Conflicting Impulses

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Not too long ago, I was working on a case where my client was being sued. Although technically in the wrong, the offense in question caused, at most, a negligible amount of damage. It looked bad, more than anything. But the plaintiff didn’t care–the relief they sought was ridiculously disproportionate compared to the harm, or lack thereof, actually caused.

This, of course, got my competitive juices flowing.

“So what do you think?” asked my boss.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” I said. “I want to fight it.”

“Think about a little more,” said my boss.

So I did. And he was right. But my first instinct was to fight it. That’s how it goes.

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Usually.

See, I have a conflicting impulse, which is to try to come to some sort of agreement.

It’s not that I’m conflict-averse per se. I just find it more pleasant to get what you want sans conflict.

That’s right! Despite what I have soberingly come to conclude is the only realistic way to beat back the darkness, I have a contradictory desire to make friends and build bridges.

Some might call this weak. Someone might call this unrealistic. I get that. But I can’t help it.

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When I see or hear someone write or say something that is grossly unfair, realistic, or just a post something that I think is true and right, I would much rather talk about it then start throwing punches, metaphorical or otherwise.

But when I do, I come to the equally sobering conclusion that it’s pointless. It bears repeating, even though I’ve been beating this drum for a while, that if somebody comes at you in bad faith, there is no point in engaging the debate.

Even though I want to.  Continue reading “Conflicting Impulses”

You Can’t Fool God

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Why bother with religious belief in the modern world? Isn’t it just superstition? Hasn’t it been disproven?

I write a lot of these posts to explore this question, not just for readers, but also for myself. Because modern humans like to think we’re at the top of the food chain and have figured everything out, while simultaneously reducing human existence to being merely just another animal that’s little more than a collection of chemical and electrical impulses that reacts to the material world. This seems contradictory and unsatisfactory to me, which is why I can’t stop thinking about it. 

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You’ve got to answer for everything eventually. Even when you die. I don’t know why, but this never bothered me.

I mean it scares me, which is the point, right? But it doesn’t annoy me. I don’t feel like it’s unfair that I’ll eventually face a final reckoning at the awesome judgment seat of the Lord, when that day finally arrives.

Because it makes sense. There are consequences to everything in life. Why would God be any different?

This seems cruel to some. This is yet another reason why non-believers seem to enjoy non-belief. “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” It’s easier, right?

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In other words, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” “Every man and every woman is a star.” 

Do whatever you want because, ultimately, there are no consequences.

Words cannot describe how terrible a philosophy this is. I know some will throw the “slippery slope” fallacy at me, but I’m not so sure that it’s always a fallacy. Think of it more like the law of unintended consequences: one small transgression that’s “not really a big deal, so stop being such a square” will eventually turn into real, officially sanctioned horrors later on.

I mean, writers at top journalistic publications are trying to normalize, or at least destigmatize, pedophelia, for crying out loud.

But even at a personal and not societal level, the fact remains that you can’t fool God.

This isn’t a commandment or even an informal tenet of Christianity, but it always seemed implicit to me. You can’t fool GodHe is omniscient, and no amount of rationalization is going to make the wrong thing actually be right, even though you can convince yourself and others that it is.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.

Galatians, 6:7

From the little transgression to the big, from what you do to what’s in your heart, God knows. And I am fine with this.  Continue reading “You Can’t Fool God”

A Plague of Free Thinkers

Ever since a certain music superstar of a certain chromatic disposition tweeted out his approval of the a similarly melanated individual’s cognitive workings–a person who happens to occupy a different spot on the political spectrum than most of her co-colorists–“free thinker” has been bandied about by a whole lot of people to describe themselves.

It’s an utterly meaningless term that is so smarmy and self-righteous it makes me want to puke.

Everybody on Earth think’s they’re a free thinker. Every one. Unless you are literally under some form of mind control (for example, under threat of physical violence or imprisonment or other harsh penalties for not expressing certain viewpoints), all of us think we arrived at our viewpoints based on thinking freely about all available options, looking at things from every side’s perspective, being open-minded, and so on.

The only problem is that it’s all nonsense. We have a plague of “free thinkers.”

People have biases. People have trouble overcoming biases. People are often not even aware of their biases. People also almost to a man think that they’re smarter than the average person, or even the above-average person, on every topic imaginable–call it Dunning-Kruger if you must, but I like the term illusory superiority.

I ask you again, then, what makes your thinking freer than that other guy’s thinking?

More often than not, the measure of the other guy’s status and ability as a free thinker is how well the other guy’s conclusions match with your own. If that proverbial other guy agrees with you, then wow! You’ve found another free thinker! But if their conclusions don’t align with yours, then I guess they’re just an unthinking, brainwashed buffoon. There can’t be any other explanation, right?

If you can’t see the problem with this line of thinking, then you are a part of the problem.

