Feature Their Hurt

There’s this song by Frank Zappa called “Tryin’ to Grow a Chin.” One line in it,

If Simmons was here, I could feature my hurt

refers to former member of Zappa’s band, Jeff Simmons–often the butt of Zappa’s jokes–who wanted to play more of his own material so he could “feature my hurt”; that is, bare his soul in the grand, Romantic tradition of artistes like Byron and Beethoven . . . at least, in Zappa’s terminology.

Not that there’s anything wrong with conveying emotion in art. That’s one of art’s core functions, after all. And although we see ugliness, inscrutability, and contempt for the audience as an intellectual shorthand for what makes art “art,” there is also a component of giving the audience what they want. And contra the sensitive types, there is no shame in this whatsoever. Most artists actually want to make a living, after all. Luckily for them, a lot of what the audience wants is for our artists and entertainers to feature their hurt so we can reflect on it, commiserate, and hopefully work through it.

Another apropos line of the Zappa song, itself a parody of teenage angst, is the end refrain:

I wanna be dead,

In bed please kill me

‘Cause that would thrill me

It might have just been a bit of Zappa-esque off-hand humor, a throwaway line that just sounded funny (Zappa reportedly hated writing lyrics), but it actually runs deeper than you think.

Look at the word “thrill.” That’s what we get when we can “bare our soul” and “feature our hurt.”

Because you see, it’s not really about other people. It’s about us. Continue reading “Feature Their Hurt”

Close Your Mind: A Response to Zigmund Reichenbach’s Guest Post

Hey everyone. In case you missed it, my response to Zigmund Reichenbach‘s guest post has been posted over at his excellent blog, All My Small Thoughts. In it, I discuss how using Zig’s idea of methodological skepticism can strengthen your own arguments and how this relates to debates and even the law, if you’re into that sort of thing.

But I also get into how an excess of skepticism can lead to an inability to judge. In other words, that there is such a thing as being too open-minded. An excerpt:

“Judgment” has become a dirty word, as though making a decision–and sticking with it!–is somehow a bad thing. How dare we place value on anything that anyone alive on this world decides to do or say? Who are you to judge?!

I’ll tell you. I’m a thinking human being.

Open-mindedness is good and all, but at some point you have to close your damn mind and discern and decide and yes, judge.

Read the whole thing at Zigmund’s blog, read the rest of his writing because he’s posting a lot of good stuff over there . . . and tell him Alex sent you.

Follow me on Twitter @DaytimeRenegade and Gab.ai @DaytimeRenegade

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Unique to Death

Check out this “Generic Millennial Ad” a friend of mine passed along:

Pretty funny, right? And accurate. “You’re so special . . . just like everybody else.”

Hold that thought for a moment.

Back to the ad: While I do think it’s a bit unfair to target Millennials as if they’re the first narcissistic generation in American history (I mean, you’ve heard of Boomers, right?), the ad, joke though it may be, raises some interesting questions about individuality.

I am generally to the right-of-center when it comes to things like the role of government in our daily lives. And much like the Founding Fathers who enshrined the primacy of the individual in the Bill of Rights, my belief, based on experience and observation, is that the government which governs best is that which governs least. Generally.

But we all grow up. We all change. And we all re-examine our beliefs. If you are not doing this, then you’re stagnation. What I thought was axiomatic at 20 doesn’t ring quite as true at 36.

Most of us generally go through phases in our thinking, from incoherence to ideological purity to a more pragmatic approach that discards that which does not work. Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman made more sense to me then than they do now.

Oh, I think Rand’s warnings against collectivism are as vital as ever. But to claim that all altruism, charity, and religion are soft, weak, and destructive struck me as incorrect and harmful then, and it does even more now.

And Friedman . . . I think we’ve seen where profit-over-all, society be damned has got us. If you still trust big business and think they’re always working for our best interests in an unfettered, purely voluntary free-market where competition reigns supreme, please pass me some of what you’re sipping on.

The point is, people change. So back to the ad.

