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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!

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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. 

Today’s SPAZZY subject,

RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE

What is religion?

I’ve asked this question before, and the answer depends on who you ask.  As usual.

However, because it makes my arguments easier, we’re going to talk about religion as a moral and spiritual force.

What is the purpose of religion? In this definition, the purpose of religion is to provide man with a way to communicate with the spiritual, and to establish a system of ethics by which man interacts with the world.

What does this mean?  This means that religion provides us with a way to understand our spirituality, and grants a certain responsibility and purpose to our being-in-the-world.  In this context, everyone has a religion, and this fact is something I will maintain fiercely against all comers.

Something I say in conversation as a joke, but mean perfectly seriously: “I have my own religion, of which I am the only member.”  But for the purposes of this blog post, we’ll focus on the latter, so that we can begin to talk about religious intolerance.

So what is religious intolerance?

Religious intolerance is what happens when religion’s dictates clash with reality.  Any ethical objection to an action based wholly or in part on religious teaching is religious intolerance, if we want to be irritatingly technical about it, but we tend to think of it as less problematic if it doesn’t clash with our own personal norms.  For example, you don’t see murderers gathering in large numbers to protest the religious intolerance they face every day, because even they share sufficient cultural context with us to agree that murder, by and large, is generally a bad thing that people do.  

Also, just like Aristotle, I’m preaching to a choir…so if you’re not of the impression that murder is by and large a bad thing that people do, you should maybe stop reading and go back to 4chan.

SO RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE, THEN, is when people don’t feel that they can tolerate an action due to the dictates of their religion.  This is more or less caused by what we refer to as COGNITIVE DISSONANCE, which is that feeling in your brain when you really want to date two guys at the same time or when you try to think of a round square object that is both white and orange at the same time.

[For extra fun with cognitive dissonance, try this: imagine a four-dimensional object.  It’s just like a three-dimensional object, except in addition to height, width, and depth, it has a fourth dimension that is just as perpendicular to all of those as they are to each other. It’s a weird, uncomfortable mental sensation, isn’t it?]

COGNITIVE DISSONANCE is what happens when two beliefs clash.  In the simplest of cases these beliefs are polar opposites, like this:

“Thou shalt not kill.”

“I believe I just saw Jeff shoot Tim in the face. That is killing.”

The two belief systems (Killing is wrong; someone just killed) clash, and in the clash they produce cognitive dissonance and then a resolution that is usually semi-logical (Ergo; Jeff just did something wrong).

The logic point is something I want to emphasize, because when we’re yelling at people we want to make this clear.

EVERYONE MAKES SENSE INSIDE THEIR OWN HEAD.  Even crazy people follow their own zany logic; what makes them crazy, by and large, is that they’re a minority.   I follow my own zany logic; at times this makes people look at me oddly and ask if I was just talking to an inanimate object.  And I was, and his name is Phil.

So, shifting gears here and talking about intolerance in general.  What is intolerance?

The best way to define it, in my humble opinion, is as an inability to allow behaviors to proceed unopposed.

So loony religious types will not allow nontraditional marriages to occur in their country, assuming that it will pollute everyone with its terrible, terrible horribleness.

Rabid atheist types will not let even the faintest hint of religion escape their ravenous rationalism, lest everyone suddenly burst into gospel music and flee to the hills before the oncoming flood.

Why do we think this is problematic?

Because here in AMERICA, we tend to think that people’s actions should be unrestricted.

And, you know, also in other countries, where other stuff happens.

But these are systems of morality.  By definition they are meant to stand for what is right and what is wrong.

So how can systems of morality be wrong?

Well, because they are inflexible.  By and large, the moral systems that drive more problematic forms of intolerance tend to be eager to give us a hard-and-fast ruling.  In philosophical terms (HOLD ON TO YOUR HATS) they are DEONTOLOGICAL.

HOLY SH*T.

THAT’S A HUGE WORD.

SLOW DOWN.

Quick definition, for those lucky few of you who haven’t come across this term.

Something deontological is rule-based. Actions are judged on whether or not they conform to a system of rules, and based on that they are assigned a value.  An example of a deontological system is a legal code, where, for example it doesn’t matter why you do something—as long as you don’t break any laws, it’s not wrong for you to do it.

 

But though most legal and religious systems are DEONTOLOGICAL, we don’t actually tend to function that way.  Life is rarely convenient enough to fit into a system of hard and fast rules. Lying is a great example.  We obviously think there is a spectrum of lies—that telling someone you killed their parents is a different sort of lie from saying you’ve got homework to do and won’t be going to the party (when the actual reason is you don’t like the people that are throwing the party).

What separates the two? Well, motive, for one.  In one example, you’re telling someone you killed their parents because…well, I actually can’t imagine why.  You’re a sick bastard, whoever you are.  But your motive is probably to cause them pain, because it’s difficult to imagine a situation where that would turn out well (though I’ll explore that in a second).

In the other situation, you’re trying to spare someone’s feelings by not telling them you hate their friends and want to stab them in the eyes.  It’s a delicate balance to strike.

But what if you were telling someone that you killed their parents to help them? If, for example, their parents had actually been killed by a giant death monster that was hiding in the other room and you were trying to get them to chase you so that you could lead them out of the house and into safety?  Well then, we might say that the ends justify the means—which, our legal systems notwithstanding, tends to be more often the way we look at the world.

A system of ethics that looks at the intended end of an action rather than the means is called a TELEOLOGICAL system.  Telos is Greek, or some sh*t like that, and it is basically the end or good—essentially, it’s whatever you’re trying to accomplish with your actions.

SUDDENLY, ARISTOTLE.

Sup.

ARISTOTLE’S ETHICAL SYSTEM IS TELEOLOGICAL.   It’s more guidelines than actual rules, and in fact he recognizes that “it is a hard task to be good,” because “in every case it is a task to find the median.” [1109a24, if you want to whip out your Nicomachean Ethics and follow along].

So where moral decisions are involved, then, we don’t actually often follow hard and fast rules, because doing so tends to drive us pretty reliably right back into the stone ages and seems to make us act in a way that is creepy and robotic.  Ethical systems should have flexibility, right?  We are only human, and we err.

SPEAKING OF MAKING HORRIBLE MISTAKES,

RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE IS A THING.

And I’ll be addressing it in a later post, now that I’ve laid some groundwork, but I think that’s enough information to spew for now.

And for now, if you are a person who would condemn others for their creed, their body, or their love, I’ll just suggest that you look at the ends of your actions.

