The mostly stagnant but nevertheless changing Manifesto
As of 3/14/19
Comfort: An Introduction
Is there a significant distinction between the future, as in a place in time, and the process of moving forward? I conflate the two often. The future, as I understand it, is a goal, a place on the map, a destination; it is an expectation. In order to achieve the future, a series of events are undertaken that move one forward. Going to school is an example of this idea, and so are the level up handheld games with pet monsters. Change is inevitable in both instances. Whether it is because one studies a great deal or evolves their pet. An increase in value or worth is expected, though more likely I think it is hoped for, which is a bit too optimistic for my taste. I object to the pressures of moving forward.
Once, I was told a unique definition of introversion. To be an introvert was not conditional on an internal or external quota of stimulation. Rather, it was that introverts had a tendency to choose not to do as the majority. Not for spite, or in competition, but by their very nature, they seek to not be a part of the masses. This interpretation resonates with me because it bespeaks an awareness of the collective mindset, and choosing to not meet it, of not living up to standards or expectations, consciously, contrastingly. I may be romanticizing it a little, because I imagine the defiant pencil marks of the introvert writing “being alive” in the occupation box of their tax forms. This introversion understands that the future is a concept, and is not insurable.
So then, what is a human to do? It is not getting an education I have a problem with; schools are a great tool. I have grief with time. An oft-used phrase told to children is that when they are older they will understand. Until then, go to school, play nice with others, don’t throw stones at stray cats, tie your shoes, wash your hands, and do as you are told. As children we are taught how to survive, which can be taken as being taught how to feed ourselves and clothe ourselves and bathe. But it also means how to meet expectations. It is my opinion that survival is structured to support the future more than the present. Time, then, is what we have given children, young adults, mature adults, the golden girls—time to get ready for whatever is ahead. These notions are all too forward-thinking for my taste. What value is there in a future me, if the expense is my value in the present?
First, in order to set about this Rube Goldberg soiree of my interpretations of Survival, Living, Comprehension, Human Expression, time, the present, supplements and Humanity, know that my argument will be altogether vague. Second, know that this vagueness is intentional. My thesis begins with Survival and Living as the two slices of bread for a peanut butter and jam sandwich. Stuck together, but also keeping our experiences of reality all together. I am partial to honey peanut butter and strawberry jam, which for this example equate to Human Expression, Comprehension and Humanity. These are things we add to the bread, they are complementary, and taste better when they are all together. Exchange any variety of wheat for the bread, choose crunchy peanut butter if you will, because supplementing is all about the ability to add. Humans are great at supplementing. For instance, we have toe socks, earflap hats, an optimistic attitude, an ego, a lake house, insurance, a graduate degree. Everything is a supplement, because everything is comprehended in a human frame of mind. Everything that is, is because of human comprehension and understanding, which includes all thoughts and experiences, whether they be sensual or theoretical, of everything from green grass to toaster ovens.
Taking my cue from the introversion definition I find so appealing, I claim that to be human is to be a paradox. We are always a juxtaposition of sides, thoughts, and feelings, which are a part of the Human Expressions. We are not any one thing, at any one time, though a great deal of how we experience our reality would not lead us to believe that. Our comprehension of reality is linear. We experience seconds, minutes, days, years. Yesterdays are followed by tomorrow. All of our thoughts and supplements sit next to one another. My identity is as distinct as a no trespassing sign is from my old running shoes. I experience this separation because I have been indoctrinated on how to Survive.
Had Douglas Adams asked my opinion on the matter of the ultimate question of Life, the Universe and Everything, the books would not have been so funny. I would have suggested: why are we so different from the universe? Arthur Dent got it right: the universe does not make sense to us. Physics informs us that space is not populated with things; space is everything without beginnings or endings. Time happens all at once, not in a line. We do not parallel the universe; we do not even complement one another.
I do not mean to suggest we should set our sights on trying to be more like the universe; that is another goal, a future. No, I mean to give a non-traditional, oh so introverted thesis. Survival and Living form a timeline of the past, present, and future. The Human Expressions, Comprehension and Humanity are the peanut butter and jam filling in the sandwich, the supplements that make being alive taste better.
So that we can be on the same page, let me begin with the qualities of the ideas I want to discuss.
Survival is the acceptance of meaning.
Living is the interpretation of meaning.
The substance of these ideas is a bit more layered.
