Wednesday, December 30, 2009
However, time is not meant to be the focus of this little blurb. The intent of this is an analysis and breakdown of lessons I have learned in the past ten years. They have been quite intense at times, and I would like to make sure I don't miss the point. So, in no particular order, let us consider what I have learned in the past ten years.
-I have learned what it is to be my own man.
-I have learned what it is to give myself to someone else
-I have learned that sometimes, you cannot stand and fight the world in front of you
-I have learned that sometimes, you must stand and fight the world in front of you
-I have learned that these two occasions are often one and the same
-I have learned that evil is not as unpleasant as everyone says it is, and that hate is sometimes an extremely enticing option
-I have learned that evil is subversive, and hate can poison the soul in no time at all
-I have learned that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing
-I have learned that you should never be satisfied with “a little knowledge”
-I have learned that money should always be a means, not an end
-I have learned that money never stretches as far as you think it will, and never brings the joy you think it should
-I have learned that no man is an island, and that I am no exception
-I have learned that fear drives a man to do terrible things
-I have learned that bravery is not always what you think it is, and that sometimes retreat is the only wise choice
-I have learned that you should strive to live without regrets, but some choices will haunt you no matter how far you run
-I have learned that you can only Hate the people you truly Love, that no one else means enough to you to warrant that intensity of emotion
-I have learned that sometimes, you need a dog around to know you are loved
-I have learned that sometimes, you need a cat around to know you are not the center of the universe
-I have learned it is in fact possible to love and hate your friends at the same time
-I have learned that no day is so good that something awful cannot happen
-I have learned that no day is so bad that something beautiful cannot happen
-I have learned that there is an unbelievable freedom to be had in owning your own car
-I have learned that there is an unbelievable slavery and burden in owning your own car
-I have learned that Stuff is great, and I have learned that I am far too proficient at accumulating it
-I have learned that Blood is Blood, and that your family is always going to be there. That is the definition of family.
-I have learned that true Education has little to do with dates and facts, and far more to do with how to deal with people
-I have learned that the past is a fluid creature, a slippery bastard that is constantly in flux. The road behind you is winding just as much as the road before you. We just pretend it isn't
-I have learned that laughter is the best of medicines, and that curry takes a very close second
-I have learned that my little slice of reality may be small, but I must tend it best I can because its all I'm getting
-I have learned to love math, as it is one of the few things I can trust to stay stable
-I have learned to love words and language, because they can do so many wonderful things
-I have learned to trust people, and I have learned to distrust people. I have yet to learn when it is appropriate to do which
-I have learned that the likelihood of me ever growing up is slim, and that this saves me the trouble of having to figure out what I want to be when I get there
-I have learned that a manual transmission is the only way to drive, especially when the weather goes sour
-I have learned that long drives are often worth it just for their own value, and that the journey is at least as important as the destination
-I have learned never to underestimate a northern Mid-Western winter. Mother Nature is far more creative than me, and will always have one more trick up her sleeve
-I have learned that quality is its own reward. I have yet to learn exactly when it is appropriate to fudge things, and settle for really good instead of great
-I have not learned when to shut my mouth
-I have not learned when to open my heart
-I have not learned where I lost my naivete
-I have not learned when I lost my joy
-I have not learned when it is inappropriate to laugh
-I have not learned how to take it like a man
-I have not learned when to stay in line
-I have not learned who's on first
-I have not learned how to live without technology
-I have not learned what's so great about Lost
-I have not learned why I am here
-I have not learned how to accept responsibility and criticism without flinching
-I have not learned how to stop lying
-I have not learned how to get women and impress people at parties
-I have not learned how the rest of you people make it all look so easy
-I have not learned when to leave well enough alone
-I have not learned how James was so damn good at rolling a disc when it wasn't even in his name
-I have not learned to fly
-I want to learn another language
-I want to learn how to please my woman
-I want to learn how to find a woman
-I want to learn why people are they way they are
-I want to learn to find contentment in little things
-I want to learn the real story behind UFOs
-I want to learn how to control my weight
-I want to learn discipline
-I want to learn
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Now, I realize that this is a personality trait of mine. The whole world doesn't see things as I do, of that I am all too well aware, so I have learned how to see the world through multiple sets of lenses. I can typically understand just about any viewpoint (no matter how vocally I may pretend otherwise). I have in my lifetime been a staunch, hawkish conservative, a fierce liberal, and most points in between. I have run the gambit from a rabid fundamentalist to a die-hard humanist, and even dabbled briefly in unbridled apathy. However, I am what I am, and I cannot be otherwise. So, while I may comprehend why some people would rather play it safe, I am not one of those people. So it is, I cannot stand the current state of things.
