The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Thursday, September 28, 2017

Why Fighting?

Below is an excerpt from an essay at Must Triumph. The essay explores the question of why we fight? Why are we by nature, combative? The full post may be read here.

I'm sitting here with a bunch of "sophisticated" types for lunch. They are lost in some conversation about algorithms, the best private preschools, and whether they should order quinoa salad or not.

Then there's this young guy walking down the street. An average-looking kid, one could say almost meek-looking. My cohorts haven't noticed him yet.

He passes by a basketball game in progress. Tall, athletic street-ballers. This suburban kid, in jeans, walks in and they confront him. Something interesting might happen here. I get up, not because I'm going to save him, but because I want a better view. But, alas, nothing happens. Wait, but now he's playing a game with them. They pass him the ball, and he's got skills. The game is quick and fast, the kid scores — a lot — and then, like that, he leaves.

There're some old Russian dudes playing chess. The kid sits down across from one and they begin to play. It's fast. They are attacking, going back and forth. Just like that, the kid wins. I grip the table, thinking the old dude is going to get up and teach him a lesson — old-world style — but instead, he shakes his hand. Disappointment again.

The kid walks into the liquor store. I lose sight of him. I get back to my table, and we're talking about stuff that has no basis in ordinary day-to-day reality. A question about everyone's favorite NPR show. This American Life is mentioned. Then their love of Bill Nye. I'm suffocating in conformity. Save me.
The kid steps out of the liquor store. He has something in his hand. Looks like a lottery ticket. He scratches it and then nothing. A long nothing. Then excitement. He's won, it seems. I look over at my table. Tumbleweeds. No interest.

Another guy walks up to the kid. He wants his ticket. And what's this? Wait for it. I'm waiting patient. That's it. A fight! It erupts, and this kid is beating the hell out of this dude. My table, as if compelled by some sixth sense, knows something is up without seeing it yet. They get up. Their bubble has popped. We all run to the fight. The whole street runs to the fight.

So why did we get up? The other day, one of my academic friends asked me about fighting. Let's call him Mario. Why fighting? Why my interest? Why are people interested, in general? What do people get out of it? He asked, wouldn't we live a more fulfilled life if we avoided conflict, as that creates more suffering? And looking for conflict only begets more conflict? Also, what utility does fighting serve? He was looking for meaning — a utilitarian purpose. And because of the bias of the self, he assumed, because he suffered from conflict, everyone else did as well. But the thing is, I know Mario would also get up and run to a fight if one were to break out. Even his dismissal of conflict creates conflict. To think you can speak for others creates conflict. Is he a hypocrite? Yes, and that creates conflict. But we are all hypocrites. And the search for constant profit-based utility makes us all miserable.
Boxing analyst Max Kellerman once told the president of the UFC, Dana White:

“If you take four street corners, and on one they are playing baseball, on another they are playing basketball and on the other, street hockey. On the fourth corner, a fight breaks out. Where does the crowd go? They all go to the fight.”
Mixed martial arts legend Frank Shamrock said in an interview with Mike Straka:

“Everybody gets it. It doesn’t need languages. Fighting is fighting.”

This is a whole philosophy of thought, that the description will never describe the described. That language can only misconstrue experience. How can you put into words the physical viscera of nature? The standard answer has always been: You have to see for yourself. It's a raw experience, as a spectator and as a participant, depending on how close you want to get to this truth.

Intellectualism took centuries — one person had a thought, then another person added to that thought until, eventually, they realized that experience cannot be adequately addressed through language. A fighter like Frank Shamrock, likely unaware of this work, came to this understanding after a few punches to the noggin. Socrates, too, had a rough-and-tumble history, which shaped his critical thinking. The physical was an essential part of his curriculum. It was the bare minimum for philosophy to flourish. Otherwise, you didn't know anything — not the least, yourself.
Philosopher Avital Ronell warned of the search for too much meaning. Ronell was walking through Central Park while being interviewed for the Examined Life. She came upon some dogs playing, which is to play-fight, and the dogs were in bliss. Ronell made this observation on the state of nature:

“Everyone wants something like meaning. But when you see these dogs play, why reduce it to meaning rather than just see the arbitrary eruption of something that can’t be grasped or explicated, but it’s just there in this kind of absolute contingency of being. To leave things open and radically inappropriable and something — and admitting we haven’t really understood is much less satisfying, more frustrating, and more necessary...”

Fighting is prior to man's search for meaning. Long prior. Or one could say, it is man's first and most natural way to examine life, along with procreation. Make love to it or fight it, or, more honestly, perhaps both. Fighting or lovemaking for the sake of pleasure isn't rational, but rather, it is natural.

Where we get bungled is this idea that rational and natural are enemies or friends when they are neither. It is natural to fear death, but is it rational? Probably not. But who will argue that we shouldn't fear death because it is irrational or that it brings about suffering? You could do this, but that, in itself, would be irrational. We only know experience, and we cannot claim to know what we have not experienced, so experience is the only knowledge. Animals fight and make love, and thus that becomes the primary source of their knowledge.

According to Viktor Frankl, meaning, itself, requires a fight. When man struggles, they fight to live.
But in a first-world society, self-harm and suicide become the new struggles.

In Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder, mathematician Nassim Nicholas Taleb explains how one cannot predict conflict, it just arises, just as we rose from chaos. To further that sentiment, from that chaos, comes organic progress through trial and error. Fragility, then, is the inability to gain from disorder.

“Evolution does not rely on narratives, humans do. Evolution does not need a word for the color blue.”
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Fighting is fighting. Everybody gets it. It doesn't need language. It shouldn't need explanation. Where self-deception happens is when people pretend dislike is the same as not understanding. You don't like it, or perhaps it is better to say, you don't want to like it, so you pretend you don't understand it.

Somewhere, we taught ourselves that we cannot dislike something we understand, and we cannot like something we don't understand — but there are no such rules. How many ills come from these misunderstandings? Protecting oppressive institutions because we understand them, hating others because we do not understand them. We have much more ability to live in a just world if, when appropriate, we can say, "Hey, I don't get it, but to each their own," or, "Oh, I get it. Which is why I know it is wrong."


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