whats wrong with you when you hate everyone?

Hating everyone generally means you are not happy with some aspect of yourself, and/or there is something negative in your life or world that you feel powerless to change. This is a common feeling among teenagers (as shown in the book The Catcher in the Rye), but it can also affect people of other ages, particularly during times of transition. It is often accompanied or replaced by a sense of being unreal, or that everything around you is fake. From an existential point of view there are two main ways to attack this problem:

  1. You can try to figure out what it is in your own life or self-image that is bothering you and either come to terms with it or figure out a way to change it. Remember, it is not possible to change everyone else, but it is always possible to change yourself.
  2. You can pick one or more people and try to behave in a loving way towards them, even if you hate them. Emotions often follow actions, so if you behave as if you like someone for long enough, it may become true.

Travel to new and different places or taking up new activities can also be helpful in this situation. It doesn’t solve anything, but it can help you identify what problems you are carrying with you as opposed to what problems are caused by the people around you.

Can you give me the questions that philosophers ask?

That’s actually a very interesting question. It’s what might be called a “Meta”-question, a question about the questioning process. There are actually logic problems where the correct way to proceed is to ask a meta-question.

For instance…

Suppose you are faced with two brothers, one of whom always lies, and one of whom always tells the truth. Further suppose you have only one allowed question, you can only ask one brother, and you don’t know which is which. What is the proper question to ask in order to get a sure answer as to which door leads to a treasure, and which leads to doom?

Answer that meta-question properly, and you’ll get the treasure.
The right answer is to pick either brother and ask “If I asked your brother, which door would he tell me to open?” (another meta-question). Whatever answer you get, do the opposite. The reason is that you’re effectively routing the question through both brothers this way, which ensures you’ll get one truth and one lie, leaving you with a dependably wrong answer.

Unfortunately, in regards to your query, the question is more interesting than the answer. The current trend in philosophy is to ask a very narrow question, generally about some fine shade of meaning, and to explore the answer at great length. In particular, people have a tendency to seize upon some small weakness of a previous philosopher, and exploit it for the purposes of academic publishing.

However, if you want the questions historically considered by philosophers, or conversely, had you asked, what questions do I think philosophers should ask, the answers would be:

What is the meaning of life? What is the nature of existence? What does it mean to be a good person? What is truth? What is beauty? Toward what ends does the universe strive?

Jedi Philosophy

For many people, the main appeal of George Lucas’ “Star Wars” movies is the “Jedi Way,” the philosophy/religion that guides the mystical Jedi knights. But where does this philosophy come from, and does it hold up under scrutiny?

At root, the Jedi Way is a synthesis of three Eastern religions or philosophies, with an overlay of courtly behavior drawn from the medieval knights of Europe.

The most important source for the Jedi Way is Taoism, an ancient Chinese philosophy whose name is generally translated as “the Way” or as “the Way of Nature.” The two main goals of Taoism are to achieve balance and to exist in harmony with nature (and with all living beings). There is no deity as such in Taoism, which conceptualizes ultimate reality as a primal energy. This energy is expressed in the world in the form of two equal and opposing forces, the “yin” or passive female force, and the “yang” or active male force. These forces are neither good nor evil, and what is desirable is that they be in balance at all times.

The tension between yin and yang creates “qi” (pronounced “chee” and sometimes transliterated as “chi”) or life energy. Qi is found in all things, but particularly living creatures. The manipulation of qi is at the root of many traditional Chinese practices including acupuncture, feng shui and tai chi. According to legend, command of qi flow (as practiced by “qigong” masters) brings many mystical powers similar to those of the Jedi, such as the ability to move objects with the mind. In the movies, the name of Jedi Master “Qui-Gon Jin” is probably a deliberate reference to “qi gong.”

(Since Taoism is more of a philosophy than a religion, it is often combined together with religious beliefs from other traditions, such as Buddhism or Christianity.)

The second major source of the Jedi Way is Buddhism, specifically Zen, a variant found largely in Japan. As with most forms of Buddhism, Zen preaches “non-attachment,” the letting go of emotional bonds to people, places and things. The ultimate goal is to reach a selfless state of dispassionate compassion for all living things. Like the Jedi knights, Buddhist monks are ascetic and celibate. Zen monks are known, at least in the popular imagination, for developing a particular ability or craft to the point where it can be practiced with no conscious effort and nearly superhuman skill.

