Why I BLOG – Socrates, Nozick, The Kotzker Rebbe, and Ayn Rand’s 108th Birthday

Posted: February 2, 2013 in Because I love Judaism I can never be a pure rationalist, My moral code
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Not long ago, this BLOG was just my way of being me. I wrote for myself; in large part because I wanted to keep my “chops” polished. A few people per day would find their way here and that was just fine. I said what was on my mind and that was the end of it.

But one week ago, my dear friend Emily Gottfried passed away. My essay in  memory of Emily drew over 1200 people to this little space of mine; and more than one of them has asked me why I write a BLOG. It’s not about a single subject. It’s not about a single viewpoint. It’s not about a particular political philosophy. So, what the hell is it and why do I write it? I think it’s only fair that I try to answer the question – so I will.

Emily used to say, about my BLOG and Facebook page, and Twitter feed that “Steve is just a completely open book“. I think she’s basically right. But, it’s not because I think anyone really cares about what I do and think every day. I’m not arrogant enough to think that. I’d say it’s because, while lacking in arrogance, I do have high enough self-esteem (thank you Nathaniel Branden) to think that sharing my struggles might some day be helpful to others. So, yes Emily, I am an open book.

Among the most well-known and over-used phrases we see today is the ancient saying of Socrates: “An unexamined life is not worth living“. I’ve heard that for my entire life but until a few years ago it never fully sunk in.

In the past couple decades I’ve lost several dear friends. Emily Gottfried is the latest. But before her was my best friend in Oregon, Pablo Esteve; my co-worker, Bruce McPherran; my college mentor, friend, and one of the people I most admired in the universe, Stephen Lucky Mosko; Lucky’s wife and my college friend Dorothy Stone; and several others who were all far too young to die. This brought me to terms with the importance of living ones’ life purposefully.

After having read some very technical works of philosophy by Robert Nozick (yes, he too died young), I happened upon his book: “The Examined Life“. In it were “meditations” on everything from parenting, to sexuality, to the nature of faith, to the Holocaust. That is when I got the idea to write this BLOG. Not because I’m the genius that Nozick was; but, because I saw value to how Nozick thought and then synthesized an eclectic blend of thinking into an examination of a personal life. So, I decided to pursue an examined life through writing publically.

In essence, this BLOG is really about one question:  Why is an actively practicing Reform Jew who reads Roland Barthes, was initiated into Kriya Yoga, and watches Antonioni  films a fan of Ayn Rand, Objectivism, and Libertarianism?

Well… I am awash in inconsistencies. So, I might as well share the struggle!

Nathaniel Branden told me that trying to keep living with my contradictory views would just make me unhappy. In many ways, he was right. But, wrestling with my conflicts also seems (to me) to make for a very rich life. It would be nice if I could just pick a belief system, like Objectivism or Christianity, or Judaism, or Shinto, and then live my life happily ever after. But, for better or for worse, I can’t (or won’t).

From Rand I get my belief in the importance of striving to be the best you can be. taking responsibility for yourself and valuing your own life; and my belief in the fundamental importance of living rationally using the mind that is uniquely human. From Judaism I get validation that the fulfillment I get from fighting discrimination, working for peace, speaking out against genocide, and standing up for human rights, is a real, viable way to be edified. Those are 2 conflicting systems but I gain from them both. Rand would surely have none of it; nor, probably would the Bal Shem Tov and the Kotzker Rebbe. But, too bad… I am who I am.

I’m not sure I could ever say, in good conscience, that an unexamined life is not worth living because, each in its own way, every life is precious. Yet, for me, living an examined life makes the life I lead richer and more fulfilling. If you get a little entertainment, or someday something I’ve said helps you in your own life struggles, all I can say is thanks for riding along!

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