Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Hipster

If you have lived in New York within the past 10 years or so, you've undoubtedly had to encounter, the hipster. The hipster's goal is to try to turn themselves into a moving canvas of stylistic, visual art, so that they can advertise to the world that they're cool. They pay very close attention to their hair and clothes, and every look is carefully designed to have significance, with an often historical context. For example, a hipster might be trying to achieve a look straight out of an obscure 70s film that garnished a cult following, or they might be trying to emulate their favorite post punk or rockabilly band. Being a New Yorker, I too of course have always been the type that has cared a little more than average about my style. Fashion to me is a means for expression that you give to the outside world. You might be the type that wants to say "I don't give a shit" and your fashion sense might reflect that, but I've always wanted to look cool, even if I wasn't.

Now the origin of the hipster, perplexes me. "Hipsters" or people fitting the generally agreed upon definition, have their roots at least as far back as the 1940s Jazz culture. These music aficionados didn't sport asymmetrical haircuts, or drink PBRs, but they use an in-group slang and were hip to things average folks new nothing of, like heroine. Then there was the beatniks of the 1950s and 60s, who often lived in the bohemian areas of cities in sort of urban communes. They were artsy, often into poetry, into left-wing politics, and had hair styles and facial hair that the "squares" of the day disapproved of. The beatniks evolved into the hippies, who grew their hair even longer and took their style even further than what was considered mainstream. The 70s and 80s brought in a lot of new styles, ranging from the yuppy, to the punks rockers, to the disco style. There was a small trace of the urban hipster in the most bohemian of neighborhoods through out the world at this time. I was a child of the 90s and looking back at the fashion back then I can tell you I would never want to revisit that style. The Hip Hop culture had seeped in, and everything became over-sized and baggy. There was an alternative skater culture that I remember well in the mid to late 90s that I did enjoy. I remember when side burns were in style wanting them so bad before I could actually grow them. They came, but just a little too late.

For me personally, since I was just about the right age at that time, the hipster revival came in the form of The Strokes. When The Strokes came on the scene, they had a style that was so retro, and so cool in such a New York downtown way, that I was instantly drawn to them. I never really got into their music that much personally, but their style inspired me and totally changed my direction fashion-wise. They made tight jeans cool again. I suddenly hated baggy pants and hated name brand fashion. I grew my hair longer, and I began shopping in vintage clothing stores downtown, looking for anything cool and retro that wasn't some commercial name brand ghetto hoodrat or preppy Abercrombie and Finch type shit (commercial retailers eventually caught up with this trend with mimicry, as is always the case when something becomes fashionable). And I wasn't alone. Suddenly all over New York's hipper neighborhoods, throngs of young people were tightening their pants, and adopting the retro styles that The Strokes had laid down for us. From my experience, this was sometime around 2001-2002, and the modern hipster was reborn.

With so many people, especially men, becoming so fashion conscious, it was only a matter of time before the "metrosexual" emerged. Now the metrosexual is not necessarily a hipster, in fact there are many significant differences. While a hipster and a metrosexual will both wear tight jeans, the hipster will often have longer and messier hair (usually in a very deliberate manner) while the metrosexual will often have his hair short and styled. The hipster will often have a scruffy or full on lumberjack beard, whereas the metrosexual will usually be clean shaven or sport a very neatly trimmed beard. The hipster is more retro, more vintage, and the metrosexual is more into designer fashion, often European in origin. They both are often skinnier than average, and might act a little more effeminate than the average male, but the metrosexual definitely takes the time to workout.

10 years after this cultural revival, hipsterdom is not dead as some critics have suggested. The epicenter of the scene in New York moved from the East Village, to Williamsburg sometime on the middle of the last decade. Hipsterdom has become a popular topic for discussion when with friends. I'm often asked, "are you a hipster?" "No", I reply, "I'm a fucking world travelling, cosmopolitan, intellectual. I just have a sense of style." According to legend, no self righteous person, however fashionable, could admit to being a hipster.

