Robert (Bro. Pepper-spray of Reasoned Discussion) (montecristo) wrote,
Robert (Bro. Pepper-spray of Reasoned Discussion)

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I'm still here

"What is silent in the father speaks in the son, and often I found in the son the unveiled secret of the father."
-- Friedrich Nietzsche

I've been listening to this song a lot lately. I've liked it ever since I first heard it but the things I have been learning this year have started enabling me to become conscious of things of which I was unaware before now. What does this song mean to me? I think it is a song about human individuation. Rzeznik is attempting to characterize himself and his existence in this song. He seems to be addressing his parents, family, even the world at large. He's expressing his frustration with the difficulty the process of individuation represents, the frustration and all of the faulty, erroneous premises and conclusions he has absorbed from the people around him. The process of individuation requires us to identify these premises and conclusions and examine them, see if they really fit, if they really conform to existence or if they contradict it. Premises and conclusions that conform to existence, the world, our society and communities, our families, ourselves, help us to grow and thrive as human beings. Those which contradict, lead us astray from the goal of thriving existence towards death.

I'm Still Here
John Rzeznik

I am a question to the world,
Not an answer to be heard,
Or a moment that's held in your arms.
And what do you think you'd ever say?
I won't listen anyway…
You don't know me,
And I’ll never be what you want me to be.

And what do you think you'd understand?
I'm a boy, no, I'm a man..
You can't take me and throw me away.
And how can you learn what's never shown?
Yeah, you stand here on your own.
They don't know me 'cause I'm not here.

And I want a moment to be real,
Wanna touch things I don't feel,
Wanna hold on and feel I belong.
And how can the world want me to change?
They’re the ones that stay the same.
They don’t know me,
'Cause I’m not here.

And you see the things they never see
All you wanted, I could be
Now you know me, and I'm not afraid
And I wanna tell you who I am
Can you help me be a man?
They can't break me
As long as I know who I am

And I want a moment to be real,
Wanna touch things I don't feel,
Wanna hold on and feel I belong.
And how can the world want me to change?
They’re the ones that stay the same.
They can’t see me,
But I’m still here.

They can’t tell me who to be,
‘Cause I’m not what they see.
Yeah, the world is still sleepin’,
While I keep on dreamin’ for me.
And their words are just whispers
And lies that I’ll never believe.

And I want a moment to be real,
Wanna touch things I don't feel,
Wanna hold on and feel I belong.
And how can they say I never change?
They’re the ones that stay the same.
I’m the one now,
‘Cause I’m still here.

I’m the one,
‘Cause I’m still here.
I’m still here.
I’m still here.
I’m still here.

Rzeznik says: "I am a question to the world, not an answer to be heard," meaning he understands himself to be his own person, with his own desire and need to experience and integrate his experiences about reality and the world. He has and is his own questions. He is not someone else's answer to life's questions. He is rejecting the idea, for example, that he is his parent's or his family's answers to life and existence. He is not their project or their solution or their "answer" to the questions that life and existence presented to them; he is his own set of questions about existence. I have felt like this myself, often, that my parents and family of origin, for example, especially my mother, treated me as if I were hers, some "answer" to the universe that she created. Well, she did create me, with my father. Her choices in bringing me up do represent her answers to the questions, problems, and challenges with which life presented her, but that is not the entirety of who I am, as a person. I am more than that. I cannot be constrained by those characteristics and should not allow them, passively to define me, unexamined. With what else does Rzeznik open? Just as the subject is not anyone's answer to life or the world, neither is he an object, "a moment that is held in someone else's arms." We can give and trade in spiritual values, and supply others with things that nurture and satisfy their emotional and spiritual needs but we are not merely objects for the satisfaction of the needs of others. We have to trade, we have to ourselves be "real" and "present," to have spiritual values to trade and exchange or else we have no substance, nothing to trade, nothiing for which to deal.

...and what do you think they'd ever say, I won't listen, anyway, you don't know me, and I'll never be who you want me to be.

We are our own selves. Others cannot define us. They can inspire, or beg, or coerce us to accept their definitions of us, but ultimately, this is a contradiction of existence. You cannot really make someone into something they do not desire or allow themselves to become. The use of unproductive or counter-productive means does not accomplish "good" ends, either. The "tiger moms" are treading on very dangerous ground with this approach to their children. Some, perhaps all of them, may be operating on the belief that it is possible to "shape" their offspring into their own idea of perfection. It cannot be done. At best, your methods are wholesome and you inspire and help your child find conceptual tools and talents that promote his own growth and enrich his existence. Bad means though, will be resisted or otherwise produce unintended consequences. Force, aggression, deceptions, are not efficacious. Evil is not somehow more efficacious than "good." Human existence doesn't work like that way. Our souls are not clay for some other to work and to shape as they will. Ultimately our nature is inherently tied to self-transcendence: we are creatures of self-made soul, despite whatever influences and warpings our genetics and environments give us. The effort to evade and reject this truth brings perverse consequences. Rzeznik is rejecting these premises: "I won't listen, anyway, you don't know me (or perhaps don't understand why your premise contradicts reality)" and I reject your attempt to make me integrate these premises and conclusions that I have determined to be false. The singer is saying that he is not someone else's object to be acted upon or determined by their minds. We are self-owned.

