Skip navigation

Category Archives: Reflecting On The World

This is just me following in the footsteps of Montaigne. This will be train-of-thought, and it will be subjective.

Truth is a funny thing to think about, isn’t it?  The idea that something can be True forever? Something about the concept of Forever is disquieting, or majestic, or both. Contemplating the idea of an infinity is like standing at the foot of a mountain and looking up–or like standing at the top and looking down.

It’s a mathematical truism that infinity comes in different sizes. This can seem silly or unnecessarily complicated but really…didn’t we already know that? After all, it’s true for time; there are different lengths of eternity which we navigate from day to day.

And yet, despite this, we don’t think about eternity much in the modern day. Eternity, and eternal Truths, seem to have gone out of vogue. Everything is rapidly changing; politics, fashion, the environment, society, math, biology, technology. We harnessed coal and steam and changed the face of the world, but coal and steam did not last forever. We created nations and kingdoms and armies, but those don’t endure. The borders are constantly redrawn. We thought we understood biology–of humans, and of animals–but often enough to be alarming, what we thought we knew about medicine in 2010 turns out to be exactly the opposite.

And, of course, there’s no room for eternity in daily life. When you spend 16 hours awake and 8 of them working, that only leaves 8 hours for everything else; 2 hours to see family and friends, 2 hours to eat, 1 hour to take care of yourself, 1 hour to exercise…that leaves 2 hours for everything else.

The “onward march of progress” has included, among other things, the slow and inexorable hunt and extermination of infinities. Some eternities remain–mostly in pseudo-religious contexts, things that were once sacred and spiritual which have now been secularized. Ceremonies. Holiday celebrations. Communal gatherings. Other eternities survive in the recesses of personal life. Lovers’ trysts. Family gatherings. Deep conversations that start at 2 in the morning and seem to last forever.

The age of eternal truths has ended as well. At the risk of sounding dramatic, postmodern thought has killed Truth. This is not necessarily a bad thing: many empires were founded upon Truth, and the collars of many prisoners were shackled at its altar. But it remains that there are few True things we can attest to.

In the past one might have said “Well, I know very little about the world, but I know I am a Man, and that tells me what I must do!” We’ve since explored more fully what we assume “A Man” to be, and found it not to our liking. As a matter of fact, many of us kill ourselves trying to fit into that definition. So we reject it as Truth and accept it as a guideline–something to steer by, occasionally. But we take no Truth to replace it. We have overthrown the definition which imprisons us, without bothering to find out what it is we should use in its place.

I don’t mean this to sound like an indictment of feminism. Far from it; the feminist movement has been immensely enriching to the lives of all people (yes, including men). But feminism and critical identity theory and postmodern thought have done their work with the enthusiasm of termites, undermining the structures which oppress the population, and leaving very little accessible to us. What remains is a kind of desolation. What values can we embrace, when we know that the ones we grew up with are problematic? How can we anchor ourselves in the world when the words and ways we interact with it are linked so closely to old violence?

There must (I hope) come a response. The purpose of religious ritual is to put us in touch with Eternity: to remind us of our place in the cosmos, and allow us to take part and take pride in the World. The purpose of Truth is to equip us to understand falsehood; as Chesterton said:

“It is ludicrous to suppose that the more sceptical we are the more we see good in everything. It is clear that the more we are certain what good is, the more we shall see good in everything.”

I think that we have really, as a culture, still not fully recovered from postmodernism. It passed over us like a fever; in its wake it left a great many systems cleaner and clearer, and we are closer to good health…but we’re still shaken and scatterbrained in its wake.

G.K. Chesterton writes his book Heretics on this subject. Gilbert is a journalist, a splendid and punchy writer of editorials, and Heretics is, in short, an editorial review of the 20th-century’s Western social and intellectual traditions. Chesterton finds his Truth–his Eternity–in his Christian faith, something we seem to be moving away from, as a species. I ask then, of the West; with what Truth are we to replace it? Skepticism has torn down many dogmas and pointed out that many powerful men have used them to deceive and beguile us. But in the process they pulled down Truth and Eternity with them, and now we have to start over in figuring out where to go, as individuals, and as a species.

That’s the bad news. The good news is, when everything is meaningless, there’s no bad place to start finding meaning. Find eternity in art. In cleaning or building. In coloring. In conversation. Find Truth in laughter, in good company, in helping your friends. Find meaning in everything; especially in the things that mean something to you.

 

I’m a writer–I think.

I like writing…

…I think.

The problem with writing is that it is an attempt to translate the infinite into the finite. This is a source of endless frustration. I have worlds upon worlds in my head, enough material for an endless number of television series (including all the relevant information for casting, costume, set design, combat choreography, soundtrack, photography, storyboarding, and beat-by-beat scene direction).

I know more than one thing about anthropology. And about philosophy. That sounds silly to say–there are not many fields in the world which we can say we know only one thing about. (Hermeneutics might be one of them: all I know about hermeneutics is that Heidegger critiqued it)(that was a joke. I know more than one thing about hermeneutics).

In fact, I know multiple things about anthropology, to the point where it would take more than twelve pages to write all those things down in their simplest possible form. For any given thing that there is, I can say more things about it than I have room for–and I have an infinite number of ways to say it, ways to attack it, ways to think about the problem.

That’s the infinite.

But I don’t have nine hours to spend typing out an exhaustive, nuanced exploration of every political issue on my facebook wall. No one wants to stand around for a week and listen to a 40-hour lecture on comparative religion in response to the question “So why is Princess Mononoke your favorite Miyazaki movie?” And no one will buy my novel if it is an eighteen-part epic that’s thicker than a human thigh. I’m not Alexandre Dumas, and my novel isn’t The Count of Monte Christo. 

My blog post has to be small enough that you’ll read it all without losing interest (it’s gonna be touch and go, here). My novel has to have a number of pages such that it is ecologically viable to print more than one copy. I can’t go around quoting the entirety of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics every time I want to talk about why it’s hard to do the right thing.

That’s the finite.

I have to take this: (please here imagine a Doctor Strange-style expanding wall montage where I make some grandiose gesture and reveal that we are standing in a massive chamber of knowledge which makes the Library of Alexandria look like a rural-Montana Bookmobile from the 1960s), and fit it into this (please now imagine me holding up a piece of paper approximately large enough for two thousand words, single-spaced 12 point).

How does it fit? Well, quite simply…it doesn’t. It never all makes it onto the page. I never fully say what I mean. You never get all of it. No one gets all of it, in fact, not even me, because eventually I have to eat, or sleep, or do my accounting, and then I can’t keep on thinking about this.

