Silly little season

So maybe it’s just me, but has anyone else noticed this “christmas” thing? Seems like it’s everywhere these days, like you can’t sit down without hearing a jingle on the radio or seeing a colored light …

Ok, so maybe that’s just me being a little pedantic about the whole thing. Actually, I like this time of year – this silly season as my father calls it – with all the hussel and bussel as it were. A month long theme holiday, with much of the time spent preparing for one single days worth of merriment. Or 12 depending on how you put it together (I like vacations too). To hear some speak, this joyous time is a direct result of the importance of the day being celebrated and I agree; not every day you decorate a conifer and give gifts to people you rarely see anymore. Of course, most of those in our Western countries tend to be thinking of the birth of Jesus on the 25th of December, which just happens to be Christmas Day. Coincidence, no?

Actually, no it ain’t, but we have all heard the historical information that the 25th is a bastardization of the Winter Solistice (actually on the 21st), a delightfully pagan little holiday complete with pagan rituals like giving gifts and decorating trees. Co-opt something popular like that and you’ll bask in the light of acceptance as well. But some take it one step further and argue that the thing that is doing the co-opting (JESUS) is the reason that this time of year is so peaceful and so full of joy and caring and blah blah blah. Actually, given the amount of turmoil on this planet daily, one gets the impression of rose coloured glasses, but I digress. It is special, they argue, precisely because of the imagined birth of a fairy tale character.

I tend to disagree, if that was not obvious already. Yes, this time of year is special, of that there is little doubt, at least among Western nations. Is it because of Christ and all that meandering? Sort of – the Christians can only lay claim to being partially to blame that it all occurs specifically in this month and not in some other. They co-opted a very popular set of ideas so they can’t exactly take all the credit. Then why is it so special. Is it because there is just something about this month? Is there magic in the air?

Nope – you know full well that magic is bullshit as is there something being special about this portion of the time stream. The planet was moving the day before and will be the day after in the same way it always does. Rivers continue to flow, the wind still blows, people still need to eat and sleep and pass waste. The 25th is little different than the 26th or the 24th … and yet one can undeniably state that the day seems special. Why? Well, I have an explanation. Now, I can’t say that my take on it is the “SUPER CORRECT OUTLOOK” or anything, but I will say that mine is rational on a philosophical level. Why? Easy – because we make it special. If there were no coloured lights, no special cakes and treats served only at that time, no holidays and no gift exchange, what would the 25th be other than the one after the 24th and before the 26th. If there was no special effort to shop for others, to see friends and family, special movies that marked the occasion or traditions that are followed … if we did not play the countless seasonal songs, if the Christians did not have their candles and wreaths and church events … if there were not special decorations and a special centre piece to the living room and all the other things we do, there would not be a christmas or a special season. Think about it – it is us humans that make this season special. We make the effort to make it special. We make our children anticipate it, we visit people to socialize it and we try to spread some cheer around this time, all in service of this period of time. It is all we can do to make it special. Sure, you can dig in and see that other than the man-made trappings, the 25th is just another collection of seconds, minutes and hours, like any other arbitrary counting scheme. Or you could slap the deep existential part of yourself square in the face and tell it to go to hell – this is a special time precisely because we MADE it that way and you are determined to enjoy it in that manner.

That’s my take. This season is what you and all of us make of it. Take the time and the effort to make it special and it will be. Uplifting, no? 🙂

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God Is Dead

So I know there’s some of you who quite rightly don’t really care much for existentialism – That said I think Nietzsche stands above most. And as such thought it might be worth posting this. Hope it’s interesting :)

For the philosopher Ricoeur, philosophical hope is the binary opposite to anguish, in that it is the only way such a state of being can be countered. Whereas Nietzsche’s statement that “God is dead” is a metaphor that claims civilisation has advanced to the point where the concept of God is no longer relevant to human society. The concept of God is innately connected to the idea of hope, and since Nietzsche rejects God, it stands to reason that he also rejects the idea of hope as a means to balance anguish. As such we can see a similarity in that both Nietzsche and Ricoeur both seem to agree that primary affirmation and hope does not reconcile our anguish, rather upholds it. Nietzsche however, takes the view that affirmation in itself is being, rather than a mode of being.

