Tuesday, 24 May 2011

What’s In It For Me?

So the princess says, “It’s not over yet” and the smuggler says, “It is for me sweetheart. I’m not in this for you and I’m certainly not in it for your revolution. I’m in it for the money. I expect to get well paid.” She retorts, “If money is all you love, then that’s what you will receive”, she then throws an aside to the farm boy, “Your friend’s quite a mercenary. I wonder if he cares about anything or anybody.”

This scene from Star Wars is supposed to paint Han Solo as a bit of a rogue, but let’s clarify this. Han Solo runs a business providing transportation services of goods and occasionally people. He gets hired to transport some folk who turn out to be wanted fugitives. In the course of events his ship is taken by the military, which he liberates from impound, as well as rescuing this princess, which was never part of the original deal. When all is said and done he expresses his expectation to get paid for his troubles. After all, it’s his business. What does he get? A guilt trip and some emotional blackmail from some rich, idealist bureaucrat who probably never did a day’s work in her life. Does that seem right to you?

And yet today if you were to ask a favour of someone and they answered “What’s in it for me?” You might think of them as being selfish. It’s just is not the done thing. How unfortunate that is.

You see, all human relationships are based on trade. Despite what people wish to be true, we are all motivated by incentives. In other words, “What’s in it for me?” The straw man in this is that money or material gain is the only incentive. This is not true. Incentives can be the good feelings you get from giving money to a beggar because now you feel as if you are a good person, even though this is one of the worst things that you can do for him.

Let’s go back to Princess Leia. Han Solo has troubles. Like every other person he needs to take care of the base of the pyramid in Mazlow’s hierarchy of need: food, shelter, and clothing. So like everyone else he needs to figure out how to satisfy those needs. This is the primary purpose of existence for everyone who has ever lived. Without these things we will most surely die.

Solo decides that the best way to take care of these needs is to start his own transport business. This creates more needs. He has to maintain the equipment required for the business, pay employees, and cover other operational costs. Failure to do so will result in no profits and therefore no food, shelter, clothing, and eventually no business.

Another aspect is that Solo lives in a fascist imperial state, which means that goods are heavily taxed and businesses over-regulated. This is an impediment to his work, but also creates smuggling opportunities. The problem here is that he is now forced to do business with criminals. During one of his jobs he was forced to eject his cargo when the police were on to him, which resulted in a loss to his employer who now seeks compensation that Solo cannot afford. To make matters worse, since all this activity is illegal, his employer cannot go through legal channels and instead places a bounty on Han Solo which could mean his death.

Then there is Princess Leia, the foster daughter of a long-term senator and one of the most powerful men in the galaxy, not to mention that she is a member of the Imperial Senate herself, despite her youth.

When it comes to Mazlow’s hierarchy of need, that base of food, shelter, and clothing had been provided for her by her parents since birth and from there she moved into a high paying political job, so money was never really a concern for her, thus leaving her free to focus of the higher parts of Mazlow’s need hierarchy, psychological needs and self-actualization.

It is easy for a person living in a state of relative comfort to forget that things must be paid for. Sure, they pay for things, but there is never the pinch of saving-up for something or doing without something else to get it. You want, you hand over pieces of paper of which you have plenty, and now you have.

We are meant to see Han Solo as a rogue, scoundrel, or mercenary for expecting payment for what should be his heroic duty for the higher purpose, but in truth Princess Leia is demonstrating her disrespect and disregard for Han Solo by not offering ready compensation. In essence, she is treating him as a slave. If anyone is a scoundrel it is Princess Leia.

Oscar Wilde said, “We think we can have our visions for nothing. We cannot. Even the finest and most self-sacrificing visions have to paid for. Strangely enough, that is what makes them fine.”

You may think that your high and lofty goals or moral superiority gives you a golden credit card to all the goods and services that you require free of charge, but who are you to demand the sacrifice of others to achieve your purposes? I was going to call such an attitude childish, but sometimes even children know better.

A Scottish traveller through 19th Century America noticed how the children played. A common phrase he heard was “Wanna trade?” It has been said that America was largely a rural agrarian nation, but more to the point it was a nation of traders. This concept is emphasised in both versions of the film True Grit, but more so in the remake.

There is the scene where we see Mattie Ross’s horse trading skills and negotiation, but also little scenes, such as when after her father died the landlady offers to sell her an old flour sack to put his belongings in for a nickel. Modern audiences would expect her to just give her the bag. After all, here is a young girl whose father was just murdered. But Mattie gets it. She knows the rules. Things must be paid for and she invokes this later to get her way with her hired gun. Once he took her money she became his boss. Those are the rules.

I am reminded of the story of the outlaw Curly Bill Brocious. During a gunfight with town marshals a horse in the livery was killed in the crossfire. The following day a messenger from Bill paid compensation to the livery owner for his loss. Today, try getting a parent to pay for an item in a shop broken by their child.

