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Tag Archives: POINTLESS OPTIMISM

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 NERDS

The brain is a funny thing, isn’t it?

One area that interests me a LOT is the area of cognition.  Especially in a linguistic context, but also just in a general contexty context. Although please note that ‘contexty’ is not a word.

SPECIFICALLY, the construction of NARRATIVE in cognition.

Why is this cool? Because it illustrates the POWER of storytelling.  The power of language.  The power of the way we think.

And to me this illustrates just how much control we have over ourselves.

Let me ‘splain.

No, is too much.

Let me sum up.

So when something bad happens to us, we frame it in a given way.  As in OH GOD THAT WAS TERRIBLE.

No, but let’s unpack that.

When events occur in the world, the human mind asks WHY. We like to quantify things, to fit things into heuristics, categories, explanations.  Things we can’t define unnerve us, upset us, make us feel all funny inside.

We always want an explanation.  Unfortunately, in the real world it’s very rare to find just one explanation. And regrettably most of you have to live in the ‘real world.’  That must suck.

You see, things in the real world are not smoothly and easily determined.  This is part of the reason I hate any theory even remotely deterministic with a blind and furious passion that burns like the raw untamed fury of a dying star.

Things in the real world have dozens, hundreds, thousands, millions of causes. All of reality teams with actors, events, and objects that influence everything else in reality. Everything is multidetermined, and very, very, very few things have just one cause, though we as humans tend to oversimplify our causes just for the sake of sanity.

PERTINENT TO THAT.

We have many causes to choose from when we look at our lives. When we look at what we’ve done and what other people have done.  When we think about the good things and the bad things.

It is at this point that we run across the FUNDAMENTAL ATTRIBUTION ERROR, which is a VERY COMMON FALLACY in our ability to judge other people.  I’ve talked about it before, but there is an everpresent tendency in thought to overestimate the influence of internal factors on another person’s decision and to emphasize the influence of external factors on your own decision.  In other words, we assume people do the things they do just because they are that way inherently, whereas we do things in response to the world.  So thanks to the fundamental attribution error, when someone shows up thirty minutes late to an appointment, it’s because they’re an asshole, while when you yourself show up thirty minutes late to an appointment it’s because your life has been insane and you haven’t slept well in days and hey you’re a good person anyway.

“WHAT THE HELL DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH CAUSATION?” You might ask, to which I would say WHY ARE YOU YELLING THIS IS MY BLOG ONLY I AM ALLOWED TO YELL HERE.

When we commit the fundamental attribution error, we seek an explanation for a person’s behavior and put the emphasis on the wrong cause.  This can then color our perceptions of them in an undesirable direction, we make more assumptions and eventually people end up on fire; I’m sure you can fill in the intermediate steps without me needing to elaborate.

But we don’t just try to explain people, we also try to explain the world.  And psychology (read: my psych class) provides us with ways of sliding our explanations into categories.

Stable Unstable
Global Specific
Internal External

Let me explain the magical box here.

When we talk about these three axes of evaluation, we’re talking about the following evaluations in an objective sense:

Is an occurrence stable? That is to say, will it remain in our lives as a continual positive or negative force?  Or is it unstable, fleeting, and likely to go away soon?  Be HONEST about this.  Is dropping that coffee cup really going to affect you tomorrow? And isn’t that midterm grade just a little bit important? It’s only, like, 50% of your grade.

Is the thing global? Does it affect all of your life? Or is it specific—e.g. is it something that only affects you at work, in class, crossing the street?  Is a parking ticket going to affect your love life? Is winning the lottery unlikely to change your daily routine?

And finally, is this occurrence due to internal causes? Is there a causal link between yourself as an individual entity and this event? Or is it external, brought about by outer forces beyond your control?  Did a train hit you because you’re a terrible person?  Did that human rights activist punch you repeatedly by accident?

This comes into play when we talk about people with depression, but it applies in general to mental health and positive cognition.

People who we would ordinarily deem “optimistic” tend to classify positive events as INTERNAL, STABLE, and GLOBAL.   Good things come to them because they are good people, good things tend to last, and good things tend to brighten all of your life.

People who we would ordinarily deem “optimistic” tend to classify negative events as EXTERNAL, UNSTABLE, and SPECIFIC.  Bad luck affects us all, but it doesn’t last, and it doesn’t affect every part of our lives.

To contrast, a more “pessimistic” cognition would be to view positive events as EXTERNAL, UNSTABLE, and SPECIFIC.  To look at any good thing as not due to your own agency but as the product of pure chance, a flicker unlikely to lighten the load of your day-to-day.

