Commentaries, Contemplation

On Jean Baudrillard: Seduction, Hyperreality, and the Murder of the Real

“Philosophy leads to death, sociology leads to suicide” —Jean Baudrillard

Today, we shall enter the desert of the real and examine Jean Baudrillard’s ideas on simulation, hyperreality and their relationships with his concept of seduction. It will address various topics such as nuclear deterrence, gender roles, feminism, sexual liberation, photography, and the death of universities. Many people have trouble reading Baudrillard due to his prose and borderline insane ideas. His works are written with a very distinctive style that happens to be declarative, hyperbolic, provocative, and obscure. Personally, I think Baudrillard is an incredible critical thinker in his own right—even if he does not have his own school of thought. This might be due to how he sort of just quits academia at one point and stops associating himself with any academic disciplines. It may also have something to do with how he grew up in a peasant rural family and was, at first, never considered as part of the 20th century French intellectual elites. 

Baudrillard was one of the first philosophers that I read closely back in my undergraduate days when I studied photography. His books left a lasting impact on the way I think. In many ways, Baudrillard’s ideas on simulation and hyperreality is a reinterpretation of the Platonic cave. Some of his ideas gained so much fame that his work was featured in the film, The Matrix. One of the biggest mistakes people make when they read Baudrillard is to think he is a postmodernist because he isn’t. Baudrillard is a big critic of postmodernism. He is also a sharp critic of Marxism, feminism, psychoanalysis, and many other thinkers of his time. Some contemporary scholars believe Baudrillard is Manichean—someone who breaks everything down into dualisms such as good and evil. While others believed he leaned towards being a pataphysician who was heavily influenced by Marcel Mauss.

Baudrillard became well known when he wrote a book called Forget Foucault (1977). At the time of publish, he even sent a copy to Foucault—who was one of the world’s most renown philosophers at the time—and asked him to read it (Foucault never responded). While Forget Foucault remains an important book to read, the best books to understand Baudrillardian thought is Seduction (1979) and Simulacra and Simulation (1981) [he has other important works such as Symbolic Exchange and Death, Fatal Strategies and Cool Memories]. These two texts provides two important dimensions of Baudrillardian thought that I will talk about today.

As already cited by many past scholars, Baudrillard was one of the few philosophers who tried to reconcile the incompatible differences between reality and illusion. He sometimes subtly points out how the disappearance of one yields to the destiny of the other. In short, Baudrillard’s method can be summarized with a single line from Friedrich Nietzsche: “We do not believe the truth remains true once the veil has been lifted”. Today, we will place extra emphasis on the word “veil”, which is associated with seduction: the disguise and play of appearance and meanings.

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The first main aspect of his thought lies in how Baudrillard thinks we are living in a world where we no longer know what is real and what isn’t. Simulacra and Simulation provides one of the best examples. The book begins with an apparent quote from Ecclesiastes, a quote that does not exist in the famous Hebrew bible: “The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true.” Many people who read this book for the first time often believes the quote as true, even when it isn’t. What is important about this example is not only that the same phenomena happens in contemporary world of simulations, it also occurs from the reader interpreting Baudrillard’s book (this was how I got into Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction). The experience of reading Simulacra and Simulation emphasizes on this constant state of confusion.

One can see something similar in the use of “nuclear deterrence” and how its fundamental goal is to make nuclear weapons so to not use them. You sometimes read news about X country producing nuclear weapons without the intentions for nuclear war, but to protect themselves from other nuclear armed countries. In nuclear deterrence, instead of producing a real nuclear conflict via making nuclear weapons, it produces a simulated mode of conflict between countries. If I remember correctly, Baudrillard used the cold war as an example. This is one of the reasons why, in Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard talks about how people dream of nuclear explosions which result in simulating them in televisions and movies instead of making them a reality.

Baudrillard also brings to point on the emergence of photography and how it was invented at a time where reality was beginning to disappear as it gets usurped by hyperrealities. He sometimes talks about how realist photography does not actually focus on capturing what is real in the situation. If you look at Baudrillard’s own photographic art exhibitions, one might recognize such techniques in his images (often referred as the “vanishing technique”). Regardless, Baudrillard foresaw how the world would eventually be replaced by infinite simulated hyperrealities where people will no longer know what is real.

Baudrillard uses the Borges fable as an example of hyperreality. The story talks about how cartographers mapped their empire that covers the entire land with precision. Yet over time, the empire falls into ruins and new empires establishes new borders. Reality changes, but the map remains intact and exists as the remainder. The territory no longer precedes the map, it is the map that precedes the territory—just like that of media, books, scholarships, and television, for example. In the same way, Baudrillard believes that reality no longer precedes simulation. Instead, simulations precedes reality, where the latter has become more real than real and more false than false.

It can be said that hyperrealities are produced through interpretation and forcing our ideals onto reality—hence the “murder of the real”. Later in Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard introduces hyperrealities as the remainder of society and universities. Unlike gender or reality, the remainder lacks a binary opposition (Masculine/Feminine, Reality/Illusion, Remainder/          ???). The other side of remainder is empty—it is a reflection from a mirror which is the remainder itself. The entire society becomes residual and reality is murdered, but so are universities which produces endless knowledge without finality. For Baudrillard, the real university, just like that of reality, has been long dead. What remains are endless simulation of realities. Even a strike would have the opposite effect, for it can only bring back the ideal of what is possible of a real university, a fiction that is no longer possible within a system of hyperrealities. This is one of the reasons why “sociology leads to suicide”. Sociology, just like that of feminism and sexual liberation (will get to later), seeks to uncover and strip the world naked by producing meaning and simulacrum by declaring what is most real about society. As a result, it produces new realities of the world that often exists independent of our immediate reality and the seductive beliefs people have (then there is also the problem of statistics and induction which plagues the social sciences; Baudrillard often referred statistics as a form of wishful thinking). In other words, sociology is suicidal in the sense that it produces hyperreal discourses that may lead to something like a delusion. Just like that of contemporary media, sociological findings can produce the Borges map that people immediately accept as reality without question. For Baudrillard, we are living in a world where meaning murders other meanings without consequences. Simulacrum versus other simulacra which becomes endless play of simulacra—to the point that everyone within the system becomes simulacrum.

Near the end of Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard points out how he is a nihilist. Since our world is flooded with meanings, discourses, and hyperrealities, the real has been lost in translation. Reality is dead and what remains is an infinite amount of meanings and hyperrealities that replaced reality—sort of like Starbucks which used to make pumpkin spice lattes without pumpkins in it. In the final passage of the book, Baudrillard emphasized on the irony of the situation. He ends the book by addressing how it is within this space of simulation where seduction begins.

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The second aspect of Baudrillard’s thought is more complex and it is best highlighted in his book Seduction. In it, there is a chapter called “Death in Samarkand” which tells a story of a soldier who tries to escape death while inevitably running into it. The point of this story is to show how the more people try to deviate from their fate, the more likely they will encounter it. The story leads Baudrillard into talking about the theme of chance which exceeds beyond causality and probability. Chance serves as a fundamental aspect to seduction (many French philosophers at the time spoke of chance in a similar way). Nevertheless, the “Death in Samarkand” story could resemble something like North Korea trying to build nuclear weapons so to avoid war, but ends up being threatened by other countries of going to war. Hence, what we see is a contradiction that Baudrillard highlights: between producing nukes to prevent real conflict, while inevitably running towards their own fate of going into another “real” (hyperreal) / simulated conflict. As Baudrillard writes, one always runs towards their own fate while trying to escape it.

Just like nuclear deterrence which ends up producing the opposite effects of preventing conflict, Baudrillard takes on the position that people’s emancipations are doing something similar. This can be seen in feminism and the sexual liberation. In the first chapter of Seduction, Baudrillard provocatively asserts to the Freudian view that the stability and production of reality and meaning is only possible due to the dimensions of the masculine, whereas the play of appearance, meanings and signs are only possible due to the feminine—the latter which he refer as “seduction”. Despite appearing on taking the Freudian psychoanalytic position, Baudrillard makes a reverse argument and points out how it isn’t the masculine dimension which produces and defines feminine reality as such (patriarchy), it is the feminine which challenges and produces the masculine certainty by exception via seduction. Baudrillard even points out that, the great theorist of split subjectivity Jacques Lacan, along with the entire field of psychoanalysis, also falls into the realm of seduction.

The irony that Baudrillard saw within the theme song of feminism (as he puts it) and their desire to break down gender roles is that they secretly had the upper hand in our patriarchal society by strategically manipulating it via seduction through a certain mode of challenge and the play of appearance, signs, and meanings. The feminine had always been the secret force of society which undermined all modes of masculine certainty and power. Yet, Baudrillard points out how feminists are depriving of their own strengths as they get caught up in the world of simulations which led them astray (because a lot of them dread seduction). As feminism sought to deviate from such seductive truth, they ended up producing more gender roles. As a result, it created an even more confusing world of simulations and simulacra. This is where Baudrillard criticizes the sexual liberation, which broke down gender roles. For Baudrillard, while the sexual liberation broke down gender roles via the production of new simulated realities (i.e. new realities of gender, etc.), he saw that people are still deeply seduced by / believed in gender roles—including those who sought to break them down.

At this point, it is easy to mistake Baudrillard as some anti-feminist, even when Baudrillard also did not believe in gender roles. But because he saw how people are seduced by it (they believe in it)—an old idea that is incompatible with our increasingly hyperreal world today, Baudrillard thinks gender roles still holds a lot of power in our society. One of the main problems Baudrillard had with the sexual liberation and the production of simulations is how its environment also produced people who can no longer make sense of their world and their roles in society due to the abundance of hyperrealities—a true existential crisis and mass depression of sorts, where people no longer know what is real and what isn’t. The result of this uncertain world would lead people to try and uncover what gender truly is, for example—like what you see in feminist thinker Luce Irigaray (i.e. her idea that “anatomy is destiny”; Irigaray was heavily criticized by Baudrillard in Seduction). Yet, for Baudrillard, it was never about producing or uncovering the truth of sex or gender. Rather, it had been about seduction which reversed and dissolved all gendered power relations via the play of appearances and meanings.

Baudrillard always saw how there was a seductive allure to the feminine “sex object” (via play of appearances) who is able to reverse and dissolve all modes of masculine power. In some of his other books, Baudrillard sometimes referred to this way of thinking as the “triumph of the object” which involves the subject who believes they are in power, even when it is the object who holds the power of the subject. The object holds the subject as hostage. It is for example, not the subject in power who watches the television (object), but the television (i.e. media) who watches the subject to the point that it manipulates and changes the subject—reversing all power relationships and creating a simulacrum subjectivity. This reverse relationship is what Baudrillard categorized as being part of seduction. The object is presented to the subject of power as a form of challenge, seduction, play of appearance and signs.

The confusion lies in the relationship between simulation, which comes from the production of new realities and meanings; and seduction which involves the play of these new simulated appearance of meanings and becoming seduced by them. The two terms lives in an eternal paradox, where the production of different realities will also lead to the inevitable play of seduction. In several places from both books, Baudrillard noted that simulation and seduction shares a similar dimension in the sense that the former seeks to become reality (more real than real, and more false than false), whereas the latter is the play of reality and appearances. For Baudrillard, nothing can triumph over seduction and the play of signs, not even the masculine production of simulation. In Seduction, Baudrillard writes:

“Now surprisingly, this proposition, that in the feminine the very distinction between authenticity and artifice is without foundation, also defines the space of simulation. Here too one cannot distinguish between reality and its models, there being no other reality than that secreted by the simulative models, just as there is no other femininity than that of appearances. Simulation too is insoluble.

This strange coincidence points to the ambiguity of the feminine: it simultaneously provides radical evidence of simulation, and the only possibility of its overcoming – in seduction, precisely.” (11)

Ultimately, Baudrillard’s thoughts provides us with the compatible incompatibilities between reality and illusion (simulation). With the disappearance of reality lies the destiny of simulation—the latter which can be overcome by the force of seduction. For Baudrillard, seduction allows people to accept simulative and hyperreal spaces via disguises and the play of appearances, signs, and meanings. Yet on the other hand, with the disappearance or revelation of simulations (i.e. gender roles) also lies the destiny of reality. While one can simulate some hyperreal truth via production of what is real (i.e. the truth of sex, gender, society, etc.), the desert of the real is recognized once such veil gets removed. For Baudrillard, revealing the truth will only show us that there are no truths because there was never really anything “real” to begin with; since humans had long began imposing their own modes of thoughts, realities, and Borges maps onto reality. This is what Baudrillard refer as “the perfect crime”.