I believe that just because things are functioning in their current form, that is not a guarantee that it will always be such. I believe that people must constantly question the status quo, because sometimes (as a great man once said), “the status is not quo.” Complacency is as much a sin as any of the big seven, in my opinion, and must be avoided at all costs. Even if you are comfortable the way things are, that does not mean they cannot be improved. The human creature is innovative and the pages of history are full of people who have worked hard make things better. Or, at the very least, to keep things moving.
A little over two hundred years ago, a group of second class citizens banded together to buck off the standing authority and lay the groundwork for one of the mightiest nations in human history. Their contemporaries were by no means unanimous in support of this, but go out today. Pick anyone on the street, and ask them if any one of them would go back to being colonists of England. Ask them if they would give up all the freedoms and representation they have today.
Roll history forward a bit, and let us look at a period of time that has been referenced often lately. Let us look at the Great Depression. One of the darker chapters in United States history, the Depression was the result of fundamental flaws in the economic system that were rife in the opening years of the 20th century. Before that, though, people had been blissfully happy. The “Roaring Twenties” are still referred to with a glimmer of nostalgia. But I am confident that if you were to ask around, no one would actually suggest that we bring back the economic system that brought about the total collapse of the existing financial system.
My point here is twofold. First of all, I'd like to point out that there were people in both eras who were perfectly happy with the state of affairs. Average citizens who would have been perfectly happy with life continuing just the way it had gone before. However, the state of affairs was unsustainable, and proved itself to be just that. People should never assume that simply because they are content, that the rest of the world is content as well.
Second, and the real core of my pondering, is the fact that a price has been demanded for each improvement. Patriots died freeing the US from England. Farmers and the poor suffered and died in the chaos that followed the stock market crash. I am a progressive, however the price of progression is often steep, and is not always paid by those who you'd think. That is the issue I keep running into, and the question I am trying to answer.
Who has the right to decide that people will suffer to improve the world? What person has the right to bring suffering into the world for the Greater Good?
As much as I want the world improved, as much as I want things made better and the human race to be better off, I also value freedom and liberty. Personal choice. I desperately want to improve things, but is that enough? Is that sufficient justification? I may feel the world has been improved, but what about the suffering people? What about the people whose lives would be harmed, hindered, or ended?
Now, I realize that the current state of affairs is not as miserable as things were back before the Revolutionary War. They were second class citizens, governed by a ruler who wasn't even on the same continent. They were overtaxed and completely unrepresented. Today, we are an affluent and powerful nation. We have most of the things we want, have a (moderately) effective government, and at first blush, don't have too terribly much to be upset about.
The system is broken, though. Politicians are compromised, men and women deep in the pockets of companies who don't really have the people's best interest in mind. The legal system is used to circumvent justice just as often as it is used to actually achieve it. The government intercedes to protect massive ineffectual corporations, yet they won't go so far as to regulate them effectively. It is unbalanced and dangerous, but not unsurprising.
It would be extremely difficult to fix things in one go right now. Maybe impossible. Invariably, it would hurt. A lot. People would suffer. The country would reel. The status quo would be upset terribly. All in the name of the Greater Good.
Would it be worth it? Would the pain of the moment lead to a better world? Who has the right to make such a call?
Oh well, it's Christmas. Merry Christmas everyone one!
(Yes, that is a cop out. No, I have no shame in wussing out. It's Christmas dammit!).
Saturday, October 31, 2009
“What the fuck have you done lately?” - Wesley Gibson in “Wanted”
“You have to realize that someday you will die. Until you know that, you are useless.” - Tyler Durden in “Fight Club”
It is, I believe, one of the strangest parts of the human condition that we seek purpose with our lives. All other creatures in nature survive with their goal being “Let me pass on my genetic material.” Achievements are defined by survival, specifically surviving long enough to produce offspring. Humans muck it up, though. We bring in abstract concepts that cannot be resolved by simply breeding. If I were to go out tonight, impregnate a woman at random, and nine months from now take the child as my own, this would not resolve any of my life issues. I would not feel as though I have accomplished everything needed with my life. I would not be satisfied. This is because human beings have become unnecessarily complicated.