That’s immensely discouraging for me. I pretty regularly have a crisis wherein I wonder “what’s the point of the whole thing?” I can’t even fully articulate my own opinion of Starbucks–how the hell am I supposed to put something as big and nasty and complicated as a novel into the world?  And so, logically, I stop. There’s no point in communicating halfway, I think. No reason to engage with politics. Fruitless to write for any reason other than my own enjoyment.

I spend a few weeks like this, maybe a month or two at the most, before I think to myself: “You know…I can’t get it all out there…but I can get pretty close. And anyway…isn’t that the fun of writing? The ability to, in another man’s better words, fit a universe into a grain of sand? To gesture to the infinities present in everything?

And then, I suck it up, grab a keyboard, and start to write again.

So hi, again.

I’m a writer.

I like writing.

I recently had the pleasure of reading this impassioned piece from the Washington Post. By “recently” I mean “today.” I’ve since reread it several times, because the commodification of American colleges and the narrowing of academic fields is an issue very dear to my heart.

As I reread this piece (which, now that I’ve begun this blog post, I confess I find rather uninspiring), I must ask: who is its audience? The author’s entire argument can be summarized by skipping the entire article and reading the last sentence: “Genuine education is not a commodity, it is the awakening of a human being.”

Great. Super. Fantastic. I’m on board. I agree.

Who are you talking to? Are you talking to me? I just finished college. I’m probably going back for more school. My response to a similar article was a little salty, to say the least–but still. Is this directed at future employers? At students? At current college professors?

I think it’s the third one. C. Door Number Three. The soaring rhetoric and its entrenched location within the Washington Post seem to corroborate this first impression. Use of the word “naive” (a word often used to encompass the analytical category of “people who don’t understand academia”) deepens my suspicion.

So what is this article saying, then, if it is directed at other professors? What is the ultimate message being conveyed? I don’t know–I’m not a professor (my only degree is a B.A., which I promise you was hard-earned).

My first and immediate point to make in response to this article is:

A): re: “Genuine education is not a commodity.” True. “Education” in a liberal arts context is learning how to engage with and integrate multiple disciplinary, cultural, and/or epistemological perspectives. In other words, it’s about learning multiple different ways of doing things, in order to be able to apply the appropriate one(s) to all relevant situations. It’s something you can achieve on your own, or with the help of your parents, or with the help of unpaid teachers, or at a state school, or at an Ivy-league university. Education is, as this good professor says, “the discovery that you can use your mind to make your own arguments and even your own contributions to knowledge,” (I’ve made this analogy before); mastering multiple different theoretical perspectives, much like Bruce Lee learned multiple martial arts–to be able to better accomplish your own goals with the most effective method.

HOWEVER

What happens throughout this article is a persistent (and, if I can borrow the word briefly, pernicious) conflation of the process of learning, the undergraduate experience, and the university-as-business. 

EDUCATION, as we’ve previously pointed out, can happen anywhere. An argument can be made that it’s easier to achieve “education” in a college environment. That argument is not occurring here (or, rather, it’s occurring off the page, a dirty trick that I would have expected from a philosopher, not a classics scholar (though the difference is sometimes hard to spot. The easy test? Do they ever mention German names?). The education is what “good” students are after. This is why they are good students–because whether by temperament or economic good fortune, they are highly interested in the self-improvement aspect of a college education, not just its value as a commodity. I was one of those students, because I was extremely lucky financially, and because I am a huge nerd.

The undergraduate experience is a whole other canteen of nematodes, which I’m not going to get into right now, but basically shorthand version: going to a college, participating in classes, learning from professors, etc., all are part and parcel of what makes college so transformative. College can force you out of your comfort zone (if you aren’t EXTREMELY, NEUROTICALLY devoted to remaining within it), and it’s when we’re out of our comfort zone that we grow. However, it’s not the issue at hand.

Number three (again number three! Second one in the article! I wonder if it has any cosmological significance…?): The university-as-business. This is the part that our author seems to be worked up about, which I find troubling for reasons I’ll expand below. But basically, my response: College has become a commodity in the U.S. (and in the wider world, I’m sure, but I am not concerned with that at the moment). As our author acknowledges, college is “replacing high school as the required ticket for a career.” This means that having a college education makes you stand out (even at my workplace, my co-workers make jokes about my “fancy college degree”). Your odds of being employed (and employed well) skyrocket. Success in college pretty heavily indicates success later in life.

Now, unlike the last article I blasted on my blog, I don’t entirely reject the author’s point here. The commodification of education is a problem (not just because of the way in which it bars the doors to the lower and middle classes). Some students do treat their college purely as a business, feeling entitled to a degree with no effort or challenge on their part. The government sees colleges as businesses, and so does not offer them any great degree (ha) of support.

Ultimately, colleges have adapted. The college I attended occupied an uncertain middle ground between being a business and a place of education. There was a tension between the institution’s bottom line and their values. On the student side, there was similar tension–we sought to balance our role as students with our newfound power as customers. It gives students an unprecedented degree of power, to acknowledge that they are customers. We have to figure out what that power MEANS, all of us, students and professors.

Hence, my concern. Rather than acknowledging the changing face of education (and trying to offer some direction going forward), this article seems to deny it. Education is not about money, the author says. It’s about the students’ engagement with the material. Well…that’s not true. Not any more.

Education is about money. It is inextricably, inalienably, unavoidably about money. Even when you’re talking about student engagement–who are the students who can afford to be engaged? The ones who don’t work an extra 30 hours each week to pay for school? The ones who don’t have to take care of children? The ones who could afford to go to school in the first place? The ones who could buy the textbooks–the list goes on. The point is: “student engagement” is not the boogieman to pin the problems on. Like it or not, the problems are more complex than that. We can’t escape the complexities of the present-day university by just demanding that students pay more attention.

That is where my problem with this piece comes in. I don’t think it’s wrong…I just think it’s not asking the right question. The question we need to ask ourselves is: What does it mean that students are now customers? What new pressures does that place on faculty? On students? On administration? What power does this give all of those involved in higher education? When a bad grade or a faculty grudge can make or break a students’ future, how do we negotiate these structures? And when a bad review or an angry parent can ruin a professor’s future, how do we negotiate these structures? What about higher education needs to change? And what needs to stay the same?

And for the love of GOD, can we not commit the fallacy of equivocation so damn much? Jeez, people. More of you need to take philosophy classes.

