Monthly Archives: December 2013

Watching Football and Existential Crises

Recently I wrote a post on the relationship between watching series and existential crises. Watching series is a phenomenon, it is a social force that could be harnessed for progress or to impede progress; regardless of which direction, it is a social force that must not be ignored. The previous post argued that this social force suppresses a needed existential crises which is one way to achieve consciousness revolution. Thus watching series is a key suppressant of a country’s promising Consciousness Revolution. We also found that it could be used to enrich a revolutionized consciousness.

It was suggested that I make an attempt at peoples occupation with football championship. I thought I should try…

Seeing that watching series is so pervasive, perhaps the only other entertainment phenomenon that can compete with it is watching football (soccer) championship. This may not be the case with regards to hours spent per day, but it is certainly the case when it comes to how deep it penetrates and affects psyche of the audience. Therein lies the first observation about the negative effects of these social forces; Watching series is mostly passive (suppressant) in its effect while watching football is more active in its effect. This statement shall be clarified in what follows.

Football Team Logos

First let us recall the definition of Existential Crises, but this time a richer definition of Fitrah follows

“Definition: For the sake of this post we shall describe Existential Crises as that moment in a person’s life where they seek answers to the foundations of their existence. This is the moment where people’s response makes them become Born-Again, or “Ustaz”. Managing Existential Crises properly is important because it could lead to fanaticism. From Muslim view of the natural state of man (Fitrah), Existential Crises is bound to happen when the soul yearns to find meaning, which is the souls way of seeking God. However, many other things have been used to quench this yearning.”

Since Muslims believe that God breathed his Spirit into man [Q32:9], man’s quest to find God can be seen as the human soul’s way of reuniting with its source, or returning home. Hence the soul’s yearning may be animated by nostalgia which flows unregistered to our minds because it is buried deep below human consciousness. This mission-driven attribute of the soul can be seen as the Fitrah; the inclination of the soul towards God.

Most monotheistic religions would agree that God cannot be comprehended my the human mind. Different religions have devised ways to comprehend God in bits that human mind can make sense of, usually by a reductionist approach; which is to try understanding aspects/attributes of God. The reductionist approach only approximates God because the sum of the discernible aspects of God is not equal the whole of God (not your conventional arithmetic). The axiom is that God is not separate from His attributes. Some Christian theologians formulated the concept of Trinity. On the other hand, Muslim theologians understand God through God’s divine attributes e.g. The Most Merciful, The Noble, The Sustainer etc. It is my contention that the soul, being bound to humans, also understands God by attributes or representation. That is to say if the soul were a computer, it would have come with a memory containing all/some of God’s attributes, and a program (which is Fitrah) on how to identify those attributes from any object. For instance, Fitrah would be seeking the Most Merciful (or any of the God’s attributes simultaneously), then if it finds an “object” in the world that has that attribute, it tries to identify all the other (or as many) attributes of God. If it succeeds in the comparison, it continues with next attribute until it reaches a point where it says Aha! this Object must be God!

We shall continue with the Muslim understanding of God. For every attribute identified, Fitrah becomes fulfilled and the soul feels that much closer to God; its source. At this point, it should be noted that among the known attributes of God (many are not known), only a few have been argued to be uniquely God’s. One such is The Most Merciful (Ar-Rahmaan), whereas another attribute like The Dispenser of Mercy (Ar-Raheem) may be attributed to other than God; it is difficult to show this in English since I chose to use the superlative “Most” but the point is one is unique to God.

Another thing to note is that Fitrah is susceptible to fault, or put another way, open to corruption; just like computer programs can be corrupted by virus. This is no news to those familiar with sciences of psychology, which is similar to a biological system that becomes faulty: e.g. a person’s immune system start attacking the body instead of protecting it; or when absorbed nutrients are fed to cancer cells which grow to harm the individual. Nonetheless, once upon a time, a baby’s biological systems were pristine even if a “disabled” baby. Then overtime, physical intake (of substances) or physical interactions with the physical body lead to biological systems becoming faulty. The human psychological system may become faulty from experiences a person is exposed to. Nature, Nurture eh? A person’s soul is tied to their psychological state, and thus to their Fitrah.

