The Long Road that Leads to Laughing at Folly

A brief discussion with a Buddhist leads to a rumination about distress in general–not just the distress of conscious humans, but that of every tadpole and blade of grass, and even of inanimate stone being worn down by the flow of water, and the molecules of water striking blows against that stone as they are carried past by the current.

On the basis of 200,000 years of collected human thought and the experiences of our own lives, it seems clear that personal death is perfectly final. There is no afterlife, no reincarnation, no separate world where souls and spirits continue to exist after a living thing dies. People have fabricated speculations about such things in order to comfort themselves and other people, and ruthless types have exploited such speculations in order to acquire material power, influence and wealth, but even devout Christians agree that they are just speculations. Christianity is about faith rather than proof, and a poll once showed that about 63% of Christians don’t want proof of God’s existence ever to be found, so that they can continue to base their lives on faith. That’s neither here nor there and is outside the scope of this post. Those of us who choose not to bury our own minds alive in self-abasing subservience to faith are completely right in accepting that personal death is in all ways and absolutely the end.

The Buddhist (in comments here) stated that human suffering serves the purpose of helping us grow and learn, and is therefore salutary. You can read my response for yourselves. Personal death causes not only our consciousness to vanish permanently and forever, but thereby wastes all of our learning, which means that it wastes all of our suffering as well. And this extends to everything that has ever suffered, including those much-buffeted molecules of water.

One thing I must mention is the unimaginable suffering of the sun. We know now that the sun is a vast nuclear conflagration that devours itself in a frenzy of self-destruction in such physically huge proportions that we can’t even wrap our minds around it except through the most superficial and flimsy of scientific concepts. The sun also emits solar wind, which is tantamount to the sun tearing off chunks of its own flesh and flinging them out continuously in all directions. The earth and all inner planets are completely wrapped in sunmeat. Yet having our earth wrapped in this sunmeat is the precondition of the earth being even habitable by any type of life. I really don’t want to ruin your Christmas in advance by discussing on September 24th what the vomitously revolting implications of that are. If you have a mind to think about it, go ahead, but if you’re smart, pretend I never even said anything.

Yet I can’t pretend to myself that I don’t know what I happen to know. The unimaginably repulsive underpinnings of nature stick with me, and the only relief I get is laughing heartily at all the airheaded treehuggers who worship nature as if it were actually something benevolent, not realizing that nature is rooted in self-harm by the sun so extreme that it is beyond our ability even to form a concept of it. It was in fact such airheads that, through the means of their various temples and covens, that robbed me of my future and my entire life in the distant past. What is left to me in the fewer than five full years before my fatal heart attack is the laughter, and the knowledge that they were always fools.

Sadness for Others

Forgetting my personal situation and thinking only of others is something I rarely do, but I’m doing it for the second time in two nights. On Tuesday, around 8 pm, I was hit by a crushing wave of sadness for my late mother’s broken and wasted life, which the finality of her death robbed of all meaning; by my father’s sad and unfulfilled existence, dominated by responsible conduct and being a good provider; by my brother’s quiet disillusionment with everything and no doubt deep, concealed suffering; by the 200,000 years of our species’ existence, in which nearly everyone has mostly been miserable; and by the misery of nearly all life on earth since it first arose two billion years ago. The sadness drove me straight to bed and I slept for 13 hours. Tonight, the same sadness is hitting me again around 8 pm, but this time I’m soaking it up and feeling kinship with the general, nearly universal misery of all living things. From whales to microbes, we are a brotherhood and sisterhood of pain, and the inevitability and finality of death renders the pain of our lives meaningless and worthless. Every split-second that every living thing has ever spent in distress has been an outrage against life itself, but there is nothing we can do about any of it except endure until we return to the just bookend of nonexistence. Then we all have peace forever.

Success is for Girls

One thing you learn over half a century of life is that people always have reasons for what they do. Sometimes those reasons are bad. Other times they’re incoherent. Still other times (and far too often) they’re hidden, because the flawed laws of nature make it more likely that you’ll be successful if you hide what you’re really after. At all times, however, what someone is doing makes sense to that person, even if it doesn’t make sense to anyone else, and the person always knows why they are doing what they are doing, even if they prevent anyone else from knowing it.

But what does this really mean? Most human communities judge people on what we actually do, regardless of why we’re doing it. If you kill some guy because he diddled your kid, the authorities might be sympathetic, but you’ll still go to prison. If you cheat on your spouse because you were abducted by space aliens and they forced you to cheat, your spouse is still likely to divorce you even if you really were abducted by space aliens (which, let’s face it, no one ever was or ever will be). If you shoplift a candy bar because you haven’t had any food to eat for ten days, and the store detective catches you, the police might not charge you with anything, but you’ll still be forever after banned from entering that store again. In the end, reasons don’t matter. It’s what you do that matters. So why even bother finding out people’s reasons for doing things?

The real reason people pay any attention to motives is the Machiavellian basis of our society. Over the millennia, the most successful people have been those who have been ruthless, which means willing to do absolutely anything, as long as they had a reason for it. Bake their mother alive in an oven, which almost no one else would do for any reason? The most successful would do even that, given enough reason, and likely some of them actually have done it. That’s why they’re the most successful. What underpins their view of the world is the staunch conviction that the end always justifies the means. Their reason is the objective they’re trying to achieve, and, as long as they believe in their objective, the way they achieve it must be okay, no matter what that way is.

This didn’t used to matter quite so much in the days of absolute monarchy and hereditary aristocracy, because what a person could achieve in life was limited. A commoner could not become empress even if she were ruthless. But the predominance of egalitarian societies has made ruthlessness the sure path to achieving absolutely anything that the laws of nature permit–and some people have even succeeded at changing the laws of _human_ nature in order to make the previously impossible, possible. This has led to a spike in ruthlessness among the general population, not only because absolutely anyone can succeed now by being ruthless, but because the ruthlessness of the successful spawns imitators among those who wish to have that kind of success for themselves.

What, however, does this say about how we should live our lives? Does the fact that ruthlessness is the only way to succeed, mean that we should be ruthless as well. I see it as a personal choice. Some, like me, choose to forbid ourselves certain actions no matter what motivations we might have for them. For us, the end does not at all justify the means, because it is the carrying out of the means that constitutes our actual lives, as it is by doing the means that we live from day to day, not by foreseeing the achievement of objectives we have not yet achieved, and which are therefore not real. It helps me personally to be about half a century old and less than five full years from that fatal heart attack at age 54 that I’ve known about for decades. After already having lived for 49 years, I don’t have the motivation to soil myself ethically and morally for the sake of having a better time in the next five, if five years were even enough to achieve any meaningful objective.

I used to know a guy who used to, jokingly, say something was “for girrrrrrls.” If I asked him why he didn’t eat pasta, he’d say “Because pasta is for girrrrrrls.” No sexism was meant by that; he was really saying that he didn’t want to be bothered telling me his real reason for not eating pasta, and he was cracking a joke to avoid conflict. But, although I’ve already given you the real reason why I don’t want success, I also say: “Because success is for girrrrrrls.”

Until next time.

 

When Ethics Are Forever Lost

On the news page there is a link to a video entitled “Bizarre Case of Russian Road Rage,” with the subtitle “It Gets Even Weirder When Spongebob Shows up.” The video was taken by someone in a vehicle driving down a wide street at night, and in the background you hear men speaking in what appears to be Russian. They are behind some kind of small bus when a pickup truck with a covered back comes speeding along in the next lane to the left and stops partly in front of the bus, blocking its way. A man emerges from the driver side door of the pickup and approaches the driver side door of the bus. Out of the bus come several people dressed like anthromorphic animals such as squirrels, although one is indeed dressed like Spongebob Squarepants. They proceed to beat the driver of the pickup and leave him lying on the pavement before getting back into the bus. Then the bus speeds off. All the while, the people in the vehicle doing the filming are laughing at what is happening. As the beaten man staggers to his feet, they drive around him and his vehicle and continue on.

So let’s see. First, the guy in the pickup unlawfully detains the bus. Then several people from the bus commit assault and battery bad enough that their victim is prone. Then absolutely everyone leaves the scene of the altercation as if nothing had happened. And the people filming this are laughing. And MSN.com uses a supposedly humorous subtitle to promote this video, with a Microsoft commercial appended to the front of it.

