Tuesday, May 29, 2007

"Demoting" a Relationship

I started listening to Peikoff's Love, Sex and Romance Q+ A session in my car this morning, and I'm thoroughly enjoying it. Peikoff makes many insightful points on subjects ranging from homosexuality to masturbation, fantasy to opposite-sex friendships. However, I disagree with Peikoff (and apparently Rand) on the possibility of "demoting" a relationship.

In his discussion of "menage a trois," Peikoff expresses his doubt that this is a healthy sexual practice, because including a stranger is problematic and including a friend would end the friendship. His reasoning for the latter is that relationships "cannot be demoted," they can only be "promoted." In other words, once you have had a romantic or sexual relationship with a person, you can never "demote" your relationship with her to a friendship again. Peikoff notes that Rand emphatically agreed.

I do not wish to deal with the "menage a trois" issue at this point, but I would like to take up the issue of "promotion" and "demotion" of relationships. This interests me because I have been able successfully to "demote" several romantic relationships -- I have remained good friends with most of my ex-girlfriends. I have also been in situations where I was in love with a woman who did not return my love, and I was able to forcefully revise my psychological perspective on the relationship so that I could preserve the friendship.

Please note: I am not a psychotherapist. I am speaking from my own experience. Apply any advice I offer in this article at your own risk!

Now that that's out of the way: I developed a method for "demoting" a relationship that has worked very well for me. The primary challenge, as I see it, is to force oneself to no longer experience his former lover as an object of sexual desire. Romance is intimately tied to sex. If you are close to a woman whom you do not desire sexually, that's a friendship. For me, much of the pain associated with being around a former lover is the unfulfilled desire to be physically close to her. Once that desire is (mostly) gone, then my love for her becomes purely platonic. Conditioning oneself not to think of a former lover in a sexual way can be exceedingly difficult. It is worth the effort only if the potential for an extraordinary friendship exists.

The first step is to temporarily cut off all communication with the former lover. No hanging out together, no phone calls, no e-mails, no instant messenger, nothing. The times I have done this, I made it very clear to the ex that I was doing it for the express purpose of reorienting my perspective on the relationship -- in order to preserve a friendship. This process can be very painful (but not, in my opinion, nearly as painful as continuing to have romantic feelings for a person with whom a romantic relationship is no longer possible).

During this "catharsis" period I allow myself to dwell on the tragedy of the failed relationship for a period of time, and I try to linger on the details long enough to determine if there are any unresolved internal conflicts I need to deal with. Once I am reasonably certain that there are no major internal conflicts that need resolving, I try to push thoughts of the former lover completely out of my mind for a while. Whenever I start to think of her, I stop myself, and force my consciousness to focus on something else. This is most emphatically not a form of evasion, but an honest recognition of the fact that it is no longer productive to dwell on the failed relationship. The time required to move from one step to the next is different for each person, and different for each relationship, but I have found that a few months is long enough for me to get through the roughest part of a break-up.

Once there is sufficient distance between us, we gradually begin to reform a relationship on a "just friends" basis. At this point, I allow my mind to think about the former lover in every way, with one important exception: no romantic or sexual thoughts. I resist the urge to think of her as a sexual being. I do not allow myself to fantasize about her sexually, particularly during masturbation. These kinds of thought always come up with a former lover, it's the nature of human consciousness, but I try to keep it to an absolute minimum. The reason I do this is that, as soon as I start to think of an ex in a sexual way, the romantic feelings immediately follow, no matter how many times I tell myself it's over. I may not realize the feelings are still there until I'm crushed by the news that she has taken a new lover.

If you think of someone sexually, particularly during masturbation, you are telling your subconscious that this person is an object of love, desire, and romance. It doesn't matter how many times or how emphatically you stress in your focal awareness that a romantic relationship with the person is no longer possible. If you think of her sexually, your subconscious will respond with romantic feelings. Most rational people see sex and romance as intimately related. There's no way to tell your subconscious, "In this one case, I want to separate love and sex." Unless you want to completely sunder the two, your subconscious will continue to respond to them as an interrelated pair.

Once I have automatized looking at my former lover in a purely platonic way, then a close friendship is possible. In some cases, it can be trouble to get too close, especially when neither person is in another romantic relationship. It's always easiest when both former lovers are in another relationship. But in any case, some kind of friendship is possible.

I have found these friendships to be very fruitful because a woman that has shared my bed knows me more intimately than a non-lover ever could. My ex-girlfriends are often the best friends to discuss current relationship issues with, and I serve that purpose for them. I know a lot about what they are looking for in a relationship, and sometimes it is easier for me to identify in what way their current lover is frustrating their needs. I have learned a lot about how to be a better boyfriend by consulting former lovers.

