Paradoxes I Live By

“How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.” –Niels Bohr

“Since the beginning of time, tricksters (the mythological origin of all clowns) have embraced life’s paradoxes, creating coherence through confusion — adding disorder to the world in order to expose its lies and speak the truth.” –Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army

[¶]

David Foster Wallace had it right when he sustained that “the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about”. Maybe this is because we normally prefer to talk about the weather or the latest gossip (a lack of practice), maybe because we get blinded by everything shiny and superficial (an lack of priorities), maybe it’s because we just don’t care enough (a lack of consciousness).

So when I tried to explain the whole point of The Friendly Anarchist redesign last year, I never felt content with the results. Even after struggling with the design and its implications for months, I had a hard time explaining the concept behind it. While it indeed was “an obvious, important reality” for me, I just couldn’t mold my thoughts and ideas into a coherent whole.

It was when the wonderful Mandy Steward asked me to participate in her #secretmessage project that this topic returned to my awareness – and that I finally understood what had stopped me last year. In recent months, I had gotten more and more attained to the idea that our existence, as such, is paradoxical. And that this isn’t a bad thing, but rather a platform from which we humans can operate.

So instead of trying to mold it all into a coherent whole, I decided to use that platform. To to scrap my perfectionism and take this opportunity to dive into the meaning of my work in a nonchalant and playful fashion. To start with Mandy’s art as a basis for what I’m trying to convey. And to take it from there. We’re bloggers, after all – which is probably the best position to be in when developing new ideas.1

Personal Sovereignty

Here’s the myth: Personal sovereignty means being completely autonomous, in need of no-one. According to this myth, all you require is a stronghold, a rifle and a large stock of canned ravioli. Good luck with that when an asteroid hits your neighborhood. Or even when a chemical plant upstream poisons “your” river or a coal-fired power station pollutes “your” air.

In reality, we’re interdependent on so many levels it seems ridiculous to even point it out. As Sartre noted, “man is free within a situation, not within a vacuum space”. Alasdair MacIntyre went a step further when he sustained that “it is most often to others that we owe our survival, let alone our flourishing.”

Even if you don’t agree with this, what’s the point of living alone in a cabin in the woods? First and foremost, personal sovereignty for me means getting to terms with the conditions we exist in and with the people around us, even if we don’t like all of them. And to enjoy the company and support of those we do like to the max.

So this is the first paradox: The Friendly Anarchist aims to help you understand and create a sovereign life while being well aware of the necessity (and beauty) of living and cooperating with others.

As an exercise, think about personal sovereignty as being able to get in control of the factors you can control, letting go of those you cannot control, and knowing the difference.

Interestingness!

The term interesting derives from the Latin inter-esse, that can be translated as being in between. It’s a brilliant shorthand for human existence: In anything we do, we exist in between.

Following Plato, philosophers have used the Greek term metaxy to describe something similar: Our lives happen neither entirely in time nor in eternity, but in a combination of the two; we’re only human beings in that we live, but will die at some point. Hence, we exist between life and death, between abundance and scarcity, between truth and deception, between order and chaos. If you have any doubts, just think about how even the greatest human order can be wiped out in seconds by a tiny tsunami or the asteroid I mentioned above.

If inter-estingness is the basis of our existence, it’s certainly a great basis for a blog. But there’s more to the term: Interest can be understood as the feeling that causes our attention to focus on a “thing”. An interest can also be something like a hobby, another worthy thing to write about. And then, there’s the notion of national interest and self-interest, where the topic of interestingness converges with that of personal sovereignty. And we’re still hardly scratching the surface of the topic here!2

What this means for The Friendly Anarchist is that interestingness is a topic that’s best explored by looking at it from several angles. It also means that this blog still won’t be reduced to one single and specific niche. Instead, I’ll continue to operate happily in the in-between.

This is the second paradox: The Friendly Anarchist aims to be interesting (in the sense of entertaining) and to get you interested, but it is also well aware of the difficulties of analyzing our condition of living in between different modes of existence.

As an exercise, think about your own position in between different forces, influences and ideas. Enjoy the paradox. Most importantly, this isn’t just theory: Don’t keep your seatbelts fastened. Don’t remain seated. Get up and go out there. Live an interesting life!

(Un)Productivity

Idlers might be underrepresentated in the public sphere, but certainly not in the populace. The reason for this underrepresentaton is that idlers generally don’t care too much about fame and money. For most of them, seeking any of these two would simply mean too much work for too little reward. Idlers strive for their own definitions of success.

That said, they aren’t seeking idleness in order to avoid facing their lives. Idleness isn’t escapism, it is a “towards something”: “A movement to stop all movement. An invitation to fully be in the present moment. A moment to simply embrace life as it is.”

Most importantly, idlers don’t want to spend their lives doing exactly nothing. They merely want to avoid stupid work and mindless busy-ness. Real productivity, to large degree, means learning to choose wisely: On the one hand, we have to choose wisely in order to have enough time to relax. But on the other hand, remember this warning by philosopher Odo Marquard: “Even if you want to change just a few things, you have to leave most things untouched, or even the few things will fail that are indeed changeable.”

So this is the third paradox: The Friendly Anarchist is about the advantages of doing nothing, but it is also about the rewards of and the inner workings of mindful productivity.

As an exercise, start with being idle. Relax, take a deep breath, and think about whether a task at hand really is worth pursuing. If the answer is yes, learn to focus and to get it done as beautifully and as efficiently as possible.

[¶]

I started this post with a quote from David Foster Wallace, and I want to end it with one:

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”

The Friendly Anarchist is about the rewards and the wonders and the paradoxical beauty of these petty, unsexy ways.

About the Artwork

The artwork in this post is a #secretmessage created by the artist Mandy Steward aka Messy Canvas. If it stirs something in you, please use this 10% off coupon code in her Etsy store to let her create a personalized 5×5 secretmessage for you: FRIENDLYANARCHIST (valid until May 15).

Basically, Mandy will use words that you send to her and transform them into a colorful piece of art. Highly recommended!

Full disclosure: I got the illustration for free in exchange for sharing it with you here.

  1. The writing itself will be just as helpful as any input from the audience. Ignoring the chance to do so until now was probably quite stupid. I’m currently creating a plan on how to elaborate further on the preliminary statements shared in this post. The results shall be published on The Friendly Anarchist over a larger time span and will also result in a couple of books. It’s gonna be a long process, but by now I am sure that it’ll be more than worth it. []
  2. For instance, indigenous tribes have pointed at how a standing human being connects the Earth with the skies, and the spiritual implications of this. They are not alone in this assessment: Our existence in-between immanence and transcendence is a topic that has fascinated philosophers for thousands of years. []

Comments 5

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  2. Alan Furth May 3, 2013

    Very insightful thoughts! I was talking to a blogger friend the other day about how easy it is at times to go too far in trying to impose overall coherence among everything we blog about. This of course is a trap — the beauty of blogging is that it resembles the art of pointillism: each post a distinct dot of pure color, a thought that can stand on its own. And it’s only when we step back and see the whole at a certain distance that we can appreciate a coherent, meaningful overall picture. So yes, blogging your way towards articulating the whole point of your blog’s design seems to me to be absolutely right on spot!

    • Fabian May 3, 2013

      Thanks a lot for your support, Alan. I like the comparison to pointillism and am hoping that the picture will be, indeed, somewhat coherent after all. Or developing into a coherent direction at least! :)

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