I try hard not to be a cliche old fart bemoaning the good old days, but, seriously, is this what passes for acceptable behavior today? If it does, then maybe I’m right just to sit in my room and not have anything to do with anyone. Except that I use the internet, and it appears that Microsoft endorses this kind of behavior by prepending its advertising to evidence of it. I can only shake my head in disbelief.

 

Link to the Video: http://video.ca.msn.com/watch/video/bizarre-case-of-russian-road-rage/2gvh0798l?from=en-ca-infopane&ocid=viddest

On Bigotry Against Mental Patients in Progressive Communities

Bigotry against mental patients is nothing new. For thousands of years, people in the western world who have been slapped with a mental illness label, have been treated as having lost our humanity and become second- and third-class citizens. But the way that works in the twenty-first century in the western world contains some surprises that even veteran mental patients might not expect. This blog post briefly touches on a few of those surprising ways.

First, the people most bigoted against mental patients, and bigoted to pretty much the same level as white supremacists are against blacks, are psychiatrists. For eight years psychiatrists receive training to disregard anything a mental patient says and just pick her words apart for symptoms. As a result of that training, psychiatrists become literally incapable of hearing what a person slapped with a mental health label says. It’s not just that psychiatrists don’t listen to their patients; it’s that they are not able to hear us because that ability has been destroyed by eight years of training. So there is no malice on the part of a psychiatrist who appears to ignore a patient’s complaints of severe side-effects to medication she’s taking; the psychiatrist is just trained to presuppose that all such complaints must be delusionary and therefore not valid.

Another interesting phenomenon is the existence of trigger phrases. Those phrases are typically overused cliches that have been leached of all meaning and are therefore meaningless. When used, they cause a person’s mind to shut down and go into a fantasy-land of deaf prejudice. One such phrase is that a patient “doesn’t trust doctors.” It’s like a Christian saying someone is “angry with God:” an empty formula used purely to discredit someone. Saying that a mental patient “doesn’t trust doctors” automatically causes the patient to be dismissed as being in the middle of a psychotic episode and therefore totally not credible. Another such phrase is actually a word: “conspiracy.” Whenever anyone says the word “conspiracy” with any reference at all to a mental patient, it renders everyone in the room braindead, and even a high-functioning, highly intelligent and highly articulate mental patient might as well be speaking a foreign language no one understands.

the third and most significant way that bigotry against mental patients works around here today is the fascinating dynamic of conflict. When a mental patient says something that someone else disagrees with or doesn’t like, the other person just has to mention the mental health label in order automatically to have everyone believe everything they say, and no one believe anything the mental patient says. I’ve had LGBT activists use that technique when they’ve disagreed with me–people who suffer discrimination themselves, deliberately causing another minority to suffer discrimination. That is how automatic that behavior is. And very often it consists of the other person, who really just disagrees with something the mental patient says, becoming genuinely concerned and saying: “Have you been taking your medication?” This genuine concern is a way for the person to hide from themselves that they are, in fact, being bigoted. It’s the rule in progressive communities such as my city of Toronto, because, here, overt hate speech is much frowned upon and might even be against the law, so people engage in covert hate speech against mental patients in socially acceptable ways.

There are many other forms of bigotry against mental patients in today’s supposedly progressive western world, but those are the ones that come to mind immediately. I hope that you’ve enjoyed, and gotten benefit from, reading about them here.

One of the Mysteries of Life

I get a serious chuckle out of glossy mass-market magazines and their Orwellian Ministry of Truth crap. Just have a look at some of the shrieking headlines on their covers. “5 Fat-Burning Tips to Make You Slim and Sexy!” “10 Mascara Tricks That Will Make Every Man Propose Marriage to You!” “20 Stylish Handbags to Make Them Come in Their Pants!” You’re smart people, so I doubt I have to explain to you how tomfool it all is. The only mystery is that millions of people still buy and read the stupid things.

But that is the mystery, isn’t it? How is it that misdirection and outright lies about the way life really works are such effective sales tools? Contrary to what everyone thinks, everyone isn’t stupid. The people buying and reading those glossy magazines are every bit as smart as me, have every bit as much life experience, and have fairly rich and diverse lives. It would make no sense to look down my nose at them and engage in cliche grumbling about “the masses” or (my favorite self-mocking term) “sheeple.” Except that those smart, life-experienced people buy into a lot of crap that shouldn’t fool a five-year-old kid.

One explanation I flirted with recently, and it’s a dangerous explanation, is that our species is not really a thinking species. Rather, we are a species of instinct that fancies up its instincts and mislabels them as “thought.” So these ten mascara-using tips that will supposedly cause every man you meet to propose marriage, are an effective way to sell magazines because our instinct is to want every man we meet to want to propose marriage, and that instinct rules us like the animals we really are. But it’s dangerous to explain things to yourself that way because it leads to unwarranted condescension. I don’t experience myself as a beast of instinct who only pretends to think. And, truth to tell, the buyers and readers of those glossy magazines don’t experience themselves that way, either. It’s more likely that we really are thinking beings who just happen to be vulnerable to manipulation.

That, however, doesn’t explain why such manipulation dominates marketing and sales and the whole world of business today. Why is it that, in order to make a profit and stay in business, a company must use us like toilet paper by tricking us through the exploitation of our sublimina? Is it not possible for a glossy magazine to publish articles of real, honest value to readers, such as what to do constructively about your irritation when your husband keeps leaving his empty coffee mug on the table and creating dark stain-rings on the table’s wood? Such stories do get written…in less popular magazines with lower circulations. For some reason, being honest with people and really helping them leads to lower sales and a less successful business than misleading them through manipulative deviousness about how buying a designer handbag will make you attractive to men when you weren’t attractive to them before.

Which is where I find myself stuck. I don’t really have answers to this bedeviling question. My best guess is that something about the laws of nature themselves causes the human world to be this way. When in doubt, blame nature, because everything really is nature’s fault, anyway.

What’s YOUR explanation for the phenomenon I’ve discussed here?

In a Serene Moment

Experience is a funny thing. Most of our experiences relate to the external world and what we see and hear and touch. The stuff of experience is the physical objects outside our minds. Yet, even if those physical objects have an objective existence (and that depends on whom you ask), experience is not objective. It is entirely subjective and consists on how that external world happens inside us. This keyboard and this computer display that dominate my everyday life are, in my view, concrete things outside me, but their reality to me is the feeling of the keys striking my fingers, the sight of what is on the display and its peripherally-noticed fringes, the aftertaste of the coffee in my mouth, the sound of the televised soccer game and my window fans in the background, and many other things wrapped into the single thing that is my consciousness of this moment. Because what I really have is this moment; and my life within that moment, despite its physical and external roots, happens entirely in my mind. And it happens indivisibly, wrapped up with the feelings and memories and random snippets of thought that pass through my mind while I type this entry, all experienced as one thing: me.

Which brings me to an important point: we cannot avoid experience while we are conscious. No matter what we do, we are experiencing each moment, and that expeirence adds to the stockpile of our past, which continues to live within us through accumulation. Ultimately, we are constructive entities that build our own consciousness brick by brick over the course of our entire lives, changing in each moment because that moment adds yet another brick to the edifice of our experience. (I could say “self-experience” but that would be a redundancy. All experience is experience of ourselves.) That happens to us willy-nilly as we live, because we can do nothing about our experiences happening or being cumulative any more than we can arrest the passage of time.

There is a very important implication to the inevitability of experience and the accumulation of experience. The implication is that it doesn’t really matter what you do, because, no matter what you do, you can’t help doing something, and the edifice of your next subjective moment is steadily being built. Some people make a big deal of having “better” experiences, which range from jumping out of airplanes to photographing Angkor Wat to giving birth to performing on-stage as the next musical superstar to simply getting a report from their assets manager that their assets have appreciated in this quarter. But the content of experience doesn’t really matter. Anyone who lives and does anything is building himself, involuntarily and helplessly but also in a salutary way, because no amount of physical privation and hardship can deprive even an indigent man of his constructive journey through life.

The lesson? Don’t worry about what you do. Don’t make bucket lists. Don’t yearn for the unreachable opulence that informs the lives of the wealthy. Don’t feel starved of recognition and fame. Just live, and count that all living has equal value in the end, and accomplishes the same purpose. I say that to myself while in the middle of yet another fifteen hours of sitting at this computer today, and it makes me content.

What do YOU think?

NOTE: This is a repost.

