Self-confidence

Because of all the wonderful and extraordinary selves that are currently on display if you are bored enough to browse the Internet, it is easy to misconstrue the nature of self-confidence. Our Internet heroes have grandiose that make them seem independent. The veil of their staged independence is paper-thin, but no-one cares to lift it lest they spoil the entertainment.

Of course, selves only have any meaning in relation to other selves. Self-confidence only emerges, as a comfortable emotion or as a painful lack, when there is more than one self involved. A lone survivor of a plane crash can be described as ‘courageous’ and ‘confident’ but this is a translation back into the language we are familiar with. Sure, the wilderness survivor trusts himself, relies on himself. When he stares in the eyes of a beast, he might feel fear or blood lust, but these emotions are to be distinguished from self-confidence, for the simple reason there is no self involved.

The abstract and shared concepts that are the unique accomplishment of our species, are of no use against a furry nonverbal opponent. It would most likely be a fatal distraction from the bloody reality of claws and jaws. In our society on the other hand, navigating the delicate web of power relations is what enables us to firmly position ourselves within that web. In other words: we develop our selves as we are situated in power relations with our fellow humans. In puberty, we discover the boundaries of our parents and peers, and develop certain expectations we adjust our behavior to. These expectations enable us to ponder power relations before they occur.

We know that we can deal with the expectations we have of each other in a different way than we would with expectations of natural events. If I know it is going to rain, my self-confidence would only warm up my brain and waste precious energy. When in human company, however, I can use language games and thereby avoid physical violence. I can put into words which position in the web of power that our social fabric is I deem fittest for my own survival. And if I do so, I become aware of the relations between me and the others. I will say only that the self is fundamentally relational. My intention is to share a modest observation, not a conclusive philosophical tractate on some alleged ‘nature’ of the self.

When the self is deeply relational, self-confidence becomes a quality of those relations. It is not (only) trust in one’s self and abilities, but trust in others. I like this result more when I think of an example. An employee is full of self-confidence because she knows that tomorrow, she can finally receive her promotion. What she is really confident in, is not her own achievements, but the expectation that her boss will judge them favorably and grant her a promotion. A writer is confident that he will be successful, because he trusts others to buy his books. A politician shines with self-confidence because he trusts that people will campaign and vote for him (and thereby confirm his political self). A religious person can be a self-confident zealot because he knows there will be enough other zealots around to applaud him en allow him his place in the web of power we kindly call society.

The more we trust others (not just all others, the ones most relevant for our position in the web of power) the more self-confidence we will experience. When we say we ‘trust the future’, come what may, we mean that we have positive expectations of others, we believe that they will treat us well, give us jobs, sell us food, and so on. When we have low self-esteem it means we don’t occupy an adequate position in the web of power. We lack people to trust.

I’ll leave it at that. I would like to receive suggestions for improvement of this essay, but please keep it philosophical. I desire philosophical debate beyond an exchange of feelings and subjective imagery.

Self-confidence was originally published on Meandering home

Why I like cooking

This is not a recipe blog. There are far more knowledgeable cooks maintaining interesting blogs like this one here.

Why, then, does this blog write about cooking? To be sure, I do love cooking for reasons other than the psychodairy this blog serves at times. The smell of fresh rhabarber, a good garlicky hummus, a Lao noodle soup, fried tofu, Korean kimchi, palak paneer… Being busy in a crowded kitchen cooking with friends, telling political jokes while cutting shalottes and dancing to the roaring sound of a blender – I like it a lot.

But it is the psychodairy I want to whip up a little here. When we do something, when we engage in any action, we can distinguish between the process and the result. When we write something, when we travel, paint, repair a bicycle, sew, drill, comb, brush, scratch, walk, meditate, breath, talk, and so on we can differentiate between the process itself and how it affects the status quo post. Now if we judge each other’s activities (which is our normal mode of interaction), we intuitively want either

A) to demonstrate we can do the activity better, or
B) to demonstrate that we have very compelling reasons why we can’t – so compelling that our inability becomes normative.

