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Tag Archives: Rambling

Truth is a funny thing to think about, isn’t it?  The idea that something can be True forever? Something about the concept of Forever is disquieting, or majestic, or both. Contemplating the idea of an infinity is like standing at the foot of a mountain and looking up–or like standing at the top and looking down.

It’s a mathematical truism that infinity comes in different sizes. This can seem silly or unnecessarily complicated but really…didn’t we already know that? After all, it’s true for time; there are different lengths of eternity which we navigate from day to day.

And yet, despite this, we don’t think about eternity much in the modern day. Eternity, and eternal Truths, seem to have gone out of vogue. Everything is rapidly changing; politics, fashion, the environment, society, math, biology, technology. We harnessed coal and steam and changed the face of the world, but coal and steam did not last forever. We created nations and kingdoms and armies, but those don’t endure. The borders are constantly redrawn. We thought we understood biology–of humans, and of animals–but often enough to be alarming, what we thought we knew about medicine in 2010 turns out to be exactly the opposite.

And, of course, there’s no room for eternity in daily life. When you spend 16 hours awake and 8 of them working, that only leaves 8 hours for everything else; 2 hours to see family and friends, 2 hours to eat, 1 hour to take care of yourself, 1 hour to exercise…that leaves 2 hours for everything else.

The “onward march of progress” has included, among other things, the slow and inexorable hunt and extermination of infinities. Some eternities remain–mostly in pseudo-religious contexts, things that were once sacred and spiritual which have now been secularized. Ceremonies. Holiday celebrations. Communal gatherings. Other eternities survive in the recesses of personal life. Lovers’ trysts. Family gatherings. Deep conversations that start at 2 in the morning and seem to last forever.

The age of eternal truths has ended as well. At the risk of sounding dramatic, postmodern thought has killed Truth. This is not necessarily a bad thing: many empires were founded upon Truth, and the collars of many prisoners were shackled at its altar. But it remains that there are few True things we can attest to.

In the past one might have said “Well, I know very little about the world, but I know I am a Man, and that tells me what I must do!” We’ve since explored more fully what we assume “A Man” to be, and found it not to our liking. As a matter of fact, many of us kill ourselves trying to fit into that definition. So we reject it as Truth and accept it as a guideline–something to steer by, occasionally. But we take no Truth to replace it. We have overthrown the definition which imprisons us, without bothering to find out what it is we should use in its place.

I don’t mean this to sound like an indictment of feminism. Far from it; the feminist movement has been immensely enriching to the lives of all people (yes, including men). But feminism and critical identity theory and postmodern thought have done their work with the enthusiasm of termites, undermining the structures which oppress the population, and leaving very little accessible to us. What remains is a kind of desolation. What values can we embrace, when we know that the ones we grew up with are problematic? How can we anchor ourselves in the world when the words and ways we interact with it are linked so closely to old violence?

There must (I hope) come a response. The purpose of religious ritual is to put us in touch with Eternity: to remind us of our place in the cosmos, and allow us to take part and take pride in the World. The purpose of Truth is to equip us to understand falsehood; as Chesterton said:

“It is ludicrous to suppose that the more sceptical we are the more we see good in everything. It is clear that the more we are certain what good is, the more we shall see good in everything.”

I think that we have really, as a culture, still not fully recovered from postmodernism. It passed over us like a fever; in its wake it left a great many systems cleaner and clearer, and we are closer to good health…but we’re still shaken and scatterbrained in its wake.

G.K. Chesterton writes his book Heretics on this subject. Gilbert is a journalist, a splendid and punchy writer of editorials, and Heretics is, in short, an editorial review of the 20th-century’s Western social and intellectual traditions. Chesterton finds his Truth–his Eternity–in his Christian faith, something we seem to be moving away from, as a species. I ask then, of the West; with what Truth are we to replace it? Skepticism has torn down many dogmas and pointed out that many powerful men have used them to deceive and beguile us. But in the process they pulled down Truth and Eternity with them, and now we have to start over in figuring out where to go, as individuals, and as a species.