And of course, the other half of this view is looking at negative events as INTERNAL, STABLE, and GLOBAL—bad things happen to you just because bad things happen to you, specifically, and they are unlikely to stop happening, because that’s how your entire life works.

So on an OVERALL AVERAGE GENERAL BASIS, if you want to be OPTIMISTIC, that’s how it’s done, according to psychology.  All you have to do is CHANGE THE WAY YOU PERCIEVE THE FUNDAMENTAL NATURE OF CAUSALITY.

It’s actually easier than it sounds.  Having this little axis helped me personally ride an optimism train into the stratosphere, because it’s nice to have a reminder once in a while that THINGS DO NOT SUCK.

Which, you know, things kinda don’t.  Life doesn’t throw things at us we can’t handle, though it might throw things we don’t want to handle.

OF COURSE, now I’m going to tell you that you can take the OPTIMISM THING TOO FAR.  Bad things are not ALWAYS due to external events.  Good things don’t only come to good people, they can come to bad people too.  SOMETIMES YOU’RE JUST AN ASSHOLE, is what I’m trying to say.

HOWEVER, if your problem is LOW SELF ESTEEM, this axis can be at least little bit helpful.  An Allen wrench in your mental tool box.  A stapler in your cognitive office.  You get the idea.  If your problem in life is NOT LOW SELF ESTEEM, then YOU MAY WANT TO RECONSIDER THE POSSIBILITY OF PERSONAL AGENCY NOW AND AGAIN.  Because everyone has a moment (usually about once per week) where they’re pretty much JUST AN ASSHOLE.  It’s part of life on earth.

BUT OF COURSE

AS WITH ANYTHING I SAY

THIS MAY ALL BE FULL OF SHIT.

But the purpose of writing is to get other people to think.

So THINK, GODDAMIT.

And remember.

It’s all about how you look at it.

Change your perspective, and you could just change your life.

Sup internet.

So here’s something that confuses me: People who get upset about artists.

As in, people who get upset when they find out that Roald Dahl was anti-Semitic.  Don’t get me wrong, that’s terrible, he should be severely remonstrated with (being dead is no excuse for intolerance).  But (a) he’s dead, and (b) it doesn’t matter.  He’s hailed as one of the world’s greatest children’s writers.  His books are fantastic, and I think most of my peer group grew up with them, as has been the case with children for decades.

He’s a great writer.  His books are awesome. Full stop.  Maybe he was an asshole in person.  Maybe he ate kittens.  I don’t know.  But I don’t care because he’s dead, and because his books don’t eat kittens.

Forsaking Dahl because he was anti-Semitic is slightly akin to avoiding Beethoven because he was deaf.  Neither fact has any bearing on the quality of their art, which has become a pillar of culture.

We seem to expect that our artists should meet some higher standard.  We tie their music, their books, their paintings to them, to their value as a person, and what they do as a person affects the value of their art.  Well, guess what.  If I vomit on the floor, that mess is pretty much unaffected when I go and run over poodles with my ATV.  If I spray-paint a rock in an aesthetically pleasing way, the paint isn’t going to magically peel off or become ugly when I take a baseball bat to a Galapagos tortoise.

The actual artistic value of a piece of artwork remains unchanged regardless of what the artist does.  Adolf Hitler’s paintings are still unimpressive and only moderately talented despite the man’s murderous tendencies (though if he had had training and encouragement perhaps he would have become one of the greats rather than becoming a manic dictator).

Now, there are many artists I would like to meet in person, for whatever reason.  Because I want to know how they did what they did.  Because they seem like they’d be interesting people.  For whatever reason.  And there is a certain intuitive sense to the idea that you can get to know a person through their art.   And I believe it’s true in a way.

But not completely true.

Certainly there is a deep, wild, magnificent wonder in the writing of H.P. Lovecraft.   It’s possible that we could even conduct a long conversation on the subject of the numinous and the uncanny (though I’ll freely admit that my Otto is not up to snuff, a little goes a long way).    But Lovecraft was by all accounts creepy, introverted, curmudgeonly, racist, and depressive, so the difficulty of such a conversation would be getting him to talk to me in the first place.   But that doesn’t really matter, because when I read his writing, regardless of how he is (was?) as a person, we’re on the same page.  And that page isn’t “dark-skinned people are creepy and diabolical,” or “I hate my life.”  That page is “LOOK AT HOW AWESOME THIS SCARY SH*T IS.”

And that’s the important connection.   Because I’m not going to have a conversation with the guy, I’m going to read his book.  I’m not going to give him money because I support his deviant tendencies, I’m going to give him money because I like his book.   

SUBJECT CHANGE.

