Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Allegory of The Burning House

A man stands on the street in front of his house, looking up at it with the fierce pride of creation, the pride of self, on his architectural achievement. A second man walks up and stands next to the first and gazes at the house in astonishment. Quickly he says to the first man, "Sir! Your house is on fire!"

The first man replies, "Yes, it is a fine house."

Confused and thinking the first man must have misheard him, the second man again tells him, "Your beautiful home will burn to the ground unless you put out that fire!" And to his astonishment, the first man turns to him with a look of slight annoyance, as one might give to a child who should not meddle in things he does not understand.

"Sir, I built this house, and that fire is a part of my house. If I put out that fire my house will not be mine any longer." He then turns back to gaze at his house once more. The fire spreads from just one of the upper windows to a second. The glass on the first window shatters causing a massive fireball to shoot outward. Both men duck instinctively and the first man gives a nervous chuckle, "See how well I have built my house? The neighbors are surely jealous of my superior work. This is truly the best way to build a house." He shakes off the initial nerves and sets his feet against imaginary resistance to his masterwork.

The second man, being a person of unbounded care and compassion, implores the man to see reason, to see that if he does not stop the fire now, there will be no more house of which he may be proud. The fire, he says, will consume the whole thing.

"Nonsense!" Exhorts the first man, "There are many ways to build a house, but this is the one I have chosen, and this one works best for me!" He is clearly growing impatient with the second man, and he wonders how the second man could be so stupid as to not see the simple genius of his house. Clearly the second man is a man of sub-normal intelligence.

"Look!" Shouts the second man, he is growing desperate for the first to see reason and save his house, for the construction is indeed beautiful and masterful. "The fire has spread to the houses next to yours! And look further! The neighbors have begun using water to stop the fire! Their houses will remain standing. Why then sir, will you not do the same for your own, beautiful house?"

Violently, the first man screams at the second, "Their way is not mine! And mine is perfectly acceptable! In fact, it is they who have destroyed their homes by not accepting the fire as part of their house!" He breathes heavily after his outburst, but coughs as the smoke drifts toward them in dark masses. The second man, unable to hold his composure any longer, lunges forward, "There is still time to save your house!" He collects the neighbors that have gathered to watch the blaze and rallies them to action, forming a bucket line and setting up hoses. The first man watches in astonishment for a few moments. For one instant, he see's the the love that this stranger has for something that is not even his own, the hatred the stranger has for the fire which, uncontrolled, has now spread to more than half the house. But it is only an instant.

"Get away from my house!" Bellows the first man, and he bars the way in. The neighbors struggle to get past him, but it is too late. The blaze now burns so hot that they cannot get close to the house and so they set to dousing their own houses with water, keeping them safe from the inferno. "Cowards!" The first man chokes out. He cannot breathe through the smoke that is issuing forth from the destroyed door and shattered windows. His flesh cooks as the flames lick his back. Finally, saved only by his animal instinct for survival, the first man rushes away from his house which has begun to collapse, completely engulfed in flame.

The next morning, the man still sits on the opposite side of the street, staring at the heap of ashes that was his house. The second man approaches him and asks him why he let it go so far, why did he not save the house, or permit the neighbors to help him save it? The first man chokes out a reply between breathy sobs, "I built my house my way. My own way. Everybody is entitled to do things the way they like."

The second man reasons softly, "But sir, your house was on fire."

"But it was my fire! It was a part of my house! It should not have destroyed my house. It is my opinion that the fire should have been a part of the house, and everybody is entitled to their own opinion!" The first man finishes his sentence in a whine, weakness and lack of conviction oozing from every word.

His kindness and unwillingness to accept the madness before him causes the second man to ask one final set of questions of the first, "Where sir, did you come by this fire, what was it doing in your house to begin with? Where did you come by the notion that fire belongs in the house?"

Succeeding only in a mockery of composure, the first man replies, "It is my opinion, that the uniqueness of a house on fire gives it beauty. It is the fire that gave my house it's superiority over the boring, and placed me higher than those sheep who could not see the value of the fire. And since it is my opinion, it cannot be wrong. Everybody is entitled to their opinion."

"But where sir, did the fire come from?"

The first man scoffs, able even in his misery to register scorn for one so stupid as the second man, "I set the fire myself."