The third major source for the Jedi worldview is Zoroastrianism, an ancient Persian religion which viewed the world as an eternal battlefield between the forces of good and evil. Although Zoroastrianism has only small pockets of practitioners left in the modern world, it was a major influence on many other philosophies and religions. Echoes of it are present in many places, including the way many modern Christians conceptualize the devil as a force opposite and nearly equal to God.

Finally, the Jedi philosophy is overlaid with a code of chivalry based on that practiced by the medieval knights of Europe, who operated by a code of ethics including strict rules for combat, high standards of courtesy, warrior virtues such as honor, loyalty and bravery and a veneration of courtly love. The knightly facet of the Jedi is exemplified in the movies by their preference for the “elegant” light sabers as opposed to the “barbaric” blasters.

The remarkable synthesis Lucas achieved in placing together these disparate elements has proved compelling for more than one generation of viewers. However, as a workable philosophy it has major flaws.

The first and most subtle of these is the conflict between Taoism and Buddhism. Although often linked in real life, Taoism and Buddhism do not always line up. In the first chapter of the “Tao Te Ching” (the chief text of Taoism) it says “let go of desires in order to observe the source, but allow yourself desires in order to observe the manifestations.” This indicates that both “attachment” and “nonattachment” are seen as having value in Taoism, as opposed to Buddhism. In addition, the Buddhist seeks to transcend the world and earthly existence, whereas the Taoist seeks to be fully integrated into the world as a part of nature and natural existence. In the movies, this becomes an issue in the way that the Jedi Council is aloof and independent from politics, yet simultaneously also deeply involved in the galactic political landscape.

The second conflict is between Taoism and Zoroastrianism. There is no “good” and “evil” in Taoism, only balance and imbalance. Neither Yin nor Yang is preferable, and both are necessary, as apposed to Zoroastrianism, where the ultimate goal is the triumph of good and the eradication of evil. This disconnect shows up as a major plot point in the second series of movies (I, II & III), where the prophecy of “balance in the Force” may possibly mean the rise of evil.

The third conflict is between Buddhism and Zoroastrianism. Again, the concept of a fight between good and evil is somewhat alien to Buddhism. A fallen Buddhist would not be an equal and opposite force to a good Buddhist, but simply someone who had become too caught up in the illusions and the material temptations of the ordinary world. A person of this sort might be cruel, venal and selfish, but would not be expected to have any particular spiritual power. This creates a paradox in the movies, in that the Jedi draw power from controlling their emotions, but the Sith draw power from their inability to control their emotions. In addition it creates another instance of cognitive dissonance as the wise and dispassionate Jedi choose over and over again to resolve their problems through violence.

The final conflict is between Buddhism and chivalry. Buddhism preaches non-attachment, but one of the key characteristics of the medieval knights was passionate attachment. Loyalty to one’s lord and to one’s comrades-in-arms was among the highest virtues, and a courtly, romantic (and theoretically chaste) love between a knight and his lady was celebrated as an ideal. Also, in as much as chivalry stems from Christianity, it carries the idea of love as a powerful redemptive force.

This disconnect creates some of the most powerful paradoxes in the movies. In the first series (IV, V & VI) Yoda and Obi-Wan counsel control of emotions, and warn Luke against the dangers of his affection for his friends, and his unreasonable love for his father. Yet it is Luke’s decision to ignore this seemingly wise advice that provides most of the high points of the first series. In the end, Luke is proven right when his ill-advised love for his father finally uncovers the good left in Darth Vader, and brings about the final end to the Sith. Therefore, love is ultimately shown to be even more powerful than the light side of the Force (which failed to conquer its counterpart in all five chronologically previous movies).

Conversely, the second series suffers from taking its doctrine of non-attachment too seriously. The Jedi Council consequently comes across as cold and uncaring –a fact which drives Anakin into the more hot-blooded arms of the Dark Side. In addition, this set of movies is in the strange position of positing love as the enemy. Although Anakin clearly has psychotic tendencies, the movie insists on blaming his moments of indiscriminate slaughter on his “love” for his mother and his wife. Even Obi-Wan’s platonic love for his padawan does nothing except cloud his judgment.