I am not sure why the term “fellow traveler” came to mind when I was writing this post. I think, in my head, it had a much different emotional undertone than its actual historical context suggests. Despite its name, this will not be a post about the legacy of communism in the late 1940s, nor about the Russian intellectual movement following the revolution of 1917 (sorry, Helen).

Rather, this blog post is about a particular kind of emotional connection that I have begun to notice as having a pattern. This blog post is about the moment when you connect with someone you recognize as one of your “tribe.”  Not just when someone recognizes the obscure T-shirt you’re wearing, or when your TV-show ringtone turns someone’s head–but when you exchange a few words with someone and find that, somehow, you understand them, and they understand you.

An example of this is an interaction I had at work the other day (side note: “The Other Day” is another of my favorite expressions, a verbal [citation challenge] which nods to humans’ nonlinear, irregular perception of the passage of time–but I’ll write another post about that later). AS I WAS SAYING:

At the place I work, we are required to wear aprons (huge denim aprons which either look awful or adorable depending on whether or not you ask my girlfriend) and nametags. My name tag says my name, which is one of the most common names in the Western world (Michel, Miguel, Micky, Michael, Michelle, Mike, Mikael, Michal, Michele, etc.). I am ringing out a woman’s purchases when a man comes up, looks at my name tag, and addresses me.

“It means God-Like,” he says, “You know. The name Michael.”

I know what he means immediately. The conventional etymology of the name Michael is, originally, a question, posed by an angel to a devil: “Who is like God?” What the man is doing is interpreting the name without a question mark–a little conceit which I am sure many Michels have indulged over the years–changing the meaning from “Who is like God?” to: “[subject] who is like God.”

I smile, and I reply “Yes. Quis ut deus, in the Latin, meaning “who is like God?” It’s in the Bible.”

He points at me, and smiles back, and in that moment we understand a great many things about each other, all at once, with no words spoken. And then he leaves.

I see this happen a great deal with elderly women. They pass each other by, pause, and smile at one another. What are they thinking? I have no idea. I am not an old woman, and it’s highly unlikely that I will ever be one. I also see it with nerds. And I’m not just talking people who watched Game Of Thrones. It’s the moment that happens when you ask someone “Who’s your favorite character?” and they reply with the correct answer: “Arya Stark.” You smile at one another. Perhaps you exchange words but it’s not the words that are important–its the moment when you understand that here is a person whose values align with yours. Here is a validation of your beliefs, in front of you, in the flesh.

It’s akin to the feeling when you see a familiar face in a crowd of strangers, or find a friendly gesture amid hostility (or even amid indifference). The feeling when you make a connection that you could not have anticipated, but which touches some deep chord, and shakes you to the core.

What is it that makes this moment so powerful? It doesn’t just apply to interpersonal connections. I have had moments like this with a song. Or a physical object. Or an animal. A moment of discovery. A small-scale miracle. We discover outside, in the world, something which we had previously assumed existed only in our heart–a piece of soul–and we say, I know you. I have met you before. (TITLE DROP) We are fellow travelers, you and I. The same feeling is present, according to archetypal psychology, in an Anima-figure dream–a dream wherein we meet a mysterious individual (usually a young woman but not necessarily) with whom we connect, and converse, and are haunted after waking by the idea that we know their face…from somewhere. 

And like everything strange, everything mystical, everything in the world that I can’t quite explain, I find myself asking the same question:

What does it mean?

That’s all for now, readers.

I would like to apologize in advance for this post. This lecture was originally delivered to the empty air at my workplace, early in the morning before we opened, as I worked at restocking the toy department. In its original form, the lecture was a masterpiece—a gem of rhetorical brilliance which I know I will not soon match. However, the workday that followed wiped out all but the roughest memory of my eloquence, and so what remains for you now is a pale imitation of the communiqué which should rightfully have been displayed here.

But disclaimers notwithstanding:

This rant was inspired by a throwaway line in James Cameron’s Avatar, a line which I may have remembered entirely incorrectly as being: “Good science is good observation.” Whether or not any character spoke these words, they became stuck in my head, and I couldn’t get it out without a ten-foot polemic.

It started me thinking (not surprisingly) about “theory” and observation.
“Theory” is a word I throw around a lot with some of my peers and mentors. We play fast and loose with it because we have a good sense of what “theory” is supposed to be. But when it comes time to explain “theory” for the very first time, to a wide-eyed audience (be they fifteen-year-old brothers or sleep-deprived undergraduates), the best metaphor I have so far found is the Theory as Lens.

Theory is like a pair of tinted glasses—or, more accurately, like the colored lenses in those glasses. It highlights certain shades of whatever it is you look at, and makes everything look somewhat alike. That lets us compare those things across something approaching the same dimension. For example, a theory of gravity lets us compare physical interactions across the same dimension—across a single, monochromatic dimension.

Now, there are issues with this metaphor—most prominently that this metaphor entails the idea that we are using theory to look at something. Really, a theory is an image of an object. The key points of the theory correspond to key points in the reality it represents—or, to put that another way; “That the elements of the picture are combined with one another in a definite way, represents that the things are so combined with one another.”  “Theory” is a representation of reality—so instead of glasses with colored lenses, briefly imagine a Polaroid with colored lenses. Isn’t that a weird image? This is why we went with the glasses thing.

But there are also real advantages to this theory, and one of my favorite points is this: If theory is like a lens, which highlights certain features of whatever we are looking at, then it becomes intuitive that looking at the same object with the same lens gives us no new information. To gain new information, we must make a change, either internally, in the way we approach the lens, or instrumentally, in the kind of lens we use. In other words, you can only learn so much by looking through one lens. Like looking at a multi-colored picture through a mono-color lens, the world has more information than can be parsed by a single theory. To put it in a punchy philosophical one-liner: Complex phenomena require a theoretical complex.

In the effort to investigate complicated situations, we have to use multiple theoretical perspectives. Jung employed “modern” psychology, Gnostic text, and echoes of the German Romantic tradition in pursuit of a theory of the soul. James Hillman, following him, employs Jung, comparative religion, and biographic methods while seeking the same goal. The classic French sociologists integrate philosophy, sociological theory, public statistics, and historical methods to investigate the patterns of organization and interaction between humans on the individual level and above.

So a theory is like a martial art—it’s good to master one, but you become Bruce Lee if you master all of them.

Okay, that was a weird way of putting it. More accurately:

Any one theory can be an extremely powerful way of representing events in the world. Theories can accentuate the shared factors in areas which might appear vastly different to “the naked eye,” letting us examine, for example, human silence and conspiracy on the level of friend groups and on the level of entire cultures.

