Once more unto the Breach

Enter the Trump Presidency.

I’ve stayed silent about him for some time now. During the election process, especially early on, I got the impression he was being confrontational and offensive to get attention. I try not to talk about blowhards like that because it helps them. The more people talk about him the more attention he gets. We’re past that point though. We have to talk. He’s gotten an absurd amount of power and it’s not okay.

But let us take a step back first.

I’ve avoided politics in my writings, but also in my life. Of course I have many political ideas and I like to debate with people on them. Real low level politics are life, you can’t avoid that. It’s just that I’ve been actively disengaged with the big picture. I avoided getting involved with organizations and with movements. This isn’t something I’m proud of, nor is it something I’m especially ashamed of. We should all strive to do good in the world and it’s up to the individuals to decide what form that takes. There’s more problems than any one person can possibly face, so we pick our battles. Personally, I found politics to be far more draining of my energy and good will than most things. If you can’t guess from my writings, I don’t fall into a mainstream viewpoint. I’m actively frustrated by political parties and organisations. In some cases it’s not entirely their fault, the system itself is set up in a combative fashion which forces any successful group to adhere to a toxic mentality. The Us-vs-Them thing. The antagonistic, divisive, polarizing tactics. It’s not something I can agree with. So I tried for non-mainstream parties. Political people on the fringes are even worse because they’re actively divisive towards anyone with beliefs that are not “exactly correct”. The in-fighting is mind numbing. So I gave up. I focused my energy on those people I could directly engage with. Actually being able to have a conversation with someone makes helping them exponentially more effective.

Yet despite all that I’m coming back around.

We’ve been building towards a big shift: war or some global catastrophe, whether famine, plague, or other. If we had a strong moral leader, this event could be spun into a good thing. We could have been steered to something greater. Maybe a societal shift in how we treat our environment or in our inequality issues.

But no. Now the odds are on a tragedy.

America is bereft of a positive leader. Learning the history of the Roman Empire, both the fall of the united east/west empire and the subsequent fall of the eastern half, has been startling educational. Their president is reminiscent of the entitled and violently stupid later emperors. The ones who managed to squander the treasury, destabilize the borders, and wreck the legal system, all while playing a populist rhetoric of helping the common people. It’s scary to see how bad this collapse could become.

This generation will bleed. We will suffer and struggle but we will survive. Many common people survived both world war 1 and 2. The bloodshed was monumental but they survived.

As will we.

Three generations and we forget. Average lifespan skews the absolute number of years, but it’s the generations that count. The children who grow up in the shadow of tragedy know to not repeat it. Their children are a step removed from it, they learn of it as an idea. They start to glorify the violence, to forget the pain. When they have become old, their is no one to remember. The children of the children become adults who have forgotten why we remember.  

I can’t say for certain this president will be important in and of himself (important can be good or bad, I’m talking impact). I have my doubts about how he will be written into history. What I can tell for sure is that he will be a catalyst. The “cause” will be our societies neglected problems.

The lessons we have forgotten and the ones we have yet to learn.

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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