Is your condemnation done for their sake?

Do you think of them and their feelings?

If not…maybe you should.

Because all people are people too.

And on a more high-level blog post summary:  Think about your own personal system of ethics.  Do you have hard and fast rules? Or do you just make sh*t up as you go along?  Reflection is the key to making sure you’re at least coherent in your ethical protestations.

INTERNET

STOP IT.

I’m talking of course to you, OBNOXIOUS ATHEISTS. Stop hating.  STOPPIT.

NOW LET’S QUALIFY THE SHIT OUT OF THIS STATEMENT.

I have no problem at all with DECENT NORMAL PEOPLE who ARE NOT OBNOXIOUS.  Let’s be perfectly honest—so long as you stay out of my face, I don’t care if you worship God, Jesus, Vishnu, Ramen, Horus, Thor, Hiddleston, Nyancat, or NOTHING AT ALL.

I REALLY DON’T GIVE A HOOT.

Who am I talking to, then, in this BROADSIDE?

I’m talking to OBNOXIOUS PEOPLE.

Specifically, the people who HATE ON RELIGION.

Now if you’re going to say that organized religion has a tendency to be CORRUPT, then I’d be fine.  ANYTHING wrought by man TENDS TO BE CORRUPTED SOONER OR LATER, except, of course, as everyone knows, IN-N-OUT BURGER.   That shit is DELICIOUS.

If you’re going to say that organized religion has a history of VIOLENT TORTURE AND DEATH, then I’m fine with that too, after all, IT HAPPENS TO BE TRUE.

HOWEVER.

DO NOT SAY in MY PRESENCE that ORGANIZED RELIGION is the CAUSATIVE AGENT for (a) ALL WAR AND DEATH, (b) MOST WAR AND DEATH, or (c) THE MAJORITY OF WAR AND DEATH.   You do NOT bring that shit in MY HOUSE.

Do you know what causes war and death?

STUPID GREEDY PEOPLE.

Do you know what causes stupid greedy people?

NOT RELIGION.

PEOPLE WHO ARE STUPID AND/OR GREEDY AND POWERFUL.

NOW THAT WE’VE ESTABLISHED THAT, LET’S MOVE ON.

You know WHAT ELSE you can’t do?

YES THAT’S RIGHT I SAID CAN’T, as in THE CONTRACTION OF CAN NOT. I’m laying down a LAW here, ****er.

WHAT YOU CANNOT DO is MOCK people for believing in RELIGION.

You can MOCK THEIR RELIGION ALL YOU WANT, go ahead, fine, they’ll just think you’re an ass.  BUT DO NOT MOCK BELIEF.

HUMAN TRUST IS AMONG THE MOST POTENT OF EMOTIONS.  If you want to mock something, mock people who trust BLINDLY and CLOSE THEIR EYES TO ALL ELSE. But those people are easy to find—they’re in the NEWS, because they get EBOLA and then they DON’T GET MEDICAL CARE and then surprisingly DIE.  And approximately NO ONE is surprised.

So when you talk about religion, when you talk about SPIRITUALITY, when you talk about A PILLAR OF HUMAN EXISTENCE, do us all a favor and don’t giggle about people’s “Imaginary Friends.”  It’s not an IMAGINARY FRIEND, it’s the ANIMATE INCARNATION OF THE NUMINOUS, and until you can use words like ANIMATE INCARNATION OF THE NUMINOUS to defend your IRRITATING JOKE you can just QUIETLY GO AWAY.

THERE ARE LOTS OF FUNDAMENTALLY DECENT HUMAN BEINGS who are atheists.  THEN THERE ARE ASSHOLES who give them ALL a bad name by doing things like say “Oh remember the famous historical atheists who killed thousands of people? Oh wait, that never happens.”

*COUGH COUGH* MAOSTALIN *COUGH COUGH*  OH SORRY I INHALED SOME BULLSHIT AND HAD AN ALLERGIC REACTION.

CLOCKING IN AT A HIGH SECOND ON THE “THINGS THAT PISS ME OFF” O-METER IS THIS GEM FROM wonderful human being and fabulous comedian Ricky Gervais, who I love dearly.  A very entertaining man and I’m sure a generally decent person.  HOWEVER he happens to have also created a tweet that ANNOYS ME, and so in the TRADITION OF THE INTERNET I am going to SHOUT ABOUT IT ON MY BLOG.

What is problematic about this statement? LET’S BE CLEAR THAT  WE’RE TALKING ABOUT THE STATEMENT and not the PERSON, because I only do ad hominem against political figures I dislike (such as when I talk about my theory that Romney is a sophisticated marionette operated by a foreign child-man who doesn’t speak fluent English…but that’s a subject I’ll save for later).

Now, we can make all sorts of noise about whether or not we have the right to judge a tweet.  After all, you pretty much have to literally ask to hear this (by following a twitter account).   But, luckily, someone took a picture of it and started spreading it around the internet, and so of course it’s now free game according to some rules that I just made up.  And using it I will explore this topic in a more calm and reasoned fashion.

HAH.  JUST KIDDING.

So what strikes me as problematic about this statement is the false dichotomy being created between religion and science.   When we talk about religion as the thing implicated in wars and intolerance, we are talking about religion as a system of belief, an ultimately rational, intellectual content propagated via cultural interaction.  This is religion as a social entity.  Which is of course the OPPOSITE of the standard definition of science (a collection of knowledge).

A belief system is a powerful thing. Belief systems drive people and families, societies and communities.  But not all belief systems are religions, and a religion is more than a belief system.

For an example provided to me by another AWESOME BLOGGER over at http://lesbicrafty.blogspot.com/, because we communicate from time to time, we’ll turn our attention to THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION in China.  This is a belief system at work.  The sweeping scope, the ideological supremacist overtones, the call for individual action–it has everything we’d want.  To say it caused millions of deaths is absolutely possible.

It was also entirely divorced from religion and spirituality.  It was grounded in the material and political, and steamrolled an entire country.

Oh, and by the way, don’t tell me, DON’T EVEN START by saying “yeah, but religious revolutions have killed way more people throughout history!”  At that point we’ve already established that religious fervor and ideological fervor are essentially identical, and your only argument then becomes “religion has had more time to murder us.”   So that’s not a path that you want to go down.  Especially not right now, because I AM TALKING.