Somewhere along the line, people decided that “Eat, Sleep, Breed” is not really enough to base civilization on. Somebody got the bright idea to invent the concept of “Purpose”. An abstract, a vague generality that gives us all something to worry about while we lie awake at night. The human creature decided to aspire to more than a life of surviving and mating, resulting in millennia of hand-wringing that we aren't doing it right. That we are all failing, because some jackass decided to get people to establish unrealistic expectations for their life.
Once upon a time, over a decade ago, I made a vow, to serve God and do his Good Work. Since then, I have not only systematically deconstructed all of my definitions of “God”, but also any preconceived notion of “Good Work”. I am a man of my word, however, and I do strive to fulfill the spirit of the oath I took. That means I too have dedicated my life to levels of complexity and frustrations that your average wild hare couldn't begin to imagine. I am consciously and intentionally pursuing a path that I don't actually believe, as such. Or maybe I gave up on it years ago, and the thing that I'm doing now is just kinda masquerading as my divine calling in the meantime.
So is there such a thing as a higher calling? Is there such a thing as a Big Picture? Purpose? While it would be disingenuous of me to say I believe in the idea of God's Will, I think that humans have come far enough that maybe there is something bigger to it all. I saw an article the other day that discussed exactly how little of the earth's surface is actually habitable without special conditions or preparations, and how tiny a little sliver Humanity actually occupies in the history of Planet Earth. Something along the lines of 1% of the history and surface area of Earth is actually survivable by humans. But in that tiny little fragment of time, look how far we've come, and how many things have become achievable. We have proven that most anything we can imagine can be created or achieved, which makes absolutely no sense. It's ridiculous, and yet we regularly pull it off. And even those things that are patently impossible, that are outside of every law and physical restriction we've figured out, even those things are imaginable. Ask a physicist, and every single one will tell you that it is impossible to travel faster than light. Ask your average TV viewer or geek, and they'll give you a half dozen possible ways to do it. Some could probably even provide a diagram.
This level of ambition, of accomplishment, this is unprecidented in Nature. Sharks have been around for millions of years, and they have yet to invent water wings, let alone create mass publications or travel faster than their physical body would normally allow. Cockroaches are considered by some to be the pinnacle of evolution, able to survive things that would kill a person just thinking about it. However, these little bugs have not developed culture. They have not conquered the globe and enslaved nature to their whim. Cockroaches can not be held responsible for the extinction of one single other species. Very disappointing, and I believe evidence that there is something up with the human race.
We have veered away from individual survival, and begun to work on a more collective level. Yes, there are deviants who will always live only to serve their own skin, but everyone knows that there should be something more going on. We seek to know all the secrets of the universe, but to what end? I believe it is a matter of us trying to discover collective immortality. We are all working to be or do great things, just so that we can sustain the status quo and keep not only our lives, but our way of life going on ad infinitum. We want to live forever, and get as many other people to live forever with us so we don't get lonely.
So, if that is the case, and this massive collective delusion that we all must serve some higher calling and greater good is actually just us all trying to become immortal, then maybe this is all just a survival trip after all. But that really doesn't seem sufficient...
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Monday, September 14, 2009
Begin with a premise - Given time, the human creature will experiment and distill the most preferred form of governance. This government will embody the virtues desired by the governed, and will provide the optimum balance of freedom and protection. Having endured the crucible of Time, impurities and weaknesses will be minimized while practical functionality will be maximized. The people will happily submit to the rule of those in power because those in power will serve to bring the greatest good to the largest segment of the governed.
Now, let's compare this premise to the current state of affairs in the United States. As a relatively young nation, it is fair to say that we have a relatively modern form of government. Given the general premise that "Newer = Better" established previously, the United States should theoretically possess the purest and strongest values people should look for in their government. While not necessarily Ideal it is, according to the premise, a preferred form of government than, for instance, Medieval Feudalism or Roman Dictatorship. And perhaps by comparison it is. There are not absolute social restrictions found in serfdom, nor is there the gluttonous excess sanctioned by the Caesars. But what do we really have?
