Keeping Your Job in a Knee-Jerk World

I laugh at the idea that we as a species are more empirical, less prone to believe in mystical voodoo, and use logic over emotion.

I mean, getting rid of this pesky “morality” thing was supposed to liberate us from the shackles of superstition, freeing us from our past so we can progress into a glorious future. Instead we–America but the world broadly–really seem to enjoy tearing each other apart over the stupidest things imaginable: prom dresses, what movies we life, being tall.

 

Seriously, this is a thing. And no, I’m not going to link to it. You know how to use the Internet: find it yourself.

I have written before about preferring to focus on things that bring people together as opposed to dividing us. That’s right, I’m wandering off the standard “our strength lies in our differences!” (and who the hell put us there, anyway?) because it is clearly and demonstrably a lie.

What does this have to do with anything? It has to do with everything. Look at your on-line world. Now look at your real-world job. You probably keep your mouth shut and your opinions to yourself a lot more in real life than you do on Twitter or Facebook or whatever other websites you frequent. Why is that?

You don’t want to be rude, sure. Most of us are decent and good-hearted. You can’t be anonymous in real life. But the real reason is much more basic: You can’t afford to lose your job.

And your opinions will cost you your job.There is a legion of screeching howler monkeys shaped like human beings ready to be unleashed on you for a wrong opinion or an inappropriate joke on-line. And it’s always one-sided. You are always on the chopping block, but they are not.

So what do you do? How do you balance professionalism with the ugly reality of America as we stumble majestically into the third decade of this God-forsaken century?

I’m glad you asked. For a guy who wrote “I hate bullet points” and “I hate lists” only one-and-a-half short years ago, here’s a bullet-pointed list! Continue reading “Keeping Your Job in a Knee-Jerk World”

Optimistic Cynic

Choosing to be happy sounds so corny, but I am convinced it’s the only way not to get crushed under the weight of this hard, fallen world.

How one become happy in a world filled with imperfect human beings, and while being one yourself, will differ from person to person. Some use religion. Some decide to ignore negative information. Others find that dwelling on the bad helps them cope. Still others might drown the tragedy of being alive with distractions, either electronic or chemical.

I get that. I really do. A lot of what people do depends on their fundamental views of human nature. This deep stuff, but so much of one’s world-view depends on their answer to the following question: are human beings intrinsically good, or intrinsically bad?

Note well that I did not say “evil,” but “bad.”

People can either be perfected here on Earth and it is society that corrupts us, or we are born broken somehow and need to structure society, as well as work on structuring ourselves, to mitigate these tendencies.

In other words, society has to improve, or you have to improve.

This is really a simplified version, but it helps see how each of these basic assumptions about the nature of being can influence nearly everything, from political affiliations to religious beliefs to the very kind of art one creates and enjoys.

I am clearly in the second camp–that human beings are fundamentally bad and have to be trained to be good–and yet I find this a pretty empowering view of things. In fact, gaining a greater understanding of this view, and treating others and myself in accordance with it, has helped me become happier over time:

  • We are all imperfect, but we can all improve;
  • There will never be a Utopia or a heaven on Earth;
  • We all need to be kind to each other and ourselves because we’re all broken; and
  • I’m never surprised or disappointed when people, from the individual to the species level, makes the wrong choice.

Human beings will never learn the hard lessons from history. That is a fact. This is pessimistic, but pessimism about human nature doesn’t have to translate into being a miserable person.

I have come to consider myself as an optimistic cynic. I have no illusions about humanity’s ability to navigate terrible crises before the happen and head things off. This isn’t how the overwhelming majority of us operate, personally or societally. We have a massive inborn self-destructive streak, and we’re really good at sharing this dark tendency with society at large.

But, and here’s the weird part, we’re still here. We haven’t annihilated each other from the face of the planet, despite our best efforts. Yes, many peoples have been extincted through deliberate genocide, or by being conquered and breeded out of existence, or even inadvertently through diseases. Evil stuff like this still happens, and that’s the tendency we see among those people who can’t cope with the burden of being alive: they lash out at existence itself, whether they’re a mass shooter in a movie theater or school, or a dictator directing their anger at “those people over there.”

