The hopefulness lies in the fact that we do actually already possess the relevant skills of friendship, it’s just we haven’t as yet directed them to the person who probably needs them most, namely ourselves. — Alain de Botton
The vast amount of choices, opportunities and experiences available to the individual in modern society has the capacity to overwhelm and cause anxiety through the fear of missing out. This paradox of choice is explored by American psychologist Barry Schwartz , he challenges what he calls the official dogma of all Western industrial societies, namely the idea that the way to maximise freedom is to maximise choice. Choice is good and necessary, but too much choice paralyses.
When we make the decision to get that turns out to be a terrible haircut, when we invest more into a toxic relationship, when we chose an unfruitful course of study, or fail to act on career enhancing opportunities, who is to blame? We are. In a world of countless choices and resources to verify these choices, we are fundamentally accountable for our fulfilment, this responsibility has the ability to empower one day, and condemn us the next.
The reality of being human, a weird ball of matter characterised by existential dualism in a world of infinite complexity and mind boggling contradictions, is that we will err, fail, be funny and fuck up continuously in many areas of life. The discomforting feelings that come from this must be embraced and cultivated for our betterment, from a posture of self-compassion. Modern philosopher Alain de Botton makes the transformative idea of self-compassion approachable, he does this by reminding us that “in friendship we know instinctively how to deploy strategies of wisdom and consolation that we stubbornly refuse to apply to ourselves”. What we must do is to turn this outward ability inward towards ourselves.
When we meditate upon that harrowing moment, continuously relive that season of failure and allow it to create a callus in our minds, what we are really doing is affirming an utterly ridiculous notion, a belief that the cycle of self-abasement is somehow a legitimate and honourable response to difficulty, this is not so. We must remind ourselves that everyone fails, we just don’t know about it, we must be generous around our mishaps and constructive with our critiques, as this is the environment most conducive to holistic and sustained progress.
Pema Chödrön, the Buddhist bundle of wisdom reinforces the liberation available through self-compassion, she states that:
“Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognise our shared humanity”
If we want to create and sustain relationships rooted in respect, compassion and authenticity, then we must practice self-respect and a critical introspection upon ourselves. There is peace, genuine understanding and progress available from this vantage point.
Be honest, frank and fearless and get some grasp of the real values of life — W.E.B Du bois
The dominance of the Kardashian family within popular culture represents the fruit of cultural decline, with popular culture being defined by superficially, homogeneity and the allure of instant gratification. The inferiority and deceptiveness of these pursuits are highlighted when contrasted with the ideals of depth, authenticity and patience. When we subscribe to the dictates of popular culture, we plant our self-esteem in unsustainable soil. A redirection must occur, an inward revolution must take place. To echo the words of J.Cole:
What good is taking over, when we know what you got’ do, the only real revolution happens right inside of you…I know you desperate for a change… But the only real change come from inside.
In ‘Confessions of a bad feminist’, the writer and professor Roxanne Gay speaks on how her enjoyment of “thuggish rap” music, which is laden with misogyny and machismo is in outright opposition to her values. In her talk, she captures with great earnestness the difficulty that arises when we try to live our lives in alignment with supremely worthwhile values, with the lamentation of “Why must it be so catchy? Its hard to make the better choice, and it is so easy to justify a lesser one.”
It is our civic duty to change what is considered mainstream, we must force the media gaze onto the individuals and organisations that encourage the cultivation of character, virtue and emotional intelligence. Popular culture must attend to the holistic progress of humanity. The charge provided by James Baldwin pierces with the call to “take off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within”. If we can strive for this, then ideas and actions that were previously out of our reach will now be available, if we are willing to question our assumptions then new unknown terrains of understanding will be within our grasp.
“We’re really paying homage to all those people in the past.. we wouldn’t have had any of these ideas if it wasn’t for any of those people”- Meechy Darko
The influence of Hip-Hop in the mainstream is unrivaled, the expressiveness, intensity and culture defining nature of this movement must be respected by insiders and outsiders alike. ‘Headstone’ by Flatbush Zombies stands as a timely embrace of this legacy.
During an interview with Genius, Meechy- Darko, Zombie Juice and Erick Arc Elliott speak on the inspiration behind their masterful celebration of Hip-Hop through their track ‘Headstone’. In this interview, Meechy- Darko states that “People don’t care about the past like at all really. I think that’s why the song is cool because were paying homage… We’re really just doing lyrical exercises which is what Hip-Hop is about”
The energy of their intertextual exploration is highlighted in these four moments;
To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight. — E.E. Cummings
Moonlight, an adaption of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play ‘In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue’, written and directed by Barry Jenkins represents a cathartic breakthrough in mainstream black cinema. The movie details the coming of age of the character initially known as ‘little’ and his search for identity. This exploration of human complexity in popular culture- often denied to black characters on screen, through such immersive cinematography makes Moonlight a deeply impactful cultural artefact.
The film unflinchingly embraces the charge of French philosopher Albert Camus towards the artist, to create dangerously as a voice of resistance and ultimately liberation of society. Moonlight stands boldly as a rejection of the suffocating social script of black masculinity, sexuality and self-expression. It ultimately contributes to the restorative process of humanity towards a people historically denied this crucial voice.