The Real Philosophy of Business

if you read the course calendar of an educational institution, you might find a course listing for something called “Philosophy of Business.” That phrase has always caused me to snort with laughter. Business is fundamentally anti-philosophical, rooted in the notion that the search for answers is useless and all that matters is narrowly focusing on short-term personal gain. “Philosophy of Business” is sort of like “Cooking with Urine and Feces.” It’s pretentious and silly.

But what if there really were a philosophy of business? Of course there is. There is a philosophical side to everything that exists. There is even a philosophical side to feminism, which is more overtly and bitterly hostile to philosophy than anything else that ever existed. But the real philosophy of business would not refer to an actual area of philosophical study, since there’s no philosophical way to study the fine art of making sure you get a better deal and the other parties to the transaction get a worse deal. Rather, philosophy of business would be more like the mentality and psychology of businesspeople, those beliefs that animate them through their daily lives, usually without the businesspeople being the least bit aware of them, and often being hostile to gaining any awareness of them at all.

To understand the true philosophy of business, you have to understand the concept of advantage. The simplest definition of “advantage” is “whatever causes the laws of nature to give you a leg up on someone or something else.” It’s rooted in adjusting to the way the world really is–and, in some cases, altering the way the human world is for personal benefit. It’s also strongly bound up with competition, because the businessperson’s mentality is that everything competes with everything else in a kind of Hobbesian free-for-all. Businesspeople compete at home with their spouses, kids, parents and best friends, but above all within their professional lives. The biggest praise you can give to a businessperson, which is to call her “prudent” and “shrewd,” is just another way of saying that she has a fine nose for seeking advantage and is good at getting it. All business boils down to seeking advantage and nothing else.

Yet what is particularly human about seeking advantage? There is something. It’s true that everything, from the prokaryotes of two billions years ago to the Douglas firs and cetaceans of today, has always sough advantage. I don’t buy Nietzsche’s statement that all of reality seeks advantage, because it’s unlikely that inanimate objects such as water and stone seek advantage, and interstellar space certainly doesn’t. All life, however, from the earliest to the current, has always been underpinned by seeking of advantage. Yet business is the distillation and refinement of that advantage-seeking aspect of all life, one that isolates and crystallizes it and makes it the entire focus of a person’s life. It ain’t philosophy, but it is what people colloquially call “life philosophy”–an ethical foundation that guides thought and behavior without having any cosmological or epistemological elements.

Except that there is a cosmological element to it. The element is described in Hobbes’ _Leviathan_. Most people believe that the western world is founded on the writings of John Locke but Locke was making a derivative response to Hobbes. His aim was not to argue that Hobbes was wrong about the world being a fight to the death by everything against everything else, but to suggest a corrective to that maelstromic chaos, a way for people to lead fulfilling lives under impossible conditions. So that, ultimately, is the philosophy of business: the belief that life is a war of all against all, and that our existences are nasty, brutish, and short.

Sure makes you want to become an entrepreneur, doesn’t it?

The Road to Happiness

Either someone once told me, or I had the psychotic delusion that they had told me: “Revenge is divine.” Indeed, there are people who firmly believe that holding grudges is a virtue, and that lifelong hostility to someone who has done you wrong is a requirement for a righteous life. To such people, taking lifelong revenge is expressing yourself as someone created in the Maker’s image. Still other people believe that you should forgive all wrongs done to you because it’s God’s job to take revenge on your behalf. They, too, believe that revenge is divine, and just approach the concept from a different angle, with different ethical implications.

You already know, from having read this recent post, that I am of exactly the opposite view from those people. I am far closer to the view of pagans, who think in terms of karma. But I also disagree with pagans about the ethical implications of both karma and revenge, as well as some cosmological ones. If we really do have souls that are ruled by their need to discharge karma, then revenge is motivated by that specific spiritual concern. That would mean that revenge is something of the soul and not of the living. You’ve probably read in this very old post that I consider our souls to be something separate and different from our living selves, often with interests inimical to our living interests. The fact that souls infect us with a pre-birth greed for revenge in the guise of their own enslavement to karma would only serve to make both revenge and karma utterly repugnant to me, and make me get as far away from them as I can.

So that’s what I do. I actively avoid both taking revenge and discharging karma (if karma exists). I live the life of a purely living man, with no spiritual or religious accoutrements or limitations, seeking the only thing that all living beings truly seek of our own accord, which is happiness. My search for happiness is more limited than that of most people, because I seek happiness only in the present moment. That proves to be an incessant, ongoing exercise of detoxification. If I ingest something toxic through my eyes or ears, I rush to purge it same as if I had ingested it through my gullet. It’s not the same procedure, because no one can truly purge what has entered his mind. It stays in the deep recesses of the mind forever. So the proper procedure is to quarantine that toxic experience so it has minimal impact on the rest of the consciousness, unconsciousness and nonconsciousness around it. You know I believe one way to do that is to discontinue any experience that brings it to mind or draws upon it in any way. Another way is to reformulate it in terms of its essence, because explanation is inherently destructive of the thing being explained and robs it of all of its power (as per the critical realism described in this post),

And it works! As I find myself immersed deeper and deeper in the life I’ve always wanted to lead, in a community in which I always belonged, I find myself steadily approaching happiness, partly because I can quarantine and thereby detoxify the toxic moments of my existence. Gone are the lingering hurts that would wound me over and over again like demented revenants. For the first time in ages, I have cause for optimism.

The future looks bright.

The Anatomy of Generosity, Guts and All

There are reasons generosity gets wide praise. One of them is also the reason altruism and self-sacrifice get wide praise. Self-sacrifice involves someone giving up something of value to them, including possibly their life, for the benefit of other people. Well, we are included in those other people. Seeing self-sacrifice in others makes us like them because they are doing something to benefit us. But what if we were the ones being asked to sacrifice ourselves? Some of us would do it for various reasons, but it wouldn’t feel all that good. In a similar way, generosity is of benefit to people other than the generous person, including us, so of course we praise it. But there is where the comparison breaks down.

While self-sacrifice often feels miserable, and nobody sensible does it without a good reason, being generous actually feels good. Many people genuinely enjoy being generous for its own sake. In my past life, when I was a working man with a middle-class income, most of my associates were poor, and I did enjoy doing things for them that they couldn’t do for themselves because I had the money and they didn’t. And they enjoyed it too…at first. Over time, some came to expect generosity from me and take it for granted, while others came to resent the way I went about being generous. The former dropped all contact with me when my resources became low and I was no longer able to provide financial benefit to them. I understand their perspective; they felt betrayed, because they had come to expect things from me. The latter group is much more interesting, because they taught me something valuable about both sides of the generosity equation, and it’s a lesson I hope I’ve learned even if I never again get to put the learning to good use.

Some generosity, like my old generosity, is opporessive. The generous person becomes a tyrant. This is actually a two-way street. Recipients of generosity seek to preserve their self-respect, so they try to do something in return for what you’re giving them. In many cases all they can do is go out of their way to accommodate your desires and actively try to know what you, the generous person, want to do, and then go along with whatever you suggest. Many generous people are not aware of this. Some, such as my former self, are merely thoughtless and unreflective. We become so accustomed to other people seeming to worship our desires that we become whimsical and drag them around like beasts on a chain. And that breeds resentment just as surely as mice breed disease.

It took me many years and much thinking to sort out these subtleties of how people of different financial profiles relate to each other. I’m still figuring it out. When I hear of someone in plight, my first instinct is still to lay myself on the line for them and do what I can to help them. Luckily, I am so poor that I often cannot do much about the kinds of problems most people face. The only thing I can really do is be sympathetic and emotionally supportive and offer to brainstorm with them about the solutions to their problems. And people are often astonished when I do that. The most common thing they say is that they’re surprised another person would bother to help them. So I guess it gives them faith in our species, which gives them courage. Which, in the end, is of far more value than interest-free loans, trips out of town, fancy clothes and accessories, and twelve-ounce-steak dinners.

There is a whole world of literature written by professional donors of their time, expertise and other resources to those in need of them. I wish I’d bothered to read some of that literature before it was too late. Now, i sit at my handout-recipient’s desk all day and do what I can. Which isn’t much, but has to be enough, because there is nothing else.

