Experts At Distrust

Trust

There are misconceptions everywhere. You’d have to be willfully blind not to realize this. We don’t know as much as we think we do. But that’s not the danger. The danger is that very few like to admit that there are gaps in their knowledge and understanding. It makes us feel small, stupid, inadequate . . .

But such admissions also provide a healthy and much-needed dose of humility. But in a world where we carefully cultivate our images, such admissions are anathema.

And so we live in a time when everybody is an expert on everything, we are governed by our feelings (which, let’s be honest, has been the case for most of human history), and so few want to ask difficult questions or think difficult thoughts.

How did we get this way?

I don’t know. I suppose it’s some combination of classism on the part of the ruling elites, resentment on the part of the rest of us, the system being proven not to work as advertised, and nobody interested in bridging the gaps between us.

What’s that, you say? I’m being hyperbolic about the system?

Au contraire. If you look at the post-World War II neo-liberal world order, it is collapsing in spectacular fashion, and it really only took half a generation to do so.

But I digress. The problem as I see it is that there are thorny issues that need resolving, very careful resolving, but nobody trusts each other.
Continue reading “Experts At Distrust”

Eat A Rock

There’s something floating around the zeitgeist holding that failure is not the end of all things, but the beginning. 

“Fail forward.”

“Have a system.”

“Keep grinding.”

“Failure makes you stronger.”

It’s an idea that’s gaining a lot of traction, it’s proponents now looking like geniuses (Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Scott Adams come to mind).

My high school music teacher–the best teacher I ever had–used to say something to us before every performance: “Eat a rock.”

As in, go out and do something bold. Impossible. Dumb, even. But also glorious. And in order to eat a rock–and here’s the important part–you can’t give up or let up, not even for a second. Because if you do, you’ll never finish. 

It’s a silly metaphor, and it conjures up all sorts of interesting visual imagery, but it’s stuck with me all the same ever since. 

Eat a rock. 

I had a big failure recently. Like, a massive one. But something strange happened when I got the news. I wasn’t angry, or worried, or filled with self-pity. I felt–and this is where it gets weird–empty. Numb. 

Though this is the kind of thing that would make most wail and gnash their teeth, it didn’t move the needle for me one way or the other. It was just a thing, another thing in life that needs to be dealt with. 

Maybe I’ve been internalizing these messages. Maybe saturating myself in the world of self-improvement, systems-thinking, philosophy, and brotherhood so much these past two years is actually rubbing off on me. 

In truth, things will get worse before they get better. Life will get more difficult. But once the numbness wore off, felt oddly exhilarated. I went into my room, hit the knees in prayer, and when I got up, I felt a sense of resolve. 

I have a responsibility and a duty. To my family and to myself. 

There are things, like my thoughts and my health, that I can control. 

And nothing, not even failure, lasts forever.  Continue reading “Eat A Rock”

Fasting From What?

Based on my calculations, we’re about halfway through Lent. And every year certain aspects of Lent get easier, while others prove more difficult. 

Take fasting. No, please, take it. It’s an inconvenience and kind of a drag. But that’s the point. 

When we were kids, at least in the Greek Orthodox tradition, it meant going meatless more often, and sometimes everything-less, especially during Holy Week. We don’t do the “give something up for 40 days” as our Catholic brethren do, but I understand the idea behind abstaining from certain foods and certain things. It’s a great way to introduce children into the concept of fasting. 

So fasting from what? What’s more challenging than not eating the things that you love?

A lot. Three points;

  1. Christianity is one of the only faiths I can think of that has no dietary restrictions. Nothing God made is unclean. Have at it. 
  2. Related to point one, Christians don’t go to heaven or hell based in a checklist of ritualistic behaviors. What you eat, what you say, and how many times a day you pray aren’t the final arbiters of your place in eternity. It’s much more personal and far less mechanical. In other words, it takes hard work, far harder than adhering to a checklist. 
  3. How sad a state we are in when fasting becomes such a deal breaker for many! Americans are surrounded by food. We are drowning in it. Is it really that hard to put the fork down for 40 measly days?

But the food let has become easier for me. Age and maturity will do that to you. And it’s good because a little physical discomfort can sharpen your mind for the things you are truly supposed to abstain from. 

Sinfulness. Your flaws. Things you do that you know you shouldn’t do but that you do anyway. 

These are the things Christ was crucified to help us overcome. 

Okay, if you’re not a Christian, or even religious, I am aware of how silly his may sound. But roll with me here.  Continue reading “Fasting From What?”

Book Review: Sword & Flower by Rawle Nyanzi

Sword & Flower - Rawle Nyanzi

If you ever wanted to know what would happen when a Japanese pop-star who can use magic teams up with a sword-fighting Puritan warrior to fight demons in weird dimension that may or may not be limbo, then Rawyle Nyanzi has answered this question for you in his debut offering, the novella Sword & Flower.

Even if you’ve never had these questions–and if you haven’t, I’m sorry–Sword & Flower is a fun, exciting read, part of the nascent “Pulp Revolution,” looking to bring back the spirit, energy, and free-wheeling nature of sci-fi and fantasy’s golden age.

You know, before politics, social justice, and lots of other stuff that has nothing to do with storytelling got in the way of storytelling.

Think more adventure and less angst.

In the interests of full disclosure, I must state that Rawle is a personal friend. He and I talk writing very often in person or on-line, and have read and critiqued each other’s work. In fact, I had the pleasure of reading early versions of Sword & Flower, and it’s interesting to see what suggestions I had and points Rawle missed made it into the final story.

And if you recall, Rawle and I went to see both Suicide Squad and (ugh) the new Ghostbusters movies so you don’t have to.

