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Tag Archives: This really rustles my jimmies

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.

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ALL-PURPOSE* BROADSIDE: Or, HOW ALL HATE SPEECH IS THE SAME.

Dear [person #1].

You are hereby being served notice of the unconstructive nature of your discourse.  What that means in English is that YOU’RE NOT HELPING.  The vitriolic enthusiasm with which you attack [entity] is NOT going to help in fixing [problem].

You are a [self-identification].  You are not alone; there are many who share your belief, who also are [ideological group].  You have a view of the way the world should be, and it is seemingly incomprehensible to you to suggest that another rational being would ever think differently.

But here’s the thing.

If you have a complete, ironclad view of the way the world should work, that dictates what each person needs to have a flourishing and happy life, YOU’RE WRONG.

Because there are BILLIONS of people on [planet].   You are only one of many, the crossroads of unique individual and unique circumstance.

To presume to condemn [ideological group] as a whole based upon your own individual thoughts and desires is WRONG.  Induction: You are failing at it.

There are [quantity greater than zero #1] of individuals who are also [title of member of ideological group].  They live perfectly happy lives, because they function in a way entirely different from you, because there is a very definite degree to which, thanks to culture and individuality, we are not all ‘basically the same.’  Different things are fulfilling to different people, and if you fail to respect that, you are being just as intolerant as the [ideological group] you claim to condemn.

Yes, [ideological group] has its flaws, and like any human organization other than In-N-Out Burger, they are many.  They can be fixed.  And, more fundamentally, [ideological group] is made up of PEOPLE.   People can change, and we tend to believe that people have certain RIGHTS, such as the right to a certain degree of SELF-DETERMINATION.

[ideological group] DOES NOT EXIST FOR THE SOLE PURPOSE OF DESTROYING ALL THAT IS GOOD ON THIS EARTH.  And to suggest that all those who participate in [ideological group] are ignorant, hateful, brainwashed, or better off dead is abhorrent.

Finally, and in closing, CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING.

DON’T MAKE GENERALIZATIONS WHEN YOU SPEAK OF HATE.  Do you know what that leads to? That leads to GENOCIDE AND ANGUISH.  I am not exaggerating.  When you hate blindly, you are blinded.

You are BETTER THAN THIS.  I know this for certain, because you are A HUMAN BEING, and human beings are ALWAYS capable of allowing one another to live peacefully.

You live your life, that’s fine. But don’t assume that the only way to live is YOUR way.   It is HARD to be tolerant—I know.  It’s HARD to let people self-determine, hard to take the SLOW way.  But to fight hate with hate, to condemn all who support [ideological group] alike, to make enemies of people who are PERFECTLY DECENT HUMAN BEINGS, and indeed, some of whom are probably BETTER human beings than you and I—this path is misguided, and beneath you, and I know you can do better; I know you can learn how, and I wish you the best of luck.

If you want to spread the poison of intolerance, and write off any person as a loss based SOLELY on their membership in a group that also contains poor examples, then I’VE GOT BAD NEWS FOR YOU, CUPCAKE, because if that’s how you roll, you’re a HUMAN BEING, and GUESS WHO’S COMMITTED EVERY MAJOR HISTORICAL ATROCITY IN ALL OF HISTORY?

That’s right, you’ve got a bigger category of hatred to work on—because each of us are connected to thousands of others by thousands of similarities, and blind hatred for any one human is blind hatred for HUMANITY.  So rein it in, [equestrian celebrity reference], you’re riding too hard.

But if you want to work with us, with all of us, all the good people on [planet] who want their ideological groups to be better, who hold ourselves and others to a higher standard, who are willing to fight—and to forgive—for the sake of harmony and a flourishing life, then join me, and we’ll learn tolerance together.

Choose well.  Choose as I know you can.   And I, in turn, will forgive your rashness, for I understand where you’re coming from, because I have my own blindness as well. And you, like all the rest of us, are only human.

And you, like all the rest of us, must struggle with that.