NOW THERE ARE SOME PEOPLE, though perhaps fewer today than in past decades, who say that art cannot be morally judged.  It’s art, man, and its purpose is to lift up the human spirit and blah blah blah djedouhferouwarghrl WHATEVER.

I believe those people are wrong.  Just like many things in life, art is judged on multiple axes.

NO NOT THOSE KIND OF AXES GOD DAMMIT INTERNET I’M TRYING TO BE SERIOUS

A piece of art can inspire immensely strong emotional reactions.  However, it’s entirely possible that those reactions are OH MY GOD WHAT THE HELL IS THIS.

I suppose it comes down to the role of the artist.  What does the artist do? The artist communicates with his/her/its/Uds public, and grants to them an inspiration relevant to the presence of the numinous in their lives.  Or so I’ve heard.  IN PSYCHOLOGICAL ENGLISH, the artist makes things that elicit an emotional response from their audience.

Now, an emotional response is different from a moral response.  When someone gets punched, it elicits an emotional response and a moral response.  Disconnects between these two are where we get the “I know I shouldn’t laugh but it’s hilarious” reaction.  Among other things.

Which means of course that you can judge everything morally.  Which is of course an entirely different discussion from whether or not you should, but still. 

Now there ARE people who DO judge everything morally.  We refer to these people as ‘uptight.’

Similarly, there are people who judge nothing morally.  We call these people ‘sociopaths.’

And THAT’S a brief rant on the subject of ART.

Coming up NEXT WEEK, a brief rant on the subject of THE POWER OF LANGUAGE.

But for now I leave you with a last piece of artwork to contemplate.

Farewell for now, INTERNETS.

HI INTERNETS.

Writing a blog post is an interesting task.

Sometimes it’s easy!  The easiest blog posts are the ones I pull straight from my academic work, from my course notes, scraps of writing that I flesh out, polish, and hurl straight into the gaping maw of the internet.

Sometimes, it’s not always easy, but it is fun.

These are the blog posts that I love, the reasons why I blog.  I start with a purpose, set out from a definite point, and explore an issue close to my heart.  I slog through argument structure and lay out points familiar to me, set up my case to make my points, often with the intention of communicating my eternal, crushing, pervasive, all-consuming optimism to all of my readers.  I get started on these posts and I don’t stop.  I go on for two, three, four, five, six pages, paragraph after paragraph, and only give in when I either reach my point or begin repeating myself.  Or both.

I won’t deny it.  A major reason I blog is that concept of a broadcast of optimism.  I think of things that give me hope and I fling them into the abyss of the internet, in the hopes that their passing will bring a flicker into the life of a person having a worse day than I.  I loan out my optimism to others, in the hopes that they can use it to start a small business.

…that metaphor got confused really fast.

My blog posts are more likely to wax ranting if I hear something that infuriates me.  Also, ‘wax ranting’ is not proper grammar.

In that way, I suppose, these posts are a kind of catharsis.  A post which, by the way, was inspired and directed by events in my life and flung out with a purpose and intention.  It’s rather a passive-aggressive method of influencing events in the world around me.  Maybe that’s the point of a blog, though: to have your voice be heard in places where it could not be sent directly, to ricochet your opinion into the cracks and crevices of life, a way to reach out to those you can’t reach otherwise.

Or at least, that’s what I think of it as.  Through the medium of the internet I can give some vague comfort to friends having a bad day (though it never seems like enough).  I can speak out against an injustice on a global scale, or a national scale, or against a problem that I heard of someone having.  Even if the end effect is nothing, it provides the seductive feeling of having done something.  And like an internet petition, I know at least part of that is illusion—that I haven’t done much except hit a button and send something empty through an imaginary space.  But the optimistic, dorky part of me hopes that a little bit of that zany affection I hold for my friends manages to leak into every post written with them in mind.

But I hope I’m a bit more articulate than an internet petition.  And in that fact I take solace and some justification, for here on my blog one can, at least in part, get to know me, to understand what I stand for and who I am, through a prism untainted by personal relations.   For relationships and friendships, like all expectations and frames and concepts and labels, can be entrapping in the most subtle of ways, can bend perception to what we expect.

And if my blog had a point, which it doesn’t, it might be based on that, and it might run something like this:

Don’t see what you expect. See what’s there. Don’t let anyone dictate to you who you are, but rather dictate to the world what mark you’ll leave upon it.

Don’t accept obstacles, destroy them.  And don’t let people, culture, money, time, or reality itself hold you back.

