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What Sort of Response Do We Hope for From Another Human Being?

“Love” is the obvious answer, and it’s not wrong, but it’s not exactly right either, because it’s possible to be the object of unwanted love.  It’s also a tricky word that means different things to different people.  Love can mean that I think the object of my love can do something for me — give me pleasure or keep me safe.  Do we hope that other human beings will view as a free candy machine distributing pleasure, or a powerful military robot?  Only if we are terrified of being ignored and that is the only way to achieve that goal — otherwise to be viewed that way is highly inconvenient.

Another possible answer is “assistance in achieving our goals”.  That is certainly, by definition, a response we hope for from everything we run across.  If they’re our goals we by definition want to achieve them, and, therefore, welcome assistance from everything — things, animals, and people — while at the same time we are displeased with frustration.  By the way, that does not make us bad people if our goals are good.  Think about a noble person dedicating herself to ending famine — nothing wrong with her evaluating the people she meets by asking the question “are they part of the problem or part of the solution”.

Nevertheless it’s not an entirely good answer because it does not tell us what we hope from people as people, as opposed to something else — organizations, tools, sums of money, things, or animals.

What sort of response do we hope from human beings that only human beings can give us?

My guess is we hope human beings will foster our freedom.

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Seeking an Authentic Response

I enjoy it when I make a joke and people laugh at it.  However I would not want them to laugh out of fear; if, for example, they are afraid they would get punished if they didn’t laugh at my jokes.  What if they were not afraid of punishment but were seeking a reward — for example, they wanted me to give them something?  I still wouldn’t like it.  No, what I want is for people to laugh at my jokes because they actually think they are funny.  It is validating.  It makes me feel good.

However if I learn the sorts of things that make people laugh and say them because I know people will laugh, even if I don’t think they’re funny, I don’t like that either.  Because in that case the person being motivated by fear, or the hope of a bribe or treat, is me.  For me to be happy at making jokes and being appreciated I have to know that neither me nor my audience is motivated by fear or the hope of a treat.

It requires a high level of trust between me and my audience.  They have to trust me not to say things I don’t genuinely feel are funny and I have to trust them not to laugh at things they don’t actually think are funny.  I have to make sure I am not imitating someone else, including myself five weeks ago.  They have to be careful they are actually laughing because they find what I say funny, and not out of nervousness, or the desire to be the sort of person who would find that sort of thing funny.   But if pull it off, if we are there for each other the result is a moment of genuine intimacy.

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Fear and Intimacy

I want to know and be known,  but have over the years created blocks to this out of fear.  I tend to try to placate people by pretending to be silly, childish, and unthreatening.  I don’t think I am entirely threatening, serious or adult, but those are cards in my hand which I tend to keep in the hand, while I play the other ones.  I am a bit like a traditional woman in this respect who has been taught that if she says what she thinks straightforwardly men will not find her sexy and attractive.  At the end of the day though I have had enough with the false front, because the performance prevents intimacy and is, on top of that, exhausting.  Will people like me the way I really am?  I don’t really know, but I know I cannot spend my very limited time pretending.

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Machiavelli: How to Live with Inevitable Tension

Bernard Crick in Democracy: A Very Short Introduction makes an interesting point about the virtue of democracy with reference to Machiavelli:

“Those who condemn the quarrels between the nobles and the plebs, seem to be,” he says, “condemning the very things that were the primary cause of Rome’s retaining her freedom.”  In every republic there are “two different dispositions that of the populace and that of the upper class and that all legislation favorable to liberty is brought about by the clash between them.” So, he concludes “if tumults led to the creation of tribunes, tumults deserve the highest praise.”

An inevitable tension exists between the way the rich, upper class members of a society would like to run things, and the way the mass would like to run things.  A constitution is a truce in this perpetual class war.  Rather than hope for perpetual peace, the best we can hope for, according to Crick, and Machiavelli, is a managed conflict.  The best we can hope for and the best we should hope for.  The dream of an end to the conflict is a totalitarian dream; a genocidal (or classicidal) fantasy.

Yet how do we put the Machiavellian insight into practice?  Do we stand back from the war between optimates and plebians, or do we take one side and add to the tumult because in the long run it will cause the greater freedom?  Maybe we participate in the conflict, but draw back from the abyss of total war because we have instrumentalized it.  We understand that the conflict is only worth pursuing if it leads to a more free society.  At the moment it stops doing that we lay down our arms.

It seems to me that these kind of unresolvable wars and tensions exist in personal life and inside the psyche as well as in the political community. If anybody deals with a severely mentally disabled family member you know there is a tension between saying “that is still Mom, she is just impaired” and “that is no longer Mom”.  Just as Machiavelli’s war between aristocrats and plebs leads to greater tension, allowing the war between these two positions to tear at our hearts leads to — what exactly?  Greater sensitivity?  Greater open-heartedness.  I’m not sure, but I believe it leads to something, something better than could be achieved by allowing either side to win.

How do we balance the different options?  These options include:

a)letting one side win

b)letting them fight each other fruitfully

c)letting this insight lead to despair or frustration

d)letting this insight lead us back from the brink of destruction?

The tricky thing is that the recognition that the two sides of the conflict are both required, itself can be enlisted in the conflict by one side or the other.

As Kierkegaard’s pseudonym Johannes Climacus reminds us, anybody can reflect on life.  What we need is some help in the tricky art of reflecting while still living.

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Do You Need Language to Think?

Back in Berkeley in the 90s, Donald Davidson thought you did. His argument was unless we saw a creature use language we would have no evidence for believing it had thoughts.  All we would see was a creature in a causal relationship with its environment.

But what if a beaver constructed a ship and stocked it with food, went on a journey, checked the winds and when the winds provided evidence of bad weather adjusted its journey by stopping and getting more food for the longer journey?  If the beaver misjudged and overstocked based upon the wind then it mis thought and therefore thought, and this happened without language.

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These Three

He believed a delicatessen

Was a place for delicate people to learn

a lesson

He was wrong.  Riled up and riled down

Conquistador Clown

 

They were aware of options that had never been exercised

Since the world was young

One by one they elected each other pope, until no one was left

Antonia Chung

 

It blasted a whole through its own brain

But it had two better ones

So it self-administered a therapeutic dose

Of ibogaine, menthodent and grain

 

The Leer Becher of Light Rain

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They Will Learn to Control You In Your Dreams

They will learn to control you in your dreams

Dapple-cheeked apple lads clad in sun raiment

They will dream to control you in your learning

Apple-clad leads and lads cheeked and bewaring

 

You will learn to control yourself, and that will be your dream

Apa chapa lapa, clad in the son, Raimund

Control the corsi, learn them, learn yourself

Lads of the chapparal, sun born Raymond

 

This part is the dream: that part is the learn (CNTRL)

Ray de Monde, the apple of the lad, Raymond

They will learn you to control yourself, and that will be the dream-time

When the cheeks spread and reveal the birth-son named Raymond

 

Oh, Raymond, son, moon, cheek, apple lad

I don’t learn it anymore, I have lost control

of my waking and dreaming.

 

–translated from the Welsh by Brook Angel-Wapner

 

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