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Tag Archives: I’m laughing at you but I’m also totally sympathetic

GREETINGS, MEATBAGS.

Welcome to another episode (?) of the CHEAT SHEET series, an area where I compile entirely random snippets of information that I have found to be useful in the past.  Today on the Cheat Sheet:

How to write a stupidly long paper.

This is a critically important skill if you are an undergraduate (Hell, if you’re a high school student) who is in any kind of writing-intensive class or program.  And like every academic skill, it begins OUTSIDE the classroom.  The first steps of this eight-step How-To guide, ideally, take place weeks or months before you start writing.  But I know that’s probably not how you run your life, so try to do Step 1 and 2 a few days before you start? Please? You won’t regret it.  (You might regret it)

Step 1: This is a critical step. Know what you’re writing. Read what you’re writing about.  Doesn’t matter what it is; there’s literature about it.  Read an example of what you want to write; are you writing an essay? Read an essay. (Montaigne is a good place to start; so is Orwell; both are masters of the essay genre)  Writing a novel? Read a novel.  But the bottom line is, you become a good writer by reading good writing.  Want to write a good essay? Read a good essay.

Step 2: Start writing before crunch time, but don’t start writing your paper.  Don’t write to the prompt.  Write about what you just read for Step 1.  Write about what you think about your class.  Write about anything tangentially associated with the prompt. The goal is to prime the pump and get the juices flowing.  DO NOT THROW THIS OUT. Keep this work in its own document.

Step 3: Now look at what you have written from Step 2, and at your notes from class.  If you’re lucky (and probably even if you’re not) you should have at least a few sentences in your writing that interest you.  They jump out at you.  You think “Hmm. I could say more about this.” Do that.  Grab anything that jumps out at you and plug it into your prompt.  Keep THAT in your Step 2 document as well, but in its own section at the bottom (or the top).

Step 3: You now already have some of your paper written, before you even started writing it.  Dang you’re smart. You go, Glen Coco.  Good on you.  Now it’s time to really begin.  Open up a new document and start writing your paper. I won’t tell you how to structure the introduction, or make transitions, or what voice to use—that depends on what you’re writing, and you already know that, because you read great examples in Step 1.  Write for a while.  Try to get halfway.

Step 4: Now you’re part of the way through your paper.  Take a break.  Do anything that doesn’t involve staring at a screen.  Eat something. Exercise. Build a giant robot. Grow a beard.  Don’t think about your paper.  At all.  You got this; don’t worry.  If you find yourself obsessing about the paper, don’t stress about that either–it’s normal to have it keep running through your head. Just keep exercising, building your robot, or growing your beard, and it will flow out of your thoughts.  Good self-care is key to every enterprise–and that includes writing a kick-ass academic paper.

Step 5:  Now that you’re all fresh and ready to go, return to your writing from Step 2. Look it over again.  Something new will jump out at you.  Maybe you’ll realize that half of what you’ve written was dumb.  Cut it from your paper—but don’t throw it away forever.  ANYTHING YOU CUT goes into your Step 2 document. If it doesn’t have a place in this paper, it will find its way into another one.

Step 6: Okay.  It’s the Eye of the Tiger.  Get into writing mode and slam it.  Don’t worry about quality. Just write until you can’t write no more.  Tie your prompt into everything that interests you about your Step 2 document. You might find some connections easier than others—and you should take advantage of that.  Develop those, and let the trickier ones retreat into your Step 2 doc. Let the writing find its own course. You were halfway at the end of Step 3; now take it the rest of the way.

Step 7: You should now be close to your character limit/word limit/page limit/final chapter.  Take a fifteen-minute break.  This is KEY.  I recommend a shower here. When your break is done, return to your document and READ IT OUT LOUD.  You’ll find a lot of typos that way.  Make edits as you go.