..and what do you think you'd understand...

When someone tells you "I understand," sometimes they are offering you sympathy, solidarity, empathy, reassurance, sanction, moral support, encouragement, etc. but some people in some situations are using the guise of these things to instead try and manipulate you. Rzeznik's subject is telling his listeners that when they claim to understand it is not enough; he is telling them that they must show him, prove to him, demonstrate to him that they really do understand what he means or feels, what they are trying to explain or advance, and show him that their intentions are demonstrably positive and honorable. It is not enough to claim; there must be evidence. We must demonstrate and live our truths, we must concretize them, as the Objectivists conceptualize, or express them in real action, not just mouth them or allow them to stand as empty claims, abstractions, a shell we use to protect or camouflage our real selves, our actual psyches. "How can you learn what's never shown?" Don't just tell me; show me. Don't just endorse it; live it. Don't just claim understanding, in an attempt to manipulate or garner unearned moral sanction; demonstrate your understanding, give me something in trade for the moral sanction you want from me.

...I'm a boy, no, I'm a man...

The subject is saying that in certain respects someone's assessments of him may contain grains of truth, even when they tell him that "he's not all that," that he falls short, or fails to meet their expectations, he's a boy, immature, incomplete, undeveloped, unenlightened, unprocessed, ignorant and in need of instruction, naive, etc. There may be truth to the assertion. We can acknowledge truths about ourselves that are shown to us by others, but other people can only ever be imperfect and incomplete mirrors for us, even when their intentions are pure and unclouded by the desire to manipulate or by the person's own errors and ignorance. Rzeznik's subject turns his mirror inward, reflects, introspects, declares, "no, I'm a man," there may be aspects of me that may be immature, or boyish, that have not developed or grown, but I determine that I am a man, I have the essential characteristics that comprise an adult male existence. He is not afraid to say: "I am, that I am!" and he does not need a magical, eternal, divine being outside of himself to have it's own, eternal, indestructible, all-powerful existence and nature and subsequently bestow an existence and a nature upon him in order for his existence to be and have meaning. "Yeah, you stand here on your own." However he is, he is, and he knows this, regardless of whatever else may be true, like the finite nature of his existence or of the existence of the universe as a whole. He is what he is, he exists and has a nature and has examined and self-identified it. On this basis, he tells the listener: "You can't take me and throw me away," your acceptance or rejection of me does not define my existence and I cannot be emotionally blackmailed or bribed by your granting or withholding your acceptance from me.

They don't know me, 'cause I'm not here.

When we characterize the other, at best, we characterize our own simulacrum of them, in our own heads. We can only access directly our own senses, thoughts, and perceptions, not those of others. When we analyze the other, they are not essentially "there". We access someone else's essential existence indirectly, through our own perceptions and experiences. That is not to deny that there is an objective reality, but to say that we each have our own perceptions of existence, the universe, ourselves, and others. We sense the inner essences of others through imperfect perception and communication, we build a model, a simulacrum of what we judge their inner nature to be, and we hope that if we are careful, wise, knowledgeable, and honest, this "model" is true, that it conforms to what really is the other to a significant and meaningful extent, but ultimately, we are still working with a simulacrum and have only the other person's communication and feedback to say whether they recognize themselves in our assessment of them, whether we have faithfully represented them such that they are here and real to us, or whether we are dealing with an image built out of our delusions and prejudicies and the original is "not here". Many thinkers and writers believe that this may fundamentally change in important ways, once the human-machine is perfected, because that, in theory, will allow us to communicate more effectively and come much closer to directly experiencing the perceptions and even the thinking of the other "in situ." Of course, the truth of that is tempered by the fact that there will still be a machine interface that comes between us. The ideas were explored really interestingly in movies like "Brainstorm." and "The Matrix", and "The Thirteenth Floor".

It occurs to me that the previous paragraph presupposes that interaction with "the other" is a process of understanding. There is a distinction to be drawn between directly experiencing a person and understanding them. Understanding necessarily involves the analysis of a simulacrum, since we cannot directly access one another's senses and thinking, but this is in contrast to directly experiencing the other person and judging only our reaction to them Was Molyneux making this point in Real-time Relationships? [free PDF book] I'm certain that he was. I think I need to dig into that book again and have a second go at it. The thing is, even if we speak of directly experiencing another person, we cannot do that if they are "not there," if we have alienated them and they have withdrawn themselves.

The chorus addresses the process of individuation and the fruits of its progress. We want to be genuine, to be real. Our baggage interferes with being who we really are. The singer wants "a moment" that he can have where he is his truest self, to experience reality, life, love, interaction, his own self, to the fullest his capacity will allow. Dissociation and our was of evading what it real, shying away from intimacy prevent us from reaching out and "touching" reality and appreciating it. Feelings get blunted, shunted aside, not experienced consciously. We want to hold on to the things in our lives, the values that are real and feel a sense of place, purpose, and belonging.