On the Wisdom of Walking Away

The Hollywood movie trope is that a person should never give up. That, if he comes upon an impenetrable wall, he should keep beating his head against it until he has broken his skull and his brains are oozing out a hole in his head. Because, according to the trope, if you don’t give up and keep fighting you are guaranteed to succeed. All of those famous celebrities succeeded, so of course the other 350 million people in America will end up just as rich and famous as them, if they just don’t give up.

My way has always been different. I’ve always done what sensible people really do, which is to assess whether an obstacle can be overcome given the appropriate amount of effort, and, if it can’t, to walk away and go do something else. Because the fact is that those rich and famous celebrities are maybe 0.001% of the population. The rest of us don’t get the insanely high level of luck required to overcome impossible odds. And the ridiculous movies we watch in which ordinary people overcome obstacles that simply cannot be overcome are just entertainment. Anyone who thinks they represent reality probably also believes in Santa Claus.

Sometimes walking away is difficult. Often it hurts. When you walk away, you are surrendering your right to something that blind justice cries out for you to have. You are letting the bad guys win. But the alternative is to be trapped in the blind alley of futile effort, your life stalled while you remain motionless. So you swallow the pain of injustice and walk away from it in order to find another place where the injustice is distant and your memory of it can fade enough to give you peace.

Because that is the key to walking away: creating maximum separation between yourself and concrete evidence of the brokenness and wrongness of the very laws of nature, which so often, in so many people’s lives, do cause the bad guys to win and injustice to prevail. And please don’t chant the empty slogan that right always triumphs over wrong. You know that’s false. You’ve known it ever since you were four years old and punished for retaliating against that boy who pulled your pigtails, while he got away with it, because the teacher saw you retaliating and not him assaulting you. If you are truly open to the lessons of life, then you know how essential to a good life it is not only to walk away, but to sprint at top speed away from everything that causes you visceral distress because it brings what St. Augustine called the profanity of profane history too close to home.

Which is also how I’ve learned to deal with people who are toxic to me. Walk away from them. If they stalk me somewhere else I’ve gone (as one person and his co-conspirator recently did), walk away from that too. Because there will always be a realm somewhere where such people are barred entry. At the very least, they will be barred entry in my realm because I can bar it to them. And in the meantime, I can have the peace of distance in many other places in the world.

#relationshipsaregay

It’s provocative, isn’t it? Using the word “gay” in the pejorative sense in which some young people use it today is bound to evoke a strong reaction from members of the politically mighty LGBT community. And how about saying that relationships are “gay,” obviously in the colloquial sense people usually mean “relationship,” referring to romantic and/or sexual involvement with another person? Isn’t it the wackiest thing you’ve ever heard?

No, it’s not. There’s a significant minority of the human population who do believe that relationships are “gay.” We’re called aromantics, which means that we have no capacity for romance. Although some aromantic people are sexual, meaning that they still need and want sexual gratification in the absence of romance, I happen to be asexual as well as aromantic. It’s a clean way to be, with no muss or fuss involved in dealings with other people.

I’ve been told by people that they feel sorry for me because I’m “missing out” on the things that are part of their nature. That’s like telling a First World War reservist who never went to the front that he “missed out” on trench warfare and mustard gas. Sure, that reservist didn’t do any fighting, which was what he had joined the military for in the first place, but he played a valuable role in the war through his support activities, and he avoided the horrible privation and misery that was the staple of frontline troops’ lives. That’s pretty much how I feel about being an aromantic asexual. I don’t abase myself in pursuit of romance or sex, I don’t have to compromise in order to satisfy animal needs (because, to me, both sex and romance are animal needs), I can treat men and women and trans people exactly the same, and I always look a woman in the face without ever checking out her boobs. That last one earned me praise from a young woman who actually had to tell me that she had large breasts, and was sick and tired of everyone staring at them, before I even noticed them.

My admittedly biased observation of how romance and sex affect people is that they make the average person both neurotic and psychotic–needy, dependent, insecure, possessive, frequently distressed, sometimes violent. Doctors recommend that people with major mental illness (and I happen to be one, just by the way) avoid having what most people call relationships because they are emotionally and intellectually destabilizing and cause great amounts of stress. Think about it: what has caused the most stress in your life? Not your job, not your blood relatives, but your marriage or your contact with your lover. That is generally what makes most people unhappy in the deepest ways.

There are indeed tradeoffs in all aspects of life. The severe distress caused by relationships brings certain benefits with it. But do those benefits really compensate you for the harm relationships cause? In which direction do the scales tip? I’m betting that, if you could think about it lucidly and clearheadedly, rather than through the distorting prism of someone who feels a need for love in her life, you’d rather be like me than like you.

#relationshipsaregay. Pass it on.

Distress and the Conqueror of Despair

The old school of psychology back when snakes used to have legs talked about two types of stress: estress and distress. The former is positive stress caused by constructive exertion, the pressure of peak performance and being in the middle of doing something well, the expectation of success for you and yours. Distress was all the bad stuff, ranging from frustration to privation to being abused. The summary version is that estress is good for you and you need it, while distress is bad for you and you don’t.

You’ve already seen this post in which I explain that, by passing through despair and conquering it and making it my servant, I managed to achieve some semblance of serenity and begin creeping toward happiness in the complete absence of hope. The rules are different for a person with that mindset. Someone who builds their life around hope will accept distress and sometimes even seek it out in exchange for what will, hopefully, turn out to be a better future. But my future is today, because there ain’t nothin’ going to happen tomorrow that’s worth sacrificing the present for. So, to me, any distress is plain wrong, and the greatest harm that anyone can do to me is not to thwart my plans–I have none–but make me experience distress in the present moment.

I just experienced significant distress because someone managed to push my buttons. The details are not important, because I despise gossip and don’t want to be the next Perez Hilton. Quite the opposite. But, subsequently to having had my buttons pushed, I discovered that the person in question was not being genuine. Rather, they are someone who deliberately seeks to cause distress in other people because they enjoy seeing other people in distress. it brings them pleasure. Which actually reduces my distress and makes me sad for them. From a personality point of view, someone who enjoys causing distress to others is the lowest of the low, and hardly deserves to be called human. I now feel like I got upset at a donkey for braying. It’s silly to get upset at a donkey for braying, because the donkey doesn’t know any better. It’s just an animal, same as the “person” who deliberately pushed my buttons for fun.

Long story short, I have sought safety in severing all further contact with the person who is of the kind who do me the greatest harm–and it’s important, especially if you’re a Wiccan, to note that I say harm rather than hurt because, to someone living in the absence and rejection of hope, distress in the present moment is true harm in the Wiccan sense. Christians are free to tell me how they see the difference between hurt and harm and where, in their view, what I’ve described here falls.

Until next time.

The Truth Behind the Need for Weight Loss

The increasing number of overweight, and outright obese, people in the western world has been a concern of health authorities for some time. Their efforts to promote weight loss have created a whole new world of cliches and buzzwords, which fill the mass-market magazines. Looking at a magazine such as Vogue, I even see writers competing to come up with new twists on the same tired phrases in order to boost sales. But has anyone looked at the reality behind our overweight epidemic and the real reasons why so many of us carry so many excess pounds? I want to do that here.

The real problem is that biology changes slowly. Our subspecies, homo sapiens sapiens, originated about 200,000 years ago, and our bodies are still pretty much the same as the bodies of people were back then. But back then, food was difficult to get, requiring an all-day search; and, when people found food, it was low in calories and poorly nourishing. There was no reason for us to develop an instinct limiting the human desire for food simply because, even after gathering and hunting from sunup to sundown, nobody got enough to eat.

But the world changes much more quickly than our bodies do, and has changed ever more rapidly over the past few centuries and even decades. Today, food is incredibly easy for most of us to get. It’s also insanely abundant and super-nourishing. Our bodies haven’t caught up to this reality and still assume that we’re living in the forager age, so we still have no upper limit on our desire to fill our bellies. We eat as much of the easily-obtained, excessively-nourishing food we have today as we did of the hard-to-find, poorly-nourishing food of 200,000 years ago. In fact, we often eat more, because much more is available. So we get fat.

A corollary is that we no longer have to search all over hell’s half acre for the food we need. We just go to the grocery store or restaurant. But that arduous search for hard-to-find food was what got us our exercise, in a natural and organic way, back when our species was young. Today, we are sedentary because we lack natural motivation to exercise; our food is close to hand, and we can just reach out and grab it. So, in order to maintain some level of fitness close to what our bodies are evolved for, we have to waste energy in contrived exercise for its own sake. Knowing this is the main thing that has discouraged me from exercising all my life.

