Is all of life banal? Me thinks it’s justified to ask so, as the non-banality is nowhere obvious at first glance. To find it, one should define it. I propose here the following definitions:

Each situation defines one or some actions as appropriate (or: wise, adequate, necessary, essential) answers to the situation. To act non-banally means to do this resp. one of these. To act banally means to do something different. So banal actions are those which miss the point, are secondary, are irrelevant.

It follows from this that actions are not banal, but tuples of situation and action are. For example: to party is mostly banal where one faces a significant relationship problem, but is non-banal where one realizes God’s blessings and wants to express one’s gratitude and joy. Another example: all of life is banal where one does something different from the purpose of living, which is, in my view, to live life in loving communion with God.

Some more observations. Equating appropriateness and non-banality serves an interesting understanding of some bible passages. Look here:

“(5) Behave wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of your time. (6) Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.” [Col 4:5-6 ISV]

Wise is, as stated above, a synonym for “non-banal”. Because there is limited time, we need to act appropriately to the sad condition of the world we found it in. Which includes especially to live appropriately (i.e. inviting) in relation to those who are not yet Christians. And not to spend all of our life on private affairs, i.e. on a banal life, on irrlevevant activity in the context of a lost world. Note also that one’s action are limited by the available possibilities: one does not act banally if one does not help where one cannot. So banality is probably better determined by a triple (requirement,possibility,action), in this way: the difference between possibility and action, not between requirement and action, is a measure for banality.

“(29) This is what I mean, brothers: The time has been shortened. From now on, those who have wives should live as though they had none, (30) and those who mourn as though they did not mourn, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they did not own a thing, (31) and those who use the things in the world as though they were not dependent on them. For the world in its present form is passing away. (32) I want you to be free from concerns. An unmarried man is concerned about the affairs of the Lord, that is, about how he can please the Lord. (33) But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world, that is, about how he can please his wife, (34) and so his attention is divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the affairs of the Lord, so that she may be holy in body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world, that is, about how she can please her husband. (35) I’m saying this for your benefit, not to put a noose around your necks, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord.” [I Cor 7:29-35 ISV]

Not that crying or rejoicing (both about worldly things), buying, using technology or marrying is a bad idea, or should or even could be really avoided. But living for one’s private worldly affairs only while there is so much important stuff available is simply banal. Important stuff includes one’s relationship to God, personal sanctification and a missional lifestyle (for the latter, that was the point in Col 4:5-6).

Date: 2007-08-19

Last meaningful change: 2007-08-21

Just a quick thought here: perhaps you know that the Jesus Freaks (German readers: better use Jesus Freaks at German Wikipedia) use Coca Cola and chips for the Lord’s supper. I once saw a video clip where one of them stood before a “church meeting” room in Hamburg, stating that they were going to hold the Lord’s supper with these, holdig up coke and chips, and saying: And why? Because Jesus back then used what was around; and so do we.
Today I stumbled across a Jesus Freak’s lively description how this feels in practice. Read it here (yet only in German, sorry):

“Spät abends wollte Anni und ich dann noch Abendmahl feiern, wir saßen dann außen allein und Anni schenkte uns Cola ein. Ich Hab nach etwas eßbarem gesucht und stellte fest, das wir noch Tost hatten von Caroline. Also aß ich den Belag und teilte das Brot doch leider mußte ich feststellen, das auf dem Brot Majo war. Es paßte nicht in unsere Selbsthilfe Gruppe und wir konnten es nicht mit unserem Gewissen Vereinbaren, da es sonst Heuchelei gewesen währe. Also aßen wir das Brot so ohne Abendmahl. Wir mußten die ganze Zeit lachen. Es war richtig schön.” (from Eulchen’s blog post “WE in Bad Brückenau”)

This makes it quite clear, doesn’t it? The freak style Lord’s supper to me is no expression of lacking reverence, as they are sensitive to conscience etc.. But it is (at least here) an expression of a remarkable desire to think about what Jesus did for us. Due to this desire, some improvisation becomes nesessary: using what’s around, in this case coke and toast. Are you with me here?

Date: 2007-08-20
Last meaningful change: 2007-08-20

The hedonic treadmill

Here is the basic assertion of our economy: the needs of human beings are infinite (… but the means to fulfill them are finite, so we have to be economical). Infinite needs are surely observable, but what’s the reason behind? From an evolutionist perspective it looks like this:

“And there are more anthropological constants: our emotional self-model makes it possible to consciously feel ourselves. It drives us forward in the steady attempt to feel good, to find emotional stability, protection and security. We are biological systems which are damned to search for happiness, which must try to feel as good as possible. But unfortunately, the reward system in our brain and our emotional self-model allow no stable kind of feeling good.

