Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Thought Project: Week 1

To prepare for the first question, I found this quote by Plutarch:
For never to be able to control passion shows a weak nature and ill-breeding; and always to moderate it is very hard, and to some impossible.

Plutarch, in The Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, "Solon"

Does nobility of character come when one denies oneself, or will it lead to a form of delusion?

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Neh. Character, and not nobility comes from self restraint. We must remember that in their times it was all about separating our natural qualities from that of animals to prove that man was above all forms of living creatures. Passion is in man's nature, his animal nature...to restrain what cames naturally animalistic in public is elevating us above animanls. Is it a denial of our true being? I doubt so. More like evolution of man in society. The path may not always be correct. That is why we had so many movements in the past.

It was also a time when norms had to be put forth to create a society with a common culture (the many churches followed this formula too...a bit extreme at times). Without restrain it would have been each man for himself. I say man because woman had no place in society in his times.

Now the question; nobility of character from denial of self or is it a form of delusion? Answer, it depends on the norms of the times. As we see nowadays, being Howard Stern is character. This man has no self restraint. A villain is nowadays seen as someone to be awed by or at times looked upon. Following the right path (which in itself is relative to the times) is also seen as character. Character in itself is relative nowadays in our world where there is no common culture. I am a believer that we must have a common culture to function without much anxiety but I'm losing the battle. I'd be considered the one without character and delusional in a world of young folk who follow and argue that there is nothing wrong with the mantra of "me, me, me" and instant gratification for survival.... I see it differently, I think that with sacrifice or a bit of restrain we can still survive, but it's a world of each human for himself as we don't have a common culture. I'm simply outdated.

- 'Sus

First, I’m going to totally avoid the question and talk about nobility as a concept (at least, as I see it). Merriam-Webster defines “noble” as “possessing outstanding qualities”. There are more definitions in the link, but they’re all fairly vague. Traditionally we think nobility is being right and true and good, when in fact it means “better than everybody else”.

Which makes it strange as an aspiration. If I want to be noble, it means I want to or have to be aware of what people think of me. Of various third parties approving of my behavior and thus considering me “noble”. To try and be purposefully noble requires a certain amount of two-facedness – do you do something because it is right, or because everybody ELSE thinks it’s right, and thus your approval rating shoots up?

But then, that tends to contradict the common notion of nobility – which is being a good person above and beyond the call of duty, right? A person who would qualify as noble theoretically doesn’t give a good goddamn what other people think, nor whether other people think he/she is noble or not. You just do what's Right, because your momma said so (or because it's the Right thing to do). So if you want to be considered noble, you have to not want to be noble. It becomes sort of a weird zen-thing, doesn’t it?

And my point (don’t worry, I have one…I think) becomes this: it’s a slippery slope to talk about or decide on nobility as an “end”. What Plutarch talks about, in a sense, is good behavior, is about just being good people. I think it’s about finding that balance in one’s self to just do What is Right. Because if people will then consider you noble, it’s more than likely you won’t care, because all you want to do is the right thing. And if you want to be considered noble, and do things to be “better” than everybody else… well, then you’re just an arrogant bastard with a budding superiority complex.

- Jon Z.

I think nobility of character stems from being unafraid to be perceived as delusional. It takes some serious guts to moderate one's concern for what others think about oneself.

- Zane

Nobility of character...such a loaded term. Can you have one without the other? But that's another question in itself. So - on to the first question. Nobility, to me, has always had implicit sacrifice. One cannot be noble without sacrificing anything. But again, what are you sacrificing for? For yourself, or for someone/something else? It leads to quashing something within yourself in order to abide by societal rules.

To already think of stifling a part of yourself brings troubling thoughts. It says, to me, that you're not completely comfortable with who you are. That you live by others' praises and opinions. That you're shackled by the rules of your religion. Society says that you must not live for yourself, but you cannot live for them either. Surely there's a happy medium here somewhere.

As I infer from Plutarch's quote, one can never live a life free of passion. We are only human; we have our urges and desires. But by not living out what makes us human, we're continuing to hurt ourselves and the ones we love. You think your sacrifice is noble because it seems like the right thing to do? There's your delusion.