This past weekend, a large number of protectors descended upon the nation's capitol to rise up and decry... something. There was no clear unity, beyond a very clear dissatisfaction with the current presidency. Some claimed Tax Reform, a worthy cause. Some claimed they wanted to protect seniors from Death Panels. This is slightly less logical of a cause, as others were vocally and violently protesting government spending on any health care, ostensibly out of fiscal responsibility but more often expressed in the form of "I refuse to allow My money to be spent to help other people who can't support themselves!" Or, as a blog I found explained it, "Barack Obama can be many things to many people, but he cannot be a Marxist, Nazi, Socialist, Fascist, Kenyan Muslim Jew all at the same time." (link here)
This past summer, the virtue of Vocality has been canonized. If the squeaky wheel gets the grease, then this group should be extremely well lubricated by now. The new national anthem is the Irrational Hate Anthem, once only the domain of pale, depressed goth kids living in the basement (no offense, Elizabeth). Want your five minutes of fame? Want to live the American Dream? Want to stake your claim in the new Obamerica? Speak up. And if we don't hear you, shout. Yell. Scream. Shriek rabid slogans, bellow your way out from complacent anonymity. Don't worry about the message: at that volume, people won't be able to understand you anyway.
This is a small (if somewhat loud) minority, though. So what is the government Really like?
Backbiting. Infighting. Stagnant, corrupt, partisan bickering that has completely lost touch with the populace. There is a reason the word "politics" has come to only have four letters. One arm of the government is rabidly seeking to destroy the other, not because their constituents want that. Not because this group is promoting a dangerous, damaging, and negative agenda. No, this group sows disorder and misinformation because they aren't the ones in charge. And the ones who actually Are in charge attempt to bargain with their rivals. I voted for this president, and I love him. I believe he is a role model, to be admired and respected. Unfortunately, the only way for him to have reached this peak is by sacrificing values, compromising his agenda, and now that he is in a position to affect change, undermining his own efforts by collaborating with people who have clearly labeled themselves as the enemy.
Once more, we are reliving the story of the Frog and the Scorpion. We are crossing the river together, except this time the Scorpion made no promises to behave. On the shore, he lobbed hate and spite at the frog, promising to see him dead. The frog then, (for reasons as yet unclear), began trying to carry the scorpion across. Now, the two are drowning together, leaving the rest of us schmucks who actually have to Live in this country to make sense of it.
If the premise laid out previously contains any grain of truth, then this is what we want. A government too impotent to do anything more than destroy the lives of people halfway across the world. We want our ruling bodies to be utterly disconnected from reality, to have no sense of pragmatism and yet an overriding sense of idealism. The government we have built in this land, the government distilled from millenia of human advancement and development, is disconnected, and ineffective. I would accuse them of living in Ivory Towers, however that implies a certain level of "superiority".
The people in power now, the decision makers who will determine the fate of anyone who might read these words, they are only in power because they could raise the most money and talk faster and prettier than the other guy. Or gal, as the case may be. The champions of Marriage keep getting exposed for marital infidelity. The champions of Fiscal Responsibility bay for more money to be spent halfway around the world, with nary a thought to oversight or responsibility. The champions of Social Reform, of Progress, they ignore the will of their constituents and mindlessly follow the loudest voice in the room.
If this is what we want, if this is what generations of Americans have given their lives for, then God help us all. If this isn't what we want, why the hell isn't anyone fixing it?
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
So, after a series of bizarre experiences, merging art and life, I find myself questioning that eternal mystery "What next?" Life is a straightforward enough matter. There's diapers at one end, families in the middle, and then diapers again at the other. It's that bit that comes afterwards that people are always wondering about. Generations of humans, millenia of lives marching forward into a big black curtain, a proper stage mask that no one ever sees behind. It is the one certainty in life that every person finds waiting at the end.
I once read that the human race invented the idea of gods as a response to the staggering reality of our own mortality. Horrified beyond the bounds of rational thought at the truth of our existence, the fact that we burned so bright, so fast, and then go so utterly dark, primitive man used his newly developed powers of imagination to impose an external order onto the world. Like a child naming it's invisible playmates, the elements were given identities. Fire, Earth, Thunder, these primitive gods sprang out of nothingness, to give meaning to the desperate young humanity's plight. Because that's where the roots of concepts of Afterlife come from, from our concept of the divine. We were so utterly mortified of what comes after death that we invented religion to protect ourselves from it. It sounds reasonable to me.
