Thursday, January 1, 2015

Nihilism as Absurd Compassion Activism

all those times I've tried to be everything to everyone...
simple things
i've lost
along the way
little victories
unimpressed now
ever seeking greater things
inspired by great beings, aspiring to become greater still
but can i be good enough to be not evil to myself?
like to think I'm a nice person, but I only come off that way... 
an uncomfortable mind
in a pretty body
maybe that's...okay

...compassion...means something other than empathy...but what?

is it just a different perspective on suffering? one that is solution-oriented? And is it possible to get to compassion without the empathy perspective?

"Where empathy is about stepping into the shoes of another to understand and share their feelings, compassion is about acquiring a 360 degrees understanding of the suffering or problem that a person is experiencing.  Empathy is emotionally absorbing the feelings of another and, in contrast, compassion is holistically learning about their problem and taking action to resolve it.  The distinction is important for any discussion about the “unique burnout” of caretakers.  Emotionally absorbing another’s feelings, which empathy entails, is physically draining and can make you feel metaphorically stuck in quicksand.  Compassion, on the other hand, keeps the emotional quicksand at a distance by using a cognitive understanding of a person’s suffering when attempting to alleviate the pain: understanding without absorbing." Chris Kukk, The Difference between Compassion & Empathy

But does this sufficiently distinguish sympathy from empathy?

"There is some emotional distance with sympathyyou are not experiencing the pain for yourself, rather you are saying 'Isn’t it sad that this person is having a bad time'. Sometimes sympathy can tip into pity, and that is where some caution is needed....Empathy takes things a little deeper – it is the ability to experience for yourself some of the pain that the other person may be experiencing. It is an acknowledgement of our shared experience as humans and recognition that we all feel grief and loss and pain and fear...If empathy is the ability to really experience some of the feelings of pain that another person is feeling, then compassion is to translate that feeling into action. You understand that your friend is feeling worried and stressed with their aging relative in hospital, so you cook the family some dinners and take their children for an afternoon. True compassion reaches out to all people, no matter whether they are your friends or not, and even to all living creatures. It is the ability and willingness to stand alongside someone and to put their needs before your own." (Operation-Mediation, Sympathy v. Empathy v. Compassion)

Still the distinction is murky. The empathy as "understanding without absorbing" that Kukk is talking about almost sounds like sympathy, a kind of dispassionate recognition of someone's suffering.  Is it really possible to understand someone's suffering without absorbing it? Is experiencing someone's suffering not a requisite for compassionately acting upon it?

Kukk cites a study by Tania Singer, director of neuroscience at Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Lepzig, who "has used MRI scanners to show that compassion and empathy 'are two different phenomena associated with different brain activity patterns.' "  But neither is clearly aware of the fact that all of these people in caregiving roles find themselves going through the burnout of " 'compassion fatigue' (a.k.a. secondary traumatic stress)" [Kukk]  There must be something more to compassion than just empathy-inspired action.

Jumping back to some word roots:

Sympathy is an "assimilated form of syn- 'together' (see syn-) + pathos 'feeling' (see pathos)"; syn being "(prep.) 'with, together with, along with, in the company of' " and pathos being " 'suffering, feeling, emotion, calamity,' literally 'what befalls one' "

Empathy is "modeled on German Einfühlung (from ein "in" + Fühlung "feeling"), which was coined 1858 by German philosopher Rudolf Lotze (1817-1881) a translation of Greek empatheia "passion, state of emotion," from assimilated form of en 'in' (see en- (2)) + pathos "feeling" (see pathos)"; em- being a "word-forming element meaning 'near, at, in, on, within,' from Greek en 'in,' "

It remains difficult to distinguish these terms due to their seemingly discontinuous arrival in the language. I recall the term sympathy being used by Adam Smith, for example, writing natively in English, suggesting the idea of "fellow feeling," which does not so much sound like the sympathy that is common today. Is the distinction merely a difference of linguistic-historical context, meant to denote the same feeling? Is the semantic distinction significant of cognitive differences in these feelings? Best question I can imagine at the moment: How can you tell a sympathetic reaction from an empathetic one?