And yet, civilization exists in many parts of the world. And it’s actually quite nice. Believe it or not, lots and lots of human beings frown upon destructive, evil behaviors. This would not be possible for as long as its been going on (albeit, in a still woefully low proportion of the global human population) if this fallen nature of humanity couldn’t be mitigated.

Our rules don’t perfect us. They keep us free, from the harmful actions of the government, from the harmful actions of our fellow citizens, and often from the harmful actions of ourselves. Laws aren’t magic, but they do express the values of a society. And I’m much happier living in a society where things like rape and murder are punishable by life imprisonment or even death than a world that tries to legislate these dark impulses from our basic nature.

Because that is never going to happen. Continue reading “Optimistic Cynic”

Confessions of a Bad Friend

No one ever really leaves their school days behind. We graduate older and somewhat wiser than when we entered, but carry with us personalities and associated baggage formed during that time.

The teenage years are a crucible in which we are shaped. Whether it is a good thing that this happens in school is a debate for another day. It just is.

Sadly, some of us, me included, could be horrible people during those days. Just absolutely wretched. Worst of all, we could be wretched to people we considered friends in order to acquire status in the eyes of people who were really also kind of horrible.

That’s right: I had good friends I threw under he bus, on more than one occasion. Because I could be kind of an asshole when I was younger.

More than “could be.” I kind of was.

It’s shameful to think about, but less embarrassing. Age gives perspective, and moments like these are why we are able to learn and grow.

But man, I’d love to have some of those years back.

I thought of this particular individual as I filled out my application for a security clearance for work. A part of the application involved listing the names and contact information of those who have known you for a certain amount of years.

“Ah, my friend [NAME WITHHELD] would be perfect!” But then two thoughts came to mind:

  1. Would he actually respond, or even give me a positive reference?
  2. Can I truthfully consider this person a “friend”? Does he?

The answer to question 1 is unknowable. But I know the answer to question 2 is an unequivocal “no.” Continue reading “Confessions of a Bad Friend”

When Dreams Are Dead and You Just Don’t Care

You know what’s a real pain in the neck?

Starting a band. No, not just that. Being in a band!

First, you need to find other musicians who have the same tastes and ambitions as you. Then you need to find out if they can actually play. Third, you need to determine whether they’re reliable (you’ll soon discover this as rehearsals begin). A practice space is nice, too, If you can actually solve for these parts of the equation, then you need material. And in the untrained world of amateur rock bands, everyone wants the glory but never wants to do the work. And they hate the guy who does.

When you do get gigs, they’re late at night at some dive with awful parking and you’re probably third or fourth on the bill, near closing time, when nobody is there because all of your friends who nodded and smiled and said they’d “totally make it” when you told them about your show bailed on you because of “work” or something, and so you end up playing to another empty room.

What a hassle.

It’s a funny thought to have, though, because for a good fifteen years of my life music was the most important thing to me. I had always been fascinated by the way these vibrations my air molecules can be organized into shapes and sounds and structures. Composition and performance were my passions in equal measure, and I always thought I would have slides into orchestral composition and teaching after some years of performing in various ways.

Not my picture, but I’ve stood on an awful lot of stages like this.

The thing was, I didn’t finish music school. Nope. On some incredibly bad advice, I switched majors and ended up you-know-where. This was also, mostly, my own fault though. Lack of confidence, no real experience dealing with adversity, and growing up in a cage of safety really took their toll on my psyche and resiliency.

Fast-forward to the present. Some years ago, while I was back in school, I had to sell all of my instruments to pay bills. It was crushing, and still stings. But it was necessary, and stings less over time. And while I make rumblings about wanting to buy another bass eventually and maybe even play in a band, the drive just isn’t there like it used to be.

In hindsight, and this is weird to say, selling all my guitars might have been a symbolic letting go of the past, of dreams that won’t come to fruition.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

Corinthians 13:11

Perhaps I’ve just moved on. And this is natural. Continue reading “When Dreams Are Dead and You Just Don’t Care”

The Curse of the Midwit

One of the worst things to be is a midwit. And I am one.