Some Asian cultures worship their ancestors. Thus, if you lived a good and venerable life, you would become a sort of house god, given the task of protecting your family. You had an identity, a task, and respect after you died, so it's almost as though you didn't die at all. Christians believe that if you lived a good and devout life, you go to Heaven to be with your creator. You keep your identity, you keep an anchor to your natural life (the same role of worship you had in church is now your role in the afterlife), and so it's like you didn't die. You simply entered a new form of being. Vikings believed their best warriors who died in battle went off to Valhalla, to life on in eternally glorious battle by day, and feasting by night. They kept their same roles and identities as in life, and so it's as though they did not actually die.
This all was triggered when I was asked what my thoughts were on the concept of reincarnation. That one is actually the most transparent of all of the ideas of afterlife. After you die, you just do it all over again. Some mechanism is in place to route your "soul" right back into a new body. You are alive again, and if you're quite good, you can dig deep and pull back memories of past lives. Then, it's like you never actually died at all.
The idea of an afterlife is insurance. It is the human race hedging it's bets against the darkness. By a collective power of will, the human creature unites with other, like-minded people and form a mental shield against the apparent truth of our existence. Even the word "After Life" carries within it's structure evidence of human denial. "Afterlife" or "Life After", it suggests that death is a transition, and not actually death. Death is akin to moving to another town, except the phones are a bit crap there and you can't get a signal to call all the other people you used to know. That's the core of religion, at the end of the day. It is the collective decision of its members to reject the physical evidence they are presented with, and embrace something else.
But what does the empirical evidence tell us? Boiled down in a test tube, the human condition is almost sadistic. Thrust into a vastly complicated universe with absolutely no apparent structure, we are given tremendous mental abilities. We are given the ability to perceive things that we cannot see, the powers of imagination and creativity. We have the unique ability to identify order and patterns, the ability to develop the disciplines of math and science. We are given a drive to know and understand everything, but then we are given the blink of an eye to do it. If we were crafted this way intentionally, it almost seems cruel. If it was accidental, it seems even crueler. Every single human being that has ever lived has been Alive. They have had the spark of life burning bright within them. An identity, a series of connections to other humans - Mother, Father, Friend, Enemy. They had likes, dislikes, quirks and oddities that were unique in all of the history of the universe to this one individual. For a long time, I always used to pride myself on being unique. But, as I open my eyes and study the people in my life, they are all marvelously unique as well. Every decision, for good or ill, is born of a chain reaction of chemicals and experiences and memories that I cannot begin to know. Snowflakes are child's play by comparison.
And yet, like snowflakes, every one of these people has but a short time. And we know it, because we have all seen the hand of death at work. Perhaps it was a bit more immediate for our less modern ancestors, but it was no less personal. Humans did not just being human a hundred years ago, or a thousand, or even more. We have been human the whole time. The sparks of creativity and genius that are with us today have been part of the human condition all along. Those ancestors were just like us, living, laughing, loving. But they're gone now. And they have left us no clues as to what is waiting for us beyond the curtain.
The human creature is presented with the ultimate paradox, and it's really no surprise that we've had to develop all manner of unfounded presumptions about what comes next in order to deal with it. We are given self-consciousness, the ability to have our own identity and unique personality. We then are given a timeline of indeterminate length, except we know with confidence that it will end. We are given the mental ability to tackle any mystery given sufficient time, and then someone starts a stopwatch. Humans are very purpose oriented creatures, so we create situations where we have Purpose. Purpose lets us tap into something eternal and immortal. Purpose lets us be part of something that is not temporary, that is not mortal, but that is everlasting. So, we embrace the purpose we find, and we pursue it because that is how we will live forever.
