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.

Repetitions, Dragons, and Why People Make Excuses

Repetition, according to Hegel, plays a crucial role in history:

…when something happens once, it may be dismissed as an accident, something that might have been avoided if the situation had been handled differently; but when some event repeats itself, it is a sign that a deeper historical process is unfolding.”

Cleopatra‘s beautyfor instance, wouldn’t have gained as much acknowledgement had she not turn a queue of men with gallantries into falling for her. I would complement Hegel’s point by saying that luck and success are separated by a span of repetition–and hardwork, probably. The following article is going to discuss about, basically, ideas that have been self-repeating in my head for the past, wait, 38 days of my blogging hiatus.

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1. Why Not Head of Dragon?

I am pretty sure you’re familiar with an old analogy which proclaims (if not ‘assumes’) that being the ‘tail of a dragon’ is much better than being the ‘head of a snake’. People often relate this hypothesis with the options of struggling hard in a competitive community over playing it easy in an underdog team.

This morning, Iman came up with his usual confidence, inquiring upon, “Why not head of dragon?” Well because, I would rebut, not everyone knows what they’re really good at and brave enough to test the water with the inherent risk of being horrendously defeated. Because some people–yours truly included–are just too coward.

Researches (I know this from Pak Kun–a head of dragon himself) show that only 0.0003% of the entire world is blessed enough to champion that prestigious title. These are CEOs of multinational corporations, world political leaders, globally accepted artists, and Nobel Prize winners. But then again, you’ll never know if you’re one of them unless you’re ready to lose at some point.

Once you get there, Iman would say, don’t forget to share your magic and help other snakes to grow into invincible dragons.

2. Leaving or Losing?

Being a free-thinker who’s too proud to rely on religions also means losing your ground–it involves endless questions on what’s gonna happen after we leave this ephemeral realm. Death, therefore, becomes scarier for its extreme level of uncertainty. Until today, I’m still (trying) to hold on to what Islam has been telling me: that good deeds will be rewarded and bad people will have to pay something off. But that is just a tiny part of what death is really about.

Two weeks ago, I finished both reading and watching Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close–a wonderful story about how a(n extremely incredible) boy named Oskar Schell had to deal with his father’s death over 9/11. It took him months of investigation and discovery until he came to accept one bitter truth: that death is real–and it takes your beloved away. Now that, is what death is mostly about for me. Either leaving the people you love–or losing them in pain. The fear is twice as big on me because I’ve never lost any significant other in my life, which gets me used to take them for granted. I just hope that even if we have to part temporarily, we shall meet again in the Afterlife.

P.S. The story as a movie is as enjoyable as it is as a book, in their distinct way. It’s a shame if you miss this five-star!

3. People Make Excuses Because They Love You

Some of you are probably checking out this blog to find a mood lifter after your great fight with someone whom you really care about–you hate them for having lied to you, for making excuses when all you need is an honest apology. Well, I would ask you to humbly forgive them, because maybe they did it all because they care about you, too.

The concept of any ‘excuse’, as I’ve been observing, roots back to necessary (not always hidden) motives or justification for things we should’ve (or should’ve not, in some cases) done. Excuses are heavily influenced by the kind of emotional and/or professional tie we share with the subject. A student makes excuse to his teacher because he still shows some respect. A husband makes up a story about traffic jam because he’s sorry he has made his spouse wait for two hours.

People make excuses because they love you–otherwise they’ll hurt or leave you directly. Of course some would argue that true love appreciates honesty yada yada yada, but at the point that the other party does not want to hurt you–I think it deserves some forgiveness and celebration.

4. Ideology Puts People in Boxes, Deal With It

Quick update: I’ve been (illegally) attending classes at one super awesome philosophy school, cordially abducted by a senior, to which I really am grateful for. In the past weeks, I’ve been enlightened by great Romos about quite a list of ethics’ distinct proponents. They introduced me to a Christian version of Sartre, Levinas, and other distinguished thinkers.

Last Monday, Romo Magniz invited us to see the idea of ‘ideology’ differently: What is it? Why does it matter? Does Indonesia need one? Is Pancasila an ideology? If yes, is it the most appropriate one for our country? What about religions? Are they another form of ideology or–as Marx puts it–false consciousness? What does it have to do with ethics?

