Another brain dump post where I write a few paragraphs and stop. Once again, there are zero consistencies to the things I write in between asterisks. It includes insights on the prolific Korean-German philosopher Byun-Chul Han. I also touch on the problem of consciousness and share some other random stories. I reorganized them to flow better, but they can be read in any order. Some of these are pretty long.
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“I heard a lot about you!”
Every time someone says this to me, I laugh and think to myself: “Oh wow, you heard a lot about me? It’s probably not all good” LOL. I am a pretty big weirdo who can be hard to understand sometimes. But once you understand me, everything else will fall into place. I am not as serious as what most people think. Since my early 20s, my friends coined the term “Bobbyism” to imply things that only a Bobby would say and do. I can be pretty goofy once you know me well. I am the person who throws pinecones at my friends during a disc golf round (in the winter, I start snowball fights on the fairway). I am the person with toilet humor while you are eating dinner. I like to sit around the house reading and writing in my underwear. I am also the ultra dry and sarcastic dude where you can’t tell if I am joking or being serious half the time. I also banter quite a bit and may roast someone just because they annoy me (and because it’s funny). Some people probably find me annoying because I can turn almost anything into the butt of my jokes. They probably wish they never knew me so I can go back to the serious stone cold silent killer Bobby LOL.
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The problem of consciousness
The problem of consciousness is really old and has been studied for a really long time. Basically, it revolves around the idea that neuroscientists can study the neural causalities and the maps of our brain when someone is happy or sad, etc., but they cannot explain the actual experience of happiness and sadness. There is something about consciousness that has long believed to be non-tangible. As such, the problem of consciousness (and unconscious) is more often talked about by philosophers than scientists simply because you can’t always empirically prove it.
[Did you know that scientists used to be called “natural philosophers”? Did you know that 95% of all Wikipedia articles eventually leads to the philosophy page? (see here). Philosophy is probably one of the oldest intellectual discipline in human history. A lot of disciplines in universities used to be considered as part of philosophy: art, mathematics, science, law, physics, politics, economics, sociology, psychology, etc.]
If two different person had the same identical patterns of neurons firing in their brains when they are happy, does this mean they experience happiness in the exact same way? How can you know for sure? If our biology is identical—or at least very similar (that is, we all have a brain, heart, lungs, etc.), why are we so different from each other with different personalities and preferences? Shouldn’t we all be the same? Can I ever experience the world outside of my first person perspective so I can truly understand the other person?
The more questions you ask, the more you will realize that there are a lot more things that goes on in our brains than neurons firing in specific ways. Although it is not my intention to downplay the importance of neuroscience, consciousness is very complex which often stretches beyond scientific empiricism and into the metaphysical world (i.e. the idea of an “idea” in our head begins from non-tangibility—something that we may one day make tangible). Things like gender for example. If you ask a scientist, they will often give you a naïve answer like “gender is a choice” which is certainly not wrong, albeit an oversimplified one. Whereas disciplines like psychoanalysis and gender theories can provide much deeper insights on gender and sexuality—even if there are many debates between the two fields. In another sense, one can find the causes and changes of our hormones and nervous systems when someone is depressed and thus, find ways to fix it via medicine, but perhaps depression isn’t simply about the causalities of our bodies, but the way human consciousness functions in relationship with reality.
Just some food for thought.
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You know what I just discovered?
I was at a family BBQ and my cousin told me that one of our cousins is a famous YouTuber with over 700k subscribers.
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Why some leftist scholars are critical of liberalism
It is common for people to think that by favoring liberalism, one is in support of socialism—and even communist values. However in the intellectual world, the term “neoliberal” (contemporary liberalism) is often criticized by various leftist scholars. There are leftist thinkers who believes that contemporary liberalism is not much different to right wing ideologies (this is not to say that liberalism don’t have any leftist values). As such, many of them don’t vote because they see it as right wing conservatism in disguise.