This line of thinking is what demagogues and propagandists of all stripes and persuasions use to build and condition their little armies–and sometimes their big armies–into believing that they are utterly right about everything and the other guy is utterly devoid of humanity. And when you have a scapegoat who’s not even human, the only sane, rational, and good answer is to completely stomp them out.

If you’ve ever wondered what can drive somebody to get really violent over a difference of political opinion, well, here’s part of the answer.

Being right feels good. This explains the asinine “We’re on the right side of history!” argument political terrorists use to punish those who disagree, because they’re obviously on the wrong side of history, and wrong is bad and needs to be exterminated.

The answer isn’t to be full of constant self-doubt and hold nothing ever to be true. This is a different kind of plague, one that we see writ large in the majority of modern European societies. They have questioned everything about themselves to the point of bottomless self-loathing; they don’t even believe their own societies should exist anymore, and are acting accordingly.

And let me tell you, I’m sure all of them think they’re the freest of free thinkers who ever freely thought.

And they’re right. They can probably explain to you how they reached their conclusions.

This, I think, is the distinction between “free thinkers” and “not free thinkers”–if you insist on using this terminology. Not whether the person agrees with you, but whether you can actually explain how you reached a conclusion and why.

Continue reading “A Plague of Free Thinkers”

What Joy?

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A few days ago, I watched the first three or four episodes of AMC’s Into the Badlands–yes, I know I’m late to the party and that the show premiered in 2015. I’m uncool. Bear with me.

Into the Badlands, a modern take on the 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en, seemed right up my alley: A cross between post-apocalyptic survival, martial arts, and political intrigue among the feudal barons with a strong aesthetic that manages to combine elements of kung-fu cinema, Westerns, and even a 1930s/1940s vibe. Sign me up!

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Daniel Wu as Sunny.

Except . . . besides being visually stunning–which it is–the show is unremittingly dreary and depressing.

It’s another one of those TV shows where everyone is serious all the time (the acting is pretty stiff, actually), the world is run by the ruthless and the power-mad who will kill anyone who gets in their way, the rank-and-file seem hopeless and similarly bash each other senseless in order to curry what little favor they can, and save for one subplot there doesn’t seem to be any such thing as romantic love.

No thanks.

I know that these are standard tropes of the post-apocalyptic genre, and that nihilism is a hallmark–see, there’s not always hope! Maybe lots of people like this. To me, however, this trend has gotten really old and really flat. In short, it’s kinda beige.

We are what we consume. I’d rather not consume hopelessness, thanks.  Continue reading “What Joy?”

Book Review: 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is a hot commodity these days: people think he’s everything from a savior to, uh, a secret neo-Nazi anti-Semite white supremacist.

No, seriously.

Who he is is a Canadian practitioner of clinical psychology and a professor at the University of Toronto who specializes in myth and symbol and what many call “self-help.” He got famous some eighteen months ago for openly refusing to comply with a proposed Canadian law making it a violation of the law to use the wrong pronoun (“he” when a biological male wishes to be referred to as “she” and that sort of thing). Since then, he’s become lauded by many right-leaning people and loathed by many left-leaning people, mostly for reasons that have little to do with what he actually says or believes.

Whatever. I’m here to talk about his second book, 12 Rules for Life, because that’s what I read. I’m not going to get into the extracurricular stuff except as it relates to this book. Because Peterson has become something of a father figure for a generation of young men, so the story goes, precisely because he doesn’t hate masculinity and doesn’t think it’s toxic. While his message is universal, it resonates with men because he offers a perspective that 60 years ago would’ve been common knowledge, but since the social and cultural upheavals of the 1960s have been seemingly rejected by Western society.

You know, stuff like “Speak the truth,” “Stand up straight,” and what has become kind of a catchphrase for him, “Clean your room.”

There’s more to it than that, as we’ll see.

To say the man has become a phenomenon is an understatement. Peterson is everywhere these days, which might explain some of the backlash.

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I like him well enough. He’s an engaging and folksy speaker–and writer–who tends to ramble, but somehow manages to come back to his main point. It can be a bit annoying at times, more so in print than in person. And while I enjoy his lectures and interviews, I have to say that much of what he says is pretty basic. He just says it very clearly.

Maybe I’m not as impressed as others by 12 Rules for Life because I have a fantastic father. Maybe I’m not that impressed because in a lot of ways Peterson and what he says reminds me of my dad. Maybe I’m just not really the intended audience for this book.

In any event, I enjoyed the book well enough, some sections especially. And while I can’t say I agree with Peterson’s take on everything, or buy all of his arguments, there’s some good stuff in here that offers an interesting way of looking at things, particularly when it comes to Biblical interpretation.

That’s right: Peterson is huge into the Bible. For a non-Christian (I can’t tell if he’s an atheist, agnostic, or whatever else), Peterson sure loves his Jesus. Like, a lot. It’s interesting.

