What Does It Mean to Be Human?

We were designed to do a lot of things: to change diapers, to sketch lousy drawings, and to land on the moon. But more than that, we are sentient beings with anger and despair, who often question the reason of our existence and the unknown post-death world.

This post is not a lecture about how our brains work—it rather tries to humble us down, contending that even our cherished logic and rationale sometimes need to admit that several emotions and sentiments can eat them alive. A lot of unparalleled events will bring humans to their lessons, readied to continue the journey and get to the next stage in the game of life.

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1. To fall in love and to get hurt afterwards

Being mortal means seeking for comfort from another mortal, to tell each other that even in this short period of life we are big enough to care about another being—to let them know that everything’s going to be okay because you will always be watching their back. It means treasuring the most important people in your life, sometimes by asking their hand in a marriage or adopting them as your child. Despite its compelling beauty, investing a big portion of feelings into another human being also means risking them to get deeply, devastatingly hurt. To find out that the man you grow fonder for every day loves someone else, for example, to see your son in such a big pain after that car crush, or worse—to let death take them away. It hurts. It hurts more than what your heart is capable of handling.

2. To try hard forgetting traumas and pains

One of my favorite quotes from Murakami’s 1Q84: “Life is a battle of contrasting memories.” Happy memories, I would argue, can become even more lethal than sad ones, because they trap you in your past forever. They keep you away from realizing that the status-quo has changed. They deny, above everything, that although some feelings last, most of them vanish after a while. Comparably, humans try to self-cure by forgetting trauma that creates constant pain. Our brains reconstruct what happened and what did not, even when the Truth has to feel misjudged for it. For what it’s worth, traumas are the strongest and most eternal part of our pieces of mind, hence they deserve to be celebrated on a regular basis.

3. To feel sorry for things we cannot control

We hate to admit that sometimes we just hate several things, because surrendering to hatred makes us feel small. But then again sometimes we do hate ourselves for being weak, coward, and not able to take hard decisions. Then comes the fear of being powerless and completely detached with God when He created a scenario for our future. To comfort ourselves, we start creating lies about who we are, and clinging to that tiny hope given by the society. When these lies do not come true, we start feeling sorry. We apologize for not being in control of everything all the time. We wish that a different story plot could take place.

4. To leave traces of lasting memories with our beloved

All of us die. Some of us have to die sooner than the others and, however hard we try to fight against death, we always need to let go. The only way to stay alive forever, then, is to leave traces of everlasting—although not always sweet—memories with your beloved ones. What I’m telling is, if you have someone you dearly love at the moment, come to him/her and let them know you want to stay alive forever in their head. Tell them worldly ambitions do not mean anything compared to the kind of happiness that comes to your heart whenever you’re together. Because one can never predict what tomorrow brings.

5. To seek for words we never find

In the end, feelings are too complicated to be translated by human’s simple linguistic syntax. When mutant butterflies start kicking your stomach, when your heart jumps off to your throat—how come we do not own a word for that? To be human, then, is to solve the riddle of letting our counterpart understand how we really feel when there’s no adjectives (nor nouns) to define it. But then it’s okay because it makes us human.

Isn’t it beautiful, the fact thatas much as we’ve been boasting about conquering the world with technology and transformative speecheswe are just powerless, helpless beings?

In Defense of Truth

Out of so many reasons behind world’s becoming such a mess, I would highlight man’s obsession towards claiming the Truth as its thickest bottom line. On one side, religions work their ass off in vain, selling God to people who have retired from buying unfalsifiable tenets. Next to this scheme, various ethnic groups seek for a sustainable recognition under the hope to win a race that never even existed. Huntington would wrap this notion as ‘Clash of Civilizations’ while Fukuyama in ‘The End of History’ insisted that liberalism have won and there’s no need to further argue on anything.

This piece of writing, ladies and gentlemen, aims to question–not necessarily to answer–life’s most profound mystery (and simultaneously the omphalos of my life): what, or I should say who, is Truth?

