Are You SUPERFLUOUS?

Victory

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#33
I definitely have the feeling that life goes on around me rather than with me being a driving force for change or achievement.

Probably because the things I am passionate about are not connected to monetary game...but just intellectual interest or enjoyment of the Arts.

But LizardKing's post #18 above is very true.
We often get the opportunity to say things in a way that is beneficial to others, or to show others the basic respect of human dignity, just in small interactions ... paying for something in a shop, or waiting in a bus queue.
And in today's fast paced world, that is something worthwhile,
 

EnolaGaia

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#35
... I have known about this label for some time, and have even used it myself. However I was not really all that clear about what it actually entailed until I recently read `The Diary of a Superflous Man` by Ivan Turgenev (1850). This is the very novella that introduced the term to the world and was responsible for making the idea fashionable among Russian novelists at that time. It explains what `superfluous man `means quite clearly. On page 10 of the Alma Classics version (published 2019) we come across this:

As for me -that's all you can say about me: I'm superfluous - that's the top and bottom of it. Surplus to requirments - no more, no less. Nature did not count on my putting in an appearance, and as a result has always treated me as an unexpected and uninvited guest.
...
I've been musing over the original query since it was posted.

My first comment would be: "Isn't this simply a variant form of the usual existential question(s), re-contextualized so as to frame things in terms of the individual's relationship(s) with something 'other' (people; society; the natural world) rather than the individual him- / herself?"

Phrased a different way ... Isn't this a somewhat back-handed approach to skipping over the relevance (if not centrality) of the individual person per se in favor of highlighting the individual solely in terms of a role defined / occupied in relation to something external or of broader scope?
 

dr wu

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#36
Hmm....aren't most of us 'superfluous' for the most part..? I would guess that if 'most of us' hadn't been born the world would not be that different. Is that what we take away from this..?
I think my daughters and grand children would not think me superfluous since they wouldn't be here without my input on that level at least.
;)
 

EnolaGaia

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#38
Hmm....aren't most of us 'superfluous' for the most part..? I would guess that if 'most of us' hadn't been born the world would not be that different. Is that what we take away from this..? ...
I would say that framing the issue with respect to being superfluous automatically means one should ask, "Superfluous to what? To whom?"

There's no such thing as being universally or unilaterally superfluous. If you don't specify the context, you can't make the attribution.

In the Turgenev story the central (diarist) character wasn't wholly superfluous. For his duel adversary, he served as an important stepping stone to enhanced local social status (and maybe the woman the adversary also desired) as a direct result of interacting with the diarist.

As your post indicates, at some level of generality any individual is irrelevant. Indeed, at the level of the entire planet our entire species may well be judged "superfluous" - or at least as superfluous as any of the similar species (multicellular; large; terrestrial) that have come and gone before us.

As your post also indicates, at some level of specificity (e.g., family and friends) none of us is completely irrelevant. Even the worst of our family members have relevance as (e.g.) negative examples for ongoing reference.

(Edited to clarify relevance with respect to the adversary, not the diarist himself.)
 

Victory

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#39
EnolaGaia

I agree that no one is completely superfluous.
And I believe in prayer, so I believe I can help make spiritual effects.

Yet there is also the feeling that the daily commute, the daily slog at the desk.....what of my individuality do I contribute to this?
If I left my job tommorow then it would be very easy for someone else to do it.

In terms of the arts, I have done things in my past which have in a small way contributed to other people who have made noticeable contributions to the artistic life of the UK....yet right now, what I do in life, makes me feel very non-individualistic...very much a cog in someone else's machine.
 

Cochise

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#40
EnolaGaia

I agree that no one is completely superfluous.
And I believe in prayer, so I believe I can help make spiritual effects.

Yet there is also the feeling that the daily commute, the daily slog at the desk.....what of my individuality do I contribute to this?
If I left my job tommorow then it would be very easy for someone else to do it.

In terms of the arts, I have done things in my past which have in a small way contributed to other people who have made noticeable contributions to the artistic life of the UK....yet right now, what I do in life, makes me feel very non-individualistic...very much a cog in someone else's machine.