NOT TO MENTION that “religion” is an INCREDIBLY COMPLEX IDEA.  It can be narrowly defined (by Wikipedia) as a collection of belief systemscultural systems, and worldviews that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values.”  However, if you narrowly defined religion this way, I would think you were WRONG, because you need to be more specific about how religion relates to spirituality and the individual.

There is a tendency, thanks to ANTHROPOLOGY (thanks a lot, anthropology. Asshole.) to think of the ‘religious’ as a wholly social object, ignoring the individual experience, and I think this is BATSHIT, because without the individual spiritual experience and impulsion toward moral agency, WHAT THE HELL IS THE PURPOSE OF RELIGION?  To translate: if you’re not talking about something that resonates in your soul and drives you to a higher standard of behavior, then you’re pretty much talking about a simple social construct, belief system.  But when you add in that numinous aspect, that idea of the holy, if you will, then we are talking about religion.  ACCORDING TO ME, ANYWAY.  And that’s the important point, isn’t it, since it’s my blog?

LOOKING AT RELIGION as a cultural system of belief reinforced by the division of the holy, the individual spirituality, and the drive for individual moral agency, then, we have something that is really not merely a cultural belief.  We have a definition that seems to account for the strange place religion occupies.  We can also then use this to talk about how people become fanatical as regards a non-religious concept: They apply a personal, spiritual significance to a system of beliefs that defines what is holy and what is mundane, a system that impels them toward a particular course of action.   This passion, this fervor, then reinforces and expands their beliefs, provides them with moments of transcendence and a sense of purpose.

Last but not least, what if we did this? What if we redefined science as the belief in the permanence and reliability of the human sensory capacity, the belief that anything can be learned if it can be studied, the belief that all knowledge in the world is wonderful and deserving of exploration for its own sake alone? The idea that we can create a functional model of reality simply with our own observation and cognition?  The driving passion to explore?  The glorious moment of seeing something in a whole new way, looking out at the stars and feeling the immensity and grandeur of the universe stir you to your soul? ISN’T THAT THE SHIT?

Well, then, lo and behold, by this definition we’ve managed to capture “scientific atheism” as a religious belief system as well.

AND LEST YOU THINK that I am waxing banausic, LEST YOU THINK that I am reducing all the world to cogs and definitions and NEAT, PRETTY LITTLE CATEGORIES, PLEASE ALLOW ME TO POINT OUT that we have NO IDEA what it is that DRIVES this passion.  We haven’t the FAINTEST concept of WHY something calls to a person in this way, WHAT IT IS that inspires FAITH, PASSION, and BELIEF.  No idea what drives the NUMINOUS, the SPIRITUAL, those moments of REVELATION.   Go away and think about that.  I don’t care what conclusion you come up with, so long as you take a moment and CONTEMPLATE how INCREDIBLY STRANGE our universe is.

And now I’ve TALKED A LOT, SO HERE’S A PICTURE OF A SURPRISED KITTEN.

oh hai
dont b an asshole
also i am a cat

SO THE POINT OF THIS BROADSIDE IF YOU ARE AN ATHEIST IS SIMPLE, and I’LL WRITE IT OUT FOR YOU

  • Don’t be an asshole.
  • Respect the spiritual, emotional, and moral lives of other people and DON’T JUDGE THEIR FRICKIN’ BELIEFS.
  • Don’t be SNIDE about HUMAN DEATH in order to make a point about how much BETTER your way of life is.  You can also refer to the first point for this.
  • Don’t try to CONVERT other people, and don’t SEIZE ANY OPPORTUNITY TO DISS PEOPLE WHO BELIEVE IN GOD. This also falls under DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE.  
  • If you think of a thing to do, ask yourself “would an asshole do this?” and if the answer is yes DO NOT DO THAT THING.

AND FINALLY.

I’m not on a ‘side’ here.   I am not an atheist, nor am I a follower of any religion but my own.  I don’t really CARE what you do so long as you don’t go around murdering people.  I flipped a coin and it came up heads, so today I’m screaming about logical fallacies in atheism.  Why? Because they’re hurtful to my religious friends, and YOU DON’T PISS WITH MY FRIENDS, and also because if you claim that you have a ‘purely logical’ view of the world, I view it as my personal duty to point out that NO, YOU DON’T, because you are (like a solid 47% of my readers) A HUMAN BEING, no matter who, where, or when you are speaking.

Coming up IN THE FUTURE, similarly without warning, is a similarly massive post blasting the “evils of religion,” etc.  Which are, of course, the evils of man.

Because those hurt people too, my friends among them, and as has been previously mentioned, I WILL END YOU. 

I don’t really think anyone will have any “OH SHIT I’d better turn MY life around” moments from reading this, but AT THE VERY LEAST, AT THE MOST, it would be NICE if you could, just for a moment, question your beliefs.  Consider your stance, in light of the opinion of some random person on the internet.

As Aristotle says, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

Hi Internet.

This is a blog post written three weeks ago and edited today.

The following statement should surprise none of you.

Hard choices are hard.

Now, if I’m moving too fast, let me know.  But bear with me.

I’m not talking hard choices like “cookies and cream or rocky road.”  Those are important choices, but they’re not the subject at hand.

I’m talking about really hard choices.

The ones that make you want to write ambiguous Facebook statuses—because they really do.  There is a little part of your brain that just wants to boldface type “CRAP CRAP CRAP SHIT SHIT CRAP SHIT SHIT CRAP DAMN WHAT NOW” over and over on every website from Twitter to Tumblr.

The kind of choice that keeps you up at night. Every night.  For three months.

The kind of choice that scares the shit out of you when you make it, and whenever you think about it, but clicks in a way that is inexplicably right.  And you can’t be sure about it, because the logic works out both ways, but only one of them seems good.

These choices are not easy.

(DUH)

But the easiest ones are the ones that seem right.  You know these choices have been made because you feel better once they are.

Well, in some way.

You still feel like crap, and paralyzed by doubt, and your head is buzzing with cognitive dissonance, but when that starts to clear away (and it does take some time, and some careful application of really happy music) there’s a weight that’s lifted.

Because hard choices are heavy, man.

But there will come a point, a few sips into your thirtieth Starbucks-sponsored Potion of Consolation 20%, halfway through the twentieth listening of ‘Firework,’ right when the chorus kicks in, that you’ll feel suddenly better. For no apparent reason at all.

And you think you may have made the right choice.

You’re not immediately sure, of course, because life is a bastard some times, and this is obviously.

But it seems right.

