This rambling is a little bit different and very long. It grew out of an essay I was assigned as the last paper of my senior year of high school. It was a summation of my thoughts on everything, and it was more valuable to me than the entire rest of my schooling combined. I’ve turned it into a rambling so that you can see what I used to think about everything. I have left it intact, typos and all. I no longer agree with everything in here, but it may give some insight on where I came from and how I got to be where I am today.
David Safar 6/21/98 My Personal Philosopy of Life, the Universe, and Everything
Apologies in advance to: Douglas Adams, Justin the Avatar, Cindy Crawford, Kathleen Duncan, Bill Gates, God, Jessica Godden, Wesley Juel, Rodney King, Andrew Lias, Meredyth Masterson, the people of South Muldavia, Myself (sorry for screwing up your grade, Self,) Grant Naylor, Ayn Rand, Arthur Scholz, Arnold Schwarzeneggar, Ilia Shrago, Dr. Spock, Mr. Spock, Ray Stevens, Martha Stewart, and Lyssa Vandiver.
As this paper is supposed to be the culminating event of my high school career, I have decided to approach it with the same casual, flippant attitude with which I have greeted every other part of my high school career. Upon being asked to write a personal philosophy paper ten pages long, I thought, "No problem. I can do that. God knows I have enough opinions to write a ten page paper on the subject of everything." Now, though, starting on this project the day before it's due, I find myself grasping for words to express my thoughts on so many subjects. So, since I can't write an overview of such a comprehensive paper until the paper itself is complete, I'd better dive into the body of the paper. Come along with me as I explore the following topics: Education; Ethics and Values; Faith and Spirituality; Family and Personality; Friendships and Love; Politics; Race, Gender, and Ethnicity; and Success. These sections will most likely vary in length, depending on how much I have to say about them.
Well, this was the topic that we started out each year of Middle College with, so I decided to start with it in my paper as well. Education is a wonderful thing, which has fallen under the control of a petty-minded few that we refer to as the government. They have subverted education to their own devious ends, as Jon would say, "the indoctrination of the youth." This single-channel, narrow-minded educational system is illustrated beautifully by the very existence of the Middle College program. If the educational system at large were broad-minded enough to handle the diversity we find in a program like Middle College, then these programs would not need to exist.
Many of the goals of America's youth are represented here in Middle College, so for the purposes of this exploration I will be using it as a microcosm of youth at large. Of course, we are not representative of all youth, but rather a particular subset of it, so this picture will not be an accurate portrayal of students at large. However, the educational system should be able to handle this amount of diversity, and its failure to do so proves it inadequate. Any further diversity within the system merely exacerbates the existing problem.
Let's look around the room. We see Jessica, with plans to start a subsistence farm. We see Wes, who is thinking about becoming a teacher. Arthur is here, already working in the computer industry, Meredyth, who now works for a JCC day camp, and Lyssa, who recently quit her job as a waitress. Such a range of interests, professions, and goals. Any system which does not take that into account and allow freedom to self- educate, or at least design one's own cirriculum, is obviously not serving the needs of the students, but rather the needs of society, as it sees those needs. You may argue that "the good of the many outweighs the good of the few," but I would be forced to contend that the good of the many is not necessarily what that many believes it to be. In such a case as personal life path, the individual's will must triumph. If it weren't for society - the many - we would not now have the problems of homelessness, mass starvation, pollution, corrupt politicians, epidemic diseases, etc., and a society which spawns such problems must not be allowed to assume control over the individual destinies of its constituent members.
Another destructive facet of modern American education is the push toward a degree. Education is a process of self-betterment (or should be, in its pure form) and is not at its most productive when externally motivated. This can be seen in the floundering grades and test scores of our youth. If education allowed for a love of learning and the exploration of one's own interests, then internal motivation would take over and test scores would skyrocket. Like the specialization of labor which is so beneficial to international trade, a specialization of learning would occur, and rather than being judged on their failings (of which everyone has many) students would be judged on their successes. This self-motivated learning would increase self-esteem and produce individuals that will be more effective members of society. And all it would cost society is the loss of ignorant masses.