When you finish, go back and make an edit on that one thing that was bugging you.  If a section seems superfluous, cut it and drop it away into your Step 2 doc.  If you are intrigued by something you wrote, develop it.  Any really good sentence can always be clarified, reimagined, repurposed.  What are the repercussions of your thought? What does this mean for your field?  Keep doing this.  As your points grow denser, you’ll glide into the home stretch, and after re-reading it you should have a sense of where it’s going.  Bring it home.

Step 8: STOP.  Your paper should have an ending–I won’t lecture on structure–and you should have a nice fat document full of your fragmented ideas. You can dump that straight into your Academic Journal (if you don’t have one, you should make one now).  The relevant parts of your Step 2 document can be funneled into your next paper–so you already have part of your next assignment written before you start the process.

There are no further steps.  That’s it.  Your paper should be done.

If it’s not done, try one of these strategies for a productive break: 

Take a shower. Again, if necessary.  Sing if you can.

Pick a building.  Run around said building twice.

Build a beehive.

Pet a dog or other small animal.  In lieu of a dog, an undergraduate student will do.

Eat an entire jar of frosting.

Stare at a bright pink object for ten minutes and marvel at how green everything is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello reader!

Welcome to the ‘Cheat Sheet’ section of my blog, an area where I compile entirely random snippets of information that I have found to be useful in the past.  Today on the cheat sheet, I talk about my experience reading philosophy and anthropology–some of the most impenetrable reading on the planet–and try to explain how I do the thing.

To clarify: When I say I “do the thing,” I mean I read all the time.  I read things that are really quite incomprehensible.  I slam dense readings into my brain repeatedly until they start to make sense.

In fairness, it took a year of reading, several bottles of wine, and a lot of help from a man with a doctorate, BUT STILL.

This makes sense to me.

Today we’re going to talk about how to read literally anything, in any field of study, in such a way that you understand its ins and outs and all its little complexities.

NOTE that this is NOT always the same thing as reading QUICKLY; a large part of why I read stupidly fast is because I’ve been reading college-level for a vast majority of my life.  I read anthropological texts before I even knew what anthropology was, and I retained a lot of that–because I read them in the way I’m about to describe.

Before I go further, I should credit one of my professors with the inspiration for this post.  Turns out, he recommends much the same method of literary assimilation that my father does, and the same one I’ve been using for years to devour anything with words on it.

Okay, so remember what I said about me reading a lot when I was a kid? Let’s take a trip back in time to when we were seven.  Imagine we’re reading something that isn’t so complicated.  Something like this excerpt from To Kill A Mockingbird: 

To Kill A Mockingbird

 

Now, first of all, we’re seven, so we might not know every single word in this sentence.  For example, we might not know what stock-market quotations are.  The Mobile Register might also be a mystery, as well as the words literate and interfere.  But we know what Miss Caroline is saying, we’ve got that shit on lock, and we can figure out the general sense of what’s going on from the words that we know.

Later on, we might come back after having learned what The Mobile Register is, and looking up the meaning of interfere, and then the paragraph would make more sense.  We might even be able to puzzle out the significance of the word literate, and decide that we really don’t need to know what stock-market quotations are in order to understand this segment.

“Okay,” you might say, “But I came here to learn how to read graduate-level texts! Why the hell are we reading To Kill A Mockingbird?”  Well, first of all, because it’s an awesome book, so shut up, and second, that’s it.  That’s how you do it.

Let’s break it down.

So now let’s go back to Bourdieu.  Take this passage:

Theory Of Practice

Don’t panic. Deep breaths. Remain calm.   Just let your eyes drift over it.  Read the words you recognize and string them together to get a sense of the general point.

“The privilege in which all activity arises never more governs that activity than when, unrecognized as privilege, it leads to a theory of practice which is the neglect of the social conditions in which science is possible. The anthropologist’s relation to the object of his study contains the makings of a distortion as his situation as an observer, excluded from the real play by the fact that he has no place (except by choice or way of a game) in the system observed and has no need to make a place for himself there, inclines him to reduce all social relations to communicative relations and to decoding operations.”

