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Tag Archives: G.K. Chesterton: Intellectual Badass.

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.

 

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HELLO THERE SPORTS FANS

It’s been a while! Once again the vagueries of misfortune prevent me from explaining why I don’t update my blog more frequently, but suffice it to say that there were dragons involved. And time-travelling lesbians. And a magic sword.

ANYWAY, welcome to another post in the “Cheat Sheet” series, which contains posts designed to make YOUR life easier as you navigate scholastic settings! Today’s post is inspired by several conversations I’ve had with professors, and by many, many interactions I have had with students. These interactions center around writing, something which I, unusually, know more than zero things about!  I’m actually not a novice when it comes to writing (although I would definitely put myself in the “proficient to intermediate” category); I have been working on writing since before I understood what it meant to be an adult. I also demonstrate my proficiency with writing quite a lot, whether in academic work, in my blog (which you are reading), or my Tumblr (which is significantly more informal and contains a great many intentional grammatical errors).

The upshot of all this is that occasionally, people remember that I am a writer, and ask me to edit things for them. And sometimes, I remember this, and talk to professors about it.  In the course of both of these activities, I have come to recognize something–or, rather, several somethings. And it is precisely these somethings which dictate the course of this latest “Cheat Sheet”; things which I almost always tell anyone whose work I edit. In short, these are the three things which I will tell you to do with whatever it is you’re writing, probably before I even look at the title.

THE THREE ARE AS FOLLOWS: Number, Speech, and Force. 

So what the heck does that mean? 

Number is the easiest to begin with, because it’s the easiest of the things to become muddled upon.  What I mean by number is, quite simply, subject/verb number agreement. And by that I mean: are you making sure that you’re referring to the right number of things in every part of the sentence? If you’re talking about “either light or dark”, you’re talking about one thing. Because you’re talking about light. Or dark. Get it? So you’d have to build the sentence as if there was one subject. This is something everyone screws up (even me!), because language is imperfect and words are hard. Luckily, there are two ways of fixing this: One, you can look it up, and remember the rules for five minutes after you’re done writing, or two, you can use the second of our trio: Speech. 

When I say Speech I am not referring to Diane Duane’s ancient language of magic and wizardry. Sad for us all.  No, I mean something far simpler, and something that can really quite genuinely revolutionize the way your writing sounds and looks.

You see, the secret here is that writing is language. Written words are a representation of actual speech words, which we speak. In speech. So, in a sense, the “true” form of language is…spoken.

Take it back to its true shape. Read your writing aloud. And I mean read it. Print it if you can, squint at the screen if you can’t. Perform it. Imagine you’re speaking to an audience if you’re a poet. To a classroom if you’re an academic. Act out your lines if you’re a novelist. But bring the words to life. Speak them. When you speak a sentence aloud, you’ll more often than not realize that the numbers were out of order, or you typed a common turn of phrase backwards, or you were thinking of something else and accidentally put HAIL SATAN something in the middle of your sentence.

That is the power of speech, which I now give to you. You can even take it further and have someone else read it aloud for you! But then you might as well just have them edit it.

Finally, the most important of our trio is Force. 

In some situations, people don’t really express themselves as clearly as they probably should. When this happens in your writing, it can really make the point a little difficult to uncover, and take a lot of the “punch” out of your rhetoric.

For example: the two sentences above can be rewritten as follows:

People don’t express themselves as clearly as they should. In your writing, this makes the point difficult to uncover, and takes the “punch” out of your rhetoric. 

THIS is the advice I end up giving most of all in academic work. And by that I don’t just mean schoolwork; I mean theses, papers, editorials–anything meant for the academic eye. And I get it–it’s hard to take a stand. It’s tough to make yourself into a target, even if you are reasonably sure you’re doing so in good faith. I struggle with this every day myself: especially on a website as continually ideologically charged as Tumblr, taking up a firm position seems like a good way to be assaulted from every side.

But then one day I realized: What do I stand for, if I don’t stand for anything? What am I saying, if I’m not saying it confidently? What good am I doing, if I’m not certain in doing it? As Chesterton says; “The only intelligible sense that progress or advance can have…is that we have a definite vision, and that we wish to make the whole world like that vision.”