Of course it is entirely possible you are all figments of my imagination. After all, how are you going to prove you continue to exist after I die / pass to anther plane? It's equally possible I'm a figment of someone else's imagination, although obviously I don't support that theory for a moment :)


In reality I have made some people happy and helped other people to achieve goals they did not believe themselves capable of. I have of course made mistakes and let other people down. But insofar as I interact with others (more so in the past admittedly) I have affected the oikumene
and who can say what would have happened had I not been here?
 

Shady

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#41
EnolaGaia

I agree that no one is completely superfluous.
And I believe in prayer, so I believe I can help make spiritual effects.

Yet there is also the feeling that the daily commute, the daily slog at the desk.....what of my individuality do I contribute to this?
If I left my job tommorow then it would be very easy for someone else to do it.

In terms of the arts, I have done things in my past which have in a small way contributed to other people who have made noticeable contributions to the artistic life of the UK....yet right now, what I do in life, makes me feel very non-individualistic...very much a cog in someone else's machine
but without that cog where does it leave them?
 

EnolaGaia

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#42
EnolaGaia
I agree that no one is completely superfluous. ...
Yet there is also the feeling that the daily commute, the daily slog at the desk.....what of my individuality do I contribute to this?
If I left my job tommorow then it would be very easy for someone else to do it. ...
...yet right now, what I do in life, makes me feel very non-individualistic...very much a cog in someone else's machine.
I'm going to defer comment on the individualistic theme for now and focus on a clarification.

Let me refer back to my earlier comment:
I would say that framing the issue with respect to being superfluous automatically means one should ask, "Superfluous to what? To whom?"
There's no such thing as being universally or unilaterally superfluous. If you don't specify the context, you can't make the attribution.
My point was that no one can be judged superfluous without specifying the context in which his / her relevance is judged. There's no all-encompassing answer to the question of one's superfluity. In some contexts one may be entirely superfluous to anything / anyone, whereas in others he / she may be extremely relevant to something / someone.

In that earlier post I illustrated such a contextual shift in terms of granularity or scope (very general versus very situationally specific). This is not the only dimension or space along / within which context (and associated degree of relevance / superfluity) may shift. This multiplicity of contexts is unavoidable, because we each operate within multiple distinguishable contexts, and as often as not we are dealing with our multiple contexts in parallel as well as serially.

Since you specifically mentioned the workaday / job realm ...

Consider the fact that Albert Einstein's scientific reputation began with his publication of 4 innovative papers in 1905, during which time he was an examiner in the Swiss patent office - i.e., a bureaucratic desk jockey.

In the context of the patent office as an enterprise he played a role prescribed by others and apparently justified his continuance in that role. He was passed over for promotion during his tenure with the patent office, suggesting he wasn't exactly considered a critical "cog."

In the context of physics he was a singular influence whose thinking would dominate certain fields for at least a century (and the clock's still running ...).

He was simultaneously dispensable / replaceable as a civil servant in the workaday world and breaking through as a notably promising theoretical physicist on the side. If he'd died during that period or never moved on into academia, what would have been his superfluity rating?

One easy answer would be that it would be a net rating somehow calculated with respect to both his roles. This, I would claim, represents a misguided oversimplification obscuring his different degrees of accomplishment in the two best-known roles he played during that period.

Einstein's rating as a patent examiner pertains to his day job context, his rating as a budding theorist pertains to his avocation, and neither has any necessary connection or correlation with the other.
 

AlchoPwn

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#44
When we consider superfluity, we must also question the whole issue of its opposite, which is usefulness. I am with Lao Tze on this one. Is there anything quite so terrible as being useful?

Lao Tze points out that the tall straight tree in a forest is cut down for its usefulness, while the bent knotty tree on a mountainside lives its days undisturbed as it is useless. So too, a great ceremonial turtle is taxidermed and sitting on the altar of the Emperor, while less august turtles are still playing in the mud.

People are always in a rush for the dubious honor of being famous or of use to other people, despite the fact that such a life often sees them destroyed. So I ask you, what would the sage make of the Kardashian-Wests and Trumps of this world? We all work so very hard to build our own punishment.
 