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.

~~~

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.

Musings on a Muse

I think I’ve clicked with an ancient practice. Or the modern european bastardization of a cultural practice. It’s hard to separate the traditional views we have from what we now know as factual history. Like having Vikings with horns or dinosaurs without feathers. It’s become part of the art. There’s nothing wrong with depicting things more realistically, but the converse is also true. It’s not out of the question to freely admit you’re ignoring facts because you’re making art. Fiction is fiction. So when I say I understand the idea of a Muse, I’m not claiming it’s what the ancient greeks believed. It’s what our modern interpretation of a Muse is. And that I think I have a grasp of.

Art comes from our brains. Magic isn’t real. The gods don’t exist. Yada yada yada.

There hasn’t been a point in time where someone actually saw a half-deity warrior or a dragon. Stories got told, miscommunication happened and myths were born. The storytellers magnified the fantastical elements to make better stories. The muses themselves are creation of the artist, yet the artist calls out to them for inspiration. It seems unlikely that every artist who invoked them genuinely believed in them. They knew it wasn’t some attractive mate who’d come to their bedchambers because… well because that never happened. To any of them. Not a once. So of course it was metaphoric; metaphors are what the artist knows best. They call out to this inner force welling up inside of them. Swirls of brain chemistry exciting random parts of the brain.
Emotions.

They’ve always been the key. You must feel strongly, passionately, intensely, to make art. Take what I said in High’s and Lows, and combine it with Love is the Answer to Consciousness. The artist needs those highs and lows. Love is by far the best avenue to experience an unrivaled emotional trip. The artist is fueled by those low points because they’re striving for that high plateau. Knowing it’s merely a short term destination is something that must be accepted. Without the drop back down, the art won’t come back.

So I get Muses. It’s the artist feeding off of someone’s energy. Not in a bad way mind you, in that magnifying way people can spiral high on. Of course they tend to have a sexual overtone but it’s not necessary; sex is intimately linked with love, for most of us. If the person isn’t in that “most of us” and not driven by sex, it will be something else equivalent (like religious fervor). The Muse will take the form of whatever the artist is most attracted to. It can be a force of nature or a similar concept but it is more likely to be physically manifest in a person. We’re wired to love other humans so it’s the easiest thing to fall in love with. The fact that the muse is a person can be a problem though. Their relationship to the artist can’t be an ideal relationship. The artist needs that low point. The Muse is most effective when near but simultaneously far. They pull the artist to greater heights, pushing them to hone their craft. Accelerating their mind far beyond what they would ever be capable of.

Er something like that. I guess. I dunno, I’m just rambling.

Tough Love

chuck-rock

I’ve never liked that term, tough love. It’s like when someone says they’re honest when they really mean they’re a dick. It’s a high minded excuse to put their negativity out in the world. That being said, there is something to the concept of tough love.

The hamfisted way to illustrate this is with an extreme example. When someone is suffering from a damaging addiction their loved ones need to step in. Enabling their behaviour will only prolong their suffering and could lead to their death. Tough love means stepping in to stop their self destructive actions. It may mean ignoring their autonomy. Getting them away from the thing they are addicted to can allow them the freedom to clear their head.

This is a morally challenging thing to do (and often not legal). Adults have the right to make mistakes. Individual autonomy means that we must respect the right to make choices, whether good or bad.

Addiction isn’t just about substances because there’s many actions which can trigger similar brain reactions. In my completely uneducated opinion, it seems they all are shortcuts to various evolved behaviours. As animals with brains rooted in evolution, our actions and behaviours are guided by hormonal and chemical triggers within our brain. Reward and punishment. We’re clever enough to have figured out ways to bypass the intended actions (eating, sex, hunting, etc, etc) to get at the reward (drugs, masturbation, gambling, theft, dangerous sports). It’s not that those are necessarily wrong, in and of themselves, but they’re easy access to powerful feelings. Its harmful because the shortcut is easier than living a reasonable, balanced life. The necessities become unnecessary. Until the parts of your life that have been eroding collapse. Then you can only get positive feelings from your addiction. Why bother with the rest of life now?

So we come back to tough love. The people who care about you have to step in. Break the shortcut, get your life back into something mildly functional, and hope that your willpower is strong enough.

That’s the extreme example. Tough love can come in many milder forms. Maybe a friend has started dating someone you think is bad for them. Maybe they’re about to make a decision that you think will hurt them a lot in the long term. Or maybe you think they’re walking that path towards addiction.

