"There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories."
- Ursula LeGuin


Don't listen to talking heads

Steps to thinking for yourself. If you don't see the data or quote or what have you, why trust the talking head. You aren't thinking, you're giving up your right and handing it to a supposed expert. Why the hell do we do that? We've become a nation of morons.

Thursday February 26th, 2009

On the other hand, there are always instances where one can and should read between the lines.

For example, a few weeks ago, a few nights before my fun little visit to the Emergency Room, I was laying in the other bedroom listening to Coast to Coast AM. Ian Punnett, by far my favourite regular host, was leading the charge on open lines, a portion of the show where anybody can call in and bring up any subject that happens to be on their mind. So this asshole--whoops, watching too many Bullshit DVD's--this "guy" calls in and...oh man, I wish I remembered the exact date of this show, I'd open up the podcast and quote the conversation...oh hell, why don't I do that...just one moment!

Well, I do apologize but after skimming two hours on the weekend I thought this episode aired I give up...now that I'm 35 I've come to realize I simply don't have the time to spend large sections of my life engaged in things that ultimately end up feeling like mental masturbation. So please forgive, I will tell you what happened to the best of my memory.

So this guy (asshole) calls in and tells this story about how he met this World War II vet and of course Ian's pulled in because he respects those who have sacrificed for our country. The guy (asshole) explains how he supported this Vet as he balled his eyes out on hearing Obama had just been sworn in. So I'm thinking yeah, wow, the Vet was really impacted by this wonderful evolution in our culture, that a black man has finally, after so many years or racist (bullshit), been sworn in to the White House, then out of left (fucking) field the guy (asshole) telling the story tells us the Vet says something to the effect of, "I didn't fight for this crap! My friend's didn't die so this could happen!"

So this guy (asshole) never once explicitely stated that the Vet was upset that an African American was elected President--yet it was clear as day that this was his one and only message.

A sidenote: in logic this is called an "Appeal to Emotion". Personally I find this type of argument the most simple; it's the type of argument made by simple people who I assume I have an IQ of 75. I hope you'll forgive me but I just find this insulting. Does he really think I'm going to judge Obama's effectiveness as Commander in Chief because some racist WWII Vet is balling himself sick over it? Does he really think I am so stupid that I'm going to immediately dislike the new President because thousands, even tens of thousands, of racist soldiers died and made it possible?

I am amazed at how dumb some people seem to think I (and you) am (are).

On another short tangent, one of the reasons I admire Ian Punnett is the fact that he responded to this caller by respectfully saying something like, "There are a lot of radio programs out there where you can share that point of view, but this is a positive show and we don't do that here. I appreciate your thoughts and respect your opinion, but I don't want to open the door to that kind of hate-filled sentiment here."

So anyhow, though this caller (who was clearly an asshole) never once used a racist term, though he only conveyed some vague message from a WWII vet, it was pretty damn clear the message was racist (i.e. Black President = end of the world! Ahhhhhhh!!!!!).

Isn't that hypocritical of me, though? The other day I was saying wow, you can't read between the lines on that cartoon, doing so is projection. Am I now saying do just the opposite, go ahead and read between the lines whenever you bloody well feel like it?

Absolute not!

What I'm saying is look at the data THEN choose what makes sense based on that data (and update your view if new data arrises or the veracity of the existing data changes)!

In the case of the monkey cartoon there's plenty of evidence to show (Occam's Razor) that there are other, more likely, explanations. In terms of this caller, there were no other explanations--not that I can come up with, anyway. I can't think of any other scenario where a vet would ball his eyes out and say, "My buddies didn't die so someone like this would become President!" and that not be racist. Was he refering to the fact that Obama was a lawyer, is that what he was saying, his buddies didn't die so a lawyer could be President? Or that his buddies didn't die so a Democrat from Chicago couldn't become President? Or that a man with two daughters couldn't? Is that what he meant?

I really (fucking) doubt it.

So when looking at the data if there's only one explanation--and you've really made a genuine effort to discover other ones without success--then that's very likely (Occam's Razor) the explanation.

Pure and simple.

Moral of the story: the message between the lines can (and often should) be treated like the reality when there are no alternate and more explicit explanations for something.

Tuesday February 24th, 2009

The other day the New York Post published this cartoon shown at right.  If you've heard about it then you probably know by now how much controversy it's started.  All I gotta say is, "Wow!"--and not to the cartoon.

Okay, if only it were that simple, but I do need to get my word in edgewise.  My sentiment only begins with "wow", ends with "Grow the hell up!", and like a good sandwhich is filled with meat.

Here's my take on this cartoon.

First, there's a recent story in the national news about a woman who's pet chimpanzee went bananas and ripped her friend's face off.  Grotesque but true.  The chimp, by the way, was shot and killed by police offers when they believed there was no other option but to stop the animal's rampage.

Second, one of Obama's first actions as the new President has been to pass a second (the first was passed under Bush) stimulus package.  Over the last few weeks the plan has received enormous criticism for seemingly supporting all manner of projects that a) would not stimulate anything, b) are ideologically biased (i.e. in favour of Democratic pet projects), and/or c) are seemingly a confused jumble of irrational and tossed together projects.

Combine both new stories together and you get an ape that was shot for going on a rampage and writing the stimulus package. Get it? Simple, uncomplicated, and in no way racist.

Still not convinced?