Due to how Baudrillard thinks we are living in a world of simulations he sometimes points out how he is a believer of seduction. This is because, for him, seduction is the solution to our world of simulation and the loss of what is real, which leads to people losing their purpose on this world. The recognition of “truth” via the realization of simulations would lead people to try and recover what is most real which results in producing more simulations like those found in feminist movements, sociology, literature, and other texts. Yet at the same time, the production of simulation would also lead to the eternal destiny of feminine seduction which seduces the subject into believing these simulations as truth. This is the paradox that lives at the core of Baudrillardian thought.

To simplify the second aspect of Baudrillard’s ideas while retaining the paradoxes, we can put it as such: while Baudrillard believes gender roles are false, he thinks that because people are still seduced by such idea, we should adopt them and take advantage of it as modes of illusions which would blend or erase their differences. Instead of trying to assert or reveal the “truth” of gender and sex like that of sexual liberation and feminism (which produces more simulations), or completely deny it by claiming that gender is not real like postmodernists, Baudrillard thinks we should adopt gender roles as seductive disguises that is more real than real and more false than false.

Reading Baudrillard is like encountering how these paradoxes and contradictions collides and reconcile with each other, between simulation and seduction, reality and illusion, good and evil, man and woman, masculine and feminine. I often admired the ending of Seduction because I always thought it was very thought provoking. In fact, I cited it several times in some of my older posts. It serves as a good summary to Baudrillard’s thoughts:

“The world is naked, the king is naked, and things are clear. All of production, and truth itself are directed towards disclosure, the unbearable ‘truth’ of sex being the most recent consequence. Luckily, at bottom, there is nothing to it. And seduction still holds, in the face of truth, a most sibylline response, which is that ‘perhaps we wish to uncover the truth because it is so difficult to imagine it naked'”.

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Random Thoughts #5: Idealism, Materialism, Psychoanalysis and Other Responses

Just the other day, someone responded to my last post (here) and made a good point in regards to following the status quo in academia. For example, people like to follow the idea that just because someone is well known, there ideas are more valid over others; he also brought up the dangers of using an old idea / context and placing it onto the new—such is the case between psychoanalysis and psychology. He made a specific example of this with my last post where I ruminated about Lacanian-Zizikian psychoanalysis. Personally, I would not jump to conclusions so quickly. Anyone who read my previous post would already know that I don’t follow the status quo, even if I read a lot of famous works. Like I said a few posts ago, I could often careless about these things.

One must recognize that there is a reason why some philosophers are famous. Sometimes they are for good and bad reasons. In cases like Jacques Derrida and Alain Badiou for example, their ideas are not only far reaching, they offer an account for nearly all modes of thinking across many disciplines. There is a reason why people situated Derrida’s thoughts at the summit of philosophy. This is not an exaggeration because his thoughts represented the end of a predominant branch of continental (European) philosophy. Simply put, these people aren’t famous without reason. Once you understand them, their ideas could be applied into every other discipline and represents a major shift in thought. In fact, they are famous because they try to account for why there are all these different disciplines and perspectives in the first place. This is why I can respect most academic disciplines because I recognize their importance and merit. Maybe it is because I had always been more of a big picture oriented thinker which makes me focus on certain thinkers over others.

Since Lance denied my comment for whatever reasons (or maybe he just didn’t read it), I decided to turn my initial comment and expand it as a response. To be sure, I have no interest in starting some internet feud over something that is a matter of intellectual position. I don’t have much time to do such thing anyway. When I have time, I prefer doing other things like take naps and eat French fries because I’m more or less retired from academia. Lance’s concern in regards to replaying old context into new is understandable. But he speaks for himself in regards to using old contexts and placing onto “newer” ones. For example, he uses Kierkegaardian thought and places it onto disciplines that proceeds Kierkegaard’s ideas. One can tell right away by his use of the title “Either/or” which references a famous book by Kierkegaard. I’m not surprised since I was once given the honor to read one of his books that uses Kierkegaardian ideas of faith to deal with contemporary problems of other philosopher’s works. There is nothing wrong with what he is doing because I think everyone does this. I am pointing this out because it seems like he got caught in his own blind spot.

I don’t speak of this old / new idea as a problem because it is the inevitable nature of interpretation. Instead of thinking that replaying or bringing back old context is futile to new ways of thinking, I take on the position that interpretation is fundamental to human existence and the production of truths regardless that they are of old and new ideas. This view is largely owed to my years of studying Derrida’s deconstruction, which is more or less about the problem of interpretation and communication. It’s not that reapplying an “old context” or idea to the new is futile; or that people would assume old contexts and definitions of the old will forever remain the same in the new. But rather, every time we reinterpret an old idea from the future (i.e. contemporary present), the context will inevitably change. There are many reasons for this, one of them is because interpretation, context and knowledge are influenced by space and time. In case you are wondering, I have always adopted this stance throughout much of the existence of this blog. The infinite repetition of every instance of time from past to future are never identical to each other. Interpretation is never static.

We exist in space and time which consists of a future that might change how the past is perceived. Christopher Nolan’s latest film, Tenet is one of the perfect examples of this past/future dialectic in relationship with knowledge. I won’t talk about this film today. My point is that if meanings of words and events remain the same every time we reinterpret them from the future, there would not be new interventions or new interpretation of anything. Many new ways of thinking and emerging fields comes from reinterpreting past thinkers in a new way (i.e. look at Lacan’s interpretation of Freud; Zizek’s interpretation of Hegel, Marx, Lacan; Derrida on Heidegger and Husserl, Meillassoux’s interpretation of Badiou, Locke and Hume, etc.). Obviously, I can’t say that every time we make these interpretations or bring back old contexts, we are guaranteed to produce new meanings and knowledge. There is a chance that it will, and a chance that it wont. But that’s okay. What’s important is that we interpret and try to understand it which may possibly lead us to something more interesting.

Lance’s criticism on psychoanalysis where he pointed out how psychoanalysis holds little water is not new. I don’t think psychoanalysis is out of date or holds little water—for it accounts for certain aspects of the human mind and problems that psychologists (and philosophers) seem to ignore. While the psychological criticisms of psychoanalysis are valid in many ways, the problem with various scientific disciplines is that it presupposes the human mind and consciousness (though not all of them do this). In other words, some scientists takes for granted that they are first and foremost thinking conscious subjects who are able to look into a microscope and are able to produce knowledge. But how does this process work? How do they justify these knowledge as such? 

There are certain 19th century philosophies that does not presuppose the human mind or any modes of knowledge. One of them is phenomenology. This is the reason why phenomenology can never be naturalized as a science, despite what some “phenomenological scientists” say. While science presupposes the natural world and its knowledge as the product of human mind, phenomenology begins by not presupposing anything. It starts from the experience of your first-person point of view, where the experience of your conscious mind is given and embodied as phenomena. It is from this point where the subject must come to understand such phenomena in relationship their own bodies, external world, our intuition and ability to produce knowledge about all the “things” we experience in our lives. In certain ways, psychoanalysis also does something similar, but with far more skepticism. For psychoanalysts, consciousness is doing something that our consciousness is not aware—namely, it is influenced by our unconscious mind.

If you follow the trends of academia, you might notice that every now and then, there will be an idea, or a group of emerging disciplines that drives everyone crazy. Back in the 1950s, it was Foucault’s ideas on power and knowledge, then it was Derrida’s deconstruction, Lacanian psychoanalysis, now it is Badiou, Deleuze, Laruelle tagged along with Speculative Realism, New Materialism and Object Oriented Ontology. Don’t get me wrong, just because it is the trend to talk about these topics, it does not mean that scholars don’t write about old ideas anymore and reapplies them to the new. People still write many scholarships about them. Heck, people still write about Plato and Aristotle who are 2000 years old. Even Badiou, who is quite popular today, is a reader of Plato. Some of them are able to take these “old contexts” (ideas) of Plato and reinterpret them into contemporary times in ways that are both unique and original—Badiou being a good example of this (not to mention that Badiou is also a reader of Lacanian psychoanalysis).

While the current trends of contemporary academic disciplines like New Materialism, Object Oriented Ontology, and Speculative Realism are interesting and ambitious, some of them must be careful of not falling into a naive realism. I’m pretty sure scholars already spoke about this. A lot of these emerging disciplines deals with the classical problem between idealism and materialism. Which goes back to the main distinctions between many strands of Continental philosophy and science in general. The former has been focused solely on idealistic philosophies while the latter is largely materialist.

When people use the word “idealism”, they are thinking about an impossible perfect fantasy reality. But this is not always the case in philosophy. The conventional take on idealism involves how reality and its objects that human experiences are not the direct experience of these real objects. They are the experience of our sensory perceptions or phenomenon of these objects. In other words, there can be no knowledge that is conceived independently from our intuitive, sensory, and perceptual experiences. If you think about how you are physically reading this post and interpreting it through your mind via these modes, you may realize that there are many truths in regards to this idealist argument. Just think about it, if we both agree that the sky is blue, how do we know that we are thinking of the same form of blue in our minds? How do we know that my perception of blue sky is the same as yours? How do I know that your experience of interpreting these words are identical to my experience as I wrote them? Or rather, how do I know that my interpretation of Plato is identical to Plato himself, especially after so many different ways of translation and interpretation of his works?

On the other hand, materialism can be described as the idea that everything in our universe is made up of matter, something which is also intrinsically true. Even the thinking human mind is only possible due to matter (i.e. our brain). Hence, in order for humans to perceive anything in the first place, they must first and foremost have a physical brain, etc. How do I know we are thinking of the same blue sky? Use pantone codes. Yet on the other hand, how can anyone know that they have a brain if they do not perceive this knowledge through their consciousness? How do I know that the pantone codes are representing the same concept of blue in the other person’s mind? Overtime, many idealistic philosophies became dominant in continental philosophy. While some of the people who took up these emerging fields are reacting against phenomenology and other modes of idealistic philosophies, they are not reactionary fields.

Essentially, the emergence of New Materialism, Speculative Realism, and Object Oriented Ontology are attempts to conceive of knowledge, reality, and objects independent of the mind. While they have different approaches and tend to disagree with each other quite a bit, they are trying to think or speculate outside of idealism and directly into the material / real. In this sense, what is known as naïve realism is when someone thinks they have discovered knowledge that is independent of the mind, even when they haven’t (according to idealists—and even for certain psychologists) since they have to first perceive, filter, and process it through their minds. I don’t think every thinker in these newer fields falls into this trap—but some would say that they all do. Of the people that I’ve read, Graham Harman’s take seems to be the most convincing. He also seems like a cool dude and is a total rap god due to how fast he talks in some of his lectures.

I think idealism and materialism are important because they cannot exist without each other. They function as dualisms in many ways. Maybe one day, they will be able to unify. What I like about these newer fields is that they provide a breath of fresh air to thinking—even if I think it is a bit of a stretch to argue that a rock has consciousness. But they might be right. Who knows. 

The future is always to come.