You are more than anyone can ever know.  There are depths to the human mind that are never brought to light, subtleties of emotion and thought that run deep and wide beneath consciousness like the unsounded darkness of the sea.  Few will be the people to whom you could confide all that you are and all that you have thought, and even should you meet them, would you ever wish to?

So be yourself, for only you are qualified to know who that is.  Others can only offer clues.  Pursue your good, your highest end, that toward which all things strive, and reach your highest potential, for that is always within your grasp.

Some of this may sound familiar.  That’s because I tend to repeat myself a lot, in varying ways, because these are things I think of often, and things I tell to the world quite frequently.  In particular, that concept of self-knowledge is one that is dear to me, one I turn over in the hours of slumber

Those are the most intimate moments, the small hours of the morning, when you lie in the silence and the dark with only your own mind and body pressing back against the night, and it is perhaps the closest sharing that can be made to spend that time beside another, each person’s thoughts directed toward a similar vein.

I wonder about that.  Know thyself is the order of the day, but can anyone? People say that it can be done.  Great martial artists and priests, monks and spiritual leaders.  Carl Jung, at the end.  Can such a thing be possible?  Or is it a continual process, as Jung argued of integration? Can you know yourself, and if you can, can that ever be imparted to another?  What a thing that would be, to be known.  I am not sure if it would be a blessing or a curse, for at this moment in my life I feel that I am not truly known.  Facets of me are seen by all, but never the whole.  And always in those around me with growing friendship I see a new side revealed, another glitter of the truth underneath, and always is it a surprise.  What would it be like, to know another so well? Montaigne writes of it, speaks of knowing another as well as himself, two souls joined in perfect harmony.

It’s such a strange thing, this wonderful riotous clamor of existence.  Music and light and touch and sound and a thousand thousand thoughts all roaring along, coursing through space, bursting from nothing at all.  Déjà vu and those odd moments of knowing so well a person you’ve just met moments before. Hearing a sentence spoken and knowing it will come true far along the road of your life. To think of the universe in its expansive glory gives me such an odd feeling of warmth mingled with immense loneliness.

Flickers in the water, imperfect reflections of the light below the surface.

But now I’m just rambling with no end nor purpose, and I shan’t inflict this on you any longer, internet.

But there’s another facet.

AVE, LECTOR.

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

Today we’re going to talk about dominating behavior.

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

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

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

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

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

For there are not merely two sides.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(1)

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

Not in this case.

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

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

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

Moving on.

(2)

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

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

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

(3)

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

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

(4)

Finally, we have volatility.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now I’m out of words to say.

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

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

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

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

Some Citations and Further Resources to Investigate On This Topic:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ave, lector!

I’m always excited in the morning because each day in college is like an inverse archeological dig.  Every action uncovers a little more of what my life will be like in the future.

And now that we’ve gotten THAT out of the way:

On the subject of PEOPLE.

People are interesting.

People are objects of remarkable depth.  Even if you’ve known a person for twenty years, there’s always a new conversation to have with one, always a unique statement to be made.

People are like onions.  Except instead of every layer making you want to cry, every layer you move past brings you closer to the truest self.

Unlike onions, however, people are infinite.  An onion eventually runs out of layers; a person is always entertaining.  Or at least more entertaining than an onion.

But a person’s ‘self’ is as fragile as it is expansive. A person once damaged may return to their life completely unharmed, or perhaps might never fully recover.  And even worse, and even less like onions, a person thus damaged could go on to damage others, and so on, sending slow ripples through the generations.

I personally choose to believe that all people are essentially good, and that each individual is unique and worthy of consideration as a unique entity, not as part of some sweeping generalization.

It makes life much better. I don’t have to bother about judging people all the time, I don’t need to pretend that anyone is particularly more likeable than anyone else, and it saves headaches and paranoia.

However, while I believe that all people are essentially good, unfortunately I rationally know that there are people who are not.  In fact, there are some people who just suck.

These people that just suck do not do so from malevolence.  They may be malevolent, but that is a result of something else, some cause or event deep in their past.  Evil does not arise of its own accord. Thus, these people should be dealt with for the good of society, but without forgetting that they are as human as any of us, and that their malevolence may even be curable.

SUBJECT CHANGE.

So last night I had an idea. I was helped into having this idea by someone else, but THAT STILL COUNTS.

The idea is this.

I, like many people, have an account on the popular social networking website called FACEBOOK.

For the next week [that is, until next Thursday] I will not log onto my FACEBOOK account. Instead, anything I have to say I will say in a blog post, which will be updated daily. People on FACEBOOK have been informed of this and are perfectly welcome to comment, providing that they do not mention my REAL NAME, which is classified.