That’s the bad news. The good news is, when everything is meaningless, there’s no bad place to start finding meaning. Find eternity in art. In cleaning or building. In coloring. In conversation. Find Truth in laughter, in good company, in helping your friends. Find meaning in everything; especially in the things that mean something to you.

 

I’m a writer–I think.

I like writing…

…I think.

The problem with writing is that it is an attempt to translate the infinite into the finite. This is a source of endless frustration. I have worlds upon worlds in my head, enough material for an endless number of television series (including all the relevant information for casting, costume, set design, combat choreography, soundtrack, photography, storyboarding, and beat-by-beat scene direction).

I know more than one thing about anthropology. And about philosophy. That sounds silly to say–there are not many fields in the world which we can say we know only one thing about. (Hermeneutics might be one of them: all I know about hermeneutics is that Heidegger critiqued it)(that was a joke. I know more than one thing about hermeneutics).

In fact, I know multiple things about anthropology, to the point where it would take more than twelve pages to write all those things down in their simplest possible form. For any given thing that there is, I can say more things about it than I have room for–and I have an infinite number of ways to say it, ways to attack it, ways to think about the problem.

That’s the infinite.

But I don’t have nine hours to spend typing out an exhaustive, nuanced exploration of every political issue on my facebook wall. No one wants to stand around for a week and listen to a 40-hour lecture on comparative religion in response to the question “So why is Princess Mononoke your favorite Miyazaki movie?” And no one will buy my novel if it is an eighteen-part epic that’s thicker than a human thigh. I’m not Alexandre Dumas, and my novel isn’t The Count of Monte Christo. 

My blog post has to be small enough that you’ll read it all without losing interest (it’s gonna be touch and go, here). My novel has to have a number of pages such that it is ecologically viable to print more than one copy. I can’t go around quoting the entirety of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics every time I want to talk about why it’s hard to do the right thing.

That’s the finite.

I have to take this: (please here imagine a Doctor Strange-style expanding wall montage where I make some grandiose gesture and reveal that we are standing in a massive chamber of knowledge which makes the Library of Alexandria look like a rural-Montana Bookmobile from the 1960s), and fit it into this (please now imagine me holding up a piece of paper approximately large enough for two thousand words, single-spaced 12 point).

How does it fit? Well, quite simply…it doesn’t. It never all makes it onto the page. I never fully say what I mean. You never get all of it. No one gets all of it, in fact, not even me, because eventually I have to eat, or sleep, or do my accounting, and then I can’t keep on thinking about this.

That’s immensely discouraging for me. I pretty regularly have a crisis wherein I wonder “what’s the point of the whole thing?” I can’t even fully articulate my own opinion of Starbucks–how the hell am I supposed to put something as big and nasty and complicated as a novel into the world?  And so, logically, I stop. There’s no point in communicating halfway, I think. No reason to engage with politics. Fruitless to write for any reason other than my own enjoyment.

I spend a few weeks like this, maybe a month or two at the most, before I think to myself: “You know…I can’t get it all out there…but I can get pretty close. And anyway…isn’t that the fun of writing? The ability to, in another man’s better words, fit a universe into a grain of sand? To gesture to the infinities present in everything?

And then, I suck it up, grab a keyboard, and start to write again.

So hi, again.

I’m a writer.

I like writing.

I am not sure why the term “fellow traveler” came to mind when I was writing this post. I think, in my head, it had a much different emotional undertone than its actual historical context suggests. Despite its name, this will not be a post about the legacy of communism in the late 1940s, nor about the Russian intellectual movement following the revolution of 1917 (sorry, Helen).

Rather, this blog post is about a particular kind of emotional connection that I have begun to notice as having a pattern. This blog post is about the moment when you connect with someone you recognize as one of your “tribe.”  Not just when someone recognizes the obscure T-shirt you’re wearing, or when your TV-show ringtone turns someone’s head–but when you exchange a few words with someone and find that, somehow, you understand them, and they understand you.