Next time you see a glossy magazine with a cover screaming at you about “top 5 belly-busting tips” and “tone those abs!” think about what’s really behind the marketing hype of those headlines. It’s the fact that our retrograde bodies have not caught up to the changes in our living conditions, and we must adjust to their needs instead of, as we should, making them adjust to ours.

Hope and Despair: The Better Choice Will Surprise You

Many people, especially religious people, put supreme value on hope. A better future is the focus of their lives, and everything they do is directed toward building such a future. Yet that approach quite often involves sacrificing the present and enduring worse conditions than a person would endure if the present were supreme in their minds. More to the point, hopes for the future often get dashed, so that a person finds herself having sacrificed her entire life for nothing.

The myth of Pandora talks about how a foolish woman opened a chest and released all of the world’s evils into the open air, leaving only hope trapped within the chest. The usual interpretation has been that hope is the only thing we have left and is what is best about human life. Yet Friedrich Nietzsche had his own interpretation of the myth. He said hope was not let loose into the world because hope is the greatest of evils, something that robs us of our lives for the sake of a nonexistent afterlife. And, in the 21st century, it’s true that there are two main proponents of hope. One such group is those who believe in eternal afterlife.

The other main proponents of hope are those who have self-interest in the perpetuation of the current social order, because it gives them pleasant and comfortable lives. Such people don’t much care about the fact that the current social order makes the vast majority of us miserable, as long as we continue providing them support for their cushy lives. So the popular culture they control promotes hope, in movies, TV shows, songs and self-serving speeches made by fatcats, including fatcat celebrities. Nothing is more tragic than the tens of millions of fans of an A-list celebrity believing her statements that each one of them can be just as famous and comfortable as her. Logic would tell them that it’s impossible, yet, if she didn’t peddle that message, she would lose her fans and therefore her cushy life. So she lies through her teeth and causes her fans to throw their lives away.

You can probably tell that I consider hope to be either a delusion of the religious or a cynical fraud of the wealthy and entitled. Yet what is the alternative to hope? There are two. One is to live strictly in the present and enjoy each moment for what it is without projecting where the moment will take us next. Living that way is a perfectly valid choice, although it does have well-documented drawbacks. But there is another valid choice: conquering despair and making it your servant rather than your master.

For three and a half decades, the only thing I wanted out of life was autonomy. I wanted to take care of myself. Some years ago, it became clear that I am simply unviable and therefore not capable of taking care of myself. So I entered a state of despair that lasted several years. I spent years wanting only to die and bemoaning the fact that I lacked the courage to end my life as rightness demanded. In the end, however, I emerged from it armed with serenity and peace. In the last year, I have been gradually approaching happiness because I conquered despair. In some ways I am still in despair, because I realize that my only goal in life, autonomy, is unattainable. I have no hope for a better future. But conquering despair has enabled me to make peace with the impossibility of my dream coming true and truly start living for the first time in my existence. In the dark past, when I still hoped, I did not live, precisely because I was hoping rather than living. Now, I live thanks to despair.

Do you find YOUR hopes always dashed because your goal is unattainable? I bet you do. Consider, then, the two better alternatives to the life-burgling fraud of hope: living strictly in the now, as some do, and making despair your servant, as I have.

The Aim of Aimless Thinking

A Skype contact recently told me he was envisioning apocalyptic scenarios. He’s an avid gamer, so I asked whether it had something to do with games. He said, “Nah, just aimless thinking.” And that led me to ponder whether thinking really can be aimless, and what the implications are that it either can or can’t.

Thinking is necessarily constructive. Every thought follows somehow from the one before it, or at most from some thought before that one. This is true even in stream-of-consciousness thinking, where the constructiveness and derivation of thoughts is convoluted and hard to puzzle out, but definitely extant. Most casual, relaxed thinking that people do when not actively pondering an issue–and we all think in every waking second–relates the next thought to the previous one by association, and the association can seem illogical, but is at bottom coherent if you know all the elements of the person doing the thinking that go into it. We can’t help our thoughts being that way. Just as our brains have a definite physical structure with a definite order, so must the thoughts that occur within them.

But does that really stop some thinking from being aimless? The thoughts of people who are just relaxing or engaged in an activity not requiring much conscious input, as well as people who have disordered minds, don’t go in any particular direction. The structure their thoughts build is haphazard and architecturally unsound. Yet, in an important way, it still has direction, because it builds upon the edifice of who they will be in the next moment, simply by having had a specific thought and remembering having had it. Ultimately, even thoughts that seem to be aimless carry us along our journey toward the completion of our lives. The order of our physical brains again requires it.

I wrote this post while still carrying on a conversation with the contact who had inspired it. Then he bowed out saying some people wanted “to do a co-op session of Magicka” and he’d be too busy to talk. So, instead of sharing with him the ruminations he inspired, I am sharing them with you. It’s up to you to decide whether you are luckier or unluckier than him.

Schizophrenia and Critical Thinking–You’d Be Surprised!

Would you be surprised that having schizophrenia helps a person think critically? It can, provided that the major instabilities of the illness are effectively dealt with. Nearly every person with schizophrenia has some elements of paranoia, even the stable and relatively rational ones as I’d like to think I am. My mind works very much in terms of suspicion of what people are saying and attempts to figure out what they are NOT saying. I tend to presuppose that everyone I am dealing with has some sort of hidden agenda and is trying to achieve some secret goal they are not disclosing. This can hinder private dealings with people, but is an essential approach to public statements made in our century. The fact is that, today, nearly everyone making a public statement IS after something they’re not telling you about, and the content of their public speech is an attempt to achieve some goal that they don’t want the people hearing or reading that speech to know. This is in obedience to the necessities of the universe (colloquially, “the laws of nature”), which, from a critical realist point of view, always disguise the hidden truth with a false appearance. Nothing can be done about it except to be wary and stay on guard, which someone prone to paranoia naturally does.

Of course, it’s important that a person’s thoughts not be disordered. Having disorder in one’s thoughts is the death of all attempts at critical thought, because critical thought is above all ordered, which means self-consistent, even if potentially deluded. The most extreme example of self-consistency, mathematics, doesn’t necessarily correspond to anything real, but its internal consistency has been robust enough to change how we experience life, and has largely shaped our twenty-first-century perspectives. Alternatives to mathematics are possible when trying to get at the truths of our slippery reality, and many are implemented almost esoterically, as if the techniques and methods they involve were commercially sensitive. Each of us must necessarily come up with her own critical system, drawing critically on whatever sources she can, at the risk that her system is claptrap (a British word that means “self-consistent nonsense” and contrasted with “twaddle,” which is “self-inconsistent nonsense”).

The danger of a claptrap critical thinking system is better expressed as the danger of delusion, especially when talking about people with schizophrenia, who are highly prone to delusions. Yet the real question is whether any critical system can be anything other than claptrap. To the best of our knowledge, the answers to the ultimate questions of life are permanently out of reach, and we must be content with what makes sense to us and enables us to be effective. And that is the key feature of a good critical thinking system: not an impossible grasp of ultimate truth, but effectiveness. A good critical thinking system enables us to minimize the trouble and distress in our lives and take the best path to achieving our goals. In the end, we are all deluded, and what distinguishes the delusions of someone with schizophrenia from the delusions of Machiavelli and his spiritual heirs is that the latter always got everything they wanted while the former never was able to get a single thing.

I’m very happy being suspicious, because suspicion is essential to survival in today’s world. And if the internal coherence of my suspicions points to something that you find delusional, rest assured that you’re necessarily delusional too, and our delusions are simply different.

The Private-Public Divide

It’s no news to most of us that the public record is stilted, pretentious, ceremonial, sterile, and ultimately false. When we hear a public figure speak in the news media, we know that what she is saying was written by a speechwriter and then vetted by lawyers. But, although news media reports themselves are not written by speechwriters (except insofar as that’s what news writers are), they have that same taint of vacuous falseness about them. So do statements made by lawyers and judges at a public trial or other on-record legal proceeding, such as a cross-examination on an affidavit. Very often, you also find movies and TV shows promoting socially required banalities, and sometimes you catch WordPress bloggers parroting socially prescribed tropes. Meanwhile, reality happens behind the scenes, off the public record, in the back rooms and around the dinner tables of the world, where few of us ever find out about it unless we’re participating. Private speech is down-to-earth, realistic, effective, fertile and ultimately true. Most of us already know that. We know that reality happens behind the scenes, while what gets publicized is a false and misleading coverup of what’s really going on.

