Friday, November 23, 2012

Daniel Haybron's Affective Ignorance

Daniel Haybron
Danie Haybron's book The Pursuit of Unhappiness: The Elusive Psychology of Well-Being includes many new aspects of happiness. I must admit that I have never really thought about happiness in such detail before my philosophy of happiness class. For this, I am very grateful for enrolling in it. My journey as a student of philosophy would remain in many ways all the more incomplete.

Near the beginning of chapter 10, Haybron provides a definition of affective ignorance. He claims that "Our powers to assess our own happiness - specifically, our affective states... are weaker and less reliable than we tend to suppose" (200). Affective ignorance manifests in "... two sorts of epistemic failure" (ibid.):
  1. Ignorance about our past affect. (Past affective ignorance)
  2. Ignorance about affects we are currently experiencing. (Present affective ignorance)
I specifically want to address past affective ignorance, for reasons I will explain. I seem to be well-attuned to reflecting upon past affective ignorance because of my lifelong diagnosis of panic disorder. (For those of you who do not know the potentially devastating symptoms, check out this link.) It seems rather paradoxical that I can write about past affective ignorance and still classify it as such. However, I will attempt to keep true to Haybron's definition.

My reminiscence of my past experiences were brought about when Haybron writes about the negative impact of distressing emotional states: "Presumably being tense, anxious, or stressed detracts substantially from the quality of one's experience, even when one is unaware of these states" (203). My panic disorder, in past instances, definitely brought about this detraction of my experience. Now that I have matured and have learned to cope with the symptoms of my disorder, I can now reflect on how they negatively affected me in the past. I felt alone and fearful, wasting away in my thoughts of self-pity and restlessness. Even after I was officially diagnosed at the age of 8, my realization of my disorder did not seem to have any major effect on how I experienced the pains of anxiety.

I now know, after quite some time, that my experiences of panic drastically took a toll on my experience of happiness and contentedness. I realized that pity is not promised to those who share such ailments as mine. The ability to overcome my distress, I later discovered, depended on my own perspective of life. Happiness seems elusive only to the extent in which someone fails to adhere to perspectives of positivity.

Easier said than done. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Appreciation, Not Thanks

I was stunned by the insight of one of the callers on the most recent Thinking Atheist podcast. The podcast was entitled "The Elephant in the Room," and it dealt with the topic of how some people might be confronted by religious family members over Thanksgiving dinner. Philosophy has made me resonate with certain profound perspectives, and I felt the need to publicly share this one. The person called in to the podcast, and claimed to be a transsexual who has been totally isolated from his fundamentalist family.

Even though his background story was very moving and dramatic, I do not wish to go into details about his struggles with his Christian family. (I very much recommend listening to the podcast. The caller starts talking around the 25 minute mark.) Rather, I wish to focus on one of his claims he discusses during his call.

After he introduced himself as "Diana," he said these words:
"Personally... during Thanksgiving, I'm trying right now to build my worldview as appreciation rather than thanks... as soon as you say 'thanks,' the deity pops up. Rather, I like to look at it as 'here is my universe, here is my world.' There are good things here and they have value. If there is someone responsible for those things being there, I can thank them. If there is no one responsible - for example the beauty of a sunrise - there is no one responsible for that; I can simply appreciate that and find the beauty and value in it" (emphasis mine).

This is the sort of insight that makes my jaw drop in amazement. I feel that his message can be simplified by the combination of two of Marcus Aurelius' many astounding aphorisms:

"Everything is brought about by nature, not by anything beyond it, or within it, or apart from it" (Meditiations Bk. VI, 9).


"Some things are rushing into existence, others out of it. Some of what now exists is already gone. Change and flux constantly remake the world, just as the incessant progression of time remakes eternity. We find ourselves in a river. Which of the things around us should we value when none of them can offer a firm foothold? Like an attachment to a sparrow: we glimpse and it is gone. And life itself: like the decoction of blood, and drawing in of air. We expel the power of breathing we drew in at birth (just yesterday or the day before), breathing it out like the air we exhale at each moment" (Meditations Bk. VI, 15, emphasis mine).

Nature brings forth everything, and everything exists for a fleeting moment. I feel appreciation for those people who offer me a firm foothold, even if it is just for a brief, unresolved time. What else could get me through my inner troubles? Who else could pacify my inner turmoil?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Challenge For U.S. Citizens

I must apologize in advance. This week has been a frustrating week for me. Yesterday, I posted about my personal frustrations with human rights. Today I feel the need to vent about a particular qualm I have with politics, even though the recent presidential election has already passed.

Of course, politics itself is a circus of rich, greedy white guys (and sometimes girls, when allowed). It does not take any special power to notice this blatant fact. Anyone who has access to a computer, which is basically everyone in this nation, can "Google" the political system and observe the travesty for themselves. There is no excuse for ignorance, and there is no need for me to dwell upon this.

Back to the point. Every major election involves the bickering concerning liberal and conservative values. Most "liberals" vote unquestioningly for the Democratic party, while staunch "conservatives" unhesitatingly vote for the Republican party. People are too complacent with their inculcated views.

Such dedicated liberals and conservatives might object by claiming that the Democratic and the Republican party adequately represent their view of the issues. This is not always the case. Candidates can easily concoct subtle, nuanced viewpoints within parties that will have overwhelming influence on how they run in office.

So, I am challenging the citizens of the United States. I challenge them to think about their issues independent of party identification.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Frustrating Nature of Human Rights

I figured I should write-out my thoughts concerning human rights. I see human rights as a universal law/code that is inherent and inalienable (ideally). It applies to all human sentient beings (animals could be included, but I am strictly addressing humanity). It is indeed the definition described in full inside the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

The frustration results because most evildoers remain unaffected after they violate human rights. The responsibility of the United Nations, when formed in 1948, was to quell any such violations. They focused, with the holocaust still fresh on their minds, mainly on the cessation of genocide within national states. Even to this day, this seems to be the mission statement of the U.N. My mind tumbles to the sands on a desolate beach, angered by the viscous waves of injustice.

Genocide and such violations are still occurring, to the dismay of humanity. Some recent examples include the savage genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda, and the still occurring cleansing of Muslims from the majority Buddhist state in western Myanmar.

Something else frustrates me about these issues: there is such a vast number of Americans who do not know about these issues. We live in a society that favors and seems to encourage cerebral laziness. There is no excuse for citizens of such "modern" technological societies like ours to remain in a selfish bubble of separation between the favored and the less-fortunate.

There are no excuses now. Me must fight for justice and we should demand that it is pursued. Those who stand to oppose it, if they do not alter their ways to live in harmony with others, should be eliminated from the face of the earth as the last and necessary resort.