quote: "I soon found that it's harder than it looks, to tell the same story twice, but differently. I was hindered by the fact that even though the viewpoint characters were different, the author was the same, with the same core beliefs about the world. I was helped by the fact that in the intervening years, I have learned a few things, and was able to bring different concerns and a deeper understanding to the project. Both books come from the same mind, but not the same; they draw on the same memories of childhood, but from a different perspective." -Orson Scott Card
This post is a response to those who have said they cannot figure out what I "really" think. It is a response to those who have said they cannot figure out if I really believe what I'm saying or if I'm just saying it for argument's sake. This is my explanation - or, perhaps, my defense.
The fact of the matter is, however I may seem at any given time, I am a very simple person. I care little for wealth, success, "great" causes, fancy gadgets, or most of the other complexities of life. I'd rather avoid all that, if I ever could. Instead, I just want to survive, do my thing, appreciate life, and be friends with everyone. The last of these is where things get complicated.
I like virtually everyone I know. I'm not sure if this is normal or not, but that's how I am. There's nobody I consider my enemy, nor anyone I wouldn't want to be friends with, although there are plenty of people who might frustrate or bother me. It really doesn't matter - I still want to be friends, and this is where the problem arises. After all, other people are trouble. By yourself you can do whatever you want, act however you want, and be whoever you want. Isolation is the truly simple life, but it prevents companionship - it prevents the sharing of life. As a result, despite its many benefits, isolation is a terrible thing! I need people. It still sounds simple enough, and certainly seemed simple when I was little, just starting gradeschool. Why couldn't I just be friends with everyone?
I will stop here to add that, in addition to being fairly simple at heart, I am also somewhat stubborn when I set my mind to something. When I think things should be a certain way, and could be, it is difficult to stop me from pursuing it. I'm annoying that way. Thus, there was trouble when I discovered there was something blocking my ability to be friends with everyone. It was only worse when I discovered that that thing was also blocking my ability to do the things I wanted to do and say the things I wanted to say. It was a thing that restricted not only friendship, but also the things I could do, enjoy, and admire. Although I could never have described or understood it in the way I am putting it here when I was in elementary school, I was quite aware of my rivarly and dislike of this thing - this barrier. What am talking about?
Yes, it seemed like everywhere I turned, assumptions of all sorts blocked the way. Here are a few I didn't like in those days.... * Kids can't be trusted * Boys are dumb * Smart people can't play sports (and vice versa) * People from Clique A can't also be in Clique B * Such and such are cool. Such and such are lame. * So and so is a dork. So and so is dumb. And on and on...
Assumptions crisscrossed our little society, dividing us into groups, limiting us, defining the way we could all interact. It was an inevitable thing, as anyone can see, but still I didn't like it. After all, why did I have to be a "geek" or a "white boy" or a "clown" or whatever it was people were calling me at the time? Why did people have to do that? Why couldn't they just let hings be the way they are, let people be whatever they wish to be, without building those artificial walls between what can and cannot be?
But they do, and from these assumptions are ultimately forged the masks that we wear - the things that we mistakingly call our identity. We take the assumptions we collect about ourselves and glue them all together into something we call our "personality". And we take the assumptions we collect about our world and glue them together to make what we call our "worldview". These, together, are the mask we wear. And the mask is what limits us, what shapes what we and the world believe are possible and impossible, what defines what we wish to become and what we cannot become, what determines which prejudices will be applied to us, what places us within one circle of friends and beyond the reach of others, what delineates the way in which we relate to people, what allows us to navigate the complexities of society, and what, more than anything else, makes the simple life impossible, and the basic desires I listed above so difficult to fulfill.
I was a rebel, I suppose, in my own unconventionally conventional way. I insisted, for as long as I can remember, that such assumptions cannot be binding. I did not like pidgeon-holing. As I said, I am a stubborn person... I was the sort that'd challenge the "jocks" to a game of kickball just to prove that we "nonjocks" could do it just as well. I was the sort to stick up for anyone being told they weren't good enough to join in in anything. I was the sort who relished nothing more than being the underdog, than upsetting expectations. I rooted (and still root) for sports teams only when everyone said they would lose, and lost interest in winners. Assumptions and I had a rivalry. I would bend to many things, but not assumptions. What's more, I feared assumptions. I feared the way they could harm me, through the people that held them and judged me through their lenses. I wanted to be free to be friends with anyone, to try any challenge, to admire anything. My mask, and the assumptions of others, stood in my way.
