Confusion is the Enemy

Nobody likes being told what to do. But we can shrug most of it off.

“I like your hair better short.”

“Maybe not the red tie?”

“You should do your lawn like this.”

“Your breath stinks, man! Chew some gum or something!”

No big deal.

But when it comes to questions of morality or right or wrong? Things that we maybe should be willing to listen to outside input about?

“You know, maybe sleeping with fifteen girls a week, sans protection, isn’t the best idea.”

“Fraud is wrong. Knock it off or I’m turning you in.”

“Crack is wack, yo.”

We go nuclear!

Why?

The mere mention of anything touching these dimensions can make even the most self-proclaimed, brave, “I-never-get-offended” free-speech proponent go bonkers and try to shut you up.

Why? Continue reading “Confusion is the Enemy”

Feeding the Perfection Beast

Today is February first. In addition to things like Black History Month, President’s Day, and whatever else is celebrated in February,* it also marks the beginning of the annual RPM Challenge

Think of the RPM Challenge as the musical equivalent of November’s National Novel Writing Month. The Challenge, which started in my home state of New Hampshire back in 2006 by local music magazine The Wire, is a call to record either 35 minutes or 10 tracks worth of new music in the month of February. 

It’s a lot of fun. Or would be, if I ever finished the challenge. 

Unlike National Novel Writing Month, which I accomplished this year, the several times I’ve began an RPM Challenge project, I never finished it. 

The one time I sort of did was in 2009 when I played bass on my brother’s album. He’s finished the challenge four or five times, now, maybe more. And he has more kids than I do. 

Me, I always petered out somewhere along the line, sometimes due to time restrictions, sometimes due to technical or equipment difficulties, but usually due to being my own worst enemy. 

You see, back when I had the music equipment and the space to record, I fell into the thrall of that dreaded monster perfection.

Perfection is one mean bastard. He gets into your head and makes you think you’re some kind of rock star when you’re really just a dude with a 9-to-5 and a hankering to pretend, just for a few hours here and there, that you’re something bigger than you really are. 

And there’s nothing wrong with that. 

This is the difference between me and my brother: I let perfection play on my immaturity and narcissism. My brother, while only a year and some change older than me, got married, started a family, and finished school far younger than I did. 

In short, he grew up faster. 

He knew the value of time and realism. He didn’t dicker around with trying to get everything just right. No, he said to himself, and I’m making this up based on observations but bear with me, “There is something I want to do. If I do X, Y, and Z for this amount of time every day, I will accomplish what I set out to do.”

He had a goal, and a system to achieve that goal. 

Process and not perfection. 

In short, he went for it. 

Me, not so much.  Continue reading “Feeding the Perfection Beast”

Other People

It’s always about “other people,” isn’t it?

When we judge, we act like we alone are uniquely above any criticism. Everyone else is the problem. We’re the solution. 

We all do it, even those of us who try to be aware of it

Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Words to life by right? 

Yes. But this isn’t a command to never judge–take a look at the next part:

Judge not, that ye be not judged.

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

–Matthew 7:1-2

In other words, be very careful what you say to others. And don’t be a hypocrite. 

Of course, evil should be judged harshly. Or things that can lead to evil. But don’t be so self-righteous to think yourself immune from this, or bristle when you get the same treatment from others. 

To many, evil is subject to interpretation. I tend to stick with immutable principles like those given by God, but your mileage may vary. 

So that’s evil. But what about stuff you disagree with? Or that you just find silly or annoying?

What about other people’s habits and mannerisms that just irk you?

“They do this, they do that, they just piss me off!”

But maybe it’s not them. Maybe it’s you.

If what other people do doesn’t affect you, or isn’t evil or doesn’t lead to evil, who cares?

In other words, pick your battles. Make them worthy of your time, energy, and judgment. 

As with most good things, though, this is easier said than done. 

I fall into this all the time. Social media makes it easy. 

Mockery is fun. Ridicule is a coping mechanism. Complaining lets off steam. 

But I wonder: What do people say about me and people like me?

Probably stuff I would object to as untrue

Exactly what other people say. 

Someone has to be right though, don’t they? Something has to be true and the other false. 

Usually. 

I know we’re a divided nation, and that’s fine. There needs to be a contrast between different ideas and their consequences. 

This is why my maxim is to attack ideas and not people. Continue reading “Other People”

Uncivil Society

How do you know it’s time for a divorce? The answer is different for every couple, but sometimes taking to the streets and smashing and burning stuff when you don’t get your way is a good sign. 

I’m obviously talking about this week’s U.S. presidential inauguration, culminating with the actual swearing in of our county’s new president today.

And people can’t talk about this without losing their minds!

You might be screaming “Not my president!” at the screen right now. Sure. Okay. But reality being what it is, he is your president, like it or not. 

