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Tag Archives: Declining Moral Standards Of The Modern Age

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.

 

You hear the phrase “constructive criticism” a lot, don’t you? Sometimes people use it in the way that F-22 jets deploy flares against heat-seeking missiles—to draw attention away from them and off to something else. “Don’t be so sensitive; I was just offering constructive criticism.”

I’ve thought about doing a post on criticism and feedback for a while now, so this has been a long time coming. In this next few hundred words, we’ll go over (briefly) the difference between critique and feedback, and which one is more helpful in different situation.  I’ll close by talking about how I give constructive criticism, why that criticism is constructive, and some easy ways to make your own critiques more constructive as well. I don’t know much about critiquing sculpture, but I do know how to critique writing, and that’s what I’ll be drawing on throughout this post.

First of all, like any good philosopher, I’m going to get us clear on our terms before anything fun happens. This is where all the important moves occur in a philosophical text—at the very beginning, when you decide what words mean. When we define the meaning of our terms, we choose what we want to emphasize about them, and what we want to downplay. Define your terms adroitly enough, and you can change the entire interpretation of your text.

(So the next time you have to read something that doesn’t seem quite right, look at the way they introduce their terms, and the way they are defining their words. Chances are, they’re doing some work “off the page”—by changing the definitions of their words in mid-page, or by using a different definition than you are.)

So what, exactly, is criticism? Isn’t it the same thing as feedback?

Well, yes. The way most of us talk about criticism and feedback, you can fairly safely use the two words as meaning the same thing. But the point I want to make in this blog post requires me to separate the two of them, to drill down through the “general” meaning and make a big deal about the subtle difference between the two.

Feedback is a response. It’s also an A/V term (that stands for audiovisual, for those of you who aren’t tech-savvy), more specifically, an audio term. In a recording- tech sense, feedback is what happens when there is an overlap between an input and an output, e.g. (for example) a microphone within range of a speaker. I mention this to help make a point in a few sentences, but I’m going to use a semi-psychological definition for feedback, though, because using that definition helps me to explain why I am right.

The way I always think about feedback is as a response. Audio feedback is a response to something occurring in the environment. In behavioral psychology, feedback is the response the brain gets following an action. So if you are a rat in an experiment, you push a button and get feedback. That feedback can be positive (you get a delicious raisin) or negative (you get a terrifying and painful electric shock).  The feedback then affects your behavior: if you receive positive feedback for pushing the button, you are going to push the button more often. If you get negative feedback for pushing the button, you are going to want to stop pushing the button as quickly as possible.  So when would you give feedback in this sense? Well, when you want to encourage or discourage activity. For example, when you show up late to a party and someone saved you a slice of cake, you thank them, giving them positive feedback which makes them want to perform similar actions in the future. If someone steps on your toe, you give them negative feedback by saying “OUCH THAT HURT YOU SON OF A”, to make them want to think twice before stepping on your toe again.

Criticism is slightly different in this view. If feedback is a response, then in the context of art, feedback is your response to a piece. Responses differ from one person to the next. Some people love Thoreau. Others can’t stand poetry at all. Some people like Tim Burton’s films, while others dislike the dark, gothic atmosphere his works project. Some people like Taylor Swift’s music. Others are wrong.

The point is; feedback is what you think about a piece. If you say “I loved that movie!” then you’re giving feedback. If you say “ugh I hate this song,” you’re giving feedback. That feedback then communicates to whoever is listening, either encouraging them to do something (watch the movie again, or talk about the movie more, or, if you’re lucky enough to be talking to a filmmaker, to inspire them to develop more films like the one you loved) or discouraging them from doing something (such as never playing that song again around you—or entirely avoiding songs in that genre). Feedback is a response to stimulus, which can encourage or discourage the repetition of that stimulus. This is how feedback can make or break a young artist’s interest in creating—if they happen to get only negative feedback—by sheer random change—then they will be sufficiently discouraged to avoid that activity in the future. Conversely, if an artist gets enough positive feedback, they will have the encouragement and reinforcement they need to go on creating.

Criticism is not just whether or not you like the subject matter, or the writing style, or the performance. “True” criticism is a careful analysis, with a totally different purpose. We’ll talk directly about writing now for the sake of simplicity:

Feedback is about whether or not you ever want to read the piece again, regardless of how good it is. Criticism aims to provide the writer with a way to make that piece—or the next one—better.  It is a deliberate evaluation of the successes and failures of the subject, which provides recommendations both on what to change, and what to keep the same.  When you offer criticism, you recognize the subject’s merits and faults equally, measure them against one another, and suggest ways for moving forward.