This type of skepticism has a long history which stemmed from Karl Marx (who invented socialism, communism, along with publishing a lengthy critical analysis of capitalism) and people like Sigmund Freud. In general, there are many reasons why these leftist thinkers hold such views and some are more complex than others. Basically, the problem with our capitalist world is that it has snowballed out of control where every aspect of our lives has become commoditized—including the ideology of liberalism, socialism and communism. The explosion of technology made it even easier. Everything in our lives is up for exploitation and consumption where even our identities has become capital. Everything is up for sale so to serve our desires. You see this in the way people become an entrepreneur (self-exploit), turn themselves into a “brand”, or how people “market” themselves in the dating world. Meanwhile, love is reduced to sex, and the intensities of our passions is reduced to comfort and safety. We exploit ourselves and others in the digital world (social media, dating apps, etc.) in exchange for narcissistic pleasures. The effects of capitalism can be felt everywhere in our lives without us realizing it. This is why real change has become really difficult to achieve because some of these people argue that capitalist ideologies has been imprinted into our (unconscious) minds which took over our lives (this idea originates from Slavoj Zizek’s famous book called, The Sublime Object of Ideology).
Other leftist thinkers will talk about dictatorship through digitization of our world where technology (re)organizes everything in our lives. Google predicts and suggests what you will like and what your next holiday destination will be at. It tells you what your favorite restaurant should be, and what websites to visit by putting them on the first page of your searches (an indirect way of censorship). Dating apps will predict what type of person you like and who you should talk to and date. Everything is determined through sameness and similarities. There is not much room left for contingent encounters of love. There is nothing left to risk, possibility, or chance; and for authentic events to occur which may produce real changes, differences and novelties in the world (instead, we have the same shit over and over again, just like your latest iPhones). Everything is revolved around control, safety, comfort; everything is about ourselves, our narcissisms, and desires. Many of them thinks that we are living in an age of digital totalitarianism and mass surveillance while people think they are free as they are enslaved to their desires and the frenzies of capitalism. Such frenzy is discovered from our never-ending productive labour all the way to how we are encouraged to always find constant connection with others and avoid getting stuck in our thoughts. Society wants you to be productive and take action. It doesn’t want you to think. It wants you to be distracted and be afraid of your thoughts. It wants you to endlessly consume and desire.
If you think of it like this, perhaps the cause and proliferation of mental illnesses in 21st century are not unfound. The paradox is that our society has become less about humans producing society as the symptom of their neuroticism. Rather, it is society which produces human neuroticism and narcissisms which feeds into a vicious never ending circle. Modern society has become a breeding ground for all sorts of mental illnesses. We are the products of our society.
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Psychoanalysis and Phenomenology
One major idea that psychoanalysis consistently fails to account for is human intuition of space and time. For those who are familiar with philosophy, intuition and time consciousness is something that big disciplines like phenomenology studies extensively. Jacques Lacan tried to incorporate temporality into psychoanalysis early in his career but ended up disbanding it.
Freud once spoke of how our unconscious mind is timeless, yet nearly all of his patients have a tendency to regress back into their childhood traumas/past, producing all sorts of neurotic tendencies in their adult lives (due to transference). If the unconscious mind is timeless, why would people regress back into their childhood? All of this seem to suggest that psychoanalysis as a discipline appears to resist time. While Jacques Derrida was influenced by psychoanalysis (his wife was a clinical psychoanalyst who passed away from COVID-19), he thinks the discipline is incomplete. The criticism of psychoanalysis is most prominently seen in Derrida’s book called Resistances of Psychoanalysis (I wrote about it hyperlinked here). It is also explored by contemporary philosophers such as Adrian Johnston.
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Essay writing and trolling your professors.
The requirements for research papers in grad school can sometimes be a hinderance due to how they require you to cite 8+ mixture of primary and secondary sources. Profs make you do this because they want you to learn how to write publishable papers and join contemporary intellectual conversations (in grad school, you are learning how to become a “professional scholar”). Back then, I sometimes just want to write essays where I cite 1-4 books but get really deep and create something cool out of them. I am more interested in theory crafting from scratch than joining contemporary conversations that I don’t always care about.