So, to answer the question, no, I don't believe in reincarnation. I think that, rationally, humans should not be letting ourselves get distracted by the irrelevant. The human creature has a very short time on this world, and we have a great many more important things to be doing than trying to organize what happens after we die. Because, scientifically, we have no evidence of an afterlife. If there is one, there is no reliable physical proof to back it up, so why make an issue of it? I have irrefutable physical proof that I have a life right now. I have an apartment, a car, a cat, and a beer waiting for me in the refrigerator. It is a waste of our precious minds to go muddling around in the afterwards, because we can't yet. If there is something there, then we will all have plenty of time to deal with it when the time comes. For now, I can prove scientifically that I have a beer in my fridge.
For a few more moments, anyway.
There is more to this, though. So I am confident this will not be the last time I find myself tackling it. Feel free to share your thoughts, please.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
The whole topic is rubbish, though, so why not root out the real source of the problem.
Just as I believe the Rebellion spirit that lives in us is the result of heavy indoctrination during youth, I fear that the modern concept of romance is likewise culturally ingrained into us. Raised on fairy tales of Sleeping Beauty and Prince Charming, it is essentially inevitable for children to grow up with severely warped perspectives on relationships. I personally had the misfortune of spending my formative years regarding these things, sequestered away in my church youth group, but more on that later.
The fundamental problem is the delusion of "The Perfect Other". Likely stemming from the Judeo-Christian that God is watching out for you, the idea essentially is that there is a Mr./Mrs. Right out there, just waiting for you. This sort of thinking can only exist in a universe that allows for an all powerful/all knowing God, or Fate, which is the same thing with a more secular coat of paint on it. Now, I won't deny that even in my social circle, I have married friends who I cannot imagine being involved with anyone else. That is a reactionary attitude, though. I cannot imagine them with other people, mainly because I have not really seen either of them with other people. The concept is foreign to me, likely not encouraging to the couple (who wants to imagine their significant other with anyone else?), and therefore largely frowned upon. Personal experience and social graces combine forces, and suddenly it's Destiny.
Except it's not Destiny. It's not Fate, or God, or any other invisible force. It is a convoluted combination of personal chemistry and compatibility, genetic predisposition, and a significant amount of compromise and work on the part of the people actually in the relationship. Those couples who were "made for each other" are likely the first ones to point out to you exactly how hard it is to live with their spouse/significant other, and will easily rattle off several issues that they are currently in the process of hammering out. They are still together because their personalities mesh in just such a way that they can get through with the relationship intact. But that is no guarantee it will last, even for the married ones. It is fallacious thinking to assume permanence simply because it is the way things are now. The couple may have worked through a lot. They may have overcome challenges that likely seemed absolutely insurmountable at the time (I can think of a half dozen examples of the top of my head for at least as many of my married/seriously commited friends). Issues which the couples managed to work through. But, I can also say with confidence that the key factor in every one of these situations was not divine providence. It was not the invisible hand of Fate, Destiny, or the Divine. It was the stubborn persistence of the poor bastards caught in the middle of it. I've watched small issues shatter "perfect" couples. I've seen a lack of persistence destroy casual couple and decades-long marriage alike. The fact that a relationship has not failed yet does not automatically assume that it cannot fail.
There is no such thing as a "soulmate". At best, there is "the ultimate accomplice". Someone who is conspiring with you against the forces of entropy and boredom. When you think about it, monogamous relationships are a bit bizarre for a species with attention spans as short as humans. Yes, they're convenient for stability while raising children, but beyond that, there is a decided lack of incentive to stay involved. There is likely a reason the words "stable" and "stagnant" both begin with the same three letters. I'm no linguist, unfortunately, but I'd be glad to hear from someone with a thought on that. Personally, I have the attention span of the average gray squirrel cranked up on pop rocks and mountain dew. And while I am fully aware that the rest of the human race does not share my weakness (Thank God), my cousin informed me recently that the average human intellect does not usually stray further than 6% off the baseline, one way or the other. Assuming I am truly exceptional, and have literally half the attention span of the most extremely inattentive person, that puts me at either 9% or 12% off the mark, respectively. In class, a full letter grade, but we're not talking about the difference between "Passing with Honors" and "Dismal Failure". This implies that I, with my miserable ability to stay on course, am at the very most, only slightly less capable of keeping my head on track. That means that most other people will eventually get bored by the same lack of variety that bores me (albeit not nearly as quickly). It seems odd that there is this expectation that, even though I have difficulty maintaining a single guiding thought in my head throughout one single paragraph, I will somehow be perfectly fine sticking to a single woman for the rest of my life. And, if some of the more extreme cases are to be believed, that I was supposed to be "true" to her all the way up till now as well.