So what is 12 Rules for Life? It’s a self-help book with 12 rules Peterson thinks anybody can use to navigate the chaos of life. I won’t go rule-by-rule, since your mileage may vary on all of them, and I also don’t want to just rehash the book here. Instead, I’ll give you a few points I disagreed with or found goofy, alternated with a few points I found interesting or helpful–dare I call it wise. Here goes: Continue reading “Book Review: 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson”

The Most Discerning Guy on the Island

What is it about taking a side that provokes such anxiety among people who may actually have to take a stand on something?

There is a strain in many circles that joining a group or taking a side on anything will lead to goose-stepping and a complete obliteration of one’s identity and capacity for critical thinking.

This is an absurd premise that seems to speak more to the fears and personal neuroses of the perpetual fence-sitter, perhaps some deep-rooted and barely concealed susceptibility to being led by the nose, than about other people who have firmly planted their flag in some intellectual territory.

If staking out a position on anything is bad, then nothing would ever have gotten done throughout human history. Perpetual fence-sitters seem content to let other people do the heavy lifting, as long as they themselves get to feel superior in their inaction. But things don’t just happen for no reason at all–people actually had to risk something to achieve it. Continue reading “The Most Discerning Guy on the Island”

Interesting People, Vol. 1: Adam Lane Smith

Welcome to a new feature here on Amatopia! It’s called “Interesting People,” and I’m going to interview people I think are interesting. Simple enough, right?

For this inaugural installment, I interviewed author Adam Lane Smith. Adam wrote one of my favorite books that I’ve read in a long time, a sci-fi mystery/adventure called Making Peace. I reviewed it upon release, and I highly recommend it to fans of the genre, or anyone just looking for something a little different than what you’ll find on the bookstore shelves.

Adam is also a very intelligent and easygoing guy, and I’ve truly enjoyed getting to know him over Twitter. In essence, he is the very definition of an interesting person. I hope you enjoy the conversation (my questions in bold, Adam’s responses in normal type):

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Before we get into anything else, tell me one thing: why on Earth don’t you have a blog or website of your own?!

The short answer is that I’m lazy.
The long answer is that in the process of writing my book I had to deal with many pitfalls and time sinks. My former publisher went full SJW and let me know in a passive-aggressive manner that I was no longer welcome at their company, and then in an aggressive manner threatened my day job. I started and then completed an apprenticeship as a psychotherapist. I worked a traveling job. I started two new jobs. I conceived and then had my first child, and then conceived my second. I worked long hours reading everything published and unpublished from fellow authors while networking with them and raving about their works on social media so they’d know who I was when I finally published my book.
The struggle wasn’t limited to my personal life. After I finished writing the book, I unwillingly went through three separate people for my final cover. My second cover artist almost opened me up to being sued by using copyrighted material and claiming it was legally okay after I confronted him. I had to learn about editing and got a punch to the gut from the fantastic editor I hired, which necessitated 45 hours of editing and rewriting after I’d thought I was done.
All of that is my sniveling way of saying I was exhausted. Rhett C. Bruno mentored me through the launch and warned me sternly not to launch without a website, but I was beyond caring. I wanted to be a real author and be done with the cursed work which had tormented my soul night and day for three years. (Is that tortured enough for me to be considered an artist?)
But, unlike with modern Hollywood trash writing, there is a happy ending! I’ve got someone working on my author website right now. That’s registered at AdamLaneSmith.com, and will eventually exist once I prod him hard enough.
That’s a pretty good reason not to have a blog, but I’m glad to hear that the official home of Adam Lane Smith on the web will soon be up and running.
 
Your answer dovetails nicely into my next set of questions. As someone who really enjoyed Making Peace–indeed, it’s one of the strongest Pulp Rev works I’ve read–I’m eager to discuss writing, but I’m also intrigued by this publisher who tried to get you fired. What’s that all about?
 
Before getting into that, though, how about a little of your background, to the extent that you’re comfortable talking about it? You know, the kind of thing an actual professional interviewer would’ve asked you about first.
I grew up in Central California in George Lucas’ home town. When he writes about Tattooine and has Luke complain about how miserable it is, that’s what he’s talking about. When he writes about Mos Eisley, that’s our home.
I grew up poor in the ghetto. My mother came from a wealthy family but was disowned and disinherited for marrying a Christian man, and my father grew up with a divorced mother in trailer parks. No one helped us, and my parents each worked multiple low-paying jobs day and night to keep us fed and scraping by. Life was hard. Much of this is mentioned or hinted at in the afterword of my novel.
People died, friends were molested, I fought for my life several times against violence and untreated sickness, I developed PTSD, family members were abducted and raped by gangs, violence was ever present. One of the first lessons you learn is to lay on the floor with the adults on top of you so they die first and the kids might live under the corpses.
I learned to love reading as an escape, and dreamed of being a writer. By the grace of God, I worked my way out with the help of my diligent wife. Now we live a life of relative comfort and safety on a farm.
Those who’ve read Making Peace probably see a great deal of my upbringing in the setting.