An example of this is an interaction I had at work the other day (side note: “The Other Day” is another of my favorite expressions, a verbal [citation challenge] which nods to humans’ nonlinear, irregular perception of the passage of time–but I’ll write another post about that later). AS I WAS SAYING:

At the place I work, we are required to wear aprons (huge denim aprons which either look awful or adorable depending on whether or not you ask my girlfriend) and nametags. My name tag says my name, which is one of the most common names in the Western world (Michel, Miguel, Micky, Michael, Michelle, Mike, Mikael, Michal, Michele, etc.). I am ringing out a woman’s purchases when a man comes up, looks at my name tag, and addresses me.

“It means God-Like,” he says, “You know. The name Michael.”

I know what he means immediately. The conventional etymology of the name Michael is, originally, a question, posed by an angel to a devil: “Who is like God?” What the man is doing is interpreting the name without a question mark–a little conceit which I am sure many Michels have indulged over the years–changing the meaning from “Who is like God?” to: “[subject] who is like God.”

I smile, and I reply “Yes. Quis ut deus, in the Latin, meaning “who is like God?” It’s in the Bible.”

He points at me, and smiles back, and in that moment we understand a great many things about each other, all at once, with no words spoken. And then he leaves.

I see this happen a great deal with elderly women. They pass each other by, pause, and smile at one another. What are they thinking? I have no idea. I am not an old woman, and it’s highly unlikely that I will ever be one. I also see it with nerds. And I’m not just talking people who watched Game Of Thrones. It’s the moment that happens when you ask someone “Who’s your favorite character?” and they reply with the correct answer: “Arya Stark.” You smile at one another. Perhaps you exchange words but it’s not the words that are important–its the moment when you understand that here is a person whose values align with yours. Here is a validation of your beliefs, in front of you, in the flesh.

It’s akin to the feeling when you see a familiar face in a crowd of strangers, or find a friendly gesture amid hostility (or even amid indifference). The feeling when you make a connection that you could not have anticipated, but which touches some deep chord, and shakes you to the core.

What is it that makes this moment so powerful? It doesn’t just apply to interpersonal connections. I have had moments like this with a song. Or a physical object. Or an animal. A moment of discovery. A small-scale miracle. We discover outside, in the world, something which we had previously assumed existed only in our heart–a piece of soul–and we say, I know you. I have met you before. (TITLE DROP) We are fellow travelers, you and I. The same feeling is present, according to archetypal psychology, in an Anima-figure dream–a dream wherein we meet a mysterious individual (usually a young woman but not necessarily) with whom we connect, and converse, and are haunted after waking by the idea that we know their face…from somewhere. 

And like everything strange, everything mystical, everything in the world that I can’t quite explain, I find myself asking the same question:

What does it mean?

That’s all for now, readers.

Today’s SPAZZY subject,

RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE

What is religion?

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

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

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

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

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

So what is religious intolerance?

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

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

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

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

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

“Thou shalt not kill.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do we think this is problematic?

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

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

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

So how can systems of morality be wrong?

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

HOLY SH*T.

THAT’S A HUGE WORD.

SLOW DOWN.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

SUDDENLY, ARISTOTLE.

Sup.

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

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

SPEAKING OF MAKING HORRIBLE MISTAKES,

RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE IS A THING.

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

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

Is your condemnation done for their sake?

Do you think of them and their feelings?

If not…maybe you should.

Because all people are people too.

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

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.

OH MY GOD

INTERNET

DUDE

BRO

DUDE

BRO

DUDE.

MUSE’S NEW ALBUM CAME OUT.

IT’S AWESOME.

I WAS GOING TO WAIT UNTIL FRIDAY TO POST AGAIN

BUT MUSE HAPPENED AND THEY WERE AWESOME.

Well, parts of it are awesome.

Muse is always a mixed bag for me.  I mean I love everything they do in a really sappy way.  But some songs of theirs just don’t stick in my head—I honestly forget they exist.

But there is a very specific subset of Muse’s songs (and it’s a constantly changing pool) that speak straight to me.  Which songs they are change from day to day, but there is never not at least one Muse song that resonates with me on any given day.  And thinking about this gave me an idea.