Standing and walking away, the second man spits over his shoulder, for he can no longer muster any respect for this poor excuse for a living being, "This fire that you held onto, which damaged and destroyed all that you've worked so hard for, can never do anything other than that which it has done. Though useful when harnessed properly, it is not an opinion that fire is destructive. It is a fact."

The first man stares after the second and watches him enter his own beautiful home. He cries bitterly into his hands about how unfair life is and how could he be so cursed as to always end up surrounded by people who just don't understand him and his genius. How dare the second man say that the opinions of the first were what led him to this destruction. That fire was important to the identity of the house he wanted to build, he was sure of it, and he contemplated that perhaps he set it in the wrong room.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Corruption or Virtue in Holding to Personal Standards and Values

I was in psych class today, and I cannot remember for the life of me what the teacher was talking about, but something he said struck me powerfully and caused me to write this sentence in my notebook: "The focus that you choose determines your reality for what defines your self worth."

This single sentence (I'm in love with the idea of simplification to a single succinct definition, even though oversimplification can be a negative thing) describes something that I have been experiencing over the past couple of months, culminating in a small incident this afternoon.

To give background: Over winter break (December to January) I read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. In it she gives insight into her philosophy (Objectivism) through the actions and dialog of her characters, particularly Howard Roark, who is her ideal standard of virtue and the poster boy figure of the perfect Objectivist. One major theme is the concept of individual, personal standards, as well as having a purpose in life that brings you great joy and fullfillment. In the case of Roark, it is Architecture.

When I came back to school, I found myself less interested in girls. Not to say I wasn't interested in women, far from it, however I was less attracted to certain women and moreso to others and did not make it my focus of attention that I must rack up the numbers. I've even begun leaning in the direction of being very open to the idea of an exclusive monogamous relationship, which prior to this, was absolutely out of the question for me. My focus grew more on school and achievement, on discovering my purpose and those things that bring me joy, apart from women. Consequently I discovered screenwriting and rediscovered my love of teaching, taken a greater interest in my fitness/health, and have begun to move away from pickup (I had Sinn's natural attraction DVD come in the mail and I just shelved it for the first few weeks I had it because I didn't really care to watch it, where previously I would have put in headphones, locked the door, and taken diligent notes as soon as I had recieved it) but it's enough to leave it at that.

As I delve deeper into Rand, especially in Atlas Shrugged, her philosophy becomes deeper and more complete. I feel, basically, that she is putting words and firmly rational thought patterns, to things that I've felt my whole life and never been able to articulate. Although I don't agree with every word, idea, and concept she presents in it, one of her character's speeches hit me particularly hard, Francisco D'Anconia's speech to Hank Rearden about sex and morality. In it, he talks about how some men seek to reverse the law of causality. They seek self-esteem through sex, where sex should rather be the product of self-esteem. This in particular describes(ed) me.

If I were to describe my life philosophy up to this point in a single sentence (as I've said I love to do) it would be that men cannot succeed in anything, or have any sort of lasting and fullfilling happiness, unless they first handle their love life. As an example, a man could rise to the top of his chosen profession, be envied by all, but if he still sucks with women and cannot be with the type he chooses, he will feel hollow and empty, like all of it was for nothing. He - this philosophy would hypothesize - would feel frustrated that he has everything, and yet he still can't get a girl and sex, one of his most basic needs and desires.

I had a conversation with my buddy Millenium awhile back where I articulated exactly this. He wanted to focus more on his lifestyle, his career, and his ambitions in order for women to become a biproduct of his lifestyle. I believed that I could never put the kind of focus required of a great endeavour like Roark does with architecture into the doing of it, because I am so enamoured with women and can't have any or the quality that I would. That, although I would enjoy the thing I was doing, I would always know in the back of my mind that if my sexual needs were completely satisfied, I could do it better. Therefore, I should become a master with women before attempting to discover my real purpose. I think I actually said to Millenium, "You're following the traditional wisdom, I'm reversing it, starting from the end and moving backward." Oh, Francisco D'Anconia.

The error that both of us made was that we caused women to become both the reason and the end game for any sort of development.

I digress, however. The main point is that my focus, after getting involved in reading Ayn Rand, shifted from women as my purpose, to my purpose as my purpose, whatever that may be.