All human relationships are based on trade. Our ancestors understood this. Coming to the table with nothing to offer was seen as an insult, but today the reverse is true. We are morally expected to give something for nothing but that only leads to being taken advantage of more in the future.

Ever see the cliché in Westerns when men refer to each other as “partner”? Let’s think about this for a moment. Now, I do not know if this is historically accurate but using the term fits with the culture of the time. A partner is someone that you are in business with towards mutual advantage. This could be a trading partner or someone in a joint venture. The term signifies the concept of relationships based on trade. Calling people “partner” was assuming either an active or potential trade relationship existed.

So what changed? I believe the problem lies in free money. I apologise for not knowing the correct term in economics, if one even exists, however the concept is that easy credit, insurance, and government hand-outs collectively represent free money. Of course none of it is really free. Money earned through personal production is replaced by money given to be paid back over time, either though monthly instalments, insurance premiums, taxation, or inflation. This creates a vicious cycle. The more free money available; the more things cost, and the more things cost; the greater the need for free money.

On a psychological and social level, free money creates the illusion of wealth. So, like Princess, Leia we are free to focus on the higher levels of the hierarchy of need but we forget the basic facts of human existence and this leads to problems. We forget where real money comes from and therefore disrespect and disregard its source.

The source of money is human production and human production is the result of an individual’s time, energy, and skill. So to devalue money is to devalue human production. It is to take a person’s time, energy, and skill for granted.

Here is an example, which is absolutely hilarious by the way, called Missing Missy. If I read this right, David Thorn is a graphic designer. This is his job. This girl Shannon asks him to do her a favour which involves putting all his paying work aside to serve her purposes. He decides to teach her a lesson which I do not think she quite learned.

We see this often. If we have a friend in some sort of profession that we need the services of, we call on them for a friendly favour in full expectation that since this person is a friend, but more likely an acquaintance, that they will happily render their services for nothing. Nothing is brought to the negotiating table save the automatic expectation of help. The person may even feel guilty saying no because asking, “What’s in it for me?” is just so base, unhelpful, and unkind. What the person asking the favour is really saying is that their need is more important than their “friend’s” time, energy, and skill. To reduce this even further, they are saying, “I am more important that you”.

All human relationships are based on trade. This means working together for mutual benefit. I will trade my chickens for your shoes. I will mow your lawn if you make this poster. In trade, all men are equal. A king may trade his gold for a blacksmith’s sword. Both parties win and are therefore equal beneficiaries. If the king says, “Give me the sword you made because I am king”. Then he has become a tyrant through his disregard, no less than the person demanding favours from a friend. They are in principle the same.

The philosopher Ayn Rand was a strong advocate of what she called the virtue of selfishness. This is quite possibly the biggest error in her career. You see, she was actually advocating what Objectivists today call rational self-interest and sought to redeem the word selfish to mean just that. Of course people thought she was preaching selfishness and her abrasive attitude did not do her any favours. Even today some Objectivists use her philosophy to justify their selfishness.

I once heard a critic of Objectivism ask “should you not come to the aid of someone in need because it does not serve your immediate interest to save them?” Of course you should save them if you are able. In her zeal to point out the evils of altruism she failed to fully emphasis the role of benevolence.

Altruism is the idea that it is a moral requirement to sacrifice yourself for others. This is why Han Solo is seen as a rogue and Princess Leia as having the moral high-ground when in truth she is trying to take advantage of him. This is why people come to the negotiating table with nothing but expectations. Benevolence on the other hand is a choice that a person makes themselves without any moral obligation or expectation to do so. There is nothing wrong with choosing to help others, in fact it should be encouraged, but a person is under no moral obligation to do so. Benevolence is morally preferable but not morally obligatory.

The man who asks, “What’s in it for me?” is not a rogue, a scoundrel, a selfish person, or an evil man. He is simply opening negotiations for the trade. The person that you have to be concerned about is the one who wants something for nothing. He is saying that your time, energy, and skill, and therefore you, are of no value. He is saying that you exist for his purposes and not for your own.

I always associated the field of economics with finance and as something not only beyond me but also incredibly boring. I was wrong. You see, people are most concerned with two things: love and money. We know all about love thanks to centuries of poems, songs, and love stories, but most folk know very little about money, probably because they have the same prejudices that I had.

As a science, economics has more in common with something like sociology and psychology than with mathematics. For at the heart of economics is people and the trade choices that they choose to make.

When you live in a world where nearly everyone is consciously aware of trading values, such as 19th Century America, you will find that even the most ignorant person in society understands the most basic fundamentals of economics even if they do not have the academic labels for the concepts.

We still have vestiges in our language and manners from this era, such as thanking a person for their time or saying time is money. Both phrases imply the understanding that every human being is involved in the process of production towards their personal benefit. This is still true, but today we do not readily recognise it.

This failure to recognise each individual as an engine of production and potential trading partner coupled with the prevalence of “free money” and the false morality of altruism conspire to ultimately devalue each individual. Mutual respect is eroded, a sense of entitlement prevails, and everyone is out for themselves by any means necessary. Without the mutual investment of trade human society breaks down.