Let me explain what I mean by “midwit.” I have seen the term used many ways, and they boil down to these six points:

  1. Someone who is not as smart as the truly intelligent, but is of above-average intelligence,
  2. Who wants other people to think they are actually more intelligent than they are, so they,
  3. Ape positions and mannerisms they think intelligent people espouse, without,
  4. Doing their own research or,
  5. Amending their positions when provided with compelling contrary evidence, and most fatally,
  6. Don’t realize that they are not as smart as they think they are

Point six is the one that causes trouble. And here’s where I like to think I differ from most midwits: I always try to acknowledge when I don’t know something, which happens quite a bit.

I recently finished listening to a podcast where Dave Rubin spoke with Bret and Eric Weinstein. Now those guys are smart, on a level I could never hope to approach. One thing that struck me was not their encyclopedic knowledge of a variety of topics, but how they approached the world:

  • They fully admitted when they didn’t have enough expertise to make anything other than an educated assumption based upon what they did understand
  • They were fully aware of what they didn’t know or understand
  • They were able to articulate the opposite position of what they personally thought or believed
  • They very incredibly careful with their language
  • They thought conceptually
  • They saw the potential flaws in their own positions
  • They made connections between various disciplines, and had interests and intellectual pursuits outside of their stated, credentialed areas of expertise

Eric Weinstein said something that stuck with me. I’m paraphrasing here, but it was essentially that the idea “jack of all trades, master of none,” is both incorrect and harmful. He they said “specialist in one trade, connector of none.”

Connector of none . . . 

Wow. Continue reading “The Curse of the Midwit”

Peak Virtue

What does it mean to be virtuous? What does the end-game look like?

It’s a weird question, sure. But it seems to be a question not too many speak about.

Here’s what I mean: If you’re a Christian, “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:38-40, Luke 6:28-30) has probably been said to you by people who hate Christianity–and likely other Christians!–to discourage you from fighting back against anything, ever.

But this is silly, right? That’s not what God wants, to let us be patsies and doormats and get rolled by any evildoer whoever happens to come along with ill-intent towards us.

After all, what’s more virtuous: To stand up and fight against those would world enslave or exterminate you, or keep you from proper worship of God? Or to refuse to fight until your enemy runs the world, and you and your children and grandchildren are in abject misery but at least you can say “Man, I turned the other cheek like a goddamn champ!

See what I mean?

This isn’t going to be a verse-slinging post, or a theological one. But I think this example makes a good point out of pinning down what is virtue and how does one practice virtue?

I’ve presented a little bit of an unfair binary question here, but let’s play it out for a bit. Virtue is either:

  1. Standing by your principles, even if it means you and your loved ones die; or
  2. Occasionally violating a principle or principles now in order to prevent ruin and damnation for future generations.

I think it’s pretty clear that this is a difficult choice to make, one that will make the principled feel “icky” (a technical term). But it might be the most difficult choice a man faced in his life.

What would a deontologist do? If you “always do what is right,” do you aid the wounded man you know for certain was about to rape and murder your wife because “it’s the right thing to do” (give aid to the wounded) even though that man will resume trying to rape and murder your wife, or do you let the attempted rapist/murderer die?

Which is objectively better? Which is right? Which is virtuous? Continue reading “Peak Virtue”

The Organized Religion Boogeyman

Is it the “organized” part of “organized religion” everyone claims to dislike, or the “religion” part?

This is a question I’ve long pondered. It sticks with me because of the idea that something so complex as salvation and the eternal fate of one’s immortal soul is a wee bit more complex than other things we crave guidance and instruction on.

  • Want to get your house painted? Well, only licensed, approved contractors will do.
  • I’m sending my kid’s to school. Are these teachers degreed?
  • I’d really like a haircut. Did the Department of Professional Licensure say they’re legit?
  • I’m going to interpret ancient Hebrew texts and try to discern the word of the Lord. Meh. I don’t need any help. I’ll just do it myself.

If this doesn’t seem weird to you, then I guess you have full faith and confidence in your ability to comprehend everything and anything.

The rest of us, not so much.

Let’s look at each part of this “organized religion” conundrum. Continue reading “The Organized Religion Boogeyman”