And the thing about these choices is that if you’ve chosen right, you know soon afterwardbecause everything suddenly seems better.  The sun’s a little brighter, life’s a little easier, and all the world is suddenly more awesome than usual.  It’s as though a weight has been lifted, and it’s not a weight that’s likely to return, because life’s really hard choices are never reneged upon.

I made a hard choice a while ago. And you know what, my life was made almost instantly better.  There are still shadows on the path, but the clouds have parted.   And I am ridiculously ecstatic, cheerful, happy, generally mellow (though homework and other such metaphorical shadows are still a bit of a bummer) and everything is awesome.  Life right now is sweet.  HOLY CRAP EVERYTHING IS AWESOME WHY DON’T PEOPLE REALIZE THIS MORE OFTEN?

So here’s to life’s hard choices. Raise your frappuccino in salute to all those who have not yet made them, and to all those affected by them.   And respect choices, because they’re hard.

And this is probably a poor choice of subjects to post, but whatevs, because they say write what you know, right?  And I can’t always talk about lacewings, although they are AWESOME.

That’s all for today.  No further commentary on the human condition will be forthcoming, because SCHOOL IS STARTING AGAIN AND I NEED TO GET INTO THE SWING.  And it’s such a fantastic thing to be back, to be free of the choice, to be surrounded by fantastic friends, to be unshackled, on my own, and to have my tasks clearly visible again (because college is one of the few places where your life goals clearly announce themselves).

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go finish my hot chocolate and listen to Katy Perry again.   In the words of someone in a movie once, FREEEEDOOOOOOMMMMMM!!!!

Rock on.

COMING UP NEXT WEEK, either a rant about art and morality OR POSSIBLY a rant about politics.  I haven’t decided yet.  STAY CHILL Y’ALL!

SUP INTERNET

TODAY’S BLOG POST IS ABOUT MOCKERY

But in a good way.

Well, maybe.

Basically, here’s the deal.
I respect people immensely.  The idea of hurting another person is antithetical (there’s a 50¢ word) to me.  I don’t like playing PvP MMOs (although they’re growing on me as I realize that a significant number of people who pay PvP MMOs are actually assholes) because it feels like crushing someone’s hopes and dreams each time they wander through my sniper scope (which doesn’t stop me from pushing the button; it just makes me sad inside).  I sometimes get distraught over the death of innocent video game characters.

You can’t tell behind the Daedric armor, but I’m crying in this screenshot.

THIS IS WHY I fly into a completely useless and very mellow rage whenever I hear that somebody undeserving gets hurt (anywhere).  This rage usually vents itself via Tumblr posts, video of Alan Rickman flipping tables, and writing long, violent fight scenes, but it still occurs, and especially so when I hear about mockery.

Now, let’s explore mockery for a minute.

Merriam-Webster tells us that MOCKERY is “insulting or contemptuous action or speech.”  It’s from old French, if anyone cares, according to THE online etymology dictionary, from mocquer (the verb indicating an act of derision).   I like how the Internet gives me the ability to sound as though I know what the hell I’m talking about.  ANYWAY, MOVING ON.

MOCKERY is humor at the expense of something.  It is cruel humor.  It’s why we laugh at Three Stooges movies.   It’s also currently one of the more popular forms of humor, this overblown schadenfreudeal infliction of amusement.  I’m not even sure what the last half of that sentence meant.  BUT THE WHOLE POINT IS that you are ridiculing a person or thing for a negative quality which you find amusing based on its comparison with normalcy.  As in LOL HE’S GOT A NAIL IN HIS HEAD LOOK AT THE STUPID BASTARD HAHAHAHAHAHAAHHAA

NOW, I’m not a fan of mockery.  I’m good at it, (I think that around the age of 13 the sarcasm gland develops, and mine is still running on full steam, providing a natural hormonal boost to this sort of thing), but I find it mean.  And mean as in low, as in it’s a pettier form of humor.  IT’S STILL FUNNY, OF COURSE, but sometimes it also makes me sad inside.  This is why I don’t watch Three Stooges movies, or Home Alone, or those other comedies.

I HAVE NO PROBLEM WITH OTHER PEOPLE ENJOYING IT.  This is ME, my opinion, and it MAY OR MAY NOT BE FULL OF CRAP.

BUT I DIGRESS.

What do I find funny?

THE SILLY.

Wait, that wasn’t impressive enough.

That’s better.

So what is THE SILLY?

Simple.

It’s the insidious, creeping threat of CORN SILK, the most terrifying threat our planet has ever placed.  It’s Number 4, the Larch.  It’s Sebring Convertible potato wombat umlaut conversion neodespotism. It’s SOMETHING SILLY, DAMN IT.

It’s a ridiculous overreaction to getting the wrong kind of coffee (as in, strangling people).  It’s showing up to a black tie event in a bright pink tuxedo.  It’s a voice, face, expression, phrase, or attitude that strikes me as silly.  It’s The Marx Brothers and Monty Python.

I wish I could say that I don’t find things that hurt people funny, but I do.  Llamas with Hats is possibly the most amusing cartoon I’ve ever seen on the internet.

Few things amuse me more than ragdoll physics.  Why? Because it’s SILLY.  My reaction to watching people get flung around by Sauron in the prologue to Lord Of The Rings was approximately that of a four-year old:  “AAAH THEIR VOICES ARE FUNNY LOOK AT THEIR ARMS GO FLAILY SQUIGGLE HEE HEE HEE”

I also laughed at the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where the master swordsman gets instantly, unassumingly shot, because the sudden shift of dramatic tension and the inversion of the trope is just amusing.  That’s not how swordfights work, Indy! YOU SO SILLY.

That said, I find a lot of things silly.

Actually, I’ll let you in on a secret.

EVERYTHING IS SILLY.

It has to be.  You have to take the world with humor, because when you do you realize that there is so much to laugh at EVERYWHERE.

Because humor is a celebration.  To laugh at the silly in a gesture or phrase is to celebrate the beautiful surprise of amusement, to recognize that the Earth is not really so serious after all.

Humor can be weapon and shield, healing and illuminating. Etc.

But most of all it can just be funny.

And humor is a separate sphere from ethics, from love, from life.  I can laugh while I’m angry without being unjust, because it is the action that follows the laughter that dictates my morality.  I can laugh while I’m being deadly serious.  I can and do pause to laugh while speaking in complete honesty and earnestness.

So I don’t often feel guilty when I laugh at something silly.  Whatever it is.  Because I know the difference between right and wrong, or I hope I do at this point, because it’s pretty much too late now otherwise.