Jumping back, I see that another aspect of the etymology of empathy claims it is, "A term from a theory of art appreciation that maintains appreciation depends on the viewer's ability to project his personality into the viewed object."  This projection experience seems to be something distinct, perhaps a more active form of feeling in which you try to project your feelings into another's experience. The more I imagine this, the more troubling it sounds: how can an attempt to project one's senses into another's experience generate real understanding? Would anything about one's fellow feeling actually change by projecting it into someone else? Aside from a SQUID-type device "which records events directly from the wearer's cerebral cortex," ("Strange Days", Wikipedia) it seems difficult to know if you've achieved any accuracy or just shoe-horned your feelings in someone else's body.

....blech. All these thought-words.  Nothing helping...not to resolve the persistent questions: is Sheba okay?  how can I help them?  why do I want to help them?  how do I help someone who can't help themself?  (Sheba is a homeless person I met eight months ago in Boulder, hobbling his way into town -- having an injured leg due to being hit by a car -- with only the possessions on his back -- having been robbed of his inventory of computers and  arrived in town and looking for a home and community of activists, ) and the most troubling question of all...did I do enough to help him?  

Who is going to be the judge?  Thoughts and feelings are really not enough...especially when it comes to below freezing temperatures and nowhere else to go...true he is unwilling to accept the homeless services, due to a requirement to receive undesirable psychiatric medication/treatment, so what do you say to yourself. Tough luck. 

And then, it comes, the vindictive response...I wanna say "Do you enjoy living this way?! Why are you doing this to me, putting me in this position??" I know it's not really you that I want to blame...and I don't think it's everyone either...I think it's fucking existence, which is so filled with injustice it makes you wonder when anyone suggested the word egalitarian. 

How long must I listen? What am I supposed to say? You didn't ask me to ask the questions of your existence, to solve the problem of how to do work 

 about how to resolve your life's problems, but you seem to need someone to wake you up to the necessity of not getting your way.
and yet you're not asking yourself how to make your life better.  you're stuck in the dilemmas, and not letting yourself choose anything undesirable.

, and yet still don't understand: where is it they are coming from? I know it is not helpful to blame them for the situation they are in, so what do I do?  I want to NOT continue to take undue responsibility for problems of this society...yet what is my due?  All can I do?  How much can I do?  How much is enough?  When the revolution still hasn't come, when the absurd wheel of this society keeps turning, when the contradictions go on unresolved, is any one thing ever enough?

The feeling of stuck-ness. 
Dilemmas ahead, behind, all around.
Undesirable scenarios...some more desirable than others.
Still, I must ask: how much is enough?
Further: how much is too much?
When we will be able to demand a STOP to our moneyed existence? (THE MINIMUM WAGE WILL NEVER BE HIGH ENOUGH TO SURVIVE.)
When will we be able to live on compassion?
When will we begin to thrive?

Revolution is slow.  Latent crises demand that we push. Necessity requires that we build a community to break this society's fall. But the common faith that connects all beings is still lacking. 

I walked away from Sheba today.  I had nothing else to say...only an ear to hear his words and walk away another sad person, wanting to be of service, and feeling powerless because I couldn't solve their problems, and unwilling to offer my resources to another fucked up individual.

(The one thing I walk away thinking is that I was able to convey my emotions and not just be nice, as in, pleasant and pathetic. Forced to be a crutch in someone else's struggle.  AND YES I know that's fucked up to say that out loud, to pity yourself when as a white male you've got all this institutional access and social privilege that you should really hold yourself to a higher standard than everyone who lives in this perpetual underclass, to say that you're the one who deserves concern when someone else is in need. But I tried my best to convey how I thought I could help Sheba: not by offering another sympathetic ear, to make him feel good about his knowledge, and listen to his woes, (which it always seems to come back to) but someone to point the next step in improving his situation. I don't think I did well at it...despite having tried...I just wish I didn't have to feel like I may have condemned him to die.  It's this bullshit about good intentions that seems like an easy fall back when you become an im-perfectionist. This isn't supposed to mean that anything goes. I want it to mean: it's okay to make mistakes, to not get it right every time, that....yes, intentions are important...but so are results.)

