The Infinite Hallway (Fate vs Free Will)

  1. We are biologically alive and
  2. We are mentally conscious of this fact which
  3. Allows free will.

Yes, when analyzed, we are but a whirlwind of quarks bouncing upon quantum foam.  We have no knowledge of why quarks behave the way they do – it is intrinsically random.  If we were self-aware of every aspect that makes up who we are as a biologically living, mentally conscious, “free” individual, we would see the foundations of our thought processes are sealed in that of unexplainable synchronicities.  We are not those fractals.  Beyond a base level, do these constraints matter?  Do you first look at the top of a skyscraper, or do you analyze its foundation?  The answer is obvious – in every practical consideration of the term, we have free will.  Yes, there are societal constructs (these are breaking) and there are physical constructs.  However, even though we have no control of the rules in life, it is ultimately up to us how we play (or if we play).

Free will is embraced in optimism, while pessimism takes logical refuge in fate.  Both pessimists/optimists stand in the same hallway, with billions of doors to explore.  The pessimist realizes there are multiple floors and that only one door (which may not even exist) holds access to exploring the other hallways.  This mindset is intensified with the realization that there are also multiple buildings containing even more hallways, all contained within multiple cities, found on multiple planets, etc. etc.  The pessimist focuses on the repetition of constantly exploring the same hallway over and over again; creating a mindset revolving around life’s limitations and the “cruel fate” we have been subjected to.

The context of what’s behind each door is ever-changing.  Those who believe in fate see the limitations and recognize that life plays out like an experiment in a laboratory.  Replace the rodent and the maze with a human and the aforementioned infinite hallway.  The point?  How long before we run out of curiosity?  How long do our most intense moments of discovery last?  How long before the desire to free ourselves from ignorance becomes too repetitious and we grow weary of constantly opening new doors?

The optimist does not focus on this heavy realization.  Yes, while aware of our limited potential, free will ultimately understands that without this existential suffering, we could never experience the revitalization felt when discovering something truly holy, sacred, revolutionary or loving.  The mindset which embraces free will shall walk the hallway and admire its never-ending layers in silenced awe, never bothering to worry about an upstairs or a downstairs floor.

The optimist lives for the next moment; every moment like a lottery in which one picks their own numbers and draws them from a spinning pot.  Being that the ink is abrasive and easy to detect, with enough concentration, the optimist hopes to pull only the numbers found upon their own ticket.  This process of matching and selecting the best of life’s randomness continues until they have found themselves entirely and intentionally lost in plain sight; dancing in the realization of infinite potential and ever thankful for the experience.

This experience is the same experience which pessimism (and fate’s mindset) views as a cold and unrelenting experiment – all for the amusement of some distant observer.  Free will sees the observer as the true experiment.  This mindset finds freedom through transcendence of the boundaries; finding never-ending space and place to rest and contemplate.  The optimist knows that if the question is being thrown toward us (How long before we stop caring about finding novelty?) that an observer is awaiting an answer.  The joy and lifeblood of any optimistic mindset comes from the loving feeling of wanting to live up to human potential and being gracious to have even had the chance.  As this is an extended metaphor, the observer of this experiment and the one within the experiment of conscious (but limited) life are but the same person.

As children, the world is novel and even tragic moments come with the ecstasy of a truly new experience!  Fate says we are confined to search for novelty until we grow tired of the never-ending futile quest, but if we are confined and conscious, we will always have free choices to make.  Moments of shared transcendence continuously occur in reaction to progressive culture.  This essentially proves that when faced with the challenge to explore a billion doors or give up and become self-destructive (escapism), collectively, we have chosen to explore.

Fate and free will, optimism and pessimism – these are both sides of the same coin.  We are whole and feel different from day to day, inexplicably, like quarks (the foundation of our experience).  Today I am an optimist and tomorrow I will no doubt face thoughts of purposelessness.  The point is not that we “contradict” yesterday’s mantra in today’s actions, or that we can detect patterns of disappointment.  The truth is we do have the capacity to listen.  With this capacity comes potential for a love of life, that which goes beyond positive/negative thinking and that which is for transcendent purpose – to embrace every perspective, to attempt to empathize and to share our findings with any open ear.