*This will serve as a response to anyone condemning a particular group, religion, or behavioral practice, subject to the following constraints:

  • [quantity greater than zero #1] is greater than zero. (example, 1, and not 0)
  • By ‘condemning’ I mean aggressively.  Hell, or even passively.  The casual jokes of annoying atheists.  The bombastic rhetoric of annoying religious figures. The outdated ideas of annoying, sexist political figures.  A #misandry-tagged post that isn’t obviously sarcastic or made by a misguided MRA.
  • [ideological group] is not an organization created and maintained for the sole purpose of oppressing, disenfranchising, repressing, injuring, or otherwise harming anyone. (example, the Grand Old Party, and not the KKK or a similar hate group) Aside from this constraint, [ideological group] can be anything; a political organization, a country, an ethnicity, a gender, a faction in WoW…
  • [person #1] is a person with thoughts and feelings.

             PEACE, NERDS. 

So today we started talking about the idea of the elusive “liberal arts education,” and exactly what that meant.  And people started talking about things like “building skills” and “learning a work ethic,” and I got slightly agitated, because—well, let me back up.

This was in class—actually the last day of class—in a philosophy course.   Over the course of one semester we had read Plato and Socrates (or…you know, Plato), brushed over some secondary literature, and spent a good deal of time reading Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Politics.  Now, with these in mind (especially his Ethics), we were thinking about how this class (or, more specifically, how Aristotle) affects our lives after the course is over.  Which is now.

The customary apologetic defense of philosophy was offered: that philosophy doesn’t actually help your life directly, but that reading philosophy builds skills and shit, and makes you a better logical thinker, and all of that rubbish.  Which is all completely true, but that’s pretty much like saying “I go to lifeguard training so that I can learn how to swim.”

YOU CAN LEARN TO SWIM VERY EASILY. IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE.

SIMILARLY, ANALYTICAL THINKING IS NOT VERY DIFFICULT.  It’s a skill, and you can train a skill by doing other things beside philosophy.

So what does this mean, then? Does it mean that philosophy is not useful?  WHAT THE HELL IS MY POINT?

Well, what exactly is “useful?” We are discussing no small matter, but how we ought to live.  The great philosophers—especially the ancients, the ones who hover outside of the analytical tradition—don’t just talk about one sphere of life.  They talk about all of life.  When they talk about one thing, they do it by talking about everything, because they have a concise view of everything that can be easily used to explain just one thing.  I believe Chesterton wrote some words on this subject, but since he already said them, there’s not much point in me waxing eloquent here.

THE POINT I’M TRYING TO MAKE IS: you can apply Aristotle directly to your life, straight away.  You must apply Aristotle directly, consciously or unconsciously, if you live a productive life, because Aristotle’s theory encompasses what happens when you live a productive life, and thus if you live a productive life you can explain that in terms of Aristotle’s theory.

Apply directly to the forehead!

LET ME BACK UP HERE AND EXPLAIN.  Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics is possibly one of the more famous and influential works ever written by anyone ever.  It can be quite literally said to be the foundation of Western conceptions of morality and a pillar of philosophy in general.

What is the Ethics about? It is about ethics.  About making the choices of your life.  It is a book written for the education of young adults, with the intention of teaching them not to be so goddamn stupid all the damn time and showing them how to not fail at life.  And if you read it that way—if you listen to what Aristotle says and think about how you can apply that to your own life—then you get a whole hell of a lot more out of the book than just learning to “think critically,” FFS.

There is this banausic trend in the west to ask “what good is this?” as if every bit of knowledge learned had to be a new cog in a mechanical man.   A paragon of this trend is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes, who you may remember was retroactively inspired by the BBC miniseries of the same name.

We might not remember, and by ‘we’ I mean ‘you’ because I read the book, thanks very much, but Sherlock Holmes was the penultimate scientist and a terrifyingly mechanical thinker.

“I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic,” Sherlock says, in A Study In Scarlet (our introduction to Sherlock Holmes) “And you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it.”

“Now pass me a credit card, Watson, it’s time for me to do my morning line.”

In contrast to the average man, Sherlock proudly says that his attic is in the very best of order, that he takes into his mind only those facts and theories which can help him in his daily life.  When we first are introduced to him, he has not even been bothered to learn that the earth revolves around the sun (oh, for the days when you could avoid learning that!), and when he is told this fact he promises to forget it as promptly as possible.

Sherlock Holmes is problematic.