But a single theory can only do so much work. And so the point becomes a little teleological—which theories you deploy (and how many) depends on what you want to do. For extremely basic physics calculations, Newton’s laws are good enough to get by. For higher-level work, you might want to also include theories on wind resistance, breaking points,  aerodynamics, and even particle interactions. No one theory is going to get a rocket to the moon, and no one theoretical perspective is going to create a discipline.  So for some tasks, a single theory will get you far. But for others…you need to get a little more creative.

This is just the beginning. More on theory and disciplinary boundaries will follow.

Stay tuned for more semi-weekly rants about theory, politics, and whatever action/sci-fi movie I was watching last night!

“On account of its somewhat unusual content, my little book requires a short preface. I beg of you, dear reader, not to overlook it.  For, in what follows, I shall speak of the venerable objects of religious belief.  Whoever talks of such matters inevitably runs the risk of being torn to pieces by the two parties who are in mortal conflict about these very things.  This conflict is due to the strange supposition that a thing is true only if it presents itself as a physical fact. Thus some people believe it to be physically true that Christ was born as the son of a virgin, while others deny this as a physical impossibility.  Everyone can see that there is no logical solution to this conflict and that one would do better not to get involved in such sterile disputes.  Both are right and both are wrong.  Yet they could easily reach agreement if only they dropped the word ‘physical.’  ‘Physical’ is not the only criterion of truth: there are also psychic truths which can neither be explained nor proved nor contested in any physical way.  If, for instance, a general belief existed that the river Rhine had at one time flowed backwards from its mouth to its source, then this belief would itself be a fact even though such an assertion, physically understood, would be deemed utterly incredible.  Beliefs of this kind are psychic facts which cannot be contested and need no proof.

Religious statements are of this type.  They refer without exception to things which cannot be established as physical facts.  If they did not do this, they would inevitably fall into the category of the natural sciences.  Taken as referring to anything physical, they make no sense whatever, and science would dismiss them as non-experienceable.  They would be mere miracles, which are sufficiently exposed to doubt as it is, and yet they could not demonstrate the reality of the spirit of meaning that underlies them, because meaning is something that always demonstrates itself and is experience on its own merits.  The spirit and meaning of Christ are present and perceptible to us even without the aid of miracles.  Miracles appeal only to the understanding of those who cannot perceive the meaning.  They are mere for the not understood reality of the spirit.  This is not to say that the living presence of the spirit is not occasionally accompanied by marvelous physical happenings. I only wish to emphasize that these happenings can neither replace nor bring about an understanding of the spirit, which is the one essential thing.

The fact that religious statements frequently conflict with the observed physical phenomena proves that in contrast to physical perception the spirit is autonomous, and that psychic experience is to a certain extent independent of physical data. The psyche is an autonomous factor, and religious statements are psychic confessions which in the last resort are based on unconscious, i.e. on transcendental, processes.  These processes are not accessible to physical perception but demonstrate their existence through the medium of human consciousness: that is to say, they are given visible forms which in their turn are subject to manifold influences from within and without.  That is why whenever we speak of religious contents we move in a world of images that point to something ineffable.  We do not know how clear or unclear these images, metaphors, and concepts are in respect to their transcendental object.  If, for instance, we say ‘God,’ we give expression to an image or verbal concept which has undergone many changes in the course of time.  We are, however, unable to say with any degree of certainty–unless it be by faith–whether these changes affect only the images and concepts, or the Unspeakable itself.  After all, we can imagine God as an eternally flowing current of vital energy that endlessly changes shape just as easily as we can imagine him as an eternally unmoved, unchangeable essence.  Our reason is sure only of one thing: that it manipulates images and ides which are dependent on human imagination and its temporal and local conditions, and which have therefore changed innumerable times in the course of their long history.  There is no doubt that there is something behind these images that transcends consciousness and operates in such a way that the statements do not vary limitlessly and chaotically, but clearly all relate to a few basic principles or archetypes.  These, like the psyche itself, or like matter, are unknowable as such.  All we can do is construct models of them which we know to be inadequate, a fact which is confirmed again and again by religious statements.”

Carl Jung, Answer to Job; Collected Works Vol 11, paras 553-555

Hello reader,

I am confused.

Welcome back to jungwildeandfree, the vaguely anthropological/psychological/philosophical blog of an undergraduate student, a mixture of content which is either stripped from my academic journal or generated ex nihilo in cafes and coffee shops across the continental United states.

Let’s get this straight before I get started: I love academia.  It is my favorite place in the world, the place where I feel most at home.  There is nowhere else in the world where I can say “Geil is the dump truck!” and get a dramatic response.  Passive-aggressive academic critiques make me laugh my head off, and I would love to spend hours reading any collection entitled “Things Clifford Geertz Has Said Of Other Things.”   It’s full of people and concepts with complex names that are perfect for puns.  Pierre Bourdieu.  Cultural capital. Michel Foucault.  Archaeology.   The only other place in my experience that has such a massive wealth of in-jokes and stealthy puns is the internet, and I enjoy bandying about those memes as well.

Possibly it’s because I grew up watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

You’ve never heard of the Flying Circus?  Now I’m even more confused.

Let me explain.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus was a British television sketch comedy show that ran for four series and five years, created almost unilaterally by graduates of high-powered academic communities.  It was a sometimes surreal, often intellectual, frequently incomprehensible, completely hilarious show, and it was like (almost) nothing that had ever come before.It cannot be adequately described in text, so here are some classic samples: How Not To Be Seen, The Dead Parrot Sketch, and Philosophers’ World Cup.

It was my bread and butter growing up.  The theory I like to put forward (indeed, the theory am putting forward right now) is that it fundamentally shaped my sense of humor toward the strange, the bizarre, and the unapologetically intellectual, and sometimes the completely dumb.  As evidence I provide some of my favorite authors: Oscar Wilde, Terry Pratchett, John Kennedy Toole, and of course Spongebob Squarepants.  These were my cultural capital, my intellectual heritage and the means by which I connect with other people who share my weird taste for sass.

That is my establishing monologue; now you have some sense of where I’m coming from in my life.  Now we’ll move on to the actual point of the blog post, which is explaining why I’m so confused.

You see, I am an anthropology major.

Anthropology, for the uninitiated, is the science and study of humans.  It consists, broadly, of four categories: Archaeology, linguistic anthropology, biological anthropology, and cultural anthropology.   I am a cultural anthropologist.

Cultural anthropology is the science of gradually becoming less and less certain about anything you once considered to be real and solid, until such time as you become a void of total confusion/improvisation and gain the ability to pass this intellectual angst on to others.