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When I was a child, everything seemed to be a lot easier: my parents would provide me a set of premises to embrace and accept as Truth. Eyang, a fundamentalist moslem herself, would offer me stories about how the Christians slaughtered my ‘brothers and sisters’ during The Crusades–hence it’s okay to secretly hate them. My elementary school teacher (or should I put it in a plural form?) would make the Dutch sound like Earth’s worst villains. In short, they forced me to see the world as a dichotomy of Truth: some deeds are right, and some others are unforgivably wrong.

They labeled history with value-saturated meanings.

Today, however, being an abnormally inquisitive being, I can’t help but to question these notions all over again: Why is something moral? Who decide if an action is right or wrong? What is behind everyone’s action?

Religious Preachers: “Truth Is God, My Child”

God (the Creator, Allah, Jesus, Buddha, Yahweh, or other names people decide to call Him) is usually–unique to each case–man’s either first or last attempt to find Truth. It’s quite easy to understand why religions are so tempting: it offers you calming, dogmatic tenets that keep you off from the search for a bigger cause, of critical assessments towards the given principles.

I don’t have the capacity to claim anything big, but I believe that religions shall never be seen as black boxes of sacred, unquestionable teachings but rather a peaceful room for discussions where, under heaven’s blessings, people contend ideas and get ready for counter-arguments.

So, in defense of Truth, one being is too small to comprehend God’s big plans–hence the necessity for discourses inside any religion.

Romantic Poets: “Truth Is Love, My Darling”

I’m rather skeptical about mankind’s ability to feel deep affection for someone unconditionally–but I can give you a list of people who would say something like, “Every individual completes his/herself after they find their destined love.” (…and I would rebut with a straight face, “Dude, isn’t every baby born complete with their own thoughts?”)

So instead of waving a white flag behind the pillars of a certain religion, these people find Truth in the face and words of their lover. Nothing else matters, really, because their whole world comes down to a single person, and with him/her around, they know Truth exists.

But then again, in defense of Truth, love is too subtle to be proven real. Sometimes it materializes into nice gestures, sometimes they disappear. Is Truth something that disappears every now and then? I don think so.

Johan: “Truth Is Pain”

Everytime I raise this question, he would state, confidently, “The only reality in this world is pain, darling.” To some extent, I find the urge to agree with this notion. I mean, feelings that are translated into man-invented words can deceive you, face expressions can be easily trained, but pain hurts when they visit.

Rephrasing Tolstoy’s saying, “…All happiness is alike, but each pain is painful in its own way.”

In defense of Truth, however, I wholeheartedly believe that it should depict an unbiased, balanced proposition. It shall not stand at the edge of either side of the spectrum (like ‘pain’ or ‘happiness’) for it is too unfair to bestow the huge title only on one party.

Greek Philosophers: “Truth Is What You Make of It”

One of my Monday classes in Sekolah Tinggi Filsafat Driyarkara actually declared that Truth, in the end, might be as simple as a consensus. It is created by the society in order to halt potential conflicts and chaos that might emerge has there been no agreed Truth. This is what I’m currently holding on to.

Alexander Wendt, the father of constructivism, would add a long list of arguments about how states create their Truth. Down in my subconscious, I know that this explanation serves best to what I myself have been thinking. Until now, however, I can’t completely embrace this idea for it’s too heartbreaking that Truth does not actually exist. It is invented, by humans, to serve their selfish interests, and thenceforth is re-inventable.

It is twice saddening because to me, the search for Truth–the journey–bodes be better than the destination itself, and it shall end immediately have I been illuminated by this way of thinking. I reject to stop, though. I created new journeys in the quest for Truth. I refuse to, like other people, roll back into their worldly blankets and decide to ignore the neverending questions about life’s fundamental riddles. (Or puzzles, if you’re a visual person.)