Aside from the fashion sense of hipsters, let's look at the bigger cultural impacts. Unlike the hippies, hipsters had no draft to dodge, no cultural squares to rebel against. The war in Iraq, although it paralleled in some of the animosity against the Vietnam War, failed to mobilize the hipsters in large numbers, probably because there was no draft. The 90s culture full of its angry Nu-Metal and Hip Hop was just as sexually charged as any indie rock band. In fact, many of the indie rock bands that came out during, and in the wake of The Strokes, were softer and more romantic in their approach towards sexual relations than the bands of the 90s. The indie rock revival, of which the hipsters are synonymous with, was not a rebellion to push for more violence or more sexuality, that had already been pushed. I will say however, that homosexuality during the last decade has made a leap forward into mainstream acceptance, in part with help from the sexually liberal hipster culture.

What will the future hold for the hipster?

Some are saying that the hipster culture is dead. I just see it evolving into the mainstream like every other subculture until there is a significant backlash against it. What will the future bring in terms of fashion? The hipsters have already brought retro back. Even the clean cut looks of the 40s came back into style. Who knows? I don't really dwell on fashion as I do on topics of intellect. Drinking in Williamsburg today one does not see evidence of the hipster dying, and hipsterdom appears alive and well.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Understanding Zen and its Practical Applications


The Zen philosophy puts great emphasis on the perpetual now. The time is always now, it is never the future, it is never the past. And just like how spring doesn't turn into summer, and summer doesn't turn into fall, you don't turn into the person you will be tomorrow. You only exist and can only exist in the here and now. Thinking about this concept of time and of existence, I cannot escape my mind from my solidified western approaches to existence. And that is the belief that I am the same person I was, and the same person I will be, I change like the seasons do, and although I can only exist at the present, I am inextricably tied to my past. And so I struggle with this conflict, in hope of a reconciliation. I admit that I do dwell way too much on the past. Events that have happened years ago, often have their way of popping into memory, sometimes at the ugliest of times. Sometimes I am consumed with a past memory, that it makes me surrender to it. It controls me. The neurons and impulses in my brain that compose this thought have such power over me that I let it affect my future. This the Zen master, knows too well.

So how do I reconcile these two views on one's state of existence in relation to time? Our past certainly affects our present. If I had a child in my past, that likely means that I am a father now. If I ate some bad food in my past, that will affect my health here in the present. How does one not let the past affect the present when almost everything about the present is set down by events in the past? I think it's foolish to act as if the past doesn't exist, because it can lead to irresponsibility. So how then does the Zen master view time? Zen teaches that the past doesn't exist, and neither does the future, there is only the present. In other words, the me that existed in high school all those years who, does not exist. I only exist in the here and now. The me of yesterday also does not become the me of today. In practice, there is an important bit to be learned here. And that is that we too often let our past determine our future. When I had failures with women in my past, I learned that every new meeting with a woman was a unique experience, and that no problem I had in my past will affect this new encounter, unless I allowed it to. If I had let my past failures determine my future, every time I'd meet a woman, I would have already declared defeat before it started. A negative outlook on life is not a recipe for success.

The existence of suffering is one of Buddhism's four noble truths. Being that suffering is a bit different for everyone, its reconciliation is different as well. I am forced into an environment that that I don't like, around people I don't like, to do a job that I don't like. The stress from this is making me get older and am starting to see the results. I've passed the apex physically, and I know that from here on out, my body will be in a perpetual state of decline. This is beginning to cause me increasing depression. We all handle it slightly differently. The best thing I could do would be to get a new job, spend more time doing what I like and spend more time with people that matter to me. While easier said that done, it could be accomplished with enough diligence and hard work.