So, there you have it. I know it is possible to "demote" a relationship because I have done it, and I have friends who have done it. It is not only possible, it is often very desirable. Every woman I've ever fallen in love with was very special, and I fell in love with them for a reason. I saw great value in them. I always thought it peculiar to think that someone could fall in love with a woman, but not want to be friends with her. Not every woman I have dated is my ideal woman: that title belongs to Kelly alone. However, a woman does not have to be my ideal in order to have a wonderful, lifelong friendship with her.

I dedicate this article to the beautiful, intelligent, virtuous women whom I have loved in my life. Even though it didn't work out, part of me will always love you, and I will always value our friendship.

--Dan Edge

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

In Praise of the Hero's Hike

After several weather delays, the first Hero’s Hike of the year is taking place this weekend, Saturday, May 26!

Several times each year, an Objectivist group makes the arduous journey up Breakneck Ridge in Cold Spring, NY. Some participants race to the top, and are covered in sweat and grime before they are halfway there. At the summit, we have a picnic and socialize then (usually) Andy Bernstein delivers a prepared talk. After that is the “Celebrate Self” portion of the event, during which Heroes have the opportunity to stand up and share their personal accomplishments and goals with the rest of the group. Finally, everyone treks back down the mountain and meets at the local diner, where more eating and socializing ensue.

I always look forward to these events, more so than any other Objectivist gathering. I have developed friendships – a few of them very close friendships – with many of the regular participants. There’s a common spirit within this group, and it’s not just the fact that they’re Objectivists. There’s something about the philosophy of the Hero’s Society (which sponsors the Hero’s Hike) that attracts those who are integrated in mind and body. Here is the mission of the Hero’s Society, as articulated by its founder, Robert Begley:

The New York Heroes Society celebrates human achievement and stature, consistent with Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism, through lectures, physical activities, and cultural events for all who worship heroism and aspire to it in their own lives.”

Note how he places a stress on the physical aspect of heroism. This kind of stress is uncommon, and it is part of what makes the Hero’s Society special. Many Objectivists think of virtue as a thing totally within the mind. Rationality is the primary virtue, we are told, and it is a function of consciousness. So why place any focus on the physical?

Because man is a being of integrated mind and body.

One’s body is a value, and striving for physical excellence is a virtue. One’s body supports his life, and one’s physical condition determines in part the range of activities that are open to him. Not everyone can make it to the top of Breakneck Ridge – and that’s the point. Trudging up that rocky trail to the summit is a painful experience for some, but it’s something to be proud of. That our bodies are capable of doing this is something to be celebrated and worshiped.

Even better, pushing one’s body to its physical limits puts one in the mindset to push his mind to its spiritual limits. My mind is rarely as open and active as it is for Andy’s summit talks. By the time we get around to the “Celebrate Self” portion of the event, I am primed to dream ambitious dreams.

A Hero’s Hike exercises one’s mind, body and soul. Those who seek this integrated form of exercise are my kind of folks. That’s why I’ve found so many friends there. A Hero is as fit physically as he is mentally. He discusses ideas with his friends, then climbs a mountain with them. He shares his thoughts with a lady, then takes her out dancing. He reads other people’s essays, then writes a few of his own. He is a rational man of action. That’s the kind of men and women you’ll find at the Hero’s Hike. And that’s why I’ll keep going back.

--Dan Edge

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Sports Nut

File this post under "Getting to Know Your Edge Blogger." :)

As anyone who knows me knows, I am and always will be a sports nut. Football, basketball, baseball, boxing, UFC, soccer, tennis, ice skating -- you name it, I love it. (Curling is a notable exception). Since Ancient Greece, athletes have symbolized the height of man's physical potential. We cheer for them, give them trophies, and put the best of them literally up on a pedestal.

The fun of watching a sporting event is magnified by rooting for your team. If you give a damn about the outcome, you have a reason to cheer for one side or the other. A fan's reasons for choosing a side may be seemingly arbitrary (e.g., based on geographical proximity) or deeply philosophical (e.g., pulling for Rocky). But once a fan chooses a side, he usually sticks with it. Only fair weather fans abandon the local team after a down season.

Watching your favorite team (or player) compete live - along with thousands of screaming fans who emphatically agree with your preference - can be an elating experience. There's just something about the roar of the crowd, cheering on the home team in unison, that lifts up one's spirits. There's more action, suspense, and drama in a good NFL football game than in most blockbuster movies. Live sporting events are the original "reality shows."

I would encourage anyone to take the time to get into at least one sport. It's not something you just fall into; you have to take the time to watch a sport, learn the rules, and get to know the players. Then all you have to do is pick a favorite team and cheer!