I urge you to consider looking past your gut reaction (assuming it's the one that assumes a racist underpinning).  First and foremost there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for the cartoon: it's based on two major news stories, Obama's stimulus package and a chimp that's gone nuts.  Second, the argument that the cartoon is inherently racist because the chimp is "obviously" Obama is a projection.  Frankly, the cartoon only implies the chimp wrote a stimulus bill but it in no way says the chimp is Obama, only someone working for him, specifically, someone who wrote the bill.

I'm still not finding the racism.

I recognize that historically African American's have been associated with apes and that this has typically had racist undertones, however to say a chimp and a black person can't be put together in a cartoon or sentence or tv show without it being racist is straight forward project (projection being the act of mentally giving something, a person or object, traits that are not actually there). In this case there's nothing objective to support the notion that the cartoon is racist; the chimp is not Obama but one of his staff members. Not only is this projection but it's a subtle form of reverse racism, a social "disease" that is prevelent in our society. We have, over the course of cultural evolution, loaded the chimpanzee with all manner of ideas and while some are true, such as chimps are dumb compared to humans, others are not, like the idea that chimps are dark and blacks are dark and chimps are dumb therefore blacks are dumb. Sorry, that thar's the logic of a racist and likewise suggesting this cartoon is racist without a logical and objective argument is reverse-racism; I'd even go as far as to say it's a worse form of racism since it's usually hidden behind the pretext that it's intended to educate and stop racism when truth is it's usually based on assumptions like, "All white people, no matter how nice they may seem, are inherently racist" yet that assumption in itself is no different than equating blacks with apes--but that's a journal entry for another day!!!.

I digress...

I think Frued would have said sometimes a chimp is just a chimp.

It seems to me that many Americans believe racism is clear, obvious, and that anything said to counteract that belief is an attempt to cover up blatant and obvious racism. Discussion about what is and isn't racism is stifled by this Scarlett Letter, this fear that by saying, "That's not a racist attitude," one will instantly and effectively be labeled "racist" (even if there's no objective evidence for it). In my humble opinion this is just another form of reverse racism, an attempt to force one point of view and back it up with a threat instead of intelligently and openly examing both points of view.

It also seems to me that many black American's assume, simply by their colour, that they are experts on racism, that they never behave in a racist manner, and that whites aren't capable of experiencing, much less understanding, racism (at least from the perspective of the victim). This is not only untrue, it is racist, it is ignorant, and it requires correction...but again, that's another subject for another day.

The point of view that the cartoon is inherently racist is not a legitimate one; while it would be acceptable to say "I feel the cartoon is racist" it does not follow to say that point of view is sound (i.e. backed up by factual evidence). And sure, I've heard the argument that there's an historical record of African Americans being compared to monkeys, but to hold someone in the present for someone doing that in the past is unfair and unrealistic.  Even our court system, when just and fair, recognizes this reality during sentencing; even the court system takes intent into consideration. Think about it. Would you sentence your next door neighbor to death for accidently backing up over the neighbor's four year old son? Hell no! And why not? Because we all (well, most of us anyway) recognize that intent is incredibly important in life, especially if we feel the need to judge others. So why, in this situation, would it be in any way correct to assume guilt and label someone a racist without even attempting to acknowledge their intent or message?

Not much offends me more than those who don't listen or understand my point of view but take offense to it anyway. How bold that is! And how utterly frustrating to find oneself up againt!!!

(blah, blah, blah)

It scares me to think that one day I'll live in a society where justice is dolled out by the victims, where objective reality and intent is shrugged off as being inconvenient and unnecessary. "You hurt my feeling!" says the victim. To hell with the facts. Who needs facts when you've got feelings?

Quick flash back:  this is another reason I think our race has a ways to go, we're more likely to put more value on our emotional knee-jerk reactions to perceived events than take a breath, determine the truth of the matter, then respond.  As a general rule most of our decisions are conscieous-thoughtful ones, but ruled by habits, patterns, and conditioning. To imagine a race of humans whose hearts and minds are always in melodic balance, how wonderful, how worth living for, how worth having children to strive towards!

The other reason the whole cartoon fiasco upsets me is that it demonstrates just how little Americans value their right to speak freely--and it makes me think we're a culture of immature hypocrites.  Do we value free speech or would we rather have a police state?  I sometimes wonder.  It often just seems while most Americans want freedom of speech many only want it as long as those who disagree with them keep their mouths shut and if you don't believe that there are many who think that way just turn on Rush Limbaugh or nearly any conservative radio talk show--they're all so full of this ass-backwards recognition of our rights--it's just sad and reminds me just how much our public school system fails us...but again, I'm off subject.

One of my favourite ShowTime programs is called Penn & Teller's Bullshit.  I love the program and have been renting the DVD's from Netflicks for awhile now.  Love it, love it, love it!  The basic premise of the show, for those of you who have not seen it, is to uncover "bullshit" within our society, beliefs or laws or rules we have that make no sense, get in our way, waste our time, waste our energy, waste our money, and so on and so forth.  I love how blunt they are, I love the irreverent humor, and I love that both are truth seekers. Oh yeah, and I love that they challenge my point of view and though they use some pretty profane language while they do so they both clearly and obviously respect my right to think differently, to voice my own opinions, and to challenge theirs (and likewise they retain the right to call me a fucking idiot for doing so--though I have a feeling they would respect me for thoughtfully and calmly disagreeing with many of their views as well as backing mine up with something more than "feelings").