I am aware that up until this point, its been talk about theology, biology,  and psychology, nothing on football yet. There are two reasons: the first is that football championship as an entertainment phenomenon is that complex under the hood; the second reason is I don’t watch football even when I used to play it so I wouldn’t have much to say. However I am surrounded by people who are fixated on football championships.

Before getting into football, I beg your pardon for another brief detour; it is about transcendence. What is transcendence? We come across transcendence commonly through the virtue of selflessness; or perhaps we know what it is not, through selfishness. If I got a naira for every time a Nigerian uses the compound word “selfish interest” to describe the state of the country, I would be a billionaire! Selflessness is the opposite of selfishness. If you have ever had the chance to be genuinely selfless (e.g. help someone without expecting a thank you), there is a heartwarming feeling that accompanies the act. That is a taste of transcendence! The person has gone beyond themselves through an act. To explore transcendence more deeply, one needs to refer to the mystics of many religions. My favorite are Islam’s Sufis.

 

For the sake of this post: Sufis are Muslims mystics that take this quest of Fitrah (for the soul to meet its Source, God) as the ultimate goal of life. Therefore they have devised systems of training in which the Fitrah’s goal is sought in all of one’s actions and interactions. The feeling of transcendence is one way Sufis measure if they are making progress; longer duration in the state of transcendence is a good sign. There are two ways (for the sake of this post) to reach transcendence: through private meditation/action; and through communal interactions. Unfortunately stereotype of Sufis seem to focus on the former; we shall focus on the latter. The neglect of communal interactions is in spite of the fact that the middle-ages has been filled with Sufi brotherhoods that span many countries offering communal services like hostel for travelers, while some where secret societies. Community life offers many opportunities to improve transcendence not only in inter-personal interactions but also in the idea of having a common cause that unites all, which is a selfless endeavour. This common cause is bigger than the sum of the causes of individuals that make the community; it is that feeling of brotherhood and fraternity based on spiritual links not blood ties. Blood may be thicker that water but it is not as sublime as the spirit.

My theory now all fits together. I wonder if there is any reason to explain further. By way of example, let us take a typical fan of Chelsea FC (It’s popular and easy to spell). But we are not really concerned with the fan, we are more interested in the fan’s Fitrah. The Fitrah, which determines the “actions” of the soul, is busy searching for God using all permutations of God’s attributes on “objects” it encounters. When it encounters ordinary folks like you and I, it dismisses them easily because “ordinary” doesn’t stand out. When it encounters celebrities/superstars who are exceptional, then it finds a “match” (more similarity) for God’s attribute **The Great**. This Fitrah is infected with a “virus”. Alas you see, the media is not the most responsible for our exaggeration/goddifaction of celebrities, its the Fitrah man!

When we have celebrity preference and put them for rivalry, it is Fitrah’s way of trying to be monotheistic by not assigning the same importance to many god-heads. However, Fitrah also sees institutions (like Sufi brotherhoods) as objects to be compared for God’s attributes. So Fitrah of our Chelsea fan compares UEFA Champions League for God’s attribute **The Magnificient**. It would likely find similarities. In addition there is the transcendence feeling that comes with the global brotherhood/fraternity of football; that infectious football fever. Anywhere two football fans meet, football fever affords them a common language to start conversation. In the trinity of Celebrity, Institution, and Fraternity, the Fitrah of the Chelsea fan has found what it believes are aspects of God.

Football Championship phenomenon has constructed its subtle and frail theology where prophets are star players, devils are opposing players, the community/ummah/church is the football team, spiritual reward is transcendence in football fever, and team symbols/logos are the crosses/crescents. Watching Football is church-service/mosque-prayers in this religion. Following the dramas and controversies that abound football players and teams is reminiscent of the scandals of the Greek gods that their worshipers were attentive to. Debates on football look no different from theological debates between opposing sects of a religion; interestingly, football as in religious debates, some “sects” are allies not because they agree but because they have a common opposition. Another worthy point of similarity is people’s use of reason in both Football and Religion; it is used to justify choices rather than for insight and contemplation on choices. The question is who are the priests of this football religion? You guessed right, it is Corporations with one overriding goal which is to make the most profit, with little or no ethical considerations.