Survival is built from four basic needs, three you are quite familiar with—food, water and shelter. To this, I add Comfort. Comfort is the human component of Survival that allows us to propose, accept, and expect progression. It is a frame of mind, not a product. Comfort aids the production of supplements because Comfort is utilitarian. Human Expressions are the supplements, which are each and everyone abstract, and under the control of human Comprehension. Comprehension is understanding meaning, and in order to Survive, meaning must be accepted. The Human Expressions, and Comprehension rely on Comfort, because it is easier and useful to do so. People accept the supplements because it is comfortable, and Comfort allows people to move forward.
Time is a powerful product of Comfort. Beginnings and endings do not just happen inside of chapter books. I begin the day with coffee and end the day when I change into my pajamas. These actions sound like a routine, but they are also the expectation of the cup of coffee in the morning and the excitement of changing into comfortable pajamas. I understand routine as a debt to the future, a place I want to get to at certain and specified times. My grief is not in the abstract notion of seconds. Rather it is in the conflation of meaning and value.
Supplements have meaning that is accepted by the majority, and therefore the majority expect to progress with those supplements into the future. I experience progress, I gain an education for instance, which is meaningful, but only I determine if it is valuable. I can Survive in a meaningful way, because I have a future built from my past. But I have to apply value to the way I Live in the present. My grief comes from the confusion of wanting value, but receiving meaning.
Living is not the opposite of Survival, but it is the addition to Survival. Humans live in the present, and interpretation of meaning occurs in the present. The interpretation of meaning is a responsibility. In accepting the prescribed societal manual of Survival we do not forgo our ability to interpret how our Comprehension and Human Expressions affect us as humans. The ownership of Comprehension and the Human Expressions means we have Humanity. We become introverts who step inside and outside of the frame of Comfort. All of the components of being human—Survival, Living and Humanity—embrace structure as much as diversity, and understand meaning is concrete as well as open-ended.
People realized a long time ago that survival was outside of their control. In order to survive people need food, water and shelter. It is how surviving works on Earth. The first thing people did to address survival was problem-solving. The question: How do we survive? The answer: get what is necessary: apples, water, clothing etc. Next question: Now that we know we can get what we need, what is the easiest way to get the things we need? This question creates a trajectory for thoughts and for the inevitable answers. I have a problem with survival being framed as a problem. Frames are exclusive. The choice to problem-solve for the easiest answer brought about the human dominion that is Earth, the world, and all thought. It made Comfort the fourth basic need. The problem is that surviving became how to Survive: the manual—expected, articulated, regulated, mandated, controlled. Question: How do we survive? Answer: live in a suburb of a metropolitan area, go to school, go to college, get a job, start a family, mow your lawn, fold your laundry, celebrate your Independence Day, vote, read the newspaper, eat balanced meals, drink lots of water and have insurance.
The goal is controlling survival. Surviving is understood to be a problem. Problems expect answers, need answers. I believe people problem-solve because we need to supplement our experience of reality. Problem-solving is the beginning of Comprehension. When we accept what we comprehend we can then move forward, onto the next supplement. Humans like to supplement their progress in order to give our experience of reality meaning.
Think of the question: how do we survive? You know the answers now. What about the questions, why do we survive, or where do we survive, or what do we do to survive. The answer changes depending on how the question is asked. For instance, brunch is only served from 11 to 2 on Saturday and Sunday, but you can eat breakfast all day at a Waffle House. How you frame the experience changes the experience. Comfort is that frame. The frame is the reason we have favorite colors, favorite places to vacation, not-so-favorite meals or unlucky underwear. It is this usefulness of labeling and defining, this ease, that is the comfiest of blankest wrapping us, containing us. It is not just an illusion; it is an ideology, ingrained and perpetuated. These supplements that make Survival easier are Human Expressions. The products of Survival, of Comfort, are always these additions. We have non-slip socks, rap, art history, the spinning plate in the microwave, capitalism, nihilism, Dada, battleship—the big boat and the game, Hellenistic sculpture, the striped shirts gondoliers wear, free will, beauty, the sublime, truth, reality, ugliness, camping in the Shenandoah Valley, pyramid schemes, blockbusters, pirates, doctors, fantasy, magic, science fiction, historical fiction, poetry, jack-o-lanterns, genius, insight, gut feelings, intuition, driveways, white picket fences, physics, economics, democracy, and infinity, to name a few examples. We are great at supplementing. Supplements are useful impositions of control and abstraction. Abstraction and control are the basis of meaning. Supplements have meaning because in the past we accepted them, and we expect them to exist in the future.
