Philosophical Fluidity

It’s possible to have a preference, act counter to that preference, and still have a good time.

A high-end chef, for example, needn’t dine on the finest cuisine in order to enjoy food. She’s equally likely to savor a feast at a Michelin star restaurant or relish one served up by her local Denny’s, so long as she’s in the proper frame of mind to do so. And neither experience is more or less legitimate than the other, in terms of her own satisfaction, so long as she is, indeed, satisfied. Thankfully, for our wallets in particular, in the case of high-end dining, how much we enjoy that which we experience is largely up to us.

I call this concept ‘philosophical fluidity.’ It’s the idea the you can believe strongly that, say, long-term, constant travel is paramount to a happy lifestyle, and still be happy staying put for a while, traveling no further than the grocery store. I would argue that being able to stop and live differently, while still having a good time and finding value in the experience doesn’t display a lack of enthusiasm for travel, it demonstrates a belief that we benefit from a given stimuli or situation, or don’t, based almost entirely on our own decision to do so.

This is not a new concept. Philosophers have mused on the existence and substance of happiness for longer than we’ve had the letters to record their thoughts on the subject. But the concept of ‘taste’ is something that has evolved over the years, and has become more impactful because of the technologies we have available today: particularly those we use to interact, relate, communicate, and present ourselves and our beliefs to the world.

Where once taste was an indication of breeding or social status, today it’s an integral part of every person’s brand. The logos we wear and the food we eat or don’t eat and the coffee we drink, and how it’s prepared, and by whom, and the artists we listen to and the shade of the hardwood floors in our homes; so many things we use to define ourselves, both to ourselves and to others. So many passions! Which is wonderful, except that in presenting them as indicators of taste or identity, we aim for purity in message and ease of communication, and as a result blind ourselves to other aspects of the world.

Consider pop music. It’s a common pastime for the music industry intelligentsia to bash on anything too popular, too massive, too disseminated and widespread. Too viral. The idea is that anything so all-encompassing must also lack substance, because if such music said something important, it wouldn’t appeal to so many listeners. There may be some truth to this idea, but consider that by deciding ahead of time that pop music is inherently bad, such people cut themselves off from a whole industry’s-worth of potential experiences. Theirs is an identity defined by which aspects of the world they’ve decided to ignore and not judge by relevant standards.

It’s possible to believe that graffiti is generally disruptive visual clutter while still allowing yourself enjoy a particular piece that speaks to you. What might initially seem weak-willed and flip-floppy — you said you didn’t like graffiti! — is actually a matter of allowing yourself to be round, not flat. Complex, rather than simple and easy to describe.

The result of such taste-complexity is that your image is more accurate, but you don’t fit as cleanly within a tribe. The record store guru who doesn’t hesitate to recommend pop to customers when warranted may be looked down upon by some underground-only believers within the industry. I would argue, though, that those who would apply strict, black-and-white guidelines to themselves or to the world are reducing society’s complexity and simplifying to the point of worthlessness the many facets and dimensions we require to be fulfilled.

Which is to say: if there’s only one ‘correct’ type of music to listen to, you’ll never be exposed to incredible examples from other genres because you’ve already dismissed them. Any data you receive after having made that decision will be filtered through your existing bias.

Music, food, and graffiti are some of the simplest examples I could give here, but the real problem with philosophical inflexibility is that is keeps us from considering other perspectives, other value systems, and data compiled in cultures beyond our own. Having rigid belief systems means that we are disallowing our own education, not allowing yourselves to change our minds or grow in any but one direction.

Philosophical fluidity is an excuse to find the good, the value, in anything we encounter. It’s an excuse to sit down at that diner in the middle of nowhere and appreciate the ambiance, despite the greasiness of the food and the chalky taste of the coffee. It’s incentive to hear a pop song and not immediately dismiss it as trash; to allow yourself to dance to it if you feel like dancing. It’s a structure that allows you to consider the viewpoints of others and see where they’re coming from before passing judgment on who they are and what they believe.

Philosophical fluidity is an excuse to have a good time no matter what’s going on in your life, and to enjoy the hell out of whatever life throws at you. So enjoy. Have fun. Dance. Happiness is the potential consequence of everything that happens to you: you just have to decide to experience it.

Update: April 18, 2017

I think that last line is the most important one in this piece: you decide how you respond to the variables you encounter. And that includes music and food, but also pain and stimulation. Recognizing this power goes a long way toward learning to control it, which in turn allows you to get the most out of any situation, and shape what you get, rather than simply taking what’s offered.