Through this, hopefully, I will be able to see just how much artistic energy I am wasting on FACEBOOK. The answer should be frightening.  If it is not I will be disappointed.

That is all I have to say for now.  If I think of more I will write a new blog post. YAY blog posts.

Ave, lector. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Epo8WlSQ0mk

AUGH.

Next:

Favorite animal, category: Rainforest non-legged vertebrates: EYELASH VIPER.

It’s SO PRETTY.

This snake makes it to the top of that particular list for three reasons.

1.  It looks SO PRETTY.

2.  It is an active and enthusiastic predator, one that ‘practices’ its strikes and learns from its mistakes.

3.  It is venomous.

Together, these three characteristics add together into something wonderful that I would not mind having as a pet.

Next up on the sudden and unexpected list of THINGS I WOULD NOT MIND HAVING AS A PET, Karen Gillan! the Humboldt Squid!

D’awwwwwwwwwwwww.

Growing up to a wonderful ten feet long, these squid can be found in pretty much every ocean, eating the everlovin’ shit out of anything in their path.  They will attack fish, divers, boats, fishhooks, sharks, carrion, divers again, wounded humboldt squid, cameras, and anything else that is within tentacle-reach and looks even remotely edible (read: ANY PHYSICAL OBJECT).

I think they’re adorable.

In fact, if I could talk to animals, this would be the first creature that would come to mind as an ally.  No messing around with squirrels here–just lure your enemy into the nearest body of saline water and whistle for some of these sleek babies.  CALAMARI EATS YOU.  BAM. Problem solved, and ONCE AGAIN, THE DAY IS SAVED, THANKS TO THE POWERPUFF GIRLS  A PACK OF TERRIFYING CEPHALOPODS! 

So.

Literary assignment:

I read the short story (?) The Babylon Lottery recently for a class (that’s a Borges story, by the way), and I am assigned to write about it. So as a way of freeing up the creative powers of my mind, I will describe this story to you.

It’s actually a vaguely disturbing story.

It tells about a society in which CHANCE is embraced as the guiding tenet of all civilization, where the allegiances and obligations and fates of every man, woman, and child hang upon the results of a lottery that officially no longer exists.  The people have become so addicted to the randomness of their own fate that they have granted to the creators of the lottery ULTIMATE POLITICAL POWER.

It’s strange, and it entertains me, and I approve of it.

GEAR SHIFT.

I just finished an awesome book series.  They are unofficially called the Pendergast novels and I am amused/entertained by them.  This is important because I need to be amused/entertained by books, especially when I am reading things that are not at all amusing/entertaining as part of my college education.

Anyway, as someone fond of the Sherlock-style deduction stories and the violent-yet-chivalrous-gentleman stories, I approve of these books for anyone who is (a) over 15 (or more, depending on degrees of mental scarring) and (b) likes thrillers.

I must also salute the individual who recommended them, who shall remain nameless because EVERYONE REMAINS NAMELESS ON MY BLOG. Why? Because ALL PEOPLE ARE EQUAL.

But that’s a subject for another blog post.

FOR NOW,

I shall discuss something else.

What is it?

I don’t know.  I haven’t really thought of that myself.

I like psychology.

In fact, almost everything about psychology sounds interesting to me.  Studying people, learning how their minds work, learning what influences how they make life decisions, all of that sounds fascinating.

Why? Because people are cool.  And like all cool things, they’re even cooler when you know more about them.  When you can understand how they respond to all the varied vicissitudes of life.

Not to mention the fact that psychology is a humanizing science.  When you realize the infinite capacity of the mind to adapt and recreate itself to mitigate traumatic events, the myriad ways in which a single trauma can completely shatter a perfectly well-formed personality, then suddenly every form of abuse is an outrage, any form of antagonism repugnant.

Inversely, psychology can be a weapon.  In a hostage situation, in real life they don’t call a superhero–they call a negotiator, a psychologist, an analyst trained to follow the workings of the criminal mind.  In a confrontation–be it a game of spoons or an armed robbery–knowledge of how people think and decide can play a crucial role in survival, or in your chances of grabbing a spoon.

Helping people becomes much simpler once you know how the mind reacts to stress and what behaviors are helpful or healthy.  I don’t know for sure yet if I want to be a psychologist (although I am very close to deciding whether or not to go for a Ph.D), but I do know I will take at least one class on that subject in the next two semesters.

Also: Psychology is just plain cool.  To me, not much is cooler than being able to know just what to say to someone to make them feel completely at ease.  In films or fiction, simply shooting someone isn’t particularly impressive, but the moment in Silence of the Lambs where Hannibal Lecter literally convinces a man to kill himself is pretty ******* badass. [honorable mention in this category goes to book 10 of the “Pendergast novels.”]