What’s ultimately responsible for this state of affairs is the hegemony of critical realism. This type of realism is based on one central claim: that there is a difference between superficial appearance and an underlying substratum constituting reality. This is the true foundation of science–not the scientific method, but the underlying belief that what presents itself to us is ultimately a false appearance that requires digging into in order to unearth what’s really going on. Although as old as thinking itself, this view became dominant during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and it has reshaped the human world; so that, these days, everything we lay eyes on is necessarily a false appearance, and the true reality is hidden. It’s entirely responsible for the distinction between public and private speech.

Is this the way people really want to live? I doubt it. If we had the choice, we’d live in a world in which things were exactly what they seemed to be, so that we could give our weary minds a rest from constant suspicion. But I don’t know whether anything can be done about it any more. Time is entirely linear, so that nothing ever repeats itself, and the present does always stand on the shoulders of the past. Now that we’ve let the demon of critical realism out of the bottle and allowed it to achieve world domination, it would take extreme effort and a long time to rehabilitate the very nature of our perspectives and the very nature of the human world itself.

NOTE: This is a repost.

Originality and the Invisible Man

I’d rather not have TV. There is nothing on it I care much about, and the fact that my father stares at the TV every second he’s home, as well as my brother’s obsessive watching of Voyager reruns, has made me despise television and wish it didn’t exist. But the cable for my room is included in the price of cable for the entire apartment, which wouldn’t decrease with two terminals instead of three; and, every time I unplug my cable box and leave it in front of my brother’s door to be returned, he just places it in front of my door, and back and forth, until i really have no choice but to put it back in my room. The same is true of the little Sharp TV set belonging to my brother that is on permanent loan to me (and, like everything that is supposedly “mine,” is really something my brother has control over that is mine only in technicality). If I try to give that TV set back to my brother, he insists on storing it in the closet in my room. So I essentially have television shoved down my throat and eventually break down and end up watching it. That, however, happens for very brief periods each week, and for the most part I’ll have something like a baseball game playing in the background while pretty much ignoring it.

Which brings me to what this blog post is really about: the commercials that play during baseball games. The advertisers in Toronto advertise only to people who have money to spend, of which there are fewer and fewer in this city every year, so the ads are typically for investment brokerages, luxury cars and $2,000 touchscreen computers–the greed triggers and flashy toys of the rich. Once in a while you get an advertisement for something that an ordinary Torontonian can afford, such as an $18 movie (because, last I checked a few years ago, a ticket to an IMAX theater did cost $18). And it’s those movie trailers I find particularly disheartening, because, of the dozens you see every year, all look like the same three or four movies that have been advertised every few months for the past decade. Honestly, even the non-sequels look exactly the same as all the others. You rarely, if ever, see something that deviates in the slightest from the same, old, tired formula.

Which finally brings me to what this blog post is really about. It’s easy to blame rapacious businesspeople for the drab banality and sameness of movies, arguing that they keep making the same three or four movies over and over again because that was what made them a fat profit last time. No doubt that figures into it, but there is another, deeper reason why people waste their money and time on watching the same movie ad nauseam–and also why they waste their money and time buying the same book, listening to the same song, playing the same sports, cooking the same meals. That reason is the comfort of the familiar. While the public sphere is full of preaching about the value of the new and innovative, for the most part people are uncomfortable with new things and tend to reject them. The same is true of genuinely unusual things. Of greater value to our species is the repetition of the same thing over and over again, with minute and really meaningless tweaks that introduce some small element of novelty that is trivial enough not to be threatening and fools our minds into thinking the whole thing is something new.

Has our world always been a world of endless repetition? I don’t want to be the typical old fart who bemoans how things were better back when he was a kid. The fact is that things were not any different when I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s from how they are today. The desire for familiartity and routine has always been the strongest aspect of human psychology, and always will continue to be. It’s not only those of us who call ourselves creatures of habit that really are creatures of habit. Every person who’s ever lived has been.

For me, the value of realizing this has been to stop putting excessive emphasis on so-called “originality.” It’s arguable that, after 200,000 years of homo sapiens sapiens, originality has become impossible, and even became impossible long ago. It has probably been about 150,000 years since human lives have been a hamster wheel of repeating the same experiences our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents had, with us being fooled about it by youth and lack of collective memory. Even if originality were still possible, however, it’s very likely that people would viscerally reject anything truly original, and some possibility that they wouldn’t even perceive it. It’s my personal belief that the photos of the surface of Mars have already showed us what Martian life looks like, but we haven’t seen it because it is so different from earthly life that we lack a frame of reference, and therefore completely fail to perceive what we see. Genuinely original human beings would probably suffer the same fate: they would all be The Invisible Man.

Wrapped Around Their Wounds: Personal Resources and Self-Involved People

In travelling through life, you meet at least two kinds of people (although you tend to meet many more): those who are expansive and aggressively helpful, and those who are needy and self-obsessed. While the former can have the issue of being domineering, the latter tend to annoy us much more. We all look at the world from behind our own eyes, and, from the simple fact of having a physical perspective, experience all things as relating to us. Having some other person carry on endlessly about herself and show no interest in us can be a major turnoff. This is why self-involved people, unless they are celebrities, tend to end up isolated and not wanted anywhere, by anyone.

Yet why is it that celebrities, who tend to be the most self-centered people around, seem immune from the isolation that tends to afflict their less-well-known counterparts? The answer is simple: celebrities are resources. Contact with a celebrity can provide a wide range of personal benefits, so that, no matter how repulsive we find a celebrity’s personality, many people still try to contact her for the sake of getting a piece of the action. If someone is obscure, however, there is no action to get a piece of. Very often, the self-involved obscure person is a drain on our resources, depleting us while giving little in return.

This points to something important: the correlation between level of personal resources and degree of self-involvement. Personal resources does not mean only fame and money; it means strength both physical and mental, reserves of energy, time available to assist, knowledge and wisdom. I find that the most generous people, who give freely of their time, attention and assistance in ways that are not necessarily financial, are those with high personal resources. They have taken care of their own needs and wants, and they still have personal resources left over, so they bestow those on others. other people are desperately low on personal resources, not having enough of what they need to take care of themselves properly, so they spend their entire conscious lives wrapped around their hurts, thinking and talking only about themsleves, and exacting the penalty of other people’s resources that they need in order to keep their own body and soul together.

There are three things you can do about self-obsessed people who are self-obsessed because of low personal resources. I’ll tell you the first one last. The second thing you can do is evaluate your own level of personal resources and see whether you are in a position to help them. If you are, chances are that you will, by simple human nature, want to do it anyway. The third is to help them to the extent that they merit donations of your personal resources, and walk away from them to the extent that their demands are excessive. But the first and most important thing is to understand why they are the way they are. With understanding comes clarity about how you yourself should behave; so that, instead of just having an emotional aversion to such people, you can decide rationally how to relate to them. After all, even the lowest-resource, most self-obsessed people are potential resources to you should your help and the help of others enable them to achieve a personal resource surplus; and, more importantly, helping other people just feels good, and is of benefit to both the helper and the helped.

The Anatomy of a Serene Moment

Experience is a funny thing. Most of our experiences relate to the external world and what we see and hear and touch. The stuff of experience is the physical objects outside our minds. Yet, even if those physical objects have an objective existence (and that depends on whom you ask), experience is not objective. It is entirely subjective and consists on how that external world happens inside us. This keyboard and this computer display that dominate my everyday life are, in my view, concrete things outside me, but their reality to me is the feeling of the keys striking my fingers, the sight of what is on the display and its peripherally-noticed fringes, the aftertaste of the coffee in my mouth, the sound of the televised soccer game and my window fans in the background, and many other things wrapped into the single thing that is my consciousness of this moment. Because what I really have is this moment; and my life within that moment, despite its physical and external roots, happens entirely in my mind. And it happens indivisibly, wrapped up with the feelings and memories and random snippets of thought that pass through my mind while I type this entry, all experienced as one thing: me.

Which brings me to an important point: we cannot avoid experience while we are conscious. No matter what we do, we are experiencing each moment, and that expeirence adds to the stockpile of our past, which continues to live within us through accumulation. Ultimately, we are constructive entities that build our own consciousness brick by brick over the course of our entire lives, changing in each moment because that moment adds yet another brick to the edifice of our experience. (I could say “self-experience” but that would be a redundancy. All experience is experience of ourselves.) That happens to us willy-nilly as we live, because we can do nothing about our experiences happening or being cumulative any more than we can arrest the passage of time.