In order to show A) or B) we can refer to the process as well as the result, whichever supports our argument. If I want to show that you are a bad driver, for example, I can argue that the driver itself (the process) was too dangerous, uneconomical, or slow. But if this doesn’t work, because I drive irresponsibly myself, I can refer to the result that you arrived later at the party. This practice mixes the activity and the result because it derives its arguments from both and hence achieves functional unification and blurring of the semantically important distinction.

This doesn’t appear harmful at first sight. But if someone on whom rests bad prejudice want to accomplish something, he can be too easily denied because of the way he does things. People don’t look plainly at the result because they have been preoccupied with establishing A) or B).

When we cook, the distinction between process and result becomes very clear. Someone can tell you that you have to cut your vegetables in a different way, that you have to lower the heat or boil the water first or cut the onions in finer dices, out of a sickening appetite for power, but he can’t argue with the results. The freshly cooked food, waiting on our tables to be eaten, is the result of an action that is still relatively independent of the process leading towards it. Here is our opportunity to defy the madness of power-slaves telling us how to do anything we do. Here we don’t have to waste any words on counterarguments but we let what we cooked speak for itself.

And a friend might be even interested in how we did it, so over dinner we share our ideas; A) and B) stand untouched with the table salt.

Bon appetit.

Why I like cooking

This is not a recipe blog. There are far more knowledgeable cooks maintaining interesting blogs like this one here.

Why, then, does this blog write about cooking? To be sure, I do love cooking for reasons other than the psychodairy this blog serves at times. The smell of fresh rhabarber, a good garlicky hummus, a Lao noodle soup, fried tofu, Korean kimchi, palak paneer… Being busy in a crowded kitchen cooking with friends, telling political jokes while cutting shalottes and dancing to the roaring sound of a blender – I like it a lot.

But it is the psychodairy I want to whip up a little here. When we do something, when we engage in any action, we can distinguish between the process and the result. When we write something, when we travel, paint, repair a bicycle, sew, drill, comb, brush, scratch, walk, meditate, breath, talk, and so on we can differentiate between the process itself and how it affects the status quo post. Now if we judge each other’s activities (which is our normal mode of interaction), we intuitively want either

A) to demonstrate we can do the activity better, or
B) to demonstrate that we have very compelling reasons why we can’t – so compelling that our inability becomes normative.

In order to show A) or B) we can refer to the process as well as the result, whichever supports our argument. If I want to show that you are a bad driver, for example, I can argue that the driver itself (the process) was too dangerous, uneconomical, or slow. But if this doesn’t work, because I drive irresponsibly myself, I can refer to the result that you arrived later at the party. This practice mixes the activity and the result because it derives its arguments from both and hence achieves functional unification and blurring of the semantically important distinction.

This doesn’t appear harmful at first sight. But if someone on whom rests bad prejudice want to accomplish something, he can be too easily denied because of the way he does things. People don’t look plainly at the result because they have been preoccupied with establishing A) or B).

When we cook, the distinction between process and result becomes very clear. Someone can tell you that you have to cut your vegetables in a different way, that you have to lower the heat or boil the water first or cut the onions in finer dices, out of a sickening appetite for power, but he can’t argue with the results. The freshly cooked food, waiting on our tables to be eaten, is the result of an action that is still relatively independent of the process leading towards it. Here is our opportunity to defy the madness of power-slaves telling us how to do anything we do. Here we don’t have to waste any words on counterarguments but we let what we cooked speak for itself.

And a friend might be even interested in how we did it, so over dinner we share our ideas; A) and B) stand untouched with the table salt.

Bon appetit.

Money should have a flavor

How to start a contempary reflection about money, a reflection that should both instruct and entertain because it is bound to the format of a blog post, because it will live as an entry among millions on an internet website with a narrow time window of readership that extends not much further than two weeks after its dates of publication? How to write a reflection about money in such a volatile and futile medium like a public digital diary?