It is this too-fully-realized disdain for emotion that, more than anything else, makes the second series inferior to the first.

Kierkegaard’s Narrative

“Kierkegaard’s Narrative” is an existential humanist plot outline named after the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. In general, it runs as follows: An aimless young man drifts through life, obsessed with aesthetics, and seeking sexual fulfillment with a series of women, yet never making substantive choices or real commitments. The climax of the story is the protagonist’s decision to commit to a single woman, and to enter into marriage.

The raw source material for this plotline is found in Kierkegaard’s books “Either/Or,” “Fear and Trembling,” and “Repetition,” in which he takes on the persona of various first-person narrators, and describes their experiences. Among the characters described are:

  1. “the Aesthete” who is obsessed with art and aesthetic experience
  2. “the Seducer” who falls deeply in love with a woman and pursues her heatedly until he gets her, and then discards her for a new conquest
  3. “the Repeater,” who is caught up in past experiences, and the doomed hope of recreating them

These characters are contrasted to a fourth, the “Married Man” who lives an existence that seems ordinary and mundane from the outside, but that is rich and fully lived on the inside.

Walker Percy was probably the first to weave these distinct personas together into a single coherent plotline. In his book “The Moviegoer,” he traces the evolution of a protagonist who spends most of the book as an aesthete, a seducer and a “repeater,” and who finishes it on the verge of becoming Kierkegaard’s “Knight of Faith” –the married man. (Percy also introduces an additional element, possibly also inspired by Kierkegaard, the death of a person close to the protagonist as a counterpoint to the protagonist’s desire to fully embrace life.) This book was widely admired, and the plotline passed into popular culture, where it has been the foundation of a number of well-regarded books and movies.

  1. Adaptation (Charlie Kaufman, directed by Spike Jonze)

    The clever joke of this movie is the way it combines experimentalism and conventionality, a union that also happens to fit neatly into the Kierkegaardian model.

    Protagonist: Charlie Kaufman

    Aesthetic Preoccupation: Screenwriting

    Affairs: Susan’s affair with John

    Repetition: Charlie tries to recreate the experience of Susan Orlean’s original book

    Death: Charlie’s twin brother

    Existential Humanist Act: Charlie throws himself into the screenplay –literally –and confesses his love for a female friend.

  2. American Beauty (Alan Ball, directed by Sam Mendes)

    The significance of the protagonist’s last choice in this movie is it represents his one selfless act of maturity and existential responsibility.

    Protagonist: Lester Burnham

    Aesthetic Preoccupation: Marijuana

    Affairs: Fantasizes about seducing his daughter’s nubile friend.

    Repetition: Tries to recapture his lost youth.

    Death: Lester (the protagonist)

    Existential Humanist Act: Chooses to not seduce the young girl

  3. Garden State (Zach Braff)

    Clearly in the same mold, although there’s a sense that the protagonist’s aimlessness comes less from his own choices, and more from his over-controlling father’s drug prescriptions.

    Protagonist: Andrew Largeman

    Aesthetic Preoccupation: Acting, psychotropic drugs

    Affairs: Makes out with some girls at a party

    Repetition: Returns to his old town

    Death: Protagonist’s mother

    Existential Humanist Act: Abandons his L.A. life for a girl he’s fallen in love with.

  4. Graduate, The (Charles Webb)

    This work makes the subversive suggestion that Benjamin’s proposal to Elaine is just another aimless, meaningless choice.

    Protagonist: Benjamin Braddock

    Aesthetic Preoccupation: Art was Mrs. Robinson’s major in college

    Affairs: With Mrs. Robinson

    Repetition: Returns home after school, tries to revisit his relationship with Elaine

    Death: N/A

    Existential Humanist Act: Elaine’s choice to follow Ben despite having just married another man.

  5. Harold and Maude (Colin Higgins, directed by Hal Ashby)

    This is an surprisingly sentimental movie for a comedy about suicide –a fact explained by the movie’s existential humanist heart.

    Protagonist: Harold

    Aesthetic Preoccupation: Suicide

    Affairs: Harold goes on a series of blind dates arranged by his mother.

    Repetition: Harold’s phony suicides are an attempt to recreate a single experience of emotional response from his mother.

