Posted in book review

Aristotle’s Way by Edith Hall

Tolstoy in Anna Kararina knows a thing about the Aristotelian school of subjective happiness thus: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its way.” Happiness is an antidote to depression out of hopelessness and envies out of disappointment in a purely subjective sense. It requires only self-will to choose the light and to follow it by constantly taming your brittle spirit via lifelong habit until you find a sense of why you are here in this world. If you doubt it as a cliche, then meet Aristotle, the student of Plato, who was the student of Socrates, and the private tutor of Alexander. 

Along with his great predecessor Socrates, Aristotle was a thinker who billeted Philosophy from the heavens at the houses of mortals so that she could show them how to cope with the harsh realities of the world that discombobulated a sense of purpose in life. Aristotle’s main concern was that people weighed heavily on the outward material success as a sign of well-being and a carte blanche to happiness, which would lead people astray with a sense of emptiness inside. For example, we can’t know if all those glossy selfies on Facebook and Instagram reflect the real lives of those uploading them. Or the lives of Hollywood stars who predicate on images and styles are not, in fact, worth admiration, as revealed in the recent defamation trial of Depp v. Heard, in which Depp’s braggadocio of recalcitrant drug and alcohol uses combined with alarmingly repulsive backstage personality, is simply disgraceful. On the contrary, the Uber drivers I have come across appear to be more satisfied with their lives, content with their independent work mode, and love of families. This Aristotle refers to a state of eudaimonia, a feeling of bliss, however small it is, because it comes from a higher sense of pleasantness from within. 

Of course, Aristotle’s way is not instant magic and may not show visible effects in one fell swoop, but it is a long-term remedy like a physical therapy that will show improvement. Aristotle’s way is not fanciful but practical with two recipes for the malady of hearts: (1) to keep everything in moderation, called the “Golden Mean”; and (2) training yourself continuously and actively to do the right thing like a habit. Aristotle reminds us that excellence is not an act but a habit. This happiness school parallels Emerson’s dictum that thinking is the function, and action is the functionary. So this is Aristotle’s simple but sophisticated stairways to your happiness, and I think it’s worth trying. No wonder his student Alexander became great. 

Posted in book review

‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman – book review

We are not always right in what we believe. What we see with the eyes may not be the truth but in the likeness of truth as our instinctual response to sensory stimuli is swifter and mightier than the wise arbitrator of reason. Whether you like it or not, we procrastinate diligently assessing what the senses tell us, bypassing the voice of reason and judgment. Using automatic and biased instinct is a mental shortcut to make a judgment call in one fell swoop, sans inconvenience of time and cognitive analysis. Socrates knew it, Plato portrayed it, Aristotle acknowledged it, Shakespeare saw it, and now in our time Daniel Kahneman, an Israel-American psychologist and economist interpretes it in this book.

Kahneman illustrates our intuition, or sense, as System I and mind, reason, as System 2. System 1 activates the images stored in a mind’s cabinet when prompted to evaluate the stimuli. There are three factors contributing to this design of instant machinery of thinking without an assistant of reason: available information, time constraints, and limited cognitivity. The system is highly biased, touchy, and impatient like a quick-tempered, spoiled celebrity. It is tuned to subjective truth inured to sensory perceptions about our surroundings and ourselves with quick fixes without consulting System 2, the voice of reason, the superego, which strives for objective truth. But such a dichotomy of Sense and Reason has always been observed and acknowledged, as I introduced earlier in this writing. For example, Plato alluded to the Chariot of Two Horses, of which one is noble and logical, and the other impulsive and recalcitrant. But the difference between Plato and Kahneman is the applicability of the mind-system to the principle of economic activities and consequences.

The book is a steady bestseller, readable to all ranges of readers who want to search for the cause of their mental malaise and existential vertigo. What might have been a reiterating modern interpretation of how the mind works proves to be a piece of practical advice on how to overcome emotional trauma and live a purposeful and gainful life as thus: 1) When the signs of ill-judged biases arise from within, slow down and ask for reinforcement of the spirit of System 2. In doing so, we must acquire such skills to dominate the hubris of System 1 in a regular steady environment that provides an adequate opportunity to practice and rapid and unequivocal feedback about the correctness of thoughts and actions. If you still prefer a mental and physical shortcut to put the aforesaid into more effortless locomotion, how about taking the simple advice from Socrates?: “When unpleasant, depressive thoughts begin to cast on you, breathe deeply once, then bring a smile to your face.” Too trivially mundane? “Of course, you have to make it a habit,” quibbled Aristotle to support his teacher.