A final thought:

If given immortality and omnipresent wisdom from birth, what would be the motivation to explore the hypothetical hallway, if one knew what was behind every door?  Knowledge of surroundings would not necessarily indicate transcendence from fate and if anything, it would lead to a desire to create an experiment the likes of which we now find ourselves metaphorically within.  From this perspective, it would appear that we are freer as mice in a maze, than the observers themselves.  It becomes obvious how true free will does not only occur when one is free of responsibility, but as an embraceable mindset possible in any circumstance.

“Modern Art” In Contemporary Society

Ask the average twenty-something what ‘modern art’ is and apart from an indifferent shrug, the response heard most often will be along the lines of “Oh, you mean Warhol and the soup cans?”

Warhol’s take on art was considered by many to be “the end of art”. Within the last year I have begun to realize the unintentional meaning this phrase carries in the ’00s.  To the average consumer, kid, adult and American, “art” is whatever is on television, our favorite films and the video game of the moment.  Traditional art, paintings, sculptures and the idea of a museum has become completely irrelevant apart from those who actively seek it out.  Art has faded into the background as a hobby at best and an unnecessary, exclusive, expensive and outdated luxury at worst.

Some might say, “Well, it’s simply been redefined” — this is ignoring the issue.  Paintings and the idea of putting art upon a pedestal for viewing has vanished from contemporary society and from the practical consumer’s mindset.  Sure, it has been replaced by flashier culture, but it’s only on a metaphorical pedestal, not a literal one, that we view video gaming and television.  What does a painting mean now?  If the term “modern art” means something that is half a century old (‘soup cans’), it’s clear that the very term is hypocritical.

Personally, art has meant album artwork.  This is a medium which many could toss up to containing a cohesive and beautiful statement once every 300 album covers.  Regardless, I have thrived off of my last remaining attachment I have to traditional paintings, even though the pedestal said album art is viewed upon is my laptop.

There is a poster on my wall containing the album artwork of Animal Collective’s 2009 album, “Merriweather Post Pavilion”.  When moving from college dorm A to college dorm B, I had forgotten to take down my posters.  My friend, Ryan, kindly took the posters down and stored them in his car, where they collected dust all summer long.  These posters were rolled together in a messy clump, rendering most of them ruined from being stuck together for such a long time.  However, there was one interesting effect to the Merriweather Poster.  In addition to several white tears, the sunlight had created a fantastic faded blue streak across the bottom of the image.  It gave a precise effect that looked as if it could have only been created digitally — or perhaps by leaving a poster exposed to three months of sunlight.

With no real desire to seek out far-less stimulating culture, the place for massive and vibrant paintings, sculptures and installations has been moved to one of two places:

  1. There are enthusiasts, many of them, who will never say goodbye to the wonder and subtlety that “true” art, found in a museum, provides.
  2. The second place this art has gone to (and the place which gets far more attention) is upon Flickr accounts, various impersonal Tumblr pages and occasionally upon a Google Image search.

If art was an experience to help transcend the trivialities of daily life, if even for a moment, and said experience no longer takes place outside the stream of our lives — what does that say for art?  We no longer have to visit museums to experience a plethora of styles; all we need is StumbleUpon and perhaps a search string.  Such ease allows us a whirlwind of culture, but at the same time, it is easy to under-appreciate the magnitude of the culture itself.

Conceptually, the artist is dead, because there are no longer pedestals for each artist to showcase their work upon.  All art created gets thrown into the digital void, upon one unified pedestal.  This pedestal is shared amongst all artists and with this sharing, artistic individuality has been lost in the digital stream of consciousness.  The artist is no longer relevant so much as the audience, i.e., you, as you have the power to skip to the next image or share it on your Facebook wall.  This is about as much praise as one can practically expect as an artist on a mass scale, apart from the occasional PR puff piece and blogosphere commentary.

The poster on my wall does not ask for my attention, yet it exists outside the internet, in its own museum (my room) on its own pedestal (the wall).  The audience (I and whoever is in the room at the time) is not forced to look upon this poster, but when they do, it captures the overstimulated attention span, if just for a moment.  Modern art is individually-oriented and based around personal narratives — one glance upon the poster reminds of a story.  It calls attention to something I have no control over (sunlight, the forces of nature, destroying my perfect replica of a favorite album) and in its own subliminal way, reminds of my own impermanence.  One may think that this is all a bit hyperbolic, but that’s just it!  There is nothing that is going to exist in our lives which will live up to the mythical shadow cast upon by pre-internet society, when it was impossible to fathom the audience even touching the pedestal, let alone controlling what was seen upon it.