Now that we’re all on the same page, it’s time to talk about constructive criticism. What does this term mean? Well, remember, we generally talk about criticism and feedback like they were the same thing. We also talk about criticism as if it were negative feedback, which makes things even more confusing. When someone criticizes you, we interpret that as meaning they are discouraging you from doing something—which is, as we know, the definition of negative feedback.  In my opinion, constructive criticism is a way that we try to reclaim the difference between feedback and criticism—to emphasize that what is being provided is intended to make the subject better.

I think most people don’t understand how to give constructive criticism. Often, when people offer “constructive criticism,” they are simply giving negative feedback, discouragement that is badly disguised. Other times, when people provide constructive criticism, they focus solely on the bad things, and not on the good.

I’ve always found that constructive criticism works best—which is to say, it provides the most improvement in the subject of critique—when it incorporates both critique—an analysis of the subject’s faults and virtues, suggestions on how to improve—and positive feedback—encouragement to continue. I’ve written a separate little blurb about how to provide constructive criticism to writers. 

So when you go about your life, listen closely to how people talk about feedback and critique. When they say they’re giving constructive criticism, are they really trying to help you improve? Or are they just giving you negative feedback—discouragement? People use the terms interchangeably, so they might not even notice the difference unless you point it out—although you should also note for yourself, why would you point it out? To help improve the way they interact with others? Or to discourage them from giving feedback?

Being clear on these ideas of feedback and criticism can improve not only your ability to edit other peoples’ work, but also to edit your own—and change the way you interact with people in your life. Knowing whether or not you want to offer criticism or feedback can be empowering—because sometimes, you just want somebody to stop making racist jokes. Sometimes, people do things—and really enjoy things—that they absolutely suck at. Knowing the difference lets you ask yourself; “which one should I use? What do I intend to accomplish?”—which can make you more mindful, more helpful, and more encouraging to the people around you. And who doesn’t want that?

That’s all for today. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned!

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.

Hello reader,

Welcome to the fourth post in the Divisions series! I could make this segue more gracious, but I’d rather hurl you right into the thick of it.

Have you ever played an online multiplayer game? No? It’s somewhat poignantly similar to real life.

I myself am an avid player of an online multiplayer game about spaceships.  I have always been a fan of flight simulators, and like many people I am also a fan of explosions and pointless violence.   Therefore, this game is perfect for me, because it allows me to (a) fly really fast, (b) blow things up, and (c) be a little bit of an asshole.

Actual in-game footage.

I’m a special person.

Now, I don’t just mention this because I’m playing the game as I write this post. NAY, I mention this because it made me think about ethics as I was playing it.

A perpetual source of frustration in online player-against-player games is the skill gap, as any gamer can tell you.  Nothing is more infuriating than going up against someone who is just legitimately better than you at pressing a particular sequence of buttons to make your magic box turn a particular color.

What’s just as frustrating is the premium gamers.  The people who have, for whatever reason, elected to spend money on the game and improve themselves accordingly.  These people usually have some inherent advantage over the other players–even if it’s just that their ship looks cooler.

In other words, it’s not fair.  Which can be annoying.  Studies have shown that even monkeys understand when a situation is unfair.  Now if monkeys can pick up on an unjust pay system, surely popular news programs video game players can figure out when something is unjust.

This had been much on my mind recently when I went into my Chinese Philosophy course. So you can imagine how pleasantly surprised I was when I found my exact concern addressed by my professor, who addressed the idea of fairness in Chinese culture.*

*keep in mind that this is an idealized concept of “Chinese culture,” which was doubtless designed more to help provide a foundation for understanding for students who had never been to China, nor studied anything remotely Chinese.**

**but why on earth should that mean that we can’t use it to draw useful moral lessons?

His essential point was tied back to earlier discussions of the communal, fragmented social system, in which each individual in the heirarchy is responsible for their own little bit of power.  Much like the mythological landscape, where each brook and bramble has a spirit, everyone has a little power, which they exercise as subtly as possible. Even the housemaid has her own little sphere of influence–piss her off, and your dishes will be ever so slightly dirty for months.

Their society, like every society, is unfair. Civilization is unfair.  Civilization is based upon structures of asymmetrical power, upon hierarchies and hegemonies, and it is inherently incapable of becoming ‘fair.’  No one is born with the exact same set of privileges and plans as anyone else–and think how boring it would be if we were all the same!  There would be no one new to talk to.  Every conversation would be like watching a Frasier re-run for the seventh time–once, it might possibly have been interesting, but now, it’s exactly what you expected.

What I find interesting is that we, in the West, have come up with this idea that somehow the world needs to be fair.  Somehow everything needs to be balanced.  Everyone needs to be equal.

I think this is stupid, not to mention perspicaciously false.   (whoa) (what a big vocabulary) (and you know what they say about guys with big vocabularies) (they have large theories about the nature of reality)

If you’ve grown up and existed anywhere ever, you realize that people are not equal.  Some people are smarter than others.  Some are better at sports, or at wearing clothes, or at asking questions or doing academic work or hanging clothes–and whether this disparity is the result of legitimate skill-building or not doesn’t matter, because the end result is: nothing is ever going to be truly fair. 