Posted in Miscellany

Why she lost

The case of Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard has gone viral on social media platforms since the trial began a few weeks ago, Amber Heard could have been quickly on the winner’s circle. She must have believed that it was all over but the shouting that the goddess of victory was on her side. Yet, it appears to be anything but, and she has become some modern-day Jezebel.

The current defamation trial brought by Johnny Depp against his ex-wife Amber Heard has been broadcast live, which I became strangely attracted to. Perhaps, it’s the biggest and most sensational court drama since the OJ Simpson case was also broadcast live. Or perhaps, it’s about Johnny Depp. His bohemian image and matching film characters render him uber-cool and unassuming compared to his Hollywood peers, creating halo effects of being likable and honest. When I read the comments about the trial on Youtube, I was surprised by the social dynamics of praising Depp to the detriment of Amber, who has no friends from any gender. The defendant is alone in this battle, forsaken by her community of actors and actresses, and she is not sorry. Her confident demeanor is translated to be arrogant, cold, and irritated. Sometimes, she looks bored and drawn, as if she knows that she will lose the case. And you know what? In the witness box, Heard didn’t even act convincingly that she was a victim of the alleged domestic violence because her expressions transpired a lack of emotional delivery. If she trusted her beauty to excel her peers as the most sought-after actress, then she should learn that Marlyn Moroe was wise enough to know that beauty was a fad and that she took an acting course and an English literature course at night.

I opine that the reason Heard is losing is her personality, she is conspicuous in all she looks and she acts. Apart from the truth, Heard fails to gain favorable votes from the general public that she has proudly overlooked because of those disgraceful acts that flow from her words and actions. Shakespeare, who himself was also an actor, knew about the world of Tinsletown Beauties thus: “All that glitters is not gold.” Now I know it.

Posted in Miscellany

Tears for Children

People like to blame deities for tragedy of human lives to avert their fury to the forces unseen. But most problems in the world are manmade and not entirely unresolvable. Such is the case of the children of present-day Ethiopia. They are maimed or killed by weapons of political hegemony, territorial dispute, and ideological subjective for which no gods but humans are responsible.

According to an article from the Reuters, 3,320 children have been either killed or maimed as a result of stepping into buried explosives from the civil war between Prime Minister Ably Ahmed’s government and Tigrayan forces commanded by leaders of the TPLF, the party that controls most of the Tigray region and used to run the federal government. It is this TPLF’s use of land mines that destroys the lives of the children in the region. The number above of children casualties is, in fact, only a fraction of the reality when more children are becoming guiltless victims of furious greed and evil ambition. These children are put into a deadly game of Squid Game against their will, and it is a form of violation against children. In the west, people associate child abuse with sexual exploitation by default, whereas they are more exposed to physical beatings and mental harassment. The present case of Ethiopian children’s casualty applies to physical and psychological violence because the effects are indelibly carved on their bodies and minds, changing the course of their lives. If a fifteen-year-old girl stepped onto a landmine while trying to collect water from a river, would she be liable for losing her leg for life?

When it comes to war ranging from a domestic, familial fight to a full-scale national war, the memories become traumas that become lifelong narratives, depending on a child’s degree of sensitivity. But the children’s minds are like blanket slates where they write what the eyes see, and the ears hear. All children in the world, even in the remotest touch of civilization, are innocent and to be loved with care. However, my head swivels in wonderment when people seem to care more about children based on their countenance, preferably familiar with their kinds or attractiveness. Not only do Ukrainian refugee children deserve our attention, but Ethiopian children call our attention to stop this vile violence against children of any kind. So why not campaign against it with an international movement? Would Greta Thunberg be interested in the cause? I wonder.

Posted in Miscellany

Musing on Earth Day

Glass globe photographed in a moth forest

With the power of the mind put into practice for conserving nature, we can make the whole world a better place because we are part of nature, made of fire, water, earth, and air.

In our annual celebration of this year’s Earth Day, we want to spread the spirit of Mother Nature. We want all to find the beauty of life in music from the trills of birds in the rhythm of running brooks, words of wisdom in the susurrus of trees, and books in the vivid scarlet twilight of the sunset lingering in the west. The wonders of nature tame belligerent brutes and soften the hardened hearts of cynics.

One-touch of nature makes the whole world kin. In the arms of Mother Nature, we are all her children, so keeping the earth clean and livable is our filial duty to her.