This is why I can look to a sun-faded Animal Collective poster as the highest example of contemporary art imaginable.  This is why the definition of art in practical, contemporary society is exactly what you as a viewer, view it to be.  While artists will continue to make thought-provoking work to be seen in small scales, the masses are still left scratching their head, thinking to 1962’s “Campbell’s Soup Cans” as the only example of modern art — before tuning back into the daily programming.  Today, artistic relevance depends completely on what you personally find relevant.  Traditional art made by others will always have beauty, but it will never catch the eye as the heirlooms our lifetime will, however insignificant to an outside observer these may be.

The end of art meant the end of established artistic norms, of an invisible world telling you what you could and could not find aesthetically pleasing.  It began with Warhol realizing that art could be found anywhere, even in the supermarket.  If a supermarket is a pedestal, then it’s obvious that the museum is the human mind and whatever we attach ourselves to can be transformed into a gallery, flimsy posters included.

The Crossroads Of Indecision

There are two mindsets we take as human beings every day.  There are actions which benefit the immediate physical self.  Such things such as absurd sexual relief, indulgent eating, experiencing the meta-real (virtual reality/video games) and thus pro-longed detachment from the real — all of these things isolate us from the reality outside of ourselves.  The second mindset is that which benefits the long-term self.  It is this side which benefits the perception of how one will be seen outside of one’s individual bubble of self-stimulation.  However, to dedicate one’s self to more noble “ethereal”/spiritual purposes is to deny life and to dedicate one’s self to more tangible “immediate now” physicality is to self-indulge.

At the crosswords of these choices is that of pre-choice.  At this point is that of contemplated decision and where we are very much aware of both roads, but choose to take either the left or the right.  The one thing these roads have in common with one another is that when both are pursued long enough both lead to isolation.  If one lingers at the foreground, feels the sexual pulsating feeling of lingering pleasure and the mentally enlightening rush of absolute knowledge, but pursues neither, one experiences the place where they know themselves the most.  The longer you delay the decision, the closer you find yourself at home.

It is in this in-between place of indecision that we find our personal enlightenment, nirvana, “God”, as this is where all potential exists but none has been taken.  It is an open road in all directions.  Spend some time in this place every day and realize that this is where all decisions stem from which very directly affect the course of both the left and the right path.  We can choose either path — business or pleasure — but if we take the right path down the road, the further and further removed from the left road we become.  Choices are permanent once made and paths and roads which we walk upon carry us to very real homes of decision.  We can move, however, whenever we like and place ourselves back at the root point of the short-term and long-term and, if desired, simply float there and contemplate our choice.  It is in this contemplation which we find the deepest peace.

Falling back into disarray

During contemplation (and after ‘finding our center’) the most appealing thing to us is being lured OUT of the contemplation.  Whatever drives us out of this state, the fastest, is what turns us on the most and thus we pursue these decisions with no hesitation.  In our delighted success of finally finding “purpose” we live in leisure and at ease with our decisions.  All uncertainties are answered and we feel alive — on top of the world.  This is of course until something from beneath (within the actual world) pulls us back down to remind us that something is not quite consistent with our “we have found our purpose” notion.  At our own clumsiness, we fall once more into the cycle.  The pursual for the escape eventually becomes the norm with no additional realization gained and once more we find ourselves at a loss, out of balance and in need of some serious decision.  The cycle perpetuates…

The “Messiah” Complex

With enough self-confidence, we all begin to view ourselves, in some degree, as “messiahs” in our own respective fields and in our minds.  Why would you not base your actions around your ideal life philosophy?  The “Messiah” complex — the notion that “I believe, despite subjective nature of my rationality, that I am RIGHT and that you should trust my judgment.”  We base everything, from positive and negative interactions, around this belief — until it changes and we become empathetic to the grander and more selfless ideas based in love.

But do we, really?  Frankly, the ones who continue being right continue to do so due to a combination of having a sense for what the whole is thinking, at least in their particular location on the planet, and being charismatic enough to convince everyone of their own reality.  The thing about conscious awareness is that we are always trying to get the most out of every situation, simply because we are aware of choice.  Additionally, we at least have some idea of what would be a better outcome relative to our own personal tastes and personality/mindset.  Thus, every action, in our own minds and at said moment, is the right one to take.