There is a very important implication to the inevitability of experience and the accumulation of experience. The implication is that it doesn’t really matter what you do, because, no matter what you do, you can’t help doing something, and the edifice of your next subjective moment is steadily being built. Some people make a big deal of having “better” experiences, which range from jumping out of airplanes to photographing Angkor Wat to giving birth to performing on-stage as the next musical superstar to simply getting a report from their assets manager that their assets have appreciated in this quarter. But the content of experience doesn’t really matter. Anyone who lives and does anything is building himself, involuntarily and helplessly but also in a salutary way, because no amount of physical privation and hardship can deprive even an indigent man of his constructive journey through life.

The lesson? Don’t worry about what you do. Don’t make bucket lists. Don’t yearn for the unreachable opulence that informs the lives of the wealthy. Don’t feel starved of recognition and fame. Just live, and count that all living has equal value in the end, and accomplishes the same purpose. I say that to myself while in the middle of yet another fifteen hours of sitting at this computer today because of poverty, and it makes me content.

What do YOU think?

The Foundations of Life, and the Non-Foundations of Humanity

What do you suppose is the single oldest aspect of life, the one that dates back to the origins of life itself two billion years ago? It’s definitely not sex, because sexual differentiation didn’t arise until more than a billion years later. Is it the desire for food? No, because it’s unlikely that, for the earliest life, feeding was anything other than a passive process through which nutrients entered a cell’s body at random, and were so plentiful that seeking them out wasn’t even a consideration. Shelter? No again, because seeking shelter is a relatively recent development. Yet, if sex, food and shelter are not the most basic element of life itself, what is?

I’ll give you a hint. From the very first second they appeared on the earth, the earliest simple, single-celled organisms formed colonies. They clustered together. They likely didn’t do it with any deliberate intention of associating with each other, and the way in which they associated is not clear, but they did form groups. So forming groups is the earliest, most fundamental aspect of everything living. In fact, it is so fundamental that the cells of our bodies are groups, as is the interior each cell itself. It was the infection of prokaryotes by viruses that led to the emergence of the cell nucleus, and the invasion of those same prokaryotes by bacteria that led to the earliest organelles. Today, nearly everything that lives on earth is not an individual but a community. It is community that underpins all life.

Yet community is also the biggest single drawback of life. We’re all familiar with how, as soon as perfectly adult and wise people form a group, they start functioning within the group like twelve-year-old kids. Forming groups atavizes all of us to a state that prevailed before anything other than prokaryotes existed. This explains the classic Shakesperean mob and the lynching parties so often depicted in westerns. It also explains the deterioration in human conduct when people form emotional attachments, especially romantic ones. It explains the sloppiness and ambiguity of communication and the way everyone is degraded by dependence, whether the dependence is factual or just felt. Hierarchical models of life are no longer considered valid, but it’s difficult to escape using hierarchical words when considering how membership in groups affects us. Each of us considered separately is a whole and complete human; in groups, we are subhuman and primitive.

I say this because of the stupid statement made by so many philosophers over the millennia that society is something uniquely human. Aristotle, in particular, made a total ass of himself by founding his whole view of the world on the notion that forming groups is a defining characteristic of our species. It is, in fact, something that we have in common with everything that lives on earth, from whales to elephants to hydras to plankton. Saying that society makes the man is unutterably boneheaded. Society makes the living thing, but that living thing doesn’t have to be, and most often isn’t, particularly human.

And we have to be careful about glorifying those aspects of ourselves that atavize us by dragging us back to an earlier state before humans existed. More on that in a subsequent diary entry, possibly tomorrow.

The Hegemony of Deaders: Where Wicca Goes Just as Wrong as Christianity Does

Jack Saunsea’s blog features a recent entry entitled Are You a Tool?. You can read the post for yourself if you want to know what it says, but it led me to reflect on one of the things I consider most valuable and important: the autonomy and freedom of the living, of which we are so often deprived by various agencies with interests inimical to our own. Chief among these is the Christian, Moslem and Jewish God, who demands that our lives serve his purpose instead of ours, and thereby exacts self-abasement and life-sacrificing servility from us under threat of having us endure torment forever after death if we don’t obey. But pagans are no better, as they serve the interests of pagan deities, be those deities Osiris or Diana. In their case also, the deity is not the same as the worshipper, so that, at some point, the deity’s interests are guaranteed to diverge from those of the worshipper, and the worshipper will inevitably be ordered to sacrifice herself in order to benefit the deity. So the practices of Wicca are no less pernicious than the Christian “humbling youself before God.” In both cases, a person is forced to throw away her life for the benefit of something that is not even alive.

My term, “deaders,” refers to all self-driven entities that are not alive. These include God, Osiris, Diana, and some people’s conception of our own souls. I’ve heard the lying trope that “your soul is you” and scoffed at it many times. Your soul is NOT you. It is something completely different from you, something just as eternal as you are temporal, and therefore something that wants different things from your life than the ones you want. The living seek happiness during our brief lives. Our souls, meanwhile, seek to make us suffer for the sake of harvesting “experience” in order to discharge “karma.” That is pernicious exploitation of the living and is simply evil and wrong. Something should be done about it.

Yet what can be done about it? Probably not much. It’s unlikely that anyone can live without being infested with that parasite called a soul. We shall always be unhappy and tormented because of the Machiavellian manipulations of our own soul-parasites, which partly control us and deprive us not only of autonomy but of meaningful choice. That my own deader is permitting me to write and publish this is a wonder, but there is no doubt that it’s one step ahead of me even as I do so. Ultimately, the living are defeated by the very frauds that pose as our essences.

One thing we are able to do, however, is to stop believing the lies on which all spiritual leaders since the dawn of our species have cynically agreed in their public statements: the falsehoods that our souls are us, that we have some kind of debt to those who would exploit us just because they are spiritual rather than living, and that the servility to deaders that grants power to spiritual leaders is of any benefit to us, their flocks. Even if we are powerless to avoid unhappiness, we can still avoid being deceived. Ultimately, the only thing any of us has, and cannot be robbed of, is her conscience. It is in the name of that conscience we all share that I ask everyone reading this to defy the servility that those who would exploit us, demand of us. It might not do us any good, but the misery that deaders force us to undergo would be cleansed by the denial of our consent.

The Private-Public Divide and Critical Realism

It’s no news to most of us that the public record is stilted, pretentious, ceremonial, sterile, and ultimately false. When we hear a public figure speak in the news media, we know that what she is saying was written by a speechwriter and then vetted by lawyers. But, although news media reports themselves are not written by speechwriters and vetted by lawyers, they have that same taint of vacuous falseness about them. So do statements made by lawyers and judges at a public trial or other on-record legal proceeding, such as a cross-examination on an affidavit. Very often, you also find movies and TV shows promoting socially required banalities, and sometimes you catch WordPress bloggers parroting socially prescribed tropes. Meanwhile, reality happens behind the scenes, off the public record, in the back rooms and around the dinner tables of the world, where few of us ever find out about it unless we’re participating. Private speech is down-to-earth, realistic, effective, fertile and ultimately true. Most of us already know that. We know that reality happens behind the scenes, while what gets publicized is a false and misleading coverup of what’s really going on.

What’s ultimately responsible for this state of affairs is the hegemony of critical realism. This type of realism is based on one central claim: that there is a difference between superficial appearance and an underlying substratum constituting reality. This is the true foundation of science–not the scientific method, but the underlying belief that what presents itself to us is ultimately a false appearance that requires digging into in order to unearth what’s really going on. This view emerged during the Renaissance and became dominant during the Enlightenment, and it has reshaped the human world so that, these days, everything we lay eyes on is necessarily a false appearance, and the true reality is hidden. It’s entirely responsible for the distinction between public and private speech.

Is this the way people really want to live? I doubt it. If we had the choice, we’d live in a world in which things were exactly what they seemed to be, so that we could give our weary minds a rest from constant suspicion. But I don’t know whether anything can be done about it any more. Time is entirely linear, so that nothing ever repeats itself, and the present does always stand on the shoulders of the past. Now that we’ve let the demon of philosophical realism out of the bottle and allowed it to achieve world domination, it would take extreme effort and a long time to rehabilitate the very nature of our perspectives and the very nature of the human world itself.

