Music and Life

From my journal this morning:

Turning on classical music transports me to another realm–a land of beauty and possibility. Music is timeless because it is an aesthetic derived from mathematics itself. It is a harmony deeply embedded in the nature of Nature. The operations of chemistry and biology, even physics are less pure than music. Only mathematics is perhaps more pure, but music is superior. It can be appreciated not only by all humans, but by plants and animals too. It is not necessary to understand music in order for it to inspire awe and wonder.

For this reason, it is the most Divine of all sensory experiences. It does not fail us by familiarity, as tastes or sights. It remains ever youthful, ever fresh. It yields an endless spring of joy and a limitless fountain of peace. The wonders of modern technology reached their apex in the ability to deliver at near zero cost what was previously only accessible to Royals and the exceedingly wealthy.

Should I be forced to choose between sight and hearing, I should at once surrender my sight if but for the chance to hear Biebl’s Ave Maria in the hour of my death. I should wish for my last moments of consciousness to be flooded of this immeasurable beauty.

In music nothing of perfection lacks, and so our whole lives should be modeled after it. Truly great music knows when to be loud, and when to be soft. It keeps silence when needed. It is forceful and shy, dramatic and humorous, serious and playful. Music celebrates and mourns. It dances, laughs, as well as weeps. It magnifies and expresses every emotion, every state of mind. It animates every dream and consoles every disappointment.

And what is music if not motion?

All that music does is motion. Symphonies and concertos are divided into “movements.” What if we so described the periods of our lives? What if we saw our life so beautifully changing as to not get caught lingering on the last note or too eagerly anticipating a future one? The beauty and fullness of the resolution requires the preceding dissonance.

What would we think of the pianist who merely rushed to the conclusion of the phrase because the dissonance caused discomfort? What would we think of the conductor who cut the symphony short because the dissonance was just too much to bear?

Imagine the scene!

The whole orchestra in the conflict of their notes and the conductor shouts “I can’t take it!” and runs off the stage. Or worse, sets fire to the whole stage because he says the players have caused him such pain in playing their notes!

And so it is with life. The story of existence has moments of dissonance–which we call problems or pain–followed by resolution. We lose tho whole plot of the thing when we think the moments of dissonance are the totality of the symphony. The notes are already written, in some sense. The Godhead, or the Universe, or whatever you want to call it, is imagining all the possible combinations of notes in an infinite symphony unfolding all around us. We are living out one such possible combination, a combination which includes every free choice and decision we make–it’s all included in these notes. The trill, the bravado, the breathing, the accent–all up to us.

Almost all of the things that make a musical performance beautiful are up to the performer. The score is just the basis on which everything plays out. But how it is played out is up to the performer. Why complain about the score, then? Why wish it were written differently? Does it get us another score?

Should I be like the petulant critic who once asked to Mozart if he thought there were just a few too many notes?

The whole symphony is written out, and we are playing it as we choose. But we should see that some people are supposed to be repeating the inventions on the theme from the first part of the movement while others are to foreshadow the new themes of the next movement, and not see each other as enemies. The violinist shouldn’t get angry at the oboe for playing a conflicting note if that’s what’s written to be played. Maybe it’s not, maybe in rehearsal we have to talk about it.

But we should never forget we’re all playing the same symphony.

Don’t try to be the composer. You aren’t up for that job. I’m not up for that job. How can I think to rewrite the measure I’m playing now when I don’t know what measure comes next? So I must play what’s there, measure by measure, as beautifully as I can muster.

So there are just two roles for us mere mortals: conductor and player. We must practice both roles with diligence, for at times life calls us to be one and not the other.

When you find yourself as conductor, lead your orchestra through the moments of dissonance with calm confidence–show them you know it will resolve. And when you are playing, don’t focus so hard on the black ink on the page that you fail to hear the beauty you are creating with every breath.

The Escape of Believable Unreality

History has seen man move toward ever-more believable unrealities because man does not want to contemplate the truth of existence. From anthropomorphic gods to Theater to Disneyland to Oculus Rift, we see that imagination leads technology in our attempt to escape the brutal truth that existence itself has no explanation, that life is suffering punctuated by death, that all nature (including and especially human nature) is violence upon violence, and that there are no answers to any of this in 10,000 years of philosophy, theology, and science that can adequately and satisfactorily explain it all.

So rather than struggle with and (eventually) transcend these questions, we escape. Either we escape by trying to evolve out of the struggle, toward the techno-cyber-utopia of the Vulcans, or backward to our primate origins through sex, alcohol, base amusement (or its rejection, through moralistic traditional religion). The same sort of primate impulse of categorical, unexamined thinking that leads to the “drink & fuck” mentality is at the root of traditional religious moral absolutism. The people who embrace the sex/alcohol free-for-all as a rejection of religious moralism and think they are “progressive” have merely made a lateral move, just as the original religious moralists of history only made a lateral move (with the exception that their approach at least probably promoted public health and economic productivity a bit more).