In short: I like psychology.  Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to master it, and although that is a daunting prospect indeed I very much hope that I have the strength of character needed to carry it out. If not…well, I’ll burn cross that bridge when I come to it.

Notice something?

My writing became animated as I began to talk about psychology.  As time progressed it became apparent that this subject puts fire in my veins.  If you could see my face as I discuss it, you’d have the same impression.

So what makes you do that, lector?  What field of study puts a light in your eyes and a spring in your step?  What inflames you so that you could talk about it for hours, so that you would give your right arm to have the mastery of it?

Whatever it is, even if it is not what you are meant to do, it is at the very least a part of who you are trying to be, who you are, and it is something that you should listen to.

So examine that passion.  Scrutinize that art, that thought, that action that galvanizes you, that makes you burst with energy.  If you apply your thought to it, it will in time yield up its role in your future, and you will be freed to attack it with all your might.

And then, you will be INVINCIBLE.

So on that note, I will leave you to ponder.  What makes me end the post with this, I have no idea, but merely the vague and inscrutable feeling that this is meant to be the end of my speech to you.

So vale, lector, and best of wishes for the day that follows, for it is indeed true that in each day is the potential from which you can create your own joy.

Have a nice day.

–Tor

Fire:

Evil.

Lots of people have written about it.

According to some, it is a proof of the nonexistence of God, or at least of a god as we would conceive of him.

According to others, it is a manifestation of free will, an unavoidable side effect of being able to control our own destinies.

I myself have not had enough direct experience with evil to even begin to draw my own conclusions, but I can say with certainty that it exists, and debates as to its nature are at best academic.  I can only identify it by my own response.

When I see/hear/read of something evil or malevolent, there is a particular chilling sensation that sweeps through me, accompanied by an immediate desire for a physical action in response.  It may not be much of an action–a blink, a closing of the fist, a spoken response or a shift of the posture, but it is a reaction all the same.

My definition of ‘evil’ is fuzzy in this case.  It can be something truly ‘evil,’ or it can be something unjust or even just hurtful.  Whatever it is, if it sets off my hate-o-meter, I classify it as ‘not good’ in this instance and respond to it as such.

For example, this particular piece of footage sets the hate’O’meter a ‘tickin’.

http://www.rawstory.com/rawreplay/2011/09/wisc-state-police-drag-protesters-out-of-assembly-for-filming/#.TnIvBSGHRkw.facebook

Now, this is a nice gut reaction, but it is not infallible.  An obvious protest/example of fallibility might be whether or not that video was edited to show the actions in their worst possible light.  The hate’O’meter also goes off for movies, novels, stories that I hear secondhand…oh, and this…

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/22/republican-debate-dadt-repeal-rick-santorum_n_977105.html

…my point being:

Evil is present.  It may be quiescent, dormant, or even shrouded in seeming good, but it is a real part of the world.  People make bad choices, sometimes even good people, and when this happens there should be a response.

I am not advocating violence. 

The thought of injuring another human being who is not actively engaged in mutilating me or a family member or a  friend disgusts me.

[The thought of injuring a human being who is engaged in mutilating myself or another close individual is one I will discuss later]

In fact, I think our response to evil should (with a few exceptions I will also discuss later) be nearly the opposite.  Water quenches fire. We should respond to malevolence with its antithesis, counter inhumanity by becoming more humane still.

http://slatest.slate.com/posts/2011/09/22/lawrence_brewer_no_more_last_meal_for_texas_inmates_on_death_row.html

Case in point: the above link.  I believe this to be the wrong decision.  Do not mistake this for sympathy on the behalf of killers (although enough people have been executed on questionable evidence to make that a viable concern).  But I think that the last meal is not, necessarily, a gesture of sympathy.

It is a kindness.  A simple, stupid, pointless human kindness, providing one last celebration to mark the close of a life.  For however that life was lived, however poorly the paths were chosen, it was still a human life, and by granting that little kindness we, in a sense, acknowledge their humanity.

We could not do otherwise–should not do otherwise, for to do so is to reduce the vast system of our society to the same level as the killer, a machine calmly and coldly and inexorably carrying out the murder of a single human being.  By this idiotic little gesture, this last humane act, we assert that we do this not for justice, but for mankind, ending one life so that more might be spared.

Evil is not the problem.

What troubles me is that when evil surfaces, men turn readily to evil as a solution.  We call it kidnapping when one human holds another against their will, yet perform the same act upon the kidnappers who fail.  We condemn murder, the murder of many even more so, and yet calmly execute one individual after another in a long list of slow punishments for crimes long past.