Herein lies the cruel irony of socialism. By devaluing the individual in the name of the collective you devalue the very components of the collective and thus destroy the social cohesion you seek to promote.

The glue is trade. Not just the trading of material values such as money or goods, but also services and emotional values. These are all on the market. And every person trades these things for their own benefit, and seeing as the trade is for mutual benefit, your trading partner prospers too. It’s all about the win/win scenario. Problems arise when people, and government, try to circumvent this fair process with excuses of morality and calls for sacrifice.

I’m going to throw in a couple other disclaimers before I finish. In addition to the fact that trade can be in material or immaterial values there is also the different sort of trade relationship found in an on-going partnership.

Take the institution of marriage for example. In the traditional vows the woman offers her love, honour, and obedience and in exchange the man gives her all the fruits of his production. Again, we see how our ancestors placed a higher value on production than we do today. These days the man’s promise to be the provider holds little weight against the negative associations placed on her promise to recognise his authority. Nonetheless, these days both parties are producers so it is more difficult to define the trade the relationship. It may take the form of one party making dinner and the other doing the dishes, but it is still there. As soon as one party feels that the trade relationship is no longer a balanced win/win situation then the arrangement is ended.

The other disclaimer is really just a reaffirmation of benevolence. We may chose to help the stranger stranded on the side of the road, or give gifts, or do favours without any expectation of reward or trade. These are all good things. The problem is when we expect others to do these things out of moral obligation which is actually merely shrouding an innate sense of entitlement.

How much is something worth? A gallon of milk? A litre of petrol? A diamond ring? A glass of water? A human life? No matter the commodity, its rarity, or the cost of production everything is worth the same price – which is whatever someone is willing to pay for it. When we decide that something is too valuable for the market it becomes not priceless but worthless.  It’s like common land, if everyone owns it then no one does and therefore no one is responsible for its upkeep.

How much is a person worth? Now I don’t mean slavery here, I’m meaning how much is their time, energy, and skill worth? The answer is the same; whatever someone is willing to trade. If someone is not willing to trade, brings nothing to the table, and just expects a favour, then this person deems you ultimately worthless.  You’re just something to use and throw away.

“What’s in it for me?” is not a statement of greed, selfishness, avarice, or selfishness. It does not mean the person asking the question is a bad person. It does denote self-respect as well as mutual respect. It says, “let’s trade as equals”. Throughout human history trade has been the basis of friendships, marriages, national alliances, and, according to Classical Liberal theory as expressed particularly through Prime Minister Gladstone and Prince Albert, it is the path to world peace.

The final word is never trust someone who offers you something for nothing because chances are they want to make a slave of you. Never trust someone who wants something for nothing, because they’re after the same thing. You are an engine of production and your success in life all depends on how well you can trade. So never be afraid to ask the question, “What’s in it for me?”

Friday, 13 May 2011

Walk Like a Romantic – A Gentleman’s Guide

Exactly two weeks ago Prince William married Kate Middleton. I watched the ceremony as did millions, if not billions, of others on televisions and internet connections across the world. One thing that struck me as I watched the guests arrive was Prince Harry’s horrible posture. His shoulders lurched forwards and as he followed his brother to greet guests I thought of some Pete Lorre style minion. In all fairness, William was only slightly better. By contrast, when members of the old guard arrived they were, well, stunning. Straight, solid, erect and commanding in movements executed with effortless grace and style.

I was reminded of a reality television show a few years back called, Diets That Time Forgot. The plot was that twelve fat people are locked up in an old rural mansion and divided into three groups each representing an historical era: the Victorians, the Edwardians, and the 1920’s. Each group was subjected to the diet regime popular in their particular era. Not only did the participants have to dress the part; they also were taught how to walk the walk.

Every era has its own unique ideas concerning behaviours. Collectively, this creates a sort of temporal culture or zeitgeist, meaning “Spirit of the Age”. This is most obvious in the manner of dress associated with a particular era, but it also includes body movements. The experts in the television program pointed out that each era had a particular gait and bearing that was unique: Victorian bearing was noble and regal, the Edwardian was military, and the 1920’s was loose and flowing.

This is evident in the clothing of the period. As someone who wears Victorian styles daily, I say with absolute confidence that you do not wear the clothes rather the clothes wear you. Everything is forced firmly in its proper place, this goes for men as well as women.  I am by no means uncomfortable in my clothes, but the cry from the casual shirt, T-shirt, jeans, and trainers brigade is that they are comfortable clothes. Comfort is seen as the primary value in modern fashion, particularly men’s fashion.

When I first conceived to write this article my intention was to write on the subject of Victorian, Neo-Victorian, and Steampunk fashion but it took a detour in my mind. Mostly, I was distracted by my own perceived cleverness on the title which led to the brief discourse on posture. I console myself in saying that they are all part of the same picture. It was yesterday afternoon that I decided to focus on men’s fashion and this is why.

