I still believe …

SATURDAY, 3 JULY 2004

Allow me to lay some truths on the table:

1. Identity plays a vital role in the normal functioning of an individual.

2. The particular community in whose midst an individual is born and where he or she grows up plays a central role in the formation of identity.

3. It is very common that a particular religion is closely connected with a particular community; this particular religion is in many cases a crucial determinant of identity for people who were born and who grew up in this community.

4. For the adherents of various religions, it is essential to lay claim to the universal application of a particular religious “truth”.

5. It is understandable if a person who was born and who grew up in a community where a “universal application” religion is a key determinant of identity, continues to recite these claims for the sake of their own particular identity, and also that they will communicate these claims to the next generation.

A question: Can a rational person be blamed if he has a sceptical attitude towards the claim to “universal truth” by the adherents of any particular religion?

To put it differently:

a) Communities all around the world function as sources of particular identity.

b) To question, as an outsider, the validity of a particular community as a source of identity, simply because your own identity does not come from that source, is illogical. (Among other things, this means that someone who was born and who grew up outside your community can also question the validity of your community as a source of identity simply because their identity did not originate from the folds of your community.)

c) A particular religion is in many cases closely connected to a particular community, and plays a pivotal role in defining identity for people born in that community.

d) Community A is thus equal to Community B as a source of identity.

e) It can also be said that Religion A is equal to Religion B as a source of identity.

Three questions:

1. On what basis can followers of Religion A, taking into account the above points, still insist on universal application of their “truths” – across all historical, cultural, and other boundaries?

2. On what basis can the followers of Religion A – most likely followers of that particular religion because that particular religion had been a primary given factor in the process from which their identities developed – make the assertion that the value of their religion extends beyond the value of Religion B – that plays a similar role as a determinant of identity in Community B?

3. Where can the line be drawn between religion as a transmission medium of “timeless truths” (no matter how true they may be), and religion as a determinant of identity?

After thorough consideration of this subject, there remains a question that one cannot resist the temptation to ask: WHAT IS THE TRUTH?

It’s easy to recite one of the principles of secular religion and answer, “The truth is relative.”

However, I still believe that there is an ABSOLUTE, UNIVERSAL TRUTH. I also believe that the particularity of fate data with which everyone is confronted at birth, the givenness of instruments with which to express an awareness of individual self, and the significant role of religion as a co-determinant of identity are all pieces of the puzzle that is the TRUTH.

Finally, do I think it is possible for a human being – a living member of the species Homo sapiens – to know the absolute, universal, timeless truth?

My answer remains, without doubt, no.

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The value of personal agendas

THURSDAY, 1 JULY 2004

The value of personal agendas (I)

In the end, a personal agenda can be a catalyst for intellectual growth or for the pursuit of some or other ambition. Plato also needed his own personal agenda – opposition to the relativism of the Greek philosophers known as the Sophists – to come up with “universal and particular” – concepts that a had significant influence on the development of Western philosophical tradition.

FRIDAY, 2 JULY 2004

The value of personal agendas (II)

If the four members of the Beatles had not rebelled against their given selves and the options of adult life that were deemed appropriate considering what had been given to them but had in fact wholeheartedly accepted these things, they would quite possibly have become dockworkers or teachers of office clerks in Liverpool.

If Vladimir Lenin’s brother had not been arrested by agents of the Tsar’s regime and later executed, Lenin’s personal agenda may not have driven him to playing a vitally important role in the establishment of the Soviet Union.

In other words, accept yourself … to an extent?

[In the language of the digital age: I accept my operating system to a degree, but here is nevertheless a few hundred additional lines of code that I want to work in.]

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Money, the labour market, and how you function

WEDNESDAY, 30 JUNE 2004

If I had money this past decade, or if I had money more often, and in greater quantities … if I could have been in a position during the last decade of my life where a steady income would have been unnecessary, it would have radically influenced my process of self-discovery and self-definition.

One possibility: If my family were wealthy, and my parents made it clear early on in my teenage years that I will receive a substantial sum of money every year, starting from my eighteenth birthday, just because I am so lucky to have been born as their son, I would probably have focused much less of my attention starting from my late teens on obtaining a position in the labour market within the next five to seven years. I’m not saying I would necessarily have been an unproductive oxygen thief, but if I did not need to prepare my person for the labour market or the business world, I would not have been the person now typing these words.

Another possibility: If I, as the son of working middle class parents, won a massive fortune in a lottery at the age of eighteen, with a guaranteed monthly dividend paid into my bank account until the end of my physical existence, my subsequent process of self-definition would also not, among other things, have included the annoyance of having to appear in a satisfactory fashion to the labour market in order to provide in my own daily needs.