This is obvious.  And I should stress at this point that I don’t disagree with fairness as an ideal.  I think it’s a good place to start.  But it isn’t enough.  Do we really want equality? I think that sounds dull, like a movie where everyone is the same character.  Real life has a dynamic quality–and I mean that in the dictionary definition of the word, as in life is a dynamic system, constantly changing, kept in balance by the flow of energy and advantage from one person/group to the next.

I still reflect on ethics when I play my spaceship game.  But now I fly secure in the knowledge that, while we may not all fly from the same starting point, my ion emitters can turn the enemy to slag just as effectively as anyone else’s.  And that’s what we really want–not for everyone to be equal, but for everyone to be able to have fun, to enjoy life, to develop themselves to the fullest point of their potential, and to unleash molten hell upon their enemies in the form of 70-pound coil-driven mortar shells.

Tune in next time, reader, when we take this point about value, inequality, and fairness and apply it to the universe!  

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.

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.

Image

ALL-PURPOSE* BROADSIDE: Or, HOW ALL HATE SPEECH IS THE SAME.

Dear [person #1].

You are hereby being served notice of the unconstructive nature of your discourse.  What that means in English is that YOU’RE NOT HELPING.  The vitriolic enthusiasm with which you attack [entity] is NOT going to help in fixing [problem].

You are a [self-identification].  You are not alone; there are many who share your belief, who also are [ideological group].  You have a view of the way the world should be, and it is seemingly incomprehensible to you to suggest that another rational being would ever think differently.

But here’s the thing.

If you have a complete, ironclad view of the way the world should work, that dictates what each person needs to have a flourishing and happy life, YOU’RE WRONG.

Because there are BILLIONS of people on [planet].   You are only one of many, the crossroads of unique individual and unique circumstance.

To presume to condemn [ideological group] as a whole based upon your own individual thoughts and desires is WRONG.  Induction: You are failing at it.

There are [quantity greater than zero #1] of individuals who are also [title of member of ideological group].  They live perfectly happy lives, because they function in a way entirely different from you, because there is a very definite degree to which, thanks to culture and individuality, we are not all ‘basically the same.’  Different things are fulfilling to different people, and if you fail to respect that, you are being just as intolerant as the [ideological group] you claim to condemn.

Yes, [ideological group] has its flaws, and like any human organization other than In-N-Out Burger, they are many.  They can be fixed.  And, more fundamentally, [ideological group] is made up of PEOPLE.   People can change, and we tend to believe that people have certain RIGHTS, such as the right to a certain degree of SELF-DETERMINATION.

[ideological group] DOES NOT EXIST FOR THE SOLE PURPOSE OF DESTROYING ALL THAT IS GOOD ON THIS EARTH.  And to suggest that all those who participate in [ideological group] are ignorant, hateful, brainwashed, or better off dead is abhorrent.

Finally, and in closing, CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING.

DON’T MAKE GENERALIZATIONS WHEN YOU SPEAK OF HATE.  Do you know what that leads to? That leads to GENOCIDE AND ANGUISH.  I am not exaggerating.  When you hate blindly, you are blinded.

You are BETTER THAN THIS.  I know this for certain, because you are A HUMAN BEING, and human beings are ALWAYS capable of allowing one another to live peacefully.

You live your life, that’s fine. But don’t assume that the only way to live is YOUR way.   It is HARD to be tolerant—I know.  It’s HARD to let people self-determine, hard to take the SLOW way.  But to fight hate with hate, to condemn all who support [ideological group] alike, to make enemies of people who are PERFECTLY DECENT HUMAN BEINGS, and indeed, some of whom are probably BETTER human beings than you and I—this path is misguided, and beneath you, and I know you can do better; I know you can learn how, and I wish you the best of luck.

If you want to spread the poison of intolerance, and write off any person as a loss based SOLELY on their membership in a group that also contains poor examples, then I’VE GOT BAD NEWS FOR YOU, CUPCAKE, because if that’s how you roll, you’re a HUMAN BEING, and GUESS WHO’S COMMITTED EVERY MAJOR HISTORICAL ATROCITY IN ALL OF HISTORY?

That’s right, you’ve got a bigger category of hatred to work on—because each of us are connected to thousands of others by thousands of similarities, and blind hatred for any one human is blind hatred for HUMANITY.  So rein it in, [equestrian celebrity reference], you’re riding too hard.

But if you want to work with us, with all of us, all the good people on [planet] who want their ideological groups to be better, who hold ourselves and others to a higher standard, who are willing to fight—and to forgive—for the sake of harmony and a flourishing life, then join me, and we’ll learn tolerance together.

Choose well.  Choose as I know you can.   And I, in turn, will forgive your rashness, for I understand where you’re coming from, because I have my own blindness as well. And you, like all the rest of us, are only human.