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Random Thoughts #4: Psychoanalytic Thoughts on Gender Identity and Sexual Difference

Let me add a few more insights from my last post. I know I said I won’t talk about gender pronouns anymore, but it is actually very interesting. The entire idea between Judith Butler’s gender as social construct and psychoanalysis is a complex one. Some people might have heard this before, but our anatomy has nothing to do with our psychic structure (biological sex is not the same as gender). This is the general principle of psychoanalysis—something that Butler would also agree. In fact, this idea traces all the way back to the famous philosophical “mind-body” problem proposed by Rene Descartes (I will write about this in the future). Regardless, gender is not only a social construct, it is produced by the difference of two psychic structures—that is, two psychic structures that has been socially constructed as “feminine” and “masculine” in our heteronormative culture. In other words, the gender difference between feminine and masculine is not just a difference in performativity reinforced by society as Butler would say, it is also a difference in the way our psychic mind works.

diagram

To really understand the two psychic structures, you have to think of these two structures as something that is independent of the cultural symbolic “feminine” and “masculine” terms. You also have to think of them as the underlying structure that produces sexual difference in the human mind. In Lacanian psychoanalysis, these two structures are represented by what Lacan famously refer as “sexuation” (the graph pictured above). I won’t explain the mathemes of this graph today. But it doesn’t really matter what word you use to identify yourself as, a subject can only produce their identity through one of two ways via either the left or right side of the graph. For example, in our symbolic heteronormative culture, people just happen to call one side of the graph “feminine” and the other side “masculine”. While in another culture, it could very well be called “fruits” and “vegetables”, etc. (there is another level of complexity here that I won’t talk about). Sexuation reveals that there are only two ways that the human psyche can arrive at their sexual identity regardless of what they want to call it. In other words, while we see all these different pronouns showing up in the LGBT+ community, all of these identities can only be produced via one of two ways through sexuation. While new pronouns can function as a way to challenge the heteronormative culture—it does not necessarily mean that these new identities would change the underlying structure of how they are produced. And in case you are wondering, this is what I meant in my last post when I said that an argument could be made that pronouns can be important—especially when you consider psychoanalysis.

Now, I’m not sure if you can see where the problem is. But all of this proposes an interesting question in regards to transgender via psychoanalysis. If your anatomy has nothing to do with your psychic structure of gender, then what is transgender? This is assuming that transgender is someone who reassigns their anatomy to better fit their self identified gender. Honestly, I can only think of controversial answers. As much as I would like to be politically correct and say that transgenders exist—and they certainly do at a biological / existential / anatomic level (they are a human being, just like everyone else), the problem is more complicated than it appears. That for example, transgender might not exist as a psychic structure that is independent of sexuation (i.e. there are only two psychic structures; we produce our identity via one of two ways, there is no third way—so the debate begins). However, one can say that transgender is when the split subject makes an unconscious shift in their sexual position via sexuation; such that they move from one side of the graph to the other. In our heteronormative culture, this would translate as the shift from feminine to masculine and vice versa (which makes sense if you think about it); or in another culture, it would be from vegetables to fruits, etc. In this case, transgender does exist, but not at the level of symbolic language. And if we assume these premises to be true, then I am wrong about various points in regards to gender pronouns. If I remember correctly, Slavoj Zizek—who is one of the world’s most famous Lacanian psychoanalysts—has controversially spoke about this a few years ago. But a lot of people ended up misreading his argument. I’m not going to get into this because it is sweaty, complex, jargony, and can only be understood by people who are fluent in psychoanalysis and other specific branches of philosophies (i.e. Ontology and German Idealism).

Let me try and throw this last bit out there quickly. If you recall my two big introductory posts on Lacanian psychoanalysis (here and here) and how I pointed out that the way the subject gets split determines sexual difference. This split that I spoke of is basically the split in the sexuation graph between the two sides (I never explained sexuation in my Lacanian posts because it makes Lacan a lot harder to understand). Due to such split, who we think we are is not who we actually are. The symbolic language is like a fiction that conceals the wound of our split subjectivity (it conceals the Real–the trauma or deadlock of sexuality). Well! The same could be said that sexual difference is not found at the level of the symbolic language, such as how we identify gender via pronouns of he/him, she/her; or feminine, masculine, fruits and vegetables, etc. Instead, it is found deep within our unconscious minds and the way we get divided into split subjects through our relationship with the big Other (superego). I might write more about this in the future and incorporate a part 3 to my Lacanian posts. But I’ve been busy playing Apex Legends with friends on my days off. I also just ate too much Pho and I am about to get food coma. So maybe later.

Ok goodnight.

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Contemplation

Random Thoughts #3

I kind of want to throw this post out there really quick because I might take a break from writing again after this. Before I start moving onto different topics from my last few posts. I want to walk on some eggshells and clarify a few things. I can be quite an idealist and pessimist because I always try to see the world for what it really is. But like many people, I also wish the world would one day come together where everyone would treat each other as equals so that we can together focus on—in my opinion—cooler things like space exploration, jumping into black holes, befriend aliens, etc. I am in no position to judge how someone else should live their life or the choices they make. As long as it’s not hurting anyone, I honestly don’t see a problem with it (—even if I have insights about them from the stuff that I study). Everyday, I consider myself as a human being encountering other unique human beings, hence I could careless about other things that are associated to the person because they are just another person to me. I don’t know about you, but I think that is pretty fair.

When I said that I could careless about gender pronouns, I am not trying to dismiss the existence of certain genders or people in general (I recently read the Time article on Elliot Page—I am happy for him). What I meant was that all pronouns are kind of pointless to begin with—especially if you take on the Butlerian position that gender is socially constructed (I say “kind of” because a strong argument could be made that they are important—especially when you consider psychoanalysis). I am not going to get too much into this because it will just add more fuel to a fire that has been existing for some time between a lot of people. Solution? Maybe we should just get rid of all pronouns, including he/him, she/her, etc. With all this said, I know there is another side of the argument from the political right on gender which is equally interesting—especially once you mix it in with other discourses. But I don’t think I will talk about it today because I am tired and annoyed for some reason. Actually, I’m not sure if I will ever talk about it because my mind is not really focused on it (I am trying to learn quantum entanglement). I think I will never talk about these things again because I am pretty insensitive so I will just leave it like this. I sometimes try to be more sensitive, but it doesn’t come natural to me.

I am throwing this out there because I have a feeling some people might have took my words the wrong way. Worst case, I wouldn’t want someone to harm themselves because of things I said. Please remember that context really matters because words put into different contexts will change in meaning (this is the nature of how meanings are produced). So I guess on hindsight, I understand why people want to implement safe space, censor words, etc. even if I think it is not a real solution (it’s not even a very good solution). But I also think people should try to learn how to deal with these things because it is the inevitable reality of our world that people will say something that might offend (intentional or not). Yet at the same time, I know it is hard to ask someone who suffered a lot to do this. We can’t always control the things people say and do, but we can try to control the way we respond to them; the way we think about the things they are saying (i.e. the way we interpret them via various contexts; try to understand them, etc.). We can also learn to not jump to conclusions so quickly. Ok, I have no intentions of turning this post into self-help.

I never really thought I would get into these topics because I was always more interested in things like metaphysics, existentialism, and other philosophies that deals with the nature of knowledge, space, and time (hence I have a disinterest in most politics). It’s just that some people around me has been talking about it recently. There has been some drama going on in my semi-distant family members in regards to homophobia—which is pretty crazy if you ask me. I don’t think a lot of my family members reads my blog except for some of my distant cousins in Hong Kong (Hi), so I think it is fine that I write this on here.

If you look at my Google feed on my phone, I hardly get any political news because I never read them since I am not really interested in which country has the bigger dick. So I am politically clueless in many ways. Most of my news feed is like “New Discovery in Quantum Mechanics”, “The Philosophy of Deconstruction”, “F1 news: Lewis Hamilton is a Cool Dude”, “F1 Driver Sebastian Vettel argues about Cheese”, “Wife puts his husband on a leash and takes him out for a walk during COVID”, etc. I like Formula 1. I enjoy learning about how they set up the cars and all the technical stuff on how they design it, gain advantage over other cars and stuff.

It’s mostly true that I usually don’t care too much about what people think of me because I know a lot of them reads me the wrong way most of the time (I don’t blame them). And when I say this, I think it’s kind of like a contradiction because I also wish people would understand me more because I get misunderstood a lot (to the point that I could careless about it). Maybe the whole reason why I am interested in deconstruction and the problem of communication that Derrida talks about is because I have been misunderstood—particularly by my mother (for real, where are the psychoanalysts at?). I’m not joking, I’ve always thought my mom and I have a lot of miscommunications and I think this might had played a role on how I grew up and influenced my own intellectual interests. My dad had always sort of been the middle man who translates the things I say to my mom. Or maybe people actually understand me, but transference is happening between my relationship with my mother to the present which makes me think that other people don’t understand me. It’s okay though, I love them both to death regardless, along with my older sister. Psychoanalyzing yourself is not always a good idea because there are lots of blind spots.

Sometimes, I thought of completely retiring my blog and move on to focus on other things in life. I am pretty passionate about philosophy. But I know I will never make any money out of it unless I become a successful professor at some university which is highly unlikely at this point (this is the reality). I also kind of want to have a family, even if I think I will be a horrible father LOL. Imagine Bobby being a dad. My kid would turn into Bobby Jr. in no time and start screaming your mom jokes. If I have kids, I would want them to be happy of course. But most importantly, I would want them to be themselves and live an authentic life (whatever that means). I would also teach them everything that I know and all the things I learnt in my life so far. I would transfer all my knowledge to them so they can do what I couldn’t (or not—if they don’t like it). I don’t know why I am saying this because I don’t even have a girlfriend lmao. #foreveralone. I am so tired I am basically in zombie mode right now.

I got work tomorrow so I am going to stop here. It has been very nice outside in the last few days. I can finally go out for walks in my underwear (jk). Not sure when I will post again. But I hope everyone stays safe.

B.




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Contemplation

Random Thoughts #2

Recently, I’ve been thinking about returning to Facebook. But I don’t think I will yet—even if I want to keep in touch with some people who I lost contact with. I enjoy not having Facebook because FB is basically Jean Baudrillard’s simulation and simulacra gone wild these days. Most of my friends use Discord as their primary mode of communication, so not having FB don’t matter too much.

I used to go on Facebook and all I see are people screaming at some political post…it’s like whoa anger management bruh, where are all my meme posts at? But it’s probably just me who is insensitive to a lot of these posts (will get to later). Yet, I eventually got tired of them. I also had a bunch of other stuff going on in my grad school life at the time which involved Facebook. I’m not at liberty to say much. I’ll just say that I got into trouble for some stuff I said (to be sure, I said them in a pretty honest and respectful manner). The incident didn’t do much other than giving me another reason to delete Facebook and leave academia forever. I only have Instagram as my social media outlet now and I barely even scroll through it. I mostly use it as messenger and watch bird and dog videos on it.

Thinking back, I made a mistake by attending some safe space meeting at school because that was how the incident started. To be honest, I would not have went to the meeting if I did not receive a rant email about not enough people attending (not surprised). Judging by the different grammar styles used in the email, it was written by at least two people. But I attended out of my respect for them. At the end, I don’t blame anyone but myself. This incident made me bitter and changed my views on academia along with the politics that went on in my department. While this was not the only reason why I will not return to academia, it was the final nail to the coffin. But I also had many great experiences during the time and met many supportive people, so I guess it made up for it. I would prefer to keep the good memories.

I want to write about Baudrillard one day and revisit media and communication studies. The ideas he wrote back in the 80s are more true than ever today. Baudrillard is a really provocative thinker and I really like that about him. I don’t think we have enough provocative public intellectuals these days. People like Slavoj Zizek and Jordan Peterson also have similar provocative qualities to them where they just “say things” as they put their academic careers on the line. I say this because universities are no longer what they used to be (though not all of it are bad). You sometimes hear scary stories about professors getting fired for saying something to the wrong person—or when they offer their political views. Many professors these days don’t have enough job security to speak their minds which is understandable. I once met a philosophy professor who did have job security and always spoke her mind in class. I once spoke to her and she told me how she always gets students complaining about her teaching style in the student  evaluations, but told me she doesn’t care. She was pretty smart and funny. Personally, I would get tired of walking on eggshells everyday.

I recall in my last post, I spoke about how I think it is impossible for us to solve worldly problems due to human nature and their natural tendencies to be aggressive and vengeful. On hindsight, I think I might be wrong or had come on too strong on that statement. Welcome to my blog, where I regularly take back my words. It is fair to say that these posts are just me thinking out loud.

The theme of human nature reminds me of a brilliant Japanese RPG game called Nier Automata which I’ve always wanted to write about because it deals with this never ending cycle of violence found throughout history. Basically (spoilers), the game forces the player to make a decision about the fate of these characters in the game so to end the eternal cycle of war and revenge through themes of love and sacrifice. I have written about love many times because I think it is an important theme in being human. In other words, being human is not just about intelligence and rationality, it also involves genuine acts of love.