The presence of Juan, a drug dealer who honourably becomes a surrogate father for little, helping him navigate the burdens of his drug addicted mother and his sexual identity is crucial in the film. The intimacy of this relationship is evidenced by Juan teaching little how to swim. However, the harrowing fact is Juan is the same person selling crack to little’s mother. This multiplicity of character is incredibly instructive, it strikingly illustrates how one can exist simultaneously as liberator and imprisoner, a source of hope and a contributor to despair, as both wisdom and folly.
It is thrilling to witness these themes being explored through bodies that look blue in the moonlight.
One such vital truth that has been long known is the idea of heroism. The world is a theatre for heroism. — Ernest Becker
The idea of life as the pursuit of heroism, as presented by Pulitzer Prize winning cultural anthropologist and writer Ernest Becker is timeless in its profundity. He starts by recognising the human condition, a state characterised by an existential paradox described as individuality within finitude. He asserts that our constant nearness to anxiety is because of the fact that we are gods, yet food for worms:
He is a creator with a mind that soars out to speculate about atoms and infinity, who can place himself imaginatively at a point in space and contemplate bemusedly his own planet. This immense expansion, this dexterity, this ethereality, this self-consciousness gives to man literally the status of a small god in nature.
Attentiveness to this reality has the potential to destabilise, to make one feel uprooted and groundless. Heroism is the remedy to the Kryptonite of existential dualism. In this discourse, acts of heroism should be viewed as an active pushback against the anxiety caused by existential dualism. Whether it is the esteemed courage of the athlete, the death defying feats of the magician, or the destructive bravery of the terrorist, they all strive for the priceless feeling of cosmic specialness and unshakeable meaning. This yearning finds its home amongst all cultures, societies and people.
Leo Tolstoy illuminates this discourse with his belief that “for man[kind] to be able to live he must either not see the infinite, or have such an explanation of the meaning of life as will connect the finite with the infinite” points to the modern inability of narratives, such as religion and nationalism to attend to our need for a transcendental identity. In interacting with existential dualism one must cultivate an individually worthwhile narrative, one which provides meaning, identity and transcendence.
The only question that really matters is ‘What am I doing to earn the feeling of heroism, and does it contribute to the fruitful progress of society?’
So far as we act on inclination, we behave as means to the realisation of ends given outside us, this makes us instruments rather than authors of the pleasures we pursue.
Freedom is usually conceptualised as the power to do what you want, when you want and with whom you want, with the act being instructed by feeling or instinct. German philosopher Immanuel Kant questions the legitimacy of this claim through the idea of freedom as autonomy. He argues that we fail to act freely when we act strictly to satisfy our instinct or to avoid discomfort, he asserts that we’re simply acting as slaves to those appetites and impulses.
If I want to act autonomously, I must act according to a law I give to myself, in this space my will stops being determined by the promptings of nature, my hunger, my appetite or my desires. When I act autonomously I cease to be an instrument to purposes given outside myself, therefore I can rightly think of myself as an end in myself. This capacity to act freely is what gives human life its special dignity.
The strength of this proposal is reinforced when united with the idea of being ‘forced to be free’ as presented by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The inspiration of Plato in the work of Rousseau is particularly useful in understanding the idea of being forced to be free, as the freedom proposed by Rousseau is one that requires a type of force in redirecting the natural desires and purposes of humankind toward higher, more satisfying pursuits.
This call to authentic freedom reduces the contingency of our existence as our habits, feelings and will stops being determined by capriciousness and is instead directed my an inner law of liberty. This charge to freedom forces a critical self-inventory in which to measure the values we hold and the relationships we keep.
The weaker the body, the more it commands, the stronger the body, the more it obeys — Jean-Jacques Rousseau
German philosopher Immanuel Kant provides the most compelling conception of freedom, he asserts that authentic freedom is realised when one acts according to a law that they give themselves.
This articulation of freedom is admittedly challenging, how can one stay consistent in it?
I choose exercise.
The usefulness of challenging physical activity in the pursuit of human excellence is championed by Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympic Games. The energising ability of exercise is potently described as creating “a fervent soul in a trained body”. This fervency is sustained through the pleasurable realisation of flow.
The concept of flow, introduced by Hungarian psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is wonderfully explained by Evan Puschak, also known as ‘The Nerdwritter’. A state of flow is achieved when an individual participates in any activity where there is an extended devotion to craft, the task must challenge them and they must have the skills to meet the challenge. The supreme focus and euphoria which occurs during a flow state is available to poets, athletes, nurses and business-people alike.
The transcendent quality of flow is central to the attainment of authentic freedom, a freedom which is realised through a life lived in accordance to a standard we place upon ourselves. This reach towards self-actualisation is unquestionably challenging, it often requires the subjection of the will to that standard, the flow state that accompanies demanding excursions of the intellect or body serves to weaken this resistance, bringing us every closer to our ideal selves, and the ineffable reality of life.