And one half of the country clearly does not like it, to the point that they’re trying to stop the swearing in from happening. How, I’m not quite sure, but it sure sounds violent. 

There are two certainties about politics though, which you need to keep in mind:

  • There is fraud in every single election going back over 100 years. 
  • Everybody wants integrity and ethics until their guy gets in office. And then it’s time for defense mode. 

You’re dreaming if you believe otherwise. 

Like I’ve said before, people (read: rioters) are governed by their worst-case fantasies

Listen: Nobody will be rounded up into internment camps. That seems to be everybody’s biggest fear. But it is not going to happen. 

    And yet here we have rioting based on fantasies. 

    Even if things start going really well for the country, expect more rioting and agitation for the next four years. 

    I find it hilarious that so-called anti-fascist movements the world over are some the most violent, fascisistic, and yes, racist and hate-filled people around. 

    Anyway, my point is this: I don’t see how the country will ever “unite” or “heal.”

    I mean, it’s not even policies at this point. It’s fundamentally different views of human nature.

    This divide has been there for generations, but I would say that the year 2000 was the turning point. It might be irreconcilable now. We’ll see, but I’m not hopeful. 

    The days of each side wanting the same thing, but differing on the approach, are over. The end goals are completely different. 

    Decent people on either side can coexist. But there are enough radical, violent, and well-funded nutbags with evil intent around to ruin things for everyone. 

    Good job. 

    So what happens after Trump is sworn in? I don’t know. All I can hope for, as I did on Election Day, is that nobody dies. 

    Of course, someone did die on Election Day. Because this is America in the 21st century. 

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    Theater of the Mind

    There is no more powerful force than the human imagination. People live their lives according to what they think is true more than what actually is. 

    No kidding, right? It’s a pretty good heuristic: “That mean-looking son-of-a-bitch over there with the knives and stuff sure looks dangerous…think I’ll stay away from him.”

    But there are also those, shall we say, less-than logical manifestations of this tendency. 

    Let me provide some context: I work in DC. The presidential inauguration is in a few days. You can imagine the talk swirling across the country finds itself here. 

    And I have to laugh at a lot of it, even though a lot of it scares me. 

    Scares me?

    It absolutely scares me. Because some people’s actions are guided solely by what they imagine is the case. 

    There are people with important, high-stakes jobs like airline pilot, doctor, and lawmaker who think that we are one step away from having things like internment camps and death squads. The one-hundred percent think–no, know–that slavery is this close to being reinstated. 

    And how many times do people tell you “All X are Y”? “All Christians are bigots. All Muslims are terrorists. All blacks are criminals.” And so on. 

    Again, this goes back to heuristics: One bad experience with a group taints one’s view of them, yet one good experience never changes anybody’s mind for the positive. 

    Survival. I get this. But letting our imaginations get the best of us has huge implications 

    When somebody thinks they’re Napoleon, we sent them to the loony bin. But act like we are all dead if we don’t pass a certain piece of legislation right now, and you become a national hero. 

    And back to Inauguration Day: “All Republican voters are evil and Trump is Hitler reincarnate. Let’s throw bricks at them!”

    Which leads me to an important point: If we all live based on what we think is going on, who is right? What is what?

    I don’t know.  Continue reading “Theater of the Mind”

    Talking to Yourself: Not Just for the Crazy

    A few months ago at work, I was asked to head our office’s team in our annual organization-wide charity event.

    “Ask” really isn’t the most accurate way of putting it. I was “voluntold.”

    I was okay with this for a few reasons. First, it always falls on the person who has been at the office the shortest time to do this. Second, as my boss put it to me, it’s a good chance to meet more people and demonstrate my leadership abilities to everyone, including the higher-ups. And third, it’s all for a good cause.

    After a delayed start due to other pressing work matters, the past month and a half have been really successful: Events have been planned, money has been raised, and we are on pace to surpass lasts year’s charitable take by quite a bit.

    But in addition to helping coordinate events and get the word out, I’ve been asked to participate in one.

    You see, for the past few years three of my colleagues–including one of my managers–sing and play Christmas carols on their guitars (and one bass) for a few days, “busking” for donations. One of them was unable to play due to work, so I was asked to fill in.

    On Friday. To play on Tuesday. And I was given a binder full of 20 or so songs to learn.


    “How hard can Christmas songs be?” you might ask?

    Surprisingly hard.

    There are your simpler ones, like “Santa Clause Is Coming to Town,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Silent Night,” and “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas.” These are as basic as you’d imagine. 

    And then there are some with very sophisticated chords and harmonies, as befitting the jazz-and-classical-influenced age in which they were written, songs like “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” and “The Christmas Song.”

    So of course I jumped at the opportunity. It fits in with my self-imposed guitar challenge, which, while not on pace to happen in the year 2016, is still something I am working towards.