This, by the way, is one of many things I love about Chesterton. He is loud and pompous and full of sass and bombast. He is an unapologetic apologist, and therein lies the crux of his every argument: for Chesterton is always fighting for our right to fight.

From the same chapter of the same text; “…We may say a permanent ideal is as necessary to the innovator as to the conservative; it is necessary whether we wish the king’s orders to be promptly executed or whether we only wish the king to be promptly executed. […] For the orthodox there can always be a revolution, for a revolution is a restoration. At any instant you may strike a blow for the perfection which no man has seen since Adam. No unchanging custom, no changing evolution can make the original good anything but good.”

So go back to your text and strip out the unnecessary words. They hide in groups of one to three, in words like “probably,” “mostly,” or “really.” They gather in little insidious cells, in cliches like “for the most part,” “to a certain degree,” or “a level of.” Find them. Destroy them. Look at each sentence and ask yourself: ‘What am I saying here?’ As you expurgate these venal little vermin, you will find that not only does your writing become clearer, colder, and more powerful, your speech becomes so as well! Turns out, when you assert yourself in writing, you practice asserting yourself in the world. 

So take a stand! Pick your idea! What does it mean? What is its purpose? What are you SAYING? If you think it important enough to say, it had damn well better be worth saying–and if you’ve decided to say it, it’s worth saying well and fearlessly. 

That is all for now, dear reader. I hope these little tips prove helpful, or, at the very least, you found them entertaining.  And like every other book or blog or note ever written about writing: This will only help you if you are already able to learn this on your own. And if you’re able to learn this on your own…you won’t need my help to do so.

Until next time!

 

 

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.”

HEY INTERNETS.

Sup.  I should warn you today’s article will not be quite as facetious as others have been in the past.  You may wish to skip down to a more palatable subject and maintain your peaceable torpor.  No, but seriously: this article could be a buzzkill. Have Spice Girls on standby.

So I read an article today.

Now, you don’t have to read the whole thing. I’ll condense it very simply for you.  It’s a gay man talking about his childhood and his darkest secrets: both being bullied in high school, and the fact that he was very certainly, certifiably suicidal for an extensive period of his teenage life.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/noah-michelson/sharing-three-of-my-secrets_b_1796457.html?utm_hp_ref=gay-voices

Remember how I said you didn’t have to read the whole thing? Well, if you’re above the age of 15, you should.  You should see and know this.  You should be aware that people who are bullied become suicidal often.  You should be aware that because of this harsh cultural backlash, people of the “alternative sexualities” (alternative to what? ‘normalcy?’ ‘Real’ sexuality? As Morpheus says, what is real?)  are more prone to depression and, yes,suicide, because of this.

You should be aware that people who are not “normal” are more likely to be murdered.  Dead.  You should be aware that every hate crime is the culmination of a process lasting decades, an endless chain of justification and deprecation reaching its dark apotheosis in a single instant of blind action.   You should be aware that every suicide is the final point in a plunge that lasts a lifetime, a string of misfortunes, poor reactions, and insensitive responses.

Because here’s something not everyone understands.

Everything is funny, yes.  Life is wonderful, and you should live it to the utmost.

But it’s ALL life and death.

            When you look on the television and see someone rambling about a health-care bill somewhere in Vermont? Something on the other side of the country?  Yeah, people are going to live or die based on that bill.  Babble about Voter ID laws in Pennsylvania? Those laws set a precedent: How long they survive will tell their creators whether or not they can get away with openly tweaking elections to ensure that they continue to hold power.  Those laws set a precedent that will conclude with open voter suppression.

When someone is complaining about new crackdowns on phone usage while driving?  Well, you know what? You are massively more likely to kill someone if you use a phone while you drive. Yes, even if you don’t do it that often.   It takes sixty seconds (on average) for the modern brain to fully switch tasks.  That means that if you look at your phone just for a second, to read a text message or use GPS or update your Facebook status, you will no longer be paying full attention to the road for that time and for the next minute.  That will slow your reactions and make it far more probable that you will be unable to respond to an impending collision.