Think about how you rationalize your choices at their core — “Because I like it”, because you believe it is ‘right’, the only natural option of the moment, the only embraceable decision.  If your chosen action is proven to not be as perfect as your perceptions allow, be prepared to show the world your negative side.  Selflessness allows you to see past this, but only to a certain point.  The more you break down your actions, what you are doing, the more likely deep, core motives are actually contradicting what you would perceive to be selflessness.

If you are helping people because that genuinely makes you happy, then are you helping people to help people?  Is it possible that because your experiences with helping people have been positive ones, that the feeling is what you seek — not the charity itself?  True selflessness is not even acknowledging favors or kind acts you are doing for another — it’s considering these actions STANDARD — the DEFAULT.  To never expect a “thank you”, because anything other than selflessness is derived pervertedly from your default “HELP ALL HUMANS” outlook.

In other words, the messiah complex is an oxymoron.  Those who are genuinely selfless would never acknowledge such a thing.  Those who acknowledge their charitable actions in a manner which encourages an ego or elevates their being above the rest of the world are clearly not selfless.  There can never again be a true messiah, as if he/she exists, we would never hear from him/her.  The minute you hear of a messiah’s existence, you know it to be false, because true godliness (my definition of godliness = striving to operate at peak human potential) understands that living up to your potential is what should be expected, not something that is beyond the norm or deserves compensation.

Lyrical Analysis: “The Robber Fancy” by Charles Dickens

“When from thy boiling store, thou shalt fill each jar brim full by and by, dost thou think that thou wilt always kill outright the robber Fancy lurking within — or sometimes only maim him and distort him!”

-Charles Dickens, Hard Times, 1854

The key word in this poetic warning to overly-reliant intellectualism is “Fancy” — capitalized in the book presumably for emphasis.  Earlier in the chapter, a schoolgirl (Cecilia Jupe) is called out for wishing to “carpet her room with representations of flowers”, simply responding how she finds the imagery “pretty and pleasant”.  She fancies the flowers, and immediately after her admittance of this opinion, her teachers brashly lecture how all her thoughts should come from a place of fact (as opposed to “fancy”).

The quote from above comes after a lengthy paragraph describing essentially a perfectly educated teacher (M’Choakumchild) knowledgeable in just about everything one could reasonably expect to know.  “The boiling store“, then, refers to M’Choakumchild’s mind, steaming with information to a point of overload.  With this stored knowledge, he desires to “fill each jar (to the) brim full” with the same knowledge, so that the process can forever continue — a world of men and women who know fact and nothing else.  The children of the classroom, in particular Cecilia (whom is filled with “fancy” and thus resistance towards this process), are the latest empty jars to be filled with said fact.

Dickens counters the schoolteacher’s over-confidence (“dost thou think that thou wilt always“) with the realistic notion that not everyone will always take so kindly to a world of fact and nothing more.  In the chapter Cecilia is clearly discouraged by this onslaught against the fun and fanciful world she once knew, before being subjected to a realm of fact.  Dickens recognizes her individual spirit, and jests towards the schoolteacher — calling “Fancy” a “robber lurking within“, as if to suggest that Fact is un-natural and that in the end Fancy lurks within every mental jar, threatening to overthrow that which has been artificially placed (Fact).

This passage essentially states how it is improbable to expect someone to completely bend to your chosen system, in this context “fact”, and expect them to adapt without compromise.  Indeed, it ends with the ominous line, “or sometimes only to main him and distort him!” — “him” referring to “the robber” which of course refers to “Fancy”.  Subjecting your mindset to another without regard for empathy will not only fail to truly add something new, but it will also pervert what was once natural and pure.  M’Choakumchild may be very well-versed in education and overall knowledge, but in the process he has lost his ability to relate to those he wishes to teach (Cecilia).  As Dickens says in the same chapter:

“If he had only learnt a little less, how infinitely better he might have taught much more!”