Thank you for recognizing the analogy between writing and money here, whose ultramodern dematerialisations we consider in what follows. Jawohl!
There is no need to write yet another meditation about the crisis. That has been done and the public seems to understand bloody well what a bursting bubble is, and how packaging derivatives options high gain total super performance low risk high leverage financial products are the tools of the ugly kind of greed we only tolerate because it is the stuff the very system is made of. Oogh. Such meditations are obsolete the minute after they are written down. What we need is something else.

When we are “spending money” what we perform should be understood as a redistribution of power. Let’s assume designating and justifying power is the prime function of money (we can’t develop that in this small space). When we buy a product we acknowledge its producer and supply chain by means of a monetary transaction. We confess our needs, that is our lack of power, and recognize the superior power of the product. Then we use our symbolic power (our money) to balance the bill. So far so good.

Power is erratic and auratic. If we observe systems of power, be it a boyscout group, a freemasons society, a fire department, or the international monetary fund, we find that power is exerted in certain well-understood forms. The power of one boyscout over another is of another quality than the power of Strauss-Kahn had over his subordinates. From this, it appears logical to think that this quality of power needs to be reflected in money, somehow. Money should have a flavor, it should be defined as currency for one specific system of power. Society as a whole (that’s the premisse I allow myself because I’m blogging) is not one clearly defined power system but a diffuse conglomerate of systems, all working at their own pace and interacting in their own ways.

We could have food-money, communication-money, shelter-money, cultural-money, yes political-money, or various kinds of currencies for specific aspects of society, aspects that we don’t want to depend on each other because we want them to be stable. There won’t be problem exchanging these different currencies, the crux is that they should never be produced ad libitum like our current money is printed for us triggered only by short-term macro-economic observations, not long-term vision.

Thus I conclude my blog-post about money. The thought presented here might have been too dense, akin to a black hole – it won’t reflect anything if you try to shine a light on it. Or does it?

September 6. Berlin attracts me again.

Night I spend on the highway Szeged – Budapest – Bratislava – Brno – Prague – Dresden – Leipzig. The car smells of bell peppers, four big sacks of Serbian bell peppers share the back seat with me. I am happy. This is the father and his son. They take me kindly to Leipzig, and very quick. Why, so I wonder, do I feel so much alive even now as an experienced free rider? Is it that I am consuming the spirit of Kerouac? Why is being on the road in itself source of excitement, even if all you see is asphalt and a needle pointing steadily at 170 km/h? The feeling of breaking away, leaving that world behind in which the person you spoke to yesterday is operating and has woven his thickly net of power. You are the fat fly escaping, assuming a different kind of power. All the webs are below you, glistening in the sunlight that is enough for them. You see the whole panorama below you, you see the vanity, the weakness of the silk. A different kind of power. A different kind of power.

In Leipzig central station Silvia comes to see me, which excites us both. We have a lot to tell each other. Our lives have both changed in and out and we understand each other well. Traveling life blends with reality. We have become busy people and our hearty goodbye was quick. That night, I arrive in Berlin by a comfortable private train and get an incredibly kind welcome from my friends. They are making the unlikely real, that I feel happy and complete in this very city where I buried some ugly stones of a past.

September 6. Berlin attracts me again.

Night I spend on the highway Szeged – Budapest – Bratislava – Brno – Prague – Dresden – Leipzig. The car smells of bell peppers, four big sacks of Serbian bell peppers share the back seat with me. I am happy. This is the father and his son. They take me kindly to Leipzig, and very quick. Why, so I wonder, do I feel so much alive even now as an experienced free rider? Is it that I am consuming the spirit of Kerouac? Why is being on the road in itself source of excitement, even if all you see is asphalt and a needle pointing steadily at 170 km/h? The feeling of breaking away, leaving that world behind in which the person you spoke to yesterday is operating and has woven his thickly net of power. You are the fat fly escaping, assuming a different kind of power. All the webs are below you, glistening in the sunlight that is enough for them. You see the whole panorama below you, you see the vanity, the weakness of the silk. A different kind of power. A different kind of power.