And you, like all the rest of us, must struggle with that.

*This will serve as a response to anyone condemning a particular group, religion, or behavioral practice, subject to the following constraints:

  • [quantity greater than zero #1] is greater than zero. (example, 1, and not 0)
  • By ‘condemning’ I mean aggressively.  Hell, or even passively.  The casual jokes of annoying atheists.  The bombastic rhetoric of annoying religious figures. The outdated ideas of annoying, sexist political figures.  A #misandry-tagged post that isn’t obviously sarcastic or made by a misguided MRA.
  • [ideological group] is not an organization created and maintained for the sole purpose of oppressing, disenfranchising, repressing, injuring, or otherwise harming anyone. (example, the Grand Old Party, and not the KKK or a similar hate group) Aside from this constraint, [ideological group] can be anything; a political organization, a country, an ethnicity, a gender, a faction in WoW…
  • [person #1] is a person with thoughts and feelings.

             PEACE, NERDS. 

So today we started talking about the idea of the elusive “liberal arts education,” and exactly what that meant.  And people started talking about things like “building skills” and “learning a work ethic,” and I got slightly agitated, because—well, let me back up.

This was in class—actually the last day of class—in a philosophy course.   Over the course of one semester we had read Plato and Socrates (or…you know, Plato), brushed over some secondary literature, and spent a good deal of time reading Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Politics.  Now, with these in mind (especially his Ethics), we were thinking about how this class (or, more specifically, how Aristotle) affects our lives after the course is over.  Which is now.

The customary apologetic defense of philosophy was offered: that philosophy doesn’t actually help your life directly, but that reading philosophy builds skills and shit, and makes you a better logical thinker, and all of that rubbish.  Which is all completely true, but that’s pretty much like saying “I go to lifeguard training so that I can learn how to swim.”

YOU CAN LEARN TO SWIM VERY EASILY. IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE.

SIMILARLY, ANALYTICAL THINKING IS NOT VERY DIFFICULT.  It’s a skill, and you can train a skill by doing other things beside philosophy.

So what does this mean, then? Does it mean that philosophy is not useful?  WHAT THE HELL IS MY POINT?

Well, what exactly is “useful?” We are discussing no small matter, but how we ought to live.  The great philosophers—especially the ancients, the ones who hover outside of the analytical tradition—don’t just talk about one sphere of life.  They talk about all of life.  When they talk about one thing, they do it by talking about everything, because they have a concise view of everything that can be easily used to explain just one thing.  I believe Chesterton wrote some words on this subject, but since he already said them, there’s not much point in me waxing eloquent here.

THE POINT I’M TRYING TO MAKE IS: you can apply Aristotle directly to your life, straight away.  You must apply Aristotle directly, consciously or unconsciously, if you live a productive life, because Aristotle’s theory encompasses what happens when you live a productive life, and thus if you live a productive life you can explain that in terms of Aristotle’s theory.

Apply directly to the forehead!

LET ME BACK UP HERE AND EXPLAIN.  Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics is possibly one of the more famous and influential works ever written by anyone ever.  It can be quite literally said to be the foundation of Western conceptions of morality and a pillar of philosophy in general.

What is the Ethics about? It is about ethics.  About making the choices of your life.  It is a book written for the education of young adults, with the intention of teaching them not to be so goddamn stupid all the damn time and showing them how to not fail at life.  And if you read it that way—if you listen to what Aristotle says and think about how you can apply that to your own life—then you get a whole hell of a lot more out of the book than just learning to “think critically,” FFS.

There is this banausic trend in the west to ask “what good is this?” as if every bit of knowledge learned had to be a new cog in a mechanical man.   A paragon of this trend is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes, who you may remember was retroactively inspired by the BBC miniseries of the same name.

We might not remember, and by ‘we’ I mean ‘you’ because I read the book, thanks very much, but Sherlock Holmes was the penultimate scientist and a terrifyingly mechanical thinker.

“I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic,” Sherlock says, in A Study In Scarlet (our introduction to Sherlock Holmes) “And you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it.”

“Now pass me a credit card, Watson, it’s time for me to do my morning line.”

In contrast to the average man, Sherlock proudly says that his attic is in the very best of order, that he takes into his mind only those facts and theories which can help him in his daily life.  When we first are introduced to him, he has not even been bothered to learn that the earth revolves around the sun (oh, for the days when you could avoid learning that!), and when he is told this fact he promises to forget it as promptly as possible.

Sherlock Holmes is problematic.

This man operates only on what he can know for certainty, and knows nothing outside of his field.  He is mechanical, scientific in the extreme, highly specialized.  He can provide a citation and a justification for everything.