I am really scared of the effect that stress has on aging faster. I see gray hairs sproughting up where they weren't before. My skin looks weathered at times. I recently went shopping and bought a bunch of clothes a 23 year old would fancy. I feel a strong urge to desperately cling to my youth before it completely evaporates away. The stress I get from my job increases the aging process that is also causing me stress, and so I have a run away process that I ultimately will come out on the losing end of. I would like to practice meditation and to get back into nature. I need peace in my life. I need also to be around people that I like. I need to build strong relationships with like minded individuals, and indulge in my healthier passions. I need to stop listening to that voice in my head of negativity. I need to stop letting the past control my present and future. I need to be more confident in who I am and to stop putting false limitations on myself. These are all things I know in theory but need to be put to be put in practice. The Zen concept towards time and existence, I think adds a positive outlook to dealing with one's past. Do not let the past control your life. Treat everyday is a clean slate, with no residue from yesterday, to be filled in with new experiences.




Wednesday, July 18, 2012

On Evolving Phlilosophy and Ideas


Looking back at my earlier posts is sometimes revealing in how I thought at that time. I have certainly changed my opinion on quite a few things. My blog has become an insightful reflection on my philosophical evolution. For example, I had previously written that when it comes to ethical epistemology, I'm a consequentialist. While I haven't exactly did an about-face, I now lean more towards utilitarianism but I acknowledge the virtue of deontology. Utilitarianism largely considers the consequences for determining what is moral and immoral. Utilitarianism can be summed up in its most basic teaching, that what is moral is "the greatest amount of good, for the greatest amount of people".

Though this is not a huge moral transition, I do accept the criticisms of utilitarianism that have been pointed out over the years, largely by deontologists. I understand that no one philosophy covers ethical dilemmas perfectly as they all have their flaws. Consider the following thought experiment: 10 people were kidnapped and are being held for ransom at some undisclosed location and you have just captured their kidnapper. He knows he is already going to jail and refuses to identify where he is hiding the people for fear that in doing so he will lose all hope of escaping criminal prosecution. The10 people will die of thirst in a few days if they are not found. Would it be ethical to torture the kidnapper so that he gives up the location of the 10 people? The utilitarian says yes: one suffers, and 10 lives are saved, we have successfully maximize the greater good.

Now imagine that the kidnapper under the threat of torture isn't at all phased and doesn't give up the information, but, you discover a bargaining chip. He has a young child of his own and you threaten to torture her. This makes the kidnapper unnerved, and realizing the kidnapper's susceptibility to his daughter's livelihood, you must ask yourself if it would be ethical to torture an innocent child to save the lives of 10 people? Based on utilitarian principle alone, the answer is yes. One gets tortured to save the lives of 10. In mathematical terms, the lives of the 10 kidnapped people, are of greater value that the single child's. But this is where utilitarianism opens up some scary possibilities. When thinking about this moral dilemma, I try and imagine how differently I would consider the situation if I were the child. Why should my well being be used as a means to someone else's end, especially when I had nothing to do with the events? Is it ever ethical to use human beings as a means to an end, or are all human beings ends in and of themselves? Deontological ethics of the Kant variety would say the latter, and that it would never be right to torture the child no matter how many lives could potentially be saved. The utilitarian takes the former, in that the moral thing to do would be whatever it takes to save the larger number of lives, even if it means torturing a child.

These two classically opposed ethical schools of thought, have no easy reconciliation. I say I lean more towards utilitarianism in most situations but by no means is it a dogmatic practice. The toolbox approach is best when tacking every kind of ethical problem. I think that in this situation I have described above, I would lean more towards the deontologist rather than side with the utilitarian. There is something about the sanctity of life that I  feel is inviolable. I am torn across the belief that we should never think it is OK to kill a human being, to save the many, at the very least, in theory. I know that would violate the very heart of utilitarianism's ethics, and I am kind of stuck in the middle between this most classic of ethical arguments between deontology and utilitarianism.