This man operates only on what he can know for certainty, and knows nothing outside of his field.  He is mechanical, scientific in the extreme, highly specialized.  He can provide a citation and a justification for everything.

So why am I talking about Aristotle and Sherlock Holmes in the same post?  Because there is an upsetting push toward the ideal of Sherlock Holmes—toward the ideal of the consummate scientist, in every field.  Everything is being reduced to a science, to a formula, to a specialization.  For psychology it is already looking grim—for anthropology some hope remains.  Anthropology gets it—because anthropology can never be an objective science again.  The question has already been asked “what is objectivity?” and with that we plunge off the precipice, never to look back, because NOTHING IS OBJECTIVE.  Anthropology gets it in a way that few other sciences really do.  Try bringing up “nothing is objective” with a biochem major.

Even philosophy has become scientific.

Analytical philosophy has risen in the west like a Barad-Dur of tinker toys—intimidating, needlessly complex, and unassailable.  It is the process of jumping through hoops with logic for the purpose of reaching a conclusion on a specific subject—for example, the ethics of war, or of abortion, or of assisted suicide.  These conclusions are supported by citations, links to things which have already been proven, and they are mostly applicable—although a number of these conclusions in turn have points at which they break down.

Why do we seek these conclusions?  Why answer such specific questions? So that when we have a solution we can declare a question answered and move on? Are we then building a comprehensive theory of the world even in philosophy?  Why do these conclusions break down?

Like Chesterton, I stress the importance of a worldview.  But a worldview cannot be specific, because every specific theory breaks down at a certain level of detail. The world is not our theory, and our theory is not the world.  Sometimes we forget that fact—that modern science and the entire intellectual basis of Western knowledge is a massive construct built to model reality.  Theory is not reality itself, and thus, as Hume also points out, we can’t actually ever be sure that our experiment will go as predicted, because they universe doesn’t run on zeros and ones.

Aristotle gives us detail, and a lot of his details are wrong, yes, but we can forgive him that, because through and around that detail run sweeping generalizations as broad as rivers.  His warning in the beginning of the Ethics should be written in stone.

“Our discussion will be adequate if it achieves clarity within the limits of the subject matter.  For precision cannot be expected in the treatment of all subjects alike, any more than it can be expected in all manufactured articles.  Problems of what is noble and just, which politics examines, present so much variety and irregularity that some people believe that they exist only by convention and not by nature.  The problem of the good, too, presents a similar kind of irregularity, because in many cases good things bring harmful results.  There are instances of men ruined by wealth, and others by courage.  Therefore, in a discussion of such subjects, which has to start from a basis of this kind, we must be satisfied to indicate the truth with a rough and general sketch: when the subject and the basis of a discussion consist of matters that hold good only as a general rule, but not always, the conclusions reached must be of the same order.  The various points that are made must be received in the same spirit.  For a well-schooled man is one who searches for that degree of precision in each kind of study which the nature of the subject at hand admits: it is obviously just as foolish to accept arguments of probability from a mathematician as to demand strict demonstrations from an orator.”

“Now calm yourselves the hell down and let me finish my goddamn lecture.”

My philosophy teacher used to complain because people would ask her stupid questions when they learned she was getting a Ph.D.  Apparently at least one person asked her “What’s your philosophy?”

Which is hilarious because let’s be honest, that’s a REALLY DUMB QUESTION.

But in a way…it’s also not, because in my not-so-humble opinion philosophy is not just about logic.  It’s not just about thinking analytically and understanding when someone is making a stupid-ass argument based on logical fallacies.

Reading philosophy is about having a philosophy.  It’s about reading Sartre and hating him and then UNDERSTANDING WHY.  It’s about reading Aristotle and loving his ethics and hating his weird treatment of slaves and understanding WHY.  It’s about taking that understanding of WHY things agree with you and internalizing it, of developing the practical ability to recognize what fits into your worldview and what doesn’t, cultivating that phronēsis to the point where you have a coherent, functional view of the world.

So what do I take away from a philosophy class? Yeah, I take away analytical skills and all that bullshit, but that’s sure as hell not why I took the class.  I take philosophy to understand my way of being-in-the-world.  And what I take away from Aristotle’s Ethics isn’t “an understanding of the framework of modern ethics in the western world,” it’s a knowledge of the fact that I agree with Aristotle in many points—including his definition of virtue:

Action.