That was where I stood on a certain day at some point during the second or third grade (I can't remember which) when I was sitting quite unhappy at a cafeteria table after having been mocked by somewhat more popular folk (a fairly standard situation for your average elementary school kid, I believe.) That particular time was different, however, because a new thought occurred to me: I suddenly considered how things might appear if I were in their shoes. It occured to me that what seemed like torment to me might actually be amusing if I looked at myself they way they did, from a detached perspective. Actually, as I thought about it, their jokes at my expense were funny after all. I would laugh if the jokes were made at someone else's expense, so why not laugh when they are made at mine?
It was a moment that sticks in my memory because it was the first time I consciously thought about taking a different perspective, and it was when I learned to take off my own mask and put on someone else's, at least temporarily. It was a natural sort of progression from concern over other people's false assumptions about me to concern over my own false assumptions about them. And once I reached that point, my thinking was altered.... I developed a new mask. And I think it is certain features of that mask that confuses and bothers people.
I will attempt to explain.
II. The Formless Mask
quote: "To this day, I continue to think of myself as someone who does not belong in any role, but that instead is capable of switching between many different ones. I continue to think of myself as not defined by any one view of the world, but rather as someone who can (and must?) jump from one to another. Understand that and you'll go a long way to understanding me." -Tresopax Manifesto?
Many people, once they grow to adulthood and establish a given view of the world, take that worldview far too seriously. It is as if they have taken their mask and have chained it to their head with such force that it would tear them apart to take it off. They say it is "a part of them." They view their entire personhood as a great tower built on the foundation of that mask. Hence, to discount their most basic beliefs is to harm them as a person. To say "you are wrong" is an assault upon them. To say "you are not what you think you are" is even worse. They know who they are and what defines them.
I took a slightly different approach. As I said, I disliked assumptions, and was afraid of them. I have always been afraid to have a mask of any kind. I would not commit to a viewpoint. Instead, a new goal emerged...
I eventually came to see the world of viewpoints as a playground. Philosophies and arguments are things to play around with - not barriers to restrict the ways in which we can think. Sure, I believe in God at the moment. But what's wrong with not believing in Him for a little while if I want to try it? What's wrong with considering it? What's wrong with considering if communism could work, or maybe the nazis were really right, or mass murders were justified, or if the Jurassic Park movie really was better than the book? People have certainly believed all of these things. Why not try on their arguments for size?
I call it a formless mask because, though it is a mask just as much as any, it is a mask with no fixed form. No beliefs are sacred. No foundations are solid. I'm not talking skepticism - that has its own assumptions about what proof is needed before we can believe. I'm not talking relativism either. I'm talking flexibility, not in the world itself, but in our beliefs about it and our place within it. This is a mask that could change shape as the situation dictated - as I so chose to think. The ideal (never achieved by me) would be the capacity to take on any viewpoint at any given time, and see the truth in it, the way one might who permanently held that viewpoint. "Believing for the sake of argument" is an adequate way of putting it, although I think "Believing for the sake of understanding the belief" is a more accurate description of what I'm talking about.
Often people have a problem with this - they think it is dishonest. They say it is wrong to put on masks temporarily for the sake of argument, or for the sake of understanding, or for the sake of judgement, or even just for the sake of fun. And this is because, they say, you should be true to what you really believe to be true - what you "really" are. To change based on the situation is deceitful, they argue.
But this misses the point. The objective of the formless mask is not to hide your true beliefs. It is not to lie. I believe it is far more honest than any other mask, in fact, because it acknowledges the one thing I really know to be true about myself and my beliefs... If you REALLY want to cut through all the arguments and hypotheticals and theories, if you want to know what I REALLY believe when I propose all this crazy stuff, I will tell you: I believe I'm a blind man in a dark cave. I believe none of my beliefs are certain, and even the most sacred of them could turn out to be a joke in the end. Occassionally I get annoyed at people who believe things I consider stupid or just plain wrong, but when you get down to it, I don't have any grounds for that annoyance - I don't have any grounds to be confident about my beliefs any more than they do. This is the point of the formless mask: That nothing is known for sure, so we might as well try anything. There is no reason to build walls to protect our viewpoints, or to become to attached to them, or to become angry at people attacking them, when the truth is they might be nothing more than a delusion in the end.
Children seem to understand this better than adults - they understand their own fallibility. They will generally take things on faith quite quickly, but at the same time are rarely all that committed to any belief. Show them a better belief and they can switch. They know they are children and that they cannot fully trust themselves, and thus they must be flexible. They can grow up to become anything. In this, they are the model for the formless mask.
