What Owns You

Hands in chains

Compulsion. We think it’s a disorder–OCD. Most of us, we say, are above it. We’re in control.

But really, that’s a delusion. So many things control out lives. And adding more irony is that we are keenly aware of it.

The device you’re probably reading this on: How many times a day do you check it? If you’re an average person, the answer is 80 times per day. Eighty! Who’s in control?

It’s no great revelation that the stuff we own ends up owning us. But it’s helpful to occasionally remind ourselves of this.

Tyler Durden Fight Club quote the things you own end up owning you
People knock Fight Club, but the book and movie resonate for a reason.

Lots of these things are vampires, leeching us of or time, money, and energy. Time, money, and energy that could be put to more productive use. It’s bad enough that we don’t really own much of the stuff we think we do . . . and then, this stuff turns around and owns us.

I know that I myself have several things that own me, physical good or otherwise. These keep me from doing what I really want to do and know that I should do: write, read, pray, work out, play music, think, and so on.

Bela Lugosi Count Dracula

A caveat: These things don’t interfere with family time. When I’m with my family, the screens are out of sight. That’s an iron clad rule, and it’s one that’s easy to follow, because my wife and I keep each other in check (this will be important later on), and quite frankly it’s embarrassing wasting so much time on this stuff. Continue reading “What Owns You”

Inhumanity Is All The Rage These Days

The logo from the Marvel comics The Inhumans

What is it about tragedy that brings out the worst in people?

I know what you’re thinking: Tragedies can also bring out the best. We have seen how America has banded together in the wake of the terrible devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Jose.

But then, there’s the recent Las Vegas shooting.

I’m not going to go into the gory details here, but suffice it to say an incredibly evil man shot a bunch of people at a music festival, killing close to 60 and wounding hundreds of others before turning the gun on himself.

Once again, the reaction to this act of inhumanity is nearly as inhuman as the act itself.

No, you see, it wasn’t the killer who bears responsibility. It’s the NRA. It’s NRA members. It’s the Republican Party of the United States of America. It’s any lawmaker who didn’t vote to enact laws (that wouldn’t have made a difference anyway).  It’s anyone who supports the Second Amendment. It’s anybody who likes country music. It’s anybody who voted for Donald Trump. It’s Donald Trump himself (for God’s sake, the man is living rent-free in 60,000,000 people’s heads. Why does anybody let a politician control their thoughts and emotions?!).

The impulse to immediately start casting blame at people who had nothing to do with an act of violence instead of blaming the actual perpetrator is terrifyingly inhuman and evil. 

It’s sick and it’s wrong and it explains so much of what is going on in this country.

This attitude explains why there seems to be no hope of communication, no hope of reconciliation. One group of people wants the other to actually die.

How do you overcome this? How do you get over hatred, which seems to be one of the easiest, most enjoyable emotion to succumb to?

For starters, you have to imagine the other person as a human being with a soul and inherent worth. This might take a hell of a lot of imagination, but it can be done. And once it’s done, you start to extrapolate what would happen if this person were to die:

  • Do they have wife? Children? A family?.
  • Do other people enjoy spending time with them? Are other people relying on them?
  • How would other people’s lives be impacted if this person were to die?
  • What about the important people in your life? How would they be affected if you died?
  • How would you feel if someone that you cared for were murdered merely for their beliefs or opinions?

Really, it’s no different than the old cliche of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. These are really basic, human questions to act. And yet humanity seems in such short supply. Continue reading “Inhumanity Is All The Rage These Days”

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”

The Comprehension Gap

The logo for the organization Reading Is Fundamental

I feel it is obligatory to write about the whole Google memo thing; it’s all everybody is talking about anyway, so why not chime in?

“Because enough is enough, Alex!”

Ah, but I think you’ll find my take to be slightly different than your average customers’.

(See what I did there? It’s called foreshadowing).

So the memo, what some are calling an “anti-diversity screed” and are characterizing as “arguing that women are not biologically fit for tech roles.”

Which begs the question: did these outlets even read the memo, or are they lying about it?

You see, I am not here to discuss the contents of the memo, or its now-fired author James Damore, or even discuss what this means to the future of the American workplace–if you want to read a good article about all that stuff, check out Lord Adeonistake on the whole controversy.

I’m not even here to talk about the media: I do not expect honesty from them, nor do I expect them to be particularly intelligent enough to grasp what the memo actually said, which can be boiled down thusly:

The gap in representation in STEM fields does not stem from sexism, but from the AVERAGE PREFERENCES women make when choosing an occupation, some of which are driven by biological differences between men and women, and Google’s strategy of using discrimination to promote women, and certain other groups in general, does more harm than good.

That’s it. The author wanted more women to be working in STEM fields generally, and at Google in particular–in fact, he sounds like a fan of diversity (this is where reading comprehension comes in: did people just skip that part, or ignore it?). The memo is not “anti-diversity”; it is more “anti-Google’s current diversity policies, which he claims are not producing the desired effect, and are in fact causing more harm than good.”