During my undergraduate years, I clashed with one or two of the teachers where I ended up trolling them with my assignments. I admit, it was very funny watching them get annoyed (what can I say? I’m just your everyday sadist). I’m pretty sure they still hate me till this day LOL. The best part was that I technically didn’t break the assignment outline. I went outside the parameters and did what I wanted to do by slipping between the rules (I did it because they had dumb rules that made no sense lol). I think I got a D in one of them. But that’s okay because D stands for Done. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
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I never liked using this word since my early 20s. Terms like “professional scholar”, “professional philosopher”, or “professional artist” are words that I refrain from using. But it also depends on how you define it. Most people probably associates professionalism with someone who does something for a living. I think there are instances where I am okay with using it—such as a doctor or a nurse. But in the context of art, philosophy, and thinking, I see professionalism as an obstacle to overcome.
In many cases, professionalism can function as a form of authority to make others obey (like some political ideology). You are a professional now. You can’t do this. You can’t say that. You can’t think like this or that. Professionalism can sometimes make us blindly follow rules that makes no sense. Due to this, it may limit our ability to think critically and make us forget who we are. In many cases, I think learning how to be human is much more important. I sometimes hear people talk about wanting to become a “professional philosopher”. Like, wtf does that even mean? It sounds so stupid LOL.
Let me put it this way, there is nothing professional about philosophers like Socrates who walked around Ancient Greece debating with everyday citizens. There is also nothing professional in the way some public intellectuals give their presentations. In many cases, the more professional one tries to be, the further away they are from truth. It’s too proper. Too formal. Too normal. —It’s too boring. Great thoughts and ideas comes from not being afraid to think beyond boundaries, offend others (unintentionally), and challenge dominant modes of thinking. When there is too much structure and filter for the sake of “properness”, there is no room left for truth and the risk for producing anything new. There is no room left for thought and imagination. We need a spark to start a fire. This kind of reminds me of Michel Foucault’s lectures called, The Courage of Truth….Anyways.
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On Byun-Chul Han
Han is a very well known Korean-German philosopher who specializes in deconstruction and Hegelianism. I’ve heard of him several years ago, but only recently got a chance to read some of his works. I was surprised by how well read he is. His work is really accessible by your average readers. Though I think Han’s writing makes intuitive leaps that can make it difficult to follow if you don’t have any background in continental (European) philosophy. I can certainly see why he is so popular. Han is a very creative thinker whose provocative thoughts resembles a lot of counter-intuitive ideas that is found in Jean Baudrillard.
In the first essay/chapter of Capitalism and Death Drive, Han, following Baudrillard’s thoughts, turns the Freudian / psychoanalytic death drive against itself and argues that our system of capitalism deprives our lives from death where people are left to imagine a deathless life which leads to all sorts of mental illnesses. Han points out how our society is oriented towards the death drive where people unconsciously propel themselves towards self-destruction as they become narcissists. For Han, humans are negating their own deaths by producing capital (money) and leaving them behind during their lives. As a result, society produces fitness zombies, Botox zombies, and performance zombies. Everything is about performance, efficiency, and optimization—you must perform and be efficient in every aspect of your life, even when you are sleeping (think of smart watches that tells you how well you slept). People are too alive to die, and too dead to live. By paradoxically negating and avoiding death, capitalism leads itself to self-destruction by making people exploit themselves.
Han suggests that what is causing mental illnesses is through our society that produces endless ideologies of happiness, performance, and efficiency. The idea that one must always strive to be positive and negate any negative feelings and their death leads to people not knowing how to deal with negative emotions. Instead of arguing that negative thoughts leads to depression, Han thinks it is the constant societal pressure that people put in their lives—of always wanting to be happy, positive, efficient, perform, and to achieve something which leads to their self-destruction.
Han points out how our enthusiasm for work is already a symptom of burnouts and depression. Why else would one need things like Monday mantras that seeks to get you motivated? It is as Slavoj Zizek would say: “You don’t hate Mondays, you hate capitalism” (this line became a pretty popular meme lol). You must be enthusiastic about your job! No matter how rough life gets, you must stay positive! Overtime, this positivity becomes overbearing and “toxic”, which induces the feeling of emptiness and guilt (i.e. when you are sad, you feel guilty that you aren’t happy while other people are). Certainly, the experience of guilt is quite famous within psychoanalytic thought since it is produced by the effects of the Other (super-ego) that imposes laws on the subject who must obey them. You must be happy! You must be a productive member of society! Sell yourself! Sell your body! Sell your soul! For Han, work and self-exploitation dominates our life to the point where even on our time off, relaxation becomes part of the job as we focus on mental health management activities (we learn how to be more efficient). We do all of this just so we can continue to produce and perform better at work. All of our time becomes labour time. There is no longer time for the other—or time that is devoted to “otherness”. For Han, capitalism exploits freedom and makes you believe you are free, even when you are shackled by your labour where you are forced to constantly produce.