Individualism is the best, according to American tradition. Go out on your own. Leave home. Make your fortune. Self-reliance.

I agree with this. Self-reliance is paradoxically one of the best things for a society, at least if you want it to be relatively free. Otherwise, we need a huge nanny state to provide for all of our needs, and who wants that?

About 65,000,000 people, actually.

Here’s the thing: Being unique, special individuals in charge of our own destinies with not a care for the world at large may have lead us into this quandary of depression, atomization, isolation, and eventual loss of moral confidence as a nation.

What are we, anyway? Continue reading “Unique to Death”

Reset: Chapter 12: Tuesday, September 4, 2001 (1)

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It was absurd, ridiculous, and childish, but Joe felt it all the same, that familiar surge of dread at the prospect of the first day of school.

All of his knowledge, his experience, and his confidence evaporated, leaving behind a mass of self-conscious jelly as he and Nick walked into Archer Hall to commence their academic career at New Hampshire University for the second time.

Archer’s grand lecture hall, looking more suited to theater than academics, seated three-hundred amidst huge windows flanked by grand columns. But as professors tended to be pretentious sorts who thought every word escaping from their mouths was of great importance, the setting fit. And what was an academic lecture but a type of performance?

He strained to control his breathing. His brain vibrated like a church bell being rung by an excitable abbot, the way it had when The Machine had deposited him and Nick on the field by the Burns Center. More nauseatingly, he felt the world’s strongest case of déjà vu, like his mind couldn’t reconcile the memories of things that had not yet happened occurring at the same time that they did.

“How you feel?” muttered Nick. They were the first words he had said to Joe since yesterday.

“Like my brain’s about to melt.”

“Same here,” said Nick as they took their seats. “For the record, whatever else happens, I’m sorry about this.”

“If this gets any worse, I’m going to start doing coke with you.” The girl sitting next to them looked over, eyes wide.

“He’s a Pepsi guy,” said Nick. “This is a big breakthrough, you know.”

The girl leaned back in her seat. Maybe if I ignore them, her expression said, they’ll go away.

“I don’t know how much more I can take,” said Joe. He pressed his fingers to his temples, probably looking like he was nursing a whale of a hangover, no different from most students in the lecture hall–the three-day weekend had not been kind to NHU’s undergraduate population.

“All I know is that if Brennan begins with that retarded joke about the meaning of the word ‘barbarian,’ I swear I’m leaving.” Continue reading Reset: Chapter 12: Tuesday, September 4, 2001 (1)”

Eight Insights About God, Man, and Creation from Moses Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed

Moses Maimonides - The Guide for the Perplexed cover

How does one “review” a dense, millennia-old treatise on Jewish philosophy and religion?

One doesn’t. But what one can do is share insights and particularly powerful ideas and concepts with another.

In The Guide for the Perplexed, written around 1190 in Moor-occupied Spain, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (aka Maimonides aka Rambam) writes to his student Rabbi Joseph ben Judah of Ceuta, to remove some of his confusions regarding certain aspects of faith and philosophy.

The Guide touches on many, many topics including:

  • The multiple meanings of Hebrew words and how to properly interpret the Torah (aka the first five books of the Old Testament)
  • Aristotelian philosophy: what Aristotle got right and wrong
  • Problems Maimonides sees with certain aspects of Islamic theology
  • The nature of God and proof of His existence
  • The nature of evil, and why it exists
  • Divine Providence
  • The nature of angels, prophecy (with a detailed discussion of Ezekiel) and dreams
  • Astronomy (as understood at the time) and the “spheres”
  • The purpose of God’s commandments

And yet instead of seeming disjointed, the Guide has as a constant thread two main themes:

  1. Discerning who God is and what He wants
  2. Achieving perfection, as much as possible, by coming to true knowledge of God

It’s heavy stuff, but it makes you appreciate the magic of the written word, and how one man’s letters nearly one thousand years ago still speak to us today, explaining mysteries and, as the title says, removing perplexities . . . or at least easing them and providing a way forward for further studies and thought.