In Leipzig central station Silvia comes to see me, which excites us both. We have a lot to tell each other. Our lives have both changed in and out and we understand each other well. Traveling life blends with reality. We have become busy people and our hearty goodbye was quick. That night, I arrive in Berlin by a comfortable private train and get an incredibly kind welcome from my friends. They are making the unlikely real, that I feel happy and complete in this very city where I buried some ugly stones of a past.

May 25. Weak thoughts about Power.


Open shutter =[ Floating around in the fresh water of the Laguna Apoyo, a volcanic laguna created some 20.000 years ago when a volcano completely and violently exploded, watching over the surrounding hills that seperate the laguna from Lago Nicaragua, indulging in the peaceful quiteness of the place ]= close shutter. We have captured a very nice feeling.

As usual, I have some thoughts, too. And as usual, they circle like sad grey vultures around the subject of power, that insurmountable summit of the philosophical theory I’ll never write. This time I ask the following question: How is power related to language? Is there a power conceivable without language, like the power of a lion with its rhetorically inept roars? The power of a shark that fin-flashes through the water in pursuit of a happy meal, unaware of its entirely absent rhetorical capacities? The power of a cheetah with its fabulous tempo of chase, yet lacking any verbal brilliance to convince its prey of his ferocious intentions? Why should they? The prey takes care of that itself. It will run anyway because mother nature makes it run away. At about the same speed as the cheetah runs himself – it’s a description in terms of equilibrium, not one in terms of power, that suits the situation best. The cheetah is not exercising his power, he is only doing what he is supposed to do.
So we want to distuingish between equilibrium-driven and power-driven events. From a hermeneutical point of view, we have to ask which description suits a given situation best. The best we can get is a post-metaphysical philosophy of power, but for my pragmatical purposes it might do the job. The hypothesis is that interhuman relations based on linguistic interaction are significantly better described in terms of power than in terms of an equilibrium. Of course, a certain equilibrium is kept between the master and his slave, between the King and the People, between the Pope and the Abbots, but describing their relation merely in these terms fails to recognize the fact that we’re talking about individuals with their own agenda, their own intentions. The concept of power is much better suited here, because of its directionality. We consider the perspective of the agents involved, and not the misleading stability of the result. We lend the first-person-perspective for our objective description, as it were, to make it more precise and less exact at the same time.
So we analyse human linguistic encounters in terms of power. We hear “hi how are you?” and look at the alternatives for this greeting, at the way it is spoken, at the posture of the speaker, at the relation between speaker and receiver. We ask them about their deepest subconscious “intentions” and eventually we assign a power-number to it. The number indicates the power transported in the utterance. It says something about the amount of influence the speaker has over the receiver, but it is a better indicator than the resulting actions of the agents. Something like that. I think we can assess utterances in this way and in theory reconstruct the hierarchy of power among all human beings. The striking point here is that we are not concerned about the resulting actions. The reason for that is explained above: the resulting actions are better described in terms of equilibrium, and they don’t affect the assignment of power quanta.

My idea is to develop a language without power. Of course, that’s impossible. But HERE is the place to attempt the impossible. HERE is the place to deceive ourselves in a better way than life deceives us anyway. HERE is the place to erect the greatest illusion we are capable of. A language without power, sentences that don’t hit our opponent, that de-identify him as our opponent, sentences that are well thought trough and corrected before they are spoken in order to sooth the consequences of the original sentence. Words that are well chosen to dismantle the power that is inevitably transported by them. Syllables that sound less aggressive. That is the whole idea. Anybody can contribute to it; anybody can suggest idiom, grammar structures, sounds, perhaps a whole language that has been in this business for ages, like Hindi?

I hiked up to a viewpoint and looked over the Laguna from above. Had some excellent fruit on the way back.