Do we say that such children are liars? Do we tell them they must not deviate from their 'true selves'? No, we recognize that their true self is little more than a blank slate, that their personhood is theirs to create. But we think that somehow, that is no longer true for us - as if we adults must be fixed and dedicated to a given identity. We are wrong. We're children too.
Thus, I don't see why we think we are special, why our beliefs should be so sacred, why they must be so fixed, why they must be considered so essential to our character. I don't see why we should care if people think we are dead wrong, or if they don't respect out beliefs. I don't see why any statement is too wrong to say, or any belief is too absurd to consider, or why any argument is too silly to take seriously. The world, our society, our beliefs, and we are not holy. They are silly things that we don't understand at all, and that are just a part of a really darn important game (but a game nonetheless!)
The kids have it right - at least those who recognize that they are just kids.
This is my belief, or at least it was until I ran into a problem....
III. Who am I?
quote: "Tresopax is a mask. I wear it. I'm wearing it now. It sits in my collection of masks - the student mask, the child mask, the friend mask, the coworker mask, and so on. In the end, I think what I truly am is mainly a collection of masks. In fact, that's the way I see it with everybody. Like actors in a theater, everybody plays out their roles. I do not mean to say that we are fake. Some people are, but I think for the most part people are quite true to themselves. But the thing is, our true self is simply those masks that we attach ourselves to with all our passion and soul. And that gets me thinking: What masks are true for me? In fact, that's the question underlying all of this. Who am I?" -Tresopax Manifesto?
In 1999 I graduated from high school, and a new question was imposed upon me: What should I do now?
How can such a question be answered? I had NO idea. There are an infinite number of choices in the world, and to choose among them is impossible without priorities. Should I study X or study Y? Should I do A or do B? You must have values, so you can choose to pursue those values. If you do not, there is no way to differentiate X from Y. And there is only one way to have values: you must make assumptions, a foundation from which you can shape your decisions. You must have a character. Your mask must, in fact, have a form. My "formless" mask was all fine and good for playing around with life, but my life also demanded commitments - to a path and future.
The truth is, although I could not tell you what the meaning of life is, I am convinced it is directly connected to defining ourselves through the choices we make. Not defining myself, though it might be simpler and advantageous in some ways, renders the whole exercise meaningless.
That is the problem that I discovered with my particular brand of instinctive existentialism.
Yes, it is truthful - more truthful, in fact, than any mask I could pretend to be. But it is impossible to live a meaningful life while following it completely, in the way I described. Without assumptions you cannot know what to do. You cannot make choices. You can only drift along, whereever the wind might take you. What's the point in that?
Without direction, I didn't know what to do.
Thus, the formless mask failed, and I came to a different mindset, in search of a new goal. I went searching back through my biases to try and merge them together into something coherent. What emerged was what I called Tresopax on the forum here, a set of ideas that took the notion of flexibility that I had always had, and switched it from being about avoiding assumptions to being about compromising conflicting assumptions.
It is impossible, I realized, to hold two masks at once, or avoid holding any whatsoever. However, it was still true, I thought, that all masks held some value (or else nobody would want to wear them) and that fully commiting to one over another was dangerous. Thus my new solution was synthesis - to merge two masks into one. I would not be Republican or Democrat, but a mixture of what I considered to be the best of the two views. I would not be highly religious or atheist, but a combination of the truthful aspects of both. I tried to piece together, in this fashion, what I would be. (And this is not to say I was doing all this consciously or with a deliberate plan. It simply seemed to happen, as I tried to figure out what to do with my life.)
My coming to Hatrack was part of this. After all, what is the point of this place if not to express ideas and learn what you do (and should) believe? I, at least, think that's the point, and that's why I came here.
But I've described all that before. This post is not about that particular mask. It is about that mask's opposing shadow, and how it came to be....
quote: "And then he thought: Is this how idiots rationalize their stupidity to themselves?" -OSC
The truth is, I never lost that distrust in assumptions. I cannot resist contradicting any idea, no matter how obvious it may seem, because there pretty much is ALWAYS such a contradicting view with some value to it. To me there is a sense of balance that must be maintained. If an argument is presented without a counterargument, it bothers me. It is incomplete.
Thus Tresopax bothered me.