I find my back to an article that I discovered a year ago, which actually happens to be an interview with the Tania Singer who is cited in these previous blog posts. She gives me a more salient distinction of this empathy/compassion distinction:

"When I empathize with the suffering of others, I feel the pain of others; I am suffering myself. This can become so intense that it produces empathic distress in me and in the long run could lead to burnout and withdrawal. In contrast, if we feel compassion for someone else’s suffering, we do not necessarily feel with their pain but we feel concern – a feeling of love and warmth – and we can develop a strong motivation to help the other.
The neural networks underlying the effects of empathy and compassion training are very different. Whereas the former increases negative emotions, the latter is associated with positive feelings of warmth and increased activation in brain networks associated with affiliation and reward.
This may have large implications for people working in care-giving professions, such as nurses, doctors, therapists, and even fire fighters. Teaching them to transform an initial empathic response when confronted with the deep suffering of their patients or clients into a compassionate stance could protect them from negative health consequences and burnout often associated with these jobs. At the same time, it could also help the patients, as compassion is not only rewarding for yourself but obviously good for others too." (Feeling Others' Pain: Transforming Empathy into Compassion, Interview with Tania Singer)

What does that compassionate stance produce? Not just the feeling of being heard, but some kind of action. Even if the results are incomplete, this is something better than nothing.  I think true caregivers are looking at the whole person, however, and do not want to see their job go unfinished. They may want take on more than is requested of them, because their empathy reveals more than just a momentary pain to be healed or soothed. They would like to see suffering to cease and thus take on more responsibility than their bodies can sustain, and unsustainable behavior is not creating the net gain that we'd like to achieve.

I want to say something new about why I want to do what I do.  It's not because I feel bad for others and I want to make them feel better so that I can feel better.  It's because we can feel better together.  It's just more difficult to achieve once you recognize the problems are rather intractable...some social structures are repeating the same traumas on the people...and even if you can learn to recognize them, you can't solve them on your own: you need a whole crew behind beside you and maybe, over a lifetime or so, you get to see progress.  Maybe.  That mere possibility thing can be another killer...the idea you are putting effort into something that might be scrapped eventually.  You can't get tied to the thing you put your effort into...and in a peculiar way, you might find it easier to not even retain hope for the desired outcome, simply out of the expectation for an end goal that needs to change before you achieve it. Still, efforts made should be acknowledged, even if all of our concerns cannot be put to rest.

Let us give thanks, now and again, to Pandora for preventing Hope from leaving her box, for however unintentionally she had prevented releasing it into the world along with all the other plagues, we might be better off without it than to have a crutch which helps us to avoid acting in an absurd universe.

2015.01Jan.02, 12:34 am

Sunday, October 12, 2014

the Truth of Nihilism

to uncover the Truth of nihilism:

there is no Truth....

but there are Truths.

Friday, November 22, 2013

inSpirites of proto-#Jez3Prez

if i could be satisfied as anybeing in the world, it would be as the inSpirites in the Mind of my Anarchives. -- #Jez3Prez

For the Picture "Is" show at Good Faith Space...4-6 images...well i must be trying to break the gallery walls with this infinite set of [#] images...updated [potentially] as like things tend to attract more versions of themseves, according to the axiom of Social Affinity: Non-Opposites do attract.

the images are "mine" in the sense that I am a crystal filter of images thru the "I"s of my Friendz....and our Others.......but anyway let me just tell you how these images of "mine" came to be.....................................................

Shocked by the power of a totally manufactured process which produces a photograph of beautiful models acting out an evocative scene in order to force me to want one of the "real love stories," i decided to stain the page in a similar process as Auguste Rodin's nude water colors to make this fairy tale a little sexier ;^)
Collage water-color in Minneapolis, MN, ca. 2008.

"The morning after I [almost] died" was taken at dawn, lying up in a sleeping bag in a damp bivy sack after a cold sleepless night, before Richard and I [who would later collaborate on writing The Horizon of Objectivity: An evaluation of knowledge paradigms] would attempt to hike our last day out of the Lake Superior Hiking Trail, both of us on nearly empty stomachs and suffering from giardia. 
Photograph ca. June 2008

Shvliko, personal yogi and inversion specialist, traveled to New York during my first spring there and we traveled to many places where he did handstands on everything.  He is now a medical student in North Dakota, one of a strange troupe from this state who helped invent Occupy Wall Street when he lived there in 2011; he led the first sessions of Wall Street Yoga for the Wall Street Arts and Culture group of the autonomous assembly organization unofficially titled "the New York City General Assembly" (NYCGA), previously reported on in this column.

Orian, an Eagle person originating from somewhere around California, hereby perching upon a slowly, decaying tree in this copse of leafy trees in Prospect Park, ca. 2011.  Orian's work adorned the walls of Magic Mountain (also known Andrea's Place, a temporary centralized habitat of the Novads).  