Or, to put it in a more complementary light: Cultural anthropology is the practice of questioning every assumption we make, with the intention of laying bare the hidden motivations behind things that we might normally think are natural. 

Case in point: Gender.

When I started college, I learned the simple definition of gender.  Gender is the cultural/psychological part of the masculine or feminine, and sex is the biological.  Either way, easy.  Simple.  “I got this,” I said to myself.  But then I thought back to my biology courses and things got complicated.  And then I took more anthropology courses and things got more complicated.

I read an article by a dude named Goffman, “On Face-Work,” which suggested that when two people interact, they inter-act. When we interact, we perform ourselves, whether we do it on purpose or not.  When we interact with people, we do what we’ve learned to do, and we do things that we want to be seen doing.

Which is troublesome when it comes to gender, because gender is heavily performed.  How do I know what gender you are if I can’t tell from your clothes? Your hair? Your makeup? Even the way we refer to ourselves can be part of gender.

But it’s the word performed that is really messing with my head now, because the other day in class I was brought face-to-face with an even more nebulous possibility:

An actor isn’t actually the role they perform.  It’s not an identity that they assume, unless that role was a particularly meaningful one.  If the role becomes important enough to them, then the actor might take it on with a certain fondness.

So…then, if we perform gender like an actor performs a role, doesn’t that mean that gender isn’t really a thing in and of itself? What if that means that gender identity isn’t anything that we could nail down as existing in any kind of actual meaningful way? What if “Gender” is just a part of the way we interact with others? 

Well, shit.  That kinda throws a wrench in the works.  At least we still have biological sex as a benchmark. Right? Right.  That’s something physical.  That’s something real. I am biologically male.  I can say that definitively–because my phenotype (physical shape) happens to line up with my genotype (genetic design), which happens to line up with the level of hormones in my blood.   Because my body looks male, acts male, and because my genes read as male.

…Which isn’t always true.  Not everyone’s body always lines up along that biological game of tic-tac-toe. So that really isn’t particularly helpful either, now is it?  Turns out we might have people who are biologically and genetically male, but hormonally female or hormonally asexual.  Or people who are genetically male and biologically and hormonally female. GAH. I don’t even.

Now, I’m not going to demand to see a blood screen before I call you “Miss” or “Mr.”  Really, the ultimate point is,  there’s no way to tell who you are, unless you give me a hint.  If you tell me your pronouns, if you show me a hormone count, if you perform your gender in a certain way, then I’ll know what’s up. (Or I’ll think I will, until you surprise me)

But until that happens…well, if I think about it too hard, I’m gonna need a stiff drink.

As I said; cultural anthropology is the gradual process of becoming less and less certain about anything you ever considered to be solid or natural.   That doesn’t mean it’s not fun.   And I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.

But I’m still confused.

The only thing that’s changed is that now, you might be too. Oops.

Hey nerds,

I’m back.

You can blame my anthropology teacher for this one, guys.  No, but seriously.

Well, among other people.  Brain Trust, Horsemen, y’all are in there.  And youyou are in there twice.

AS YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED, my blog was on a brief indefinite hiatus for most of the school year.  But thanks to a perfect storm of schoolwork finishing, work ending, and my own life kicking things up a notch, I’m BACK, BITCHES, and better than ever.  Also, fair warning, some profanity.

A new year is a perfect time for reflection, and that’s what I’m doing.  I’M GONNA BE LIKE A GOD DAMN MIRROR UP IN HERE.

There will be posts occurring with nigh-weekly frequency once again! I’ve said that before.  But just like the bad half of an abusive relationship, I TOTALLY MEAN IT THIS TIME.

That was in poor taste. Oh well.

Blast from the past time:

Let me be the first to welcome you to Jung, Wilde, and Free—a blog which relates the life of an American teenage dude, homeschooled and obsessed with C.G. Jung and Oscar Wilde. Expect frequent discourses upon the topics of marine biology, internet memes, music, films, Dungeons and Dragons, and astrophysics. Beware of frequent rants related to politics, lax food safety standards, or the rampant emotional retardation sweeping whichever benighted metropolis I happen to inhabit at the time.
And, bring your thesaurus—the words will fly fast and thick. Most of these posts, I hope, will be family-friendly—but if you’re going to show them to younger siblings or children, please screen them first, as sometimes I get a bit carried away.

I was a precocious eighteen-year-old.

Many things have changed since that first post four years ago.  I am no longer entirely homeschooled—now, I am a college student at a prestigious college located in a warm, sunny part of our country.

hell froze over

 In the last four years I’ve had great successes (like my enthusiastic and headlong involvement in the Sustained Dialogue movement) and equally exciting failures (the reason I can make relationship jokes in extremely poor taste).  I’ve made great friends and people who rate too low on the food chain to be allowed to breathe.  I’ve learned many things, forgotten things that were once important to me, and rediscovered them with great enthusiasm.  I’ve fallen in and out of fortune, favor, and love. It’s been a hell of a ride.  

In the course of those years, I’ve come to realize a few things.  Things which I wish I had known before.  Things which I think I could always stand to be reminded of.  So without further ado, here they are: the top five things I’ve learned in the last four years, accompanied by COOL MOVING IMAGES.

5. Go for the throat.

Do you want something? Then go after it full throttle.  (get it? Throat, throttle? Ha ha ha. I’m hilarious) But seriously.  As long as you’re going to do something, do it all the way.  Whether it’s something long or short-term, there’s no reason to do it if you’re not in it to win it.  You’ll learn the most (and grow the most) if you’re working at the very edge of your own ability.  So fling yourself headlong into work, school, life, or love.  If it’s what you want to do, then fucking do it.   Only lesser life-forms hesitate.  Trample the shit out of them.

4. Who gives a shit?

I loathe the term “guilty pleasure.” Despise it.  Don’t be ashamed of what you enjoy.  Do you like “girly” music? Do you like a movie that’s “problematic?” GOOD.  ENJOY IT.  Love it intensely.  Know its limits, learn it inside and out.  Take true pleasure in it, and take pride in being able to explain why you love it.  What is your guilty pleasure? Drop the guilt.  Keep the pleasure.  Especially when it comes to fashion, music, and film. Example from my own life: I love shiny things. Of every variety.  One of the sparkliest, shiniest things I own is a lavender-purple bracelet studded with rhinestones.  I wear the shit out of that bracelet, and it looks damn good.  I love nerdy clothing, and I have one of these fuckers.  No “normal” person owns one of those.  Do I care? No.  I love that damn jacket.  And guess what; it looks amazing, because when you’re doing what you love, that passion radiates from your every pore.  Leak passion everywhere. Get it all over what you love.  Own your happiness.