We are often told that "society," "our country," our families demand or require us to change, to be different, to be what they require or need or just want. The subject observes that it is he who is growing and learning and becoming more self-aware and that it is most of the rest of the world of people who do not question, do not examine their lives, do not change. They are the ones who stay the same. They don't know the singer; they objectify him attempt to manipulate. He is not real and there in their minds. He's "not there".

At this point, the song lyrics hit and inflection point and change direction, offering the listener a contrast. Rzeznik's subject is still addressing some other, either the same or a different other, but he is drawing a contrast to the earlier verses.

And you see the things they never see

He is saying: "I find value in you, when you offer me insights and perceptions that I would not have but through your sharing." He's talking about the true, real exchange of spiritual values. He is acknowledging the values of the "spiritual goods" in which he is willing to conduct trade, and the value of the one(s) with whom he is conducting these exchanges. He points out that the person he is addressing has unique values that he has not found in others, unique insights and perspectives, unique ways of interacting with him. It may also be the case that the protagonist of the song is telling someone that they are already someone to whom he is willing to show things that he would not show to just anyone. In this case he's making claims about their value and of his discretion and discernment.

All you wanted, I could be

The spiritual values the addressed other has claimed or is perceived to want are recognized, and Rzeznik's subject is making an offer to trade in what he understands as his own desirable spiritual values. I find the phrase "all you wanted", really interesting here. This is not a casual, street-corner food-cart kind of exchange being proposed here. He's using a superlative condition: "all." Christian fundamentalist and Austrian Economics essayist, Gary North, writes of the concept of "covenant." A covenant, as explained by North, is an offer that encompasses much more than a mere contract. Contracts are conditional and limited. A covenant is a pledge to do whatever is necessary to satisfy not only the interpreted terms of a contractual agreement, but to satisfy the desires of the other party to their complete satisfaction. A contract states that an agreement is fulfilled as soon as the objective terms and obligations stated in the document are met. A covenant says that the parties agree that the agreement is fulfilled only when the other party has voluntarily agreed that they are satisfied. The purpose of such an agreement is to secure exclusivity. That the singer is stating this is evidenced by the adjective applied to the spiritual values offered: "all," meaning that the counter-party need go to nobody else to satisfy a spiritual need — one-stop shopping. We can quibble about whether, outside of a stranded survivors on a desert island scenario, such a set of circumstances ever holds true, or is even desirable, an agreement where every last single spiritual value is met in one person, but the subject is using an artistic license for hyperbolic language to convey emotional meaning. He is expressing an understanding of what his own values are, an understanding of what his correspondent's desired spiritual values are, and a willingness to transact for a significant portion of those. He's proclaiming the inner growth and individuation necessary to make such a claim.

Now you know me, and I'm not afraid, And I wanna tell you who I am, Can you help me be a man?

The song was written for a soundtrack for the movie Treasure Planet. In the movie, the main character, for whom the song was written as a theme, is addressing a father-figure in his life, but the lyrics can be generalized to anyone. The process of individuation is the process of maturing and gaining self-confidence. The subject of the song is declaring self-knowledge, and asserting that he has the confidence to allow himself to be known by others through communication and the exchange of spiritual value. The process of individuation is a feedback loop, whether it operates interally, through introspection, or externally, through open, honest communication. In the case of this verse, the subject expresses the confidence in his ability to discern whom it is safe to trust to offer him constructive feedback and to participate in his life. This part of the song draws a distinction between those who wish to manipulate the subject and influence him either through deception or coercion and those whom the subject voluntarily trusts to be a participating party in his life. Others cannot make you who you are, but you can allow others to help you in the process of choosing what you become and what values you will seek. It is our interactions with others, when the interactions are healthy and engaged consciously, that deepen our connections and ability to be present and real.

They can't break me, As long as I know who I am

The singer tells us that self-awareness, "as long as I know who I am" is a sovereign remedy for the problems of malleability, being without direction, purposelessness, and disconnection from others and reality. We can uphold our responsibilities, connections, and relationships because we know who we are as individuals. When we know who we are we are not as succeptible to collapse in the face of manipulation and the machinations of others who may wish to establish a pseudo-connection for disingenuous reasons.

The second iteration of the chorus ends with a different line:

But I'm still here

In the first chorus the singer was saying that the people trying to make him into someone else were directing their efforts at someone they had invented in their own minds, he wasn't there. In this chorus, the singer is saying that whether or not anyone else is "there," real and present and ready for genuine exchange, he is showing up and being real. It reflects a change, confidence and self-assurance.

The bridge explains the change between the first chorus and the second. There is a growing realization in the singer that those who live an examined life, as Socrates put it, are different than those who do not live such a life, and the former are a small minority of the people in the world. Most of the world sleeps. The singer is not at the mercy of fad, popular opinion or those who seek to manipulate. He is not what they see; he is different; his dreams are his own and his pursuit of self-knowledge is not subject to the whims of the collective and those who would try to make him into something alien to his true self.
Tags: human nature, introspection, music lyrics and poetry, philosophy, quotes

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