I do not have a solution to this.  Perhaps no one ever will.

Or perhaps, just maybe…

Perhaps one day in the future psychology will provide us with an answer.  Perhaps psychiatry may enable us to truly reform criminals, to help them work through their anger and their actions and their guilt and give them a place among mankind.   Perhaps neuroscience will grant us the means to help a sociopath understand the meaning of happiness and melancholy and all the wonderful emotions we experience.  Perhaps wisdom will grant us the strength to look at our laws and our customs in a new light, to embrace humanity and to usher in kindness.

For, in the end, the greatest weapon in our arsenal is simple empathy.  Kindness and understanding.

Fury: 

Anger is a powerful force.  Righteous anger, whether justified or not, is still more so.

When I think of what angers me, I picture injustice, or hasty condemnation, or overzealous judgement, or the harm of another living creature, or even just the sheer, cruel randomness of fate.

At these moments I would not mind being my namesake.

To be able to move from place to place as swift as thought and place myself before the victim.

I am not my namesake, however.  And on weekdays I exist only in one place at a time.

And moreover, I am not yet familiar with my own mind.  I do not fully know its limits, nor how it would respond to the aftermath of a moment of urgency.

I know how my mind would behave in these moments, for I have had them, albeit not in a life-threatening context–and my mind works exactly the same, save that under every thought there lie two considerations:

Thinking takes too much time. 

AND

Why am I not more upset by this?

I can then say that in a ‘moment of truth’ I am reasonably confident my mind would remain clear.

I am not sure what would happen afterward, if I actually was forced to bring violence against another creature, even to defend another.

So all I can say is that I hope it doesn’t happen.

For the sake of my own mind.

For the sake of others.

And for the sake of the dry-cleaning bill which I do NOT have money for.

And:

NATURE PHOTOGRAPHY

http://immortal-sun.deviantart.com/

THAT.

IS.

ALL.

Hi Internet! It’s been a while. How are you? Coming along well? Good.

Since last we met, I’ve done something interesting. I’ve gone to college. WHOA.  Yeah. Exactly.

Yep, I am now a Freshperson on the proud campus of a liberal arts college, rubbing elbows with all kinds of liberal, artsy people, eating cafeteria food and getting very excited about sitting in classes for several hours per day.

Now, one of my classes has been given a book. This book is very special. It is the Essays, by Montaigne.

If you’re not familiar with Montaigne, here’s the Cliff Notes off-the-top-of-my-head version:

In, around, or near 1570, this french guy named Montaigne essentially locked himself away in a corner of his mansion somewhere near Bordeaux. He spent pretty much the rest of his life writing short, stream-of-consciousness pieces of literature on whatever the hell he felt like writing about.
He called these pieces essais, from the French word meaning to try or to attempt.  Yes, that’s right, Montaigne invented the essay.

Put the pitchforks down. 

Chill the **** out.

Montaigne didn’t invent the boring essay.  He wrote about everything that came into his head–and, seeing as he was a learned Renaissance man, that was quite an expansive subject.  He wrote about thought, about sensations and feelings and perceptions, and while his countrymen were off killing each other quite violently he pioneered the field of subjective literature.  If you haven’t read his Essays, you really should.

No, seriously.

http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/montaigne/m-essays_contents.html

There they are.  Read a few.  Or read them all, if you have a week or so.

WHEN YOU’VE DONE WITH THAT:

So here’s what’s up.

I like Montaigne.

I like what he did.

And his writing had a dramatic effect on his mind.  He became more perceptive, better able to focus, more sensitive, and developed a preternatural gift for translating thought and emotion into language.   He was able to stay in the moment–to simply be where he was, something that even the most advanced of Zen students sometimes struggle for.

This is not unfamiliar to me.

In fact (YOU KNEW IT WAS COMING) it reminds me of Jung.

In 1914, Jung began to experience bizarre visions.  Disturbing dreams.  A cloud of cosmic ice descended and froze all the land, killing every living thing, a dream he experienced in April, May, and June of that year.  In the final appearance of the dream, a leafless tree remained after the frost, laden with berries, and Jung provided these grapes to a waiting crowd.

August 1, and the first World War broke out. Jung took it as his mission to document these dreams and provide the record to the world–but he wrote down not only his fantasies.  He wrote down images, thoughts, emotions, everything that came into his head, in a sweeping, grandiose style that grated on his sensibilities and yet flowed from his unconscious.

And when Jung opened himself up to the gates of his thought, his soul responded.  He, too, came to learn/develop/experience this mysterious wonder of being wholly absorbed in the moment, able to see people as they are without judgement or clouded thought–the philosopher’s gift.

