Josh Haas's Web Log


without comments

I don’t want to write a journal here, but I alo can’t completely divorce my opinions from who I am. Most of what people say and think is bullshit derived from the imperative to protect their identity, and I’m no different. Context on what that identity is lets you see a thought for what it’s worth, or isn’t, as the case may be. So here’s an update on what I’m up to.

My short term goal is to launch KeywordSmart with my partner Jody: it’s a software product for people who need to keyword (ie, tag) images in order to make them searchable. The target demographic for this is, for the most part, professional photographers who sell their images on stock photo sites. We want to launch this product and build it into a company, and see where it goes: we know there’s a pain point that needs solving, and we have something in mind to solve it, and at the end of the day, that’s what a business is, so we’re going to try it and see what happens.

Longer term, what I want to do is write, specifically a book on philosophy and values. My thesis is that people are humans — special, worthy of praise, etc. whatever — insofar as they see themselves as responsible for who they are and how they react to the world around them. I believe that this thought — “I am responsible” — is a self-fulfilling prophecy: insofar as you don’t believe it, your actions are explainable in terms of external forces such as your heredity and environment; insofar as you do believe it, you become capable of increasingly spontaneous action, transcendent behavior that seems to defy explanation outside of spiritual vocabulary. Seeing oneself as free, responsible, the author of one’s own actions is a constant battle, and victory in that battle underlies all great human accomplishments, while failure leads to entropy, regret and oblivion.

Why philosophy? Isn’t it just asking over-intellectualized questions with no real fruitfulness? Who cares about abstract notions when there are things to experience, people to love, things to create and build? Honestly, part of the reason I want to write this book is so I can stop thinking about it and do just that. There’s a cliche about living life like each day is your last, and the cliche probably comes from the real experience that people who’ve faced death can see what really matters to them. To me, philosophy is about the death of the self — not physical death, exactly, but the death of constructed identity, the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and why we exist and what we’re doing. The great paradox is that these stories are both pernicious and necessary. They are pernicious because they get in the way of taking life as it is: they impose false constraints and illusory future visions that stop us from seeing what is right in front of our eyes. They’re necessary, though, because a sense of self is what allows us to take action — without a sense of who we are, we become paralyzed lumps, fleeing fear and seeking empty pleasure. The solution to the paradox is to ask “why” and keep asking until everything false about the self dies, and we’re left with who we really are.

Maybe you can get to that same place without asking the questions. I think it may be too late for that, though: as a culture, we’ve gone past the point of no return in terms of opening the doors to questioning. We’ve already asked “why” to all the traditional sources of identity such as culture, religion, and ideology. Once you open the door to wondering, I think it may be a one-way road: either you make it to the bottom of the rabbit hole, or you get permanently lost along the way. At any rate, I’m the kind of person who experiences the world in abstract terms, so whether or not there are other solutions available to other people, I need to go all the way and see what lies at the end of the path.

So that’s me right now. I’m working on a technology startup to help professional photographers sell their images online, and I’m trying to reinvent philosophy to provide a coherent narrative about what it means to be a person in a world where we can doubt everything. I honestly don’t know if these goals make any sense at all, but all my regrets I have at this point in my life are on the side of failing to act: not doing anything and being swept along by the pain / pleasure impulses, avoiding hard things and looking to food and entertainment for distractions. I’m near the end of my own patience for myself, and the funny thing is that self-respect doesn’t seem to require sanity, it just seems to require action. So: I’m going to write code, and I’m going to write philosophy, and I’ll see what happens.

Written by jphaas

June 4th, 2011 at 1:36 am

Posted in Uncategorized