“What is affirmation in all its power? Nietzsche does not do away with the concept of being. He proposes a new conception of being. Affirmation is being.” (Deleuze 2006)

To make sure I am not guilty of the verbal fallacy of equivocation, I must make clear what is meant by the term ‘hope’ in both a religious or philosophical perspective. Even though the source of hope may differ, its meaning remains the same; in that it is a belief that a positive outcome will occur, regardless of circumstance. For Ricoeur however, hope never entirely evaporates anguish – the two are necessary for each other to propagate, similar to a ying-yang concept of light and dark combining, to create meaning out of nothingness. Nietzsche seems to agree that hope is a perpetuator of anguish, but refers to this as an evil rather than a means to balance it. As we can see from the following quote:

“Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torments of man.” (Friedrich Nietzsche 1986)

This links back to Nietzsche’s assertion that God is dead. In order for man to be free, he must embrace his anguish and become stronger from it – in order to transcend into the Übermensch (Superman). It is hope that holds us back from achieving such a goal, which in Nietzsche’s view should be a transcendence that all people should aspire to. At the core of western religious belief is the notion that there is a better life awaiting one who follows the doctrine of said religion, thus creating hope in spite of whatever unfavourable circumstances people find themselves in, but in doing so; leaves one complacent to accept their anguish, and forever remain in the shadow of religion.

If we take both accounts to be true, they appear to be somewhat paradoxical; if hope is simultaneously the cause and the upholder of anguish, then how can anyone break for of it? The answer, to which Nietzsche would agree – as mentioned above, is that isn’t possible and therefore you shouldn’t try to. It’s no surprise he would take this view however, as in his own life, Nietzsche was no stranger to inescapable anguish; as a long term sufferer of a variety of unpleasant illnesses since his childhood, it is easily understood why he would give up on the idea of hope and seek solace in another way of thinking. Which makes a great deal of sense, as it is fair to assert that in one way or another, anguish is an inescapable aspect of life. Instead of waging a war that can never be won, it is better to lay down arms – and focus on ways in which we can improve ourselves, despite our anguish. There is an irony of course, that many religious doctrines say a similar thing about anguish, pain and suffering as necessary evils, in order for one to become closer to God. But this highlights perfectly what Nietzsche was trying to portray by stating that “God is dead”. The journey one takes whenever one tries to transcend themselves – will lead them to the same place, but the key difference is that the hope that belief in God provides is no longer necessary. All that we need is the will to better ones self, in essence to become our own God.

In reference to Ricoeur, true anguish in the form of ‘The wrath of God’ is a symbolic interpretation of the fruitless attempt to reconcile human suffering to some form of good. As the following extract explains:

“… But unlike absolute knowledge, primary affirmation secretly armed with hope, brings about no reassuring Aufhebung; it does not surmount, but affronts, it does not reconcile, but consoles; this is way anguish will accompany hope to the last day.” (Ricoeur 1965)

This seems to indicate that Ricouer has a problem with the idea of a metaphysical solution/ reflection as a means to escape anguish, by comparing it to Hegel’s concept of absolute knowledge, which he describes as a ‘journeys end’ where such knowledge is found, perhaps much in the same way Nietzsche describes, when one transcends into the Übermensch.

In conclusion, it does seem that what Nietzsche meant by stating ‘God is dead’ is a form of what Ricoeur refers to as true anguish in relation to philosophical hope, in that both conclude that hope is inextricably and unavoidably linked to anguish. However the key difference is that Nietzsche saw affirmation as being in itself, and as such – hope is not necessary to achieve self betterment. This is a powerful sentiment, as it is easy to imagine the benefits of such a perspective, rather than focusing in on what causes us anguish, therefore ending up being trapping ourselves in negativity. We accept its inevitability, and use it to propel us forward, without the constraints of religious dogmatism and restriction.

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