OKAY. So we don’t know quite what that means.  We can sense that there are key words missing.  But find the parts you understand.  There’s something in there about the anthropologist’s relation to the object of his study, and how that causes a theoretical distortion.  And we know that distortion reduces all social relations to…something.  Good.  See those bolded points? Those are the parts we know.  We’re sure of those.  My professor calls them ANCHORS. That’s good.

Now we can read it again, from the beginning, and try to figure out more.  Maybe we can look up some of the words, and then we realize that hermeneutics means ‘the discipline surrounding interpretation of texts.’  So that’s another anchor.   Using the parts we know, we then try to figure out the parts that are confusing.  It might take a few passes, but eventually we will be able to read the entire paragraph and understand what Bourdieu (and it is Bourdieu) is saying.

Now blow that up to a whole new level.

We have a book to read, not a paragraph but an entire book, and this is the DENSEST SHIT YOU’VE EVER READ.  You understand MAYBE 40% of what you’ve read so far, and it’s daunting.

Well:

Step 1: Scan.  Read a few chapters.   Not the whole thing, unless it’s super short.  Maybe read a fourth of it.

Step 2: As you read, find your anchors.  Find the things you understand.  Try to get a general sense of what the book is saying.

Step 3: Put down the book and wrestle with the ideas. Try to connect the ideas (the ones you understand) to other things.  [I strongly advise that you] write down the ideas that really leap out at you.  These are reading notes.   By the end of this step, you should have a pretty basic idea of what the first fourth of the book is about, and you will be (almost) certain about the meaning of specific portions. There will still be huge parts you won’t understand. This is okay.

Step 4: Return to the book. Read again, from the beginning.  It’ll be easier this time; you will recognize your anchor points as you pass them, and you’ll read what you know more quickly. Try to keep it slow and really read it, really digest it.  You should be able to start to figure out exactly what the text is saying.  Some new anchors will jump out at you.  Excellent. Write them down, underline them, whatever, and keep moving.  You might be able to finish it this time, but if not, no problem.

Step 5:  After this point, you should have a confident idea of certain parts of the book.  Not all of it.  You should be able to talk pretty definitively about most of the first half of the book.   Take a break again. What I like to do now is to find a summary of the piece.  For philosophy, try The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  Ask someone who’s read the book.  Look it up online.  You already know the first half–if you pay attention to the summary, you can try to start figuring out how the first half leads to the second half, even before you actually read it.

Step 6: You already know a lot about this book!  Getting to step 6 can take anywhere between half an hour and six hours…or more.  Some books are SUPER DENSE, even for people with a doctorate.  A Ph.D doesn’t give you magical powers.  But now that you KNOW the first half, and now that you have a very basic idea of the second half, stop and think about the book. Try to think about how its ideas are similar to other things you’ve read.  We learn by making connections.  Think of knowledge as a spiderweb: THE MORE CONNECTIONS YOU DRAW, THE STRONGER IT IS. 

Not to mention, the more you do this seven-step process, the faster it goes.  You will learn to read faster, because your brain will learn to start picking out key points and wrestling with what you don’t understand.

Congratulations; you can now talk about this book fairly confidently! You know the majority of the first half (and you have pretty good notes, if you took my advice), and you know roughly the arc of the second.  But we’re not done yet–we don’t just want to skim, we want mastery. 

So now for the final step.  You’re going to re-read the first half, and then go from there to the second half–reading from the first page to the last.  As you venture into unknown territory, remember to plant anchors.  Find something that is beginning to make sense, and slow down and make it make sense.  When you do, WRITE IT DOWN IN YOUR NOTES.

But now you should have an idea of what it feels like to read a text and digest the softer parts.  It should go faster than before, smoother. That doesn’t mean it won’t be unbelievably painful.  This could easily be the longest part of the process, time-wise.