EnolaGaia

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#45
When we consider superfluity, we must also question the whole issue of its opposite, which is usefulness. I am with Lao Tze on this one. Is there anything quite so terrible as being useful? ...
Agreed, but ... There's nothing wrong with making oneself useful in a particular context (job; personal relationships; etc.). It becomes toxic when your usefulness is overly or needlessly exploited by someone else as a stopgap / default strategy to avoid their own responsibilities.

A major factor in my successes has been my habit of immersing myself in a task / job / mission and working to improve my performance over time. The motivation doesn't come from any ego-tripping or desire for recognition; it's simply the best way to keep oneself interested (sometimes just to keep oneself awake ... ) and to make the time pass more smoothly. It's also the best way to earn "slack" (the state of being left alone and / or trusted to operate with minimal / no constraints or pesky supervision).
 
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EnolaGaia

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#46
... People are always in a rush for the dubious honor of being famous or of use to other people, despite the fact that such a life often sees them destroyed. So I ask you, what would the sage make of the Kardashian-Wests and Trumps of this world? We all work so very hard to build our own punishment.
I've always studiously avoided nurturing recognition except among relatively small / specialized circles, and then only as the result of my performance rather than an objective pursued in and of itself.

Social popularity or celebrity (both personal and professional) has never interested me, because I've always seen it as a fool's game. Admiration, like a brass trophy, has a very short half-life of significance. In the long run, admiration serves as the entry point and excuse for others' expectations and demands, so pursuing it is akin to being a fly proactively seeking out a web in which to become ensnared.
 

INT21

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#47
Shady,

To take the cog analogy a bit further. Imagine a series production of gears for some everyday machine. They are replacement parts for some machine that is useful, but becoming obsolete.

As the time goes by, the value of the spare parts, which were easily obtainable before, holds a steady price until it is realised that they are becoming rare. The the value increases if, and only if, people consider that machine worth maintaining. It will reach a state where the part has to be individually made as all the replacement stock is gone.

But people are infinitely replaceable.
Someone can always do your job.

No need to keep a heap of spares hanging around taking up shelf space.

And if your job is no longer needed, you had better have some niche value.
 

Vardoger

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#48
The idea of `the superfluous man` can be found in a lot of Russian literature - and many of the central character of Russian stories from the Nineteenth Century are described as being `superfluous men` (perhaps the best known being Eugene Onegin, the hero of Pushkin's verse, which was also turned into an opera by Tchiakovsky).

I have known about this label for some time, and have even used it myself. However I was not really all that clear about what it actually entailed until I recently read `The Diary of a Superflous Man` by Ivan Turgenev (1850). This is the very novella that introduced the term to the world and was responsible for making the idea fashionable among Russian novelists at that time. It explains what `superfluous man `means quite clearly. On page 10 of the Alma Classics version (published 2019) we come across this:

As for me -that's all you can say about me: I'm superfluous - that's the top and bottom of it. Surplus to requirments - no more, no less. Nature did not count on my putting in an appearance, and as a result has always treated me as an unexpected and uninvited guest.

It continues like that in the same vein for some time (gowoutandbuyitwhydontcha!) Now be honest with yourself. Does that resonate with you at all? If you're anything like me it does.

When I first read it I was instantly reminded of a remark a friend - who was into reincarnation and such like (but not Russian literature) -once made about me many years ago. He said:
`It's as though you're somehow not meant to be here`.

So as superfluous people - I suppose in this day and age women can be superfluous too - we are never likely to lead the charge of any brigade. Never likely to be the male/female lead of a romantic epic. Never likely to be the much loved family guy.... (Or when we try these things we get a slap in the face. Thus Turgenev's anti-hero from the above mentioned story challenges his rival in love to a duel. His rival agrees and our superfluous man only succeeds in slightly wounding his rival - who then calls the duel off as a show of magnanimity. The result: his rival comes out of it looking brave and kind and our superfluous man is shuinned by polite society).