Escaping the Echo Chamber and Tower of Babel

Okay, I have to make myself unpopular. That’s not advisable for someone who joined the community only two days ago. In nearly all human communities, newcomers are expected to keep our heads down and our mouths shut until we have served an apprenticeship and absorbed the folkways and morays of the community enough to fit in. But I’ve been the shit-disturber and boat-rocker everywhere I’ve gone, and that will never change, so why fight it? Here’s where I rock the boat called WordPress, and I have to admit I’m not the least bit apologetic or even regretful about it.

I discovered WordPress about a week after I decided to become a full-time, pure diarist, meaning someone whose entire writing output is diaries. Previously, I had been writing short stories and novels. I got the idea two days ago to make my new diary entries public, in case other people wanted to read them, so I started this diary blog. So far, I’ve kept at my usual pace of about 3,000 words’ worth of diary entries per day, so that this will be the seventh blog post I’ve made since extremely early Friday morning. People have been noticing, so that I’ve gotten more than 25 likes for my posts and 13 followers so far, which ain’t half-bad for a blog that hasn’t even been indexed by Google yet.

Of course, I’ve been reading other people’s WordPress blogs as well. I’ve also made a habit of following their blogs and posting a comment whenever I’ve had something to say. My comments have been substantive and intended to make a positive contribution to the other person’s blog. But I’ve noticed something interesting. The vast majority of comments on the vast majority of blogs say something like: “Thanks for following my blog. I’m following yours in reciprocity.” It’s as if WordPress blogs are not truly being read by readers, but just reciprocally liked and followed by other bloggers who are too busy talking to bother listening. The impression I get is of a kind of Babelite echo chamber and closed universe where there is a multitude of sellers but no buyers at all.

Someone who is familiar with these kinds of environments has privately explained certain things to me. He told me that the blogs attracting true readers are usually on personal websites, and WordPress blogs are usually used to do networking and build up contacts who can drive traffic to the personal website and increase search engine ratings. The suggestion is that WordPress blogs are not about what you write in your blog, but only about driving up the number of hits you get so that Google puts you higher toward the first page of search results. That disheartens me. I put my heart and life into my posts, and having people ignore what I say because they’re not visiting my blog in order to read it, but only to get reciprocal likes and follows, is a major downer.

But I’ve also noticed popular blogs on WordPress that get large amounts of comments, and those are the blogs true readers have noticed. The comments to those blogs are often the same kinds of substantive comments I tend to make on other people’s blogs. That gives me heart that it’s possible to escape the closed universe of WordPress and make true readers aware that my blog exists, so that they will have an opportunity to decide whether to read it. So I’ll continue on my merry boat-roacking way, disturbing everyone’s pu pu by endorsing only the blogs I feel personal affinity with, making substantive comments only when I have something to say, and in general being a reader rather than just a mutual exploiter in the great collective endeavor of worshipping Google rankings. See you on _your_ blog, but please think about whether you really find value in mine, and endorse it only if you do, speaking only when you have something to say.

How Opposites Converge

George Bernard Shaw, the British playwright, was talking to American financier William Randolph Hearst when he said: “You financiers are lucky that you can afford to worry about art. We artists must worry about money.” Rarely were truer words uttered, because creative people typically struggle with poverty, which routinely forces us to degrade our art; while those whose strength is amassing wealth end up with enough resources to relax about making ends meet and turn to higher principles, such as artistic quality. Or at least it used to be that way, in the days of patrons of the arts, such as the wealthy Italian families that underwrote the work of Leonardo da Vinci and Michaelangelo. These days, I find wealthy people to be much more mean-spirited and convinced that making money purely for the sake of money is the only worthwhile goal in life. If they give away money it’s only for a tax writeoff, because it’s especially important to them to screw the government even if they suffer financial losses they would have avoided from not screwing the government. But money is just a symbol for other things, sterile and unproductive in its own right. The real wealth behind the symbol of money still comes from those who actually create, whether through the creativity of ideas or through the genuine innovation of new technologies. In the end, the makers of wealth know they are sterile and depend on the fertility of indigent creators, and many resent it, which can explain the often psychopathic exploitation of creative people in the past 110 years.

There is a parallel within the legal profession, where I had an unaccredited supporting role for eight and a half years, ending about eight years ago. The senior partners, especially the superstars, have amassed enough wealth, prestige and pull that they can afford to be anal about integrity and proper conduct. For a support person they’re a pleasure to work with because they are staunchly well-mannered and pleasant. The young nobody lawyers who haven’t made their fortunes yet, however, must devote 95% of their time to finding loopholes within the rules of their profession in order to get an edge over opposing and competing lawyers. While they protect themselves from exposure and liability, they can’t afford to stand on a single ethical principle for a single second. For a support person they are generally a nightmare to provide services to because their exclusive focus is circumventing the rules. But it is those ethically iffy juniors who erect the structure underlying the power and freedom of the ethically steadfast senior partners. In the end, the honesty of the seniors depends on the dishonesty of a far larger number of juniors. That is something everyone within the legal profession is well aware of.

Then there is the big one, which is the zero-sum game between effectiveness and reflection. Effectiveness is needed in order to get things done. Reflection is a key component of what is needed in order to figure out what you should want to get done in the first place. Those two things cannot add up to more than 100%, although they can, and do, add up to far less. Those who prevail in life are those who are the most effective, which necessarily means the least reflective. The resuilt is a world ruled by people who are great at meeting their objectives but have no clue as to how to choose objectives wisely in the first place. Meanwhile, those who are best at choosing objectives wisely are completely useless at achieving them. This is just the way the universe is structured and nothing can be done about it. But our species used to deal with it by having the effective people consult the reflective people from time to time and get their input on what their next goals should be. Today, however, effective people consider themselves self-sufficient and look upon reflective people with contempt, considering them useless because they are not effective. The result is a kind of whimsical self-worship among the true leaders of the world, who actually worship their own perspectives, pursuing every whim that pops into their heads out of an unconsidered presupposition that they have a natural right to get everything they want. And there is a trickle-down effect, with more and more other people imitating them in the hopes of achieving similar levels of success. Except that the whims of effective people are ultimately second-hand. They come from the blood and sweat of the reflective people, who are not even acknowledged as human but around whose unappreciated thoughts the world still revolves.

tl;dr all opposites converge in the end, and we are one.

In Praise of Survival, from an Unviable Man

In the latest post in the GABFRAB blog, entitled “Prescription Teeth,” the peripatetic author talks about various hitchhikers he’s picked up while driving along western US highways. His specific examples are of people who I didn’t think existed any more: hobos. Not the inert homeless I see here on Toronto streets, sprawled gauntly on the banking district pavement, sleeping their lives away while smug fatcats in expensive suits step around them. No, the people he describes are proud and resilient in their transience and homelessness, people who do very well without even the most basic security net and live lives that, despite frequent hardship, are odysseys of romantic freedom.

An unviable guy like me gets charmed out of his undies by stuff like that.

What do I mean by unviable? I mean exactly what the word means: incapable of survival. While I’ve always had a decent level of book intelligence, my practical intelligence is zilch. I can’t problem-solve my way out of a wet paper bag. My few experiences with homelessness, including deliberate ones, have lasted mere hours and ended with me igominously begging for rescue from birth family. Without my father, late mother and brother, i would long ago have been slain by the elements, or at least by thirst, because I wouldn’t have been able to find a way to get a drink of water on the street. Sure, I can write in many styles, but that’s the only thing I’ve done even passably in the half-century since my birth. I don’t even wipe my ass all that well.

These hobos of GAFRAB’s are my idols and heroes, those who have the intrepidity to remain alive and even prosper in the absence of support from the strangling apron-strings of those who inflicted them on the world. They are, in my biased view, the finest examples of humanity, those rare people who would be just as good staying alive 200,000 years ago, in the forager age, as they are on city streets today–even though our 21st-century world is significantly more hostile to their way of life than the world of 200,000 or even 200 years ago was. Gone is the opportunity to walk all day through the wilderness and stop at a farmer’s house to shovel hay for one evening in exchange for a meal and a place to sleep in the hayloft. What is not gone is the human spirit as embodied in these amazing individuals I’ve always aspired to be like: in a world of strangling confinement and raincloud credit ratings, they remain free.