But surely EVERYTHING can’t be life and death, right? Some things remain pure, right? Like butterflies and chocolate?

Well, the biodiversity of butterfly species is plunging due to our destruction of various habitats, and butterflies (along with bees) perform the essential function of pollination, which is complicated but basically IS WHAT MAKES PLANTS KEEP BEING.

Oh, and if plants die basically so do we.  As a species.  And a planet.  Though I’m sure cockroaches will be fine.

But no biggie.

At least we have chocolate, right?  Even if it’s not a six-stamp organic all-natural free trade chocolate (which costs about three times as much!).

Well, about that.

Did you know something?  After the cotton industry, chocolate production (specifically, the care and harvesting of its raw materials) is the largest industry in the world that currently utilizes slave labor.

Yes, you read that right. Here, let me put it in bold in case you missed it.

SLAVE LABOR.

There were some laws that people considered making a while ago that would regulate that.  Laws that regulate chocolate? Psh.  No biggie.  That story pretty much withered on the vine (ha, ha).

Let me outline what kind of slave labor we’re talking about here.  Just to be clear.  Specifically, I’m talking about a location known as Cote d’Ivorie, or The Ivory Coast, a region of West Africa that supplies about THIRTY PERCENT of the world’s chocolate.  Let me make perfectly clear the fact that this is not the only location in the world where this occurs, although West Africa has an especial problem.

In third-world countries, children are all over the place.  We’re talking 10-15-year-olds, mostly, but they can be as young as 7.  Abandoned kids, orphans, runaways…whatever.  They lurk in the street, play around bus stops, and hop mass transit like everyone else. When they head to a bus stop, they might get picked up by a stranger, who might be kind or might be coercive.  Alternatively, they might have desperate, starving parents, who at last are reduced to such dire straits that they sell their child to a stranger.

Either way, if they go with this stranger (and they usually do, because who’s going to help them run away?), they find themselves on a bus ride, or in a car, or on a boat.  This ride takes them, eventually, to a plantation, where they are sold into debt and set to work in the cacao field.

Their clothes are not part of the budget.  They sleep in structures we would deem unsuitable to use as garden sheds.  They are given every menial task, but the job described that I particularly liked was the one that required two children per team.  One goes down the rows of trees with a basket and a machete (a three-foot long, full-sized machete).  They swing at the cacao pods (which are large) and try to cut them loose without hacking off fingers in the process.  Frequently they fail.  While they work, another child follows behind them with a supply of pesticides.

Side note.  DDT, as you may know, was a pesticide used in the 60s.  In the early 70s, it was deemed too toxic to use in the United States and was banned.  That’s right, we banned a chemical for being too toxic.  THE UNITED STATES.  The people who invented MCDONALDS.  Luckily, we’ve since invented pesticides that are FAR MORE toxic, and THEY haven’t been banned yet! Isn’t that lucky?  One example is ROUNDUP, which sticks around in the soil long after any weeds are dead.

ANYWAY, I DIGRESS.

So the second child of the group has a supply of pesticides.  Roundup is a favorite—it’s cheap, mass-produced, and readily available.  They have a mister, and they use it to spray the trees to kill any insects, fungus, or birds.  Oh, and they also spray their partner, because their partner is nearby and they’re APPROXIMATELY TWELVE YEARS OLD.

And these kids don’t run away, because if they try, they’re beaten.  Which is also what happens when they fall over.  Or complain.  Or generally do anything their overseer doesn’t approve of.  There are more scars than clothes on these kids.

They usually die young.

They die a lot.

Most of them never see their home again.

Oh, and also, most of them never taste chocolate.  If that doesn’t convince you that this practice is heinous and wrong, I DON’T KNOW WHAT WILL.

The upshot of all this information, by the way (before I move on), is this: Those six-stamp organic chocolates? The ones that say “free trade,” and other things, and have stamps of approval from various organizations and government bureaus plastered across the label?  Those are the chocolate companies that don’t murder people.  If it doesn’t have that stamp, you might want to just take a second and think about how much you need it.