    Like I said in that post, working on your weaknesses will help you improve in most other areas.

    We all know that putting yourself in uncomfortable positions is the best way to grow. Or, as the late, great Frank Zappa put it, “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”

    without-deviation-from-the-norm-progress-is-not-possible-frank-zappa

    My particular weaknesses in this case are: 1) Sight-reading chord changes, 2) learning the more esoteric chords, 3) I am not a guitar player by training (I am a bassist), 4) playing with a capo (visually, it just messes me up), and 5) I have not performed in public since 2012.

    And although I got maybe an hour’s worth of total practice (including learning some lead lines for a few of the songs), our performance went great! It was a hell of a lot of fun, we raised a lot of money for charity, and most importantly, I felt calm, didn’t get nervous, and was about 70% pleased with my performance.

    (The other two musicians were thrilled I was able to fill in so adroitly on such a short notice, which gave me a huge ego boost. They took a chance on me, taking me at my word that I’d be able to pull my weight. It’s always good to be someone others can rely on).

    img_3398-1

    But this got me thinking. And since this is a blog, dammit, and not a diary, I’d like to share some of these thoughts.

    The interesting thing about this whole experience has been the concept of visualization. Continue reading “Talking to Yourself: Not Just for the Crazy”

    Electing Gods: Politics and Identity in the Aftermath of 2016

    Sadly, I was wrong. One person died before the polls even closed. And I was right about the rioting, though I’d be more than happy to have been wrong about that.

    I’m not here to gloat or to point fingers. The guy I voted for best the other person. Okay. Can we get on with life now?

    Remember: This is not a political blog. There’s PLENTY of that out there elsewhere, believe me. 

    But politics is interesting because of how it relates to two things I find fascinating: Human nature and God. 

    Politics and Human Nature

    As I recently discussed with my friend Lloyd of Business and Bullets, human beings, for whatever reasons, evolved to like people on their group, or tribe, and dislike those out of it:


    This is plain to see in politics. We like our political tribe to the exclusion of others, or even to fact. And we’re all guilty of this. All of us. 

    What separates us is our various levels of self-awareness and or desire to mitigate this tendency when necessary. 

    As I discussed in my post “Everybody Must Be Right“:

    …I can only conclude that there are only two types of people:

    1. Those who have some objective standard against which they measure their behavior in reality.
    2. Those who think that they create their own objective standard.

    Why does this matter?

    If the only standard is what you feel is right at the time, you will rationalize whatever you feel to be right, and to hell with anybody that gets in your way.

    Nothing is concrete, and who are you to say that anyone’s morality is better than anybody else’s?
    This amounts to giving in to human nature, something that civilization tries to prevent us from doing. 

    Being relativistic or feelings-centric is actually an intense form of self-worship: We become our own god. And you know what they say about gods: they are jealous and they are angry…

    If you worship yourself and you are your own god, then there is quite literally nothing that will ever make you change your mind. If there is no such thing as objective truth, then whatever you feel is reality. 

    You will never change your mind, because your worth as a human being will be inexteicably linked with your feelings.

    Doesn’t this sound familiar? Doesn’t this help explain why we see such violent reactions–tears, literally shaking–as the result of the loss of one’s preferred political candidate?

    I know politics have huge implications and that elections matter, but these reactions are more akin to learning that your nation lost a war rather than the person you voted for lost an election

    It’s irrational, but then again, aren’t we all?

    So politics becomes bound up with identity. This leads nicely into our next topic of discussion. 

    Politics and God (or the Absence Thereof)

    I’ve already advocated that people not be afraid to discuss politics and religion, when appropriate, with family and friends. But this discussion goes a little deeper as to why politics replaces religion for many. 

    That’s right: The state is God to a lot of people. Even those who are not self-professed atheists and who might even be practicing members of a church. 

    I’ve identified three worldviews, two of which can be grouped together and one which is clearly distinct. 

    1. Those who believe that cleansing or mitigating the stain on human nature can only be achieved by the Divine.
    2. Those who believe that cleansing or mitigating the stain on human nature can only be achieved by the Self.
    3. Those who believe that cleansing or mitigating the stain on human nature can only be achieved by the State. 

    Those in categories 1 and 2 share many commonalities, the main one being that control over base impulses and passions is an individual effort

    Whether through the grace of God or ones own will, mastery comes from within. One becomes a master of themselves. And every master needs a slave, don’t they? The slave becomes one’s passions.

    The big difference here is that the religious ask God to help carry them those extra few inches, while the others, who may be also be religious but are typically not, believe that they can do it themselves. 

    This leads us to group 3: Statists. This will explain why I personally am not a fan of expansive, intrusive, activist government.

    By what we’ve already discussed, I think you can see where I’m going with this.  Continue reading “Electing Gods: Politics and Identity in the Aftermath of 2016”