In the end of that long discussion, a new mystery evolves in my head: if ideology is a strong ground from which human thoughts can depart and develop, how can you be sure that it doesn’t keep you from truths burried down under that ground? Simultaneously, when would you know that you should stop digging? What basis can one use to clarifies that freedom and liberty is a basic right? Why can’t we debate on that cause?

This puts me in despair: if every consciousness is based on another constructed consciousness, then where is truth? My senior said that each of us need a set of glasses to look at the world–unfortunately, the factory is not capable of producing standardized, identical commodities. That’s where constructivism fills in and try to explain everything–and compromise should hence take place.

If there’s only one thing I know about truth-seekers, it’s that they shall enjoy the most when proven wrong. But the sad thing is, they’ll never know when they have to halt their efforts. Maybe truth-seekers should just keep looking…

5. There Is Such Thing as Historical Necessity

Yesterday, a friend came to me and consult if she should join this prestigious competition which at one side excites her very much, but at the same time forces her to face her own insecurities: meeting even greater candidates. I said if s

he really wants it, she should go for it.

Let’s look around. You’ll find that people regret more because of things they did not, rather than things they actually did. Melissa taught me this. Out of life’s most terrifying failures, there will always, always be a lesson learned. Most of the time, it does not come in a singular form. Fiascos teach us humility and help us jump higher the next time.

Most devastating failures is a historical necessity. Edison would wholeheartedly support me on this. Rather than secretly cursing on people we conceitedly think we’re better from without being able to prove so, I’d rather discover that I’m inferior to them, accept it in peace, and move on to the next opportunities with new hopes. In Rocky‘s words:

…Whether in front of our laptops making sense of the world, doing something for it out there, or both. We all have our places.

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6. Why Self-Wander When You Have Friends?

I’m not anti-social, you see. I enjoy other people’s company in a social setting, but I do have to admit that–most of the time–I draw my energy from solitary spaces. Some (self-proclaimed social) people might see this as a problem, but I argue otherwise. Quoting Tintin’s post, being alone and lonely are two different affairs.

In a more specific scale, I enjoy wandering off alone. If I can add to Tintin’s list of why solo traveling, I would come up with this:

  • When it comes to difficult options, you don’t have to suffer from knowing that you’re wrong, because there’s no second opinion. (Familiar with “Tuh kan, udah gue bilang!” phrase?)
  • You don’t have to deal with people rejecting and/or proposing crazy ideas under the name of normalcy and/or fun. (I once randomly approached a girl in Citos offering her a discount coupon because I failed to find an urge to buy anything and it expired the next day.)
  • You can laugh by yourself because someone’s joke suddenly pops up in your head and you don’t have to care if anyone is curious enough to find out why because you’re just ‘some stranger’.
  • You can pretend that you’re a tourist from China and see if Jakartian people are smart enough to not get fooled.

Last and least, not that much of compromise is needed. Well, I enjoy hanging out in groups, too, but I a balanced portion of both sounds nicer.

7. Iconoclasm Is Depressing

Are you one of those hipsters who enjoy doing something before it was cool? Well, I am. It does feel good when you think you’re the only person doing something, right? But let’s wake up: we never are. Bearing in mind that Earth today is filled with over 9 billion people, somewhere in another part of the world, someone else might have the same idea with you.

That’s why iconoclasm or, as Dictionary.com defines it, attacking or ignoring cherished beliefs and long-held traditions become more and more depressing today. With social media and such, new values can be easily spread and voila, in a mere week your ‘hipster-ness’ will be part of the mainstream. Sad, huh?

One can indeed contend that iconoclasm is a stupid and narrow way of life because, looking at the bigger picture, one should not become different just for the sake of being different. But then again, is that not mankind’s natural instinct? To be recognized as a unique self?

8. Songs with Good Lyrics Are The Best

Girls have different resons to fall in love, you see: some of them will stick with the guy who’s always there for them. Some others can handle minimum amount of interaction for various illogical reasons. Some others fall in love with the kind of endless disputes they have on a daily basis. In the case of songs, I fall in love with the ones with good lyrics. (A big leap of logical fallacy, much. HAHAHA.)

Jason Mraz (in addition to Jason Reitman–my so far favorite script writer) has been my sole favorite lyric-producer (throw a listen to A Beautiful Mess and Love for a Child) until I met Ingrid Michaelson’s You and IIts simple yet very meaningful lines instantly stick in my head since the first time I listen to it.

With that, I would end this lengthy–but hopefully not pointless–post. Download the song, and have a good, long (and religious, for Christians) weekend!

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.

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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!