A third possibility would be if I had designed a product in my late twenties that would have earned me millions in royalties since then. In such a case, the character that would have crawled out at the other end of the process tunnel would have been one who – because of initial experiences in my adult life – would have known how it feels to modify personal appearances for the purpose of generating an income, and who would also know how it feels to not have to do this anymore.

Simple conclusion: If you have access to sufficient funds to make it unnecessary to have to earn an income to keep yourself alive, you do not function in the same way as people who have to toil every day to ensure there’s enough food on the table, and a roof over their heads. And since you have less need to function in a way that is to a large extent prescribed or highly recommended, you have more room to discover other possibilities for your personal development and to define your person in other ways.

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What is GIVEN, and what you CHOOSE

TUESDAY, 29 JUNE 2004

It is my birthday for another 29 minutes, so I believe it’s permissible to send more useful, yet unverifiable statistics up in the air: Nine-nine percent of the world population function because they have accepted, mostly uncritically, their Given Selves, and only develop distinguishing identity from the given possibilities and with options directly related to a specific time and place. One percent of the world population, on the other hand, confront their Given Selves, accept what they cannot change (such as that the person was born in Pretoria in the Republic of South Africa on Tuesday, 29 June 1971) regardless of whether or not they would have preferred it otherwise, and then focus on a Process of Defining Their Selves that will always remain within a particular framework (I cannot become a dog even if I want to), but would nevertheless result in an outcome where the person will be able to announce that he has become his “own” man or that she has become her “own” woman – a poetic concept more than it is technically true.

So, what am I?

The beginning: I am a man, born in South Africa, the son of Afrikaans-speaking parents who are descendants of mostly European small farmers, soldiers, servants and artisans who had arrived in South Africa a few centuries ago; I grew up within a particular cultural setting, with particular notions of good and evil, and particular ideas about what you should do with your life, how one ought to live, where, and with whom. This is my GIVEN Self.

The story continues: At age 33, I am this Given Self who have made myself at home in Kaohsiung, a city on the south-western coast of Taiwan, who earns an income and thereby sustain myself through teaching English classes at a few local schools. I live alone in a three bedroom apartment in a neighbourhood full of Chinese civil war veterans and their descendants. Sometimes I speak as much Chinese as Afrikaans or English on any given day, I use a bicycle as my primary mode of transportation, and I spend most of my productive time writing. These things are all representative of my CHOSEN Self – constructed on the foundation of my Given Self, and remaining within the limited possibilities of time and place.

This is me, at 23:47 on the night of Tuesday, 29 June 2004.

WEDNESDAY, 30 JUNE 2004

(00:11)

This matter of CHOSEN versus GIVEN self will stimulate interest among the one percent who have already gone through a conscious and active process of self-confrontation and self-definition, and another fraction of people who “think about these things”, but for whom the process is still in a rudimentary stage.

(This process of self-confrontation and self-definition occurs on many levels. The difference in my own case is that I constantly make notes about it; I am therefore very aware of the process; I can also follow my own tracks back and thereby show others how one person – me – has arrived at a certain point.)

(11:05)

If Absolute Given Self – let’s define it as someone who uncritically views the source of their self, namely the environment in which they were born and formed, as more superior than any other source – is at one extreme of the spectrum, what is on the other end? It is to grow out of all you’ve been given as far as possible and to become as much as possible the product of your own process of self-definition? Is that what all of us should strive for?

Important as it may seem, I do not believe this should be the highest aspiration for any individual. What is more important – and I also expressed this view earlier, is the results of your life. Both (Mainly) Given Self and (To a Large Extent) Chosen Self are means to this end.

In some cases, the person-model “given” to an individual is sufficient to achieve positive results. In other cases, the person must go beyond the given model. Why so? Possibly for no other reason than because the person is or was either NOT HAPPY or NOT SATISFIED with their GIVEN SELF!

However, both self-models aim to enable the person to function in the first place, and in the second place to produce (hopefully positive) results of their lives.

* * *

QUESTION: What is the difference between those who are unsure of themselves, and those who are (apparently) not saddled with this type of personal dilemma?

ANSWER: In both cases, the person looks at who they are as a given – gender, appearance, socio-economic background, aptitudes, intelligence and other genetic factors, and particular relationships that determine who and what they are without them having had a choice about it; that is, all the factors that were given to them by chance without them having had a choice about it. Choices that were made over the years do, as a matter of course, contribute to the who-and-what the person is confronted with in their Great Existential Moment, but even choices are always relative to the given factors. (It is necessary to note that positive choices in a context where a negative choice could have been made easily enough, are always to the credit of the person who made the choice, regardless of the positive given factors that increased the probability of a positive choice.)

A person who finds herself in the “sure-of-herself” category, is to a significant degree satisfied with who and what she is, and probably wants to continue to be who and what she is. This person’s confrontation with herself was, and still is, a predominantly positive experience. This person can continue to function as a relatively satisfied who-and-what.