Moses Maimonides statue Cordoba, Spain

Regular readers of Amatopia know that I am a Christian and don’t shy about writing on religious topics, so if that isn’t your bag, you have been warned. But even though Maimonides was Jewish, there is much overlap between Judaism and Christianity–same God, same creation stories, same traditions, similar rites (or at least the meaning behind them) and much of the same general theology and philosophy about God and man.

Obviously, Christians accept Christ as the promised Messiah and Son of God described in Jewish prophecy and Jews regard Him as a prophet and religious leader, but not Divine.

But the point remains: Christians can get a lot out of The Guide for the Perplexed. And even if you are not Christian, Jewish, or religious at all, Maimonides is a powerful thinker you will get a lot out of reading. Here are eight of my favorite takeaways from The Guide for the Perplexed:

Continue reading “Eight Insights About God, Man, and Creation from Moses Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed

Beige Evil

Nobody sets out to be evil. And nobody thinks that they’re evil. But would we even recognize evil when we see it?

I’m not just talking cartoonish, Pennywise the dancing clown evil, but the more insidious kind that often comes wrapped in the mantle of goodness and virtue.

I’m no Hannah Arendt scholar, but she is the philosopher who coined the phrase “the banality of evil.” In interviewing the architects of the Nazi’s extermination of the Jews and other undesirables, she was shocked to discover that these people weren’t the garishly sinister figures she expected. Instead, they were ordinary, nondescript, and even kind of boring.

Weird, right? But then again, so few set out to be the villain. Other people use that term. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” might have been a stupid thing to say after 9/11, but it actually describes how people see themselves.

(Now, taken out of context and as a blanket generalization, ignoring questions of who or what is actually right and good, the statement is obnoxiously relativistic, but I digress.)

Evil seeks to come in two main varieties: cartoon evil and beige evil. The former is rare and easier to detect. The latter is, sadly, far more common.

Cartoon Evil is big, bold, and knows it’s causing–and reveling in–mayhem and bloodshed. Think ISIS. Of course, they think they’re doing Allah’s work or whatever, but they totally enjoy the killing and the torture and the rape. Hey, they’re just doing what their Prophet says, so why not have fun?!

The thing is, most functioning human beings recognize ISIS for the evil that they are. They’re an easy one. Both the Nazis and the various horrific communist regimes (Russia, China, Venezuela, Cambodia, North Korea, Cuba, and so on) are a bit trickier to classify because they cloaked themselves in a mantle of faux-sophistication and academic-sounding justification. But they’re still evil.

Beige Evil, on the other hand, is creepier. It worms its way into you to eat you from within. And Beige Evil is usually pushed on you from without. Comedian George Carlin commented that when fascism comes to America, it’ll be in “Nike sneakers and smiley shirts.” He was on to something. Continue reading “Beige Evil”

Everyone Has A 9/11 Story

Sixteen years after the worst terrorist attack on American soil, and the world is still as dangerous and violent as ever. So few problems have been solved. So many seem to pop up by the day.

It’s almost as if violence and bloodshed, hatred and division, are indelible parts of the human condition. Who knew?

I was going to write about some negative aspects of 9/11, things people have said to me, and so forth. But then I realized, why dwell on the negative? Today we commemorate one of the most negative days in American history. I’d rather not add to it.

That’s why these kinds of commemorations–even dumb blog posts–are important. A whole generation born after 9/11 or too young to remember is now entering adulthood. It’d be tragic if these stories were lost, the event downplayed, or worse, trivialized and forgotten.

Remember the fallen and the survivors, remember the heroes, and remember our enemies. Just remember.

And listen. Everyone has a 9/11 story the way our ancestors had Civil War stories and Jim Crow stories and Depression stories and Pearl Harbor stories and civil rights stories and Vietnam stories. We all need an ear to listen, not for our own vanity, but so we never forget.

It’s cathartic. The rituals and reverence ensure that we take certain things seriously, which in the world of snark and smirking detachment we’re all occupying is more vital than ever.

So what’s my 9/11 story? Continue reading “Everyone Has A 9/11 Story”