The thing is, you can’t give up on their autonomy. You can give them advice and try to persuade them, but you can’t take away their ability to choose. It’s simply not ethical. Furthermore, to say that you love someone, but you don’t believe they can make adult decisions in their life, is an indication you don’t actually love them. You’re loving the person you want them to be, not who they are. You must respect their right to choose.

So you do that. You argue with them; you try to convince them that they’re making a mistake. But who are you to do this? I don’t mean this in the general sense, like “who dares to feel so entitled”, but in the specific sense. Who’s the right person to bring the tough love?

Maybe friends? They’re not close enough, they may not see the bigger picture and understand the real ramifications of a decision. They could easily be mistaken and become tough without actually helping. This damages a friendship without any benefit.

So maybe a best friend; the friend you have the deepest/longest bond with? They should be the one that has the most facts so they’re less likely to make mistakes. A similar relationship is the partner/spouse. The difference between the two varies significantly from person to person, so I have trouble making specific statements differentiating them. The way I see a partner compared to a best friend could be radically different from the norm (I’m not exactly an average person emotionally). So this last part is more purely conjecture than most of what I write.

It must be said that the separation of the two is a differentiation of roles and not of people. You can have a single person take on both roles. It’s just rare. The best friend role triggers less potent of an emotional reaction but a more consistent one. This is why it’s common to stick with them through many partners. You have to sacrifice a good deal of emotional intensity for it to last. This is why it’s challenging for one person to fill both roles.

So with that defined we can discuss who’s better to serve you some tough love. I think it’s the best friend and not the partner.

There’s a dichotomy between being supportive and tough. When you make a decision that’s bad in the longer term, but overall a relatively minor one, it can be good to be supported in your decision. It doesn’t matter that you make a mistake, having a loved ones support helps build your confidence and self esteem. It can also keep your bond strong for those times it may be tested. Most people can’t do both, their either supportive or tough.

A spouse/partner is comfort. They’re your rock, your solid support that stops you from falling too far. Like the quote from Palahniuk at the top of the page, tough love polishes you. It’s rough and coarse and painful, but it helps you. Your support should be the carrot and not the stick. Someone must be the stick though and it needs to be someone who doesn’t feel they’ll be cut out easily. They must feel confident in their relationship with you. So it should be your best friend.

Money Problems

There’s a problem with money. Well there’s more than one but this is a poignant one. Having money allows you to get more money. As biological creatures we want to leave things for our offspring (usually). These two together create an inevitable growing wealth disparity, regardless of how equal we start off. The poor get poorer and the rich get richer. Taxes are the only counter force but they only function when they are a smaller force. A 100% or greater tax would simply encourage criminal behaviour.

Let’s get down the layers to the root cause: money is how we quantify power. You can eliminate money but the same dynamic will occur with raw power, be it technology, weaponry, etc. Power accumulates. It’s an attractive force like gravity. It will clump together in larger and larger chunks. The more centralized the power, the greater we can manipulate the world around us. Not as individuals but as humanity. All the great structures of the world were built when the wealth distribution was unequal. This power allows for monumental creations, but it also creates great complexity in the system. This complexity is inherently unstable. A society with less centralization and less complexity will naturally last much longer. If two societies meet, the more complex one is capable of far greater accomplishments. It will either destroy the simpler society with force or compete it out of existence.

Is there some elegant solution? Not that I can think of and I doubt it’s possible. Any means to work around this (like taxes) will be a human created system. This power dynamic isn’t of human origin, it’s a part of the universe. It’s intrinsically tied with evolution. A system we create will be itself susceptible to the exact problem it intends to solve. Power will still accumulate within it. Here I’m reminded of the self referential nature of Godel’s Incompleteness theorem and how it trashed the universal application of mathematics. Fucking Godel.

There isn’t a satisfying conclusion. We can’t solve the wealth gap, at least not in the long term. Wealth will accumulate until it reaches a point of instability and then collapse. The revolution is inevitable. As is its failure.

This can’t be taken as an argument for inaction because the scale is deceiving. Yes, all societies will fall prey to the greed of a minority. Everyone dies too, that doesn’t mean being a doctor is pointless. You do it to save people in the here and now. The present tense is always more meaningful. The future cannot trump that.

So we tax the rich and their inheritance. We plot the revolution. We plan for it to not fail.
Even when we know it will.