So why am I talking about Aristotle and Sherlock Holmes in the same post?  Because there is an upsetting push toward the ideal of Sherlock Holmes—toward the ideal of the consummate scientist, in every field.  Everything is being reduced to a science, to a formula, to a specialization.  For psychology it is already looking grim—for anthropology some hope remains.  Anthropology gets it—because anthropology can never be an objective science again.  The question has already been asked “what is objectivity?” and with that we plunge off the precipice, never to look back, because NOTHING IS OBJECTIVE.  Anthropology gets it in a way that few other sciences really do.  Try bringing up “nothing is objective” with a biochem major.

Even philosophy has become scientific.

Analytical philosophy has risen in the west like a Barad-Dur of tinker toys—intimidating, needlessly complex, and unassailable.  It is the process of jumping through hoops with logic for the purpose of reaching a conclusion on a specific subject—for example, the ethics of war, or of abortion, or of assisted suicide.  These conclusions are supported by citations, links to things which have already been proven, and they are mostly applicable—although a number of these conclusions in turn have points at which they break down.

Why do we seek these conclusions?  Why answer such specific questions? So that when we have a solution we can declare a question answered and move on? Are we then building a comprehensive theory of the world even in philosophy?  Why do these conclusions break down?

Like Chesterton, I stress the importance of a worldview.  But a worldview cannot be specific, because every specific theory breaks down at a certain level of detail. The world is not our theory, and our theory is not the world.  Sometimes we forget that fact—that modern science and the entire intellectual basis of Western knowledge is a massive construct built to model reality.  Theory is not reality itself, and thus, as Hume also points out, we can’t actually ever be sure that our experiment will go as predicted, because they universe doesn’t run on zeros and ones.

Aristotle gives us detail, and a lot of his details are wrong, yes, but we can forgive him that, because through and around that detail run sweeping generalizations as broad as rivers.  His warning in the beginning of the Ethics should be written in stone.

“Our discussion will be adequate if it achieves clarity within the limits of the subject matter.  For precision cannot be expected in the treatment of all subjects alike, any more than it can be expected in all manufactured articles.  Problems of what is noble and just, which politics examines, present so much variety and irregularity that some people believe that they exist only by convention and not by nature.  The problem of the good, too, presents a similar kind of irregularity, because in many cases good things bring harmful results.  There are instances of men ruined by wealth, and others by courage.  Therefore, in a discussion of such subjects, which has to start from a basis of this kind, we must be satisfied to indicate the truth with a rough and general sketch: when the subject and the basis of a discussion consist of matters that hold good only as a general rule, but not always, the conclusions reached must be of the same order.  The various points that are made must be received in the same spirit.  For a well-schooled man is one who searches for that degree of precision in each kind of study which the nature of the subject at hand admits: it is obviously just as foolish to accept arguments of probability from a mathematician as to demand strict demonstrations from an orator.”

“Now calm yourselves the hell down and let me finish my goddamn lecture.”

My philosophy teacher used to complain because people would ask her stupid questions when they learned she was getting a Ph.D.  Apparently at least one person asked her “What’s your philosophy?”

Which is hilarious because let’s be honest, that’s a REALLY DUMB QUESTION.

But in a way…it’s also not, because in my not-so-humble opinion philosophy is not just about logic.  It’s not just about thinking analytically and understanding when someone is making a stupid-ass argument based on logical fallacies.

Reading philosophy is about having a philosophy.  It’s about reading Sartre and hating him and then UNDERSTANDING WHY.  It’s about reading Aristotle and loving his ethics and hating his weird treatment of slaves and understanding WHY.  It’s about taking that understanding of WHY things agree with you and internalizing it, of developing the practical ability to recognize what fits into your worldview and what doesn’t, cultivating that phronēsis to the point where you have a coherent, functional view of the world.

So what do I take away from a philosophy class? Yeah, I take away analytical skills and all that bullshit, but that’s sure as hell not why I took the class.  I take philosophy to understand my way of being-in-the-world.  And what I take away from Aristotle’s Ethics isn’t “an understanding of the framework of modern ethics in the western world,” it’s a knowledge of the fact that I agree with Aristotle in many points—including his definition of virtue:

Action.

With.

Intention.

And THAT is something I can (and will) use, every day of my life.

“Word.”

SUP INTERNET

Sometimes I really don’t understand people.

SO I’M GOING TO YELL AT YOU ABOUT BEING NORMAL TODAY

We’ll start with empathy.

Or, to go etymologically:

Einfühlungsvermögen.

 [I love German words]

Wikipedia tells us that Empathy is the capacity to recognize feelings that are being experienced by another sentient or semi-sentient (in fiction writing) being. Someone may need to have a certain amount of empathy before they are able to feel COMPASSION.

So how do you EMPATHIZE?

Well, one theory connects empathy to MIRROR NEURONS.  Mirror neurons, as many of you may know (and some of you may not) are part of the brain.  As their name might suggest, they are involved in neurological processes.