So what exactly am I proposing? I'm glad you asked. I am proposing a free-form educational experience. Not as free-form as Summerhill, but not a rigid bureaucratic school system with more rules than students to follow them, like we have today. I am proposing a school which focuses on finding the innate talents and interests of the students, and gives them the opportunity to expand on those talents. Core classes would consist of English and basic math, with a focus on practical applications of these skills. In early years math class would emphasize monetary transactions. Later math classes might teach students to balance a checkbook or to fill out tax forms. Higher math would, of course, be available for those wishing to continue on. English classes would teach not just reading books and writing essays or journals, but also filling out forms and writing business letters. These two core classes would be required, with three to five elective classes rounding out a student's schedule. Counselors would be available to advise students about which classes might be best suited for them, based on an aptitude test given every two years. The test would measure numerous abilities in addition to traditional academic subjects: musical talent, artistic ability, motor skills, etc. Independent study would be available to all students. The goal here is self-motivated learning, in whatever way works best for the individual. Degrees are nice, but they are a measure of obstinacy, not of learning. If education is to reach its full potential, the concept of degrees must be eliminated, or at least heavily revised.
Ethics and Values
Ethics and values are very nebulous topics, and difficult to write down in a cohesive form. I suppose the best way to look at this is to answer the question, "What do you value?" From that, the ethical aspect will follow. Those acts which endanger that which you value will be unethical, and those acts which protect your values will be just the opposite, ethical.
- knowledge, ideas, and learning.
- free will.
These now need to be ranked by importance, so that general conflicts between them may be easily resolved. Of course, these rankings will not be absolute. Some situations have extenuating circumstances, and not every conflict will be resolved properly under a rigid ranking system.
My Ranking (1 is most important, 4 is least):
- free will
- knowledge, ideas, and learning
From these, it follows:
- Limiting another's free will is unethical.
- Endangering another's survival is unethical.
- Endangering another's safety is unethical.
- Limiting another's freedom is unethical.
- Limiting the availability of knowledge is unethical.
Here, free will is defined as one's right to interact freely with oneself, as opposed to freedom, which is the right to interact freely with the outside world. Free will is ranked first because the individual must have the right to choose whether to apply the remaining four ethical statements to the self. Note that this allows the individual to choose not to continue living, not to continue to be safe, etc. Everyone has control over their own personal self. The second through fifth ethical statements protect the free will of others.
This is no doubt full of logic errors and contradictions, as it is an exercise I conducted on the spot over the course of the past hour, and it completely invalidates what I had previously written on the topic, which, for academic purposes, is included below.
----- Begin old ethics section -----
I have, within the last year or so, joined an organization called the Wayfarers, who have adopted a system of ethics out of a computer game. Although the source is of a dubious nature, the system itself is admirable. Lately, though, I've come to the opinion that it lacks certain elements. Before I discuss its shortcomings though, I need to give you some idea what it represents. Here is a synopsis of the tenets held in common by the Wayfarers, as stated on the Wayfarers website (http://www.geocities.com/Athens/8247/):
The Way of the Avatar is a broadly defined way of life in which, generally speaking, a person lives as the embodiment (or avatar) of the Eight Virtues. The Virtues are held by a Wayfarer to be an ideal description of what it means to live a good life, and the Way of the Avatar is the life philosophy of people whose desire to be good is guided by seeking Virtue. These Virtues are derived from the Three Principles, Truth, Love, and Courage.
The Three Principles
- is the objective reality, that which is not false
- is the empathic bond that unites the self to all others
- is the will to struggle, for beliefs and for others
The Eight Virtues
- is the dedication never to deceive oneself or another. It is derived from Truth.
- is total empathy for all living beings. It is derived from Love.
- is the courage to stand up for your beliefs, even in the face of physical or psychological threat. It is derived from Courage.
- is the truth of what is right and wrong in human action and the love of that which is right. It is derived from Truth and Love.
- is the helping of others at the cost of one's own well-being. It is derived from Love and Courage.