But it does mean that by the time you make it to the last page of the book, you will know your shit. You might not know it backward and forward–you might not be able to cite pages from scratch–but you will be able to write an essay on the book now.  You can have a real, intelligent discussion, and you’re on your way to mastery.

So it’s not really a final step. But it is for now.  If you started this book and made it to the final step in the same day, then stop.  Take a break.  Relax.  Go do something that doesn’t involve thinking about this. The most important rule of reading academic texts is this:

It is impossible to master a book in one day.* 

*it’s not, but you really don’t want to do that if you don’t have to.**

**but if you decide to try, just do this, but without taking breaks.

CONGRATULATIONS.  You now know how to master a book–and in the process of mastering it, you will also produce a killer set of reading notes.   Those will be INVALUABLE.  When you write a paper, or a blog post, or anything really, you can just go back to your reading notes and drop them straight in.   And you will seem UNBELIEVABLY smart.  You will know. your. shit. 

This has been the Cheat Sheet.  Thanks for reading this 1776-word monster. Next time,  I will try and set down some other snippet of cutthroat academic trickery from my arsenal of mind games.  Until then, good luck, happy reading, and make sure to use adequate light sources!*

*if you’re reading on a computer screen, make sure the brightness is set so that you can clearly see the text, but not too much brighter than the surrounding environment. That will reduce eye strain, which means you can read longer.

SUP NERDS

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

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

It’s a shit show.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is what we call ‘fiction.’

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

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

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

AND THE POINT OF THIS LONG DIGRESSION IS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LATER NERDS.

I’ve dealt with bullshit in my life.  Mine and other peoples’.  People’s? Whatever.  Brief and overarching examples of such bullshit include trauma, abuse, terror, panic, lies, anger, cruelty, judgment, scorn, intolerance, narcissism, pettiness, and poorly-cooked pizza.

When your bullshit intake is pretty steady on a daily level (read; when you are an adult and/or college student), you become introspective. You tend to walk around a lot listening to ‘Dust In The Wind’ and staring off into space.  You experiment with dangerous things to deal with the bullshit—dangerous things like anger, hate, and condemnation.  Possibly also alcohol and chocolate.  If you’re an artist, you art even more than usual—perhaps you start a novel, or compose music, or both.  You apply yourself vigorously to your work, because work usually doesn’t contain any bullshit.

You feel old.  Older. Ancient, old as the hills, as if you’ve walked the same streets forever.

And, if you’re me, this introspection takes a reflective turn.  You turn to books, to film, to famous figures, for inspiration, comfort, and guidance.  You talk to parents and professors and listen to words from men and women long dead.  You read Aristotle’s friendly books of advice for young men entering adulthood.  You listen to Jung’s discussion of mortality and the human life, watch the keen intelligence in the eyes of Bertrand Russell as he discusses forgiveness and mankind’s future on Earth.  You learn the unpredictability of life not only from your own travails but from the calming voice of Alan Watts, who assures you that all is not as bad as it seems—that the universe has a harmony of its own.

You drop-forge your own spirituality in fire and cold water, in anger and sorrow and hour after hour of worry.

And slowly, it works.

You stop staring at the ceiling for hours every night.  Your dreams cease to be saddening and become bittersweet.

Your music stops being angry.  Stops being sad.  It sounds more right than before, deeper, with anger and sorrow in their rightful places—not dominating, and not absent.  Your characters take on a depth and power that you haven’t known before, and (after hours of exposure to the drama that unfolds in human lives) story developments come easily.  You get better at managing your temper, at making measured judgments, at managing stress, at not falling apart under the weight of your own rumination.

Suddenly, though you haven’t gotten any busier, you have plenty of time.  You start humming happier songs.  You have more patience for everything from schoolwork to nonfunctioning computers to people.