So I laugh at funny things. Like this.

 

I really, really shouldn’t laugh at this. Obviously RDJ is a terrible person.

And then, if I need to, I turn around and beat the shit out of the jerk making an offensive joke behind me, because offensive jokes are evaluated in two categories:

One: Are they funny? Did I laugh? Was it said with wit and courage and good comic timing?

Two: Are they morally wrong?  Is someone going to be hurt by this? Killed by this? Is this an insult to someone I care about?

Regardless of the answer to number one, if the answer to two is “yes,” then you’re in for an ass-kicking.  And depending on how severely “yes” the answer is, things might get pretty spectacular.  As in, I’ll make an event on Facebook and invite friends. I’ll take video, make gifs and post it on Tumblr.  I’ll laugh.  And then I’ll go to jail because that’s legally wrong, which is YET ANOTHER sphere of evaluation.

I laugh at funny things.

But that won’t save you, because I can kick your ass while I’m laughing mine off.

COMING UP NEXT WEEK…I have no idea, because I wrote this two weeks ago.  HURRAH AUTOMATIC UPLOADS.  Coming up: A blog post!

So go about your business, people, internet, with your friends and your enemies and your haters and your wonderful rays of optimism and your hilariously amoral ways.   Go about the business of life, and do what you believe in.

But I reserve the right to laugh at you at any time.

AVE, LECTOR.

One last serious post for a few days.   And this one’s a humdinger.

Today we’re going to talk about dominating behavior.

Now, before we get started, it’s important to nail down exactly what I mean by that, and to lay out the vein in which we will proceed.  I know that when I say ‘dominating behavior,’ the thoughts of some of you might move in a kinky direction, but you would be mistaken.  I am not writing a book review of 50 Shades of Grey. If that’s your deal, go to Tumblr.  You’ll find links to much higher-quality stuff.    Although admittedly not on my Tumblr.  I am still inexperienced in the ways of the Tumbling.

But enough deferral of the unpleasant. Let’s set this out.

When I refer to ‘dominating,’ I’m referring to a learned behavior pattern.  It can be acquired from a young age through interactions with an authority figure, usually one who demonstrates similar behaviors, and essentially becomes the standard peer-to-peer interaction.  Were we to make such crude value judgments, we might say it is what happens when someone learns how to relate to other people incorrectly.

But that’s not the purpose of this post.    This is not a rant.  Well, it is, but not an angry one.  There is enough anger on the internet.  What I provide is a catalogue.

Not even that, for a catalogue is supposed to be absolute.  What I provide is a field guide.  Things I have seen. Things I know.  I show them to you, internets, that you may incorporate my observations into your own, if you so wish, and perhaps that may do a little good, no matter which side of this subject you are on.

For there are not merely two sides.

These are behaviors that everyone demonstrates to a varying degree, and with a varying degree of consciousness.  Their presence is not a harbinger of evil.  My beliefs on evil in human form are rather more subtle and deserve a longer post later, but this subject hardly enters in.

This is a habit, as has been said, and changing it is as difficult as speaking another language.  Changing it can be unsettling, can be challenging, can be frightening, even.  Letting go of such long-learned patterns can be incredibly hard.  But it can be done.  You can break it.

Breaking free of these dominating personalities can be a task of years.  Sometimes it can be a task of days.  Never is it a simple thing. But again, it can be done.  You can get away.

And raising this subject is not an easy thing.   Oftentimes it is the hardest part.  But, again, that too can be done.

But enough.  Let’s get to the task at hand: A description of the problem, and four symptoms.  Keep in mind that what I provide is an impression, a reaction generated in me by the world.  It is not at all condoned, certified, or official.  If you think you can refute, clarify, or expand upon it, then by all means, comment.  Email me.   Text me.  Tie a letter to a piece of gourmet cheese and throw it through (or at) my window.

Dominating or controlling behavior is, in a sense, a relationship strategy.  Much like affection and intimacy, it is directed toward sustaining a relationship on some level, be it filial, parental, or romantic.  However, this behavior leads to an unhealthy imbalance, with one individual striving always to be dominant, to be the better of the two people relating, to hold the moral high ground.  The ultimate goal, of course, is to keep the target there, to preserve the relationship by any means possible.

This is a learned pattern, I want to emphasize, twice, and frequently an unconscious/emotional pattern.  Individuals are usually not conscious of it, even while they propagate it.  This is how it spreads—because it’s so insidious, and so very, infuriatingly effective at sustaining unhealthy relationships.  Unhealthy, I should add, to both sides.

(1)

Let’s start with humor, because it’s the easiest place to start.  More specifically, teasing.  Now, we’ve all been in this situation: someone does something silly.  Not on purpose.  They drop a glass and make a strange face, fall off a balance beam, mispronounce a word.  What’s the focus of humor in this situation?  Obviously the action, right? The silly thing, the thing that’s out of the ordinary?

Not in this case.

In this example, the humor comes at the expense of the person, a direct conflation of the person’s strange action with the strangeness of the person themselves.  In other words, the opposite of what I mentioned in my previous post on Self-Worth.  Their specific failure becomes their personal failure, letting the dominant individual in the room elevate themselves.  They have no such flaws, and would never do such a silly thing.  The value and self-esteem of the one being mocked is thus chipped away, and the instinctive reaction is defensive–at which point the battle has already been lost.  The teaser can feel superior, and will continue to unless derailed.

An alternative version is one wherein dominance itself becomes a running gag.  The physical, emotional, or financial superiority of one party (or inversely the dependence or weakness of the other) is trumpeted seemingly in jest, but always with the undercurrent of a reminder.  It’s not wholly a joke: you’re supposed to remember who’s in charge.  There is a class of athlete that engages in this frequently, utilizing it to place themselves in charge of their social situation, but it need not be simple physical strength or martial prowess that is touted.  Financial power, social superiority, even (in immature adults and teenagers mostly) something as simple as the lack or possession of a driver’s license.

In both these situations, these actions are disguised as humorous.  Hidden behind the cloak of a joke, these barbs belittle their target and continually remind them of their dependence—a dependence that is sometimes wholly imaginary, but can become wholly real with prolonged exposure.

Moving on.

(2)

Obviously, we couldn’t talk about domination without control.