Han seems to take on similar positions to Baudrillard among other thinkers that the only way to halt capitalism and its frenzies of production is for people to confront symbolic death and encounter “otherness” (foreignness; or death). Han follows Baudrillard’s interpretations of how capitalism challenges and avoids death, which can only end by confronting death itself. He uses an interesting example from the film Melancholia where Justine’s (Kristen Dunst) depression appears to have cured itself near the end of the film when she confronts death as she discovers people around her and cared for them. Melancholia (the celestial body that collides and kills everyone on Earth in the film) arrives in the most untimely fashion. It is a catastrophic event that interrupted her existence.
By avoiding and challenging death, Baudrillard saw how capitalism paradoxically becomes a system that commits suicide—to the point where people take their own lives (again, this is due to the Freudian death drive and Capitalism’s endless desire for infinite production and efficiency) [recall in my Baudrillard post where I spoke about the story of “Death in Samarkand”]. The extreme form of this is terrorism where a terrorist makes death a reality. Following Baudrillard, Han points out how terrorists are taking selfies with their deaths as their acts are captured in photographs that gets disseminated in the media (they are narcissists with a bomb). For Baudrillard, terrorism is the product of (the globalization of) capitalism. The collapse of the World Trade Center was the symbolic death of capitalism where its event challenged capitalist structure as it challenged death (this was from Baudrillard’s famous book called, The Spirit of Terrorism). Borrowing from this, Han draws relationships between the terrorist who takes their own life with the person who self harms due to their depression and anxiety. Aside from obvious moral differences, perhaps the two individuals are not so different from each other who follows similar pathologies; for they both have tendencies to self-destruct. A very provocative thought, indeed.
Since people must confront their symbolic deaths, Han also associates love with death—an idea that has a lot of merit. Love is a fatal event. To love someone is to narcissistically die—it is to give up parts of ourselves for the other person we love and care for them (to stop being narcissists where we discover the other person—just like Justine in Melancholia). From that point on, our world is no longer about ourselves (our narcissism), but the other. This position is consistent with Freud who thinks that everyone is a narcissist who must forfeit parts of it (in Han’s term, it is to die; in Lacan’s term, it is to become the split subject). I too, am quite consistent with such view. This is why you may notice that I sometimes talk about how the cure to our contemporary world is love itself. To love is to, in some sense, confront our death. Our world can only be cured through the metaphors of love, which is something that is radically other and foreign. Love is a catastrophic event that shakes our world. It arrives when we least expect it—just like Melancholia that collides with Earth. Love is untimely; and it is our job to keep it as alive as it were on the first day.
Moreover, Han’s interpretation that death is the solution to living a meaningful life is also reminiscent to Jacques Derrida’s famous book called The Gift of Death. I wrote about this shortly after my dog passed away (it can be found here). Although I took a different approach, I think we both arrive at similar conclusions that the gift of death is the gift of life. It is because we will die one day which makes our lives meaningful. Yet, humans live like they will never die and prefers to “not think about it”.
Overall, I think Han offers interesting insights on what is happening in our world today. He is a lively philosopher of doom whose ideas can strike some as optimistically depressing Lol. I’m not surprised that he teaches at an art school rather than a university. He seems too radical and provocative to be a university professor (I sometimes feel like some uni profs are afraid of saying the “wrong things” because they don’t want to get cancelled and lose their jobs). Not to mention that a lot of Han’s ideas are against dominant modes of political ideologies and the facades of contemporary society (i.e. his sustained attacks and criticism of neoliberalism). The works that I read on him are beginner friendly and quite interesting if you approach it with an open mind. Han’s most famous book is called The Burnout Society and is worth checking out.