I saw a few women on Glasgow’s main drag, Buchanan Street, yesterday. One wore tight fitting brown leather trousers, brown boots, and I believe a white top and a short jacket that I do not remember. Another woman, possibly thirties, was wearing a calf-length brown skirt, brown boots, and a light brown/green military style jacket. A third was the female companion of an acquaintance of mine. She wore a black gothic lolita style dress, black tights, and calf-length white military gaiters, a fashion accessory in recent years employed by the Steampunk designer Kate Lambert, also known as Kato. All of these clothing choices could be labelled Neo-Victorian or Steampunk.

However, we can go a bit more subtle and mainstream with this. Every few years or so elements of Victorian fashion come into style and can be found in everyday shops. One example is the pagoda sleeve blouse. A fashionable woman can not only get away with indulging in such diverse expressions; she is expected to.

Men are far more limited.  For example, I may wear my winged-collar shirt with a thin black cravat tied in what is known as the American knot. This is perceived as strange. Male neckwear is not fashionable outwith a work environment and on top of that all forms of male neckwear other than the standard modern tie have been banished. The winged-collar was once a common alternative collared shirt, like the pagoda sleeve blouse for ladies, but now it is reserved only for formal wear and weddings.  Consider my earlier description of the women on Buchanan Street. Many of the elements are traditionally male garments. The boots, the military styles, the gaiters, the trousers, and yet today any man wearing the comparable male clothes would be the subject of stares and perhaps novelty or ridicule.

I once saw an episode of the program Grumpy Old Men, a show where older men complain about modern life. In this particular segment a well-known Briton aged in his sixties was complaining about youth fashion, but not as you might think. He was upset that it was so boring. Everything was a mass market rehash of styles pioneered by earlier generations of youth. Perhaps I’m being a grumpy old man myself when I say that there has been nothing interesting of worth from the youth scene since 80’s goth, though I will admit that in many ways the Naughties manifestation was an improvement on the theme.

In the world of youth fashion the goal is not necessarily causal and comfortable, though this may apply to the more mainstream teens. In the world of the alternative teen and young adult market the goal is to dress to impress and comfort be damned. Of course when the shows over the comfort clothes come-out, especially when the main show of youth is over and they join the ranks of the mundane. The problem being that developing a personal style takes time far beyond those provided in youth, and so many young people get it wrong and give up before they ever get it right.

My purpose here then is a brief guide for men who want to walk the walk of the Romantic, because women have enough social leeway when it comes to fashion.

First off, fashion begins in the heart and not the in the eye. What you choose to wear and how you carry yourself in your clothes is ultimately an expression of your soul. For this reason you need to find that soul of yours. There are two questions that you need to ask yourself. What is? and What ought?

I’m currently reading the book Northern Lights by Philip Pullman on which the film The Golden Compass was based. The story is set in a world where a person’s soul exists outside of themselves in the form of an animal called a daemon. I read this great passage where a sailor is discussing the relationship between a person and their daemon.

“There’s plenty of folk as’d like to have a lion as a daemon and they end up with a poodle. And till they learn to be satisfied with what they are, they’re going to be fretful about it. Waste of feeling that is.”

Stylists say that you should put a paper bag with eye-holes cut out over your head and look at yourself in the mirror. Analyse your body and accept it for what it is. Nothing worse than a fat girl dressed like a skinny one. She is far more attractive if she dresses for her size and body shape.  The same goes for the soul, that is, your psycho-emotional make-up. First know thyself. Know who you are and what you have to work with. If you do not start from a point of self-acceptance then no amount of clothing with change anything. It might just make it worse.

The next question is “What ought?” Who do you want to be? What image do you want to portray? For this I refer you to my theory of herotypes. The gist is this. Psychological tests have found that students taking a test while surrounded by pictures of scholars and intellectuals perform better than those without, but more importantly, they perform better than those being watched by a photo of Albert Einstein.

The human mind is subject to limiting self-beliefs. In many cases a person cannot perform because they believe that they cannot perform. The images of the stereotype scholars made the test takers feel a part of that group so their minds allowed them to perform better, but the image of a specific intellectual, like Einstein, represents an unattainable goal, so the mind gives-up.

Herotyping is simply surrounding yourself with images, objects, and cultural consumables (like films, books, etc) relating to a particular stereotypical group of which you want to be associated with. This includes clothing and bearing. Herotyping is a means of telling your subconscious mind the type of person that you want to become and letting that unconscious master at the switches do the rest without the conscious mind worrying about self-image.

A person can have many herotypes. A dominant one for me is “the gentleman adventurer”. This probably stems from my youthful connection with Indiana Jones, the respected scholar who goes on adventures. Others in this group would include Doc Holliday from Tombstone, the educated Southern gentleman and deadly pistoleer; or Lord Asriel from Northern Lights; and most Victorian heroes, such as Sherlock Holmes, Phileas Fogg, and others of note.