It is strange that I would emphasize on love because I can be pretty insensitive about many things (I’m sure some people can tell by now). I used to always joke with a friend that if they ever want an unsympathetic friend, I will always be there for them. I am probably the last person people think of when they need emotional support. Most of my friends are also human robots—but are all formidable thinking machines in their own ways.

With this said, I am not devoid of emotions. In fact, I often find myself feeling deeply towards certain individuals and things around me, but it never really shows externally. This is probably why some people have a hard time reading me. Often times, instead of feeling or sympathizing for someone or something that I care about, I try to solve or understand that thing or person more (and whether something is solvable is situational). As I got older and matured my ability to handle my emotions better, I realized that a lot of people don’t really want solutions or any of their problems solved, they just want someone to sympathize and listen to them.

While I don’t reveal much of my emotional state, some of my emotions are shown through my writing, even if I only write when I am mentally calm with a clear state of mind (I usually don’t write or deal with problems while I am emotionally unstable). This is what you see when I wrote about my dog for example (here). Although some of its content are sad and depressing, I am usually already pretty detached by the time I write about it. I prefer maintaining a clear mental state as much as I can.

On a different note, Slavoj Zizek speaks my mind in regards to political correctness (you can find it here). So well that I don’t need to say it myself. How does censoring people’s words solve something like racism and people’s racist actions? It doesn’t. I recall someone telling me that Zizek actually didn’t want to debate Jordan Peterson. Not sure how credible this was, but I wouldn’t be surprised because they have a quite a few things in common despite Zizek being a hardcore communist and JBP being a hardcore classic liberal (the John Locke kind of liberal). Furthermore, Zizek also makes good points in regards to gender politics. While the LGBTQ+ are marginalized under the law, much of their experiences are actually found in every human being. In this sense, they are not as marginalized as they appear because it is a shared experience that we all have—much of it unrealized by most people. This might be why you see ex-heterosexual people “coming out” as homosexuals, etc. Such argument is deeply rooted in psychoanalysis where the way human subjects are “split” determines sexual difference (see my big post on Lacanian psychoanalysis here and here).

Having watched the Zizek and JBP debate several times, I sometimes cannot tell whether Zizek has obsessive or hysterical neurosis. While we are all neurotics, obsessive neurosis is more common with men, and hysterical neurosis is more common with women (though this is not always the case). Obsessive neurotics are often concerned about their own existence (philosophers are good examples of this and it is probably why it is dominated by men). Whereas hysterics are concerned about their own sexual position (i.e. “What is woman?”). Similar to Lacan, Zizek always admired hysterics because it is the only discourse capable of producing new knowledge by challenging existing systems (i.e. challenging the university discourse which represents modernity) [See Lacan’s four discourses]. This is why a lot of contemporary Lacanians often associate women with truth. Zizek also complimented Hegel by calling him hysterical. Definitely a very weird way of complimenting someone.

Some people might think that psychoanalysis is out of date and is not very forward thinking with their whole gender identifications, but this misses the point. Psychoanalysis is not a discipline where its intricacies should be modified to be more gender inclusive and forward thinking—after all, it is first and foremost a clinical field. In fact, it is the exact opposite. Psychoanalysis only works with what society produces. It is society and language that produces split subjects who are subject to psychoanalysis. In this case, if society is producing people with different gender identities, then they will become part of analysis because once again, how we get split / castrated determines sexual difference. After all, psychoanalysts attempts to answer, “What does the Other (i.e. Society) want (from me)?”. Society is the breeding ground for neurosis and all sorts of crazies in both good and bad ways.

Nevertheless, I think Zizek telling people to make jokes about race and culture so to deal with political correctness is a rather Freudian one. For Freud, jokes are a form of mental catharsis (a medicine for the mind). For example, some people might notice how many doctors, nurses and emergency workers often likes to tell very dark jokes. This is there way to relief all the stressful things they experience in their jobs. In the same way, Zizek suggests that making jokes about race relieves the violence and tensions that are found in it (this is a very interesting solution—but also an inappropriate one in certain contexts). Coming to think about it, maybe this is the reason why I like to turn a lot of things into jokes. Personally, I love dark humor jokes. Racist jokes are also pretty funny. Sometimes, I enjoy picking up anonymous phone calls where I deliberately speak English with a heavy Chinese accent. Most of my jokes are either super dark, parodic, or super stupid.

Off topic: I recently got a new phone. I went from a 3 1/2 year old Huawei Mate 10 to a Samsung S21 Ultra. The S21 is such a nice phone wtf. I don’t think I’ve ever owned such a nice phone before. To be fair, it was also very expensive. My old Huawei had a weird battery problem that fixed itself after factory reset (probably due to some rogue app draining my battery). Unfortunately, I already got my new phone by the time I fixed my Huawei, so I guess it is too late ;). The S21 Ultra is too nice to pass up. Besides work, I’ve been a pretty big hermit these days. I kind of want to go out more, take some pictures, and maybe hang out with some interesting people once COVID settles. But I am also kind of lazy.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Ok bye.

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Contemplation

Random Thoughts #1

This post is just me casually rambling about random stuff and taking a break off my exhausting work life and other things. I will share some stories about myself; my views on contemporary politics, gender pronouns, and why I think a lot of society’s problems will never be solved. Like usual, I will be speaking my mind and be myself. I like blogging probably because it is one of the places where I can be myself without following dumb rules, walk on eggshells, or hear someone whine, cry, or complain.

Just the other day, someone told me that they think I am very smart (the best of all compliments). Believe it or not, I went from nearly bombing high school and almost couldn’t graduate to a straight A university student. Going to school back in the days always felt like it was a prison for me. I am not very good at working within constraints and rules—even if this is almost impossible in today’s world. A lot of times, professionalism is just another word for social control these days. I tend to break a lot of rules and not follow rules that makes no sense. For me, rules are guidelines, not shackles. Random story: I was a bad kid when I was young. I had my first fist fight when I was in grade 5 over breaking a piece of ice on the ground during recess (possibly the dumbest thing anyone can have a fist fight over). I became friends with the dude I fought.

I often find myself speaking in a different wave length than most people I encounter. This is probably because I am a huge skeptic who is concerned about how and why something works (I am most skeptical of humans—I will get to this later). It might be why I lean towards philosophy more than the sciences even if the latter also fits the bill (science definitely have its place because I am very much a realist—even if my life pursuits so far hasn’t always been very “real” / practical). In my intellectual studies, the first question that I attempt to understand about the world is how anyone can understand the world in the first place—including myself (i.e. why do I think and understand something the way I do?). Hence, the word “understanding” is two fold: it consists of understanding how others understand, and in what conditions allows me to understand others in X number of ways (i.e. some immutable conditions applies: I exist in space and time, I am a conscious / unconscious being with a unique history, culture, etc. I interpret them through a certain context). This is to say that for me, I am interested in the question of hermeneutics (the study of interpretation) and how human beings interpret the world, produce meanings and knowledge in the first place; whether it be cultural, political, philosophical, or scientific. I am interested in why people interpret things the way they do (i.e. events, books, situations, problems, etc.).

Through my studies of deconstruction, psychoanalysis and other disciplines, I intuitively developed a “theory (philosophy) of everything”. One can even say that my world views are oriented towards a certain form of “metaphysics of difference” which is grounded in real phenomena such as space and time. Anyone who read my blog long enough and plowed + deciphered my gibberish might be able to tell by now. I tend to think and write in metaphors and anyone who can’t catch on might have a difficult time understanding some of my writings. Most of my posts are just metaphors on top of metaphors placed into different contexts. Speaking of psychoanalysis. It is interesting because if you think about it, getting psychoanalyzed is literally the most “freedom of speech” thing you can do due to the concept of free association. You can say whatever you want during a session because that is what you are supposed to do.

You know, I have a general disinterest for identity politics—along with the whole political correctness and “cancel culture”. I am not denying that social injustice don’t occur (they happen daily). Nor do I think people should make excuses to justify their behaviors and actions. But I think some of the solutions offered today in regards to racism, etc. are more like bandages. While implementing some of these solutions might be better than nothing, they are not real solutions that can solve these issues once and for all. Whereas most other solutions seems to be more regressive than progressive. What I find problematic in these types of politics are people’s tendency to racialize and gender name everything and turn towards power (it seems crazy to me that someone can racialize mathematics). One of my friends once spoke about how important it is for people to come out as gay, but at the same time he was also like, “Who cares?”. Honestly, I cannot agree with him more. I find it fascinating today that proclaiming one’s sexual preference yields to some form of special privilege—that for example, Bobby would automatically think everything you say is always right (good luck with that). In reality, all I care about is if you have something interesting to say. I could honestly careless about your social status, sexual orientation, or skin color.

To be frank, I could also careless about gender pronouns. By saying this, I know some people are going to be like “Wow you are a transphobic XYZ!” even when I know I am not and once again, couldn’t care if someone identifies themselves as a flying hamburger (it’s a joke, calm down—but it would be funny if someone did). I am not against using people’s preferred pronouns, but I also don’t see much point in it. I remember I once had a graduate seminar where we had to introduce ourselves then tell people our gender pronouns. I thought it was cool story bro. It reminds me of Slavoj Zizek’s book called Incontinence of the Void when he compared sorting gender identities to people sorting garbage. It was a pretty savage analogy and charmingly hilarious because some people missed his point (Zizek was pointing out how people’s desire to produce gender identities is unconsciously fueled by their desires that are influenced by capitalism and consumerist culture). Obviously, people got offended. But hey its 2021, everyone gets offended.

Speaking of my humor. Some time ago, one of my friends on Discord was like “For most people, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but this is not the case for Bobby”. I laughed really hard because it is very true. I enjoy turning everything into a parody / joke. This is how I keep myself entertained because I get bored very fast. Sometimes, it’s almost like the things people do today are so joke-like that it should be seen as a joke (other times, I just do it for fun). It is a bit absurd and funny how stupid and naïve some of the things people do these days—including the things that I do. But I enjoy having a good laugh regardless and not take things too seriously. It reminds me of people who reads Franz Kafka and thinks his stuff are depressing even when people reportedly hear Kafka laugh out loud while writing his stories late at night (probably due to how absurd they are).

Anyways, unlike my father and some of my friends who are interested in historical events and other facts, I am interested in why people do the things that they do. Throughout history, we see the rise and fall of empires, tribes, languages, and cultures. As some might say, all of these events represents the repetition of history in all sorts of ways. My interests in studying why people do what they do are my attempts to find the root of all issues and problems of our world in the biggest picture. For example, it is not just about how Genghis Khan conquered huge chunks of China and Asia, but why he did what he did. It isn’t just about Europeans colonized XYZ, but why they did what they did. And if anyone noticed, I am also fascinated by why I do what I do in my life.

I think humans are obsessed with revenge. This theme is literally found all over history. You even see this quite a bit in today’s culture which is found in films and other TV shows (just go watch the latest Marvel film). What does justice even mean these days? Revenge (and this is hardly a new idea). How do we stop this never ending movement of revenge and aggression? You can’t. I recall that I once spoke about the theme of forgiveness because it is impossible. Call me a pessimist, but I think people are too caught up in offering petty solutions to big problems that can’t be solved in our world today.

In my view, one of the reasons why many of our worldly problems cannot be solved has to do with two words: Human Nature. When used together, the words are contradictory because the former implies rationality and intelligence which functions beyond our natural instincts as animals. I think Sigmund Freud’s views on how humans are fundamentally aggressive animals is true. Civilization consists of humans who would eternally struggle between their instincts, desires, and the rule of law. As Freud would say, “Homo homini lupus” (latin)—a man is a wolf to another man. This is an interesting topic that fuels a lot of my intellectual curiosities. I think a utopian society is not possible. But maybe I am wrong and one day we will insert AI chips into our brains and become robots so we can become “perfectly human” (or would it devoid our imperfections and humanity?—an interesting question).