Obviously, one person not buying these non-free-trade chocolates is not going to accomplish much.  All that will do is make sure that you don’t have any chocolate.  And there is hope:  Nestlé and Ferrero are among a number of chocolate companies that have made pledges and taken action to remove child labor from their products.  So although the larger issue of child slavery remains a problem, at the very least we can perhaps have chocolate chip cookies guilt-free.  And free-trade organic chocolate is better for you anyway–it tastes better (oh my god yes), it has less unhealthy fat, and it is a significantly better source of certain important chemicals that generally promote longevity and well-being.  Including chemicals that fight cancer and help (very mildly) relieve asthma symptoms.

So let’s get this clear, okay?

When you stand up for what you believe and who you are, when you support the institutions you believe in, when you speak out or offer comfort or strike out, people live and die based on that action.

So I’m not saying agree with me.  I’m not saying agree with anyone.

But know what you’re saying.  Find the facts—it’s hard in the age of free information.  Cross-check your sources.  Make your decisions rationally (not ‘logically’—any attempt to be purely ‘logical’ while remaining a human being is banausic and deluded, but being rational—that is to say, aware of your shortcomings and emotional biases, being truthful with yourself about the reasons behind your judgement—is something that’s within everyone’s reach).   When you choose a position, don’t do it because someone says it’s right.  Demand their sources, ask questions, look it up, and only then make a decision.

But most of all, believe something.  CHESTERTON QUOTE:

“Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are least dangerous is the man of ideas. He is acquainted with ideas, and moves among them like a lion-tamer. Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are most dangerous is the man of no ideas.”

Take a stand for something.  Fight for something.  Believe something, and believe in your ability to make a difference, because make no mistake, planet, there is a fight to be fought, and it’s life and death.

It’s life and death every day.

And so begins my second year of college, not with a whimper but with a bang, I hope.  I’ll be trying to keep this blog up along with everything else, because this is my little strike out into the dark.  So to you, everyone, I say this: don’t be apathetic.  Don’t be passive.  Stand up for yourself, your friends, your family, if you fight for nothing else.  Join me in the ranks–if the front lines aren’t your place, there’s always room for healers and musicians and thinkers.

Me, I don’t like front lines.  If I had my way, I’d just go about my business of plinking on the piano and writing in my own little fantasy world, reading things, etc., but unfortunately the world is full of sh*tty people, and politicians keep doing irritating stuff that will hurt my family and friends.  And we can’t have that, can we?

LET’S PLAY.  http://jungwildeandfree.tumblr.com/post/29925289347/i-enjoin-on-you-to-act

But don’t take my word for it.

SOURCES.

http://www.johnrobbins.info/blog/is-there-slavery-in-your-chocolate/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Children_in_cocoa_production

http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/06/29/nestle-advances-child-labor-battle-plan/

http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/04/20/ferrero-sets-date-to-end-cocoa-slavery/

I HAVE A TUMBLR NOW! (http://jungwildeandfree.tumblr.com/) I’ll be posting random things on it occasionally INCLUDING THIS ONE:  http://jungwildeandfree.tumblr.com/post/24549443200/what-if and you should check it out because I can update a Tumblr much more frequently than this monster.

“Dear Sir: Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am. Yours truly,”

–G.K. Chesterton

What’s UP, internet.  I’ve talked about a LOT OF THINGS recently, and many of them have been VERY SERIOUS THINGS.  Well, today might end up being no different—I’m going to start typing and WE’LL SEE WHERE WE END UP.

FIRST OFF, here’s another quote by CHESTERTON, because I like him, and his attitude:

“How you think when you lose determines how long it will be until you win.”

I’ve only read one book of his; Heretics, (IT’S PUBLIC DOMAIN READ IT FREE BOOKS ARE AWESOME [http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/470]) but I fully intend to explore more of his works, because I think he’s inexpressibly badass.  He also makes good points on how to oppose something correctly, which, in my opinion, not many people do.

Let me ‘splain.  No, is too much.  Let me sum up.

Chesterton talks quite a bit about personal beliefs.  Mostly, about the importance of personal beliefs.  He condemns what seems to have been a growing movement even in the 1800s—a system of “many vague objections to having an abstract belief.”  Excuse me while I just quote the hell out of this passage.