- Sarah

UPDATE: 16 November 2006, 12:54 pm
UPDATE II: 16 November 2006, 5:48 pm
UPDATE III: 21 November 2006, 8:17 pm

Denying oneself doesn't necessarily make you noble. Most people do it in the name of religion, claiming that their self-denial will earn them brownie points with a god who appreciates self-sacrifice. After all, Jesus did it himself, on behalf of all the world's sinners. But that was the point of Jesus's life, to save sinners - he wanted to, he could, and he succeeded!

Most mortals, on the other hand, generally deny themselves to conform to the wishes of selfish people, not to reach self-actualization. People deny their true identities - consider religious homosexuals refraining from following their hearts because they'll burn in the fires of hell. Maybe religion is a good enough refuge for them, but they will forever feel like there is something missing from their lives. People deny their true vocations - consider children who study a course against their will just because their parents want them to take that course. It might be admirable for them to be so obedient to their parents, but they are short-changing themselves by not being fully committed to their life direction. Some other industry is deprived of a stellar and passionate painter, pilot, lawyer, or journalist because that person is slogging through a caregiving course.

Sometimes, of course, self-denial can be ennobling, as when you stop yourself from being a negative person, or when Mother Teresa devoted her life to serving India's poor. It's ennobling when you deny yourself a course of action because you recognize how it will make you and other people both better off and happier. There is no nobility in suffering if you can't suffer gracefully and turn out an inwardly bitter, unfulfilled person. Most people aren't saints, and will be secretly unhappy if they deny themselves something they really want.

Self-denial is ennobling only if it makes you happy, perversely. Happy not that you are suffering, but that you never really needed whatever it is you denied yourself. If your self-denial serves to make your life lighter and easier to live (because you're on the path you want to be), then it is ennobling because it makes you a better person.

- Pats, woman without a blog

"For never to be able to control passion shows a weak nature and ill-breeding; and always to moderate it is very hard, and to some impossible."

Passion is good. We all have it. We all need to be able to express it, and let it out. I am all for passion. (Go! Hahaha!)

As simple as it may seem, I guess what Plutarch is trying to say is, "Anything in excess is bad."

I don't think denying oneself (whether totally or partially) of one's passion equals nobility of character. But I also don't think that controlling or moderating your passion can lead to a form of delusion or lead you to live a double life.

It's all a matter of controlling it. Giving in to your passion doesn't necessarily mean allowing it to consume you. And controlling it doesn't also mean denying yourself of it.

I think weakness of nature comes in when you allow it to consume you, or if you allow it to be unconsumed.

As they say, "Everything in moderation."

- Shen

I think the first thing we have to do is define "nobility". In this context, I guess that "nobility" is tied to one's ability to transcend one's urges, wholesome or otherwise. This would mean that a noble act is the denial of one's pleasure and/or convenience, since "being human" is equated with weakness and the inability to control one's desires. One’s character then, is tantamount to discipline. After all, there is nothing more shameful or disgusting than to have animalistic urges, i.e. eat like a pig, have sex like bunnies, considering that the humans have the gift of rationality and should therefore “know better”. Strangely, most people do not associate these two. Premise one: being human is being weak. Premise two: the ability to think and feel separates man from animal.


So what does it mean to be human then? And what does it mean to have “character” if both principles are taken into consideration? I think it would be limiting to say that character is based on the merit of depravity and disregard of base needs. If this is the case, then passions would be considered a vice and therefore, something to be avoided.

Then again, it is unfair to take these things in absolute terms. Pleasure and motivation are two things to be considered since these are strangely intertwined. It would be a shame to disallow the self of depriving enjoyment from something; after all, this is a distinguishing trait of being human. We eat because we are hungry, but also take into consideration what to eat. If the situation allows it, you would not have scraps for lunch would you? Nor would you drink a strange concoction of vinegar and isopropyl alcohol in pursuit of a cocktail treat.

Being human, I think, is knowing better. True, we seek pleasure for pleasure’s sake, be it sense or mind. But acknowledging this truth, that is to submit to one’s desires/whims/brat attacks, is character itself. There’s nothing wrong with admitting a need but it becomes problematic when “need” and “want” overlap. Weakness is merely submitting to wants and needs. Character is knowing the answers to the how’s, what’s, why’s and when’s of both.

- Shelah (whom I promised not to post how she got her answer; Old Spice and yoghurt are clues)