I recently watched an episode about how our current public college system has become an expensive farce, a waste of money, a flat out lie. Part of the program attacked the idea that public universities are bastions of free speech and open conversation, an assumption that I noticed was slowly erroding while I was going to the University of Oregon, a reality that well wishing people are slowly removing from the student life (after all, we don't want kids hurting each other's feelings, do we?). Penn and Teller argued that as we loose our ability and need to speak freely as well as the ability to respect others' views we've become more and more sensitive to those with conflicting view points. We've become so sensitive, they argue, that our youth has begun to believe (on a subconscious level, at least) that they have the God given right not to be offended. For example P&T demonstrated that many universities have code written into the student handbooks that support this notion, like campus rules that say no one can make romantic statements or small talk without it being considered an unwanted sexual advance. Call me old fashioned, I think mature adults are big enough to tell someone, "Hey, I'm not comfortable with the way you're talking to me," and just walk away--but no, we need to legislate rules to protect the fragile ears of our youth because their feelings might get hurt by someone with an alternate opinion or someone saying they think we're hot (ironically the latter only becomes an issue when we're not attracted to the person saying it which relates to what I was saying earlier, about guilt and crimes and punishment being imparted by the fragile victim and their hurt feelings!).

Wow. I mean, fucking wow.

We either get the freedom of speech or the right not to be offended, but you can't have both. The notion that you could have both (and not be a murderous dictator) is, well, it's just bullshit.

Sorry if that hurts your feelings.

And so when I've heard the debate about this cartoon it's made me feel pretty crazy. Are we really so daft?  I see a bunch of pathetic acts of reverse racism portrayed as some kind of social justice and anyone pointing it out--wow, we get slammed.  But you see, so many like me, we're not offended by the cartoon because our mind's aren't mired down by a plethora of Americanized ideas about what constitutes racism and what doesn't.  Sure, racism exists and yes, when it occurs I think something needs to be done, but this gut reaction to every little thing, this cry of "racist-racist"--well, it's getting a little old. I'm almost afraid to say it but we need to let go and move on. Holding on to what happened to African American's in the twentieth century helps us learn, but holding on to it too much poisons us. Same with memories of slavery. If you don't learn to go it sticks on you and when you have children it passes onto them and when they have children it passes onto them.

Don't believe me? Do a little research on two thousand years of violence in the middle east and then tell me what happens when cultures can't let go and move on in a healthy way.

That said, I'm tired of the talking heads on the news networks, these supposed experts who's emotional intelligence isn't high enough to recognize the reverse racism they spout. That black guy on CNN, you know who I'm talking about, I can't stand him, but he's the perfect example of a reverse-racist. A white person can do or say the most innocent thing and this guy will should "Racist!" from the hill tops--doubly so if the white person happens to be a conservative Republican--triple the odds if they're a southerner! Heck, when talking about this very cartoon he kept putting down another black man who didn't agree that it was racist--and it was obvious that it was unacceptable to him that they guy didn't just buck up and follow along as all supposedly good black folks should do. WTF? That kind of attitude must drive some black American's nuts; I couldn't imagine it being implied that I should adhere to a certain view point because all the other white middle age men were! Again: "Wow". So yeah, this bobbling head drives me nuts because his behavior is predictable, it drives me nuts because he's so busy projecting he doesn't recognize his own racism for what it is, it drives me nuts because even after Anderson Cooper asked him to calm his jets he wouldn't stop interupting people, and it makes me nuts because he's on the national news spreading his perceptual poisons to the rest of us.

Would someone please remind me what this guy is an expert in (besides reacting to people)?

I don't believe in flu shots but by the Gods I believe it's incredibly important to spot those who espouse toxic ideas. Sure, I listen to them because I want to be open to other opinions, but I'm careful to wash my hands with soap and water afterwards :)

So while I understand why the New York Post felt it necessary to apologize, I'm worried that we've become a culture of whiners, that one day we'll all need to apologize because some insecure git says we looked at them wrong, we breathed on them wrong, we used the wrong adjective when describing someone or something...are we really headed towards a culture where we've lost the ability to intelligently and calmly examining the facts and intent of others before jumping to conclusions?  Are our children going to be walking on eggshells, wary that any true expression will immediately be stifled because the surrounding culture is replete with people who believe they have the right not to be offended.

In conclusion, I don't give a rats ass if someone offends me.  Respect my boundaries, yeah, I require that, but I don't need you to agree with me.  My opinion, my point of view, my perceptions, my personality, they're all strong enough to stand on their own and yours, I hope, is strong enough to stand up on its own.  I do hope, however, that we're both able to respect, listen, and understand each other's point of view before jumping to conclusions.  Yeah, that's my hope. And to quote the late great Dr. Bones, "Hope springs eternal."

Now grow the Hell up! :)

P.S.  My first interpretation of the cartoon was actually based on the age old idea that if you let chimps peck randomly at a typewriter long enough they'd eventually end up writing the complete works of William Shakespeare and that this is sometimes likened to the process of evolution.  Well, it appears I'm not the only one who recognized that underlying theme and how it relates to the stimulus bill.  I find it interesting that those of us who were able to see that connection generally weren't offended or upset by the cartoon; we did not find it racist in the least.  Weird, eh?

P.P.S. Interestingly, George W. Bush was often compared to a chimpanzee but it was never considered racist or out of bounds. I wouldn't be surprised that Republicans who've noticed this disparity are pissed that nobody complained when Bush was compared to a chimp but Obama is. So while I'm not a fan of Bush I can sympathize with conservatives who would be angry that Bush was repeatedly compared to chimps without anyone calling foul yet everyone flips when Obama's writers--not the President himself--are compared to a chimp! Like I said before, "Wow!"

P.P.P.S. In some respects I think chimps are smarter than Bush and I reserve my first amendment right to say that!!!