Lyrical Analysis: “Bizness” by Tune-Yards

The lyrics are found here.  Here is the official music video:

“Don’t take my life away / Don’t take my life away”

The manner in which she sings this, rapidly and frantic, suggests that this song may work best if you take the lyrics on a literal level before analyzing interpretatively.  In the main chorus of the song, it sounds as if Garbus is describing a mugging.  From the opening line (“What’s the business?“) asking just what the hell is happening, to the realization that the mugger is moving closer (“From a distance“) finally to the attempt to try to empathize with her perpetrator (“I’m a victim!” / “I’m addicted!“) It all paints a very visual picture.  The intensity of this image obvious increases with every repeated plea (“Don’t take my life away!“).

WhoKill as an album seems to deal with similar subject matter upon the surface, and then on a deeper level one can interpret these things to act as metaphors for more intimate personal issues and insecurities expressed in song.  If you look at the opening verse in this same “Mugger” mindset, you can see how well it fits with just about every line.  The opening, in particular, makes much more sense on a surface level when analyzed from this perspective:

“If I represent the one that did this to you / Then can away the part that represents the thing that scarred you”

It seems to be an extended plea intended to be said to the mugger, only to be mentally pondered.  Muggers obviously don’t personalize or discriminate in terms of the individual; though if they are robbing you chances are you have a look of wealth or content.  She rationalizes, “If you are mugging me because I look like everything you aren’t and desire to be (in terms of wealth), then you need to get over whatever it is that personally traumatized you.”  Such a powerful, opening line.  Obviously, we are starting to see the deeper intentions of the song.

Immediately after this declaration of “Fix yourself before you hurt me”, she declares (“Get up / Stand up / Get on it!“) both the listener and herself to defend against the situation as to change the outcome (“I am no longer who you thought this one would be“).  A victim can be mugged, but a victim in self-defense is not such an easy target.

After this confidence boosting declaration, it’s revealed that she (as a victim) still ends up running into this mugger once more (“We end up around the mountain that I climb to lose you“) and despite how bold she was just moments before, meeting this mugger causes her to enter a state of shock (“Ask me, Tell me / but all my wisdom departed“).  Finally we enter in the main chorus, the confrontation, where all she can ask is “What the hell is going on / How did I get here / Don’t take my life away / I’m just like you!”

This entire time we have seen how simply the song reads in a literal manner, but it’s during the third verse where we start to realize that the song works much more beautifully on a symbolic level.  Regardless, finishing up the mugger theme, the victim in the song tries one final plea.  She states how “I’ll bleed if you ask me”, and we see how the mugger’s response is a simple “No” (“That’s when he said no“) before we enter back into the confrontational chorus once more.  I’d like to point out that the song ends asking the question “What’s the business?” repeatedly, as if Garbus is restating her disbelief of the entire situation.

Obviously, you can replace the whole Mugger / Victim theme with many concepts and interpretations, but what will remain consistent is the general narrative between the two parties.  If you go for the relationship-route, the song becomes a symbolic tale of frustration between two would-be lovers.  I see it as someone meeting someone who has been hurt in a prior relationship, so badly, that they see all of that heartbreak in every new person they meet, including the protagonist of the song.

This is very similar in subject matter to the song “Abducted” by Cults (I analyzed this here), the major difference is that Garbus is attempting a solution to the problem, whereas Cults focused on the sad cyclical nature of the whole thing.  The first verse then declares the protagonist of the song to be their own individual and not connected to any horrific past relationships.  The second verse reveals how the protagonist of the song does NOT enter into the relationship (“The mountain that I climb to lose you“), but ends up meeting this person again in life anyways (“We end up around the mountain“), this time demanding why things can’t work out (“Answer me this!“).  At the same time, there is a realization that no one wants to throw their time away with someone who is just going to hurt them (“Don’t take my life away“), so the protagonist is repeatedly asking in the chorus “What’s the business” — what hurt you before/are you ready for this/I don’t want to be hurt — before finally revealing she does fall in love (“I’m addicted yeah!“).

Writing this, I see a plethora of abstract and less direct ways (ex- an internal dialogue) of looking at this song from several perspectives, but the two general interpretations I’ve provided do indicate that the song is a song about frustration stemming from misunderstanding and miscommunication.  The protagonist attempts to overcome this (in whatever the medium is which the frustration is occurring, depending on personal interpretation), and in the end she finds herself addicted.  The real question, is to what?  To heartbreak?  To falling in love with those who are scarred?  The song’s brilliance lies in how many windows it can be seen through, and I hope my interpretation has provided some insight into whatever your personal interpretation of the song happens to be.