3. The worst thing you can do when you’re unhappy is stand still.

Feeling down in the dumps? Depressed? Lonely or sad? Move. I don’t care if you don’t feel like it.  I fought my own god damn brain every single day for the whole of last semester, fought tooth and talon to keep moving. Did I “feel like” getting up every morning? HELL FUCKING NO.  Did I anyway? FUCK YES.

This is ESPECIALLY important if you have any kind of tendency to depression or rumination—any kind of tendency to sit and get lost in your own thoughts and insecurities.  We ruminators are like sharks—if we sit still too long, we will sink and suffocate.  Get OUT of your head.  Play an instrument.  Find a new job.  Exercise. Dance.  LARP.  Do something.  Don’t worry too much or sit still too long; this world can’t afford to lose even one of us, for we are the thinkers, the sensitive ones, the artists.

2. You’re yourself, and your self is awesome. Do you know what happened when you were born?

Oh, not much, just a COSMIC SHIFT.

The entire fucking universe aligned itself for you.  The stars slid into place, the galaxies turned into position, every planet set itself along its course, and all the billions of humans in the world ran madly through one another’s lives so that your parents could meet and produce you at the exact second of your birth.  You are the child of the universe and its heir both, and the fire of your life-force is the fire of creation.  Don’t hide or apologize for that fire; wear it proudly.  There is no reason to be ashamed of who you are, and if anyone tells you differently, burn them to the ground.

 

And last but not least:

1. Say what you feel.

Humans are very good at social interaction—but none of them are telepathic.  The most important thing to know about a relationship—any relationship, be it family, friend, academic, workplace, or romance (or all five, bow chicka wow wow)—is that you are responsible for what you do and what you say.   How you feel is independent, and while you should never apologize for how you feel, you should always try to convey how you feel as accurately as possible.  Is your love going “unrequited?” I’ve got news for you; that shit would get a whole lot clearer if you just told them.  Does another person keep saying something that hurts you? Explain why.  Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself—especially with those close to you.  You should never be afraid of the people you love, and if they love you back, they won’t want you to be.

This goes for everything.  Explain how you feel.  Explain it using that most potent and misunderstood word: “I.”  That “I” will take the edge from your anger and give warmth to your reassurances.   It’s scary as hell to talk about your feelings, but it’s a skill that will serve you well.

There is more I could say, of course.  More I could say about each of those, and more things that I’ve learned.

I’ve grown a lot in the last four years.  But the core of this blog—and the core of myself—remains unchanged.  I am still me, a unique face of the universe playing at an individual life. And I’m having loads of fun.

And this blog is still the site of discourse on biology, psychology, anthropology, Dungeons and Dragons, comedy, and astrophysics.

So ave, lector, and strap in; it’s gonna be a wild ride.

Until next time.

HI INTERNETS.

Today I’m here to talk about HOW IGNORANT YOU ALL ARE.

And why that’s okay.  In the course of this post we’ll build a little vocabulary, but don’t be afraid—it’s all very intuitive.

We live in an age of civil rights.  Issues that we might never have had to think about are exploding into public awareness. Groups that have never spoken up before are asserting themselves at last.  The world is full of new toes to step on, and many communities are being swept by political correctness and social justice, opening themselves up as “safe spaces.”  Equality is the word of the day—take each person as a person, nothing less.

Use the wrong pronoun, make a joke over the edge, break a rule, and the response is immediate.  SOCIAL SANCTION.  Boom. People attack easily, and ‘ignorant’ is one of the many words in the arsenal of social justice.

Why the big deal?  Why do people sling the word ‘ignorant’ around quickly? Why fly off the handle at a little joke? Political correctness is surely killing comedy.  And social justice crusaders obviously take the cause too seriously.

First—I’ll talk about ‘political correctness’ later.  That’s a different post.

Second, let’s talk about the PYRAMID OF HATE!

Image

Now, if you don’t have a Tumblr, your first question will probably be “what the hell does this mean?” And I shall explain the parts of it that are relevant to my point.  For more, go look it up! I can’t do everything for you.  JEEZUS.

We’ll start in the base of the pyramid, like any good Mummy movie. In the LANGUAGE OF OPPRESSION.

Let’s talk about something you probably hear all the time: pidgin Spanish.  A middle-aged white man saying “NO ES BUENO” as loudly and phonetically incorrect as possible.  It’s a little hilarious.  Why is it hilarious? Why is it funny? ‘Cause it’s dumb.  Why’s it dumb? Well, ‘cause it’s Spanish, you—

…….ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Well.

Well, what about something smoother? Like walking up to a pretty girl and saying “Hola, chica.” Chicks dig Spanish.

Why do chicks dig Spanish? ‘Cause it’s smexy.  A little sleazy, yeah, but very sensual, and good for mesmerizing women, like all the people who speak Span….oooh.  Awkward racial stereotype moment.

There’s something not entirely good at the very base of pidgin Spanish.  Something covert.  It’s not something loudly racist.  You can’t apply the usual rules to it; you can’t say “I’m not racist, but BUENOS DIAS” like you could with more overt racism. It’s something that is, as we say, problematic.  Sometimes, it causes a problem.  It’s pervasive and sometimes unconscious and sometimes funny. And it’s subtle! You can’t yell at people who use pidgin Spanish.  It comes off as strange and oversensitive.  It’s problematic.

This is the base of our pyramid of oppression up there.  The subtle linguistic anomalies that are somehow…wrong.  Pidgin Spanish.  Using the word ‘gay’ as a description of something bad (rather than, say, an episode of Sherlock).  Using the word ‘retarded’ to talk about something that’s actually just stupid.  Mentioning how OCD you are about your pencil case (spoiler; if you don’t count your pencils, stack them into rows of seven, and then repeat a small rhyme about them every time you use them, you’re not actually that OCD about your pencils).

Why does the pyramid have such an awful name? HATE? It sounds like the title of a Pathfinder campaign.  THE PYRAMIDS OF HATE.  Just because you make a joke about how ‘fake and gay’ that video was, doesn’t mean you’re trying to oppress anyone.  Who even oppresses anyone anymore? This is really oversensitive.