“A common hesitation in our day touching the use of extreme convictions is a sort of notion that extreme convictions, specially upon cosmic matters, have been responsible in the past for the thing which is called bigotry. But a very small amount of direct experience will dissipate this view.  In real life the people who are most bigoted are the people who have no convictions at all. The economists of the Manchester school who disagree with Socialism take Socialism seriously.  It is the young man in Bond Street, who does not know what socialism means much less whether he agrees with it, who is quite certain that these socialist fellows are making a fuss about nothing.  The man who understands the Calvinist philosophy enough to agree with it must understand the Catholic philosophy in order to disagree with it.  It is the vague modern who is not at all certain what is right who is most certain that Dante was wrong.”

Later on, we have one of my new favorite definitions.

“Bigotry may be roughly defined as the anger of men who have no opinions.  It is the resistance offered to definite ideas by that vague bulk of people whose ideas are indefinite to excess.  Bigotry may be called the appalling frenzy of the indifferent….Bigotry in the main has always been the pervading omnipotence of those who do not care crushing out those who care in darkness and blood.”

The point emerging from this: know something.  If you disagree with a thing, research it and figure out why.  Learn from it, so that you can refute it, if it’s not your cup of tea.

And don’t research it on the internet.  Get a book. Several books.  Ask a scholar.  Hit the street.  The unfortunate truth of this morass of tachyphrasic information that is the internet is this:  For any position at all—no matter HOW RIDICULOUS, you can always find AT LEAST THREE ARTICLES TO SUPPORT IT, one of which will be a scientific study.

The internet is like the Mirror of Galadriel*—if you look with a thought or desire in your mind, you will see precisely what you expect to see.   If you run a Google Search for ‘The Shire’ and fear in your heart that it will be destroyed, you will see nothing but the Shire falling into ruin and flame.  Okay, moving off this tack now.

It’s in part a way the search engine works, combined with the framing effect and a whole bunch of other things that I could support with studies, but I won’t, because this is my blog, so there.   But seriously: you can find anything.  Want to champion the motivational  and emotional power of video games?  Well.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jane-mcgonigal/video-games_b_823208.html

Want to shout the detrimental effects of video games from the rooftop?

http://healthland.time.com/2011/12/02/how-playing-violent-video-games-may-change-the-brain/

Follow up both these sources.  They’re backed by science and careful research.  They can also be used to promote absolutely contradictory points.

The problem, then, is how do we resolve this conflict?  What is true? What is real?

Well, let’s start: I’m wearing socks.  That’s real. I  know that’s real.  Solid objects have a certain power.

Some philosophers might say that these facts represent “aspects of truth;” facets of a larger reality that make sense only when the whole picture is revealed.  This literally begs the question: “what is truth?”

Oh, well, we don’t know.  We cannot see this ultimate cosmic truth. Perhaps it is incomprehensible to us.  It might not even exist! Wouldn’t that be silly?

“I should not like to be an artist who brought an architectural sketch to a builder, saying ‘This is the south aspect of Sea-View Cottage.  Sea-View Cottage, of course, does not exist.’ I should not even like very much to have to explain, under such circumstances, that Sea-View Cottage might exist, but was unthinkable by the human mind.”

(you guessed it: Chesterton)

How to resolve this quandary? Here’s the issue, in short terms.  You can find anything on the internet that will support your position.   You can also find anything on the internet that will refute your position and support an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT ONE.

GIVEN THIS, how do we justify our beliefs?

First of all—if you need to do a bunch of Google searches to justify the founding tenets of your existence, you’re doing it wrong.

Next: If you’re going to make a claim, BACK IT UP.  Evidence.

Third: Give us ALL OF THE EQUATION, not just the conclusion.  If you’re clever, your position will be logically coherent, and we should be able to work to that point given all of the information we are given.  For example, if your point of view is in agreement with the ‘video games are good in small amounts’ category, you should be able to take these seemingly contradictory studies and point out that the most harmful effects come when playing video games more than an hour a day.  Doing anything that isn’t going to get you money or muscle mass or a hormone boost for more than an hour a day is just generally a bad idea, if you ask me.  This point is logically coherent, and I think people can agree with it.

