My Life and Philosophy

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by Ben Huot

www.benjamin-newton.com

October 24, 2021

person in corn maze

Philosophy to most people sounds boring and useless. Philosophy has been an important part of my life because it has forced me to think through things better, gave me something more to write about, and explained how I already thought. I think philosophy has helped counter my paranoia by studying it for many years.

I first discovered philosophy in the writings of Tolkien I was reading that his son Christopher published after his death. Tolkien got interested in philosophy at the end of his life and so some of his later less well known essays and writings were on philosophical aspects of Middle Earth.

My second encounter with philosophy was when I was in the military which has its own kind of paradox in how it works. The military has many paradoxes one of which is that the Army is both very formal and very informal at the same time. Another is the hurry up and wait metaphor and that combat is 80% boredom and 20% terror.

When I went to college I first studied business administration as I had wanted to find a useful degree that I could make money with. I found that very bring and difficult too. I did well in economics and very poorly in accounting and then my math ability fell apart. I eventually switched to journalism because I was always better at writing and at the time that seemed practical too. This was just before I was diagnosed with Schizophrenia.

During this time I studied Chinese Literature, Existentialism, and some feminism classes including one that treated Simone de Beauvoir as a philosopher. The first class I took as a business breadth requirement, the second because I needed to make up credits and the third because I was registering late and I was told Beauvoir was married to Foucault. Foucault was actually gay but also a leading French intellectual of a later era. Someone played a joke on me.

The Chinese Literature class introduced me to Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism across Chinese history. It was a year long course covering from the very origins of Chinese writing to the May 4th movement and the Avant Garde era. Literature was my favorite course in high school apart from a single class called Humanities.

I quickly realized that I understood Confucianism well because my mothers family like my grandmother and uncles from her side of the family really followed these ideas to the letter. Part of this was that my grandfather grew up in mainland China near Nanking as the son of an American missionary. Confucianism is about manner and social hierarchies. It also promoted education and reform in government.

Taoism was the first philosophy I really took to as not only was it downright humorous but also because I could relate. I left the military early but had not yet realized that I was mentally ill. My discharge says Schizoid Personality Disorder on it and I was under the impression the reason I left was because of an eye condition and that was just a formality. I believed that I had failed in that I did not serve my full tour.

Taoism is the yang as Confucianism is the yin. They are related by paradox. Taoism is everything Confucianism is not. It is easiest to understand Taoism if you read about Confucianism first. Some of the best texts to read about Confcucianism are not the ones written by Confucius or Lao Tze but Chuang Tzu and Hsun Tzu.

Whereas Confucianism was about government and business and the outward appearance, Taoism was about poetry and drinking wine. The closest thing we have in contemporary American society to Taoism is the hippy or the green party. The Taoists never thought of changing government. They focused more on dropping out of society and avoiding the government.

Most Taoists were actually scholars who did not become officials because they failed their government service exam. It was a face saving way of dealing with being rejected but also educated. But it was also much more. It was so respected by the Chinese government that they even tried to make it a state philosophy but it just didn’t work that well for that.

My next philosophy course which I took to make up credits was on Existentialism where we read short pieces from everyone from Camus and Sartre to Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. We also read Dostoevsky and Schopenhauer. I wrote my final essay concluding that the lack of individual thinking in society means we are no more than quantum particles.

I really identified with Kierkegaard because by now especially after both military training and after learning about Taoism I was obsessed with humility. I also thought a lot of Camus as he seemed to see life as enjoyable and later his absurdist philosophy has made more and more sense as the world gets crazier and more destructive.

I later took a course after registering late and this was the only course available in philosophy, which I realized I might have some ability at this time, other than Nietzsche which I would definitely liked better, looking back on it. Beauvoir is very thorough in her writing and very ambitious. She covers everything you can think of about feminism in just the introduction of the Second Sex, which is one of many long books she wrote. Just before I had my psychotic episode I literally ripped some of her books in 2 and burned some in the fireplace. I felt great joy in doing so.

Beauvoir was one of the lovers of Sartre and much of her work was based on his philosophy which was really two entirely different philosophies. His great philosophical work in academia was Being and Nothingness which another student in the class who had taken a class in his work described it as a poor restatement of Hegel.

This was very inaccessible to the average person but Sartre also wrote many short stories that were much easier to understand and one famous one was called No Exit which is summarized by “Hell is other people”. He also wrote Existentialism is a Humanism which is a good simple defense of Existentialism explaining how it works well for both atheists and Christians alike.

I went on to study philosophy and religion for about 10 years trying to find a different way to be Christian and express this through Asian philosophy. I was inspired by someone I met at a church while serving in the Army in Hawaii who told me he was trying to create a Christian kind of martial arts.

I also was very dissatisfied with the leading ideas in the Church at that time as I saw they were very ineffective in reaching people in my home town. I also think they were were too reactive and had no vision for the future.

I also detected a lot of arrogance there too although I am not sure where I got that from. I actually liked my church a lot that I grew up in. I was officially registered as a Quaker on my Army dog tags, which was written as Protestant Other at the time. Some of their major ideas are what have inspired me to take a more indirect and academic approach to evangelism and apologetics.

Towards the end of this decade of study of philosophy I discovered that Christianity actually was centered in modern day Iraq and Syria, as the major population of Christians, up until the year 1000 AD. These were called the Syriac Churches whose members were an ethnic, religious, and linguistic group as different as the Arabs are from the Jews.

They were the descendant of the ancient Assyrians, they spoke and wrote in Aramaic, the same language Jesus Christ spoke, and they were some of the earliest Christians. The reason why there is so little information we have on the ancient Middle East is that they destroyed most of their own history and literature as they believed it was contrary to their new faith, Christianity.

They also are forgotten in modern times as they were persecuted for centuries because they supported the Mongols when they took over the Middle East. They were victims of a massacre of multiple Christian groups during the time between the 2 world wars where 2/3's of their population were destroyed.

They are the ones who preserved the ancient Greek ideas and passed them to a few Muslim intellectuals. These ideas were then taken up by Latin Christian medieval philosophers and along with the Byzantine contribution of critical Greek-Latin dictionaries this helped bring in the European Renaissance.

The Church of the East (centered near modern Baghdad) also tried to bring the Gospel to India and would have brought it successfully to China, except that China was trying to bring back Confucianism (Neo-Confucianism at that time). The Chinese Emperor decided to outlaw all foreign belief systems including Christianity and Buddhism. This evangelical effort was started because it was against the law to evangelize in Late Antique and Medieval Persia both under the Zoroastrian and later Islamic dynasties.

I spent the last 10-15 years explaining these things I learned and I have made 3 different attempts at explaining it and I think it turned out best in the third attempt. This is what you see on the website today. While I started in July of 1998, I am still working on it today. I started my 3rd attempt in about 2017.