I once worked briefly showing homes and apartments in Beverly Hills. On one occasion I was riding to a site in my client’s car. He was not much older than me, but unlike me he had a very expensive car. Definitely from a wealthy family in contrast to me from a lower middle-class background who had gone to wealthy schools.

During the journey, I noticed something protruding from the bottom of my boss’s briefcase that I had borrowed and instinctively put my finger to it. Turns out it was a razor blade used for cutting carpeting away to show hardwood floors beneath it. So, I sliced my finger and simply pressed another finger against the wound. I mentioned it to my client and he went in hysterics and carried-on about going to the hospital. When I convinced him that it was not necessary, he says, “Don’t bleed in my car.” So here is this guy who over-reacts at the first sign of difficulty like a child, but when the difficult passes he’s more concerned about his upholstery.

For me, the gentleman adventurer herotype as it is expressed in the real world is someone who can move in well to do circles, be the scholar, and be well-dressed, but he is not feckless fop or coward like the client in my story. He is the man in the suit that you do not want to mess with. I discovered this fascinating little website of tropes (“a conceptual figure of speech, a storytelling shorthand for a concept that the audience will recognize and understand instantly.”) that includes examples of the Gentleman Adventurer. Quick disclaimer though, the site includes the parody figure of “the upper-class twit adventurer” in the mix, needless to say, this is not what I mean.  On the site I discovered other herotypes of mine that are apparently also tropes, identified as the “Rogue Scholar” and the “Badass Preacher”, both are intellectuals who have either rejected or are rejected by the academic or religious authority and bring their message to the people.ADV1184_l

Concerning the Gentleman Adventurer, here is a description of Lord Asriel from Northern Lights:

“Lord Asriel was a tall man with powerful shoulders, a fierce dark face, and eyes that seemed to flash and glitter with savage laughter. It was a face to be dominated by, or fight; never a face to patronize or pity. All his movements were large and perfectly balanced, like those of a wild animal, and when he appeared in a room like this, he seemed a wild animal held in a cage too small for it.”

I believe that there are those who see me in a similar light, but I am by no means convinced. For me, this is the person I would like to be, but alas I am not. One important thing to remember about self-development in the Romantic vein, it is not about reaching your destination but rather closing the distance between your starting point and your unattainable goal.

I share this with you, my dear reader, by way of example. It is for each person to find their own herotypes and to consciously fill their lives with images, artefacts, people, and experiences that push them towards the goal of manifesting in the real world the thoughts and feelings of their inner world.  Romanticism begins with the self and it is your actions that define that self. Your thoughts, your feelings, and your mind are not you. They simply support and drive your actions. They are a means to an end and ultimately manifested through action.

So when we look at the clothes and the bearing of the Victorian, Edwardians, and the 1920’s folk as presented in the television series Diets that Time Forgot we see the zeitgeist of the eras. In the zeitgeist we see the individuals involved that compose it. The noble bearing of the Victorians demonstrates the Romantic virtue of pride born of accomplishment and self-respect. The military bearing of the Edwardians is that of the builders of Empire: militarily, culturally, and economically. The 1920’s style represented a relaxation after work as industry brought more leisure time to more people.

All three groups of people subscribed to the belief that “we live to work”. Through work the common man could rise through the ranks, through work empires are built, and through work more leisure time can be afforded. As denizens of the Romantic Era, all three group recognised that you are what you do and what you do is your work, so do your best, hold your head high for your accomplishments and honest work shall be its own reward.

Today, the West holds the opposite view. Today, “we work to live”. Work is a necessary evil that cuts into playtime. Extra work is penalised through taxation. Men and women of status and accomplishment achieved through hard work are scorned by those envious of their honestly earned profits and positions. And we all dress as though we are off to play at a moment’s notice. The common view these days is that you are what you feel, not what you do. So everyone must do what they can to feel good and make every moment count regardless of tomorrow.  The price that they pay is enormous consumer debt.

This casualness is reflected in the popular style of dress evident in most anywhere.  Unlike in a film or television program that has the benefits of a costume designer, real life fashion tends to be fairly routine, monotonous, and uniform.  Should you doubt me, go to any populated area and notice how many people are wearing the jeans, casual top (including T-shirts), and tennis shoes combination.  Once you’ve done that, start noticing how they move.

A future episode of Diets That Time Forgot, say sixty or seventy years from now, will no doubt have some historian describing how people walked in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries.  There is plenty of room in the zeitgest for variation, but generally the body will hang naturally for its type.  For example, I am very tall and slender.  Tall people tend to hunch, lean their heads forward, and if they swing their long arms too broadly it gives the impression of an ape.  If you followed my experiment, you might noticed that the chin position angles downward as opposed the the upward slant of the Victorians or the straight gaze of the Edwardians.

To press my point, this is not universal.  You will no doubt witness swaggering men and poised women perambulating down the avenue communicating the desirable qualities of their particular gender and I applaud them for it.  These people, be they in casual attire or not, stand-out in contrast against the grey backdrop of the mundane.  But men, too much swagger, as seen in what I must call the either the street, ghetto, or gangsta walk, makes you look like an ape – no racism intended.