Be it financially based, socially grounded, control of a means of transportation, or some fourth thing I haven’t even thought of, this particular aspect of control is one that the would-be dominant uses to their utmost advantage.  It is both carrot and stick in one, a reminder of the dominant’s higher moral ground and simultaneously their higher standing.  Selfless self-aggrandizement.  It will be randomly withheld to emphasize that it is given only on the sufferance of the one who controls it, and often its acceptance will come with invisible strings attached, and only with a laundry list of conditions that must be met.  Favors will be asked at some later date, and if they are not,  the deed itself will often become a weapon, an “I did this for you.”

In extreme situations, such as where one individual in the relationship pays the majority of rent or owns a car that both share, the threat of removal (and thus the ruin entire of the other’s independence) may in itself become a bludgeon to enforce compliance.

(3)

Next in this parade of unpleasant things is the idea of ‘doing just enough.’

When the situation comes to a head, when the ‘weaker’ of the two parties either recognizes the situation or rebels unconsciously, a final and subtle method of maintaining control is compliance.   The dominant caves in, often following a confrontation, and cedes control without relinquishing the moral high ground.  Victory is granted—but a conditional, partial victory.  A good deed may be done.  For a little while, the ‘weaker’ individual might get their way…but the old habits die hard.  Often, the ‘victory’ will fall through in bits and pieces, fragments too small to be seen as objectionable, until soon enough things have returned almost precisely to where they stood before.

(4)

Finally, we have volatility.

No one questions Cesare Borgia.  Even the slightest hint of an attack, even an imagined one, brings on a furious response, goading and jabbing until the ‘weaker’ individual ends up in a debate that slides rapidly toward the exchange of personal insults.  And never is the high ground ceded by the dominant.

Always they were the one attacked, a fact repeated so often that they might even come to believe it.   This deliberately brittle calm quells and crushes any potential objections, dissuading the contentious through fear or simple unwillingness to endure the seemingly endless, endlessly tiresome stream of rage.

Laid out here, these things seem obvious, clunky, easy to spot.  In real life they’re not so easy to pick out.  Laid out here, it seems incredulous that anyone would ever fall for such an assault.  Outside of the internet, (and even on it), people fall prey to these things all the time.  Pickup artists, in particular utilize some of these strategies, generating an unconscious desire to please and to prove self-worth.  It’s a knee-jerk reaction, to want to disprove those who doubt and belittle us.

Now that I’ve laid out this cavalcade of the distasteful for you, one might well ask where I’ve seen these things.  The answer I can give is the world.  Growing up, I had no concept of such things, and coming out into the light over the last few years has been…educational.  Seeing these behaviors perpetrated and reinforced across the social landscape has also been a source of almost unending frustration—a reaction that my father shares—and so I create things like this list, like my post on self-worth.  Rather than fume out my anger into increasingly impressionistic poetry, I create blog posts with ideas that (theoretically) can blunt or wholly turn the barbs of the would-be dominant personality.  I try to send shout-outs to the world that such things are not normal, that subtle currents underlie the surface of human interactions.  Some of them are riptides.  And like riptides, they’re easy to see if you know they exist.

Of course, the same might also be said of psychological disorders, which is why the DSM-IV should never be used as light bedtime reading.  And it’s entirely possible that I see these things only because I’m looking for them.  I don’t myself subscribe to this possibility, mostly because I’ve seen these cycles play out too perfectly.

I suppose at this point I should offer some kind of advice, suggestions on how to deal with this.  I haven’t got much.

But first and foremost: Be strong in yourself.  Your sense of worth as a human being is the first thing the would-be controller will attack, and for this reason their prey is often found amid the insecure and the uncertain. It is on this sort of behavior, too, that the ‘pick-up artist’ relies, securing subtle dominance over a situation by manipulating the feelings of emotionally unstable individuals.  Against this sort of behavior a well-adjusted emotional center is both sword and shield, for this sort of thing generates an instinctive feeling of wrongness.  Such things are unhealthy.

Second:  Cut loose.  The dominant seeks always to preserve the relationship, because tied into the relationship is their dominance and (subtly) their own sense of self-worth.  The moment they realize you cannot be controlled is the moment they lose interest, or at least lose enthusiasm.  The solution: find a way out.  Live your own life.  If it’s a romantic relationship…think twice.  And steel yourself. And then think about it again.

Third: Don’t let it get to you.  Sustain your own confidence and self-assurance through any means possible.  Find friends, retreat to family, find a strong social group to support you, but do not become dependent upon anyone. The more secure you feel in yourself, of yourself, on your own, the less their barbs will find any hold to draw you out.

And this is just general advice for dealing with annoying people: don’t rise to it.

Also, one final point which I will not end this post without.

Imagine for a moment that this is the only way you know to relate to people.  That the only way you can feel secure with someone is if they are so enmeshed and entangled in a web of your weaving that they will never leave, regardless of how they feel toward you.  Imagine for a moment that the only way you know to form a relationship is with anger and fear and control, lashing out preemptively to keep the world from striking to the heart of you, beating down anything that might force you to face yourself.

What’s the point of this point?  Simple.  There are no bad guys here.  This self-perpetrating cycle is one of uncertainty and sorrow, not one of anger or malevolence.  Understand that, if you understand nothing else.

And now I’m out of words to say.

So that’s my take on this.  Does it strike you as right or wrong? Does this post strike you as right or wrong?  I’d be interested to hear your reaction, internet.  TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK.    Am I delusional? Well, I know I am, but ON THIS SPECIFIC ISSUE?  More to the point, are my delusions incorrect?  If so, why?  Use your anonymity: What advice to you have on this topic, reader?

Also, DANNNNG these last few posts have been FAR TOO SERIOUS.  I think it’s time for something more relaxed. Which brings me to my very last piece of advice, and this is just general advice:

There’s never a wrong time to be happy.  Enjoy life.  Carpe Diem.

…if someone says #YOLO I will literally beat them down with a crateful of Ke$ha albums. We’ll run down the list.

Some Citations and Further Resources to Investigate On This Topic:

http://www.drirene.com/control.htm

http://www.abuseandrelationships.org/Content/Behaviors/subtle_control.html

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/healthy-connections/201007/help-my-controlling-behavior-is-ruining-relationships

http://www.menstoppingviolence.org/docs/Controlling%20Behavior%20List.pdf

http://www.positive-parenting-ally.com/controlling-behavior.html

Some Music and Links to Brighten Up Your Day Again After This Terribly Depressing Subject:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKdNDepvh7Y

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/06/science/space/curiosity-rover-lands-safely-on-mars.html?_r=1&hp

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MejbOFk7H6c&feature=related

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/05/westboro-baptist-church-protest_n_1745260.html

http://www.techeblog.com/index.php/tech-gadget/most-adorable-pictures-on-the-internet

http://www.colbertnation.com/full-episodes/wed-august-1-2012-john-grunsfeld

Yes, that’s right folks, after promising to write something for the blog every day, what do I do?
THE VERY NEXT DAY I BLOW IT OFF TO SEE A MOVIE.