I almost didn't include this photo because I didn't feel it was "good enough" [I wish I could erase the detrimental way in which this concept has influenced my personality as an optimistic Methodist North Dakotan, whose parents never said it was easy, but never said it would be soooooooooooo hard.  They try very hard to keep me from straying far from home, excited by the life of adventure and terrified of doing it themselves.  Felicity, a photographer, who visited me during my summer in Paris, and when we later embarked on a momentous trip into the Mediterranean, nights in Girona, Barcelona, went to the Dali museum and Cas de Ques and all.  Now that I look at the photo again, it's just not bad...she's lounging, other ppl are's very when I see it I just think "Paris -- Buttes de Chaumont" watching the sun set over Paris.  (Paris is still one of the most beautiful cities to look at, tho it has a fascism of beauty.)  Felicity is one of the many sides of myself that I miss seeing on a regular basis and I look forward to visiting her some soon afternoon.

#7thFashion comes from the "Water Cave period" in the anarchives of #Jez3Prez.  Only a few people have ever experienced the Water Cave and it's delights, but many look forward to another exciting trip there. 

This is my first BIG painting, whose existence is inextricably linked to my education & experiments with Sarah Demke.

[insert other BIG painting picture here] 

This is a better picture of it.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

This is not for you.

Item: *ion by E. E. _ummings
Creation date: 2012.MAR.2

Created not for you (the Finder) but for every other person you create it for. You must become: the Donor!

Monday, January 23, 2012

what is a friend w/o work?

Too many relationships - TOO DEMANDING.
Too self-commanding. We've got too many relationships
it's too DEMANDING
it's too DEMANDING
keeping - up - with all - our - friends

in the Way that We feel they deserve

so we let them all the wayside
and we hope that everyone can understand
or at least the people that matter
can understand
that we care about them too much
Too Much!
to ENGAGE in less than meaningful conversation
(and this apparently takes a lot of energy) (and time)
(and which has to be built up to over long periods of time)
(and sometimes its easier if we randomly encounter each other and recall the thing that we're supposed to be doing at the moment at that time at that very moment in time)

Or are we just...anti-social? (and just...don't know it??)

"Relationships take work" and we don't want to work

"Lovers need work" and we don't want to work

but some
Friendships ARE work, though perhaps they should not be...

So what is a friend without work?
Can we actively engage one another at all times?
Or is Time itself the trouble?...a dandelion may explode just THEN! when/during/after we try to seize it in our hands.

But relationships do take trust. SO how do you get there...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

REPORT: First General Assembly of New York Established; Preparations for Wall St Occupation Begin

Hello everyone - Here is MY report on the August 2nd, People's Assembly on Wall Street. I emphasize MY report because it consists of my perspective alone on the activities of the day and does not represent any official record of minutes of the general assembly.


Under continuous pressure by police, the first General Assembly of New York (GA-NY) made some of the initial decisions to begin organizing for an occupation of Wall Street currently planned for September 17, 2011 and to extend indefinitely.

The "People's General Assembly on Wall Street" action on August 2nd ran from approximately 4:30 - 8:30 pm. The event began with a speakout via microphone and speaker just south of the Wall Street Bull on the cobblestone section of Bowling Green Park. After approximately a half-hour, earlier than expected, the structure shifted towards convening an actual general assembly. A protest march on Wall Street was voted down by the GA on August 2nd, the symbolic date for the deadline for Congress to pass the bill raising the federal debt ceiling (which, notably, makes across the board cuts to government spending without raising any tax revenue). Each segment ran at approximately the following times: speakout from 4:30-5:30, a general assembly (GA) 5:15 - 7:15, split into working committees 7:15-7:35, and a final wrap-up GA.

Aside from one particular point of confusion and concern [which I have noted in detail in 2nd-to-last paragraph at the end of this report], the events of the August 2nd assembly on Wall Street went mostly according to plan. The activity of the first GA-NY included:

- Approx. 7:15 pm: Voted to break up into smaller committees and reconvene shortly thereafter. Committees on Outreach; Food; Technology: Social Media; Students; thoughts on the structure of the

GA were established. General Assembly reconvened after [I was not present for it].