A picture of the outside of Google headquarters

That’s a bit more nuanced, right? It’s not as good for clickbait, though. And you’ll notice that I am neither attacking nor defending the contents of the memo . . . I’m just trying to set a baseline of understanding so we know what we are talking about. It’s like in a formal debate or an informal argument: both sides need to be sure that they are talking about the same thing. Remember when that used to be important?

And yet, people want him drawn and quartered. People are frothing-at-the-mouth mad. You may find the contents of the memo offensive or distasteful–and that’s fine–but I certainly hope you at least read and understood what it actually said.

More shocking, to me at least, is this:

So many people seem to lack both a basic understanding of statistics and of basic reading comprehension.

And many of these people went to college.

This is what disturbs me the most. Continue reading “The Comprehension Gap”

Get Some Help

I'm not going to lie: famous, successful, and beloved people committing suicide freaks me out. Anyone killing themselves is terrible, but the rich and famous seem to have fewer reasons to do so. Don't they?

Of course not. There are many reasons why people take their own life, and those who seemingly "have it all" also have as many mental and emotional issues as the rest of us.

And like the rest of us, they didn't get the needed help that may have prevented this.

Help is a funny thing. We all know it's good, but so few of us ask for it when we should. And this doesn't just go for mental health issues, but any aspect in life.

I've had recent, chaotic experiences that brought this home. Stuff happened, and then more stuff happened, and I found myself overwhelmed. It was not my finest moment. I survived with minimum damage, but it was still brutal.

So focused on staying afloat, I didn't even think to ask for help from anyone. I also kept agreeing to take on more duties, because of the "I can do it!" attitude that some may mistake for stubbornness, but I like to call…

Okay, it's stubbornness.

But the point is this: people like to take on too many burdens, and delude ourselves into thinking we can handle it all.

We can't. Not always.

And since I'm a man, and men kill themselves at appalling rates, and I'm also a white man, and white men kill themselves at an even more appalling rate, and I tend to write about what I know, I'd like to share a hypothesis as to why men tend to not ask for help:

Most of the available resources are women.

In fact, as recently as 2013, there were 2.1 female psychologists for every male one.

There are many reasons for this gap, which mirrors the general widening gap in educational attainment, and the reasons for this could open up another whole can of worms that I don't want to get in to here.

But before you call me a "misogynistic, patriarchal, heterosexual subhuman," hear me out: I'm not saying it's a good or a bad thing; it just is. Maybe it's societal. Maybe it's biological. I have a strong suspicion that it's a bit of both. Continue reading “Get Some Help”

The Anti-Self-Loathing Manifesto

People hate themselves. 

It is now a big part of my mission to help end self-loathing. Not just in me, but in others. As an idea or a way of life.

Self-loathing is at the root of many societal and cultural problems we have today. And I do not understand it.

So what happened?

A part of it seems to be the Western Enlightenment tradition of questioning everything. The endpoint of this, with no objective truth to ground this search, appears to be “Well, we’ve run our course lads. We’re uniquely evil upon the world. Let’s all die!”

This is bad. 

Another aspect seems to be subconscious boredom. When you’ve reached the top and live in peace and comfort, there’s nothing left to do but tear it all down and start over. Instead of starting a new project, we seem hellbent on wrecking the one we’ve built over the millennia.

And of course there are the enemies of civilization who foster and actively work towards this. 

But this is societal self-loathing. And societies are made of individuals. Individuals whom have that fallen, common, all-too-human tendency towards self-destruction.

I cannot change society myself, but it makes me sad to see my fellow humans, in real life and online, hate themselves. If my words can make anyone reconsider this course, I’ll consider all of this blogging a success. 

But what to do? What authority do I have?

Let me tell you: I have been there. And it’s still a struggle. But I’ve learned to not hate myself. It can be done. You don’t have to become an arrogant, selfish psychopath…but a little swagger never hurt anyone. 

Below I humbly declare my Anti-Self-Loathing Manifesto! Continue reading “The Anti-Self-Loathing Manifesto”

Axiometry Part III “Don’t Think About What You Could Have Done Differently.”

“Don’t think about what you could have done differently.”

“Don’t beat yourself up.”

“Let the past go.”

Sayings we’ve all heard before. But are they valuable bits of wisdom, or valid, empty words?

Thats right! It’s time for more axiometry, my made-up word for examining common aphorisms and figuring out if they really make any sense:

Axiom: “A rule or principle that many people accept as true.”

metry: “Art, process, or science of measuring.”

There are many variants of this particular axiom, but they all focus on the same thing: regret.

Ah, regret. A favorite topic of mine. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you should know how I feel about regret:

Carry around your past regrets, not as an anchor, but as a guide.

So you maybe you think you already know where I come down on this particular axiom.

But as with everything , we shall see. Continue reading “Axiometry Part III “Don’t Think About What You Could Have Done Differently.””