I use music in a way that…well, I don’t know if it’s unusual or not because I don’t really know how people normally use music.  But to me music is more than just something pretty to listen to.

I mean, it is that.  Obviously.  I listen to music offhandedly, casually, absently, and when I’m doing homework.  I listen to music when I’m cleaning, or when I’m writing, or when I’m relaxing.  Whatever I’m doing, ideally, there is music involved, except for two very specific fields which I won’t go into here.

But I listen to music for its own sake.  Music is my mantle, my shield, my healing salve.  I surround myself with music and draw strength from it.   On a stressful day, I hammer on a piano until my fingers burn, crank up my stereo and sing until I start coughing.  I recharge with music like a battery charges off electricity—if I can play a piano before a trying event, I go into it at 210% emotional capacity.

I put great personal significance into my music.  Now, of course, sometimes a song is just a song, and I’m aware that to the rest of the world the songs that resound into the deepest depths of my soul are just songs unless I point out otherwise.  So when a song means a lot to me and I want someone else to know that it does, I say so.

But what do I mean by ‘great personal significance?’

Well.

I’ve been known to say things with music that I can’t otherwise.  Instead of an entire email full of MASSIVE FEELINGS I’ll just send a Youtube video and call it a day.

I always have a theme, a song that follows me through the day, something I sing under my breath walking to class, sitting alone, between songs.  When I’m frustrated, I shout along with Ok Go’s ‘Get Over It’ or wail to Muse’s ‘Hyper Music.’  When I’m angry, as in furious, and deliberate malice is boiling over in an undesirable fashion, I sing (don’t laugh) an Appalachian folk dirge titled ‘O Death.’  Supernatural fans might recognize it.

When I’m happy, out comes Imagine Dragons with ‘I’m On Top Of The World,’ or Frank Sinatra with ‘I’ve Got The World On A String,’ or (dependent on context) Katy Perry’s ‘Hummingbird Heartbeat’ or ‘Firework.’

And then there’s the songs that I really love.  Songs that put into words something that I always feel and can never express, songs that let me telegraph myself to the world, songs that I always sing, hum, or finger-tap along with.

Songs such as the one I’ve just discovered on Muse’s new album 2nd Law: Specifically, ‘Follow Me.’

That song.

Now, obviously, it’s just a song to y’all.  And it’s in the context of ‘just a song’ that I’ve posted it on various websites to various friends—because when I want to post a song meaningfully I usually do it in a one-on-one context.  And it’s pretty damn unambiguous if I do say so myself.

But it’s more than a song to me.  And feel free to laugh at how intense I get, because I’m laughing at it now and I’m writing it, but that song.  THAT SONG.

When I sing ‘Follow Me,’ what comes out is just my voice, but what goes into it is how much I care for my friends and family.  What comes out is just a slightly hoarse twenty-something’s untrained singing, but what goes in is every moment of frustrated compassion when someone’s having a bad day and I can’t do anything.  And when I hurl all of that into the song, it comes back as I listen, and the result is a song that gets me very emotional.  As in I shivered the first few times I listened to it.

For me, when a song is ‘my jam,’ it’s not just music that I like to listen to.  It’s armor.  It’s medicine.  It’s an implement in my arsenal, something I carry around and break out when it’s needed.  I will sing, hum, or tap out the appropriate song before going into a test, before going into a deep conversation, or as I prance about having a wonderful day (and as people who know me can attest, I do literally prance when I am having a wonderful day, which is most of the time).

The only thing music is not (for me), not yet at any rate, is a weapon.  And I’m sort of fine with that, but only sort of, and I’ll explain why I feel this way.  On the one hand, I am not a violent person.  I am [HAH] soft-spoken and polite, I feel bad when I make people feel bad, I try to be nice and polite to everyone.  My first reaction to bad events is to offer support to everyone around me.  I like that music has no offensive aspect, that when I play piano it most often has a nurturing, uplifting effect (if I can be so pretentious as to assume that my shitty piano playing is uplifting).