With.

Intention.

And THAT is something I can (and will) use, every day of my life.

“Word.”

SUP INTERNET

Sometimes I really don’t understand people.

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

We’ll start with empathy.

Or, to go etymologically:

Einfühlungsvermögen.

 [I love German words]

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

So how do you EMPATHIZE?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s imagine a man named BOB.

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

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

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

So BOB does.

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

NOW IS WHEN EMPATHY KICKS IN.

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

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

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

IN THE MEANTIME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS ESPECIALLY APPLIES TO RELATIONSHIPS, BY THE WAY.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greetings, earth creatures.

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

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

VERY ODD

COMING UP NEXT ON JUNGWILDEANDFREE

EITHER

I YELL AT ATHEISTS UNTIL THEY GET ANGRY

OR

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

Sup 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.

What is politics?

Well that depends on who you ask.   A quick skim of Aristotle provides the definition of “the most sovereign and most comprehensive master science,” which is highly unhelpful as a working definition for a blog post.

So bear with me while we go through this.   Let’s say that a politician is an individual whose aim in life is to help their people.  What are they helping their people to do? Well, we could say that they are helping their people to live good lives. By good of course I don’t just mean economically prosperous; I mean really happy lives.  The politician seeks to realize their constituency at their greatest potential, to give their people the greatest possible chance to soar at their highest height.

So what is politics?

Well, in that case, politics is I suppose the art and science of raising one’s people up.  After all, the practice of a politician, I just said, was to help their people realize their full potential.

Now there we will sit our definition for the remainder of this blog post.

So what should a politician do?

A politician should represent their people.  They should have always the best interests of their constituency in mind.

Do you know what a politician should not do?

Lie.

There is this widespread delusion among the people of the world that a politician is someone deceptive, someone who will trick and deceive and yes, lie to advance their own personal motives.

No.

Just no.

A people’s motives and needs are never ambiguous.  The better course for a nation is rarely hard to discern, if you look for it—people spend their entire career learning how to figure out things like economics, international policies, and immigration procedures, and among all these experts there is a more or less general consensus about what would be good.

And just as the zeitgeist is never ambiguous, so too should the politician be honest and open.  Perhaps, perhaps, maybe, with an enemy, with a foreign power against whom the country is fighting, but not to allies and never to the citizens.

A politician must be honest about their aims, must have a clear vision of how they will best support their people.  If they lie, if they conceal, if they have any need at all of subterfuge, then it’s quite simple: they don’t deserve to represent the polis.

Americans, as a whole, do not expect their political system to aid them.

We take a semi-liberal viewpoint.  We hope that the government stays out of our way, because we want to go about our business and the government pretty much poisons whatever it touches.

But that’s not good.

Our world has become increasingly cynical.

We expect our government wants to control us.

We expect our politicians to lie and cheat and blackmail and take money from anyone.

We know and expect that elections can be bought by anyone with enough cash.

Most of us are fully aware that we’re killing the planet and that no one is likely to do something unless we all do. And we’re not really doing much about it.

People die in the millions thanks to car crashes.

Slavery is still a thing.

There is poison in our lunch meat.

We’re all aware of these things. We take them for granted.

And…that’s not cool.

THERE SHOULDN’T BE POISON IN YOUR FOOD.

YOU PUT THAT SHIT IN YOUR FACE.

LIST OF PLACES THERE SHOULDN’T BE POISON: NUMBER ONE:  

IN.

YOUR.

FACE.

 

Politicians shouldn’t LIE TO YOU ABOUT ANYTHING THEY LIKE.  If they lie to you, GUESS WHAT, it’s TIME TO GET A NEW POLITICIAN.   

There’s a psychological phenomenon known as the Bystander Effect.  When something bad happens in a crowd, the members of the crowd assume en masse that someone else will take care of it.

This is the reason people get knifed in broad daylight.  Why people get kidnapped in the middle of a crowd.  Because it’s someone else’s problem, and anyway it’s just part of modern society.

Except…it’s really not.

Imagine, just for a moment, that you have no context at all in which to evaluate the following country.