Rule utilitarianism attempts to strike a compromise between the two and does a decent job. Rule utilitarianism finds the best actions to particular situations based on whether it conforms to the utilitarian principle, but turns them into rules that should always be followed. So lying to save a life is accepted since it results in the greatest good, and this ultimately becomes a rule. But it is only a rule when it results in the greatest good, and so lying never becomes part of any absolute categorical imperative as it does in deontology. Rule utilitarianism ultimately fails at resolving the debate between deontology and utilitarianism because once a rule is in place, it must be followed as a categorical imperative.

So I am left to think about these conundrums and read and learn more about philosophy more, and debate, and evolve. This is unavoidable. This is what it means to be a rational, thinking human being. I hope I can at the very least inspire others, and feed off of them, and bond, and stir the pot of ideas and philosophy.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Mid-Summer Night's Forty


I had to take Friday off from work from being overly stressed out. As I have mentioned before, I have a very stressful job. I slept in til early afternoon, and texted an old friend from my high school crew that I hadn't seen in about a year. I took the bus over to his house, and we got a bottle of Jim Beam and cut it with a bottle of Sprite, in two coffee cups. We walked and drank on the street, reminiscent of my high school days. We went to see some metal shows that he was helping to promote at Gussy's bar in Astoria. I saw a few old friends that I hadn't seen in years. We caught up on how shit's been.

It was really weird to step out of my routine and daily monotony to see some neighborhoods and people I haven't seen in years. It was a good mid-summer night. After we drank Budweiser forties at another friends house. I rarely drink beer or forties anymore, and it felt so odd. It could have been just what I needed.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Summertime Reflection

Those who work hard are naturally rewarded by the virtue of their efforts. But the lazy are occasionally rewarded by luck, and this luck has a way of disenfranchising the hard working. There is an early summer heat wave blanketing the East Coast and it is making the effort that hard work requires a bit more cumbersome. I consider myself hard working, with a side of procrastination. Or, maybe it's the other way around? I am worried that I will never become the atheist that I could have been. Although I am somewhat successful in the IT industry, I get little reward from my work, because I lack any real passion for what I do. On every break I get, whether it is my lunch break, or a 10 minute bathroom break, I jump to sites on my phone that deliver my real passions: science, philosophy and religion.

The problem with these subjects is that it is not easy for one to just walk into them and find work. One doesn't just become a scientist, or a philosopher. These fields often require a PhD, which I would certainly be capable of getting, if only money and time weren't an issue. But philosophy, my main passion, is not a real money making endeavor. Philosophers do not make anything other than essays, books, and lectures. They can sit on ethics committees or boards as advisers and this can sometimes make money. But ultimately, philosophy itself only asks that you think more deeply and logically about ethics, and reflect on your existence and the existence of nature around you. Philosophy requires thinking, and thinking alone does not produce money. So as a result, I am cursed in a way, by the virtue of my interests. If I were a money-obsessed financial type I could be rich right now, or at least a lot more wealthy. But instead, I am of the type whose interests in life are best suited for the one for whom money preexists or is earned my other means. I've often dreamed of win for life lottery games, and how much getting a free, un-worked for paycheck every week would allow myself to devote my life for humanist and atheist causes.

What could I do with all that free time? The atheist that I could have been would be working for a humanist or atheist organization of some sorts. I'd be more immersed in politics. I'd write more and give speeches; I'd debate and protest. The only problem with organized atheism or organization of any kind, is that you have a body of people making rules and policies that I may or may not agree with. I don't always like that, but then I could be a part of that body making the rules or voting on them.

At work I suffer from a lack of motivation. I fear that this lack of motivation might be not just a lack of motivation specific to my job, but a lack of motivation for life itself. There are days when I seem to not care about anything, and I lack the ability to connect with others due to my depression and indifference. These days are the worst and they make me feel bad about myself. I get depressed when I do not connect with others, because I am human and like everyone else, I need human contact. I have a really hard time getting along with those I work with. I feel best when I work with a small group of people whose interests are similar to mine. I am the same way with friends.