However, if you hurt my friends I WILL END YOU.  That is my one berserk button and it is not pressed often, which is to say it’s been pressed approximately four times in my life.  And it does frustrate me at these moments that music, my shield and my go-to method of offering people support, cannot also be a sword.  And it’s from that frustration, in part, that I get my driving interest in rhetoric, in the skill of speechcraft, in the psychology of how to use a word to draw blood.

That got intense.  Ahem.

So for me music is more than notes on a page, more than sounds in my ears.  For me, the crazy chords of Muse, the profoundly cheerful Katy Perry and the thunder of the Moonlight and Tempest sonatas echo the zany up-and-down of my emotions, the moments when I’m ridiculously happy—when I want to radiate cheer to the world and remind everyone what a special snowflake they are.  The times when I’m loopy and flamboyant and go to class wearing a cape just because.  And the times when I’m gripped by an emotion that shakes the edges of my vision, positive or negative, when I want to flip a table for joy or for anger.

Which leads me to wonder.

What is music for you?

How do you listen to music?

Do you use music for a purpose? If so, what?

What is it that resonates with you? Is it music? Poetry? Pottery? Painting? Writing? Dance? Martial arts?

How do you deal with life?

And finally—

Are you aware of how awesome you all are?

Toodles, internet!

There is a school of linguistic anthropology that holds that culture is a meditative means by which man interacts with his environment.

Now, if you’re like me, you may have no idea what just happened the first time you read that. Well, actually, that’s not true, I read it the first time and I was like “THIS MAKES PERFECT SENSE,” but I’m weird and slightly creepy and don’t sleep when normal people do.

What does this idea mean, really?

Well, it means just this:

Culture is a tool.

No, I don’t mean like sleeveless-shirt backwards-baseball-cap, I mean like hammer or chisel.  We use tools to get things done.  We use a hammer to get nails into a wall.

The example given in my ANTH textbook was (approximately) similar to this:

When you want someone to leave the room, you can physically make them leave the room.  This is an unmediated action. You are pitting yourself directly against the world.

ALTERNATIVELY, you can use a tool.  A hammer, a pumpkin pie, an AK-47…or words.

In this school of thought, words are a way in which we sculpt reality.  With a series of words, we can cause others to do our bidding…with certain restrictions.

I like this view because it’s cool.

Language is a powerful thing. We know this already.  Or at least you know this if you’ve followed my blog for more than a month, because I say this approximately every other post.

Words have immense power.  They structure and define, and hint at the underlying assumptions of our civilizations.

Let’s look at discourse.

Discourse is an interesting word.  It’s a word for argument, but it’s not commonly used.

Why not? Well, how do we conceive of an argument?

BRIEF GOOGLE SEARCH:

“In logic and philosophy, an argument is an attempt to persuade someone of something,” (Wikipedia)

“An oral disagreement; verbal opposition; contention; altercation: a violent argument.” (Dictionary.com)

“a : a reason given in proof or rebuttal b : discourse intended to persuade. 3. a : the act or process of arguing.” (Merriam-Webster.com)

So an argument is something we try to do to someone.  And they resist.  They retort, rebut, riposte, respond to, or shoot down our arguments.  They hit us in our weak points, and we abandon indefensible positions.  Finally, there is a winner, the other side’s arguments finally crushed, unless they refuse to surrender and flee the field.

This sounds like war.

Why do we not use discourse more often?

Because when we argue, more often than not we don’t have much of a discourse, which is a two-way discussion.  Usually, in modern Western society, when we debate or argue, we do so with one intention: to win.

This is not how it is everywhere.

In the Socratic dialogues we see Socrates arguing (discoursing) with people not to win, but to explore different ideas, playing around with points of view like a nerd building Minecraft castles.  In the Essaís we see Montaigne deconstruct both sides of an argument and put them back together to get a look at the person writing about them.   In Tao, yin and yang exist in a state of back-and-forth, eternally balanced, light never canceling out dark.