In defense of Truth, I would end this post by saying that, if there’s one relieving truth you can rely on, it’s the fact that our planet has an infinite number of books.

That was a joke, by the way. HAHAHA.

Grab one before you sleep and good night!

What Plato Would’ve Said to Carl and Ellie’s Story (On Love)

Having been aware of the possible accusation of me being moonstruck over a particular guy stimulated by this post, I’ll put it upfront that (even ephemeral) fondness is an inseparable part of life—meaning, philosophers do not simply ignore the existence and elusiveness of this peculiar emotion.

They did–and still do–talk about it. In various parts of the world, students read books on the philosophy of love (‘philo-‘ means love, by the way). No, seriously. They really do. Even if they don’t, I know you’re furtively intrigued by the title. HAHAHA.

Well.

To start, in one of those late-night braindances, my friend (an avid thinker himself) and I arrived to this conversation on mankind’s most bewildering concept: soulmates.

Asked we: Do they really exist?

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Aside from how much I admire Carl and Ellie’s story, I remained skeptical—I doubted the possible chance of discovering one single male/female that was decided by God to be ‘the one’, especially with this whole mess of people fooling around with each other. Even if it was true, the risk of being exposed to getting hurt as a trade-off for wrong guesses is just too much of a burden.

That is not to mention these unanswered questions:

  • At what point can we be assured that someone is our other half? I mean, if you would only marry your soulmate, how can you confirm such faith before the story even finishes?
  • Is relationship/marriage the only tool to officialize this hypothesis? What about married ‘soulmates’ who get divorced?
  • Does cheating negate the idea that he’s your soulmate? Why so?
  • Is death, then, the only validating mechanism to prove your notion?

As a social scientist, I firmly stand for a quantification of premises. When the society fails to produce these indicators, I must induce that it owns zero utility and shall not prevail.

My friend, however, thought otherwise. Soulmates do exist, said he. But today’s culture has misinterpreted the claim. Soulmates are ought to always be plural–a man can have many soulmates, some of which might as well end up being his bestfriends. When you can perceive an established, subconscious connection, voila, he’s your soulmate.

…wait, what?

That is indeed an intriguing way of portraying a new idea of soulmates, but it mercilessly violates the first rule of soulmate-ship: exclusiveness. I simply fail to see any point in possessing a public good soulmate who is cheaply accessible for everyone.

I mean, a ‘shared other-half’ already sounds like an oxymoron.

Putting the bliblical tenets (and ‘I created thou in pairs’ ayat in Al-Qur’an) aside, the initial blame should go to Aristophanes (who had lived even before Muhammad and Jesus were born) for the crazy idea that he proposed:

…Humans originally had four arms, four legs, and a single head made of two faces, but Zeus feared their power and split them all in half, condemning them to spend their lives searching for the other half to complete them.

Thank you, Aris, for the inconvenient visualization. I mean it.
Assuming that he was true, though, my questions would still be justifiable.

As much as the symbolization of this concept sound effortlessly uncomplicated, the practicalities are far from easy. The society’s derivative theses about soulmates, for example, distort our initial, honest judgment. Some of them say that opposites naturally attract–even when it leads to daily disputes–while Javanese tradition believes that you and your soulmate ought to share similar toughts or at least look physically alike.

Confusing, much? I wish God did not forget to drop a Guideline to Soulmate Discovery when He put Adam and Eve on Earth.

Anyway.

Plato, putting Aristophanes’s thoughts into Symposium, added:

I believe that if our loves were perfectly accomplished, and each one returning to his primeval nature had his original true love, then our race would be happy. And if this would be best of all, the best in the next degree must in present circumstances be the nearest approach to such union; and that will be the attainment of a congenial love.

I have no idea what he specifically meant by ‘congenial love’, but if his postulation was true, then the reason why today’s planet is filled with more and more unhappy people has been revealed: instead of tenaciously chasing their ‘original true love’ (with the inherent risk of getting hurt and deceived), we run after worldliness that provide us more control. In other words, we deny our genetic urge and hide in the safe haven called ‘productivity’.