FOURTH, and FINALLY: if your point is valid and sound, it should be possessed of integrity beyond any effort on your part.  You shouldn’t have to slant anything.  If your belief is…well, coherent, then you should be able to support it with evidence that aims to disprove it.  You don’t need to leap to the defense of the truth—it can support itself well enough.

(sample counterargument to this post: “Oh, well, you don’t need to make sense in order to be right! That’s ridiculous! Whatever I think is true must be true because I think it is!)

Now, admittedly, these are only methods that will convince rational, logically coherent people.  And if you can only convince rational, logically coherent people of rational points, you are then what we call “preaching to the choir.”   Empires have crumbled while rational, logically coherent people have waited for other groups to realize the most beneficial course of action.

But I’ll leave that problem for another day (Protip: I like to frighten and confuse irrational Bible-thumpers by shouting “MATTHEW 7:5” as I drive by their protest lines. Ideally, you can find a friend with long golden hair and a beard who can wrap himself in a towel, poke the upper half of his body out the sunroof and yell the entire line at them as you go bombing past).    This will not be the last time I revisit this subject.

UNTIL LATER, INTERNET: GOOD NIGHT. DAY.NOON.

*Yes, I just compared the information superhighway to the starlit font of the Lady of  Lothlórien.  I did in fact just draw an analogy between the brain child of Al Gore, who walked the path of a presidential candidate, and the magical fountain of Galadriel of the Noldor, who crossed the Helcaraxë and walked the path of an exile.  I BELIEVE I HAVE EARNED A NERD MEDAL OF SOME KIND.

CHECK OUT THIS BLOG, IS COOL.

http://lesbicrafty.blogspot.com/2012/06/reality-problem-with-complementarianism.html

First question:  What do you think?

I like this.

Why?

Because.  The end.

…Oh, all right, that wasn’t helpful, I admit it.  So here’s why.  List of reasons.  First off, a good definition of feminism (though I am not sure if it should be called ‘feminism’ so much as ‘the practice of being a decent person who cares for the opinions of others as regards their own life and well-being’).  And as my friends know, there’s nothing that gets me more enthused than a REALLY SOLID DEFINITION.

What we have here, in case you couldn’t be bothered to read the URL, is a rousing discussion of the failings of ‘complementarianism,’ an incredibly long word that I am totally adding to my daily vocabulary.   But what does it mean?

Well, to quote, it is the view that “men and women should have different roles to fulfill in the church and the home; men lead and make decisions, and women submit and nurture.”

ALLOW ME A MOMENT TO RESTRAIN MYSELF

Let’s set aside all the surface-level debate (such as the fact that most of the women I know would very casually remove the face of whoever asked them to ‘submit’ anything other than an application for an internship) and look at the overarching structure of the problem here.

The issue is not that this idea exists.  This idea drives successful relationships.

(Lesser-known, more optimistic version of Rule 34: If you can imagine it, somewhere, someone has built a happy relationship upon it).

(this rule is modified by the Fight Club Corollary: Relationship-Rule-34 does not apply to legitimately abusive relationships.  Do not confuse abusive relationships with ones like in the movie Mr. And Mrs. Smith)

(end parenthetical aside)

The ISSUE is, as with all other creeds, as with all other ideas and perceptions, that certain people think it is the ONLY WAY.  Now.  This is not not unsurprising: as G.K. Chesterton (who is HIGHLY ENTERTAINING) says: “no man ought to write at all, or even to speak at all, unless he thinks that he is in truth and the other man in error.”  The point of communication is, it can be argued, to arrive at the truth—or, more accurately, to convince the other people that the truth you believe in is actually correct.

And so we have the obvious problem, because it is a very easy step (and sometimes an unconscious one) to go from communicating your perception of truth* to attempting to enforce it in the lives of other people, and this is precisely where humanity begins to clash in religion, in politics, in sociocultural issues, in gender roles, and even on the most basic level of connection between two people.

It can be such a well-intentioned slip—and so simple.  After all, if you know you are correct, really feel it in your heart, then obviously it is one’s duty, one’s simple human role, to communicate this truth to the world, so that all may share in it, and the harmony of the heavens shall reflect the peace of the temporal realm, and all mankind shall lift their voices in joyous unison, etc., etc.