Someone in the “unsure-of-himself” category, goes through a period characterized by a so-called identity crisis – uncertainty about who and what he is, uncertainty about his place in the world, and uncertainty about the value of his particular life. Feelings of alienation from his environment, discontent, and self-contempt are in many cases intertwined with these self-doubts. This person confronts his “given self” and regards it as NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

In better cases, this type of self-confrontation sets off a search for a more satisfying identity, for what will ultimately produce a more satisfying sense of self. However, many people experience this type of self-confrontation as painful and traumatic. These individuals do not always understand the reasons for their feelings of alienation. They easily misdiagnose their discontent as the result of personality flaws: “I don’t know why I’m always so negative about everything. There must be something wrong with me.” Eventually self-contempt intensifies discontentment just as much as it is a result thereof. Further alienation between the individual and significant others – family, even friends – is an almost inevitable consequence.

Thousands, even millions of lives are soured every day by misunderstanding regarding these phenomena. Many lives are also ended far too early and unnecessarily because of negative emotions that overwhelm the person to such an extent that he or she feels it can no longer be contained.

ADDITIONAL NOTES:

1. A further possibility is that you may be relatively satisfied with your given self, and satisfied with your given environment, but you want more of the good that you already have. The reasons for this may have to do with personal experiences that still leave you hungry, despite your relative satisfaction, for confirmation of your own value, or it may simply be driven by a sense of adventure.

2. There is certainly also the possibility that you are not even convinced of your given self, where even the data that is supposed to give you an indication is so fragmented and inconsistent that even a quest for who you are supposed to be, may take years.

* * *

Predominantly Given Self and To A Great Extent Chosen Self are both self-models that enable the person to function as an Individual Entity. Both self-models enable the person to make choices and to take certain actions that would eventually lead to certain results. A difference can be found between individual manifestations of these two types in the degree of satisfaction with regard to self-functioning, as well as in the quality of the results achieved.

A few days ago I considered myself a “1” and someone who functions as predominantly given self still a “0”, but I now declare that I am finally again a “1” – the same as the person who functions as predominantly given self.

What was I then, before – or in varying degrees since I left high school up to a point in the recent past? I was mostly a “0” for the simple reason that I had rejected so much of my given self that I found it difficult to function in the world where I was born and at the particular time when my life was supposed to play out.

I can thus again take my place in the “ordinary current of life” [as Dostoevsky wrote in Crime and Punishment] because my CHOSEN SELF (the result of the acceptance of given aspects that cannot be changed, plus self-definition, plus choices) is a viable alternative to what is good enough for a large percentage of the world population, that is, PREDOMINANTLY GIVEN SELF.

I now know who I am, because I defined it myself. I know what I am, because I have sorted it out myself. And I know where my place in the world is, because I have decided where it is.

(Is there a qualitative difference between my “1” and the average “1”? Possibly so, and possibly not. What is important, is that I changed my classification from “problematic functioning” to “satisfactory functioning”, not necessarily from “functional” to “better”.

Has the whole process been worthwhile if I am not better than the average? Of course, because I’m alive.)

* * *

[Highly satisfied with this new insight, I went ahead with its application in my own life. Please excuse any repetition.]

Starting plus-minus 1994 I did not have a functioning self; or, I did have a functioning self, but I was so filled with uncertainty (and anxiety as a result thereof) that I did not have a sustainable functioning self. The difference, in my case, between who-and-what-1994 and who-and-what-2004, is between “functioning self, but filled with anxiety and uncertainty, which means continued functioning can not be taken for granted” and “functioning self with confidence which means continued functioning is highly likely”.

Are my notes on this process relevant for anyone else – considering that it is so intimately connected with my own particular life and the factors that have made it what it is?

Partly because no one likes to waste time, I would surely want to respond positively. But I am not the only individual who did not (or does not) want to accept certain aspects of my given self. So, I believe that my meticulous notes, regarding a process that took me years to identify, have value for more people than just myself. Plus, if I bump my head one day and I must start afresh to get to know myself, it will naturally also be of value to myself again.

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Concoction full of thoughts

MONDAY, 28 JUNE 2004

(00:02)

Children are the easiest “result of a life” to produce. The hard part comes afterwards.

(00:09)

Parents – in the ideal parent-child scenario – leave children behind as a result of their lives. Business people generate profit and leave businesses behind. Entrepreneurs and inventors leave products behind. Artists leave art behind. Writers leave books behind. Architects leave buildings behind. Civil engineers leave infrastructure behind. Revolutionaries leave behind new political dispensations.

And then there is the revolutionary who also leaves behind children, the inventor who leaves behind children and profit, the writer who builds up a successful commercial enterprise from which many people can benefit until long after he has moved on …

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