Even Walt, one of the most prominent International Relations scholars who is plausibly indifferent to the idea, cared about how realism would see relationships. A realist friend and I shared a similar sentiment, but we brought our discourse on its conceptualization beyond Walt’s, especially on seeing relationships as a form of strategic alliances by state-actors.

Basically, it’s how vigilant calculations on involved parties’ interest and the global structure are required to take place before a country decides to sign a pact.

Some people—having drunk too much Symposium—would romanticize that love is not the union of man and woman, it’s rather a reunion of one unity. This actually belittles the significance of words and grammar rules–affection is a universal language, they would say.

Before we get anywhere else, here’s a beautiful, comforting quote from Aomame in Murakami’s 1Q84:

If you can love someone with your whole heart–even if he’s a terrible person or he doesn’t love you back–life is not a hell, at least.

To fall in love and get extremely happy but having to deal with the unknown future with its hazardous sadness, or to remain fairly ‘okay’ at the middle point by denying how you feel about the magical conversations you always have with that particular person.

The choice is all yours, my dear.

The Philosophy of Solitude

Nobody enjoys being left alone…or so the society thinks.

Individuals who hide behind the walls of isolation are just a bunch of cowards who don’t possess enough bravery to face the imperfection of human beings that has disturbed them to an intolerable level…or so the society thinks.

I believe otherwise: it is our nature to live all by ourselves.

Solitude

Yes, Aristotle‘s concept of zoon politicon puts people as social animals, political animals, who would not survive without the help of others. I’m not sure if I understand the argument behind his notion, but his empirical observation might be surprisingly wronged.

We were born from a mother, that is a factual truth. However, being part of a family is not even a choice we make. Some of us are, indeed, lucky enough to receive love from our given parents (whom we don’t pick from a market’s display window, by the way), but some others are less fortunate in a way that they have to build their own kit-to-survive-childhood institution named orphanage. Some others fail to even understand why they were born when they’re unwanted. Okay that went a little bit off the main line. My point is, there is no unfalsifiable justification to a subjective view that we are all born social. Although, you can always argue the other way around.

My main, semi-physical evidence to prove the case to you, ladies and gentlemen, is the existence of our thoughts–subsonscious, undermind, or other alternative nouns that English is kind enough to provide us with.

No one, I repeat, no one can ever understand another person’s idea completely.

Not even Plato towards Socrates. Our brain, sometimes stimulated by rationality or faith, produces insights that are solid enough to require extra efforts for one to break in. Everyone has the right to compose a thorough explanation in order to assist a second party to enter your room of thoughts, but there will always be a shadowy section of which they would not comprehend completely. The same framework can also be utilized to shed some light upon analyzing our dreams–one of our most personal belongings.

So I contend, as long as human still owns the attribute of private properties–a wholly different realm whose entrance is not accessible by another person even when the owner wishes so, we are pretty much secluded creatures.

Another bad news, even love might have been designed to put us into a state of extreme alienation. Peek into Jeffrey Eugenides, in The Marriage Plot:

Madeleine fully understood how the lover’s discourse is of an extreme solitude. The solitude was extreme because it wasn’t physical. It was extreme because you felt it in the company of the person you loved. It was extreme because it was in your head, the most solitary of all places.

In the end, I don’t necessarily expect you to understand such a saturated theory, because I know you wouldn’t. I comprehend that we were all born as unique individuals, not as groups of people, with our incomprehensible minds as a valid distinction.

You should not, however, misperceive me as a skeptic to social or even romantic interaction between human beings. I always admire, as a matter of fact, how people are able to create some kind of connection with others–whom of which was once a complete stranger to their own being.

Most blessed of all are people who believe in, and find, their true love–despite the solitudeness they were naturally born with. Have a blissful week!