And then, on a quiet afternoon in a nearly-empty study space, you run a search on Martin Luther King Jr., and you read his words.  You get a glimpse of the man behind the rhetoric, and you see the power in them.  It falls into place all at once; Taoism, Nietzsche, psychology black swans, action with intention, cultural relativism, even the Wizard’s oath…and the result is a profound calm, and a renewed vehemence.

I refuse to believe in the worst parts of humanity.   People can be better, though there might not be any one person or thing that changes them.  It might not be me that causes a person’s life to turn around—but I cannot turn my back on the possibility that it might be.  Two quotes by MLK inspired me today.  One of them was this:

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

People will be petty, and afraid, and angry—and that includes me, because I can be petty, and nervous, and angry too, just as well as anyone else.  But you can’t meet human failing with more human failing.  You can’t beat intolerance with intolerance.  You can meet cruelty with anger, in the moment.  You can fight abuse fist-to-fist if you have to.  But when it’s done, when the moment ends, then you have to rebuild, and you can’t rebuild with anger.

“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies. ”

Powerful words.

As a society, and as individuals, we can’t be lost in the moment of anger.  Yes, people do awful things.  There should and will be consequences for that.  But we have to step back, and think.  Yes, the murderer is a monster.  But we have to step back, and think, and wonder who made her that way.  Yes, rape is evil, and disgusting, and should never be tolerated among our number.  But we have to step back, and think, and realize that we have a chance to help a victim before he is a victim.  That we have a chance to save the innocent, before they become the guilty.  And that while we can fight day by day, in the end, it will be not the many battles but the one, the only, that changes the course of humanity—and that is the battle of our culture, of our time, of our universe, and our lives.  And in the end, it is the fight of inclusion over intolerance.  It is the fight of self-knowledge over self-denial.  It is the fight of integration over repression. It is the yes of life against the no of time and entropy.  And in the end, it is the fight of love over hate.

So I refuse to believe that people cannot change.  People can be better than this.  The world can be better than this.  Life can be better than this.  And I will fight every day, through spoken and written words, through actions and thoughts, to make it so.  Because that is the only fight worth fighting.

Because in the end, that’s the only fight.  There is no good and evil beyond what we make, beyond what we choose, beyond what we do.

We are Nietzsche’s supermen.  The world is what we make of it, and I, for one, want to make it something better than this.  Because we can be better than this.

The world is full of bad things. But we can make it a little better.  We can always be a little better. Because deontology is not starry-eyed idealism.  A perfect end is not impractical.  Am I an angel? No, not by any means, what I am is something darker. Does that mean I can’t hold myself to that standard? Not in the slightest.  Will we ever achieve a perfect world? A world without murder, fear, rape, hatred? Maybe not.  Does that mean I can’t fight for it?

Hell no.

And besides, I’ve a fondness for impossible causes.

So if I seem unexpectedly nice…I’m just doing my job.  If I call you on hateful rhetoric, I’m just doing my job. And trying to help you do yours.

Because, after all, the basic idea of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics can be condensed into this:

Be the best human being you can be.

That’s my response to your bullshit, life.

Your move, motherf*****.

SUP INTERNET

Sometimes I really don’t understand people.

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

We’ll start with empathy.

Or, to go etymologically:

Einfühlungsvermögen.

 [I love German words]

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

So how do you EMPATHIZE?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s imagine a man named BOB.

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

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

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

So BOB does.

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

NOW IS WHEN EMPATHY KICKS IN.

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

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

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

IN THE MEANTIME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS ESPECIALLY APPLIES TO RELATIONSHIPS, BY THE WAY.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greetings, earth creatures.

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

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

VERY ODD

COMING UP NEXT ON JUNGWILDEANDFREE

EITHER

I YELL AT ATHEISTS UNTIL THEY GET ANGRY

OR

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

SUP NERDS

I know I said I was going to post about something else but FORGET THAT I decided to write this instead.  It’s very spur of the moment and deeply emotional blah blah blah all that shit.