I once briefly read about the idea of decolonization where parts of its movement aims to produce a more diverse and inclusive society. While I completely agree that this is a good thing. But once I thought about it more, I realized that these people are basically trying to include marginalized people into an already globalized structure of capitalism that was invented by “white people”. Then suddenly, you realize that these so called decolonization enthusiasts are doing the opposite of what they hope to achieve. But to be fair, I am certainly nitpicking a bit here.

I am not sure if it is possible to decolonize our society today. In a practical sense, decolonization is certainly possible—i.e. make X land independent of Y; bring back lost cultural practices, etc. But I think it is more complicated than that (to be super honest, I think a lot of practices in my own Chinese culture makes no sense). I have a rather Derridean and metaphysical take on colonialism. Actually, I wrote about this in my final graduate seminar class. I argued that the act of interpretation is where the origin of colonial violence lies and that colonialism is unavoidable since it is part of the act of interpretation—such as how you are reading / interpreting this text. One can perhaps think of this simply as the first colonizers arriving at a foreign land and interpreting X through their own culture (ethnocentrism). Surprisingly, I was showered with praises on my familiarity of Derrida and contemporary philosophy. I received an A+ for that essay (never got an A+ in grad school before). I still remember it till this day because it made me very happy. I guess maybe it was because the compliment came from a fellow Derridean scholar. I will get back to some of this idea in another post.

You know, I once referred myself as a centrist. But on hindsight, I realized I don’t belong in the political spectrum. I think I exist in the margins which is perfect for me. I don’t mind existing in the margins. I enjoy staying in the shadows and trying to see things differently or indifferently from most people these days. Often, I will bring deconstruction and other philosophical themes into contemporary issues like racism, violence, etc. But someone will always say something like, “yeah this stuff you are saying is just ‘theory’ and don’t mean much, racism is real and happens to real people”. Sometimes, I really want to give them my classic ambiguous / sarcastic response: “Ok” (in a neutrally dismissive tone) because I don’t feel like wasting my breath. I have no idea when philosophy downgraded into “theory”. But what makes this ironic is that some of the people who said this were PhD students (PhD = Doctor of Philosophy). Maybe we should just call it doctor of theory just so they can hate their future degrees.

More food for thought: if you think about it, a theory in scientific context is sort of like a hypothesis that has not been scientifically proven. So it makes sense to call philosophy “theory” because a lot of it cannot be proven with empirical evidence since a big branch of philosophy is metaphysics. Yet, if you think harder, science is also a form a philosophy (scientists during the enlightenment used to be called “natural philosophers”). So if that is the case, would science also be called “theory”? Not sure if you get what I am trying to say, but the logic seems circular—I’ve been wrong before.

People sometimes think I live a privileged life. It’s interesting because some people think I am rich which is not true. My family was the first among my relatives to immigrate to Canada. My dad didn’t move over with us until later when he decided to give up his construction business in Hong Kong which he ran successfully. But it wasn’t always like this, before I existed, both my mom and dad’s family were quite poor in Hong Kong. They had a lot of siblings, and my grandfather on my dad’s side died in his early 50s from a heart attack. Being one of the oldest siblings, my dad started working when he was very young (basically child labour) and had to support a family of 10. He went from picking up shit in the shipyard to running his own construction business. He made a lot of money and took those money to immigrate to Canada so my sister and I could live a “better” life (whatever that means). When he decided to move to Canada, he had to start all over again and give everything up (only this time, he would be at a disadvantage because he is not good at English and knew nobody here). My dad is super hard working and even having moved to Canada, he worked 12+ hours a day for years including weekends. I still remembered he would sometimes come home from work at 1:00am and wake up at 6am just so he can do it all over again.

I guess it is fair to say that I am a spoiled little brat. But that is not because my family is privileged, but because my dad is very hard working, competent, and smart. He never complained about life being unfair (in many ways, he is a stoic, just like me—but I definitely complain more because I sometimes get tired of dealing with people making no sense). He knew long ago that life is unfair. He just worked super hard and learnt how to adapt. Whereas my mom had always been a good mom—even if I sometimes butt heads with her till this day (where are the Freudians at?). Whereas I work hard only on things that I am truly passionate about and interests me (though I still work hard at my job that is not very intellectually engaging). I think I am pretty good at solving complex puzzles—like reading and solving Jacques Derrida’s gibberish philosophy books and extracting his thoughts and metaphors in different ways. I think Alain Badiou described good philosophy very well: “Philosophy privileges no language, not even the one that it is written in”. And Derrida is definitely one of those philosophers who does this in his writing which makes him very hard to read (Lacan and Deleuze also does this).

Last random story: I remember back in my undergraduate studies, I took a class on material culture and how the objects we own speaks about us. We had an assignment where we made a list of all the objects in our rooms. The list was anonymously given to another student where they had to present their findings to the class and guess who the person is. They also had to draw what they believe this person is like and share it with the class. I remember the person who analyzed my room objects was like “this dude is literally sitting on a pile of gold” and drew me laying down on a pile of gold. It was hilarious and got the class laughing. I forgot what my list was like, but I am sure it had a shit ton of rare mint condition fashion magazines and books that are now worth well over $1000 combined (back then I was really into fashion photography and how it intersects with art). All my cameras, lenses, and desktop computer in my room were also worth quite a bit (I am a gamer). If anything, my room probably acquired more “gold” because I became an audiophile and own a lot of really expensive IEMs. I also built a new desktop computer from ground up and have a decent speaker system. The only difference is that instead of fashion magazines, my bookshelf is now filled with philosophy books and literature.

Speaking of gaming. I recently played Cyberpunk 2077, Rust, and Escape From Tarkov. I am a big fan of first person and dystopian themed games. I’ve been a gamer all my life—even if I have less time to do such thing due to life obligations. Maybe I will share some of my gaming adventures some day. Anyways, I must say that I enjoyed my time not writing so much on here, but I will try to write more random stuff and eventually share some bigger philosophy posts. It’s time for bed.

Until next time,
B.

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Commentaries, Contemplation

The Gift of Death: Love, Agency, and Transgressions Beyond Dualisms

I began writing this last year in October when my dog best friend passed away. At the time, I was particularly inspired and influenced by love, death, and ethics. After long periods of contemplation and thinking about the intricacies of the subjects at hand, I decided to split this post in two. While I won’t label the two posts as Part I and Part II, they are somewhat related to each other in the sense that they both seek to transgress dualisms (in a Cartesian sense) and “binary oppositions”. This post will address the themes of agency, animals, ethics, and love at the face of undecidable events. I will talk about truth and the meaning of life through the philosophers of Jacques Derrida, Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche. Part II will focus along the lines of postcolonialism. I don’t know when I will finish the second part due to life obligations. With all this said, this post is half analytical and half self-reflective. It is written backwards with the “Foreword” at the very end. 

One last thing. This year, I will be trying to write a variety of posts and topics that I find interesting. Posting too many big philosophy and theory stuff might make this blog a bit overwhelming. They also take a lot of work (they are hard to write because it requires a lot of precision). In fact, I have been trying to do this with my last post where I answered 100 questions about myself. It was pretty enjoyable, probably because I like to give dumb answers to dumb questions. In the future, I might write about my esoteric hobbies and the most loved/hated MBTI personality theory. I might talk about my own personality type (INTJ). I might also share some of my casual thoughts, analysis and daily contemplations about random things like the movies and shows that I recently watched, such as The Queen’s Gambit (actually, Beth Harmon is a good example of a female INTJ). Overall, I will be diversifying the stuff I write on here. 

* * *

Agency, Ethics and the Undecidable Event

 

“That which is done out of love always takes place beyond good and evil” —Friedrich Nietzsche

In The Gift of Death, Jacques Derrida engages with religion and the themes of responsibility, irresponsibility and how agency (freedom to choose) produces the human individual. In it, Derrida deconstructs Soren Kierkegaard’s legendary text called Fear and Trembling which analyzes the story, “Binding of Isaac”. The story speaks of Abraham who sacrifices his son for the absolute duty for God. This sacrificial gesture is what Kierkegaard famously refer as the teleological suspension of the ethical. For Kierkegaard, in order for anyone to be religious, one must sacrifice the ethical. In line with Kierkegaard’s interpretation, Derrida points out how each one of us are like Abraham who makes sacrificial choices everyday in our lives. He writes, 

“The concepts of responsibility, of decision, or of duty, are condemned a priori to paradox, scandal, aporia. Paradox, scandal, and aporia are themselves nothing other than sacrifice, the revelation of conceptual thinking at its limit, at its death and finitude. As soon as I enter into a relation with the other, with the gaze, look, request, love, command, or call of the other, I know that I respond only by sacrificing ethics, that is, by sacrificing whatever obliges me to also respond, in the same way, in the same instant, to all others.”

As soon as one encounters the love, command, and the call of the other, they can only respond by sacrificing ethics. In many ways, Derrida was influenced by Nietzsche, who points out how acts of love always takes place beyond good and evil. The things that we choose to do out of love may radically challenge and rewrite what society defines as good and evil (good and evil is a binary opposition). Love may allow us to exceed moral boundaries because it is not something that can be reduced to binary ethics, social standards or political ideologies. To act out of love requires the suspension of the ethical. In fact, this movement of love which may transgress beyond all dualisms, dichotomies and binary oppositions is found all over Derrida’s works from signifier/signified, nature/culture, good/evil, all the way to “deconstruction” and “destruction” (from Heidegger). It is one of the reasons why Derrida always ends up inventing words of his own. By doing so, he is transgressing dualisms and producing something new (this theme plays a crucial part in postcolonial context; it is why I tend to be critical of neoliberals and alike who thinks deconstruction is about “deconstructing binaries” and pitting oppositions “against” each other because that is not exactly how it works).

Under the light of existentialism, religion, and ethics, Derrida uses himself as an example and points out how he chooses to be a philosopher and scholar instead of helping others in need. He goes on further and asks, “How would you ever justify the fact that you sacrifice all the cats in the world to the cat that you feed at home every day for years, whereas other cats die of hunger at every instant?”. In a similar way, how can one choose to save one person over another who may suffer equally as much? How can I choose to love my dog over other dogs who needs love? How can we love only one person and not any other person? For Derrida, our lives are always riddled by these undecidable events which forces us to choose.

It is at this moment where one encounters the undecidable event and the relationship between responsibility and irresponsibility. I would argue that the act of choosing not only destroys ethics, it also summons it in a new way. Derrida reminds us how, while the ethical that is defined by society may deem our choices as unethical (such as choosing to feed one cat and leaving all others to die in hunger), following the ethical formula can also lead to the unethical. For, is not the entire ethical structure produced by society—such as its laws—also causes the death of million others from within? Derrida does not seem to suggest that we should live in accordance to some ultimate formula that is defined by the masses of society (i.e. social norms, institutions, political ideologies, etc.; of what Nietzsche refer as “slave morality”). Instead, he suggests that human beings must interpret (deconstruct) the undecidable events that happens in their lives and discover the contradictions of their actions and choices. It is through such acts where new meanings are produced which could possibly transgress dichotomies and oppositions and teaches us how one should live.

Agency summons and destroys ethics, where the choice one makes could come to challenge dualisms such as good and evil. It is reminiscent to the famous thought experiment of the trolley question on whether one should choose to pull the train lever to save one person and kill five others. One can also discover this metaphor from philosophers today who often forgets how the word “philosophy” translates into “love of wisdom”. Perhaps the very beginning of philosophy—if there is a beginning and origin at all—begins through genuine acts of love. I think the idea that one should always choose and interpret our world and each other out of love (of wisdom) is something that must be revived today.

This reminds me of a series of difficult lectures from 1997 called, The Animal that Therefore I Am. In it, Derrida talks about the notion of “pure life” that is found in animals and alludes it to the themes of agency and sacrifice. He compares the enslavement and genocide of animals with Adolf Hitler who enslaves and murders Jewish people by throwing them into the gas chambers (remember that Derrida is Jewish and survived World War II). Derrida reveals how the world condemns Hitler’s monstrous actions, yet he points out that we are doing something similar to animals. He emphasizes that our society would even organize doctors and scientists to force breed animals only to enslave and slay them. Not only were these lectures incredibly influential and would go on to invent “Animal studies“, the encounter of such lectures likely turned a lot of people into vegans. Hence, just like the encounter of any undecidable events, the lecture invites its readers to make a choice which may come to challenge the ethical norms established by society (i.e. the cultural norms of eating meat). 