P.P.P.P.S. Doesn't this remind anyone else of the whole incident, years back, over the Swedish (I believe) cartoon with the Prophet Mohammed? Remember how us westerners thought the muslim community's reaction was just way, way, way out of line? Haven't we gone and done the same damn thing (or have I been eating too many juniper berries again)?

Monday February 23rd, 2009

Watched Brokeback Mountain the other day. Correction: Listened. You may recall that Brokeback had a really wonderful sound track so I, needing to take care of laundry, dishes, and a few other things Sunday afternoon, tossed the movie in, sat down for pieces here and there, but mostly enjoyed the soundtrack.

Truth is, though I've only seen it twice, once in the theatre, once yesterday afternoon, I love this film. Superficial reasons are as follows:

  1. Excellent soundtrack.
  2. Great cast.
  3. Heart felt love story.
  4. Realistic themes such as social ignorance and bigotry, fear, personal growth, etc.

That was more or less my take after watching the film the first time. After watching it a second I realized there are some altogether different reasons I love this film, something deeper, and more subconscious (and no it's not that I'm secretly homosexual). Yesterday while watching I figured it out.

You see, one of the themes of the film, as I see it, is the unhappiness and suffering that the protagonists experience over the course of their two decade long love affair, unhappiness and suffering that simply would not exist if not for the social constructs and ignorance of the society and times they lived in. Replace the homophobia with a society that supported their love. There would have been no reason for them not to purchase and run a ranch together. There would have been no reason to keep their affair a secret. Their would have been no reason to experience any more suffering than a heterosexual couple experiences when they fight. There would have been no reason to built marriages and families their hearts were not in. You could say society as a whole made an agreement the engage in a karmic cluster fuck. The price of a secret they were forced to keep, on pain of death, caused larger ripples throughout society.

I digress...

What I identify with is the theme of feeling the need to hate something I might otherwise love. In the film this is shown by the character played by Keith Ledger who, while he's clearly in love with the other cowboy, cannot simply admit it. There's a part of him, conditioned by the society he lives in, to hide from his true feelings, even to hate himself for what he is.

I realized Sunday that's how I feel about my home town. You see, I grew up in a mostly conservative cowboy town and, you know what, I really hated that town. But I didn't, not one bit. I loved it. But I hated it. And it struck me, my parents were both liberal teachers and every night around the kitchen table I'd get to hear about all the reasons my home town sucked. And pretty soon, after awhile, I stopped being consciously aware that somewhere deep inside I might like anything like, say, cowboy hats or horses or ranches or a simpler outlook on life and politics, I stopped being aware of what I really loved, what made me feel good, and instead found myself engaging in a kind of double think where I was routinely pitted against myself instead of freely listening to myself. Even though I loved the hats and the boots I hated the hats and the boots. Though I loved the rugged countryside (and couldn't imagine living anywhere else) I hated the countryside and moved to the "big city" the first chance I got. Love-hate, always love-hate.

Like Enis (or whatever his name was) I just couldn't admit what was right in front of my face and I wonder what my life would have looked like if my parents hadn't created an air of negativity around me, if they'd supported my expression and happiness whichever way it went. But that wasn't my life. Instead, I learned to dislike the things I loved, build walls and unnecessary relationships all because I couldn't just love without dancing back and forth on top of some non-existent line.

And that's why I love the movie so much, because I know what that's like. Unlike the character, who can't admit how he feels until his true love dies, I've been trying to open up to all those things I love deep down. It may take time, it may be a difficult struggle, and it may bring me to tears (more often that I'd like to admit) but someday I'd like to just love the things I love.

I'd love to love the things I love.

And to hell with anyone or anything that tells me I should do otherwise.

Thursday February 19th, 2009

You know, I hate to admit this, but I've finally come to the conclusion that as a race we are, us humans, completely, undeniably, stupid. Oh yes, I want to believe we aren't, I want to think we have our heads on straight, that we know what we're doing, that we're spiritually evolved, but the more I examine the question of our existence as a race, our past, our present, and our future, I think wow, are we stupid or what?

I hate to be negative, but that's the conclusion I've reached. Sure, we've invented a lot of pretty cool things, put ourselves out in space and all, but when it comes to arguably simple things, like listening, like raising emotionally and physically healthy children, like admitting our own mistakes, we're pretty pathetic. And yes, certainly you'd be correct to say I'm biased. 2008 was a hard year, the icing on the cake for a hard life, and last week I found myself in the hospital on the edge of life itself. Is it more likely I'm going to have a negative or cynical attitude? Absolutely. Does that make it in any way just or correct to discount my point of view? Absolutely not.

And so the first reason I think we're a bit on the stupid side: We often base our decision to listen to another point of view on something superficial and irrelevant. In this case it's my mood; we also have this nasty habit of immediately dismissing other people based on their age, colour, religion, political officiation, and so on and so forth.

We are, as a race, notoriously bad at listening (and conversely we are extraordinarily gifted at coming up with reasons not to listen).

For example, every now and then one of my blood relatives calls me up to play doctor. Out of the blue and for no reason and with no supportive evidence this person accuses me of being addicted to pain killers, tells me to immediately stop taking them, and implies that whatever chronic pain I have isn't that bad, that I can push my way through every day, tough it out, and live a happy and full life. Oddly, this person is not a doctor. They don't know what prescriptions I'm on, how much of this, how much of that. They don't even asked what my doctors have diagnosed me with or what their short or long term plans are. Indeed, out of a complete black hole of nothing they've pulled this completely unsolicited piece of advice out their ass, pushed it in my face, and most amazingly of all, they think this is a form of "support", that I might actually consider thanking them for this.