SPECIFICALLY, mirror neurons fire when we perform an action AND when we see someone else perform the same action.  The mirror neurons in our brain fire when we open a door and when we see someone else open a door, when we watch someone do a parkour vault and then when we do a parkour vault.

We can take this in a very interesting direction and explore the mirror neuron as a subjective projection of the self into objective reality but I DON’T THINK WE REALLY NEED TO DO THAT RIGHT NOW.

No, what I think is in ALARMINGLY short supply nowadays is the ability to be A DECENT HUMAN BEING.

Now OBVIOUSLY my blog post is not targeted specifically at anyone (a) because I DON’T DO THAT because it’s a GENERALLY SHITTY THING TO DO and (b) because I don’t really think that most of the people who are likely to read this aren’t decent human beings (NAMELY ALL MY FRIENDS BECAUSE I KNOW YOU’RE ALL AWESOME).  BUT IT’S NICE TO HAVE REMINDERS ONCE IN A WHILE, ISN’T IT?

SO what is the first part of being a decent human being?

IN MY MIND it is NOT EMPATHY, but I’ve already started talking about empathy so we’ll go through that first.

So what is EMPATHY really? I feel as though I’ve talked about this before, but it is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.  To try to put yourself in their place and understand where they’re coming from.  Some people can’t do this, or don’t do this, which always confuses me in the same way that people would confuse me if they walked around with their nose plugged all the time.

SO let’s get all ANALYTICAL PHILOSOPHY UP IN THIS and create a MODEL that MAY BEAR NO RESEMBLANCE TO REALITY.

Let’s imagine a man named BOB.

NOW, BOB has a friend named TED.  And TED has a cat.

BOB really likes to shoot things.  Especially living things.  He’s kinda crazy.  At this point it’s only a matter of time before he snaps and does something that I could make a really offensive joke about but won’t, because I’m a very good person and I don’t do that.

Now, TED, who is a very trusting and innocent soul, asks BOB to catsit for him.

So BOB does.

Now, it’s about six hours in and BOB is bored. He’s watched Snatch, Pulp Fiction, and Boondock Saints and now he’s all out of DVDs.  So he starts thinking about shooting Ted’s cat.

NOW IS WHEN EMPATHY KICKS IN.

If Bob uses his sense of empathy, his ability to understand where other people were coming from, he would imagine what it would be like to care for a small, furry animal and love it unconditionally. He would realize the sense of attachment that Ted must have, and understand the feeling of heartbreak that would come if anything were to happen to the little kitty.

LUCKILY FOR BOB, Bob is a sociopath, an individual DEFINITIONALLY INCAPABLE OF EMPATHY, so he shoots the cat and goes home to watch Tron.

…well.  That didn’t turn out to be quite so lucid of an explanation as I had hoped.  We’ll try again later.

IN THE MEANTIME

I mentioned that EMPATHY is not necessarily top of my list on HOW TO BE A GOOD HUMAN BEING.  It is however arguably impossible to disconnect from the quality that IS on the top of my list, which is, namely, and I quote, THE ABILITY TO MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS.

Let me flesh that one out a bit.  What do I mean by this? Well, I could go to Plato/Socrates and say JUSTICE IS EVERYONE MINDING THEIR OWN BUSINESS but I don’t really like agreeing with Plato (it makes me feel a bit funny inside) and Socrates doesn’t always convince me as much as he does Glaucon.

FIRST AND FOREMOST is the ability to RESPECT LIMITS.  Everyone has limits.  Some people don’t like to be hugged.  Some people don’t like to be bothered during certain hours.  Some people don’t like to be SHOT IN THE FACE.  To each their own.  The ability to MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS is the ability to UNDERSTAND the relativist nature of personal limits.

WHICH IN ENGLISH MEANS the ability to RECOGNIZE that there is no UNIVERSAL STANDARD for PERSONAL DECISIONS.

Which basically means that if someone doesn’t want to high-five you, it doesn’t matter if you’re THE GODDAM POPE, you still have no right to claim that they are in the WRONG.

Because this is a fundamental thing that I believe about BAD SHIT that happens to PEOPLE.

When someone SHOOTS YOU IN THE FOOT, it’s bad because BULLETS HURT.  But would we think anything was wrong if you ASKED someone to shoot you in the foot and they complied? Well, yes, we would, because WHO THE HELL GETS WILLINGLY SHOT IN THE FOOT, but we wouldn’t think that the shooter was necessarily morally culpable.

NOW OF COURSE YOU CAN MAKE BAD personal decisions.  People do it ALL THE GODDAM TIME, and it’s INFURIATING.  BUT, there’s not really anything you can DO about that, IS THERE?