A country where leaders lie, corporations kill for money, and people do nothing.  A country where the likeliest destination for a troubled youth is in a for-profit penitentiary.  A country that is slowly squeezing the planet for resources and belching pollution into the sky.

That sounds awful, doesn’t it?

Would you want to live there? I know I don’t.

And that’s why I write blog posts and get angry about politics.  Because I do live here, in a nation that is all of the things I have listed, a nation that could be so much more, and I am struck every day by the overwhelming conviction that things are not as they should be.

I don’t care what you do.  No one has any right to regulate your actions, so long as you’re not going out and murdering people for sport.

But can’t you agree that there’s something wrong when all of the below citations are true?

And couldn’t you concede that there’s something you might be able to do?

These are huge problems, but they don’t have huge solutions. The answer is in the little things. Buckling a seatbelt and turning off the phone.  Buying fair trade and organic.  Demanding more responsibility from your politicians.

And stopping once in a while to lend a stranger a hand.

Because these are problems that affect us all, and it’s nice to have a reminder, once in a while, that we’re not alone.

And if these things piss you off as much as they do me, well…you’re not alone either.  There are profoundly decent people in the world, just as outraged as we are…some of whom are in a position to do something about it.

CITATIONS:

Distrust of government:

[2011 article documenting a point at which Congressional approval reached 9%.  As in, 9% of Americans think Congress is capable of legislating.]

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/26/us/politics/poll-finds-anxiety-on-the-economy-fuels-volatility-in-the-2012-race.html

Environmental Apathy:

[the more you know…the less you’re likely to do.]

http://128.138.136.233/students/envs_4800/kellstedt_etal_2008.pdf

Automotive Deaths:

[Just statistics. So many statistics. Average in 2009 was 93 people per day]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_motor_vehicle_deaths_in_U.S._by_year

Slavery:

[this website is big because so is its problem.]

http://www.anti-slaverysociety.addr.com/toc.htm

Dangerous compounds in food:

[some of these have been banned in many countries…but usually not the United States. Woo! Free market!]

http://www.purezing.com/living/toxins/living_toxins_dangerousingredients.html

Statistics on domestic violence:

[now this just pisses me off]

http://domesticviolencestatistics.org/domestic-violence-statistics/

Growing partisanship:

[oh, right, it’s not just your cookies. Everything isgetting more partisan.]

http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jun/04/news/la-pn-pew-partisan-divide-poll-20120604

Hi Internet.

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

The following statement should surprise none of you.

Hard choices are hard.

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

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

I’m talking about really hard choices.

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

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

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

These choices are not easy.

(DUH)

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

Well, in some way.

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

Because hard choices are heavy, man.

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

And you think you may have made the right choice.

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

But it seems right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rock on.

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

HEY INTERNETS.

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

So I read an article today.

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

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

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

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

Because here’s something not everyone understands.

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

But it’s ALL life and death.

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

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

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

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

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

But no biggie.

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

Well, about that.

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

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

SLAVE LABOR.

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

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

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

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

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

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

ANYWAY, I DIGRESS.

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

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

They usually die young.

They die a lot.

Most of them never see their home again.

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

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

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

So let’s get this clear, okay?

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

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

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

But most of all, believe something.  CHESTERTON QUOTE:

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

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

It’s life and death every day.

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

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

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

But don’t take my word for it.

SOURCES.

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

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

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

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

Hi Internet.

Not to be confrontational, but —

(1)        Liberals, you’re doing it wrong.

People keep arguing against religious homophobia on a religious basis.  This is descending to the level of the religious zealot—fighting them on their home field.  This is pointless.

Rational, intelligent, moral people present arguments similar to the following:  “the relevant passages of Leviticus also prohibit eating shellfish” and “you can’t cherry-pick which passages of the Bible you choose to follow.”

There’s a flaw with that:

Obviously, you can.  It’s a system of values, and each person chooses their own. This is why people run red lights.  We all abide generally by traffic laws, but each person chooses their own personal standard by which to hold themselves.  We all have our own ways of looking at the world.  This is also why there are different religions, and why churches vary on an individual basis.

It’s obvious to anyone who cares to look that the Bible doesn’t condemn homosexuality any more than it condemns certain forms of human-mollusk intercourse.  And if someone doesn’t want to embrace that fact, then guess what, it’s usually not because they don’t understand how the Bible works.