Admitted that especially the conscious self-models brought experiencing joy and happiness into the physical universe – to a place where these did not exist before. But psychological evolution did not optimize us for permanent happiness. On the contrary: it put us on the “hedonic treadmill“, which is driven by the permanent attempt to experience happiness and joy and to avoid pain and depression. But we also are kept in permanent motion: the hedonic treadmill – concretely the reward system in our brain – is the engine which mother nature built into us. We might discover its structure in ourselves, but it is unclear if we can ever get out of this treadmill. In some sense we are this structure. The Ego is the hedonic treadmill.”

[Thomas Metzinger: Der Preis der Selbsterkenntnis; in: Gehirn und Geist; 7-8/2006; S. 46; original in German; emphasis per original; hyperlink added to original]

We’re not interested in evolution here but in happiness: this guy thinks, permanent happiness cannot be found because the steady longing for happiness is the engine that drives all the people in this world with their lifestyle and “great achievements”. (By the way, if you need to know what’s a treadmill … .) It’s not that we want to live the way we do, but we’re driven by the search for happiness. And it’s not that we want to create, build, achieve something, but we’re again driven. Surely one finds the “hedonic treadmill” idea inspired and confirmed by so many experiences of private and public life.

Now, should we feel happy about working constantly (on “improving” circumstances) just to retain our level of happiness? That’s what the hedonic treadmill means. Up to a reasonable level of life quaity, the treadmill does a good job: it allows to feel happy while working on necessary improvements, i.e. to feel happier than “allowable” with respect to the amount of work done. And it enables humans to gain dominance over the rest of nature, which is not equipped with this treadmill thing. But after our basic needs are met, the treadmill thing should stop, and allow to do further improvements as creative freetime work, just for the fun of it, and just if one wishes to do so. But it does never stop, it has gone mad. It drives people further and further, stressing them with a desperate need for more happiness, for absolute happiness. But this need is never fulfilled, as it is not the idea behind the hedonic treadmill to produce this (but instead, to give motivation and reward while working on necessary improvements; any other use of the mechanism is actually abuse of this biological system).

Just, people seem not to realize this wrong direction of their search. They naively extrapolate that the “inner reward” they receive when reaching goals will be proportional to the goal reached, so try to reach goals that high that the reward remains for the rest of their life. Instead, the reward mechanism has a built-in fade-away mechanis, so that they can never stop to work though objectively possible after the basic needs have been met. It’s like having a job where one gets money only when beating one’s own record from yesterday … and that’s surely not happiness. Let’s envy the animals, which don’t have this treadmill thing and are happy without working for something beyond their basic needs. Where’s the way out?

Jesus about the hedonic treadmill

Me thinks that Jesus talks about the treadmill thing here:

“(24) ‘No man can work for two masters. He will hate one and love the other. Or he will obey one and despise the other. You cannot work for both God and money. (25) ‘So, I tell you this. Do not be troubled about what you will eat or drink to keep alive. Do not be troubled about what you will wear on your body. Life itself is worth more than food, and the body is worth more than clothes. (26) ‘Look at the birds that fly in the air. They do not plant or cut or keep any food. Yet your Father in heaven feeds them. Are you not worth more than birds? (27) Can any one of you live any longer by troubling yourself about these things? (28) And why are you troubled about clothes? See how the flowers grow in the fields. They do not work or make cloth. (29) I tell you, King Solomon was a great man. But he was not dressed as fine as one of these flowers. (30) God dresses the grass in the fields so it looks nice. It is in the field one day and the next day it is put on the fire. If God dresses the grass like that, he cares much more that you have clothes to wear. You do not believe in God very much! (31) ‘So then, do not keep asking, “What shall we eat?” “What shall we drink?” and “What shall we wear?” (32) It is the people who do not believe in God who work for all these things. Your Father in heaven knows that you need them all. (33) ‘Work first for God’s kingdom and what he calls good. Then you will have all these things also. (34) ‘So do not be troubling yourself about tomorrow. Tomorrow will have its own trouble. Today’s trouble is enough for today.’” [Matthew 24:24-34 BWE]