Smoking marijuana is great for self reflection. I haven't smoked in some time, but when I do, I have these mental epiphanies that are quite astounding. I suddenly see where I need to improve and what I need to change. I examine all aspects my life in great detail. Perhaps a little deeper self reflection is warranted.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Collectivism Vs. Individualism


At the heart of our deeply divided country, between those on the left and those on the right, is the debate over economics and the role of government, and collectivism versus individualism. I lean towards the left in most social and economic issues, so I am generally for collectivism. In a modern liberal democracy, we of course are going to have elements of both in our society, but many of those on the right are simply taking the Ayn Rand-ian philosophy of individualism to its extreme.

Conservatives want a sink or swim economy, where you either succeed with what you've got, or you fail. And if you fail from being a victim of your own circumstance, don't expect government to offer any assistance. That's not government's role according to proponents of individualism. They don't support government money used to pay for people's educations. I've always felt education is an investment into the future. If someone poor is helped to receive a college education, they can get a better job, spend more money into the economy and ultimately pay more taxes. Conservatives say no. None of their hard earned income should be taxed and sent to those who cannot afford higher education. But education is not government cheese, it is not a welfare check, it is the future of this country. When we cease to graduate scientists and engineers at rates comparable to other developing countries, we cease being a superpower. The country that masters science, masters the world. Conservatives drive me sick on this point, because they do not recognize how important it is for our future that we have Americans educated in skilled professions, particularly in math and science.

Conservatives are scared of a nanny state where there is a permanent underclass that receives subsidies from the government and becomes accustomed to it, and loses motivation to better themselves. I share this worry with them, and I too fear that some people get far too comfortable with handouts. Welfare reform was the right thing to do. If you are getting money from the government, you should be forced to get off your ass and work. Government aide should be temporary, but it should exist. People who face hard times who are not lifelong welfare recipients need a little boost while in transition. This is collectivism at its finest. It suited our hunter-gatherer ancestors very well and enabled our species to conquer the world. Collectivism is at the heart of our socio-biologocal evolution, and as such, this is a great justification for its continuation. A society that helps those who are down, has a better chance of prospering in the long run.

The Human Condition Part 3


With my love of philosophy, I've gotten deeper into Buddhism's philosophy with the help of its many interpreters. Alan Watts made an excellent video, capturing in image and sound some of the brilliant interpretation's of the Buddha, in particular meditation. As Buddhism's main practice, meditation has always intrigued me, but also intimidated me. I have tried several times to properly meditate, but each time I feel that I have failed miserably. I have never reached that highly coveted state of nirvana that the Buddha is said to have reached while in deep meditation under the Bodhi tree.

Meditation bemuses me. I am learning about it more and more to peel away its mysteries. According to its many experienced practitioners, it is to be conducted while in a calm tranquil environment, with slow, rhythmic breathing. Your mind should acknowledge the present, while the past should remain a distant memory. The past should no longer exist. The future shouldn't either. Your body is suppose to simply, be. Let the mind flow freely. Thoughts that enter the mind should be considered noise, like the sounds from nature. Reflect.

It is this part that I usually have such an issue with. Whenever I meditate, I cannot stop thinking about my past, and worrying about the future. It consumes me to such a degree that all hopes for even the lowest slopes of enlightenment are thwarted. It is something I am working on, along with my problem controlling my breathing. With meditation, I hope to reach a state of tranquility. I hope to reflect on my existence in a new light. All the petty issues that are bothering me, that cause me so much stress in my day-to-day life, I hope will become washed away, if even for a moment.  But for the long term, seeing past events in a new light can at least alleviate the negative effects it has on one's peace of mind.

This is an issue that cuts right to the heart of what often troubles me. How do I deal with my problems in life? How do I deal with people I do not like? How do I deal with situations that annoy me? Simple reinterpretation on past events is not the long term solution for me. Change needs to be made for dealing with these same problems for the future, so that the past is not repeated. I'm not sure if meditation is is even the solution for addressing such problems. Maybe it is not. If I can successfully meditate, perhaps that will change my behavior towards my problems in the future.

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