Well, it’s not about you.  It’s also not about me.  It’s about the second-generation Argentinean girl in public elementary school who hears her teacher say “BUENOS DIAS” to the class in such a scornful tone that she ceases to speak Spanish, and implores her parents to speak English in public.  It’s about the young boy who can’t express to anyone how his girl’s body doesn’t match up with his heart.  It’s about the college student just out of therapy who feels a bulimia joke like a knife in the heart.

It’s about your audience. It’s about other people. It’s about being setting-conscious.  And it’s about trying to deal with the fact that ALMOST EVERYTHING IS PROBLEMATIC.  I could bore you with theory, but I’ve done that enough in the rest of my blog.  Let’s just drop three things to mull over:

Isn’t it interesting how only one of the actresses in West Side Story was actually Latina?  It’s not like there’s a shortage of latin actors/actresses who can dance.

Beauty and the Beast is a classic movie.  It’s slightly less classic if you’ve ever been in an abusive relationship.

Why is it funny/endearing for a man to yell across the street that he likes a woman’s pants, but creepy for a man to yell it to another man?

I’ll agree with you that THE PYRAMID OF HATE has an alarming name.  But that’s the point.  It’s alarming and attention-grabbing.  And now that you’re alarmed and your attention has been grabbed…

These are not malicious things.  Catcalls, pidgin Spanish, and the widespread assumption that straight people are the standard from which all else is deviant (called heteronormativity, in case you wanted a vocabulary word for the day).

They stem from ignorance. Ignorance in the sense of NOT KNOWING THINGS.

Which is, to put it plainly, bliss.  I’ll put links at the bottom to websites, articles, and blogs that will make your skin crawl with awareness, if you wish to delve into the world of social justice.

But in the meantime, it’s not a bad thing to not know things, as long as you learn. You don’t have to be perfectly politically correct, you don’t have to watch and worry over your every word.

But you should be aware that there are things that you can say casually that can hit another person like a knife.  Like when you talk about how completely your guild defeated an MMO boss—and use the wrong word to describe it.  Calling something ‘gay’ isn’t just using a slang word—it carries with it the unspoken baggage of condemning everyone and everything that isn’t ‘straight’ as wrong.

Many, many things have this baggage.  More things than you probably want to know.  And if you are not aware of a thing that is problematic for a group of people in some situation, then you have what we call privilege. You are in the privileged position of not having to know how it feels to have a stranger call out after you on a darkened street and think it’s a joke.  If you don’t know how it feels to hear a psychological disorder belittled, then you are in the privileged position of not having that experience.

Privilege is related to ignorance, and like ignorance it carries no negative moral charge in and of itself.

If you offend someone unintentionally, hurt someone accidentally, reveal a problem you didn’t know existed, then you aren’t being a horrible person—yet.  What happens next is crucial—will you take on a new understanding of the problematic?  Will you learn? Will you JOIN IN OUR CRUSADE? WHO WILL BE STRONG AND STAND WITH ME

BEYOND THE BARRICADE IS THERE A WORLD YOU LONG TO SEE

…my apologies, I seem to have accidentally begun to perform Les Miserables. I think it’s best we stop here for now.

There’s much more to the PYRAMID OF HATE—as you can clearly see.

And there’s a reason why social justice types seem more serious than most.  It has to do with knowledge.

Living in ignorance is fun.  But there are things that bug you, things that hover around the edge of life that seem not quite right.  Living in ignorance, you see the people; this job, this sex, this weight, this race.  The kind of understanding you gain from studying identity and society is terrifying.  Small wonder social justice types come off as dour and unfunny.

Walking with Foucault (a writer), Jung (a psychologist), Wilde (an essayist), Chesterton (a journalist), Eliade (a scholar of comparative religion and spirituality), (etc.) you don’t see the modern world.  You see a war, a war with society arrayed in full force against the individual soul.  A war to which many people are oblivious, a war with as many faces as there are identities.  You see the war, and you look past the troubled teen to understand that they have less control over their actions than you might think.  You see the war, and you wonder how it feels to be discriminated against, to be the villain, the family-destroyer, the job-taker, the terrorist.

You watch a Disney movie and see an entertaining cartoon with music. We watch a Disney movie and see racism, sexism, abusive relationships, and misogyny. You watch a television show and see something funny. We watch a television show (the same show!) and see triggers, patriarchy, gender norms, heteronormativity. (don’t worry about the long words)  We see the humor, yes, but we also see the oppression.  And that takes away from the humor just a bit.  And what makes it even harder is trying to explain so many things, because IT’S ALL CONNECTED, every form of prejudice and oppression and overintellectualism and JUST EVERYTHING BAD OKAY????

Now, we can laugh.  And we do.  We laugh loud and often (just check Tumblr)—as well we should, for laughter is the second-best way to fight oppression*.  We laugh long and fiercely as we fight for what we now know to be right.  And we make mistakes, too, we social justice types.  And not all of us take them easily. But when we’re done, and the war is won, and everyone is free to be who they are, to find whatever place in society they wish, then we will laugh the loudest and clearest.  And on that day, we will know peace.  On that day, we will all watch Disney movies, and we will all smile, and enjoy—and we will all recognize the problems it holds.

So that’s why ‘social justice crusaders’ are dour and unfunny.  We don’t think we’re better.  We aren’t uptight. We just saw Waldo a little while before you did, purely by luck. You’ll see the hidden picture in the crowd too, we hope—because we are humanists, in the end. So if we call you out and try to tell you your joke was wrong, don’t take it personally! We don’t think you are wrong! You, as a person, are just as deserving of every kindness and consideration as anyone else.  It is your actions we have trouble with, and they stem only from incomplete calculations.

We call you out because we think you’re doing it wrong–not because we want to call you out, and not because we think you’re awful, but because we think you don’t know.  It’s not about morality.  It’s about awareness.  And you can’t lecture someone into finding Waldo.

Peace out.

*the best way to fight oppression is lasers.

LINKS
The definitive guide to white male privilege. If you haven’t heard of Scalzi, check him out.  He rocks.

Language, Race, and White Public Space. Pidgin Spanish and racial stereotypes.

“Being Sane In Insane Places.”  Commitment issues.

Problems with The Lone Ranger;  because there are still Native Americans here.

Terrifying Racial Issues. 

SUP NERDS

I’m not even gonna pretend that I’ve come back permanently for any predetermined length of time.  Just keep checking; I’ll post something at some point in your life. But onward to the point!

My school has an anonymous ‘Confessions’ page.  This is basically what it sounds like.  It’s a Facebook page run by an unknown individual at the college (theories abound, but we won’t investigate them at the moment), with a link to a survey site.  Fill out an anonymous survey and the page admin reads it (anonymously) and posts it on the site without your name ever being involved.  Anyone who sees the page can post on it, write on it, read it, whatever.  Many colleges have this exciting feature.