Only a few people, in a couple of small sects of three or four major religious traditions in all of history have ever embraced with full force this painful state of man and overcome themselves to a degree sufficient to actually be of service to their fellow man.

Distilled Philosophy Digest Issue #1


Welcome to the first installment of Distilled Philosophy. This one is going to be a lot longer than it will usually be, because it is a digest of my distilled philosophical reflections since the beginning of January, and usually it will be just for the preceding week. Please leave your thoughts, responses, etc., and if you like anything in particular, please Tweet and/or Share on Facebook. Although not required, I would love it if you would give me a shout out– @skinnerlayne on Twitter and “Skinner Layne” on Facebook.


To relate is to heal, and to be healed.


Always think well. If you are endowed with great mental faculties, it is a waste to spend them any other way. And if you aren’t, you don’t have anything to spare on anything else.


One need not be passive in order to be a pacifist.


To be willing to die for freedom is brave. To refuse to kill for it is virtuous. May we all learn to be both brave and virtuous.


The design mind is beautiful. It can articulate what to the rest of us are just vague impressions about aesthetic life.


Humility does not mean that you must think poorly of yourself, but rather that you must defer your own needs in favor of others’.


Envy arises from laziness in doing the work you need to achieve, and from ignorance of what you should uniquely want for yourself that nobody else already has.


Self-deprecation is often the falsest form of humility.


Lend your books without reservation, don’t worry if you won’t get them back. A book worth sharing is a book worth re-purchasing.


A man can only be truly free when he accepts both that he has nothing of value anybody can take away from him and incalculable value he can create for others.


Institutions cannot develop human potential, but people can. Institutions must create the space for that to happen.


People are like plants: in order to bear fruit, they must be rooted in something.


If you really do “have it all together,” chances are you are totally miserable.


The Old Testament is man’s response to God. The New Testament is God’s response to man.


To decide to live is to not commit suicide today. To decide to be alive is to not commit suicide gradually every day.


There is a life experiment most people are trying but shouldn’t: Do what everybody else is doing and hope to come out ahead.


Without radical doubt, there cannot be radical faith.


A just and orderly society should be characterized by laws that are thusly made: Everything not explicitly prohibited is permitted. Very few things are explicitly prohibited and any reasonable man of average intelligence and little study could at all times be aware of those things that are.


Beyond the human toll of the tragedy of the 20th century’s experimentation with totalitarianism, the worst lasting impact of it is that it raised the bar for what people are willing to call tyranny.


The future will be determined by those who are conscious of, but not tied to the past.


The hypocrisy of disarmament is that it would be enforced by people who are heavily armed.


Most people learn the wrong lessons from failed experiments. This is rooted in the mistaken belief that an experiment with an other-than-desired outcome is a failure.


Don’t over-think. Experiment. There is no such thing as over-experimenting.


The truly radical reformer is not the man who wants to change everything about the world, but who wants to change just the one thing that matters, knowing that everything else will change as a result.


It is a dangerously slippery slope from “Some things could be known a priori” to “Many things are.”


The medicalization of the mind is among the 3 most disastrous sociological trends of the second half of the 20th Century.


Depending on context, “That is so American of you” can be the finest compliment or the gravest insult.


Most of the time it’s not that people make the wrong kinds of sacrifices for those they love, but they make them toward the wrong ends. They sacrifice so that their loved ones may have more, instead of so they can become more.


Liberty does not guarantee virtue. If you want a world characterized by liberty, you would do well to first build a world characterized by virtue.


Contemporary “mental health” professionals are just legalized drug dealers in most cases.


A tribe is an identity without Community.


Free Markets eventually zero out economic profit. If you want to eliminate the super wealthy, you have to eliminate the artificial barriers to entry in the market that prevent this from happening.


Linear-thinking is the best way to ensure that your life will flat-line.


Forget life plans. Forget “where do you want to be in 10 years?” All of that is complete bullshit and is making you miserable. Think about what you want to be doing tomorrow. Then figure out how to do that thing and do it amazingly well. Then, in 5 years, when you don’t want to do that anymore, you can figure out what you want to do next.


On Facebook, ignorance usually triumphs.


There is only one path toward giving unconditional love: doing the daily work of identifying and expunging conditions, one by one.


There is a big difference between communities and Community.


There are two kinds of days worth living: days of inspiration and days of perspiration. If you aren’t having the former, make sure you have the latter.


Finding happiness is like finding the end of a rainbow. Better look for something more useful instead.