Abstractions are bridges that shorten the divide between ideas, concepts, the senses, etc. For instance, the quality of a bird, its freedom, can be abstracted and brought to an immobile wooden sculpture, as in the Senufo cultures’ totems. The form is given meaning based upon specific qualities, whether they be its appearance, the people who made it, or the mood of the art historian lecturing. This meaning is accepted, because in order for the object to survive, it expects the future to be a place where people will continue abstracting ideas. Survival does not need the present to be a place; it does not rely on the present, but references the past instead.
We learn from our past. We look forward to the day our dreams come true. These abstract ideas of the past and future are generalizations, just like the definition of “dog” in the dictionary. But generalizations are useful. We have to accept these abstractions of our experience. Otherwise we’d be stuck, not because we’d be without goals or identities, but because the past and future would not exist. Like everything else, the past and future only exist because humans invented these concepts, then accepted them, and used them. Comfort gives us utilitarian things like an education, an identity, forks in Chinese restaurants. This absurd ability to accept meaning gave us time, the great and powerful. It also sealed us inside what we can comprehend, made it into a frame that one can simply hold up, and narrow their experiences into a single perspective. This is how we insure Comfort, by defining a feeling or an event in order to comprehend it, and accepting its meaning, allowing us to move forward.
Living is not an escape from the frame, but when you are Living you can interpret the frame, in your present. The responsibility of being a human with Humanity occurs in the present. Humanity is a knowing-ness, an awareness, acceptance, and interpretation of Survival and Living, that only occurs in the present. Humanity is wearing the blanket of Comfort because your job helps you afford your loans and the WiFi bill, but it is also seeing yourself wearing the blanket, seeing how it makes you fit into the definition of a recent graduate making it in the “real world.” You know you are not only that blanket-wearing definition. You have a present that isn’t insured or defined, but is incomprehensible. Experiencing reality in the present is comfortable, and uncomfortable, definable yet uninsurable. Fortunately, I am an idealist, and I think we as humans are capable of more than just Surviving and Living, I believe we are responsible enough to acknowledge our Humanity.
Being a human has a vagueness, not just because people change, but because people make choices, decisions based upon all those things we imbue with meaning. We choose to accept the meaning in order to build from it. We choose to change the meaning of things we have accepted. Meaning makes the world acceptable, comprehensible. That is useful. That is comfortable. My existentialist ego is responsible for this desire to make my experience make sense, for there to be a reason, concrete and actual, that I can point to, and at least get some manner of relief. Yet, no matter the skills I gain, the lessons I learn, the experiences I have, there is never enough to prepare me for the shocks of reality. Perhaps, I’m better at not living up to expectations than I thought, after all this essay has been a case in point for just how uncomfortable being a human is. My expectations for a comfortable future are at odds with my experience of reality.
When I was in undergrad taking a literature class the professor told me what the white whale meant, and astronomy explained why chlorophyll responds to green light from the visual spectrum. There were answers, provided by teachers or by books. These answers were printed and authoritative. I believed that you went into a classroom as a student, and you exited as a person with new skills, and that was enough. That was the trade, value and worth gained, at the exchange rate of lack of sleep and some hours in a writing center. But learning is not just in the shape of a classroom, a desk, a teacher behind the podium. The shape of learning is also the conversations I have with people, the language of the books I read, my own thought experiments, the news I overhear, my reactions to my society, and this essay. These are what I imbue with value.
Once, I felt peace standing in a yard, watching a dog go about its business, with the sun setting before me. The street was quiet, and the air was clear. It was just a day, like any other, but to me it had more value because I felt peace. Conversations that happen with good friends who listen, and share their thoughts, also have value for me. Applying value is the thing I do. Just me. This kind of value has nothing to do with the fancy features in my vehicle or my G.P.A.. Value is applied from somewhere only I know, because it is for me. Value is in the present. The present is made up of the things you cannot hold onto. Like the clearest water, you cannot catch it with your hands, and expect it to stay there. Living with Humanity is paradoxical because of the conflict of meaning enforced by the manual of Survival, and the unique individuality of value.
Meaning is in the past and future, and it has this useful quality of sticking. We need it to Survive. We apply meaning to words, or dogs, or sunsets, or bank accounts. Meaning begins and ends. It is strict, and not introverted, it is aligned with the collective mindset, but it is useful, very useful. It makes me comfortable to know I have what other people have—family, friends, a job, a car that takes me places. I have a meaningful life. I’ve reached those Surviving goals, check marked, completed, no looking back, onto the next one, my graduate degree. I’m working my way through the manual of Survival. A lot of these things mean the same to me as they do to others. Grey areas are possible, but, in general, vehicles that don’t constantly break down are favorable to all.
