Could Barbells Save the world

Out with my lovely wife on the town yesterday. We mostly just walked through Walmart looking for dog toys, but call it a date. As is usually the case in American cities, very many people were obese or otherwise physically unable. I say this not to make fun, but to lament what need not be. Most people are sick. They are obese and generally weak. Maybe not everyone, but a high percentage.

We are body-soul creatures. I have a friend who works in neurology, a materialist, who insists that everything eventually comes down to biological processes. I who am not a materialist nevertheless agree with him. Everything does come down to biological processes. Gabriel Marcel says “I am my body!” The relationship between the spiritual and the material is not necessarily antagonistic. Leave that question to St. Paul and the philosophers, who speak of the flesh at war with the spirit. But follow me on this point: Your body is fundamentally a part of you. It might just be a another word for “you.”

If I kick your shin, I’m kicking you.

Mind and body may not be identical (I follow Aristotle and Aquinas on this), but even so, a hangover affects your ability to think.

Imagine being a habitual drunk. Every day, you are either hungover or intoxicated. How well would you function? Wouldn’t the alcohol hurt every part of your life? Would you make good decisions? Would you thrive? Could you be trusted in matters of importance? Assigned the management of others? Should you be able to vote? It would be madness.

Now consider that instead of an alcoholic you are merely unhealthy. You are carrying 40 or 50 or 100 extra pounds. You don’t move very well. Every day you are struggling to manage the physical world. How well would you function? Wouldn’t it hurt every part of your life? How would you make good decisions? Would you thrive? Could you be trusted in matters of importance? After all, your own body, that most intimate part of you, is unhealthy because of self-inflicted behavior. Unfaithful in the small things (your body and your self), would you be faithful in larger thing?

Consider that 75% of the population is sick. And yet we are a democracy.

How Barbells Save the World

Here’s where my plan helps. Take a moment and reflect. Get to the gym. Start moving. Start by sitting down and standing up from a chair. Get moving, and then move some more. Progressive resistance (weight training) is a wonderful way to do this, because it is cheap and effective, and you could even set up a place in your own garage for not too much money. Have someone teach you good form, then add weight. Keep doing it. Mind your eating! The food is designed to break your satiety signals. Don’t let it. Conquer!

Imagine the tax rate based on your powerlifting total.

Now, instead of 75% of the population being sick, 75% of the population is strong and vigorous. Perhaps now, democracy makes sense. They’ve conquered themselves, put themselves in order, are friends to themselves, as Socrates says. Now, and only now, is the electorate (jacked-ectorate? Swole-archy?) trustworthy in greater matters.

Barbells could save the world.

(If you would like coaching, you can find me at Barbell Logic

Shut off your backspace!

(In which I experiment with “Hemingway Mode”, which shuts off the backspace so that writers can quit worrying about editing and just emit text. I implemented it in VIM But I think the Freewrite fancy keyboard has it, as does Writemonkey and FocusWriter. )

iThis is Ernest mode on vim. It’s the Ernest Hemingway mode that disallows the backspace. All I can do is keep writing. No editig! Crap I mispelled that last word. Oh well.

Keep going! Keep writing! Keep generating content! That’s what we all need to do these days, especially if we are niche internet micro-celebrities. Keep the monter fed or die.

On the other hand, there’s a probl/em that is very common to creators. The internal critic. The vocie in your head that says “his is no good.” “Who do you think you are? This is no good. DHon’t press ‘publigsh’.” Being able to edit makes some of lus less likely to write.

Have you ever noticed yourself playing with fonts, margins, formatting? Do you pore over lists of the best pencils or notebooks? Doe you look for the perfect scritch of the pencl on the page? Buy one more gadget and you’ll write that novel!

That’s all a lie. The real problem is that you don’t want to twriet. AT leasvt you don’t want to write enough to make it happen. It might be that you are suffuring from ‘soloth’, the medieval vice of sadness in the face of the good, probably because of th e effort it would require. THe work that you need to do will be actual work, and therefore require much of you. IUt would beb etter, you secretly think, not ot do it at all. But rather than say that honestly, you futs around trying to make everything perfect before you start.

I am writing this post on Vim, my favorite text editor, which I fourd after much searching trying to find perfection. Even so, it’s pretty perfect. I am using something called the “Ernest” mode, which turns off all the beackspace and editing commands. You can onlny keep tyining. I think I like it. I have many errors, but I also have an essay.