I feel like I may not always get across everything in my head.  This may of course be the curse of the introspective.   But although I always try, sometimes I feel as though there is a disconnect between what I manage to express in any given social setting and who I feel I myself am.  Social norms constrain in many ways.

But every once in a while I like to do something like this.

EVERYBODY.  All of you, the ones I see every day, the ones I’d like to see more often, the ones I hardly see at all.

I care about you all very much.  Family, teachers, fellow students, homies, bros.  You’re all awesome and I mean that every time I say it.  I would not be able to be this good of a person, this optimistic of a person, this relentlessly cheerful as a human being if I didn’t have an amazing support group.

I wish you all well.  I hope you’re all happy on this Monday, and if you’re not I wish I could help.  Most likely I can’t in any highly meaningful way, but I’ll always try, with smiles and cake and rainbows.

Smiley face.

ON AN UNRELATED NOTE, here’s a deep monologue.

________________________________________________

Sometimes in life things are neat.  They work out the way they’re supposed to.  The first date is magical.  You feel like a wholly different person when you arrive for freshman year.  There’s an immediate phase shift and you’re just ready, psyched and off to the races.

Mostly they aren’t.  You’ll spend hours rehearsing, running over the sentence in infinite variety, planning every word, waiting for the perfect conversational break…and then get impatient, dump the practice out the window and just ask the girl out.  You’ll get off the plane on the first day of freshman year…and feel slightly dehydrated but not really that much different from when you got on.

Most things are like this.

Sometimes things have an end and a beginning.  You can point to them and say “Now, this ended right here.”

This really only applies to classes and internships.  Most things just go on and on and on and you pretty much deal with it, and suddenly one day you realize it’s not the first thing on your mind, and that at some point in the last month or so you’ve grown as a human being without even noticing it.

So there’s no point in waiting for an end, really.  No point in waiting for the ‘perfect moment.’  There already is a perfect moment, and it’s right here.  Right now.  You just have to make it fit your needs.

_____________________________________

Life is hard.

Some days life is really hard.

Some days life just SUCKS ASS. 

And you want to just let it all slide, and resign from life for a few days.  Throw all your friendships into the corner, shelve the manners and the work, and just abstain from the human race for a while.  Be lazy and petulant and everything that you can’t be past the age of fifteen.

But you know, there’s never not a reason to slide.

There’s never not SOMETHING. 

There’s always a reason to be childish.  To be lazy.  To slide.  And most of the time we don’t think it’s reason enough.

Now don’t look so glum.  This isn’t an indictment. We don’t do indictments.  SMILE.  You can always be happy.  No matter the day, just as there is always a cause for OHMYGODWHATTHEHELLWE’REALLGOINGTODIE, so there is also always a reason to smile.

You can always be polite.  The world can go to shit in a hackeysack and you can keep right on with the ‘yes sir’ ‘no sir.’  Even when it’s raining fire and zombies are crawling up from hell, you can still do your best to brighten up the room with a smile.

You can always be on time.  Though life is hard and really just downright sucks sometimes, in the words of Malcom Reynolds, you’re still flying, and you can always be the rock of reliability, be right there when you’re needed.

And you can always make an end.  You can do it right now, with no need to leave the computer, for twelve easy payments of $9.95 just by wishing it to be.  Say it aloud.  Make it a promise to yourself that you are moving on.

Even if it’s slow and awkward and halting and doesn’t feel real until weeks later.  Because if you fall once you can just get back up again.

Because there’s always a new moment.  They fall like rain, inexhaustible, each drop offering the promise of infinite renewal.

That’s why I like the rain.

That’s why this week is going to be wonderful, why it’s going to be the best week of our lives.

Because they all are, if you let them.  Life is wonderful if you let yourself live it.  If you enjoy the little things.

So smile.

It’s a beautiful day.

P.S.

69 posts.

Heh.

Heh heh.

69.

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!

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/

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.