Sky Corporation and Football Teams it preaches

On reflection, this Football religion makes me wonder if people’s practice of actual religions (especially the dramas, controversies and inflexible debates) are not simply other ways to arrive at the same goal as the faithful of the Football religion. Any wonder why hooligans and religious fanatics are so similar? Could we ever know the difference between the two? I argue we can! First, religion has an ethical framework which should ideally regulate those noisy controversies and debates. Secondly, religion (Islam) clarifies the hierarchy of beings/objects in existence as the most fundamental article of belief; this hierarchy is encoded in Tawhid (which is the Unity of God and Ontological heirarchy) where God alone is at the apex.  It is so important some Muslim theologians even claim that belief in supremacy of God is sufficient for faith. Tawhid is what consciously makes every other god-figure be perceived as nothing other than what they are because the Fitrah would have assigned to God those common God’s-attributes that are mistakenly assigned to god-figures. In other words, Fitrah would have been free from virus. There are other points of difference between Religion and Football, however this is about (the religion of) Football.

With regards to existential crisis, following football championship prevents existential crises by creating the illusion of answers to questions that would be raised during an existential crises.

Can you see how this can explain our celebrity madness/worship (even “religious” celebrities), the concept of patriotism, fanaticism (religious and otherwise)…? If you don’t see the connection, I might have to rewrite the whole of this post using a different model other than of Fitrah.

I understand some extreme groups (e.g. Al Shabaab) have taken it upon themselves to forbid watching of football championships on account that it prevents Muslims from carrying out their obligatory duties like the five daily prayers on time. Well that is quite… umm extreme. This post is not to say that watching football is equivalent to polytheism but it is a godly distraction. It just needs to be put in its place.

As a final note, you might have noticed there was no mention of actually playing football, instead it was the watching/following of football that was focused on. My reason is that I believe the two are quite different, the only thing they have in common is football. Playing football requires dedication whereas watching/following football requires devotion! Like I said, I am not a football person, I’m a basketball person, which I play 2-3 times a week. I learnt that watching/following a sport is not the same as playing that sport because I really like playing basketball but have never been able to watch/follow it (except finals for some reason). Many of my fellow basketballers have judged me almost hypocritical because how could I get all dressed up for basketball and frequent the court (basketball’s mosque) yet I lack devotion to the prophets of basketball. Subahanallah! That is very close to the description of a hypocrite (Munaafiq) in the Qur’an… Am I a Basketball Munaafiq?! LOL

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Courtship Template

Courtship Template Cover - v1.0

My dissatisfaction with the state of marriages in my immediate environment (Muslims, Nigerians) has led to preparing the work below. I would refrain from emphasizing that this is an issue of contemporary marriages alone, while neglecting the marriage-of-our-parents (former generations), which is praised but undeserving in my opinion. Like I said the intention is not to criticize marriages. However, because marriages of the past have not failed overtly, it does not mean they have succeeded either… I find it more truthful to say they have survived.  My belief is that the difference between a surviving marriage and a successful marriage is the amount of planning and effort put into it; all wrapped in the garment of sincerity and goodwill… and of course God’s blessings.

The work below is my first attempt at correcting this failed and surviving institution. It is titled Courtship Template. So far it has been received with minimum cynicism, Alhamdulillah. More importantly, feedback has been coming in and more is expected, and more is welcomed. While anticipating feedback, the first release has been tagged version 1.0.

Find below links to the first release of the Courtship Template. The two links are for a case where one is unavailable.

Courtship Template – Bilal Bugaje or here.

 

Enjoy

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Watching Series and Existential Crises

tv-shows

Do I Still Watch Series?

Yes, I still try to find time to. I used to be a Big-Fan of series. Only recently I started to appreciate it. I should ‘ve written this post a while ago, but a discussion today prompted me to articulate it here.

If asked, I would say watching series is a waste of time. This answer is not free from the context it is asked, or even who is asking; so different people might get different answers. The reason is that those different people are likely to be the different me at two points in my life; when I was simply a Big-Fan, and when I began to appreciate. Many people I know are simply big-fans of watching series.

During my Big-Fan days, I was simultaneously following about 30 series that were currently airing, so I had about 30 episodes to download and watch every week!