If it’s a BAD ENOUGH decision, SOCIETY will provide the backlash and the countermanding force.  For EXAMPLE, the decision to stay up until FIVE drinking shots of vodka with peanut butter ice cubes may have been a POOR ONE, but the REAL punishment for that decision is not going to be provided by a friend who gives the drinker a tongue-lashing, it’s going to be provided by the BOSS or TEACHER who waited for them for SIX HOURS and didn’t get the REPORT they wanted.

THIS ESPECIALLY APPLIES TO RELATIONSHIPS, BY THE WAY.

Because a relationship is FUNDAMENTALLY about TWO PEOPLE who RELATE to one another.  A relationship can be INDEPENDENT of the two people in a certain emotional way, but it is nonetheless INEXTRICABLY LINKED to their CONTINUING DECISIONS.

WHICH MEANS of course that a RELATIONSHIP is always subject to personal decisions, because as soon as one individual makes the decision to NO LONGER RELATE TO THE OTHER PERSON, it is then NOT A RELATIONSHIP, somewhat by DEFINITION.

SO A VERY BASIC POINT, and one I follow perhaps too well sometimes, is RESPECT PEOPLE’S PERSONAL SPACE, and that means IN ALL CONTEXTS.  ALL OF THEM.

NOW we can return to EMPATHY.  While I will concede it is POSSIBLE to respect someone’s personal limits without empathy (for example, the majority of sociopaths can generally control themselves as long as it is made clear that a limit is a rule; sociopaths do very well with understanding and following rules), I will say that once you have empathy you are much, much, much more likely to respect a person’s limits.

WHICH, let me POINT OUT, is really NOT EVER A HARD THING.

Because EITHER it’s someone you REALLY DISLIKE even when you CAN understand their point of view and therefore you don’t actually NEED to worry about INFRINGING ON THEIR PERSONAL SPACE EXCEPT WITH A KNIFE because YOU CAN’T STAND THEM (in which case just don’t deal with that) OR it’s someone you’re ACTUALLY QUITE FOND OF in which case YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO EMPATHIZE WITH THEM, in which case you should WANT THE BEST FOR THEM AND NOT BE ALL WEIRD ABOUT IT.  Both of which should be relatively simple cognitions.

Both of those points, by the way, are things that I have experienced.  The complete profound disgust with another human being and the “OH GOD DON’T BE CREEPY” sense of self-control and extreme respect for other people’s personal space.

SO YES, I suppose in a way I am setting myself up to be a good person by my own definition.  Although you will note that I only set the bar at “decent human being,” so I hope I’m not making too bold a claim.

I’m not sure how that reflects upon my blog post, although I suppose the PROOF IS IN THE PREMISES, insofar as if I can be a good person, then what I say might be slightly true.

THIS POST by the way ushers in a WHOLE NEW AGE OF ME, wherein I tell you that I’ve got ANOTHER NAME FOR YOU.

Whereas previously IN THIS BLOG I referred to myself as TOR for reasons that were EXTREMELY NERDY and have to do with the massive unpublished novel that I’ve posted on DeviantArt for lack of a better thing to do with my time (It’s at ddllives.deviantart.com if you’re bored and have nothing better to do, which is extremely unlikely as there are many things that are better than my writing including STABBING YOURSELF IN THE EYES WITH A PENCIL), I have decided HENCEFORTH to take ONE OF THE MORE COMMON NAMES IN THE UNITED STATES and also the name of the PATRON ANGEL of SOLDIERS, DOCTORS, and WARRIORS, which I rather like, myself.

So yeah, my name’s MICHAEL now.  If you call me “Mike” I WILL END YOU. 

Greetings, earth creatures.

I’ll be posting AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK HERE, which is to say AT LEAST EVERY FRIDAY, but I will also NO LONGER REFRAIN MYSELF from posting something on a DAY THAT IS NOT FRIDAY.

YOU WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO PREDICT WHAT WILL HAPPEN AROUND HERE.

VERY ODD

COMING UP NEXT ON JUNGWILDEANDFREE

EITHER

I YELL AT ATHEISTS UNTIL THEY GET ANGRY

OR

I RANT ABOUT HOW TO BE HAPPY ALL THE GODDAMN TIME.

What is politics?

Well that depends on who you ask.   A quick skim of Aristotle provides the definition of “the most sovereign and most comprehensive master science,” which is highly unhelpful as a working definition for a blog post.

So bear with me while we go through this.   Let’s say that a politician is an individual whose aim in life is to help their people.  What are they helping their people to do? Well, we could say that they are helping their people to live good lives. By good of course I don’t just mean economically prosperous; I mean really happy lives.  The politician seeks to realize their constituency at their greatest potential, to give their people the greatest possible chance to soar at their highest height.

So what is politics?

Well, in that case, politics is I suppose the art and science of raising one’s people up.  After all, the practice of a politician, I just said, was to help their people realize their full potential.

Now there we will sit our definition for the remainder of this blog post.

So what should a politician do?

A politician should represent their people.  They should have always the best interests of their constituency in mind.