- is the courage to defend and uphold the truth. It is derived from Truth and Courage.
- is the quest to improve one's own inner being and enlighten and brighten the lives of others. It is derived from Truth, Love, and Courage.
- is the knowledge of one's place in the world, reached through an understanding of the sanctity of all beings. It is independant of the Principles.
Thanks to Justin the Avatar for permission to use this material.
Unfortunately, I find myself not thinking of this philisophy at the times when I need it most, and have been considering a number of different reminders for myself, much like the Christian "WWJD" bracelets (to remind the wearer to think, "What Would Jesus Do?") Also, it seems to lack any reference to knowledge, wisdom, curiosity, exploration, etc. Since I have done very little thinking in this arena, and therefore have nothing original to say, I'll have to cut this section short now.
----- End old ethics section -----
Faith and Spirituality
Religion is something that people often get very touchy about. If you are one of these people, please skip down to "Family and Personality" below.
I think that religion makes an excellent crutch for those who need something to cling to during hard times, who don't believe in their own potential, and those who can't come to terms with the idea of ceasing to exist. As for the existence of
- a single god
- multiple gods
- a single goddess
- multiple goddesses
- protrusions into our dimension of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings (a.k.a. mice)
- any other form of creator or being with a master plan
- any combination of the above
I really have no idea whether such things exist, but if someone does have a master plan for everything, I'm pretty sure humankind is such a piddling small detail in ther plan that they haven't got the time to pay a whole lot of attention to what our species is doing, let alone any given person.
Christian Fundamentalism: The doctrine that there is an absolutely powerful, infinitely knowledgeable, universe spanning entity that is deeply and personally concerned about my sex life.
On the whole, God has never paid much attention me, so I don't see any compelling reason to pay any attention to God.
Family and Personality
I have learned some hard lessons in this arena over the past five years, which mostly boil down to this:
Sacrificing yourself for the future may be noble, but sacrificing yourself for the past is destructive and futile.
My family is in a bad way right now, mostly due to poor decisions about the care of ailing relatives. The workings of a family can be a delicate thing, too easily destroyed by poor decision making and the failure to accept the inevitable. I have nothing but a bad example to work from here, so I have little to say about it other than what to avoid in matters concerning family.
- Make no important decisions unilaterally. Take everyone's opinion into account.
- If a relationship isn't working, fix it or get out of it. Don't stay in a dysfunctional situation for any reason, you'll just make things worse and end up needing therapy (or causing someone else to need therapy!)
- When setting an example for your kids, be sure to set an example of behavior which is constructive, not destructive. Destructive altruism is a very real thing.
Friendships and Love
As I write this paper I am struck by how little I know about a number of the required topics. I've been anti-social most of my life, only really bothering to get to know people my own age within the past year. I used to consider myself a hermit within society, who would be better off without other people. This has caused a lack of experience in the area of interpersonal relationships, which, unfortunately for me, a large portion of this paper is about. (Why didn't anyone tell me I'd be graded on my relationships with other people???) As I get older, I realize that I am not a hermit, and that I need human contact. That is probably why MUD is so addictive to me. It helps to fill a void of human contact that would otherwise remain vacant. My solution to this problem of addiction has been socialization. Seeking friendship and love in real life, filling that void with what is supposed to be there rather than a poor substitute, will end my dependence on MUD. (I hope.) So obviously friendship and love are desirable. As for how to get there, I'll figure it out with time and experience. Get back to me in ten years, and perhaps I can write a more developed section on friendships and love.
The more I think of politics, the less I think of it. Politics is merely the application of one's personal philosophy (what this here paper is all about) to society. This would seem to go directly against the number one and four rules from the Ethics section, which state that it is unethical to limit another's free will or freedom. However, upon accepting the protection of a society, one agrees to live under its rules, thus using free will to allow the limitation of one's other rights. Thus there is no conflict, as the individual has put themselves into this position. The only catch is that there really isn't much choice anymore. The Earth is now covered by human society and there is no longer a choice as to whether to live within a society, only the choice of which society to live in. This, I am sure, is a temporary condition, and with human kind's expansion into space, new frontiers will open up, allowing people once again to live outside the grasp of civilization.