"Oh, thanks, I mean, I'd really like being listened to, maybe have you hear what support I really need, but hey, you must know best, you know next to nothing about my day to day life, I mean, I'm thirty five, what do I know? So please, run my life for me!"

Wanna know something wild? So, last night for the sixth or seventh time, I stopped them, said I don't really appreciate them preaching to me, and flat out said they were being disrespectful, and they responded with, "Well, it's my job." I couldn't fucking believe it, I flat out (and with difficulty keeping the profanity off my tongue) went as far as told someone to back the fuck off, that I didn't appreciate the way they were speaking to me, that they were well out of bounds and it was none of their Goddamn business, and they had the gall to rationalize their behavior as some natural and healthy function of our relationship!

Item #2 that proves how dumb we are as a species: people, as a general rule, revert to "explaining" themselves when they've been told their behavior isn't welcome or is hurtful.

I've run into this all my life and the old I get the more it shocks me. As a child, not so much, I mean, I assumed kids were immature and that telling another fourth grader that, "I don't like being called names so please stop it!" would immediately be translated into, "I'd really like it if you'd call me names and if you hurt me enough I might actually pay you for it!" so it just didn't surprise me much...but I figured when I grew up things would change. I had this idea that I'd grow up and the people around me would grow up and as adults we'd all be these mature, thoughtful, caring creatures who'd respond to other people's complaints directly.

Boy, was I wrong!

So yeah, the whole doctor game isn't unusual with this one person who last night I finally gave a short lecture on appropriateness (though I had to be quite blunt asking, "Do you think the ER doctor's were so stupid that they detected heavy pain killers in my blood and wouldn't have asked about that? Do you think I am so incredibly dumb that I wouldn't immediately mention that to them, that I wouldn't recognize that it's an important factor in my care, that keeping it to myself would probably have resulted in a visit not just from some very cute nurses, but the police as well!"). In general this person has always had a habit of telling me how to live without asking me how I actually live (which I will get to in a moment)--mainly, they don't respect boundaries, however clear. Wouldn't I know what I need most, what supports me best? And forgive me, but doesn't "Stop!" mean "Stop!"????? And so with him, and with every other person, I experience an extreme amount of frustration when I say, "Hey, stop, I don't appreciate that," only to hear why I'm somehow being provided a service.

Bullshit, utter bullshit.


Stop means stop.

That brings me to my next reason on this list, the fact that so many of us seem to think we know how other people should live (and often aren't afraid of making that information known).

Take for one area people have regularly felt a need to instruct me in: parenting.

Now, I've always found this a bit troublesome. First, I've racked up nearly half a decade of psych classes, not to mention a personal focus on childhood development. Second, during those times I have been in a parental (or caretaker) role my influence has largely been a positive one. Sure, there's always room for improvement, but my observation is that while most parents mean well, most of them are doing their best based on what they've picked up over the years, both watching their parents and watching others parent, and likewise, a fair number of parents while they love their children, don't go so far with their parenting that they always ask, "Is this in the best interest of my child?", that they aren't always willing to sacrifice bits of their time or their happiness or their fun money to insure their children have the best that can be offered. Most parents, in my view, are adequate, they are not highly educated with regards to child psyhchology, they are more focused on themselves (and the American dream), and they tend to react to problems instead of dealing with them directly and with calm wisdom.

So yeah, I think, wow, here I've got this girlfriend (this is years ago, mind you) that can't keep her mouth shut about my parenting style, which is having positive results, and yet she got pregnant out of wed lock, is raising this kid alone, and is constantly dealing with this kid's mood swings and tantrums (dealing = doing absolutely nothing besides yelling and spanking). Me, being educated I know it's the extremely rare child that doesn't act this way as a result of "bad" parenting, and yet I kept my mouth shut, it wasn't my place to tell them how to parent, after all, we were just dating and weren't living together; regardless of how scientifally founded my knowledge, it simply wasn't my place to throw it in her face. Then one day her child threw a HUGE tantrum in a restaurant and I for one was embarrassed, didn't like being around it while in public, and didn't like the fact that the mother was facilitating the behavior, and when we left I politely, calmly, said, "Hey, I wasn't comfortable with your child's behavior today and I'd just like to ask you to take some action when it happens in public, that or I just need to ask we go out alone until he's 'outgrown' this phase." Firm but polite. Didn't put her down, didn't put him down, didn't tell her how to parent, and didn't cross any boundaries--just expressed mine. Her response? Defensive.
Angry. She went off on me. How dare I say anything about her perfect little baby! (Damn!!!) I was absolutely shocked at her animal immaturity, this need to push her uneducated beliefs and unsolicited advice on me while at the same time demonstrating a complete inability to respond to my boundaries, however calmly and fairly conveyed, with anger.

Sorry, I don't like being around kids who throw tantrum in public and frankly, don't have much respect for parents who enable their children to behave in this way. Sorry, just not okay with it.

Experiences like this simply amaze me. I mean, if push comes to shove chances are I probably know more about most things than you do. I don't say that to brag about my IQ (~160 on last test), but as a life long information and truth junkie I'm a sponge for knowledge, I love to learn, and there's nothing more frustrating than the modernistic idea that everyone's opinion is just as valid as everyone else's. Sorry, that's just not true.