As an experiment, I interpret Jesus’ words here as pragmatical verbalization, i.e. immediately do-able. Then, I suppose the theoretical background is this: Jesus does not promise riches to those who “work first for the kingdom of God”. He talks about not searching our happiness in material things like luxurious meals and fine clothing, as this results in the unnecessary activity produced by the hedonic treadmill after the basic needs are met. Working for the basic needs is oll korrect, but serving materialism like a slave on a (hedonic) treadmill is not [Matthew 24:24 BWE]. Me thinks, Jesus even teaches that fulfillment of the basic needs is possible without conscious effort, i.e. we won’t realize this as a fatigue [Matthew 24:26,28,30 BWE]. Why do you reduce life to material stuff by caring for material stuff all your life? Realize that life is more than food (or other material stuff), as Jesus said [Matthew 24:25 BWE].

But staying away from the hedonic treadmill does not provide what you searched on it. So where to find permanent happiness? Let’s look closer at the following verse: “Work first for God’s kingdom and what he calls good. Then you will have all these things also.” [Matthew 24:33 BWE]. I think that this means primarily: “[…] then you will have happiness in the material world also, the very thing you searched when serving money, the very thing you searched on the hedonic treadmill”. In my view, it cannot mean that God will add all the clothes and riches of Solomon as immediate gifts, as e.g. Paul did not experience this (we will look at this below). But the need for happiness is fulfilled, and that is the thing searched for. And how or when is this need fulfilled? When one is “first […] concerned about God’s kingdom and his righteousness” [Matthew 24:33 ISV]. This is exactly what (who …) we need for our materially unfulfilled need: God. A relationship to God, where one experiences God’s love for humans and expresses love for God by a straight life according to his will. And how exactly does a relationship with God make us permanently happy? Lets o further …

The autarky escape

I stumbled over Paul’s approach to happy practical living, which is quite interesting. He seems to have internalized what Jesus said about sorrows (see above). Let’s read what he writes:

“(10) The Lord made me very happy to know that you were thinking about me again. Yes, I know you were thinking of me before, but you had no way to help me. (11) I do not mean that I needed it. I have learned to be satisfied with what I have. I am happy with whatever happens to me. (12) I know how to live when I am poor, and I know how to live when I am rich. No matter how things are, I have learned how to live: when I have plenty of food, or when I am hungry; when I have more things than I need, and when I do not have enough. (13) I can do all things because Christ gives me strength.” [Philippians 4:10-13 BWE]

You might want to read the wider context: Philippians 4:10-19 BWE. (And if you clicked the references and arrived at verse 9: these references are correct but the verse scheme at crosswire.org is shifted by mistake.) In Greek, Paul states that he learned to be satisfied whith what he has like this:

“ουχ οτι καθ υστερησιν λεγω εγω γαρ εμαθον εν οις ειμι αυταρκης ειναι” [Philippians 4:11 TR]

A word-by-word translation would be like “Not that with respect to want I say this; because I learned, in whatsoever I am, to be content.”. The word translated “content” is “αυταρκης” (transliterates “autarkes”). It comes from “αυτος” (autos), meaning “self”, and “αρκεω” (arkeo), meaning “to be sufficient”, “to be enough”, or literally “to ward off”. So together it means “self-sufficient”, and indeed this is where the word “autarky” comes from.

Perhaps Paul would accept the following variations to describe his condition:

  • I am self-sufficient, which means that my happiness depends on what is in myself rather than on what comes to myself from the outer circumstances. And in myself is Christ with his strength, resp. my relationship to him which does not depend on material circumstances.
  • I have learned that the material world with all its lack and abundance will vanish, but I know and experienced what is eternal: God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and my company with them. See also what I wrote in I Corinthians 7:29-31 BWE.
  • I have learned how to deal with every situation. Which means, there was a time when I was not able to be happy instead of poverty and instead of richness, but I was trained to be.
  • I am content within every situation. This does not mean that I would be content if there’d be nothing at all and I’d be starving to death. Instead, God knows what I need, and supplies this for me. Some people will be surprised that God does not prevent me from bing poor at times, but I’m no longer surprised. Because what we call poverty also is a situation that has enough good things in it to be content with. I had to learn to see and use these goods and I did learn it.
  • God’s supply means I’ll never enter a situation where there objectively is less than I need (not: wish) to be content with.
  • The key is to basically think the present situation to be worth living (at least potentially or latently). With this premise, one will care about adapting, furnishing and customizing the situation, according to one’s abilities, and indeed arrive at something worth living. This is a situation of “conformance with one’s goals and wishes”, which is the very definition of happiness. If one instead wishes to escape the whole situation, one tries something beyond one’s abilities, which means that one’s practical life is no longer in conformance with one’s goals and wishes, which means unhappiness.