    Death: Maude

    Existential Humanist Act: Harold’s proposal to Maude

  6. High Fidelity (Nick Hornby)

    A popular book and movie of modern times which fits the model almost exactly.

    Protagonist: Rob Gordon

    Aesthetic Preoccupation: Old records

    Affairs: A series of failed relationships

    Repetition: Looking up his old girlfriends

    Death: His girlfriend’s father

    Existential Humanist Act: Proposes to his longtime girlfriend

  7. Moviegoer, The (Walker Percy)

    The model for the genre, it features long passages directly inspired by Kierkegaard

    Protagonist: Binx Bolling

    Aesthetic Preoccupation: Movies

    Affairs: With a string of secretaries

    Repetition: Returning to an old moviehouse

    Death: Protagonist’s half-brother

    Existential Humanist Act: Marries his step-cousin.

  8. Sideways (Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne (director))

    Like American Beauty, this movie shifts the narrative into midlife.

    Protagonist: Miles Raymond

    Aesthetic Preoccupation: Wine and writing

    Affairs: Jack’s affairs with various women.

    Repetition: Miles tries to regain the affection of his ex-wife.

    Death: Miles’ book “dies” (is rejected by the publisher) and he “kills” his treasured bottle of vintage wine.

    Existential Humanist Act: Miles pursues a relationship with a pretty waitress named Maya, even at the price of distancing himself from the hedonism represented by Jack.

  9. Truman Show, The (Andrew Niccol, directed by Peter Weir)

    This movie externalizes the existentialism by creating a world whose purpose is to trap and immobilize the protagonist. Significantly, his existential act is to leave a loveless sham of a marriage, and not to commit to it.

    Protagonist: Truman Burbank

    Aesthetic Preoccupation: Truman’s entire life is an aesthetic/entertainment experience, although he doesn’t know it.

    Affairs: Married to a paid actress

    Repetition: Lives a repetitious life, and constantly returns to memories of a past relationship.

    Death: The faked death of Truman’s “father” –another symbol of the inauthenticity of Truman’s life.

    Existential Humanist Act: Goes in search of his “true love.”

History of Humanism

Humanism has reemerged in many different times and places, each time with a unique “flavor”.

  1. Original Humanism

    Many (but not all) traditional cultures were havens for the original form of humanism, which focuses on heroic virtues, and the sensory fabric of human existence. In such a culture, virtue is often discussed, but there are rarely any written codes of behavior.

    1. African Humanism (? – present): This form of humanism still survives in the more rural areas of Africa. It features:
      • an emphasis on family, communal responsibility and hospitality
      • a warrior code focused around bravery
      • an immersion in polyrhythmic music and dance.

       

    2. Native American Humanism (? – ca.1800):This form of humanism was largely lost in the cataclysmic destruction of traditional Native American life. It featured:
      • a warrior code of loyalty, honor, courage and fraternity
      • a sensitivity to the life cycles and natural rhythms that form the foundation for human life
      • an anthropomorphic conception of the universe.

       

    3. Heroic Greek Humanism (ca.1200-750 B.C.): Greeks of the Heroic Age had a highly developed warrior code, centered around the concept of arete or human excellence. Components of this included courage, loyalty, generosity, mercy, dignity, decency, honor, stoicism and strength.
    4. African American Humanism (ca. 1850 – 1980):This form of humanism is a uniquely modern version of original humanism. Created from the bedrock of African Humanism, it took form under conditions of extreme oppression (which often give birth the purest expressions of humanism). Although it was a vital shaping influence on America and American culture, it has been pushed towards extinction by a rising tide of materialism. It features:
      • An emphasis on family, community and hospitality
      • A code of fraternity and sorority
      • A personal and humanist form of worship
      • A strong and pervasive emphasis on the arts, particularly music and dance; also oral and written literature, and the visual arts (almost always with a human-centered perspective)
      • An emphasis on sensory experience and life-cycle events.
  2. Classical Humanism

    Classical humanism is distinguished by emphases on philosophy, written codes of virtues and ethics, and the creation of a body of literature and art. It often looks back to a prior age of heroism. It is generally the philosophy of a privileged aristocracy.(The term, as we use it here, describes a type of humanism, and is not exactly contiguous with the Classical Era)