Here is where I shall VERY SUBTLY shift this over to my larger point: the issue of OPEN-MINDEDNESS contrasted with TOLERANCE.

You might say “well, sir, clearly you are inebriated, tolerance and open-mindedness are one and the same, sir.”  If you do say such, then, I assure you, I am quite in my right mind, and I must say you are quite a gentleman—I can tell because you say ‘sir’ so often.

BUT NO, open-mindedness is not the same thing as tolerance.  In fact, ‘tolerance’ is not a term I am fond of, now that I reflect on it.  To be ‘tolerant’ of something implies that you have even the faintest right to deny its existence.

There are many people who are ‘tolerant’ who are not open-minded.  Tolerance is the ability to endure the revelation that other peoples’ minds function differently, and the self-control necessary to not fire off a nuclear salvo of sacerdotalism or what-have-you the instant something someone says contradicts your own personal beliefs in the slightest.  Tolerance is the ability to engage in a discussion about your favorite kind of dog without launching into a rant about The Corrupting Influence Of Judeo-Christian Religion In Western Society.

Admittedly, there are lots of people who aren’t wholly tolerant, even according to this rather facetious (but only ‘rather’) description.   But an even larger cross-section can be referred to as not being open-minded.

What is open-mindedness? What on earth am I trying to say? Put plainly, WHAT THE HELL AM I TALKING ABOUT?

In the simplest possible terms, ‘open-mindedness’ can be defined as the quality of neuroplasticity, the mechanism by which we can recognize and reconcile an error in our belief systems, the mechanism by which, rather than continuing to obganiate and perpetuate our views, we reassess and alter our thoughts, words and actions to reflect the truer point of view that we recognize.

…okay, so that wasn’t very simple. Oops.

PUT SIMPLY, it is the ability to listen.  Really listen.  A lot of people can detect vibrations propagated by rapid motion of air along human vocal chords, but how many of them listen to every word?   Not in the way you listen to the complaints of an irritating younger sibling or endure the barking of a dog, but really listen, evaluate each word for its cognitive-emotional content, and calculate your response and actions based upon that information.

HOW OFTEN DO YOU CHANGE YOUR WORLDVIEW?

What does it take?

What would someone have to say to completely alter the way you view them?

What would someone have to say to completely alter the way you treat them?

Do the last two questions have the same answer? If so, why? If not…why?

TOLERANCE is the ability to endure the presence of other worldviews.  OPEN-MINDEDNESS** is the ability to incorporate them into your own, to recognize the points where your actions and creed might be too harsh, where you might hold to it too vehemently.   To possess the former is, I would argue, far easier than to hold the latter.  And once one is open-minded, well, I would say, mere ‘tolerance’ is no longer even possible.

So that’s my rant for the week.  Conclusion?  Moral?  Is there a message, hidden here? Yes, and I’ll make it as OBVIOUS AS POSSIBLE.

BE OPEN MINDED.  The mere fact that an individual’s worldview does not mesh with your own does not signify wrongness.***  TOLERANCE is not enough.  Don’t base your warm, fuzzy feeling of superiority on TOLERANCE.  American society TOLERATED a certain population for many years after the Civil War was over.  We TOLERATE another one now, though the degree to which we tolerate them may shift in Wisconsin with the new legislation against visiting rights.

Don’t merely TOLERATE, INTEGRATE.

*Chesterton would likely laugh at the idea of a ‘perception of truth’ just as much as the idea of an ‘aspect of truth,’ but luckily for me I am actually correct in this matter and need not concern myself with such things.

** “Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are least dangerous is the man of ideas. He is acquainted with ideas, and moves among them like a lion-tamer. Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are most dangerous is the man of no ideas.” –Chesterton

*** “Even if we think religion insoluble, we cannot think it irrelevant. Even if we ourselves have no view of the ultimate verities, we must feel that wherever such a view exists in a man it must be more important than anything else in him.” –Chesterton

P.S. THIS POST.  ALL THE WINNING. http://lesbicrafty.blogspot.com/2012/05/of-sewing-and-sexism.html