Tag Archives: principles

Cute: A Conspiracy Theory?

I’m always interested in the presence of abstracts in reality. I touched on this with my question of good and bad in my last post, but I come back around to it this week. (Because midnight and the end of Monday looms? We shall never know).

The question turning over in my mind right now regards cuteness. What makes something “cute?”

This idea was put to me in, I kid you not, honors Philosophy 101 my first semester of college. Of course, the prof didn’t use such a useful object for consideration. Instead, he presented the question of abstracts by means of a table.

We all know what a table is. What it looks like. We can consciously picture one if we try. And we could all definitely spot one from a hundred yards and say, without doubt, that it is neither a chair, nor a flamingo, a slide, or a plate. It’s a table.

But what makes it a table? Is it what it is made of? Wood or other materials? (So are chairs and some plates.) Is it what it has? A flat surface and legs? (So does a chair and a slide.) Is it what it does? Something you eat off of? (Like a plate or a very confused flamingo.)

The point is that in reality, any of us could see an object and correctly identify if it was a table as opposed to, say, a pink, stupid-looking bird. This is because (and I think this is from Plato, but I’ll defer to my philosophy-buff fellow writers, who’re probably fully erect right now because I said philosophy and abstract in the same post) we each have an abstract idea of what a table is. Without having to picture a distinct table. We know what a table is. Unassailably.

Back to my question. Forget the stuffy table example. Forget Philosophy 101 (erections drooping, I know). Back to cute.

I’ll ask again. What makes something “cute?”

Let’s start with an unassailable, we-may-even-rightly-call-it-borderline-abstract example of cuteness:

baby tails

This is a picture of my dog, Tails, when he was a 3-month-old puppy. No one, and I mean no one could argue that he’s not cute. Look at him. (To put it in perspective, that orange toy, Mr. Binky, is about 4 inches tall.) He is A-dor-a-ble. And cute.

But this post isn’t about a gushing dog owner’s infatuation with his pooch. It’s about understanding the greater depths of thoughts. About pushing boundaries.

So, as I was sitting here, thinking about what to write, I looked at Tails and thought, “why is he so cute?”

Bear in mind, he’s now over a year old and looks like this (still pretty cute, I think).

older tailsSo, while I can admit that he’s not as cute now, my question remains. What makes something “cute?” We have an abstract sense of cuteness. We can judge cuteness in variable spectra (e.g. “Tails was cuter as a puppy, but still cute as an adult”).

But would I know cute if it walked up and smacked me in the face?

Can I see what cute is? What it does? How it’s used? What it looks like?

Cute, unlike the easy table example my philosophy prof used, is even more abstract. But no less important.

I offer this post as a chance to wake up to the abstracts that surround each of us. Recognize the cute things around you today. Or the beautiful things. Or the any-number-of-other-adjectives-things.

Abstracts, they’re all around you. And you didn’t even know it.

davidrsheehan is a contributing writer for projectgroupthink.wordpress.com. Get instant updates for this blog via Twitter: PGTblog. You can also tweet directly with him: davidrsheehan. He is happy to provide more cute pictures of his silly dog Tails, if anyone would like to counter his statement that Tails is unassailably cute.

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A flight, a memento, a question

Are people inherently good, bad, or something else? 

I recently (re-)watched Memento and this question – one I have certainly asked myself before – popped into my mind.

The film deals with a man who cannot create new memories after a traumatic incident in his life leaves him with – as he describes it – “a condition.” The events of the film unfold around the people and problems his life intersects with as a result of this condition. And, invariably, the people all try to take advantage of him (the notable exception being the hooker who does exactly what he asks her to do). A guy who won’t remember what you say to him, what you do to him, or what he does? Why not have him kill a drug dealer so that you can make some money? Or charge him for more than one room at your motel? Or kill a crooked cop for revenge? Unless he writes it down, he won’t remember anyways.

That’s the best I can do to describe the film without giving away any of the interesting parts that make an extremely interesting and well put together film (I’m serious, go netflix it and watch it if you haven’t already). But the summary isn’t important other than to give a framework for my question above.

Are people inherently good, bad, or something else?

In Memento, all of the peripheral characters (and there aren’t many – only a handful) are trying to manipulate the protagonist to achieve their own goals. Now, obviously this is just a film, and one in which the goal is to explore the questions of what makes something real or not real, fact or fiction, constructed or concrete. But the fact remains that this man, whose condition leaves him unable to even know how long it’s been since the incident that brought about this change, is surrounded by people who do not try to help him. In fact, what they do makes the viewer feel pretty beaten up over how terrible (and cunning) they are to him.

It’s not the film’s job or intent to answer the question, and it’s not really mine either, with this post. Explorations of the spectrum of good-evil principles is just an interesting topic in general to me (a fantastic read, by the way, to anyone interested in the question of what is absolutely evil is the introduction to the book “Explaining Hitler” – and no, this is not a Holocaust denial book, but one in which the author tries to figure out how to understand such an important historical figure and his journey in this pursuit).

But as the protagonist of Memento seeks to achieve his own goals – misguided but with good intention though they may be – he bounces between these peripheral figures who seek to exploit and coerce him, albeit subtly sometimes, into achieving their goals.

Does this make them bad? The woman who uses him to avenge her boyfriend is technically doing a good thing, in one light. The motel manager who charges him for more than one room to help his boss during a slow season is doing his part for his company, right? Does this make them good?

But everyone, everyone the protagonist interacts with eventually sees him as a tool. And in our interactions with others, we do the same.

Today I bought a flight for my cousin’s wedding – something I did not really have a lot of extra money to cover, but went ahead with anyway. As I did this, I tried to sort out why. While not being distant relatives, my cousin and I have never been extremely close. It’s far away, requires a flight/hotel/feeding myself for a weekend, and is a wedding (never something I enjoy). So why did I buy the flight? Because I’d like her to one day feel compelled to attend my own? A little. Because I’d feel guilty if I expected her to come to my own after not attending hers? Definitely. Because I genuinely wish to share this day with her? Not particularly.

Essentially, in analyzing my reasons – obvious and admissions I wasn’t terribly proud of – I came back to the question Memento had raised – are people inherently good, bad, or something else?

I don’t consider myself a particularly good or bad person. And in looking at buying the flights, I mentally cringed a little, thinking that the reasons weren’t terribly altruistic. But as I looked more broadly, I realized that much of what makes society and interpersonal relationships exist stems from similar thoughts/feelings/interplays of rationales. We do things all the time in order to receive things. Reciprocity is as old as civilization and an important mechanism for continued interconnections.

When we each go out in to the world as part of our daily lives, how do we know the people with whom we interact are any more or less altruistic of decent that those who surround the man in Memento?

Does this make people inherently bad?

I don’t think so. I think it makes us something else. I am not sure what that is, and worse, I don’t know where to draw the line between the actions of the peripheral characters in Memento and my own. Because they’re my own, I like to think that what I do – and buying a flight for the wedding is just one example – is more bent towards good than bad, or at least something else. That, if I knew someone in capable of creating new memories and thus reliant on my own inner decency to help not make his life more difficult, I would differ from those peripheral characters. 

But would I? Would you? And, since he won’t remember anyways, would it matter?

 

davidrsheehan is a contributing writer for projectgroupthink.wordpress.com. Get instant updates for this blog via Twitter: PGTblog. You can also tweet directly with him: davidrsheehan.

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