So now let's take a look at some specific concepts within politics.
America's representative democracy has been in place for 200 years. The idea is that you use your personal philosophy to choose an individual to represent you. A whole lot of other people do this too, and whoever has the most people wanting them as a representative gets the job. It's more complicated than that (of course!) but that's good enough to make my point. Which is...
No one's personal philosophy is going to be identical to your own, so voting in a democracy is an exercise in finding a best-fit for your beliefs: deciding which ones may be sacrificed for the sake of the others.
But what of the other, non-democratic systems? I can confidently say that the form of government we have in the United States is the worst form of government there is... Except for all the others. Until one person can be found who is always right, and whose personal philosophy represents that of everyone, no one is fit to be a dictator. A vanilla democracy is unmanagable in todays world, with the number of citizens in even a small country. Communism is obviously flawed, just look at the ex-Soviet-Union. The ex- means "failed." So, we are left with the representative democracy. It's an imperfect system, but it's the best we've got, and we have to live with it until someone comes along with something better.
And now, an open letter to a lot of people who have done a lot of mean things to a lot of other people without any good reason. Anyone with delicate sensibilities may wish to move on to the next (and final) section "Success."
Race, Gender, and Ethnicity
Why is this even an issue? Can't we all just get along? Can't we just stop being extremely crappy to one another? If everyone would just stop screwing everyone else over, a lot more good things could happen. But as long as we keep killing each other, stepping on each other, keeping each other down, beating each other up, and just generally making life suck for one another based on a difference of 10 genes out of 500 zillion, we're never going to get anywhere as a species. Everybody is a little bit different. Deal with it. Preferably without discriminating against anybody or doing any harm to anybody along the way, huh? And the same goes for sexual preference. What somebody wants to do in the privacy of their own bedroom is their own business. When someone tries force themselves on you, gay or straight, thenyou have the right to beat the Hell out of them, and not before then. Got it? Human beings can be so dense sometimes.
Success is another of the nebulous intangibles which is difficult to quantify on paper. I suppose the only way to truly measure success is by how you feel about your own accomplishments. Due to the human psyche, this can lead to unfortunate situations, however. A 4.0 student who is shattered upon receiving a B on an assignment, or someone who never accomlished anything ever in their entire life could one morning wake up feeling good about themselves for no apparent reason. you never can tell with the human mind. In any case, being happy is what really matters, and I think we've lost sight of this in the rush to become bigger, better, faster, and richer, chasing after a dream which just runs away faster with our every advance. We need to get back to basics and stop comparing ourselves to other people, especially people like Bill Gates, like Arnold Schwarzeneggar, like Cindy Crawford or Martha Stewart. Wealth, strength, beauty, and the ability to make Christmas ornaments out of common household garbage and string are not what we should be judging ourselves on. The yardstick of success is contentment. If you're unhappy, you're not successful, regardless of income, relationships, physical appearance, or anything else.
And So This... Is the End!
So, here we are, at the end of the trip. 22 hours after it began, it has ended. In a way, though, this trip has lasted a lot longer, indeed it has spanned my entire school career, from Kindergarten on down the line. I've learned more useful information from this one paper than from the rest of the past twelve agonizing years put together, perhaps because this paper is the past twelve years put together. Now I wish I had more time to work on this, to go back and say the things I had to leave out, perhaps to add a new section or two (I have a few choice comments about crime, but perhaps my comments are not appropriate in a classroom environment.) With luck, my motivation will hold out and this paper will find its way onto my web page, any will become a living document, my own personal constitution. (I, the person, of the United (sometimes) Mind of David Safar...) So, off into life, to see how this mindset holds up against the society that it condemns at every other passage. As I always say, finish on a song...
Show me the way to go home
I'm tired and I wanna go to bed
I had a little drink about a hour ago
To celebrate Rimmer's death!
Smoke me a kipper, I'll be back for breakfast!