Tresopax was not a balanced coin - he was an ideology and professing his views was beginning to wear upon me. I am no ideology, and contrary to what some might think, I could see as well as anyone that Tresopax was an ideology filled with holes, built on a cloud. Oh yes, I believed it, but as with most of my beliefs, I could see a myriad of counterarguments just waiting in the wings to attack at any given moment. I could see the opposing positions out there. I could not resist giving them their due credit.
Thus, when I found myself a character in The Hatrack Play, an idea came to me. Others had played around with alter egos - why not me? Xaposert was born - a villainous foil dedicated to the destruction of all things, especially Tresopax. It was all just a matter of playing around, but as is nearly universally the case with me, I cannot resist mixing my games with symbolism (silliness and seriousness, together). As time progressed, Xaposert has become more than a fun character to play around - he came to represent that other, far older drive - the distrust of assumptions, particularly my own. Xaposert is the villain, the contradiction, the defender of the supposedly wrong. On the one hand, I wanted to be convincing when arguing for my views as Tresopax. But on the other hand, I wanted to recognize the fact that they are merely the views of a goofball like myself, and that there were plenty of alternative arguments to any of them - that there are alternatives to nearly any assumption.
And herein lies the confusion about where I stand, I think. There's a sort of contradiction. On the one hand, I decided that the meaning of life is tied up in the way in which we decide who we are, what we believe, and what we choose to do. In this way, what I talk about on this forum is a very serious thing. But on the other hand, at the same time, I've decided that assumptions cannot be trusted and that taking your beliefs, choices, and identity too seriously is a terrible mistake. In that way, what I talk about on this forum is nothing more than a silly game. It's both! I am both serious and playing around simultaneously. That's the nature of the game. That's the contradiction.
We must face serious problems and answer serious questions, but none of us, myself first and foremost, are any more than novices at coming up with the answers. Our assumptions are flawed at best, flat out wrong more likely. When we listen to little kids talk about their own assumptions, we are amused and play along, thinking it is okay for them to explore ideas - even absurd ones. Why do we not maintain the same attitudes towards ourselves?
Consider this landmark, for instance. Is it a serious thing? Yes, I suppose. But it's also a rather silly thing. After all, it is a long string of convoluted reasoning based on the assumption that assumptions are not to be trusted. And it is written by a simple, goofy guy, presenting his life in a philosophical way that bears little resemblance to anything a normal person would have observed while seeing the same events. Who knows if any of it is True, and if so, in what sense it would be? It's just a rant, both serious and absurd. If I were Tresopax, I would probably try to conclude that it is deep, but as Xaposert I must concede that it really isn't. It's just a big little kid thinking aloud (in writing,) trying to express himself and coming out all wrong. Everything even remotely serious on this forum is just that.
In fact, this isn't really a landmark at all.
Neither was my previous "landmark," at least not in the sense I would like to think of landmarks. A landmark should mark some accomplishment, but what have I accomplished here? Another thousands posts... who cares? I suppose I've come a long ways since I first came here, but not to any point that merits a landmark. Instead, this is merely a self-introduction - an attempted manefesto, not of conclusions or answers, but of starting points. The irony is I've spent this entire post talking about disliking assumptions and yet it has ended up just expressing a bunch of assumptions that I, personally, take to this forum. I'm not sure exactly why I feel compelled to write it, and I'm even less sure why anyone would still be reading at this point. But here it is anyway: My introduction.
My landmark is still yet to come...
V. Toward a final battle?
quote:"Truth is a dance between the real and ideal." -me
At the beginning of this summer, I realized both Tresopax and Xaposert were reaching a landmarkesque numbers of posts. This struck me as bizarre, and I was busy offline with exploring the so-called "real world," so I decided to stop posting with either while I figured out what to do. Certainly, deciding on and writing any landmark post in less than two or three months is impossible - much less two such posts!
And in considering what to do, I realized that my sentiments were not so far off before I had written my other "landmark": These are not times for Tresopax, in my life, in the world, or on Hatrack. It is a time for challenging assumptions. The world is too complicated. My life is too complicated. Everything seems turned on it's head. It is a time for seeing why terrorists aren't so evil, why America isn't so good, why people may not be what they seem, why I might not be destined for what I thought I was, why Hitler might not be so evil, why fears could be unjustified, why anger could be unfounded, and why everything I thought I knew could be wrong. It is a time where confusion is far more apparent than any answers to that confusion.