We are raised on promises of Happily Ever After in Love, as well as other things. It's a load of bollocks, though (God Bless the UK). According to a hero of mine, Harris K Telemacher (as played by Steve Martin), "There is someone for everyone, even if you need a compass, pick axe, and night goggles to find them." I disagree. I believe the formula is that you find someone you are happy with, and then you use the compass, pick axe, and night goggles to keep the relationship together.
Just keep your nerve, batten down the hatches, and with a little luck, you can make it through, with all your friends looking on in awe saying "They were meant to be together."
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Now, a family history is a strange thing. By the time you have a family history, the history has lost much of its urgency. The people are generally long since dead, the relationships in question have lost much meaning, and all that's left is an assortment of black and white photos fading into yellow of people that look just a little bit more familiar that the sort of people in those pictures generally look. With my mother's side of the family, it was always taken for granted that they'd been around since the dawn of time. Or possibly since the days of French fur traders, whichever came first. But my father's family has always been a bit of a mystery. I know that we all come with large ears, hot tempers, and varying degrees of blue around the collar. There were sketchy references to this ancestor from Mexico, or that relative who was Cherokee, but by and large it was something that simply didn't come up in conversation. This weekend, though, my older sister showed me that maybe things weren't so simple after all. Turns out the big ears come from both sides of my Dad's family. As well as the penchant for facial hair and the expandable forehead. A whole new universe full of stories and facts I'd never known I was connected to, laid out in all its sepia glory.
Growing up, I never really questioned my family. My sisters, my parents, everyone just kinda was. They weren't so much people as they were geographical features. One is never surprised when they leave the house in the morning, and discover the hill across the street is still there. So it was with my family. But then, one day some time in high school, the hill across the street wasn't as big as it had been the day before. That ancient oak that stood sentinel on the corner was suddenly replaced by a shrub, a little bush daring you to ask what happened. One bit at a time, it all slipped away. By the time I knew what was happening, though, I was the rat deserting the sinking ship. It's been a long time, though. I no longer have anything to run from in that town, and I finally have the chance to restore some connections. A series of happy accidents connected me with old friends and family I had given up as lost, and I discovered the world keeps turning under all of us. And with these friends, this family, it all spun in just the right way.
I must have left that town a hundred times since I first came north eight years ago. This was the first time I truly grasped what all I was leaving behind. The world is a fluid place, and there are things in life too important to be taken for granted.
Monday, June 22, 2009
I think that we as a culture have fallen victim to the curse of getting everything we ever wanted. If I am hungry, I go out to my infinitely complex automobile designed halfway around the world and constructed halfway across the country. I burn the decomposed remains of animals dead for millions of years that has been shipped in a machine larger than I possibly imagine all the way around the world, and accelerate to speeds faster than any other land mammal can travel (assuming there aren't any cops around). I blast away to a building full of food stuffs, shipped in from around the globe, processed to last longer and stay fresher than organic material has any right to last. I bring it home, and bombard it with unnaturally high levels of radiation, triggering a molecular reaction within it, vaporizing particles of water I would need a powerful microscope to see. Or if I'm feeling particularly lazy, I harness the elemental power that drives a lightening bolt to activate and interface with an extraordinarily complex device that is the pinnacle of millenia of technological advancement, to access the most advanced and extensive computer network the human race has yet to devise. I then order pizza. See above if you want some perspective on exactly how complicated that is, but take out the part where I have to actually stand up. And yet, this seems perfectly normal to me. I accept this as being completely natural. I'm currently listening to music that belongs to a genre that is played by instruments that do not and cannot physically exist (techno). I do not have a band living in my apartment, but rather, that same elemental power I used to order pizza is harnessed to trigger a series of magnets that vibrate faster than the eye can see. They vibrate so fast, in fact that they actually create recognizable sound patterns beyond "click click click click". I am typing this on a device that is not actually connected to anything, currently sitting in my lap until I put it on the table in front of me so I can go take advantage of modern plumbing.
And do Not get me started on air conditioning. Not today, when it was so hot my back door actually sealed itself shut from the heat.
