experiences of the rich, as if they have it made so well that they are unworthy of any further attention. Of course there was a backlash, “it’s Humans of New York, not Poor Humans of New York,” but none the less, the fact that this conversation arose at all was telling.

I always try to keep a distance from the conversations to understand the different perspectives, because I find it interesting that these perspectives exist at all, and I’m curious why they do.

The way that I see it is it’s ridiculous to consider rich people as being all of one type, sharing any qualities at all, other than happening to have much more money than they need to live on alone. They got this money for all different reasons. Some inherited it (within this camp there are plenty of assholes). Many earned it through deliberate and sustained hard work. Some choose to live simple lives despite their wealth, and some loose their minds and buy as much as they possibly can. They are all individuals, and everyone is different; everyone has a different story and a different character.

Somehow, when wealth is achieved, there is a piece of humanity that is lost in the wealthy individual through the eyes of the public. This lost piece of humanity seems to have been driven out of perspectives via nothing other than envy. It’s really rather sad.

Of course there is reason to resent those that flaunt their money and cry over losing a $60k diamond earring while wading in the water on the shore of a south Pacific island (of course I’m talking about Kim Kardashian). That is indeed absurd. But everyone suffers. Humanity isn’t lost to the wealthy internally, and humans are highly adaptable. Problems are always relative to ones own experiences.

Allowing oneself to respect the grievances and complaints of the wealthy, barring ridiculous reality TV fiascos, perhaps requires that one come to terms with the fact that you don’t have as much money as they do.

The thing is, the way to get rich if you aren’t already in this world, if we are to do so in a self-made and dignified manner (i.e. not marrying someone for their wealth or inheriting wealth), is to create value. If you aren’t making as much as your boss, it’s because your work isn’t as valuable to the company as his. Another way to think about it is successful entrepreneurs who turn billionaires tend to solve major problems, with solutions that are so big they continuously effect the lives of millions for generations. Steve Jobs solved the problem of the absence of personal-sized, straightforward to use computers, and because of that he changed the way we interact with the world. His solution was so fundamental that it led him to achieve a net worth of 19 billion.

Famous actors have one of the highest paid jobs in the country. They create a lot of value–people eat up everything they create, say, and endorse. They are famous for a reason. We make them famous, because we watch them, read about them, and talk about them. They affect our thoughts and our lives, and they are duly compensated. They also tend to work 15 hour days shooting films, flying all over the country doing interviews, and whatever else, barely any time at all for a social life. They live large but they pay the price, and part of that price is losing their anonymity, the sincerity of the people they attract, and the compassion of the many that envy their success.

Instead of complaining about the dastardly rich exploiting the poor, maybe look inside yourself, and see that you are free to create your own success, to create value, to solve problems, all the while retaining your right to the entirety of the human experience.