Just look at what I've posted about in the past year or two.... Politics. Practical advice. Forum etiquette. Where is the debate of higher matters I used to enjoy? Where's the talk of building Crystal Cities? It has been dragged down by complexities, inertia, and doubt, among other seemingly practical things. In truth, the forum as a whole seems to reflect the same attitude. And thus this is a time for Xaposert, child of the formless mask.
Tresopax knew it too. He may have been the answer to one problem, but he too has hit a brick wall. And hence, Tres has left.... gone on a quest in search of his holy grail - the same thing I think he was searching for when he arrived at Hatrack - his true landmark - to grok. Who knows when he will return, and if he will find what he's looking for....
Actually, I guess I'm rooting for him - isn't that a change?
The truth is, the final battle between us may still inevitably come, but I cannot understand how either of us could ever be eliminated for good, without terrible consequences for my entire self. Freedom of thought and flexibility of personhood makes anything possible, but without fixed dreams and ideals the only thing it will do is send one into a spiral of meaninglessness - the existential trap. And dreams without self-criticism and flexibility inevitably results in a dead end, like all those so attached to a certain mask that they have lost themselves within it. It seems like most people don't face this contradiction, or overlook it altogether, but it is somewhat definitive of me, at least in a philosophical sense. Silliness and seriousness, together at once. Realism and idealism. A simple, boring, shy, naive, average kid, or the hero of my own story? They are two truths at war, and yet each incomplete without the other.
So, what is the answer?
I don't know. That's why this is an introduction, not a landmark. I don't even really understand the question.
I guess that's why I'm coming back to post at Hatrack, yet again. I do not believe you can understand without thinking, observing, and sharing your thoughts and observations. Those of you who are offended by the challenge (playful or not) of your mask, who are opposed to the serious consideration of supposed absurdities, or who object to the treatment of serious topics as a playground will just have to humor me. Those who disagree with my opinions will just have to be satisfied with the knowledge that I disagree with my opinions too. We're all on this boat of confusion and misunderstanding together, not as wise sages, but as lost little kids muddling our way through things. Who knows where we're headed, but so far the journey has been more than worth it. That's what I think.
quote: "It's better to all disagree on what is right than to all agree on something that may be wrong." -me
quote:"I hope life isn't a big joke, because I don't get it." -Jack Handey
Tresopax, wonderful landmark! I'll never forget the night the two of us talked in parachat and didn't know who each other were for hours. Without our conventional masks of expectation for the other one, we had an interesting and far ranging conversation that we would never ever have had, had we known who each other were to start with. Long live the destruction of the masks!
Posts: 2815 | Registered: A Long Time Ago!
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Just celebrating your return. I will now read your post.
You do sometimes drive me crazy when I don't know what you are about. But I have missed you.
quote: I would not be Republican or Democrat, but a mixture of what I considered to be the best of the two views. I would not be highly religious or atheist, but a combination of the truthful aspects of both.
Somewhere underneath you do have will, the place from which you choose "what I considered to be the best..." Beneath your mind, beneath even your spirit, if you believe you have one. I don't know if I'd really call it a "true self" because without a mind, I can't speak to you. Without a spirit, I can't understand you. And without a body, I can't enjoy the pleasures of life. On so it goes, I'm glad I have a culture, a society, a religion and a species that are all part of me as I am part of them. Our particular culture unfortunately doesn't recognize this. It tries to tell my my mind and heart are not even the same. Whatever. You might enjoy reading The Power of Now. The premise is "you are not your mind".
What a schizophrenic! (just joking! just joking!)
It really enjoyed this post, Xaposert/Tresopax. I was very well written and a good read.
I began to wonder how you ever make a decision about anything, but then got to the part where you said:
quote:Without direction, I didn't know what to do.
So I see you found the same problem. It was interesting to read how you worked your way out of that.
I liked your example of the blank slate. Just yesterday, I was having a heart-to-heart with my 17 year old, who is kind of at this juncture of his life: He wants a job, has never had a job, and doesn't know what he wants to do.
I mentioned that his resume' was a blank slate.
He said, "I'm a blank slate, and no one has the chalk but me."
That hit me so profoundly that I wrote it down. It was so true.
Which is basically what you have said somewhat above, but yours is so eloquent.
You know while I like your landmark, I never actually noticed that much of a personality difference between tresopax and xaposert. I guess you posted more politically as Tres but that was about it, I didn't feel your essence actually changed between the two screen names.
Thanks for taking the time and effort to explain why you are who you are. Writing the post must have taken quite some time. I enjoyed reading it a lot.
Posts: 270 | Registered: Apr 2004
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