- Voted to have next GA-NY Meeting on Tuesday, August 9 at 7:30 at Irish Hunger Memorial, 1 World Financial Centre, NYC [NOTE: initial proposed location was DC 37 and changed after the GA reconvened post-committee meetings]

- Discussion of proposals and concerns for a planned occupation of Wall Street

ACTIONS taken by the committees include [I was not present for reports from the committees, but received this information second-hand]:

- Outreach: next meeting Thursday, August 4 at 6:30 pm at the Writer's Guild, 250 Hudson St, 7th floor open to all interested in organizing outreach to NYC community groups, as well as national and international organizations

- Food: plan to have food at next GA meeting on Tuesday

- Logistics: discussed tactics for interactions with police during an occupation

- Thoughts on the GA structure: Agreement/disagreement based on hand signals; Create a progressive stack; In particular, created structure for proposals including a moment for clarification and tempature check; next, ask for discussion/blocks; then, the vote. A block breaks down concensus and moves to 2/3rd vote.

CONCERNS expressed during the GA were, with particular action and agreements reached in parentheses:

- need to establish working committees; New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts (NYABC), a coalition of unions, student groups, community organizations and activists for NYC and who were responsible for the Bloombergville occupation in June 2011 have established some organization already and could be utilized to not overlap; however, the majority of the participants in the GA-NY are not part of NYABC and may not wish to meet under that name (realized that these options were not mutually exclusive)

- need to define the proper format of a GA (a committee was formed to discuss and consider the GA structure)

- The GA must be open to expressions of agreement or disagreement: despite the inner tensions that might come from that, we know there is much to unite us.

- Not wanting to be enveloped under another pre-existing group while not wanting to dismiss a lot of the work done by NYABC

- Despite legal concerns that police will not allow us to use parks in a group of 20 or more, there was significant emphasis placed on the importance of having GAs in public space

- Logistics about confronting police in an occupation of Wall Street; be sure to record any repressive activity that is going on; be careful discussing any plans for civil disobedience

- Need to reach out to unions, who are strong in NYC

- Concern about September 17, 2011, as the expected date of Wall Street occupation: established by Adbusters but without having contributed any material support to organization

- Need media and musicians; need to hear/collect the stories of people who have been affected by budget cuts, mortgage foreclosure, etc.

OTHER PROPOSALS made during the GA but which were not voted on include [I did not catch all the proposals which were made]:

- convene GAs in the boroughs/neighborhoods; have GAs at least weekly

- creating a special website for the GA-NY

- having a demonstration targeting the Federal Reserve bank,

- promotion of organizing work being done through Picture the Homeless,

- organize through New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts who have experience with one occupation (Bloombergville) and have already done a lot of groundwork in NYC, others?

- the committees should prepare the proposals which come before the GA

Finally, a brief attempt to objectively describe the confusion and concerns that arose in the first GA-NY, a few participants were adamantly opposed to the initial speakout sessions being voiced through the loudspeaker, proclaiming that it was "not a general assembly" and demanding that a more open GA be created. Though organizers quickly shifted to the general assembly structure for the meeting, maintaining use of the loudspeaker caused the opposed participants to organize their own assembly, causing a brief bifurcation in the group: one group utilizing the GA structure of an open floor but maintaining the loudspeaker to contend with the traffic noise, the other group seating themselves in a circle closer to Bowling Green park. The breakaway faction had objected to the format because it appeared to function more like a rally than a GA and expressed concerns about being forced to speak under a particular political party or viewpoint voiced this criticism; as they broke off to begin the GA, paricipants were stuck between the two groups. As the power began to die from the loudspeaker, the group voted by simple majority to move to the traditional GA and joined the circle, in which the GA was already under way.

[All apologies for lack of coverage on the people who spoke at the speakout and the beginning of the GA (before I started taking notes), and both during and after the committee meetings. If anyone has notes on these who spoke and what was discussed during portions that were missed here, please include your information in the comments below. Also, and this is important, if you did not have an opportunity to speak or have something you forgot or would now like to mention or felt dissuaded or otherwise discouraged from speaking, please add to the comments here. As an open and democratic community, we encourage everyone to engage in dialogue: no matter whether your comments are supportive, productive, or critical please make them amicable in all cases. Thank you, all!]

Sunday, March 27, 2011

But what is untruth?

honest is a feature which is valuable
today, everyday, every other day

what makes me worry? time
obscuring its boundaries, making us naive
for the sole purpose of entertainment

but I am honesty and to shrug everything off
is boring, stupid, and yes, untrue.