Now aI can’t backspace, so if I make a mistake it is there . darn it. But I can keeep writing.

The Nothing is Happening

(In which I show my origins in continental philosophy.)

Nothing as a metaphysical entity–what is nothing? Is it as simple as saying it’s not a thing? But that which says it is not a thing is a thing, so the nothing can only be referred to by a thing, by an entity. Nothing only ‘exists’ in the horizon of being. Why even say nothing?

The animals don’t have a category for “nothing”.

Nothing is experienced as a lack, as a privation of that which should be there. This is only possible for rational willing beings. Something that I desire is not there. Nothing is there!

There’s an old joke about Jean-Paul Sartre going to the café and being told that there’s no cream. Would he like his coffee with no sugar instead?

Think of nothing as a lack, an absence, a void, something missing. In that sense, the nothing nothings. Forgive me for lapsing into Heidegerrian speech! The nothing nothings, in that it breaks into your life and causes despair. What’s wrong? Nothing!

Nothing is happening quite a bit these days.

Immateriality of the Intellect, the Real Reason

In the Commentary on the Metaphysics Aquinas drops another thought grenade, saying

“For the intelligible object and the intellect must be proportionate to each other and must belong to one and the same genus since the intellect and the intelligible object are one in actuality.”

The intelligible object, that is, the universal, is not a material thing. Think of your knowledge of the Pythagorean Theorem: is it a physical thing? Does it have atoms? Molecules? What is it made of? Certainly not anything material. And yet the mind, which, it is argued, is merely the brain, can know it.

What does “know” mean in this context? It means, according to Brother Thomas, that the mind and its object become unified. “One in actuality,” as he says it. The mind has to make real contact with the object, or there is no real knowledge.

The medievals and Aristotle thought that the mind was immaterial because it had to be for the possibility of knowledge.

Materialist objections: there isn’t anything that exists beyond the material world. Ok, fine, but this forecloses the possibility of knowledge in the sense that we used to understand it.

  • If there is knowledge, then the mind is not immaterial.
  • If the mind is material (aka just the brain), then there isn’t such a thing as knowledge.

I’m with Aristotle on this one. Yes, the soul is the form of the body, and it doesn’t make a great deal of sense to think of it apart from the body. “We are our bodies” as Gabriel Marcel says. And yet, there is some power of the soul which is not bodily, and this is required because we can actually know things. How can this be? I don’t know. See On the Soul and tell me what you think.

Metaphysics is a Statesman

I was reading Aquinas’ Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics and came across an interesting line in the prologue. He is attempting to determine what the highest science is, and drops this line:

We can discover which science this is and the sorts of things with which it is concerned by carefully examining the qualities of a good ruler; for just as men of superior intelligence are naturally the rulers and masters of others, whereas those of great physical strength and little intelligence are naturally slaves, as the Philosopher says in the aforementioned book, in a similar way that science which is intellectual in the highest degree should be naturally the ruler of others.

The order of the sciences is argued to be parallel to the proper order of a society, with the more intellectual ruling the less intellectual. While I don’t think he is wrong, I was struck by the casual way in which he said it. For Aquinas, it seems that the qualities of a good ruler were obvious.

It seems to me that we generally esteem someone who represents our interests much more than we esteem someone who is wise. In other words, a modern “good ruler” is one who defends my in-group and gives me what I want. Whatever my desires, that ruler needs to make sure I can satisfy them. Opposed to this is the notion of the statesman, as found in Plato and Aristotle, whose goal is the good of the people. The real good of the people, not the apparent good. It is such a ruler that is the proper model for first philosophy, not the demagogue or tyrant.

Happiness is an activity

I remember as a grad student being floored by the straightforward comment of St. Thomas Aquinas that happiness is an activity. I know I should have figured this out from reading Nichomachean Ethics, but I was not very bright and it took me awhile to figure it out. Take a moment and think about what this means. Happiness, as the ancients believed and the best of the medievals followed, isn’t a feeling or a state of being. It’s not contentedness or satisfaction. It’s an activity, a doing, an energia in entelechia.