It has been said that casual clothing leads to casual thinking.  What is lacking is purpose and casual has very little purpose apart from comfort and uniformity.  The same holds true with casual body movements.  There is no awareness and no direction.  I have noticed the same phenomena paralleled in causal speech, where a thought is not fully considered and developed before someone tries to speak it and word meanings seem pretty much made-up on the spot.  Of course this is not universal, but I seem to be noticing this contingent in society growing.  Some call it casual, but I would presume that more traditional thinkers would simply call it laziness.

Here is another illustration from my personal life. I am often asked by people if I am going to work, a formal occasion, or to an event. In other words, in their worldview no one would dress like me unless they had to and the reasons that someone would “have to” are work, a formal occasion, or an event (which is playtime dress-up). I was once asked in all seriousness if the rodeo was in town because this man honestly wanted to attend. How does one answer that?

For there is the ever present danger of falling into the trap of wearing a costume.  Sometimes that’s something that you just cannot get around as so much depends on the perceptions of the viewer, but there are a few tricks.  The first thing I have already covered and that is self-believe.  Do you believe in yourself and in the image you are portraying?  If not then you will appear uncomfortable and thus more likely to lead people to believe that you are just a pretence.  Remember, part of this is bearing and attitude.  Without it, then you’re just playing dress-up.

Next point.  For men there are two rules – masculinity and elegance.  I did not makes these rules.  They come from Beau Brummel, the man who invented the men’s suit back circa 1800 and basic men’s apparel has not changed since.  Dressing masculine does not necessarily mean not dressing feminine, like the fops that Brummel and his fellow dandies brushed aside.  It also means not dressing like a boy.  What does that mean?  I honestly do not know, but I know it when I see it.  It’s a certain je ne sais quoi.  I will say that some track suits remind of a toddler’s romper suit.

Elegance is more easily defined.  To dress elegantly is to dress streamlined and purposeful.  So unless you are an aeronaut ditch the goggles and other pointless paraphernalia.  Think of it like the prat who wears sunglasses at night or in a dark club.  One silly bit of foppery from the Goth scene is the men’s trousers with buckles and straps to nowhere.

I once knew the son of the Duke of Carlisle.  He was the kind of person that everyone liked as soon as they met him.  A great guy.  I remember one night I was at a Goth club and he had just arrived from work wearing naught but black trousers, a white shirt, and I believe a plain black jacket.  From a fashion stand point, he out shown every guy there.  How?  Of course he had bearing, but more identifiable was his simple masculinity and elegance.  The moral of this story – don’t try too hard.  Keep it simple.  Think of your clothing as a mask that your soul speaks through.  If people are too distracted by the mask, then they cannot hear you.

Romanticism is not just a style of art; it is a style of life.  Walking like a Romantic means walking the true path of the glorified self of achievement.  My preference is the herotype of the Gentleman Adventurer.  It represents a masculine and elegant style the evokes my Victorian and Romantic values, but it is by no means the rule of law.  I am outspoken against the ubiquitous denim in our society, but I admit that there are some who exude masculinity and elegance in that attire just as there are those who are scarcely noticed when dressed the same . They say that clothes maketh the man.  This is true to an extent, but ultimately it is the quality, character, and strength of the individual man that maketh the clothes work.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

I Am – You’re Not

Probably the single most important branch of philosophy is Metaphysics. It asks the question, “What is reality?” The next branch is Epistemology, or “What is knowledge?” In other words, I hear your metaphysics, now prove it. Together these two branches pose the ultimate question, “What is Truth?” These then form the foundation for Ethics, correct action, and this leads to Politics, the fourth branch, which looks at applying ethics to society. Finally, all this is expressed emotionally through Aesthetics, the manifestation of philosophy.

The Metaphysical view that I express as Romantic is summarized in this phrase. “We live in the real world and exist within our perceptions”. I came upon this as reconciliation between Empiricism and Rationalism/Idealism.

These two concepts come from the philosophical branch of Epistemology. The Empiricist point of view is that knowledge comes from experience. This forms the foundation of the scientific method and marks the beginning of the modern world. Rationalism and Idealism hold to the belief that knowledge comes not from the senses but from the inner world of the reasoning mind and the heart.

I realised that both approaches to Epistemology were responses to two different Metaphysical realities. This led me to create my Triune Theory of Reality. I admit that it is not very original and resulted from a cut-n-paste approach, and yet it seems to have stood the test of minor scrutiny by myself and others.

First there is Objective Reality. This is the physical world governed by the laws of science and can be known through the scientific method. In this reality, a thing is what it is. Everything in the universe is real, solid, and true.

Next there is the Subjective Reality. As we observe and interact with Objective Reality we perceive it more than we sense it. It’s like going through life wearing tinted glasses. The tinting is the result of each person’s unique psycho-emotional make-up, or what I call “the soul”. Thoughts, feelings, experiences, social programming, values, and beliefs all conspire to lend a personalised perception of reality. The Subjective Reality is a model of the world that we carry around in our heads and interact with and respond to.