Many Big-Fans are the epitome of time wasting. The average teenager/youth with access to series spends three hours daily watching series (no data, just estimation in my head). Someone once pointed out to me how computer-savvy my generation is; pointing to the proliferation of young people with laptops (in Nigeria). That is misleading, because most laptops are simply dvd-players or a (flat) tube for watching series (and movies). Some computers have never even seen a word processor like Microsoft Word, some have the trial version of Microsoft Office that came with it and it is not surprising to click on Microsoft Word only to be prompted that it has either expired or that it should be setup for the first time of opening it.

Apart from entertainment, a major reason big-fans have is to while away time. We are slaves to the clock (not time): when we setup alarms before going to sleep; when we race to meet lectures/office because the clock tells we are running late; when we watch the time expectantly towards end of a lecture/work-day… We usually start our day by paying homage to our master by futile attempts to trick him when we snooze our way into his favor, five minutes at a time. Later on we pray to God. Our relationship to the clock is slavery, because it either demands haste from us, or we seek delay from it. However we are strangers to time because it is soft spoken compared to the Clock, though insidious When faced with “free” time, many of us are clueless what to do with it. We avoid confrontation with time because it might get us to contemplate about those meaningful things that might shake the foundations of our existence. So we shy away from intimacy with time using past times as distractions. A very popular past time is watching series, and the most shy among us are the Big-Fans!

Definition: For the sake of this post we shall describe Existential Crises as that moment in a person’s life where they seek answers to the foundations of their existence. This is the moment where people’s response makes them become either born again, or “Ustaz”. Managing Existential Crises properly is important because it has lead to fanaticism in the past. From the Muslim view of the natural state of man (Fitrah), Existential Crises is bound to happen when the soul yearns to find meaning, which is the souls way of seeking God. However, many other things have been used to quench this yearning.

2010-04-01-the-existential-crisis-of-an-apple

Being a Big-Fan is a symptom to be taken seriously. It indicates a deep psychological crises, a life lacking meaning, a numb and tranquilized mind, an anxiety towards confrontation with time, a fear of intimacy with time; murkiness for reflection. The natural (correcting) order of things, through contemplation on our lives, would have demanded some form of meaning in our lives by triggering an Existential Crises. However watching series numbs that corrective tendency. The cathartic and continual property of series makes it so easy for us to extend a piece of our lives into the series that we feel an empty space whenever a series finale runs. We feel a hole is created in our souls. However, there has always been a hole which is to be filled with life meaning/purpose, instead with fill it with the next available series. Unfortunately, series cannot fill a hole not meant for it, rather it takes our attention away from the hole. We remain un-whole.

It is interesting that in Arabic, series is Salsalah, which also means chains. Are we simply watching series, or are we chaining ourselves (souls) in the process?

In contrast to feature films (movies), series are just bad investment of time! Every time you make a decision to begin watching a series you are not only investing the time to watch one episode. No, you are investing the (future) time you don’t have yet to watch all the other episodes as they are released. You are also investing time in the coming years which you must use to follow up on the subsequent seasons. Say you started watching the season 1 of the series 24 in 2002. Then you would be committing yourself to spend 24 hours of 2002, and 24 hours for each of the subsequent 8 years. Therefore by simply taking the decision to watch season 1, you are investing 194 hours of your life to Jack Bauer and CTU :).

These criticisms of watching series (not necessarily the ones above) have lead some to make watching series almost sinful. I disagree, even though there’s more negative stuff to be added about watching series. One important criticism to add here is the consumerist feature of popular series; it is like the more series you watch, the cooler you are. But it is not only consumerist from the consumer side, it is also from the producer side because the series are designed to tease and meet your carnal fantasies, give you the gossipers ultimate reality (knowing every juicy story about someone’s life), pausing episodes/seasons just where you will be craving for more… More of what?!

More entertainment. Less time. Less life meaning. More numbness of the mind. More impotence of the soul.

Before I go into my justification for such an ostensibly bad habit, let us explore some aspects of the entertainment industry. Given it’s consumerist doctrine (as listed above), it relies on controlling the consumers. Consumers, in media as in other products, are controlled with one key assumption, that they give in to their psychological insecurities and sweet sins: e.g. the sweetness of gossip makes us want to know how Ross will finally propose to Rachel (Friends), or if Bree would take Olson back after all he has done (Desperate Housewives); our fantasies on fame and sex want to live the life of Vince (Entourage); Our un-doable immodesty in the real world want to take a peak at Shirtless Mc Steamy (Grey’s Anatomy); We won’t be caught having sex, at least not that way, but we don’t mind the sex scenes between Ann Boleyn and King Henry (The Tudors) etc. The point is: without conscious awareness, will and effortful control, we are robots at the hands of the series/movies industry (as in other industries).