But there are some upsides:

*We are inoccent bystanders who get to observe, and even partake in things, without ever really being held accountable for them.

* We survive things that would fell other people (It's as though, because we are already superfluous `nature` doesn't feel a need to be rid of us).

* We get to be like characters in Nineteenth Century Russian novels and can be `brooding` and `tortured` and `mysterious` in a way that non-superfluous people would pay good money for.

Just thinking aloud.
Or are you an NPC in your own life?
 

Shady

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#52
Shady,

To take the cog analogy a bit further. Imagine a series production of gears for some everyday machine. They are replacement parts for some machine that is useful, but becoming obsolete.

As the time goes by, the value of the spare parts, which were easily obtainable before, holds a steady price until it is realised that they are becoming rare. The the value increases if, and only if, people consider that machine worth maintaining. It will reach a state where the part has to be individually made as all the replacement stock is gone.

But people are infinitely replaceable.
Someone can always do your job.

No need to keep a heap of spares hanging around taking up shelf space.

And if your job is no longer needed, you had better have some niche value.
I was trying to make you feel good, but you kinda ruined it with logic ya git :p
 

INT21

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#53
Maximus otter,

Fungibility refers only to the equivalence and indistinguishability of each unit of a commodity with other units of the same commodity .

Shady,

Aw, sorry. :)
 

RaM

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#54
Not yet but am working on it, just when I think I have it cracked
some great thinking but impractical barm pot finds me something
they seem to think is important and only I can sort, still I am having
some success and live in hope.
 

Zeke Newbold

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#56
A lot of you seem to be taking this `superfluity` idea on a bit of a too dull, literal level.

The O.P was a bit of light-hearted phiosophising and not intended as a plea for sympathy, nor an invitation to feel miserable. And I was not refering to economic or social redundancy -which can be real enough but is another thing altogether.

I was hinting at something a lot more...oh...metaphysical, I suppose.

It's that feeling that you can choose to be (say) a Warrior, or a Lover or a Sage - and that you may even be these things quite well, but that there's always some other chump already installed in these roles who does it more naturally and in a more wholehearted way than you could ever pull off.

It's like being the guy in a musical chairs game who finds himself standing up and all the other chairs taken.

The upside of it all is that you get to be - what the French call - a flaneur. That is someone who wanders through life observing everything, but somehow never really being impinged on by any of it.

To be sure, this is just a feeling - not a testable fact. But such subjective impressions can often point the way to deeper truths.

There's an interesting - to me, at any rate - irony in this: the superfluous men who as Zeke rightly notes populate a lot of nineteenth century Russian literature were entirely parasitic. They were all scions of the aristocracy, and were able to spend their days in their dressing gowns bemoaning their uselessness (at least, those of them who were prone to introspection) only and entirely because their families owned dozens if not hundreds of slaves (although we tend to call them serfs, in the Russian context) that did all the actual hard work entailed in maintaining a rural estate. I doubt there are many of us that truly understand just how miserable the existence of a nineteenth century farm labourer would have been, and that without the added literal and metaphorical shackles of Russian serfdom.
Well, that'sreally the standard Marxist interpretation isn't it? Sure, the fact that these writers came from upper class backgrounds gave them the time and werewithal to write and then get their stuff published. It doesn't follow, however that everything they wrote is only a mouthpiece for class priviledge. They made observations that applied to humanity as a whole.Take me. I'm much, much closer to being a serf that I am a Tsar - and yet, as said, I can strongly relate to the whole `superfluous man` thing. So...how so?

(It is interesting to note that the Soviets held up Pushkin and Turgenev et al in some esteem. This may have been partly because they realised that it would gain them nothing to trash the whole of Russian culture. But it was also because these all writers had been, to a greater or lesser degree, critics of the Tsarist order - even though they had benefited from it themselves).

Nor is this just about Russia. Ernest Hemingway published anovel called `The Sun Also Rises` (1926). The central character of this, Jake, has been rendered impotent following a wound from the First World War. This means that all sorts of torrid affairs are going on around him in which he cannot partake, but can comment and reflect on. He is a superfluous man - and the best man in the story.*

Then fast forward a few decades and go to France. Jean Paul Satre publishes `Nausea`. In this the narator concludes that not only is he himself `superfluous` (these are the exact words, in translation) but so is everything else - the birds and the trees, the lot! Thus the opening argument of what would later be called `existentialism`.