Do you know what a politician should not do?

Lie.

There is this widespread delusion among the people of the world that a politician is someone deceptive, someone who will trick and deceive and yes, lie to advance their own personal motives.

No.

Just no.

A people’s motives and needs are never ambiguous.  The better course for a nation is rarely hard to discern, if you look for it—people spend their entire career learning how to figure out things like economics, international policies, and immigration procedures, and among all these experts there is a more or less general consensus about what would be good.

And just as the zeitgeist is never ambiguous, so too should the politician be honest and open.  Perhaps, perhaps, maybe, with an enemy, with a foreign power against whom the country is fighting, but not to allies and never to the citizens.

A politician must be honest about their aims, must have a clear vision of how they will best support their people.  If they lie, if they conceal, if they have any need at all of subterfuge, then it’s quite simple: they don’t deserve to represent the polis.

Americans, as a whole, do not expect their political system to aid them.

We take a semi-liberal viewpoint.  We hope that the government stays out of our way, because we want to go about our business and the government pretty much poisons whatever it touches.

But that’s not good.

Our world has become increasingly cynical.

We expect our government wants to control us.

We expect our politicians to lie and cheat and blackmail and take money from anyone.

We know and expect that elections can be bought by anyone with enough cash.

Most of us are fully aware that we’re killing the planet and that no one is likely to do something unless we all do. And we’re not really doing much about it.

People die in the millions thanks to car crashes.

Slavery is still a thing.

There is poison in our lunch meat.

We’re all aware of these things. We take them for granted.

And…that’s not cool.

THERE SHOULDN’T BE POISON IN YOUR FOOD.

YOU PUT THAT SHIT IN YOUR FACE.

LIST OF PLACES THERE SHOULDN’T BE POISON: NUMBER ONE:  

IN.

YOUR.

FACE.

 

Politicians shouldn’t LIE TO YOU ABOUT ANYTHING THEY LIKE.  If they lie to you, GUESS WHAT, it’s TIME TO GET A NEW POLITICIAN.   

There’s a psychological phenomenon known as the Bystander Effect.  When something bad happens in a crowd, the members of the crowd assume en masse that someone else will take care of it.

This is the reason people get knifed in broad daylight.  Why people get kidnapped in the middle of a crowd.  Because it’s someone else’s problem, and anyway it’s just part of modern society.

Except…it’s really not.

Imagine, just for a moment, that you have no context at all in which to evaluate the following country.

A country where leaders lie, corporations kill for money, and people do nothing.  A country where the likeliest destination for a troubled youth is in a for-profit penitentiary.  A country that is slowly squeezing the planet for resources and belching pollution into the sky.

That sounds awful, doesn’t it?

Would you want to live there? I know I don’t.

And that’s why I write blog posts and get angry about politics.  Because I do live here, in a nation that is all of the things I have listed, a nation that could be so much more, and I am struck every day by the overwhelming conviction that things are not as they should be.

I don’t care what you do.  No one has any right to regulate your actions, so long as you’re not going out and murdering people for sport.

But can’t you agree that there’s something wrong when all of the below citations are true?

And couldn’t you concede that there’s something you might be able to do?

These are huge problems, but they don’t have huge solutions. The answer is in the little things. Buckling a seatbelt and turning off the phone.  Buying fair trade and organic.  Demanding more responsibility from your politicians.

And stopping once in a while to lend a stranger a hand.

Because these are problems that affect us all, and it’s nice to have a reminder, once in a while, that we’re not alone.

And if these things piss you off as much as they do me, well…you’re not alone either.  There are profoundly decent people in the world, just as outraged as we are…some of whom are in a position to do something about it.

CITATIONS:

Distrust of government:

[2011 article documenting a point at which Congressional approval reached 9%.  As in, 9% of Americans think Congress is capable of legislating.]

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/26/us/politics/poll-finds-anxiety-on-the-economy-fuels-volatility-in-the-2012-race.html

Environmental Apathy:

[the more you know…the less you’re likely to do.]

http://128.138.136.233/students/envs_4800/kellstedt_etal_2008.pdf

Automotive Deaths:

[Just statistics. So many statistics. Average in 2009 was 93 people per day]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_motor_vehicle_deaths_in_U.S._by_year

Slavery:

[this website is big because so is its problem.]

http://www.anti-slaverysociety.addr.com/toc.htm

Dangerous compounds in food:

[some of these have been banned in many countries…but usually not the United States. Woo! Free market!]

http://www.purezing.com/living/toxins/living_toxins_dangerousingredients.html

Statistics on domestic violence:

[now this just pisses me off]

http://domesticviolencestatistics.org/domestic-violence-statistics/

Growing partisanship:

[oh, right, it’s not just your cookies. Everything isgetting more partisan.]

http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jun/04/news/la-pn-pew-partisan-divide-poll-20120604