    1. Chou Dynasty (Chinese) Humanism (ca. 1200-200 B.C.):Philosophy has always been crucial to Chinese identity. In the first period of Chinese Humanism, two major schools of thought were developed:
    2. Taoism, the way of virtue. This was a highly mystical and metaphysical look at the basic nature of the universe. It advocated a system of virtue based on harmony with nature. Although too abstract to be truly humanist, the Taoist metaphysics established the foundation for the development of Chinese medicine.
    3. Confucianism, a very different look at virtues and ethics. Confucianism was profoundly humanist, composed (as it was) of hundreds of detailed precepts on the subject of human existence and the social order. Structure, propriety and ritual were the guiding concepts of Confucianism. Like Taoism, Confucianism looked to nature for guidance.
  3. Classical Greek and Hellenistic Humanism (ca.500-30 B.C.):The classical period in Greece, and the Greek-influenced period that directly followed, was the wellspring for philosophy and art in Western Civilization. It featured:
    • Human-centered sculpture and painting, in a increasingly natural and realistic style.
    • A fascination with mathematics and geometry, leading to advances in architecture.
    • The development of the art of drama, and the creation of great works of theater.
    • Writings on the subject of virtue and excellence.
    • The three greatest Western philosophers, and their philosophies:
      1. Socrates: He used paradox and discourse to rid students of preconceptions, and give them a radically different perspective on life. Socrates was very concerned with virtue, but disavowed the codification of the same.
      2. Plato: He developed a mystical and metaphysical view of the universe. The profound truths he uncovered could be applied to any situation. He was to have a profound influence on the later development of Christian theology.
      3. Aristotle: He was concerned with the minute details of human life and the social order. He believed that Divine order was embodied in the physical world, and discoverable though investigation. His “physicalized metaphysics” became the foundation for Western Science.
  4. The Humanism of the Roman Empire (ca. 30 B.C. – 200 A.D.): This period was largely an extension of trends begun by the Greeks. The philosophy, art and literature was all patterned after that of the Greeks. Through the agency of the Romans, Greek humanism was spread to many far corners of the ancient world.
  5. Renaissance Humanism

    Renaissance Humanism generally draws strongly from a classical tradition. It is less concerned with philosophy, and more concerned with the production of great art, music and theater, and with advances in science. It is self-consciously humanist and human-centered. It is often the lifestyle of an intellectual elite.

    1. Islamic Renaissance Humanism (ca. 800-1200 A.D.):Although largely forgotten in the West, the Islamic Renaissance played a crucial historical role. It kept the legacy of Greece and Rome alive, and brought insights of the East to the West. Key elements included:
      • the development of a body of poetry that was simultaneously sensual and mystical
      • the genesis of the rich philosophical tradition of Sufism
      • great advances in mathematics, including the creation of Arabic numerals.

       

    2. Italian Renaissance Humanism (ca. 1300-1550): The word “humanism” was coined in reference to this period. It was a period of amazing achievements in art and science, producing scores of great writers, painters, and sculptors. Like the Islamic Renaissance, it paid homage to Classical Greece and Rome, rescuing the myths, literature and philosophy of that period from the obscurity in which it languished during the medieval period.
    3. Harlem Renaissance Humanism (ca. 1920-1930): Although brief, this period produced many of the greatest talents in African-American literature (particularly poetry). Instead of referencing Greece and Rome, Harlem Renaissance writers “rediscovered” a semi-mythical version of African Humanism, particularly as seen through the eyes of Senegal’s negritude movement.Aimed at the so-called “Talented Tenth” of the black population, Harlem Renaissance humanism became tainted by accusations of elitism (as was true for many other versions of humanism).
  6. Modern Humanism

    1. Secular Humanism: The best-known modern humanism, secular humanism denies or devalues the existence of a deity, in order to focus attention firmly on the accomplishments of humanity. However, a criticism of the movement is that it focuses more on opposing religion than on supporting humanism.
    2. Religious Humanism: Typically religious humanism is a celebrates human achievement and potential, and concerns itself with human affairs, yet without denying the primacy of God. This category includes Christian Humanism, Jewish Humanism and Islamic Humanism, as well as humanist versions of other religions. This was once an important movement in religion, but has since been eclipsed by the twin rise of secular humanism and anti-humanist versions of religion.