But today and over the past few weeks I gathered even more evidence to support my original life philosophy. As much as I was more interested in my body, writing, and living to my own standard, I sitll have the lingering desire for women, and the lingering, poisonous idea of basing self worth on number and quality of women and sex a person has in his life.

Background on today's inciting incident:
This girl that I mentioned in my rebuilding the habit post, I'll call her California, entered back into my life. We've become fast friends, and every time we talk its flirty and fun. We were facebook chatting a few days ago and I mentioned I wanted to get a haircut, a new style, but I was wary of dropping $100 on a haircut. She says "omg i cut hair!" I said, that's cool, she said she could cut my hair, I said I dunno, she said she cuts her own (which is amazing hair) and I asked if she could do men's hair, knew about men's styles, and could work with my curly hair. She said yes to all three and we made an "appointment" for her to cut my hair on Wednesday (yesterday). I confirmed with her the day before, and she said she has to work, but gets off at 9, and I could come over after, I said ok how about 10, she said yes. I confirmed again at about 8:30 last night, she was down, then she called me about 9:30 and said she was afraid to cut my hair because she doesn't know how to cut curly hair. I laughed at her, we had a good flirty conversation on the phone, and I told her to look at some facebook pictures of my hair, and if she couldn't think of something, just call me back and we don't have to do it. She said ok.

10:30 rolls around and she still hasn't called me. I figured she had decided not to do it and was too afraid to turn me down, so I called her to give her the chance to complain a little and I could back out for her. She didn't answer the phone and didn't call back. I just left it at that, taking the sign for what it was. Today I saw her at school (she doesn't go here) and I called out "California! what are you doing here?" She smiled awkwardly, looked a little sheepish, and pointed at her hot friend who does go here, and walked off without saying anything. My interpretation was that she was a little ashamed of her behavior and surprised at seeing me, and sought to avoid the awkwardness.

And here is where I tie everything together. I spent the next hour in class writhing over this issue. How unfair that she should take her own weakshit behavior and use it as a reason to push us apart! I'll have to confront her and tell her it isn't a big deal! No! Confrontation is what women always avoid, don't do that shit! This really bothers me! Why isn't this not a big deal hoooolllly shit.

And it was at that point that I wrote the line in my notebook from up above.

The last few weeks, my focus has again shifted. For awhile, I didn't care so much about women, I could go to a party, not meet any new ones or make any connections, and not feel bad about it later. It was great. Except I wasn't getting laid, but I assured myself it would happen of it's own accord so long as I handle my own shit to my fullest ability. I still believe this, but I also still believe the life philosophy I wrote up above. These two beliefs are not fully compatible.

As I grow hornier, my focus is shifting toward women and pickup again, away from my own self and a selfish life.

The title of this post comes from the paradox of it being virtuous to hold to your personal standards, but it remains possible for your personal standards to be corrupt and the root of your unhappiness. I say this, not as a blanket statement for all people and all lifestyles and philosophy, but rather to myself at this point in my life. I'm arrogant, but not so much that I think this will apply to everyone, not with my current life experience at least.

Going back to my original statement that inspired this post, "The focus that you choose determines your reality for what defines your self worth," we can finally arrive at my conclusion. Depending on what your focus is in life, that choice of focus will direct how you interpret (your reality) what will define how you measure your personal worth. If Architecture is your focus, your personal standards may be how satisfied you are with your building, what price you were able to design it for, etc etc. If your focus is women, your standard (or even currency) of self worth, at least in my case, becomes how many and what quality of women you are sleeping with. This is one of the most poisonous mindsets possible. The worst of it comes out when you aren't getting laid (me right now). You begin to hate everyone around you who has a girl, who is getting laid, and eventually, if you go down the path far enough, begin to identify any person who is having sex with anybody other than you, as promiscuous and morally bankrupt. Currently I'm only at the stage where I'm becoming frustrated that the women I find attractive don't seem to reciprocate (and even this isn't entirely true, they just aren't showing the kind of interest that I currently wish they would).

I realized my focus had shifted when I caught myself feeling such despair and anger over so small an event regarding a woman. I had no idea I placed so much value on it.

The direction that I want to take myself in, is to have a separate standard for women. They should be the secondary, or even tertiary standard by which I appraise my worth. I'll have to develop that thought more fully.