But Derrida’s interpretation of Kierkegaard is not only an attempt at addressing how choice relates to our responsibility and irresponsibility. One of the things that Derrida hopes to reveal is how the recognition of responsibility infinitely exceeds our capacities of being human. Such limited capacity, which represents our finite experience of the world, is always overwhelmed by unlimited responsibilities that ruptures out of our lived relationship with the world and our own death. In other words, the fact that we are mortal beings who lives for a limited time in the universe forces us to make decisions. One cannot make a choice without sacrificing something else. Death is a gift given to every human being which allows life to have meaning. It is because one will eventually die which makes our decisions meaningful—such as our choice of friends, significant other, career paths, etc.

The paradox and transgressions beyond finitude/infinitude and responsibility/irresponsibility is introduced at the heart of choice as one interprets the undecidable event. The beginning of the ethical discourse is at once suspended and summoned by the event of the undecidable where one must make a choice as they exist in their own finitude (I wrote about finitude here). Should one choose to eat or not eat meat? Should one choose one cat over another? To choose one lover or another? What constitutes the individual which could possibly change and challenge other values is this act of choosing as each person runs into these undecidable events. Hence, it is not surprising that one can learn a lot about someone from the things that they do in their lives, or from the way they speak, their behaviors, actions, and the choices they make. It is these decisions and their differential relationships with what one chooses and leave aside which defines who someone is. One can perhaps think of Derrida’s most famous concept of differance which suggests how meanings are established by what it is not and how meaning is always differed via the future becoming of time. Here, one can see how Derrida is reapplying this thought into the act of choosing which is determined by what is not chosen (a rather strange paradox).

No doubt, our choices in life would not only invite us to the topic of introspection and self-reflection, it also invites us into the themes of autobiography, confessions, and forgiveness (all of these themes were examined extensively by Derrida). Perhaps this may also explain why scholars debate whether Derrida’s philosophy is based on the thoughts of Levinas, Heidegger, Husserl, Nietzsche, Rousseau, or Freud. One can read Derrida through the discourse of these thinker’s works which would make him appear to be a Heideggarian, Freudian, Nietzschean, etc. The reader must always choose as they read Derrida. It is the subtle shift in meaning, context, and intentionality through time which produces this polymorphous effect—a phenomenon that also occurs in our lives when we interpret undecidable events (this is the famous past/future dialectic which I have explained in many places such as here). This theme of choosing is most prominently found in Plato’s Pharmacy, where Derrida discovers how the ancient Greek word “pharmakon” could translate as remedy and poison. The choice of the former or latter would significantly alter the meaning of the text. The translator must make a choice through the encounter of the undecidable event.

Martin Hagglund’s recent book called, This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom (2019) heavily borrows from Derrida’s interpretation of Kierkegaard (Hagglund is a famous Derridean scholar). For example, Hagglund points out how, if one had infinite time in their lives, they would not need to choose because they would manage to achieve everything they desire one after another. But because we are finite beings who exists within a limited time in the world, one must always make a choice. This choice, as Derrida and Kierkegaard might say, is where one suspends the ethical; but it may also reintroduce ethics and redefine values which produces the individual. Hagglund takes on an atheist position and favors the finitude of being over anything that seeks for eternal life. The human subject always exists in finitude due to the inevitable fact that one can only experience the world from their own perspective (and how they will die one day). We can never take the position of another person because we are caught within the vehicle of our consciousness and body (this idea which has a very long history is being contested by several other disciplines right now—something that I won’t speak about here).

In addition, Hagglund also argues that those who are religious admits to the finitude of life without recognizing it. There is heaven because we want life to be eternal. Yet, we know that life in the real world is not forever. Perhaps this is where Hagglund’s argument falls short against a psychoanalytic reading where religion exists as the symptom of neuroticism and the negation of the reality principle. People would like to think that life continues in heaven, even when life ends upon their death (perhaps this is why he emphasizes on the notion of secular faith). Hagglund’s thinking leans towards the infamous Nietzschean proclamation that “God is dead”. It is because God is dead where the finitude of life is recognized (i.e. there is no afterlife; no heaven). It is this finitude—this gift of death—where choices are made and produces the meanings in our lives—something which also summons the discourse of ethics, and philosophy. Someone is born and are thrown into this world. They live, choose, produce meanings, and dies. The gift of death is the gift of life. It is this mortal experience which produces the meaning of life. A meaning and truth that one should always cherish and respect, even if it may change in the contingent future. 

Many people often associate Derrida with nihilism and how there is no truth in our world. I would argue that this is not true. Once again, the argument came from how Derrida’s concept of differance which suggests that meaning is always differed. But what Derrida is actually implying is that there are never any meanings that are identical and stable within its own contextual construction within any given modes of time (temporal experience destabilizes meaning). Simply put, meanings always change—like how your perceptions of someone changes after you meet them; or how your younger self is not identical to your current and future becoming self. However, this does not mean that your past self did not exist. Neither does it mean that the past does not exist. If the past did not exist, history will cease to exist, and no knowledge, language, and meaning would be possible in the first place (once again, this has to do with the past/future dialectics). While Derrida rejects our ability to know the absolute truth, it does not mean that we must negate our values, ethics, and moral standards. It also does not mean that truth as recognized through our finitude does not exist (it is fair to say that truth changes over time—like how people once thought that the Earth was flat). 

Derrida’s project on deconstruction grants agency to the individual so they can choose as they play among the meaning of words / and as they encounter undecidable events in their life (Derrida equates this to the “Nietzschean yes“). And it is by making these decisions which could possibly transgress binary oppositions (I speak of it as possibility because one might not always interpret something out of love, for example). Through their existence in space and time (past/future), each individual makes choices, form new meanings, values, cultures, and allow for new possibilities to arise.

Between Life and Death: the Exigency of Self-Reflection

If life and death begins and ends with nothing, then meaning and truths would come into existence through the movement from one end to the other. But what is this movement, this condition which makes meaning that is found in the undecidable event possible? Meaning is important in our finite lives, but its movement which produces meaning is only possible because we exist in finitude through space and time. For is it not inevitable that one must travel and endure the becoming space of time and the becoming time of space? Are we not travelers from the past to the future who makes choices and interpret events that occurs somewhere between our present/past life and our future deaths? And that one chooses even if they choose not to choose? Living consists of the movement of time toward death. And it is between such time where meaning is produced through the choices that we make in our lives (this is also one of Derrida’s most famous argument in Speech and Phenomena and other essays: that our animating intentionalities from self-reflections via temporal consciousness is always divided by the movement of time in an infinite series of repetitions that are never identical to each other).

Thus, people who has come to know me would not be surprised that I am deeply introspective. I can do very little without having time to myself. But this silent gesture did not come from the teachings of Derrida. It came long before my encounter of his writings. By chance or fate, I encountered his works 8 years ago and have come to my own understanding of what he is saying according to my own singularity and interpretation. The meanings that I discover in his writing yields to a lot of contemplation and interpretation—something that has been wholly represented in this blog. In many ways, understanding how I read Derrida (and others) is actually a direct reflection of who I am as a person because it reflects all the choices that I made as I read him. 

Above all else, I choose, write, self-reflect and meditate out of the love for the world and life itself. Yet, none of this is possible without the recognition of my own finitude that is measured against my future destination (death) and the rupture of infinite responsibilities of the world. Here in this life, I make decisions and choices—just as any person would (only that most people do not think about it at an intellectual level). When it comes down to it, Derrida encourages us to self-reflect and deconstruct why we do the things that we do in our lives and why we make certain choices over others. He wants us to understand ourselves and our own human condition; to think hard about our relationship with the world and other people. It is through self-reflection where we not only produce the meanings of life, but recognize our finitude.

Furthermore, since no single choice, writing, or systems of thought can be produced without repression (into unconscious) or forfeiting something else—like choosing one cat over another, one might realize that we always make contradictory choices. And that most importantly, self-reflection may allow us to understand how meaning and perspectives changes over time. What one might refer as their identity, culture, or the meaning of life changes through the infinite rupture of future time and space (hence I find identity politics naïve—sometimes to the point of absurdity). This however, does not mean that there are no truths or identities. But rather, what appears to be stable in meaning (as something that is true) at the present moment could always be challenged by future contingencies. The immanence of events, intentions, and contexts always remains open due to the necessary conditions of existing in the world within space and time.

 

Foreword (From the Future)

An event occurred. I encountered Bullet, a Bernese Mountain and German Shepherd mix. We brought him home when he was 3 months old. My dad chose Bullet because he was the one who went to greet and hugged him by leaning his head on him. My sister gave him the name “Bullet” because he was a fast runner. During our time together, I would sometimes look into his eyes and wonder what he was thinking about. I would analyze his movements and behaviors and try to study him as if I had a huge crush on him (which I did, openly). Bullet witnessed my transformation from a young teenage boy to a 30 year old. He was very disciplined, focused, curious, and smart. He even taught himself how to open doors with his paws, where he would always open my room door in the middle of the night to sleep with me. 

Bullet started to trip down the stairs. This was when he began fighting degenerative myelopathy. At the time, Bullet was still very strong. He continued his daily routines and loved his food. About two years later, he couldn’t get up from laid down position without help. He would lay at the same spot everyday without moving.  Sometimes, he would get nose bleeds by sneezing several times in a row and smash his nose against the floor as his head jerked forward. While it was very difficult to watch, he never gave up and continued to try and go outside for his walks, but couldn’t even make it past the first block. Soon, Bullet could barely walk further than the driveway. He refuses to eat and move anywhere. His breathing got louder and louder. His legs began losing muscle mass. He was also becoming blind and had accidents in the house. He lost 20 pounds in his final two weeks. By then, I knew his time has come. I was the first person who suggested to euthanize him.

Bullet, the dog who travelled faster than light. One cannot say the name “Bullet” without travelling and thinking the infinite within their own finite experiences of the world. That the remembrance of Bullet will always take us beyond good and evil. And that the word “Bullet” is worthy of its name, that it is always first and foremost a name—as someone who pierces the flesh and the movement of the heart. Bullet: the dog who ran faster than the speed of light, exceeding the dualism of space and time! So fast that his life accelerates at lightning pace. Yes, he is a time traveler from the past of the future. He arrives before and after me. If love is the madness of the impossible, then he is the impossible. 

In many ways, the most difficult choice was to offer him the absolute gift: the gift of death. I sometimes wonder, did my choice take place beyond good and evil? Or was it unethical to euthanize him? Should I had gave him the agency to choose whether he wants to keep fighting to live or rest? If so, how will I know his answer? Did he answer me by not eating? Or did he stop eating because he was unhappy? I looked him in the eye, wishing he would respond to me. But I can only see him through my tears, and not a single word needs to be said.

How wisely Nature did decree,
With the same eyes to weep and see!
That having viewed the object vain, 
We might be ready to complain

Open them, mine eyes, your double sluice,
And practice so your noblest use;
For others too can see, or sleep,
But only human eyes can weep,

Thus let your streams o’erflow your springs,
Till eyes and tears be the same things:
And each the other’s difference bears;
These weeping eyes, those seeing tears.

—Tears that see . . . . Do you believe?
—I don’t know, one has to believe . . . .

Standard
Contemplation

Bobby Answers 100 Questions About Himself

Today, I will answer random questions for fun. From my favorite film and music genre all the way to stories of my near death experiences and things that I think most people misunderstands about me. Some answers are short, others are long. Read whatever you like.

I think I accidently shared an unfinished version of this post before and removed it the following day.

1. Are you an introvert or extrovert?
Introvert.

2. What are your hobbies?
I read.
I write.
I think.
I am a music and movie enthusiast.
I am an audiophile who owns too many in-ear monitors.
I enjoy doing simple things like watching sunsets and stargazing.
I enjoy having deep conversations with people.
I enjoy photography.
I like philosophy.
I play video games.
I build custom mechanical keyboards.