Usually, it’s due to a reason best described through scientific psychological terminology: because they’re being an asshole.

ON ANOTHER NOTE, first rule of debate, don’t engage your opponent on his/her/Uds. terms.  Disagree with one of the aforementioned religious zealots? Well, it’s unlikely, but there is a small chance that they (a) actually know their primary religious document pretty well and (b) follow all the rules of Leviticus.  Then you’ve just completely lost the argument, and you have to start again from scratch.  Don’t allow that risk.  Engage them on a higher tier.

Let’s talk about the MEDIA for a moment.  That’s always fun.  They have a practice similar to this.

Freedom of Speech is an intimidating idea.  It can make you antsy about calling someone out for anything—after all, they have a right to speak, don’t they?

Well, they might have a right to speak, but riddle me this, Batman—do we need to see it in the newspaper if it’s stupid? If the argument in favor of a healthcare plan is the thousands of lives it will save and the millions of lives it will improve, and the argument against it is fallacious, full of holes, and based in part upon outdated political principles and an education in economics acquired by reading the first chapter of a textbook on the ride over, then guess what, we shouldn’t have to suffer through the stupid parts.

The proper journalistic action is to investigate the sources and arguments and then write two articles, one about how the healthcare plan will save thousands of lives and improve the lives of millions, and the other about how there are lots of people making stupid arguments based on nothing at all.

Giving everyone equal say doesn’t equate to ‘giving stupid people equal grounds as Ph.D.s in economics.’  I don’t care how many University of Phoenix classes you attended on your Ipad, it’s still extremely unlikely that you have anything constructive to add to a debate with the foremost experts on global warming.

BECAUSE THEY’RE THE FOREMOST EXPERTS ON GLOBAL WARMING.

If you knew as much as they did, YOU’D UNDERSTAND THAT GLOBAL WARMING EXISTS.

BECAUSE SCIENCE, THAT’S WHY.

 

Mark Twain’s quote comes to mind.

“Don’t argue with stupid people: they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”

BEHOLD A SUMMARY OF POLITICS FOR THE LAST TWELVE YEARS.

 

Now for the second point.

 (2)       Liberals, we go too far.

BACK OFF ON THE ATHEISM.  My god.  Science is the light of the world and everyone should embrace it because it will usher mankind into a NEW AGE yes that’s wonderful I totally see how that’s different from Jesus bringing humanity together in heaven STOP IT.

 

RELIGION IS NOT EVIL.

THERE.  I SAID IT.

YOU MAY GASP NOW.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE.

Rather than rant, I should clarify.  I have nothing against either atheism or religion on general grounds.  Whether you place your faith in God, Jesus, My Little Pony, or an abstract model of the universe, it’s all the same to me.

I do have problems with the following, mostly because they’re wrong.

FIRST is religious people telling me what to believe, demanding that all the world adopt their specific brand of organized spirituality.  NO.  Go away.  This musty political document that most people don’t pay much attention to says I CAN BELIEVE WHATEVER I WANT.  If I choose to worship Stephen Colbert and sacrifice stuffed Kirby dolls to his altar, THAT’S MY PEROGATIVE.  The semi-Millsian nature of our political system means I can waste my free time in just about any way that doesn’t kill people.

SECOND is atheists telling me not to believe anything, demanding that all the world adopt their specific man-made model of rationality.  NO.  GO AWAY.  The aforementioned document says I’M FREE TO BELIEVE ANYTHING.  If I choose to sing 80s power ballads to Jeff the God of Elm Trees every Tuesday, well, guess what, THAT’S MY CHOICE.

BOTH OF YOU are giving your respective organizations a bad name.  How easy it is to paint atheists and religious folks alike as rabid zealots when you both launch rabidly zealous attacks on one another at the earliest opportunity!  ONE OF YOU should grow up. I don’t care which.  Hitchens did a great thing—he also messed some things up, but he did a very great thing for the atheistic argument which many people missed: he took the MORAL HIGH GROUND.

And the rest of the movement promptly lost it again.  Well done. Hitchens’ argument was (and rightly): “We don’t need religious ethics to be rational and intelligent and caring and moral human beings.  Atheists are morally better people.