And yet, with the exception of a small window during my life, I've tried to keep my ideas to myself excepting 1) when someone's asked it or 2) when I can express them without forcing them upon people (I don't force you to read my Reflections, do I; hell, I don't even ask that you agree with them!). Think about it, there are over 6 billion people on this planet, what makes your opinion more important than anyone else's? Do you believe that every person, whatever your relationship, is just waiting for the day you'll walk up to them and tell them how to parent, how to sleep, how to eat, how to breath? Yes, you're knowledgable, yeah, you've been around the block, but no, we aren't hoping for the day you'll show up at our doorstep and rescue us from ourselves! And that's the thing, the more people I meet the more I've become convinced that nobody wants to be told how to live; most of us may still be seeking the "meaning of life", but we all know it's not being a slave to someone else. Sure, we ask advice, but otherwise we want to live our lives, seek out joyful experiences, and be accepted for who we are.

Telling others how to live is anathema to accepting them. It is our ego's imposed fantasy that we can improve the world by coercing others to be more like us. But the truth is, the world is the world, and the healthier we are the less we need to manipulate the outside world to reflect our inside one. The healthier the individual, the less the need to impose ourselves on others.

That's not to say we don't still have boundaries, but that's another issue altogether.

As a side-note, it's my belief that the last two centuries of western thought, whether it be western religion or western economics, has turned us into a culture that is never happy, that is primed to attempt to force the universe to look more like we want it to look so that we can be happy. Fuck how it effects anyone else, fuck the fact that most people don't want to be told what to pray to or how to spend their money...I truly believe that this is a cultural trait and even disease that's been with us for millennia, one we will only overcome when we begin to see that pushing others to conform to us is, in every way, one of the few "true" mental illnesses (add that to your DSM-IV, lol, then remove some scientifically unproven things like ADHD which should really be KWTMF or Kids With Too Much Freedom).

Another reason I think we're pretty stupid: may would probably read that, not quite understand it, and say I'm absolutely wrong. Wow. That's so American. Judgment without understanding.

Awesome man!

I can think of no other time it's really okay to force my ideas or way of doing things on another. Even in my closest relationship, my romantic partner, I see no reason to. I can communicate my needs and boundaries without force or coercion, she and I can work towards and define common goals in open dialog without ever needing to shove a world view down the other's throat, and if she doesn't agree with me, well, oh well...the only thing I need her to acknowledge is my thoughts and feelings. That is my own to dictate.

Onward and forward...

Another reason I think we're a back-ass ward race, this bizarre (and arguably frightening) reality that sizable populations believe they're right (without any solid evidence for it). Take for example the most "conservative" Americans, the types of folks who worship Rush Limbaugh, these people suffer from a disease that their ideology is right and that anything else is inherently wrong (a disease called fear and ignorance). No dialog is entertained. There isn't much attempt by such people to become educated on alternate points of view--and what's perhaps most troubling is that any research they do isn't research at all but a falt out search for supportive evidence where anything else is immediately thrown out. So here we are, a species who's come a long way in the last five hundred years and we still are made up of large pockets of people who think they're right, that their God is right, that their political party is right, that their country is right, and that any evidence to the contry is *poof* gone in a ball of smoke.

It shocks me and amazes me.

(And because it's gotten so hate-filled and dark on talk radio since Obama was sworn in I've had to completely stop listening--which frustrates me because I want to be open to all points of view, but not when nearly everything said is filled with poison).

In terms of politics, I know idealogs who are just as much on the liberal side as the conservatives I mentioned before. When I've dared say, "There's truth on the other side as well," they've gone as far as laughing at me, running over me, telling me how these other people are evil.

Doesn't it seem strange to you that the word "evil" is most used by those kinds of people who think they're right? Have you noticed how these are also the same people to engage in verbally abusing others, dehumanizing them, even going as far in some cases as killing them?

Wow. We like to think we're civilized just because most of us aren't running around shooting each other, but I have a different view, I think most of us are running around shooting each other in the hearts, in the minds, and we're doing so without regret, without responsibility, and with a lot of finger pointing at all those "other" people who've got it all wrong, those other people we need to straighten out, all those other people who don't have their priorities straight, who don't have the right values, who don't care like we do, that don't understand life like we do.

Well, I've come to realize I'm not right as often as I'd like to think, and that the only things I'm consistently right about are how I feel and what I think. As to the rest, I can learn, I can be open, I can do my best, share some educated opinions, and hope to god that the universe supports them...

Which reminds me of the last reason (for today) that I believe as a race who prides ourselves on our intelligence we're pretty fucking stupid and that's this: most of us will refuse to change our self-important world views and opinions even after being confronted with clear and unambiguous evidence to the contrary. Can't blame the dog for salivating every time the bell rings but I'd like to think we'd know better.

Can you really say we do?

I'd like to hope that some day we'd realize just how important it is we begin living life intentionally and with our brains, not animalistically with our hearts. That is not to say our hearts don't matter. Spock was wrong in that regard. They do. But we should not decide with our hearts and say we have done so with our brains. We are still animals until we can tell the difference between the two. We will still fight, we will still go to war, we will still have homeless, we will watch some die from starvation while others grow fat off the luxury of others...

We have so far to go...and frankly, until we get there, I think we should humbly recognize just how stupid and self-centered we can be. Time to wake up. Time to grow up. Time to start caring. Time to start making conscious choices and putting the long term, putting others first. Time to stop taking the easy way out, shoving pills down our children's throats, and taking advantage of people.

Time to put away childish things.

Monday February 16th, 2009

If you've used Microsoft Word before you've probably become familiar with the Microsoft Office "Assistant", more notoriously known as "the windows paperclip". You've been interupted by it, maybe you've used it, but chances are if you're a living breathing human being with better things to do you've been annoyed as hell whenever it has suddenly popped up to interupt whatever flow you may have had before it decided your life wasn't complete without it.