3. How many languages do you speak?
Cantonese and English. I can speak both fluently.

4. Where are the places that you will most likely be at?
Home, coffee shop, work, bookstore, or anywhere with good food.

5. What nicknames do you have?
Booby, boobs, bobs, bibby and bibs. I don’t care what people call me.

6. Are you left or right handed?
Left.

7. What’s the most beautiful word in the world?
Your name.

8. What do people think of you?
It depends on how much / well you know me.

For most people, I am weird, hard to read, cerebral, intense, solitary, intelligent, calm, mysterious, and sometimes intellectually dominating. I would also imagine that some people think I am arrogant, which is not true. For those who really knows me: I am a gigantic jokester who drops really dark and stupid humor left and right (for example). I am hard on the outside and super soft in the inside. I also talk too much once people know me well.

9. How difficult is it for you to be honest, even when your words may be hurtful or unpopular?
It is not too difficult for me to say something that is unpopular or hurtful. This is why I make sarcastic jokes. Most of the time, my honesty depends on what is at stake. I always try to be nice, polite, and honest—especially when the situation calls for it.

From personal experience, most people hates my honesty because they think it is rude. While others appreciates the authenticity and finds it nice that I don’t beat around the bush.

10. What did your father teach you?
Do everything with love and passion.

11. What did your mother teach you?
Be realistic.

12. What’s one thing you’re certain of?
Just because you are right does not mean that it is the truth.

13. What are you really good at?
I am pretty good at everything that I put my mind to.

14. What is one thing that people take for granted?
Language.

15. What do you bring most to a friendship?
Loyalty, care, and authenticity.

16. Have you ever had a secret admirer?
Yes, probably. Just remember that I appreciate honesty.

17. Who is your secret crush?
*Insert ambiguous answer.*

18. What is the first thing you notice about a person?
Their mannerisms and behaviors. You would be surprised how much you can learn about someone from watching the way they behave and how they talk.

19. When was the last time you approached a stranger?
I tend to keep to myself. But I am open to random conversations—even if I seem unapproachable.

20. When was the last time you gave someone advice?
I don’t give advice. But I can tell you what I think is true.

21. What are the signs you show when you like someone?
Most people can’t read me well enough to pick up any signs. Luckily, if I like you, I will usually tell you in the most direct way possible and make sure that there are no miscommunication. In fact, if you ask anyone who I had dated / had romantic interest in, they will all tell you the same thing: “Bobby randomly said ‘I like you'” (and sometimes in the weirdest way possible). I must say that this actually worked quite a few times, but also failed miserably other times. Lol.

22. Have you dated two people at the same time?
No.

23. What is your ideal partner like?
Hmm.

24. Are you attractive?
I know I am not ugly. My mom tells me that I am very handsome.

25. What is love?
An absolute singularity.

26. When was the last time you received a compliment?

Few months ago (not a compliment from my mom).

27. Have you written a love letter?
Yes. I am quite good at it. Letter writing is a lost art that not many people appreciate anymore (emails and instant messages don’t count).

28. What songs have you completely memorized?
Darude – Sandstorm.


29. What do people misunderstand about you?
There are lots. The most common one is my communication style. As I said, I tend to be blunt and honest. I usually mean the things that I say word for word. The problem is that people are used to deciphering social cues (AKA jumping to conclusions) without realizing that there are not much to decipher because of how direct I can be. I also don’t make promises that I cannot keep.

I am aware that most people finds me hard to understand (to be fair, I also find myself hard to understand). It is hard for me to explain myself because my mind buzzes through a billion thoughts per second. I can be quite clueless and absent minded. I am also a very observant and curious person. This is why you might often find me scanning around public spaces and catch me staring at you when I am “idling”. It means I am trying to acquire new knowledge about my surroundings. To be sure, I am not judging you when you catch my gaze. Body language and micro expressions are very fascinating phenomena (i.e. things like mirroring, etc.). For example, I can tell when X is attracted to Y just by observing their interaction and learning their body language and behavioral habits (I am usually 80-90% accurate).

If you approach me, I will respond politely, and you might notice that I will be searching your brain for “intelligence” and “knowledge” by asking you questions about yourself, or about random topics. I will sometimes pretend I am stupid and ask you questions that I already know the answer to and see how you respond (I may also say something on purpose). Your responses will help me determine who you are and your level of intelligence and knowledge within certain topics. It also offers “clues” to other things like whether you have been gossiping about me, etc. I know when someone is being authentic, fake, insecure, or lying to me. I know more than what most people think I know about them. I can see through most people and the masks that they put on. Therefore, if you approach me as yourself, I will appreciate you for who you are and you might discover that I will open up myself to you and share my hobbies and interests. Keep in mind that I am really bad at small talk even if I am capable of doing it for a small amount of time because it is a necessary life skill.

Also, I will almost never cold approach or talk to you if I don’t know you. I apologize to the very curious, smart, beautiful, and perceptive women who figured out that I am interested in them, but wondered why I never approach or talk to them. I think the difficult part is to differentiate when I am looking at you for the sake of people watching interest or romantic interest (sometimes I zone out). This is where the exception comes into play where, if I am interested in you, I might try to cold approach you in one way or another—but it usually fails because I can get pretty shy and end up speechless. If you are brave, you can always ask and I will tell you the truth.

30. What are you grateful for?
Life is a long death.

31. What is one thing you wish your younger self knew?
I would tell myself that “everything will be okay”. Honestly, I think I was pretty stupid when I was in my early 20s. But I think this is true for most people. Life experiences changes you. I still do stupid things now, just not as stupid as the stuff that I used to do.

32. What are you like at a party?
I don’t party. The closest thing to a party that I go to every once awhile are cool art show receptions. I am generally better at hanging out with people one on one.

33. Describe a near-death experience.

I had many near death experiences. They were mostly of me getting hit by cars. When I was in elementary school, I almost got hit by a semi truck that literally stopped right in front of my face when I was crossing the road. A few years ago, I was knocked off my bike by a car with no serious injuries.

When I was 18, I had hemopneumothorax where blood and air were strapped outside my left lung. I was in the hospital with a giant tube stuck between my rib cage for a few days which extracted all the gunk in my lung. It was very painful at times because I could feel the tube wiggle between my rib bones. On several occasions, they had to inject morphine through my IV to ease the pain. I don’t get why people like morphine as a drug because I just pass out every time. The room I stayed in was right next to the fridge where I stole apple juice from at night. There were a lot of funny stories during my time at the hospital, like how the doctor told me not to masturbate or do anything physically intense for two months in the most awkward way possible LOL.

34. If you had a clone, what would you have the clone do?
What any ethical person would do: exploit him and turn him into my capitalist slave.

35. What is your favorite genre of music?
I listen to all genres of music. My favorites are classical, indie, alternative, dream pop, tech house, progressive, and micro / minimal house.

36. Can you name a book that changed who you are?
There are lots. But I will stick to my very first theory / philosophy book called All for Nothing by Rachel K. Ward. A relatively unknown author, she was a student of Jean Baudrillard at the European Graduate School.

37. What is the most expensive item you are wearing right now?
My underwear. I am almost naked right now. 😉
Just kidding, my glasses are the most expensive item on me. I am blind without them.

38. What is your Zodiac sign?
Gemini.

39. What is your MBTI type?
INTJ (this is a pretty accurate personality profile of me, but not 100%). I also test as an INFJ. I used to be really into MBTI theory. I can usually type someone from just talking or observing them.

40. If you were granted three wishes, what would you do with the second wish?
Strange question (I am dodging the question because I don’t have an answer).

41. What is your actual superpower?
I can predict the future pretty well because I tend to think in possibilities and filter it through internal logic. Hence, not very many things surprises me when it happens and I can often predict the things people will say to me.

42. If you won 100 million dollars, what would you buy first?
Retire on an island probably.

43. What have you only recently formed an opinion about?
Academia.

44. What’s perfect about your life?
The imperfections.

45. What’s one thing people would never know about you just by looking at you?
I am a highly sensitive person with a poker face.

46. Describe a moment where you were so embarrassed you wanted to disappear.

Too many to count. LOL

47. How many times a day do you think about money?
Once or twice.

48. Who has been the biggest influence on you in your relationship to money?
No idea…Karl Marx? Adam Smith?

49. What’s the best sound in the world?
Rain.

50. Are you usually early or late?
Early.

51. What do you find beautiful?
I find beautiful things beautiful.
Good answer is good.

52. What does your inner voice tell you?
No idea.

53. If you were put into solitary confinement for six months, what would you do to stay sane?
Nothing. I can stay sane in 6 months of solitary confinement.

54. What are you listening to right now?
Scherzo No.2. Op. 31. by Chopin played by Yundi Li.

55. What is your favorite film genre?
I watch a lot of movies. I am a fan of Sci-fi. Ex-Machina, Arrival, Inception, Interstellar and Blade Runner 2049 are among my favorite films of the decade. I also enjoy art films by Jean-Luc Godard, Alfred Hitchcock and Alain Resnais.

56. What is the best thing about science?
General relativity and quantum mechanics. I would totally be an astrophysicist if I was good at math.

57. What’s a bad habit you have?
Sleeping late and waking up early.

58. What do you want people you meet for the first time to think about you?
No clue. Don’t care.

59. When were you most afraid?
Spiders.

60. What are you terrible at but love to do anyway?
Love. I fall hard and love hard.

61. What weapon would you carry during the Zombie Apocalypse?
You (as bait, obviously).

62. Which of your five senses would you keep if you could only keep one?
Sight…or maybe sound because I listen to a lot of music.

63. What’s something you love to make?
Great thoughts and ideas.

64. What do you cook better than anyone?
Uhhh… boiling water? jk. I don’t think I am a very good cook.

65. Name a book that you would like to read?
I recently became interested in Ludwig Wittgenstein. I started reading excerpts of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

66. Whom are you envious of?
No one.

67. What activity do you do that makes you feel most like yourself?
Existing.

68. Where do you want to be right now?
The past of the future.

69. What’s one thing you’re super passionate about?
Truth.

70. What makes you feel powerful?
To not know where I am going.

71. What’s the meanest thing you’ve ever said?
Too many to count. I can be very mean if you piss me off. But pissing me off is quite a difficult feat to achieve.

72. What’s the meanest thing someone has ever said to you?
No idea. I am not a gossip girl and I don’t really care. In fact, I almost never gossip and talk about other people.

73. What three words would you have on your grave stone?
“Bobby is dead”.

74. What’s your first thought when you wake up?
Ughhghhgshghghghghghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

75. What’s one thing you wake up to in the middle of the night worrying about?
The only time I wake up in the middle of the night are those “ah ha!” moments.

76. If you could tell someone something anonymously, what would it be?
All writings are anonymous. This is the secret.

77. Whom would you like to forgive and forget?
I don’t hold grudges.

78. If you could get rid of one of your responsibilities today, what would it be?
idk.

79. What type of person angers you the most?
Eh. I hardly get angry. I usually get annoyed. But I tend to avoid debating angry people because it is a waste of energy. It’s strange because I don’t usually shy away from conflicts and debates when the situation calls for it.

80. What does social justice mean to you?
Pretty important. But I am afraid that some of its ideologies might have become regressive.

81. What is your worst weakness?
Honesty. I can be a little too honest sometimes.

82. How do you show your love for others?
I will tell them. I will try to do subtle things that makes their life easier.

83. Why are you here in this room right now?
Because it is my room.

84. When is a time you forgave someone or were forgiven for something?
I forgive people all the time.

85. What’s the biggest mistake you ever made?
Truth is a mistake.

86. What are you hiding?
All there is and all there isn’t.

87. What’s your unanswerable question—the question you seem to always be asking yourself?
The question is in itself the unanswerable question.

88. What are you ashamed of?
No idea.

89. What is stopping you?
Me.

90. Do you have recurring dreams?
Sometimes.

91. How do you secretly manipulate people to get your way?
By being honest and telling the truth.

92. When was the last time you apologized?
Recently.

93. What makes you nostalgic?
Time.

94. What’s the moment you left childhood behind?
No idea. I am quite childish. I have the humor of a 5 year old.

95. Would you rather trade intelligence for looks or looks for intelligence?
I prefer to have both.

96. Do you believe in a higher power?
Yes. No. Maybe.

97. What are you ready to let go of?
No clue.

98. Do the people you hang out with add value to your life?
Yes. But I am also very choosy on who I hang out with.

99. What’s an image you’ll never forget?
I remember a lot of images. I have photographic memory and I can remember and reorient a lot of objects visually in my mind. I remember when I did a really lengthy IQ test and scored surprisingly high on spatial IQ (something like top 5% percentile).