It is hard for English speakers to grok this since the word “happiness” means for us something of chance. It is related to the word “happen” and also to “mayhap”. If I happen to come across a $10 bill on the street, I am happy, because of the thing that happened to me. I am happeny. But this sort of thing is not really up to me. Chance is fickle. Fortune’s wheel may grind me to dust or lift me high. Either way it’s not my doing.

But if happiness is an activity, it’s something that I can do. I can make it “happen.” For Aristotle and Aquinas, it’s more than mindless activity or business. It’s an activity of the highest part of you devoted to the highest objects. Maybe to the Highest Object. Reason is the highest thing in the human soul, they assert, and if this is the case, we should use our reason on the highest things we are capable of. For Aristotle this is the contemplation of the first principle, and for Aquinas it’s the contemplation of the Christian God.

This is not relaxation or satisfaction, but a constant work of one’s life. If you take this seriously you aren’t going to sit around, Netflix and chill, and figure that you are happy. The pigs in the pen do as much. Rather you are going to strain yourself a bit to the highest things.

Will it be fun? Sure! Aquinas says somewhere that joy is what happens when you possess a sought-after good. The active life is the most joyful. But you don’t get to have cheap joy.

A sonnet

Feast Day

The wintry gusts roll through this little town
like cattle eager for some fresh new grass
Should wind attack my skin like this? –A frown.
Thanks be to God, the glory of this Mass.

A hint of fur, a nose of rosy red
her eyes peak out beneath the woolen cap
God bless you, sir! a holy day! she said.
And bless you too, hands fumbling in his lap

The Lord of Lords himself offered again
as many times for many He does often
forgiveness, joy, thanksgiving for all men
and women, hardened hearts He makes to soften

But oh your perfume wafts across the pew!
and all my prayers are only about you.

Jane Austen and Country Music

I once watched a youtube series, Pride and Prejudice remade as a “vlog”, with an actress playing “Lizzie” and retelling the story via first person narration. It was well done and diverting, up until the ending. Darcy and Lizzie didn’t get married, they just started a “relationship”, whatever that is.

It fell flat. There were no sequels, although they were promised. What is Jane Austen without a marriage? This brings to mind country music, with its talk of dirt roads, double-wides, agriculture, alcohol, and heartbreak. Why is it popular? Very few country music fans have probably ever driven on a dirt road. Are they play-acting? Very few Austen fans have ever lived in a society where their prosperity and personal well-being depends solely on a good marriage.

Urbanites living in material prosperity and working email jobs long for something. Is it simpler times? I don’t think so. What they long for is more restricted times. “If we make it through December”, “Good Lord Lori”, Elizabeth Bennet’s need to get married to someone, anyone, give structure to life. It gives a direction that is lacking in our rootless life.

I myself am rereading Tolkien again. I don’t want to fight orcs or journey through the Emyn Muil, but at least then, one knew where one stood! Could the appeal of fantasy literature be similar? The limits, whether cultural or from scarcity, make a life have structure. It makes stories possible. There can’t be heroes’ journeys if there isn’t any particular reason to go on a journey.

1916 for the Media

Is it the Battle of Verdun for the Media?

In 1916 the French fought the Germans around the town of Verdun. The battle took from February to December. There were perhaps a million casualties (reports are hard to verify from those days). The lines at the end of the battle were much the same as at the beginning.

I’ve been seeing extremely convincing AI video in the last few days. It was already pretty good, but is getting very lifelike. At least as lifelike as TikTok “influencers” ever are. One will be able to make one’s own virtual girl very soon. If you are on the cutting edge, you can do it already! I am told that there are AI OnlyFans models currently working and making money. It seems like an inflection point.

You can’t believe anything you see!

Let me repeat:

You can’t believe anything you see! At least, not anything you see on a screen.

Consider what this does to the media. In 1916 the machine gun met the trench and led to stalemate. The technologies were matched. You could spend lots of lives and gain nothing. In modern media, you can spend lots of money and saturate the market with your images and videos, but nobody will believe them. It’s like the trench and the machine gun. If all videos can be faked by anyone with a laptop, then no videos can be believed. No one sensible will ever believe anything that comes from the news.

The only thing you will be able to believe will be those things that you see with your own eyes or feel with your own fingers. The horizon of information will shrink, just as the horizon of battle shrank to the trench in 1916.

At least, until they get you to put a chip in your head. At that point, you won’t even be able believe your own eyes anymore.