Which leads me to my next point: If you’re better people, then hush. Let people make their own choices.  If you really are a collection of the world’s best and brightest, GREAT. When solar flares begin to rip our planet apart or Nibiru crashes into us or the zombies begin to walk among us, we’ll look to you for our salvation.

Because the mark of security in one’s self is not continually dictating the actions of other people.  I’ll give you that much of a hint.  And whichever community stops this ridiculousness and just lives their own life first wins the prize for ‘Most Mature.’  I know a number of people on both sides who have this outlook, and it’s amazing how much easier it is to have a conversation with them about anything.  I know a fantastic blogger (http://lesbicrafty.blogspot.com/) who matches this description.

So to sum up: STOP BEING SO IMMATURE.  The world is turning into a religion/atheism grudge match.  WHY?  Science and spirituality are so completely unrelated that there’s not even a Venn diagram here to consider.  They don’t even touch.  THERE’S NOT EVEN VENN DIAGRAM CLEAVAGE.

(the third greatest kind, closely behind mineral)

(3)        PART THREE.

EVERYTHING IS TOO PARTISAN.  Oh my god.  Oreo supports gay marriage? GREAT. Chik-fil-a doesn’t? FINE.

Let’s make this clear.  Unless your companies are actually donating to the political process (Citizens United! Hurrah!), unless you’re actually pushing this agenda, NO ONE CARES.  Without such an action, these announcements from corporations are akin to walking into the middle of a train station and yelling “I LIKE BANNANA MUFFINS.”  A complete non sequitur, an unnecessary piece of information.

Besides, we’re not even hearing what the company thinks.  WHICH, SURPRISINGLY, is NOTHING, because GUESS WHAT, THEY’RE NOT PEOPLE.

ER

MAH

GERD

SRSLY?

I know it’s a shock, but I feel like this point needs to be hammered home: A CORPORATION IS NOT A PERSON.  It is an unfeeling, unthinking conglomerate of human minds that, in most cases, acts on basic predatory instinct.  A good example might be the Portugese Man-O-War—a stinging, predatory sea creature made up of thousands of individual creatures.  Imagine that, except you can have a beer with any one of its components.

Sup. Wanna grab a brewski?

When we hear these announcements that “so-and-so supports X,” guess what, that’s not the corporation talking.  Because CORPORATIONS CAN’T TALK.  What you hear is the result of a CEO shooting their mouth off, or a board of directors reaching a consensus and having the PR guy say something, or a group of employees taking a stand.  For every person who agrees with that stance, that company has an employee who vehemently disagrees.  Do you think Oreo has an anti-homophobia test in their hiring process? No, because THAT WOULD BE STUPID.  It doesn’t matter how a person feels about homosexuality, so long as they can squeeze soft cream between two black cookies for eight hours a day.

NOW, if a corporation is actually contributing something VALUABLE to a political discussion beyond standing up and screaming “OOH I LIKE THAT” like a four-year-old who sees a picture of a dinosaur, if they’re giving money or something, THEN GOOD.  Well, not GOOD, because CORPORATIONS ARE NOT PEOPLE AND SHOULDN’T BE ABLE TO SPEND MONEY IN POLITICS, but at least it’s SLIGHTLY LESS INANE.  Maybe with all those human resources people working away night and day we’ll actually get a coherent mission statement for one party or another beyond “I LIKE THIS” or “I HATE THIS.”

Which has essentially become our political dialogue, by the way.  One political party is being meek and calm and considerate and timid, trying to make friends, and the other one is standing in the corner with its fingers in its ears yelling “LALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU GO AWAY I HATE YOU.”  I leave you to decide which one it is, but here’s a hint: one party supporter just replied to an attack ad with the truth and was promptly attacked by her own side.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/08/andrea-saul-romney-health-care_n_1757550.html?utm_hp_ref=elections-2012

So there’s MY contribution to political discourse FOR THE MONTH.  Hopefully what it lacks in calm and rationality IT MAKES UP FOR WITH YELLING, because as Bill O’Reilly teaches us, YELLING MAKES YOU RIGHT.

STAY AWESOME INTERNET

I KNOW YOU WILL

BECAUSE I JUST YELLED IT.

And let’s have Colbert sing us out.

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