I want to end this on a positive note. Survival is the acceptance of meaning and the hope for progress. Survival is a quest to fulfill lifelong endeavors. Living is the responsibility of interpreting meaning in the present, and choosing to apply value because of the awareness of the manual of Survival. Survival and Living are both necessary. Their separation is described in order to encourage the reader to look at their experiences in an introverted, and individualistic manner. For instance, I identify with the discipline of art history. It is a practice, a process, a Human Expression with all the nuance of being human wrapped up inside.
Time, place, object, artist, culture, and world history exist as points along a timeline that art historians can move about in order to form an argument about whatever it is they feel so inclined to articulate. This type of authority used to bother me, because I misunderstood the processes of art historians. It took me many months to identify why the multitude of lenses that art historians use when they speak of an artist, their art, or the Zeitgeist, was useful as well as inspiring.
Art history builds a timeline that structures and orders the plurality of ideas, objects, artists, and the arguments about those ideas, objects and artists. This organization on a timeline makes the objects, artist, and ideas more readily comprehensible, easier to understand. Art history depends on the past, present, and future to be places that connect with other places, people, ideas, and cultures. Timelines are a convenient organizing tool, and it is this convenience that allows art historians to have a measurable amount of authority. A timeline allows there to be the perception of the possibility of the achievement of the goal of summarizing the “big” picture. This perception consists of the idea that somewhere in the future enough art historians would have written enough academic papers to reveal the final whole “big” picture. But being complete is an impossibility and a generalization because the idea of completion accepts that there is nothing else that could add value or meaning.
Art history appropriates ways—lenses—to view, speak of, or understand artwork from philosophy, literature, psychology, society, public taste, and the democratic majority. Anything goes if it can be argued articulately. Lenses reflect the plurality of people’s thoughts. To me this is an awareness and honesty of the nuance, of the give and take of authority. It is the understanding that there are no correct answers, just opinions that can be produced and shared in an academic manner so that people can accept them, or not. It’s a skill to make an argument that people want to accept. Art historians know that when there theory is read, it does not become the whole or only truth. Art history uses lenses as a way to see all the various types of value, suggesting that value is not so much fleeting as it is varied, malleable, or personal.
Art, both its reification, and itself as a concept, are outside of the frame. Art, through the artist, the vehicle, views the Zeitgeist from a vantage point, and responds to the Zeitgeist. The creation of art is a reaction to the present. Art and its ancillaries retain their Humanity. They are nuanced, and layered, as are people. So art history really can never write enough to explain the artwork. Just as the work of the art historians will never cease, so too will the supplements of Survival keep people moving forward. The “big picture” cannot be revealed in the future because it isn’t waiting to be discovered. The picture keeps changing and growing, because of the plurality of people existing, because of the art historians sharing their experiences with their readers. There is no universal frame of Comfort, because we can’t comprehend the universe any other way than our own human way. Expanding our interpretation of the frame of Comfort, and being aware of our individual experiences of reality is a wholly human life-long endeavor.
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As of 9/3/18
Survival is food, water, shelter and supplement => Acquiring Life
The supplements of survival increase its ease. Supplements include, enjoying (or not) food, water and shelter, Ego, Personality, Age, Experience, Education etc.
People supplement themselves, they acquire life.
A way to insure the ease of survival is to build systems. Many of which function around an exchange of credentials.
The control of loss is built into systems.
Fear of loss is a human condition.
Systems delineate limits.
Beginning, middle, end when it concerns time. Elementary school, middle school, high school and College when it is Education. Worker, Supervisor, Manager, Owner when it is Business. All these differences and limits manage the fear of loss and enforce the credential standards in systems.
Humans cannot fathom infinity.
Humans have basic needs. These are the first limits a human has. To survive they must be fulfilled, they prove a human is not in control of their individual body.
How we survive is not in our control. Food, water, shelter are the base needs that must be met. Humans problem solve to attain these needs and to do it well they form groups. Survival made easy is the goal of systems.
Whether we survive can be in our control. Are we trying to solve the problem of survival? If the result of a lack of control is to work around the constraint, then is the goal of humanity to resolve the basic needs to survive?
How this relates to Art:
Systems are everything that humans build. All man-made things from sliced bread to the optimistic personality.
Man-made things are a type of representation.
Just as the visual, the literal and material can be representations.
Rightness and wrongness are man-made things. People add them (from an off-site source) to anything from words to prey vs predator natural theory.
Things are only representable if they can be interpreted.
Interpretation is the result of stimulation of the senses which are interpreted by the human mind. The human mind has ingrained systems (ideology) just as coffee has brands.
Free-Interpretation does not exist.
Interpretation is a man-made thing and happens in the present.