To help you along, here are some of my favorites. Feel free to respond with smack talking:

Football - This is truly my sport, particularly the Pro level (though I love college, too). I have written a season preview entitled "Praise Galt for Football" each year for the past 4 years.
  • NFL - Carolina Panthers - Super Bowl winners in '09!
  • NCAA - University of South Carolina Gamecocks - my alma mater; with Steve Spurrier at the helm, we'll be competitive in the SEC for years to come. I also pull for SEC teams and ACC teams in general.
Basketball - The NCAA tournament is always exciting, and the Pro ballers are amazing in their athleticism.
  • NBA - New York Knicks - I've adopted the home team of my new home, New York. Besides, they wisely took a SC Gamecock in the first round of last year's draft.
  • NCAA - SC Gamecocks (of course) and the NC teams (Tarheels, Wolfpack, Deamon Deacons) - College basketball is huge in the Carolinas, and I go with the flow.
Baseball - I've only recently gotten into baseball - my soon to be in-laws are big fans. It's a slower paced game, and a lot of people like that. The coordination of the defense is impressive, like watching an athletic chess match.
  • MLB - New York Mets - If I picked the Yankees instead, my soon-to-be-Father-in-law would kill me first, and then after that, he would refuse to let me borrow any of his Objectivism lecture tapes.
Boxing - This was the sport that got me into sports. The first time I saw Angel Manfredy fight Arturo Gatti, I was hooked for life. Unfortunately, heavyweight boxing is in a slump due to a lack of talented boxers. Hopefully that will change soon.
  • Marco Antonio Barrera - my favorite boxer. He's getting up in years, but still very competitive. His fights with Erik Morales were some of the greatest sporting events of all time, in my opinion. Not only is he an amazing athlete, he's a gentleman and a professional. The lower weight divisions (Featherweight, Lightweight, Welterweight) are the most exciting divisions in boxing right now.
  • Muhammad Ali - possibly the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time (Muhammad himself certainly thought so). He's the only champ ever to win the Heavyweight title three times. Watch some of his fights on ESPN Classic and you'll see why he's so highly revered.
UFC - I just recently got into watching the Ultimate Fighting Championships, and I'm absolutely hooked. Very little rules, barely any gloves, just two men inside a cage doing everything they can to knock each other out. Brutal, but very exciting.
  • "Big Daddy" Joe Stevenson - An up and coming lightweight fighter, he's still somewhat untested. But like Barrera, Joe is a gentleman, a family man, and a professional in addition to being a big time butt-whipper. He won his last fight in about 30 seconds.
  • "Iceman" Chuck Liddell - This is about the scariest guy I've ever seen. In a sport where most of the better fighters win using wrestling and jujitsu, the "Iceman" knocks guys out cold with his fists. Old school!
And that's just a sampling of my sports nuttiness. Any fellow sports nuts reading this who also live in the NYC area, drop me a line. We can go nuts together!

--Dan Edge

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Review of Peikoff's "History of Philosophy" Series

I am proud to announce that I have just completed the last lecture of Dr. Peikoff's, behemoth, 2-part, 24 lecture, 72 hour course on the History of Philosophy. The first set of lectures is Founders of Western Philosophy: Thales to Hume, and the second set is Modern Philosophy: Kant to the Present. These are by far the best courses on Philosophy that I've ever taken (as a college graduate with a BA in Philosophy, that's saying a lot).

Peikoff traces the roots of philosophy from Thales and the ancient Greeks all the way to the present. His primary focus is metaphysics and epistemology, and it's easy to see why he chose this method of exposition: a philosopher's stance on metaphysics and epistemology set the ground rules for the rest of his philosophy. Over the course of 24 lectures, Peikoff ties ancient philosophers to their modern-day intellectual heirs with seeming ease. Though he only had time to present each philosopher (or school of thought) in a very essentialized form, I found that I learned a lot about thinkers who I had studied in-depth in college. Can you tell I'm impressed?

I would recommend this set of lectures to anyone, and I would regard it as a "must-listen" for any serious student of philosophy. The Objectivist Academic Center agrees with this evaluation; the courses are required for graduation.

One thing became very evident to me as I listened to these lectures:

The charge that Objectivists in general, and Ayn Rand in particular, are uneducated about the history of philosophy is completely bogus. Peikoff's exposition of each thinker was 100% on the mark (based on my readings of the same thinkers). He displays a high degree of technical understanding about even the most difficult philosophers, like Heidegger and Kant. During the question and answer periods, I was amazed at the detailed minutia he had memorized about each philosopher. He has done his homework, and it shows. One could not honestly charge that Peikoff is ignorant of history's most important thinkers.

Also, after listening to these lectures it became more evident to me how intimately Ayn Rand must have understood these same thinkers. Her seeming snap-judgment evaluations of complex ideologies (like Kant's categories) are highly accurate and insightful, given a fuller understanding of the subject matter. Objectivism was not formed in the absence of knowledge about the history of philosophy; quite the contrary. Rand systematically roots out and obliterates all of the classical philosophical "problems."

You can now get the complete set of these lecture courses at a reduced price from the Ayn Rand Bookstore.

--Dan Edge