I don’t want to give away too many of Sword & Flower‘s plot points since it is short–104 pages–but I have to give some, as it has as unique a premise as you’ll find.

Lesser Heaven is a place where some go when they die, where they are held before achieving either a seat in paradise or eternal damnation. Why this is so, and what they must do to get a full reckoning, however, is still a mystery.

Interestingly, people seem to get sorted on the basis of geography and culture, so that an thirteenth-century Zulu tribesman would be with other thirteenth-century Zulu tribesman while a twenty-fifth century space-faring Chinese astronaut would appear with other twenty-fifth century Chinese, and so on.

That’s right: All cultures and all time periods coexist simultaneously in Lesser Heaven, so you just know that interesting interactions are bound to take place.

One such involves Dimity Red (real name: Chiyo Aragaki), Japanese pop sensation, who meets her end in a grisly manner and finds herself in Lesser Heaven. For some reason, though, she is immediately attacked by a demon, saved by a Valkyrie, and then deposited near a settlement of Puritans. And though she helps these pilgrims stave off demons that menace their settlement, she is soon arrested for being a Satanic witch.

Luckily, she catches the eye of the free-thinking son of the settlement’s pastor, nicknamed Mash, who senses her goodness and questions his own people’s automatic dismissal of what should be considered, perhaps quite literally, as a God-send.

I told you, Sword & Flower has a bit of everything. Continue reading “Book Review: Sword & Flower by Rawle Nyanzi”

Pulp Rock

Pictured: No rock.

I care about rock n’ roll, perhaps too much. Like Pete Townshend said, “Rock is very, very important and very, very ridiculous.”

Look at the charts now, read a magazine, or flip through the radio, and you’ll see that rock is done as a cultural force. Totally dead. 

Sure, there’s Rolling Stone, but what young people really care about that?

Guitar-based groups are niche old-people music at best, and I lump myself into this group. Rock is just kinda-sorta still here because of nostalgia. Rock is an Anglo-American thing, so we’ll keep it around for tradition’s sake. 

No one cares about it. It doesn’t capture the imagination anymore. Kids aren’t growing up dreaming of playing guitar. They want to rap or dance or sing pop stuff. And that’s fine. Everything changes. But it still makes me sad. 

Of course rock is still there. And of course there is still “good”‘stuff. The barriers to entry are low and, thanks to the Internet, you can find whatever kind of music it is that you’re into. So it’s there, but it doesn’t matter. 

Aside from the legacy “bigs,” who cares?

Why? How’d it get to this point?

I contend that it died from self-inflicted wounds. Like many forms of entertainment, a stultifying combination of political correctness, commoditization, and technological disruption ruined it. The freewheeling, anything goes 60s and 70s gave way to the slick 80s, the faux-rebellious 90s–reeked of manufactured authenticity–to the pretension-soaked indie 2000s and now the the whatever-you-call-them 2010s (the dead zone?).

Every big movement came from the ground-up: Acid rock. Punk. Prog. Hardcore. Grunge (at least, the Melvins). Hell, even the much-derided emo thing. 

But one thing rock couldn’t do was escape its own ass.  Continue reading “Pulp Rock”

Digital Soma

You’ve heard it all before: Smartphones are bad. Technology is bad. We’ve lost the ability to think. And so on. 

Though I’m no Luddite, much of this is true to a degree. And it was on my mind during an interesting conversation with a really smart guy I had at a recent cookout. 

This gent is a little older than me, but similar in background, education and temperament, though he’s not a lawyer. But he’s into history, and he sees trends, so we talked about things like helicopter parenting and the time-sucking black hole of our endless entertainment options. 

It helps that, like me, the guy is both a historian by training and a reader of classical literature and 20th and 21st century fiction. “It’s Brave New World meets 1984,” he said at one point; a cliched observation, yes, but cliched because it’s true. 

“More Brave New World, I’d say,” I responded. “Everything is a different form of soma.”

Soma, for those of you who’ve never read the book, is an undefined, mass-distributed “pleasure drug” that’s kind of a cross between an opiate and a hallucinogen. It keeps the population happy and docile. 

What we’re drowning in now, rather than pills, is digital soma. 

Eventually, from smartphones and omnipresent media, the topic of our conversation soon turned towards video games. 

I know I’m stepping into it here, but I’m fine with any blowback. What’s the point of debate if we can’t be honest about where we stand? Continue reading “Digital Soma”

Learn the Hate

America. It’s a divided place. This is no great revelation born of years and years of study and contemplation, but a conclusion one can make by scanning the Internet or television or media of your choice for ten seconds. 

One-third hates the other third, and the remaining third doesn’t care. 

But those two side that hate each other, boy is there a lot of enmity. 

This “blue state/red state” divide has gotten worse since these terms came into vogue around 2004. 

The red side accuses the blue side of living in a bubble. The blue side claims the bubble is a myth. 

The bubble is a myth? Please. I live in it. 

I’ve got a red-state core but I love and travel in blue-state circles, so I notice things others might not.

There’s a lot of hate, yes, but there’s is precious little understanding about why. 

And I think this is a big problem. 

It’s as important to understand why the other side hates you as it is to understand why you hate the other side. 

I hear a lot of the affluent, highly educated urbanites laugh at Trump’s constituency, but underneath the indignation and political disagreement is a layer of genuine hurt: These folks don’t understand why many reject them and the work that they do. 

Being called the “deep state” for merely doing their job. Distrusted as the cause of economic misery. And worst, being accused of not caring, which to this set is what really stings. 

They’re supposed to be the compassionate ones! What gives? Continue reading “Learn the Hate”