New Ideas

The direction of this here writing will be shifting soon. Since I did the year in review last summer I’ve been having a harder and harder time coming up with good topics. It’s not that I’ve run out of things to say, but I’ve picked all the low hanging  fruit. Either I slow down the updates or I broaden what topics are relevant. I’m going with the latter. I like writing and I don’t want to do less of it.

So here’s the new plan. I’ll be doing three pieces a month, each from a different category. The first is exactly what I’ve been posting; philosophic/emotional ramblings on life. The second will be an analysis of some cultural thing that has been influential to my mind. Usually this means books (since I consume so many) but any media is fair game. The third category will actually be a split topic: fiction and political. They’re not actually related, it’s just that I can’t write a decent piece of fiction in a month. Instead of pushing me to fail at a deadline or pumping out something mediocre, I’ll alternate it with political discussion.

A recent event, that I’m sure you’re all to aware of, has made me genuinely concerned with our societies direction. I feel we’re headed for a major shift, a fulcrum point in history. And I feel the lever being pulled towards a dangerous future, one full of death and misery we’ve become unaccustomed to. To have a chance at averting this, we all must speak up, no matter the size of the platform. Make our voices be heard lest they be drowned out by violence.

But enough of that, I should save it for my first political post. My fiction will be a 6 part story that may continue further. The new format will start in February

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Building our City

I’ve been working construction for the past 6 years. Big building kinda stuff, not single dwelling homes. Often it’s been government funded projects or large towers. Sometimes the things I work one conflict with my personal ethics. Gentrification is a problem in my city and these towers may be making it worse. There’s also government funded things that I don’t like the purpose of. But nonetheless, I feel a sense of pride at having worked on them.

It’s definitely not tied to the actual end result because as I stated already, I’m not always a fan of why the the thing is being built. Obviously it’s preferable when my ethics line up with the project. I briefly worked on a radio-pharmacology expansion for a local hospital. That’s something I’m happy to have worked on. Of course it was my first job, so I can’t really claim too much credit for it.

But I digress.

I enjoy these projects because of the size and scale of them. It’s having a direct hand in building my city. I feel more intimately connected to my home. These structures that make up our city are monuments to our progress as a society.

In the ancient times it would have been temples to the gods. Now it’s towers for business, with the great corporations names emblazoned on the top. Both structures are monuments to the elites arrogant belief in their own ideology. As a crafter I am in tune with those same builders of old (well the ones who weren’t slaves). The craftsmen who were prized for their skills. It’s unlikely they all believed devoutly in the old religions, but they harbored at least some beliefs. Worship has been safer than the alternative throughout most of history. The same is still true. We builders of the modern age must channel our forebearers when we trust in economics.

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Cities are monuments to capitalism. The size and cost of a buildings is the plumage of a bird of paradise. They waste millions of dollars on displays of wealth, when millions of innocents die.

A piece of work I’m particularly proud of is a large chandelier I installed downtown. From talking to my bosses they estimated it was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Just the chandelier for a lobby. It’s main purpose wasn’t even to provide much light, it was principally decorative.

People are in terrible poverty very near that building. Walk a couple blocks from that job site and you’d see it. Yet a chandelier is installed that’s worth more than multiple people’s average  annual income. How to we justify this?

We don’t.
Not really.

It’s not a rational thing. It’s part of our confused concepts of justice and ownership and “fairness”. We’re all entitled in our own ways, even if we have a decent concept of morality. There’s an element of double think going on, of having morals and willfully ignoring them.

I’m reminded of the double-think required to be patriotic and moral.

True Patriotism, the kind that actually serves a positive purpose, has a dual nature. It’s a shame and a pride. And that’s how it should be. You have to feel both. You should feel pride in the progress your country makes because you are a part of it. A minute cog is still necessary for the larger workings of the national organism. Even if you hate the idea of it, you cannot be truly removed from nation states. The only option is to accept one, embrace it and try to do some good with it.

The flip side of Patriotism is patriotic shame. This is why I’ve always hated it, because so many “patriots” ignore this half. They don’t accept the wrongs done by their country. Most modern states have been involved in some horrendous acts; institutional racism/sexism, non-consensual medical experimentation, genocide, war crimes. No country is fully innocent, so recognize the flaws and work towards something better. If you stop feeling shame you’ve decided you no longer need to improve. Morally.
Unacceptable.

So reject that idea. Feel shame. Feel pride. One forces you to see your mistakes, the other allows you to see a better way to be. You amplify the good parts of your nation but you never stop talking about the shameful acts they’ve committed.

Words as Wisdom

How is our definition of a word related to what it actually categorizes? If you take a hundred people and ask them what being a genius means you’ll get a diversity of answers. Many find it difficult to pinpoint, so alternatively you can ask them who they would count as a genius. Assuming you ask enough people, they’ll end up listing some similar people, but the fundamental meaning being why could be different. A concept like genius isn’t the same as the concept of an apple. One has a real world counterpoint, the other is a social creation. A meter or a gram or a second are all based on real world physical phenomenon. There’s a reference point to compare your results too. Abstract concepts have no basis beyond the human mind.

I’m not attempting silly word play here, I want to get at the substance of how we think. So often we blast through life thinking we can communicate effectively. We blunder around and assume it’s everyone else not understanding us properly. If only I could make one more point, I’m sure they’d believe me. This arrogance doesn’t come from thin air, it’s because we lack an understanding of our medium. The act of talking is given such a bad rap. We see it as ineffective, as being cowardly, or as a recipe for future disasters. Physical actions are when you really get stuff done. Talking is the weak man’s weapon. When you denigrate a skill it doesn’t get studied by people; they don’t teach it to the following generation. We collectively get worse at it.

We’re in no danger of losing our ability to speak, the arguments I’ve heard for that are linguistic arrogance (like saying internet slang is damaging the english language). What we do lose are the nuanced skills inherent in language. Our words have meanings that are assigned by us, but at the same time they arise in a totally organic fashion. One person can’t decide to change the meaning of a word. Until others accept the definition you’re simply misspeaking. You’ll think you’re saying one thing and they’ll understand it as something else. Every word is defined by a staggering number of people, all choosing what the word will mean, but because there are so many, it becomes organic. Like the evolution of an animal in nature.

I support the efforts of some to change our language for the social good. The internet has shown many attempts to remove the antiquated gender binary from casual speech. That’s a good use of meta-language knowledge. It’s guiding our language to make it easier for us to communicate with one another in a way that is relevant to our current lives. Going back to the first word I mentioned, “genius”, it may have it’s own troubles. I read a piece the other day pointing out that when asking the general populace to name people who are geniuses, there’s a racial/gender bias in play. This is just a correlation so it may be due to any number of factors, but it’s worth looking into. Is there a hesitation to call a woman a genius or a non-white person?  When we’re so unaware of exactly what constitutes genius, we’re leaving a grey area where traditional prejudicial beliefs can hibernate and hide from scrutiny.

Being active with structuring ones own words can backfire though. When you’re trying to simultaneously integrate new words into your speech as you’re trying to convince someone of your points, you can fail at both. When the meanings of words get tangled up in the content of speech, you get confusion. One person may be arguing over the what a word “should” mean while the other is wanting to discuss the concept itself. I’ve heard/seen this happen many, many times. Both sides end up butting heads and not understanding each other. Both sides think the other is “crazy” or “dumb”. Neither is true of course, it’s just miscommunication.

Decide what you’re going to argue before you start speaking. If you want to discuss how we use our words, then focus on that. If you want to the real things, then do that. Don’t try to juggling the two topics. You’ll just drop them both.