Define for me an opposite

Philosophical rant #2

Last night I was playing League of Legends with some of my friends when one of them failed a flash1 after which the enemy Olaf said “dat fail flash”. We were messing with the enemy team a lot in chat that game so I replied with
“but what is a fail flash”
“one that wasn’t necessary”
“what is necessity?”
“nothing”
“Therefore everything is a failure”
“True”
“And therefore there can be no success for success is the opposite of failure”
“Shut up Leona”
And we left it at that.*

Earlier the previous day I was also thinking about something along those lines but in the context of altruism. Altruism is a topic that often pops into my head because as a Catholic it was something that I was taught is a good thing – and a possible thing. However, after four years of high school religious studies and philosophy that seems to have become for me a questionable truth. Here is my reasoning:

Altruism is defined as the “disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.”2

If this is true then a true altruist receives no pleasure when doing a good act neither by choice nor passively. They cannot be happy that the affected is thankful, they cannot be happy that their actions did something good for anyone else, they cannot be happy even if they believed that their actions will bring them closer to a good afterlife. They are so selfless that in any situation they will put every other person ahead of themselves, they will help in any way possible, do any and all work for another person, however none of that will be for their own well-being as the true altruist would be unable to feel the pleasure. As Ayn Rand put it in “Atlas Shrugged”: “The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake”3. In short: they must be miserable.

Theoretically speaking, this definition of Altruism is possible but does is it realistic? When a person helps someone then expects a ‘thank you’, this is not altruistic. If someone does charity and expects to feel like they’ve done something good, that is not altruistic. This clip from Friends should explain my point

If we can do good actions, but cannot entirely detach pleasure and self-worth from a good action, then realistically altruism cannot exist. Yet, to a large extent we can call someone altruistic when they put someone else ahead of themselves at the RISK of their own happiness even if they receive a little back at the end. Therefore this could be defined as “Realistic Altruism” as opposed to “True Altruism”.

French anthropologist, Claude Levi-Strauss, in his theory of Binary Opposition states that the common logic behind all cultures is the belief of the existence of opposites. Man and Woman, Dark and Light, Life and Death and so on. However, is this a realistic way to perceive the world or is it reductionist? Even if “Man” is described as biologically male there can still be a gray area. The Kleinfelter Syndrome4 is a genetic issue that gives the person an extra x or y chromosome. Therefore a Kleinfelter individual with have neither xx nor xy but xxy. Some males with the condition may grow breast tissues. This makes it so that a male with this condition is not a “True Male” yet he is also not a “True female”. However, if the person is mostly male (as Kleinfelter individuals are still phenotypically male or female), then they can be defined as “Realistically male”.

Having said all this, you might ask then whether any “True” description of an object exists. I believe yes, but only in theory. Just as I have discussed above that “True Altruism” is only theoretical but not “Realistic”, all other such descriptions of objects must also only be theoretical. In reality, most descriptions are more based on a spectrum than binary opposition. It is true that, with the gender example above, that a “True Male” can be defined as a male with xx chromosomes and therefore binary opposition must exist. However, culturally a “True Male” must also exhibit all the stereotypical traits of a male in order to be called a “True Man”. Taking this into consideration the binary opposition of Maleness and Femaleness must be a spectrum where a person is either more male or more female and is therefore called a male or a female (or nowadays one of the many words for physically male but not entirely culturally male etc.).

Similarly a “True” person of any culture must adhere to the stereotypical traits of the culture – for the stereotype is the extreme form of a group and therefore the unmistakably “True” form of the group. A stereotypical Chinese follows all the Chinese cultural rules, believes in a Chinese religion, has Chinese skin, a Chinese heritage, a Chinese look and speaks Chinese – Stereotypically speaking, this cannot be denied. However, this has never been the case in reality, as humans every single person thinks differently therefore even if I had two stereotypically “True” Chinese persons, they would still disagree on some matters. Therefore the one “True” Chinese form cannot exist. Plato would say that these “True” forms do exist and are simply beyond reach, I disagree and believe that they are all only theoretical.

To round off: back to the first point of failure and success. If nothing is necessary, then everything is a failure; but if everything is a failure, then there can be no success (as success is the binary opposite of failure). This is unrealistic as we define some actions such as ‘becoming rich’, ‘achieving good results’ and ‘winning’ as being ‘successful actions’. However, you cannot be infinitely rich, your results are never a true reflection of being best at every single activity and you cannot ‘win’ in the best way. Therefore, success is also just a theoretical description that we place onto an action or a person. A successful person is someone who, within the spectrum of success and failure, achieves more success than failure and vice versa for a failed person.

I hope that any readers have enjoyed this post, if interested please spark some debate in the comments.

~tmx.

Notes:
1. Flash: a skill in League of Legends where the character teleports a short distance to the cursor. Easily to mess up if not careful.
2. Taken from: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/altruism
3. Biddle, C. (n.d.). Atlast Shrugged and Ayn Rand’s Morality of Egoism. The Objective Standard.
4. More information see: http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/klinefelter-syndrome
*. If anyone is interested, the match history is here, sadly I don’t have access to the conversation history: http://matchhistory.na.leagueoflegends.com/en/#match-details/NA1/1506656456/41873578

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