The third “reality” is the Artificial, or man-made, Reality. This world is the result of human creation and must be constantly maintained through human time, energy, and skill, also known as production. Without production this reality will cease to be thanks to entropy. Artificial Reality has two components; the Material and the Social. The Material is primarily dependent on Objective Reality and the Social on the Subjective. Both create the world we live in.

According to Umberto Eco in his book, On Beauty, the marked difference between the Classical and Neo-Classical concepts of beauty and the Romantics that challenged them was determining the source of beauty. The Classical view was that beauty was inherent to the thing itself in the symmetry, lines, and form. The Romantics, with their emphasis on the individual and individual feeling, took the revolutionary approach best summarised by, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” The source of Beauty lies in the perceptions of the viewer and not the thing itself.

Who is right? They both are. The answer depends on your perspective. Likewise, when we question the truth about reality, and the ethics and politics that are built on our conclusions, perspective plays a large role. This is why the concept of the Triune Nature of Reality is important. Do we choose to take the Objective, Subjective, or Artificial perspective? Since most people cannot identify these different perspectives they assume that there exists only one point of view – theirs.

Here is the great human cognitive dilemma: There is a real world outwith human consciousness, but we can never know it. All that we can ever know is our perception of reality. In other words, it’s all just you.

It’s kind of strange when you really stop and think about it. The real world of the Objective exists independent of us. Life goes on whether you think about it or not. Reality does not care about your opinions, beliefs, desires, or hopes. It just is. All that feels real is our idea of reality, and since it is only an idea, then it isn’t real. We instinctively accept the unreal conceptual Subjective Reality of the as fact, but we must have faith in the real world of the Objective. It’s all turned around. No wonder we get confused.

In philosophy there is the concept of solipsism, from the Latin meaning “the self alone”. The notion here is that only the self exists because we cannot prove the existence of anything outwith the self. Sounds crazy, but when you consider that Objective Reality, including all the things and people in it, can never truly be known, then it’s a short hop to saying all that exists is my consciousness. I exist – but you don’t.

There is this idea of the philosophical zombie. It is presented as a thought experiment along the lines that every human, other than ourselves, is lacking in consciousness or sentience but only mimic the outward demonstrations of it. So for example, you poke a zombie with a sharp stick, it feels no pain but it cries out as if it did. The world and the people in it are little more than moving scenery.

The obvious problem with this idea is that I exist and you don’t, but from your perspective, You exist and I don’t. I have never heard anyone consciously voice this belief but you see people behave in a manner that can only be explained by presuming them to be solipsists, or extreme egocentrists.

Solipsism seems completely ludicrous as a philosophy despite the fact that you can reason out its premise. However, I’m looking at the uncomplicated version found in the most simplistic form. The more complex it gets the more muddy the waters become till you cannot see the solipsism for the trees.

Have you ever been in a situation where someone insults you, then you insult them back, and then they get angry at you for insulting them? How about being in a conversation where anything you say is not met with follow-up questions but with unrelated personal anecdotes?

In the first example, the person feels justified insulting you because as a zombie you have no feelings, but when you insult them back, well, you just hurt their feelings. In the second example, none of what you are saying is real because it does not relate to what is real to them, that is, their Subjective Reality.

On a deeper level, there’s religion. A person believes something because they feel it to be true. So for them the feelings signify truth. This disregards that other people with contrary religious beliefs have the exact same feelings about their faith. So if your feelings support your faith, then why don’t the feelings of others support theirs? The answer is because they do not have feelings. They are just zombies. Only you have feelings so only your feeling show truth.

Another sign of solipsism is called projection. This is when a person denies their own feelings and then projects them onto their perception of someone else. Suppose someone hates what they perceive in their minds as a particular group of people. They deny the hate but claim that group hates them, thus justifying any harsh actions towards that group. Their perceived enemy may not even know that they exist.

Looking at how the Subjective Reality relates to the Artificial Reality we need only see children in the marketplace with their parents. The child finds something they want and proclaims “I want to buy this”. This simple statement reveals that the child cannot conceive one of the key features of the Artificial Reality – economics.

Products are produced and sold to other people who exchange money, which is a symbol of their production, for products. The child produces nothing; therefore the child hasn’t any money to buy products. The child is dependent upon the production of his parents.

However, from the child’s perspective a new thing has entered their Subjective Reality and he wants it without any regard for the truth of economics. For him there is no Objective Reality or Artificial Reality and the rules they impose. There is only what he wants in his little subjective universe. This behaviour is not limited to children. Many adults decide that they want something and cannot conceive that it is unattainable according to the rules outwith their Subjective Reality. Like the child who throws a tantrum when his parent says no, these people throw tantrums when someone serves as the voice of reason.