There are psychotherapists who believe that their patients should not be diagnosed in certain cases, for fear that it will come to harm their self-image—indeed, it is said that there are certain psychopathologies who should not be apprised of their symptoms, for once they are aware of it they will become obsessed with cataloguing each instance of its existence in an endless (and ultimately self-destructive) quest for self-perfection.

Why?

Because this is how we define ourselves. We come to grips with our world through the lens of language.  Take a moment of silence.  Listen to the chatter in your head.  What language is it in? Because it’s in a language, isn’t it, that clockwork frontal-lobe buzzing that only really goes away during sleep or exercise or meditation or *certain other activities*?   That ‘monkey mind,’ as it’s sometimes called, the ever-curious, ever-running internal dialogue?

Is it in English? Is it in English now, now that you’ve been reading my words? Was it in another language before? Does it switch?

Anyway, back to language.

How do we affect other people with language?

To start with, we use language to construct ourselves.

From the very first instant of contact, we relate to other people within a framework.  Potential partner/uninterested.  Stranger/friend.  Student/teacher. N00b/133t. Employee/customer.

Before we even open our mouth to speak, we have already calculated, catalogued, and calibrated to the conversation, without really needing to think about it.  We speak in a higher pitch, perform a quick code switch (change language/dialect), formalize our speech, choose our words differently.

Before we even speak, we are in turn analyzed and judged, and the other calculates how to respond—again without conscious input.  Every word we speak from that very first then affects their response, like the AI in Dragon Age: Origins, and with our words and actions we build the world’s perception of ourselves.  People have different views of us depending on our actions in their presence—and so we have many different faces, intentionally or not.  They may all correspond—may all be incredibly similar or even virtually identical—but they are still subtly different.

This is an effect apparent in the first few weeks of freshman year in college.  Many people reinvent themselves, alter their speech patterns, and present a new face to the world—so much so that quite interesting conversations can arise if college friends ever meet high school friends, to say nothing of parents!  These freshpeople strive to create a better social image, to influence others with their words to gain standing, to gain acceptance, to gain booze, and to gain *other things*.

Every word we say and every thing we do builds this image.  And if we want to keep our positive image and abolish our negative ones, we put constraints on our own actions, do things only in line with the character people perceive us to be.

Now, this all sounds very manipulative, as though we were all secretly plotting and scheming against one another.

But it’s not an act of manipulation.  Rather, it’s a dance—a dance we all perform with incredible grace, with the goal of protecting our friends and harming our enemies.  A dance performed not only with the outside world but with ourselves—through language we insulate ourselves, we justify our actions and protect ourselves from our own harsher judgments.  Through language we build ourselves up, build our worldview around us like a fortress.

And through language we can be torn apart.  The right words can disintegrate our world more effectively than an atomic bomb, for while a physical attack can damage the body, words can shift and alter the very nature of your personality, how you see the world, how you act.

By the way.  We make a sharp differentiation between body and mind in our language, in our culture.  But if you look at ancient Greek texts, you can find a much more holistic worldview, ideas that point to the mind as part and parcel of the body, a single unified whole working in harmony.

So what is the power of words?

Immense.

So much so that a strategy often used in therapy is what could be described as a simple code switch—changing the way you speak and think.

Try it.

Keep an eye on your thoughts.  Listen to what runs through your head.  Is it optimistic? Pessimistic? Would you like it to be different?

Then, when life hurls you a curveball, don’t panic.  Don’t flip a table.  Well, actually, do, because it’s great fun, but don’t do it immediately.

Instead, structure your words.  Say to yourself, “I’ve got this.”  Take a deep breath.  Think positively.  Think about all the things you can control, all the things you can change in your life.  It’s quite a lot, isn’t it? More than you might think, perhaps.

Language is powerful.

If you know how to use it, both within yourself and in the outside world, it can help you overcome anything.  It can help you make yourself into the person you want to be.

And it can make your Monday just a bit better.

So as you read this blog post, take a moment.  Think about how you think.  Listen to what you say.  How does your idiolect—your personal language—affect who you are? How does it reflect who you are?

Most importantly…

ISN’T THIS COOL?

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!

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.