What is it we hate about the paperclip? Is it those needy eyes? Is it that childish stare? Maybe it's the singular absurdity that a paperclip can talk?

I believe we are annoyed by the paperclip for two primary reasons:

  1. It interrupts our flow.
  2. It's only purpose is to share unsolicited advice.

As a fan of neither of these I have always viewed them as personal pet peeve, however recently, after having been in the hospital and fearing for my very life, I realized I've looked at this all wrong. It's not about flow or advice, it's all about support, which in its pure state becomes unconditional love; by extention of this I should mention that the opposite of support and love is not hate or anger, but apathy.

The idea of support, whether being supported or giving it, is different from person to person. It seems, at least in my experience, that the idea is largely defined for a person by their upbringing, their family, and their culture. Indeed, healthier families tend to demonstrate the most support towards each other while unhealthy families are more likely to demonstrate apathy towards each other, especially in life-or-death situations. Last Tuesday morning forced that concept home for me.

Here are the Cliffnotes: I began the day vomitting profusely and within the hour was rushed by ambulance to the emergency room. A coworker of mine, who mind you owes me nothing, followed behind and spent the entire day at my side. Likewise, though my girlfriend hadn't yet been contacted by me (I was still undergoing tests and wasn't focused enough to be making phone calls) and though she'd only gotten a worried call from my manager who also didn't know what was going on she, not even owning a car, immediately rented one, left her job, and headed to my end of town to look for me.

That, in my mind, is healthy support worthy of the title "friendship" or "family" or more precicely: unconditional love.

And then there were people who, as soon as they asked if I was ok, went straight back to business as if I'd told them nothing more incredible than I'd eaten at McDonald's for lunch. There were those who barely seemed to raise an eyebrow on hearing I'd been in the ER, people who I've come to realize I'd really have to go as far as dying to spend an afternoon with.

Support and lack of support, love and apathy, there's nothing like being close to death that brings it out in others!

What, however, does this have to do with the fucking Windows paperclip?

This week I've received two types of support.

The first type is the kind I, like most people, enjoy and want. I would describe it as being thoughtful, kind, open, friendly, non-critical, and desirable. For example my coworker who stayed with me at the hospital did so not to earn brownie points or any other personal gain, but because he knew it was the "right" thing to do. Likewise, he, my partner, and others, provided kind words of support and friendship, offered to do what they could to help me out (both at work and at home), and so forth and so on. The sky was the limit for such people and though I have asked little or nothing of most of them they have all earned my respect. All accepted me for who I am, demonstrated that they care for who I am, and demonstrated that they appreciate my existence, that they would take the time and energy out of their own busy lives to make sure I was cared for, okay, and that I keep breathing.

You can't buy that kind of support, you just can't.

The second type, the kind of "support" I prefer to avoid, is judgmental, un-solicited, critical, and is in every way unfriendly, unkind, and brutish. For example, a day after telling my parents that I'd been in the ER they called me up to lecture me on all the medications my doctors have prescribed me--though there's absolutely no evidence what-so-ever that my little hospital trip was the result of a drug interaction or reaction. Not only is this 1) none of their fucking business, it's 2) not something I want their opinion on and 3) even if it was, they have no concept how absolutely miserable my average day is without some kind of heavy duty pain killer (and frankly even with them my average day is more painful than most people's); lets not forget 4) I don't appreciate anyone telling me how to live especially when they know very little about how I live, the choices I make, or my world view. I find this irritating as hell because 5) I've repeated told them I don't appreciate them calling me up and critisizing me, an adult, as if I was still 9 years old. It's not support in the least.

So what is support? What is love? And what's all the rest?

Sometimes it's easier to start with what something is not. I will begin there.

Support is not pushy. It is not defensive. It is not opinionated. It does not react to criticism. It is not angry, it is not mean spirited. It does not hide behind twists of the tongue and it is never, ever, forcefully imposed. It is never unwelcome. It is never harsh. It is not rude, loud, or abrasive.

That said, what is it?

Support begins with the person being supported and what they want (not what other people want, though this is contrary to the opinion of half of my biological family). Think about it for a moment, think about that simple word "support". Doesn't the word itself mean to aid in achieving a goal? So then doesn't it make sense that support begins with the person with the goal? And being the person with the goal wouldn't they generally know best what they need to achieve it (and even if/when they may not, don't they have the inalienable right to decide that)? Being supportive is the act of giving others what they wand, need, and ask for, to willingfully and plainly provide others with whatever they need to achieve their goals.

It's actually that simple.

Say, for example, I wanted advice on parenting so I say, "Hey, I'd like some advice about my daughter." In that case I've expressed a goal and asked for help, explicitely openning the door and telling you what I need to reach my goal. Likewise if I say, "Would you mind giving me your opinion about my hair colour?" I've provided a goal and a means in which to support it. On the other hand if you told me how to parent without me sharing a goal you're being presumptuous, pushy, and abbressive. If you simply walked up to me and told me you don't like my hair colour you are doing nothing more than being an ass (no matter how much you'd like to believe you're actually being helpful).

There's nothing like unsolicited criticism to mess with one's self-esteem.

So...I feel like I'm having a hard time sharing my ideas right now. Why? Sorta came close to death, sorta realized the difference between real support and, "Oh hey, heard you were in the ER, bummer. Oh hey, what about me, me, me?!"