Here’s another example of solipsism. Place where singles meet are called meat-markets. When it comes to relationships it really is a market with each person having a market value. In older times it was called the marriage market. Usually, the woman puts her goods on display to draw male customers and she decides from the bidders who gets the contract. Generally, the prime market time for a woman is her early twenties and for a man it is the early thirties. Recently, someone who discovered this point objected saying that girls her age, early twenties, find such men “creepy”. So let’s tear this statement down.

When a woman goes to the market and dresses to impress she expects to draw the attentions of men. If the men she draws are acceptable to her then all is well, but if the men are not acceptable then they are the subject of derision. If she finds him too old for her tastes he is a “creepy old man” if he lacks social skills, then she might say he is “a looser”. So the man’s actions are judged according to her Subjective Reality without any regards for the suitor’s feelings, personality, or character. After all, he is just a zombie.

Of course not all women are like the example and yes, all people judge others according to their Subjective rules. What makes this an example of solipsism is that the judgement is made without any regard for either Objective or Artificial Reality. The world is what it is, and what it is is how she perceives it to be. The man is creepy because she has determined it so. The only reality is the reality of her feelings about things.

I have always held that the worst quality a person could have is to be inconsiderate. Why? Because by its very definition – the absence of consideration – the offending person has no idea that they are being inconsiderate. They are so focused on their own Subjective Reality that they deny others their Subjective Reality. To be courteous is to remind yourself that others have the same human consciousness and feelings that you do. In essence, you remind yourself that other people are real too.

I subscribe to the Aristotelian idea that you are what you do. You are not your mind, your heart, or your ego. You are your will, because it is through will that you act or don’t act in the world. Through your volition you produce the words and deeds that define you as a person and set the course of your life.

But these actions do not emerge spontaneously. The building needs a blueprint, but the blueprint is not the building. The film needs its storyboard, but the storyboard is not the film. Our actions in the Objective Reality are the results of our thoughts and feelings in our unique Subjective Reality but not reality in and of themselves. Your thoughts and feelings are nothing more than your thoughts and feelings, however where the mind goes the body follows.

In 1925 Napoleon Hill published the book, The Laws of Success. The idea came from Andrew Carnegie who compiled a list of the great achievers of his day and commissioned Hill to interview them and discover the secret of their success. The book was the result. Twelve years later, Hill condensed the information and published the seminal work, Think and Grow Rich. This is seen as an early form of the current self-help phenomenon known as the Laws of Attraction which claims that human consciousness has the power to alter reality in sometimes miraculous ways.

However, this is just another conceit of the Subjective. It is important to understand the miracles that it can accomplish but also its limitations. It can lead us to great heights and accomplishments that appear miraculous but also to horrible disillusionments and even sins.

As Voltaire said, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” Belief in God has, in my opinion, brought more good than ill, at least the Christian God. Belief is quite possibly one of the greatest drives for human activity for right and wrong, but this is all the result of the Subjective driving human action in the Objective and the Subjective is ultimately a chosen illusion.

Because human beings live in the real world of the Objective Reality and simultaneously exist within the realm of their own pocket universe of their Subjective Reality, we are capable of incredible things but also prone to sometimes disastrous cognitive biases.

A cognitive bias is basically a faulty perception of Objective Reality that leads to a faulty representation of reality in our Subjective model. Here’s a list of some http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases or for something a bit more entertaining there’s this video.

An example of one such bias is the confirmation bias. This means that you can only see facts that support your preconceived notions. So if you believe that all Blacks are criminals, then you will only notice Blacks who are criminals and not notice those who are not.

Likewise, perhaps you judge an individual in the negative, then that is all you perceive in them and not the positive. If someone that you like gives you a gift you are grateful but if someone you do not like gives you a gift you think that they are insincere. Confirmation bias is one way that people sustain their subjective worldview whether their beliefs are valid or not and keep us in that state of solipsism.

Romanticism is all about individualism and individual feeling. The power of belief and emotion is to be embraced. However, on this path there is the danger of falling into solipsism, the danger of embracing your individualism and feelings but denying the individualism and feelings of others.

This is why Romantics must embrace the rule, “No man has claim on my life and I have no claim on the lives of others”. This means recognising the Natural Rights of others. It means reminding yourself that other people are people too and not zombies. I believe that by doing this mutual respect and courtesy that seems to be lacking in this day and age will make a return, for the sins of inconsideration, envy, jealousy, cruelty, selfishness, and arrogance all stem from the solipsistic belief that my reality is the only reality.

Imagine playing a competitive game against others. You are caught-up in the thrill and action of the moment and you think that you are doing pretty well. In fact, you think that you are winning. But then you look at the score and see that you are not doing as well as you had thought.

The scoreboard is Objective Reality. It is the final arbiter that governs all the little Subjective Realities under its gaze. It is the force of reason and the source of Natural Law. Every debate, argument, or conflict between the Subjective Realities of each unique individual should be decided through empirical means because that is the final word on Truth. Everything else is just self-centred egotism, also known as solipsism.