*But he was influenced. Hemingway said:` Turgenev, to me, is the greatest writer there ever was`.
 

Mikefule

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#57
Superfluous to whom? Useful to whom? The original quotation was figurative and drily humorous, referring to "nature" not having counted on the narrator existing. I suspect that few of us here believe that "nature" is an intelligence with a literal sense of expectation.

If I live a non-productive life, watching YouTube, reading internet forums, scratching myself, and wandering lonely as a cloud then, in a sense, I am superfluous in that I am not necessary to anyone or anything.

OK, so maybe I would receive benefits or a pension, and contribute to the economy by putting that back into circulation in my role as a consumer, but without me, that money would have circulated anyway.

In reality we all contribute in different ways, bringing joy, comfort, entertainment and love to other people. There are far more ways to be productive than simply making things and contributing to the economy.

However, if my supposed purpose is then to bring joy (etc.) to those other people, what is their purpose? To use the common example of raising the next generation, why would my life be more valid if I nurtured and raised kids, if their life in turn was only valid when they had nurtured and raised kids, and so ad infinitum.

The existentialists would tell you that life is only what you choose to make it. You are the gardener in the garden of your own life. You decide on a purpose and then work towards it. The only people affected are yourself and those whom you choose to affect. In turn, those people make their own choices. We conspire to give purpose to our own lives and to the lives of others even though a truly detached and objective observer would say there is no purpose to any of it — unless they believe in the holy purpose of one or more gods.

There is an existentialist argument that when someone creates an object — say a knife, or a bicycle, or a flan —the purpose and nature of the object exists before the object itself. There must be an idea of sharpness, cutting, and generally "knife-iness" in the maker's mind before they make the knife. The essence of the knife precedes its existence.

In the case of an individual intelligent being, it is the other way around. The being comes into existence and only then may it choose its own purpose. Its existence precedes its essence. I must be born before I can decide to be kind, good, cruel, or evil.

If a doctor developed a cure for cancer, he may be pleased that he had "saved many lives" and had contributed to the greater good. However, what if one of those he saved became an evil dictator, serial killer or dictator? What has the doctor contributed then?

That apart, every one of those people would eventually die, facing their own death alone, even if they were surrounded by their loving families at the time. However, that doctor, like all or most of us, feels that they have a purpose, and acknowledges that each of those potential patients also feels that they have a purpose. We conspire in each other's delusions, because to refuse to do so would be even more pointless: it would create unhappiness and despair instead of happiness — however temporary that happiness may be.

That is all we can be: kind and compassionate, contributing what we can in whatever way we can, ignoring the fact our own mortality and that of those around us for as long as we can, and hope that at the moment of death, we feel more satisfaction than we feel guilt.

Or we can lounge around being self indulgent about how useless we are.
 

brownmane

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#58
aren't we all just superfluous in the greater scheme of things? what are we here for anyway? wrecking the world, wrecking each other. at the primal level of mere continuation of the species we need men and women to keep the genetic pool flowing fluous, and enough function to keep the spawn alive till they can reproduce, but everything else is just dust on the wind, dude.

and thats all there is. pfft.
The human condition. We seem to be the only beings who question their purpose in life.
 

INT21

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#59
.

There is an existentialist argument that when someone creates an object — say a knife, or a bicycle, or a flan —the purpose and nature of the object exists before the object itself. There must be an idea of sharpness, cutting, and generally "knife-iness" in the maker's mind before they make the knife. The essence of the knife precedes its existence..


Or form follows function
 

brownmane

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#60
Don't know why it bothers me to be taken for a woman - but somehow it does, a little bit!
I like it when people or companies don't know specifics, such as sex, about me. I get a snicker out of it. Usually it's because they are reading my name and most people don't recognize the masculine or feminine form.:D
I like incognito
 
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