I’ve been inspired by this, I’ll admit.  Montaigne has joined my long list of people over whom I am effusive in praising, sitting in my personal hall of fame along with Jung, Jacques Cousteau, Alexandre Dumas, John Hodgeman, H.P. Lovecraft, Shakira, and many more.

So.

I’m restarting.

Consider this a re-beginning of the blog. A reimagining, if you will.  Because here is what I will do. Every day, at 4:30 Central American time, I will sit down at my gleaming, sexy Toshiba laptop, turn on the instrumental music (Bach’s Toccata And Fugue in D Minor, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, selections from Two Steps From Hell, various Irish folk songs), and write.

I have a timer. It’s bright red, and it’s set for 35 minutes.
Each day, I will sit down, roll up my sleeves, hit ‘play,’ and whap that START/STOP button. And I will write for 35 minutes. About anything. About everything.  Probably at least once about nothing at all.

When I’ve done writing this, I will then put an emphatic period, sign it with –TOR, and hit “Publish.”

I will not edit it.  I will not consider. I will not permit myself to alter anything other than the sentence I am typing at any given moment. You will be direct recipients of my stream of thought.  Within a few days I will have no more readers.  These two are not unrelated.

I also will no longer be able to guarantee the parental safety of a blog post. Because, frankly, what’s in my head is not always pretty.   But I will do my best to keep obscenity at bay because, frankly, I don’t like it.  I’ve never liked profanity.  It just strikes me as boring.  It serves exactly one purpose: to make me feel better when I stub my toe.

In fact, from this point on I will be doing my utmost to avoid the use of any obscenity at all, aside from perhaps ‘crap,’ ‘shit,’ and ‘ass,’ because, frankly, if you don’t know those words, you shouldn’t be on the internet.  Go ask mommy what they mean.  Also keep an eye out for ‘bugger,’ ‘nifty,’ and our special triple-points word of the month, ‘pretentious.’

I’ve been called pretentious before.  My immediate response is amusement and pleasure.  However, after some consideration I have to take issue with this.

How, exactly, am I pretentious? I don’t ‘pretend’ to be anything.  I may be flamboyant, enthusiastic, and downright nerdy, but really, I strive to be myself.  There really is no one else I’d rather be, except perhaps for a gentleman from Gallifrey.  But that’s true for a lot of people.  And that’s why I have a trenchcoat.

Perhaps it’s sarcasm.  I use so much of it, I can see how it would be hard to separate the bullshit from the truth upon an initial meeting. But rest assured, if I tell you that I am the coolest person ever, it’s meant to be intensely sarcastic.  In point of fact, I do not believe I am the best person ever.  That award has not yet been given, but I am pretty sure it will go to Bono.

Speaking of Irish music, I just went on an Itunes binge. You know, when you get a gift card and suddenly buy everything you’ve ever wanted? Well, I went out and I bought a whole bunch of Irish folk rock.  Which, I’ve decided, is my favorite genre. Ever.

…I think I want to form an Irish folk rock band, or at least a rock band with a fiddle player/violist.

That would be easy, because I’ve met a lot of violists since I got to college. You can’t throw a rock without hitting one here. And then they’ll get all huffy and go on about how they deserve special treatment just because they have their own clef.

That’s the fifteenth time I’ve used that joke since August 22nd, and it’s probably still funny to someone. Not to me, though. It’ll be taking a break for a while.

Which reminds me: How am I supposed to respond when someone says they like my glasses? I mean, my glasses are cool, I’ll agree, but I hardly know how to segue a conversation out of that.  If I’m really lucky the other person will be wearing glasses too. Then I can say where I got mine and ask them how they got theirs, and BAM, conversation! If not, I’ll just have to make some witty comment and make the first conversational move.

It’s not my favorite thing, starting a conversation. BUT EVERYONE IS SO GODDAM SHY AROUND HERE.

I’m not sure if they’re shy or polite, in retrospect.

But seriously. GAHHHHHH

I’ve been spending hours at the dining hall.  A la Spain, I go to dinner, grab some food, sit with someone, and talk and eat for a while.  They leave, I get more food, and I repeat the process. In this way, when dinner ends, I’ve been talking nonstop for about an hour and a half, two hours if I’m lucky, arguing, joking, and just generally enjoying a conversation.

I’ve been conversation-starved for years. Orange County really is a social wasteland. I can’t believe I even survived there, and I pray for my family back home.

19 seconds left.

Um.

I’d like to thank the Academy?
Or Montaigne?
MORE TOMORROW CAPS LOCK FOR SPEED