I applaud myself.

Truth be told, I had a momentary doubt.  A writer to whom I usually pay a great deal of attention told me that what I’m doing is essentially “morning pages,” I.E. the freeform writing done to loosen up by a writer, kinda like the stretches a gymnast does before performing their routine.  He also said that usually morning pages work best if you keep them private, because when you write for an audience, you write differently.

So I thought, maybe I should keep it private. I’ll just write every day and then not post it. After all, Montaigne didn’t publish what he wrote right away. Jung only posted his scribblings after extensive review and editing.  Descartes waited until after he actually died to publish his ramblings, making him possibly one of the first authors to actually plan to publish their book while dead.

You can see where I’m going with this:

Clearly, Descartes was a zombie.

BUT I DIGRESS.

I decided no.

I’m going to write here. And it’s going to work, for three reasons.

One.

No one reads this blog. I know. I have the stats in real time in the right-hand corner of this blog post screen. So it might as well be private.

Two.

I don’t really care. There’s a very short list of things I won’t tell other people, and I really don’t think about them all that often anyway.

Three.

When I write like this, reader, I’m not talking to you. I’m not talking to some imaginary internet person.
I’m talking to myself.
Aloud.

That’s right, you heard me. Aloud. I’m just transcribing.

Well, I take that back. I don’t always talk aloud. But I do talk to myself. About myself. I direct commentaries at various Jungian archetypes–

LIKE, FOR EXAMPLE

Anima! Haven’t seen you in ages. Not in dreams, not in those sudden bursts of recognition when passing a picture, not in any urge to write, just in those fleeting moments of crazed joy while I’m in the middle of playing my instrument.  Perhaps that’s because I’ve grown more mature emotionally. Perhaps it’s because I now have many more assertive feminine figures in my life than I did in that hellhole that is Orange County, so you’ve less need to step in to keep me balanced and sane.

Regardless, of the reason, I’m not sure how to feel about it. On the one hand, a vague sense of loss, like after one of your dreams. On the other…well, actually, not anything on the other. Interesting.

No nightmares, though. None at all. Not a peep from anyone even mildly cthlonic. Which is very nice–it means that this is a REALLY good place.  Which is good, because I like it here.

It’s raining. Finally.

I like rain. Everything seems more alive in the rain–the squirrels are running around frantically, the cicadas get even louder in protest, the trees move and rustle in the wind, and even the sky begins to talk, thundering far off in the distance.  Greens get deeper, colours more vivid.  Walking for an hour in bright sunlight is a chore–walking an hour in rain is a pleasure.  Water gets into your shoes and squishes charmingly.

I especially like thunderstorms. I hope we get one soon–there’s a gazebo out in the middle of the common grass that would be a perfect place to sit and watch the wild rage of a storm.

Someone on Facebook asked a while ago which X-man powers I would take, if I could only have two.  And after much deliberation, I’ve finally got an answer.

Of course,  Facebook has moved on, and is no longer interested, but I am, and so I’ll recount it.

Telepathy and weather control.

Telepathy not so much for the mind control aspect–I really think that could be boring, if the only thoughts around you were your own. More for knowing people–seeing what’s troubling them, knowing which subjects to avoid, (always remembering birthdays!).

Weather control for an entirely selfish reason: I’ve always had this kind of mental image of standing in the eye of a hurricane, high above the ground, watching the storm rage and lightning crash on every side. It’s an image that surfaces occasionally in my drawings or my writing. Plus, I like rain. And I could carry a little bubble of rain and cool air with me and ALWAYS BE ABLE TO WEAR A COOL TRENCHCOAT.

Think about it: if you can control the ambient temperature, you can ALWAYS wear your favorite articles of clothing. No matter what the weather around you is like.  Love that shirt, but it’s snowing outside? No sweat–bump the temperature up to 70 and strut around in your favorite tee.

That would be awesome. In fact, I think weather control would be my first choice. Because think! What better way to make a living? Live in Florida, or anywhere in the Midwest, or anywhere along the east coast, getting paid to fly around and divert hurricanes and tornadoes!  That would be AWESOME.

So no, I’m not writing for anyone. Well, I suppose that might be untrue. I am writing for myself, as I said, and that means all of me.

WHICH, by the way, reminds me of something.

I got an odd look a few days ago when I said that perhaps American students should forego helping abroad when there are people still starving in our own country. It was an undeveloped thought–one of the many that go flying out of my head in the course of a day–but the response from a friend was immediate and quite deep. She replied that it’s not so much a matter of who gets helped as it is of the emotional growth of the people who help them, and the lessons they can learn–in short, that you learn from helping others, no matter who it is.

Which is a good point, and one that pretty much crushed my statement entirely. I agree with it, too, which is even worse–it’s hard to argue against something you are 100% in favor of.

SUBJECT CHANGE

College. Freshpeople. Beer.  Of course most of them drink. Well, I don’t know about “most”–this is very much a campus that puts the “liberal” in “liberal arts,” and everyone is free to drink whatever they like. But some people do drink. And too much at that.

At an earlier stage in my life, I might not have liked that. I might have followed friends around trying to protect them from themselves and herd them home when they got smashed. But I can’t.

I can’t help everyone. And this fact royally pisses me off, but it’s true. I can’t be everywhere, I can’t predict everything, and I sure as hell don’t know everything. All I can do is act upon my immediate surroundings, and that I do. I rescue bugs. I talk to sad people. I offer tips on anything I have any relevant knowledge about. Little things. But they’re little things that count to me, and they count to the ones I help (I hope; otherwise I might spiral into an existential crisis, but no one’s asked for a refund yet).

And someday, this work I’m doing will pay off. I’ll acquire that swift insight that Jung and Descartes and Montaigne developed through their works–that immense self-knowledge that manifests itself as an awareness of how the human soul functions. And I’ll be able to tell at a glance who is troubled and who is simply cranky, able to predict how best I can help, even if that way is nothing at all.

It’s odd. I really never thought about my name until a few months before I came to college. I Googled my name, and what came up was the wikipedia entry for the archangel Michael.