Forget discovering your passion. This is the wrong way to think about the question. We must determine our passion. It’s up to us. We aren’t born with it. It’s not ingrained our genetics. It is up to us to choose. Choose wisely.

The Dangers of Anesthesia

An unusually high rate of complications and even spiritual deaths associated with general anesthesia have been reported in people using specific anesthetics common in contemporary life, including: Facebook, Video Games, iPhones, Alcohol, Recreational Drugs, Vacation, Serf Labor, and Dogmatic Religion. These anesthetics may prove highly addictive, sought out to ward off the pain of existence and preventing one from confronting the meaninglessness of his or her life.

It is reported that most people use one or more of these anesthetics for hours each day, distracting themselves from their suffering, loneliness, disappointment, and failure. Most users will not even recognize the root causes of their habitual abuse of these anesthetics due to the widespread social acceptance of their use.

Symptoms indicating over-reliance and abuse of anesthetics may include: use of fatalistic language to describe one’s circumstances, frequent reference to the necessity of one’s actions and the disclaiming of one’s freedom of choice in most or all matters, the denial of viable alternatives, and ascribing outcomes to something other than the natural consequences of one’s own actions.

Sustained excessive usage of anesthetics may cause permanent damage to one’s ability to feel emotion, relate to other people, achieve one’s own goals and aspirations in life, and will in almost all cases severely stunt spiritual and emotional growth. Substituting these anesthetics for legitimate experience with the outside world is not only harmful to the health of the user, but to everybody around them.

Recommended treatment for anesthetic abuse is the immediate cessation of use for a period of time for detoxification. After sustained detoxification has been achieved, it is recommended that appropriate use of any common anesthetic be limited only to narrow and specific, non-anesthetic use. Relapse is all but guaranteed in most patients, and therefore must be guarded against with great care.

To assist with detoxification, it is recommended that the user undergo self-therapy through reading, journaling, and productive, life-affirming work that is consistent with the user’s legitimate internal wants and desires for his or her life. Philosophy, psychology, prayer/meditation, and authentic conversation with others is highly recommended to insure against relapse and to improve the overall health of the patient during recovery.

There is No You

There is no authentic You trapped inside, trying to get out. There is no real You under the surface that needs to be discovered or found. There is no You that a backpacking trip to India will unearth. There is no You that is supposed to be doing something great.

There is only the You that exists. The You whose existence you work to make into something meaningful. It will only be through your working out of the issues of your existence that will lead, or not lead, to something great, or something mediocre. What is great or mediocre is also a set of definitions you must work out.

There is no template or rubric anybody else can give you to solve your problems or make your life worth living. There will be no lasting epiphany that happens to you one day that will change the course of your life forever. There can only be gradual revelation, through intentional awareness of your life and consistent consciousness coupled with grueling hard work and the acceptance of continual pain and disappointment.

These are the tools you must use to craft an authentic You. These are the tools you must use to hack your way into a life that is truly worth living. But these tools will give you blisters and callouses, and will tire you. These tools will eat away at your resolve. And that’s why most people’s lives are filled with mediocrity and meaninglessness–because most people are too lazy to grasp the freedom they have to craft their own existence and instead let inertia drive them from necessity to necessity until the grave swallows their old, decrepit body.

Fight inertia. Fight entropy. Grow, don’t decay, as you age.  Don’t be like most people. The You that you can create is much more interesting than the You you believe you can discover.

Global Citizen, Not Global Resident

Global citizenship is the apex of the humanistic ideal, and indeed the Christian one as well (for we are neither Jew nor Greek), but there is an inappropriate conflation of Generation Y/Millennial Nomadism with Global Citizenship.

The nomad fancies himself as a global resident, but he is actually a resident of nowhere. We are either residents of a place or of no place, but we cannot be residents of every place. We all must choose where to reside, and while many people have historically defaulted to where they were born, contemporary American youths default to the ‘glamourous’ cities they have idealized through various media since childhood.

We should choose where to reside because it is place that needs us the most rather than the place we feel we need to be in order to “be seen” or envied by others.

Profit Motive vs. Power Motive

Critics of markets are always quick to demonize the “profit-driven” decisions made in a market system. We should consider the alternatives. There is not much evidence that resources have ever been, or could ever be allocated efficiently through charities, and there isn’t really anybody even trying to advocate that. What they do advocate is that decisions be made by central planners (both elected and bureaucratic), whose motive is…the public interest? We do not need a substantial sample of decisions to see how rare the “public interest” motive is in government. So that leaves us with the Power Motive. People make decisions because they are driven to accumulate more power. Given the choice, I would have to pick the guy who wants nothing more than to fly around in a Gulfstream than the guy who dreams at night of having his face carved into the side of Mt Rushmore. The worst of it is that these days, those two guys are working together.

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