Paul that that he had to learn to be happy in all situations. Which means one has to know some things and get some training to do so. What, for example, does one have to learn to be content in poverty?

  • Create no plans how to escape from your present situation. You’d just see them fail (and get frustrated) because poverty means you have not the resources to escape.
  • Take good care to discover all the available resources and beneficient peculiarities of your situation, and use these with a creative mind to their fullest.
  • Wish just what you can achieve with the present resources, and think carefully about what can be achieved with the present resources. This is plenty of stuff, as “best things in life are free”.
  • Await a change of the situation from the outside, i.e. look out for open doors to walk through. That is, use very moderate force to search for open doors, but do not try with full force to break doors open. You wouldn’t succeed or would choose the wrong door, and you would get stressed and exhausted, anything far from being happy.

To-do’s

  • Important: Paul talks only about the missing correlation between his money and his happiness; in this context “I am happy with whatever happens to me.” (Phil 4:11 BWE) does not mean “really all” as this would consequently say that Paul would be happy in hell as well. So one should not blindly extrapolatethese words to friends and social needs as well.
  • Did Paul expect a change of his poor situation? Perhaps it was really really equal to him (Phil 4:10-11)?
  • Verbalize the insights here as the difference between top-down life (the idealistic approach that comes from (thinking about) the ideal) and bottom-up life (the pragmatic approach to the ideal).
  • Add examples how the “hedonic treadmill” idea is confirmed by life’s experiences (par. 5): “While private life is private, we might look at some publicly visible persons: […]”, then insert here 5-10 stories of tragic persons of public life who searched for money, love and might.

Date: 2007-08-14
Last meaningful change: 2007-08-19

Christians seem to be well-accepted on practical grounds while their faith is ignored. Theres nothing bad and no harm they do to others; they do good things; they are honest; they work diligently. Sadly, all this does not make many people think about their destiny … instead, people are tempted to exploit the goodwill of Christians. How to be different? How to live in a way that questions people’s whole system of values and beliefs, that shakes their world?
The market economy exchanged efficiency for convenience. It is convenient that the market controls itself and no (possibly currupt) central control organization needs to be in place. It is inconvenient to control such a big thing as a national (or world) economy. However, central linear organization (i.e. upfront full task decomposition) and the uncontrolled market are not the only alternatives. To make the market efficient, we need not remove the “supply and demand” control principle but the cases where people try to play a trick to it: advertising of bad quality, selling mainly style instead of products, getting a monopol etc.. Wherefore the following could be a good tool: a central (national) register for supply and demand; each unfulfilled need can be registered here, and people are allowed to become suppliers if their business idea matches unfulfilled need. Additionally, suppliers can be forced to move their business focus if there is over-supply. This removes the inefficiency that comes from rivalry: what efficiency is in the doom of an enterprise, when all its fine-tuned infrastructure is ripped apart and sold below value at an compulsory auction? The whole (the organization thing) was so much more than the sum of its parts …

concrete

kitten, fridge, crete
deepest sender, bus, green grey
flower outside, freakstock
Heimatmuseum Wißmar
wood, dike briving

abstract

be deep
imagine the ideal
find the common principle
recognize what’s wrong
think about your creator
publish your inventions
determine the probability that the simplest possible von Neumann machine (“life”) is a coincidence to be 1E40.000

but see: I’m here for Love’s sake

“God loved the world so very, very much that he gave his only Son. Because he did that, everyone who believes in him will not lose his life, but will live for ever.” (John 3:16 BWE)

“We love others because God first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

Today it came to my mind to publish a list of my inventions (some inventions from friends are included as well). This list was never published before. It will illustrate that inventing solutions and other needless technical stuff is one of my strange spare-time interests. Sad for most of you: this list is written in German. Anyway, have fun with it … you will find many really funny things in there, welcome to laugh 🙂 Just, post some comments here what you did with this list, o.k.?

You’ll let me boast somewhat in this post, ok? … umh, I mean, here are some facts about it:

  • 1364 inventions
  • 149 pages A4 at 10pt variable width font
  • 11109 lines of text
  • 8,5 and more years of searching problems and solutions
  • includes the valuable contributions of various friends … thanx, guys
  • original, yet completely unpublished material
  • had no commercial impact yet

And here it goes: you find the document in its latest version on my Personal: Publications page.