Michael’s not just “some guy” as angels go. He’s a guardian angel, the self-proclaimed defender of the weak and the general of the armies of Good, who once fought Satan in a knock-down dragout cage match and won.  His shield is emblazoned with the words “quis ut deus,” latin for “who is like God,” which is in Hebrew quite literally the word “Michael.”  It is both a statement (he is one of the highest of angels) and a challenge to evil (who possesses the arrogance to place themselves as the master of reality?).

That’s a weighty name to live up to. But you know what? Challenge ****ing ACCEPTED. I’ll take up that mantle.  I’ll become a philosopher and an artist and a champion and a guardian, and before I’m done the world will be a far better place for the works of another Michael.

The rain’s turned to a storm.

I’ve opened my window. It’s cool outside, and the room is rapidly following suit, but I don’t mind. The thunder is enough to make me feel at home.

Perhaps I’ll live in Pittsburgh. I liked it there, liked it alot.  Or perhaps I’ll even live here, in this little town. We’ll see how the winter turns out.

Everyone’s been warning me that the winter will be brutal, but I don’t care–I’ve faced cold before, and it utterly fails to faze me.

Besides–the longest walk I have to make is ten minutes.  It may be the coldest ten goddamn minutes of my life, but it’s ten minutes. No major tissue damage can occur in ten minutes, unless I’m in goddamn space. And I’m not in space. You know how I can tell? My eyeballs are still in my head. That’s right, I went there.  Eyeballs. 

2 minutes left on the timer, and almost time for lunch.

I love lunch here. [Almost] everyone eats at the common dining hall, and students are not allowed to bring books/backpacks in. You are literally forced to stop studying and socialize. The library closes at 10 most days, meaning you are obliged to go to your room and, ideally, get some sleep rather than burn out studying. And the people!

Well, suffice it to say I have not yet met a single person who I would not want to have a three-hour conversation with. And in some cases I did. And it was wonderful.

18 seconds left. Put that 90 wpm to good use with random thoughts.

I hope there’s pasta.

That is all.

–Tor

I’ve posted my sixth post! Oh my god! How awesome is that?

I’m totally a veteran blogger now!

Due to indescribable cosmic horror, my fifth post was rather incoherent, but I promise that this particular one shall be more intelligible.

I’m looking at a website from the makers of Icanhazcheesburger–about the art of trolling. 😀

And yes, it’s probably at least 20% fake, and yes, it’s disgusting and coarse and not appropriate for younger viewers. But every now and then there are images like this. 

This screenshot inspires a great deal. It reminds me that, no matter what country we log on from or which MMORPG we play, we’re all nerds, and we can still connect even over the internet.

Now, to turn around and discuss the opposite issue.

Content is a monster.  In this day and age it’s all about content.  Movies. Youtube. The Chive. Memes like the lolcats.  Information is being fired at us at a terminally accelerating rate.

And now, we have Facebook.  Facebook is the worst of the bunch.  It provides content created by your friends. It allows you to have hundreds of friends without having to ever talk to a human being face-to-face. It takes the human connection out of the equation.

Now, I’m not saying Facebook is bad. I use it a lot, I admit.

I’m not saying content is bad either.  Content can be funny/sad/informative. Sometimes it can even actually change someone’s life.

But I’m trying to cut back on Facebook. And on my coasting over internet humor sites.  And I’m trying to go out more often and talk to real people. Because, you know what? Facebook isn’t a good substitute for a real group of people. If you’re up at midnight and FB chatting with your friends in an empty room–guess what, you’re still alone. And I feel it.  Don’t you?  So (finish reading this blog), turn off the computer, and go talk to someone. At least once a day, speak to a real human being, face to face, without it being about food that they’re giving you.

Also.

Han clearly shot first.

Hello, world!

It’s time to talk about our favorite subject: Wikileaks!

No, seriously, what’s up with this?  Suddenly every major news carrier is yelling about this website.   The internet, as always, has a strong opinion and is hacking somebody’s stuff somewhere.

To you, person who has no idea what’s going on or why ‘Wikileaks’ is notable at all:

First, I envy you.  Ignorance is bliss.  Second: I’m about to tell you why.

See, Wikileaks is a publicly edited site that shows secrets.  I’m not talking about “who ate the last oreo” secrets, I’m talking about tech blueprints, government communications, and which daytime TV hosts are human (hint: none).

Recently, this website has let loose some screamers leaked from the U.S. government, causing an international conniption fit and causing a number of web hosts to scream like little girls and drop Wikileaks from their support.

There are two schools of thought in this issue. Of course, there are the shades of gray, the people who claim they’re “neutral,” and children, but I’ll ignore those for the sake of simplicity while I elucidate the basis of the disagreement.

One side, represented by Wikileaks, 4chan, and internet vigilante groups, says “OMG GOVERNMENT IZ TEH NOES, LULZ IZ STEELIN UR SECRETZ” which means roughly: “information should flow freely, and simply releasing a few secrets should not cause international war, because all the governments should, like, be totally chillaxed about it.”

In [roughly] direct opposition are various governments, some internet moderation groups, and a few corporations. They are of the opinion that these secrets are secrets for a reason, and that some things are just not meant to be known. In other words, they believe there cannot be world peace and a free flow of information.

On behalf of reasonable, intelligent people, I would like to take this opportunity to ask both sides to kindly CHILL THE HECK OUT. LIKE, OH, MY GOD.

You’re looking at the last half of a teen romantic comedy, where the antagonist has gathered the secrets of everyone in the school in an embarrassing book and throws the entire place into an uproar. Actually, I think this is the last act of Mean Girls, but I could be wrong. (I mean, it’s not like I’ve seen that movie…I just, uh…heard about it. Yeah.)

Political people: International incidents are being caused because someone made a comment about a poorly fitted toupee.  Grow up! This isn’t a Tom Clancy novel–I seriously doubt there are any easily accessible secrets that will plunge the world into nuclear war.  As for you, internet people, remember that information moves at the speed of light, while political systems are practically glacial in comparison.  And while sxetroll2468 may appreciate your actions in leaking military documents, some areas of the world are sensitive enough that people can die as a result. Look at your keyboard. Now back to this. Now back at your keyboard, NOW BACK TO THIS.

HYAH!

Ahem.

I was distracted by a meme.  Sorry.

So basically–think twice. That’s our moral for the day.  Think twice before you upload sensitive political documents to the internet.   Think twice before you flip out over the day’s leak.  Think twice before you get on the wrong bus (grr…).

Think twice before trolling a Mormon.