One other aspect that is capitalized on so much is (what I call) our gossipy-curiosity which is the reason we get “hooked” to a series. We DO get addicted to some series. We project our lives into the fiction, at the expense of awareness of our real world. It is not unhealthy to “escape” reality once is a while, but it is something else to feel uncomfortable/anxious in reality that one craves to go back to fiction; as if the fiction is the person’s reality. Many lovers of TV have reported being depressed with their lives, but they don’t feel depressed when watching series; you might have experienced depression after watching a season especially in a short time. I wonder what gives some of us the moral high-ground to criticize how absorbed kids get into cartoon channels these days. So I identified gossipy-curiosity as a major tool used to control me.

On the other hand, series (and movies) expose us to a lot of new experiences; even if fictitious and virtual. It is like travelling without moving. The issue then is how accurate is the depiction of reality in series? (This same question could be directed at international news channels). However experiences are not limited to representation of facts, but also the experience/insight of new concepts and different philosophical worldview. It then becomes imperative for one to equip themselves with Critical Thinking before delving into series in order to avoid being misled; philosophically and fact wise. With a modest mind of Critical Thinking, watching series can provide opportunities to broaden our horizons.

In light of all these goods and bads of watching series, I have prepared a formula (or philosophy) for myself on how I engage with series in the following two statements. I only watch a series if it brings something new to the table (my head; can broaden my horizon). I focus on the concepts/themes/facts rather than the juicy story line so that I am not vulnerable to gossipy-curiosity.

Once upon a time, I would simply get any series and start watching episode with only a vague or no idea of background information, as long as the video looks entertaining. My new philosophy requires me to first find out what a series has to offer me that I am not already familiar with because my time is precious. The new philosophy has also allowed be to be able to quit watching ANY series after the first season, without a haunting regret.

Let me illustrate with an example. When Game of Thrones was recommended to me, it took me a few months and repetitive recommendations before I decided to look it up on the internet. I was immediately excited (and surprised) to find out that it was produced by HBO. HBO has produced some of my best series because of how realistic they are; The Wire and The Sopranos etc. So I was expecting realism but then Game of Thrones is set in a fantasy world. I was interested in how these will come together. This is bringing something new to my table; or rather mixing two things already on my table in a way I had not envisioned. Now I have watched 2 or 3 seasons of it, I am quite satisfied with how it has broadened my mind, but now I can’t be bothered to follow up with other seasons; even though it’s the type that you get hooked-on. Another example is Boardwalk Empire which brings to the table a fact-inspired history of USA Organized crime and its part in politics and economy of the country; features historical figures like young Al Capone, young J Edgar Hoover, Ponzi (of Ponzi Scheme) etc. I watched the first two seasons, and I feel no urge to continue… but I might. Then there is Downton Abbey which also brings to the table a fact-inspired history of England through the domestic life of a Yorkshire aristocratic family. Very nice. However I can’t be bothered to follow up with the romance of Lady Mary and Mathew.

On the other hand I don’t see why I should waste time watching umm… they are too many to mention but you know them; they are all those that would be difficult to make a case for bringing anything new to the table, if anything at all. Even with comedy series, one of my best is The Office (UK and US), and that has brought a novel approach to making series. Then a series like Big Bang Theory is only worth the time spent when they make the geeky science jokes; so it kinda refreshes your science memories. Then UK comedies are quite good and worth wasting some time e.g. Yes Minister which gives such an insight into public service in the UK, at the time.

All I have been trying to say is accept that watching series is a waste of time, then examine if what it brings to the table is worth spending time on. It might help productivity in your life to seriously consider breaking free from the gossipy-curiosity tendencies. Perhaps it might break us free from the chains (Salsalah) of series and allow for intimacy with time which will eventually trigger the long overdue Existential Crisis you need to give your life some meaning! We need a revolution of Consciousness!

[Perhaps we should discuss how to manage Existential Crises soon :)]

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