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I landed my first ace in disc golf
First throw off the tee and into the basket. That’s the story. The end.
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“You don’t look Chinese”
I am Chinese. I was born in Hong Kong and moved to Canada when I was 5 years old. But ever since I grew facial hair, some people started to mistake me as Japanese and sometimes as mixed race. Some people are surprised that I can speak fluent Cantonese. I also used to be able to read a little bit of French and German. I forgot most of it as time went by Lol. I actually want to travel to France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, and Spain one day.
In my mid twenties, I went through a transformation where I managed to grow a decent goatee beard that I’ve kept ever since (though I will occasionally do a clean shave just because). Many people really liked my new look compared to my younger boyish Bobby in my early twenties. Others not so much. It definitely makes me look older and more mature. But it makes people take me more (too) seriously. And because they take me more seriously, they can’t detect my quick and dry sarcastic jokes.
Maintaining nice facial hair can take work. You have to know which areas must be longer, shorter and what looks best on you when you trim it (your face shape and hairstyle plays a role). Consistent maintenance and beard oil is essential to having it look nice. Facial hair is genetics. Many of my Chinese friends tried to grow facial hair and most of them ended up with a patchy scraggly pedo stache (LOL sorry). I guess if you really want facial hair, you can always cut some of your armpit hair and tape it on your face. Very sexy.
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I was at the hospital with my mom earlier in the year where I had to remove my mask for a COVID-19 screening (had to get a new mask). The nurse asked me how old I was and thought I was handsome. I was like “Uhhhhhhh…thanks?” and she just smiled. My mom didn’t say anything and just started laughing. It was funny because I can be pretty socially awkward and not know how to respond LOL.
Thinking about it, one of the greatest compliments I received was not about my appearance. It was from my professor in grad school who gave me an A+ for my final grade. He was a prof who specialized in deconstruction and doesn’t give out A+ very easily. In fact, I was so flattered by his comment that I saved it in my email. Reading it still makes me smile till this day:
“Reading this essay is not only an extraordinary pleasure, but an intellectually invigorating process of reliving my own moments of thinking through the issues you engage with in the piece. This essay not only exhibits a wide-ranging familiarity on our part with contemporary critical theory and philosophy, but offers an ingenious, original, insightful account about Derrida’s theory of hauntology, his concept of the time to come as the matrix of the absolute infinite Otherness of the Other, the past-future dialectic, the violence and finitude internal to interpretation or any human effort to touch the thing in itself. You not only prove to have the intellectual capacity to explicate difficult concepts with ease, confidence, and clarity, but reveal yourself to be an insightfully innovative reader of imaginative literature as well. What is said about Barton and her relationship with Friday enriches our encounter with her, though you do not provide much space for discussion on the novel. To do full justice to the paper despite its minor insufficiencies, I must say, it deserves an A+; course grade: A+”.
…Coming to think even more about it, I received a few glowing compliments from one or two other profs. But I can’t find them anymore. One was from my MA supervisor, a Feminist Lacanian British Romanticist, who I learned a lot of psychoanalysis from. I remember I met him while auditing one of his courses where he had been very supportive of me ever since. Back then, it was funny sitting in his lectures on literary theory because I blended in pretty well. Nobody knew there was a random super nerd Derrida guy sitting beside them. I still remember the PhD student who gave the lecture on deconstruction and postcolonialism wasn’t very good—no offense. I still can’t get over it because honestly man, deconstruction does not lead to decolonization LOLLL. Fight me.
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It’s raining right now
Rain is so romantic. Damn, why is rain so romantic? It makes me want to share another tragic story where Bobby was clueless with women, but I have to pee really bad right now (unfortunately, I have quite a few of these stories Lol).
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When will Bobby publish his retracted post on psychoanalysis and death drive?
Those who regularly visits this site got a glimpse of this piece awhile ago. I actually haven’t worked on it since I took it down (too busy being lazy Lol). The death drive (or repetition compulsion) is incredibly influential among various strands of contemporary thoughts and ideas. I don’t know if I will republish it anytime soon, but I will one day. In the future, I kind of want to write more about Jean Baudrillard and maybe a bigger post on Byun-Chul Han. We shall see.
Until next time,