100. What gives your life meaning?
The fact that I will die one day is what gives meaning to my life.

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Contemplation

Quick thoughts on Anti-Racist Education: “Intention vs. Effect”

Today, I would like to talk about “intention versus effect” within anti-racist education. This was something that I randomly came across from this website a few months ago.

The argument goes something like this: when it comes to speaking to the other person, the intention does not matter, the effect/impact does. What matters is the effect of what is said towards the person who receives such words because it furthers the oppression of marginalized voices who are situated in relation with power structures.

For those who followed my blog long enough, you will know that intentionality is a big part of my research interests. Anyone who read my intro on Derrida’s deconstruction or Lacanian psychoanalysis will know that I talk about intentionality left and right. Perhaps some of you who are familiar with deconstruction and psychoanalysis can already guess how I will tackle this argument.

Frankly, the argument of intention vs effect/impact lacks any form of critical consideration of what intentionality really is (and if this can somehow be the “law”, then it is a poorly implemented one and deserves criticism). What this argument fails to understand is how the effect and impact of what is said also depends on intentionality. It ignores that intentionality is always a two sided phenomenon. Communication always consists of one pole to the other, i.e. reader –> listener/reader, and vice versa. Obviously, there are times where racism and violence is apparent. But what happens when someone is saying X and the other interprets Y? What happens when someone meant X but is randomly referred as a racist without attempting to understand the other?

In communication, there is always an epistemological/knowledge gap between the one who speaks and the one who listens or reads. To be sure, the knowledge gap that I speak of is not the same as the one expressed on the site here (I am thinking of the long old Kantian problem of the thing-in-itself). With this said, while I agree with some of their claims on the page, their use of the phrase, “deconstructing inaccurate perspectives” contradicts their argument for the irrelevance of intentionality on the other page. In fact, not only is such statement contradictory, it is also hypocritical to disregard intentionality on one hand, and call for the “deconstruction” of “inaccurate perspectives” on the other. This is because the act of “deconstructing inaccurate perspective” requires intentionality. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we shouldn’t listen to marginalized stories (I think they should be heard). Neither am I defending dominant ideologies and people’s apparent amnesia of the violence of colonialism in Canada. I am simply pointing out their logical inconsistencies and their Wikipedia knowledge of Derridean deconstruction (I’m sorry if I sound condescending, but I found it silly).

When I am trying to explain something, there is always a general “direction” (intention) that orients my spoken or written words (I spoke about this in many places in previous posts such as here). Without going into any detail explanations, intentionality can be defined as a form of “pointing”.  To be sure, intentionality is not some physical object that can be seen or touched. It is part of a larger phenomenon that attaches onto our conscious thoughts and words (known as the “noema”). The use of intentionality happens everyday in our lives. In fact, it is happening right now as you interpret my words. Whether or not what I am saying here has an “effect” or “impact” depends on such intentionality. What I point to may never be aligned to the person who is listening or reading my words.

Intentionality is studied as a form of metaphysics via a discipline known as phenomenology (even if phenomenologists such as Edmund Husserl reframed from assigning phenomenology as a metaphysics). An example might be how one person finds a book offensive or “triggering” while another person won’t. Or perhaps one can think of something that might be offensive in one culture but isn’t to another, like dining etiquette. The mistake is to think that the reader does not have any intentionality attached to their interpretation of the other person’s words. The argument assumes that, what the reader interprets as racist happens as a “matter of fact”—even when it might not be.

Not spending time to understand the other person can lead to dangerous practices of ignoring other people’s ideas and what they are really trying to say (it also leads to things like political correctness). In fact, by ignoring what the other is trying to really say, one is perpetuating the same form of violence found in colonialism (i.e. the ethnocentrism of interpreting a foreign culture by privileging their own culture—or the privileging of one context and intention over another; I spoke about this in many places on this blog, such as here and here). Hence I always emphasized on how interpretation via intentionality is a form of violence and how we should always have respect for the other. The argument which emphasizes on “what is said” depends on intentionality.

The phenomena of interpretation and intentionality is further complicated by the ways it relates to the unconscious mind and repression. As I had introduced in my posts on Lacanian psychoanalysis (see my “Popular Posts” menu), language is the symptom of the unconscious (and so are stories written by people). In other words, intentionality—which characterizes the movement of our conscious thoughts—is always influenced by our unconscious mind. Hence, one can also say that, what “triggers” someone is always related to some form of psychoanalytical trauma that brings forth the eternal return of some memory which influences intentionality and the interpretation of words. Readers are always interpreting the world that is measured against their conscious and unconscious experiences.

Hopefully we can begin to see the problem of such argument. If anti-racist education did not consider the intentionality of the reader, then it is something that needs to be looked into because it makes some startling assumptions in regards to the nature of meaning and intentionality.

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While I agree that “white privilege” is true, does this mean that someone in a privileged position can’t be reasonable and cannot reveal something about the truth? Or that the things they say should be ignored because they are not marginalized stories? No. In the same way, just because someone has less privilege doesn’t mean they are wrong—but it also doesn’t mean they are always right. The point is that we should always try to understand what the other person is saying—especially once we recognize that intentionality via communication is always at least two sided. Hence, I always emphasize on treating people with infinite respect. This is why I tend to disagree that ideas have anything to do with power relations, identity or race. Certainly, you can have an idea about race, identity, and power. But every human being is capable of generating ideas.

While I also agree that hierarchies are an inevitable reality in this world (hence privilege and the recognition of power), we should consider whether or not racism has anything to do with power before jumping to the conclusion of thinking that it does 100% of the time. Perhaps it is most fair to say that, depending on context, racism occasionally has something to do with power.

The site points out that racism consists of power relations. This takes us to the other link that talks about “racism = racial prejudice + power” which is an argument that a few sociologists made in regards to anti-racist education back in the 90s (if I remember correctly). Basically, the argument is that since white people have institutional power, they are the only people who can be racist and it is not possible white people can experience racism. This is why reverse racism doesn’t exist because white people cannot experience racism since they are the people in power.

This type of definition of racism is quite different to the common one that most of us know, which is that racism is racism no matter who it is directed at. You can be racist without any power relation. While I am no expert in sociology, I wouldn’t use “racism = racial prejudiced + power” as a universal definition for racism—even if such definition may yield great insights of our system. I think it is easy to use this formula as a way to fit into a particular political narrative. In the same way, it is also easy to throw in terms like “deconstructing binaries” and use deconstruction to reinforce particular political narrative while having little understanding of what deconstruction really “is”.

Nevertheless, I think this opens up an interesting conversation in regards to whether racism is psychological or sociological—a similar question that I tried to propose few posts ago on whether human behavior is constituted by nature or nurture. Since psychology focuses more on the psyche and a sociological approach focuses on the societal system, I would imagine that the difference between the two is how the psychological views of racism would ignore the societal context that sociologists studies; the latter where the perceptions of race, etc. are learned and reinforced by social structures (hence, “systemic racism”).

My take would lean towards the “psychological” only in the sense that interpretation and intentionality always require a first person approach to the world (i.e. phenomenology attempts to study the first person experiences of the world via experiences of phenomena and intentionality). This is to say that sociologists are psychological human beings who interprets the world and thus, are always carrying an intention to interpret society in certain ways. To be sure, I place “psychological” in quotation because intentionality is not really studied under psychology as a discipline because even most psychologists takes intentionality for granted (I speak of psychology not in the same sense as psychoanalysis).

Just as one inevitably sees the world through the representation of language as a structure—it is the question of how sociologists structuralizes society in order to produce any interpretations out of it. This is famously known as “structuralism”, which is often criticized by post-structuralists. Despite such fact, does this render such structural sociological findings pointless? No. To reduce racism to a psychological phenomenon would be as naïve as reducing it to the phenomenon of structures and systems.

The key word that I wish to emphasize on is “phenomena”, something that every individual experiences everyday in their lives. What if neither psychology and sociology can offer sufficient answers to the origin or cause of racism or any psychical and social phenomena? What if the origin of racism is unknown or buried somewhere within the way these scholars interprets the world through X intentionality? And that such intentionality is also influenced by their unconscious mind? Could there be a phenomenon of racism that both psychologists and sociologist had ignored or excluded as they try to categorize these phenomena into coherent institutionalized systems of knowledge? What grants a specific psychology and sociology is the conscious experience of phenomenon—their attempts at describing the way they analyze psychic and social structures; of categorizing such experiences into compartments, languages, and definitions which unfolds as discoveries. Once again, I am not rejecting the findings of psychologists and sociologists. I am attempting to open up the discourse of possibility.

The most intriguing part about phenomenology is that it studies intentionality and how it is influenced by space and time. But even phenomenology negates the unconscious mind. Intentionality is not just something that a sociologist or psychologist produces through their conscious interpretation of the world. Their intentionality is also influenced by their unconscious desires (they are human beings after all). Yet, the relationship between what is repressed, always relies on an outside (society; laws) which influences the inside (i.e. laws that prohibit desires, intentions, thoughts, etc.). In other words, the boundaries between the outside (society; laws) and how it affects the inside (psychological; unconscious which influences intentionality and how we interpret things) is not always clear. The outside influences the inside which influences how we interpret an outside that we perceive as something that affects the inside. Hence, you may notice how I often talk about the outside/inside when I introduce deconstruction, such as how nature becomes culture, etc. (here). This relationship between outside/inside is actually one of the most famous paradoxes that exists in philosophy (it can also be found in different forms, like finitude/infinitude).

Ultimately, there are several things that I am trying to get at. Intentionality is a big contributing factor on how we perceive meaning—whether it is interpreting the effect and impact of the other person’s words, or a psychologist and sociologist interpreting the impact of society, human behavior, nature, etc. Intentionality matters because it determines the effect of words and the meanings produced by the phenomena of the world and society itself. With this in mind, not only does the “effect over intentionality” argument ignore the importance of intention and contradict their own attempts at “deconstructing inaccurate perspectives”, it also ignores the effect of meaning produced by intentionality despite their privilege of such term. When I speak of the word “effect”, I am referring to the way words signify and how they produce meaning (i.e. the movement of structuralization).

This is why racism has different definitions and meanings under different contexts—or that words in general have different meanings depending on context. Not only does the definition change, the epistemological (knowledge) structure of context also changes over time. In many places on this blog, I spoke about how time influences how we interpret texts and events, where contexts changes over time (such as here). Someone who lives in 20th century might interpret a text very differently by someone from 21st century. The fact that intentionality is always at least two sided is the reason why there are many ways one can define the word “racism” (i.e. as a prejudice, ideology; whether psychologically or sociologically, etc).

Furthermore, intentionality is also influenced by the unconscious mind. It is naïve to assume the findings of X as absolute when the root cause lies in the way we interpret the world is always at least two sided. Hence to say that “intentionality does not matter” is to promote a naïve form of education that doesn’t teach people how to think critically.

What I find fascinating in our world today is that people seem to stop thinking once they get into sensitive issues. They suddenly throw all the things they learnt out the window and feel like they must conform to some ideology or to some moral authority without challenging any of its presuppositions. When we want change, we need to think really carefully and critically. If we want to solve a problem, we do not solve it by removing the bad leaf, we must look for its root cause—we must look for its origins (i.e. would defunding the police end police brutality and racism? Can you train someone to not be racist? Is racism sociological or psychological?). If one cannot locate the origin, the issue will just happen again in a different form, like a cancer that refuses to leave someone’s body—despite having surgically removed the tumor.

As much as I would like to solve the problem of racism and oppression, I think the idea of “effect over intentionality” is an inconsiderate argument that needs serious re-examination. To put it nicely, while such argument yields great insight in our imperfect system, it also reveals its own contradictions. Perhaps I could sympathize with the argument more if they are simply saying, “be nice and mindful of others” which I would agree. But this does not seem to be the case.

Okay, Bobby needs to take his beauty nap.
Stay safe everyone.

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