It’s a shit show.

We can pretend otherwise, I can dress it up with fancy psychological terms, but it’s basically a shit show.  People talk about booze, bowel movements, pet peeves, relationships, and personal problems.  The audience is sympathetic to the first two and the last one.

It interests me.  First because some of the commentary is hilarious, to say nothing of the posts themselves.  The usual anonymous online dickery ensues—people passive-aggressively calling one another out anonymously for being too passive-aggressive, and so forth.

Sometimes, someone will post something that looks serious.  They’ll talk about their self-harm issues, suicidal ideation, PTSD, body image problems, etc.  And by and large the response to these is good—not a lot of people shaming, condemning, hating, lots of people encouraging, offering phone numbers and emails and websites.  My school still seems to have nice people.

The other day I read a post on there.  I don’t remember what it was about—some personal issue.  I was about to join the chorus of positive responses, but I thought to myself, “You know, I don’t know who this is.  I know who it might be, though.  It might be someone I don’t know.  It might be someone I don’t like. It might be one of the people who, were I to meet them, I would strike repeatedly with a blunt object. I don’t know if I want to let this person know I care about them when I don’t know them.”

I then immediately felt uncomfortable.  I wasn’t quite sure why, but I felt repulsed by the thought.  I replied to the post, encouraging, positive—after all, they were going through something rough.  Fast forward a few weeks.

The other day I watched Les Miserables. The film adaptation is a remarkable and striking experience.  It’s intimate in a way a stage production cannot be, and arresting in a way the novel cannot be.  The writers did a remarkable job of fine-tuning the story, and granting it an arc which seems much more plain in the film than it did in the novel.

Les Miserables, to give a quick, bare-boned sketch for those who have not seen it [SPOILERS] is the story of a convict named Jean Valjean.  He is released on parole and commits a minor theft—for which he could be returned to prison for decades.  However, the victim intercedes for him, corroborating his alibi, and enjoins upon him to “become an honest man.” Valjean, his life spared and his moment of wrongdoing revealed, is stricken with shame and uses the stolen goods to become an honest man—a very honest, wealthy man, in fact.  But he is still haunted at every turn by the constable who released him from prison, a man known as Javert.

A man is captured who resembles Valjean, and this hapless lookalike is set to be tried and sentenced in Valjean’s stead.  The disguised convict is transfixed by this moral quandary—does he give himself up, or allow the innocent man to be condemned?

But he does the right thing, regardless.  And this is a theme that repeats throughout the novel—Valjean is faced with a dilemma, to save himself or to help another, and each time he chooses to do good.  And each time it turns out better and better.

This is what we call ‘fiction.’

(if you’re a Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder nerd, keep reading—otherwise, you may want to skip this paragraph; it has a distinctly nerdy flavour)

(then again, if you’re not a nerd, why are you reading this blog?)

The conflict between Valjean and Javert is not one of good vs. evil, morality and immorality—for Valjean and Javert are both potent forces for good in the world (even more so in the novel).  My brother likes to complain that Javert is one of the irritating paladins, the lawman who sticks to the letter of the law and seeks to bring all to salvation through enforcement of his code.  But my response is that Valjean is also a crusader, a paladin, but with his code being one of pure good.  He desires only to help everyone and be as good and honest a man as he can (while protecting his daughter).  And in this clash between Good and Law it is (in the end) the Good that wins out—for Good can adapt and change to whatever form it finds itself in, but when Javert finds himself in a scenario for which no law has been written, he self-destructs in a moment of existential crisis.

AND THE POINT OF THIS LONG DIGRESSION IS

We watch throughout the (film/operetta/novel) as Valjean helps people.  Some of them deserve it.  Some of them don’t.  Some of them wish to do him harm. Some of them want to bang his daughter.  He helps them all indiscriminately, because that is how he rolls.  He doesn’t make judgments about who he helps and who he doesn’t.  Homey don’t play that.

And when I watched Les Miserables the other day, my intuition about that pesky train of thought came clearer.  “I don’t know if I want to let this person know I care about them when I don’t know them. It might be someone I don’t like.”

But it doesn’t matter. There are people I don’t like.  There are people I don’t know.  There are people who I want to strike repeatedly with a spoon.  But they’re people. They’re human, as most people are. The ones that aren’t human (a) kill people and eat them or (b) think they’re a macaque.  Hitler liked to talk to children, hold dinner parties, and dick around with oil paints.  The people I don’t like are people too.  And I don’t dislike people all the way through—how could I?? You can’t dislike everything about a person! We share the same basic, fundamental needs and wants.  That’s how empathy works, understanding how your desires are similar to the desires of others.

In real life, there are people I would throttle with a mink stole or beat with a spoon.

But in real life, if they came to me for help, or told me about a problem, one that was life-threatening and miserable, then no, I would not hit them with a spoon.  I might lecture them, loudly and repeatedly, but I would do it while helping them, while directing them to the nearest counselor or tying on a tourniquet. And a couple of you know that’s true, so don’t scoff at me. Nerd.

No human being deserves absolute condemnation—and that’s why I think this article is amazing. It’s about a revolutionary new approach to school discipline being implemented in Washington—not yelling at troubled children. It sounds so obvious when I sneer at it like that, but GUESS WHAT, our school system today pretty much consists of doing just that. And, funny thing, turns out when you give troubled children a safe, supportive, caring, stable environment, THEY DO PRETTY WELL.  And not just in terms of grades—socially, psychologically, emotionally—across the board, better.  “Problem children” improve, become nicer.  Formerly ‘delinquent’ children, ‘troublemakers,’ stop lashing out.

Prison systems in Norway are the most humane in the world.  Guess where some of the world’s highest rehabilitation rates are for criminals? Did you guess America? Not quite, but thanks for playing—the answer’s NORWAY.

Now, I’m not Jean Valjean.  For one thing, I’m not French.  And I can’t sing.

But what I can do is do good.  And do better.

I’m not proud of the thought that came to me some weeks ago as I sat before an anonymous confession page, but I’m not ashamed of it either.  It led me to a (slightly) deeper understanding of myself, and now I’ve inflicted it upon all you lot as well.

So I suppose the moral of this story, this little blog post about doing-good-no-matter-what, the moral of this story is READ LES MISERABLES.  YES, YOU.  It’s magnificent.

COMING UP NEXT TIME, an EXCITING RANT about why IGNORANCE IS NOT IMMORAL.

LATER NERDS.