You know it's interesting, earlier this evening I was telling my partner that I've reacted somewhat differently than others who have gone through a near death experience. Most, it seems, suddenly realize they're mortal, they realize the obvious, that they're not going to be around forever, and so it effects their lives in countless ways...but you see, having always been a pretty introspective guy and likewise one who'se been close to death before this wasn't exactly news to me (actually, to be quite honest I was having visions of the ER visit for several weeks beforehand so while it wasn't a pleasant experience it wasn't a complete surprise either). Indeed, it's something I think of at least once a day, the idea that I'm mortal, that I won't be here forever. So while being at the hospital threw that in my face for many hours straight, it wasn't news. So didn't go home thinking I needed to build a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, didn't suddenly realize I wasn't doing what I wanted with my life, nope, nothing like that.

But what I have realized, with startling clarity, is who sincerely cares about me and treats me like I have worth, and who treats me like an object to be consumed. And you know what? I'm sick of it. I have had no worse experience in my entire life than to be hospitalized, close to death, only to tell certain people and get responses not too disimilar from a shrug. Me, I've rushed thirty miles before on hearing someone I knew had gone into the hospital, I've turned the world over to make sure people who were experiencing pain made it to the ER, even people who had entirely lost my respect, who did not deserve my support, and to turn around and find so much silence? ... It's unconscienable. It's shocking. It's unlike anything I've ever before experienced, I cannot believe it, and it took me coming that close to death to realize I damn well deserve to be around people who treat me as if I have worth, who recognize that whether I'm sacrificed the world for them or done nothing more than worked beside them for a few years.

I have intrinsic worth and I'm done trying to 1) prove it to those I care about and I'm done 2) hoping those who have other seemingly higher priorities will be there for me when I--or any human being for that matter--most obviously needs their support most.

So in conclusion, we hate the Office Paperclip because it is the relative that calls us out of the blue to tell us how to live our life, it is the friend who can't keep their criticism to themselves, it is the person we gave our life to barely having the time of day for us after learning we've come pretty damn close to loosing our lives. Harsh words but you know, that's why we hate the paperclip every time it shows up. Doesn't it see that we're writing? Doesn't it understand it's just getting in our way? Doesn't it realize if we wanted it's help we'd ask for it? And doesn't it have the basic instincts to know when we need that most?

I see my life in a different colour.

I begin today.

And so do you.


Wednesday February 4th, 2009

Since prehistoric times humans have been telling stories.  We tell them to entertain, to educate, to share, to empathize, to thrill, to scare, to manipulate, to connect.  Whereas we once told stories late at night around the communal campfire (something we still do from time to time) most of us enjoy consuming our stories from the two dimensional screens of televisions, movie theatres, computers, and even our cell phones.  While we may have invented fabulously amazing things the wheel still remains the wheel, no matter how jazzed up our ride, and the story still remains the story, capable of eliciting the same array of human emotions it did for our ancestors hundreds of thousands of years ago around the camp fire.

This month I plan to share stories with you.  Specifically, I intend to write about those television programs that have had a meaningful place in my life.  While it's not my intent to sway you towards any specific program or watch more tele, for that matter, it is my hope to broaden your perspective and tastes and perhaps, as a side story, learn a bit about me as your fellow being.

February 4th, or 2/4, is the perfect day to begin with one of the few programs I've watched religiously since 2006 or so.  For those of you who haven't watched the program, it follows a government agent named Jack Bauer, played by Keefer Sutherland, who works (in most of the seasons) for an group called CTU Los Angeles (CTU = Counter Terrorist Unit).  An entire season, 24 episodes in all, covers an entire day in the lives of the characters; each episode last an hour during which the characters are followed in real time.  The most obvious gimmick of the show is the ticking digital clock which is displayed before and after commercials as well as during time sensitive situations; likewise, the voice of the protagonist sets up each episode with words similar to, "The following events take place between two P.M. and three P.M.".

You may have noticed that it is not February 4th. Indeed, it's about a week later, on Saturday February 14th, 2009, as I finish up and publish this entry. I had every intention of finishing that entry, the first of February 2009, but never had time. While I'd love that to be an overdramatization, it is not. I took a rare and infrequent break at work to write that one bit on my laptop, meant to finish it from home that night, but as has been true these last few weeks I found myself working another 12 hour day...or was that the all nighter I pulled?

It doesn't really matter, does it? I worked and I worked. Should I have stopped, taken a break, gotten some sleep? Sure, and as such on a few instances I came home, dropped on the couch, and fell directly into a deep sleep--but could I stop working what with all the deadlines and constant pressure and, "Is it done yet?" Nope, not really. So work, work. Stress in other areas of life hit as well and there wasn't nearly enough time to even come close to resolving anything so, long story short, I woke up Tuesday morning, puked my guts out, laid down, tried to catch my breath, found myself dizzy and in increasing chest pain over thirty or so minutes, and before I knew it I was having momentary black outs. I managed to keep my head on straight, called a coworker to take me to the emergency room followed by an ambulance, carefully made my way downstairs, opened the front door. I spent the day in the ER in relative fear and agonizing pain. The day proved a water shed showing me who I could really count on and who lacked the basic understanding of what one does in, during, or after, a life-threatening emergency. I spend the next few days slowly getting back on my feet and I'll spend the next few weeks figuring out where to go from here (and how I'll pay this new set of wonderful medical bills).

I have some answers. I have even more questions. And need sleep. I need the support of my peers, both professionally and personally. I need to see my doctor Wednesday for more questions, hopefully each with at least one concrete answer.

I don't know if I'll be writing much. Tired physically. Tired emotionally. And tired of deadlines and schedules. I'll write when I write. I'll write what I can. I hope that'll be good enough.