Perhaps we have been overimmersed in the miraculous. Perhaps modern society has reached a level of sensory and mental callousedness that we cannot react anymore. For days now, I have been trying to turn the marvelous machine in front of me into a weapon against oppression. Unfortunately, I have been stymied by its complexity, but I can't stop trying. But when I tell others about this grand struggle, I feel like I am trying to alter the trajectory of the earth's orbit with a hamsterwheel and a series of paperclips. We have established a level of cultural inertia the likes of which the world has never seen before. I fully expect for my life to end in a world much the same as the one I was born into a quarter century ago. The toys have been improved, but the rules are the same. My father was born into this same world. Perhaps someday, if I am fortunate, I will father my own son, and I imagine when my progeny breathes his last, he will do so in a land of supermarkets, automobiles, and a presidential election every four years. The ancillary rules will probably look a little different, but the fundamentals are the same. This culture has worn itself a nice, comfortable butt groove in the sofa that is The Human Race, and physics tell us that an object at rest won't get up unless it needs another beer.
It is in direct opposition to the revolutionary spirit we are raised with, a foil that holds us down like the spoiler on a race car. Our ancestors have fought and died, sacrifices we must remember and hold as examples, for our right to not have to fight, and eventually "pass away". Don't upset the apple cart, don't rock the boat, don't make waves. We have become the champions of The Status Quo, living social monoliths who will someday be laid to rest in a great empty field commemorating all the others who have likewise lived effectively uneventful lives. Except for those poor few who wound up as victims of cannibalistic sociopaths who thought that they were trying to upset the establishment. Those poor souls had their bodies laid to waste in the metropolitan sewer system. The concept isn't too far removed, though.
Why is it that only complete and utter lunatics get to rise up and be noticed in this land? Why is it that to fight my revolution, I have to hop an internet connection around the world? We are so caught up in the muck and mire of our culture that we are bogged down when the time comes for us to try and do something noteworthy.
I am interested to see what happens to this cultural inertia should the Iranian revolt succeed. Personally, I think I would be okay with trading my shiny toys for the knowledge that I did something worthwhile, and helped secure a better world. It is simply the lack of that confidence that keeps me in place. And perhaps, one or two too many pizzas.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Yet, underlying everything, was this destructive instinct, buried deep. For some reason, I felt an almost instinctive distrust of uniforms, of political hierarchies, and of arbitrary boundaries. I knew that if the government had reason to look my way it was a bad thing, and a thing to be avoided. I heard the stories of great men and women, tilting at windmills and fighting the power, and I felt a kinship. I felt a stirring to go and do likewise.
Then, a shade over a week ago, one of those distant lands dangling off the edge of the map had their little election. I recognized one of the men running for office from my talking box, and I didn't like him. But what of it? That place was literally a world away, and none of my concern. The angry little man no one on my talking box seemed to like won his election in a landslide, and people said it was not so, that he had stolen the election. It was frustrating, but what could I do? I thought one of our politicians did a similar thing recently, and we all just grumbled about it.
But something went wrong. The people didn't grumble. The people rose up, and cried out "Shenanigans!" I heard their call, and something stirred in me. I listened to it, and I realized it didn't sound so different to my own voice. These people, they weren't so different. I am a child of technology, and binary is the same in all languages. Here were people with cell phones, and computers, and all the other gadgetry that defined my life. What is more, they were using those toys, those conveniences to fight back. On the internet, geography means nothing. Language is not a barrier, but rather an inconvenience. These people were fighting with blogs, and torrents, and twitters. I knew these things, and suddenly these weren't just people, these were my kin. These people were brothers and sisters in arms, likewise born children of technology. So I took up the call, used what tools I found close at hand, and threw myself into the fray.
I realize I'm no Iranian. I realize that my contribution is meager at best, and I could very easily just go back to my complacent life, play with all my shiny toys, and leave those people on the other side of the world to take on their own battles. My pathetic internet relay is one of a myriad, and I have no voice that change the world. Something in me would not permit this, though. Something in me screamed out "Fight!" Something in me woke up, and suddenly I was neck deep in someone else's fight. I've been trying to figure it out for days, and I've finally got it.
I am a child of Revolution. I am an American, a land founded on the principle that the people up top don't know better. The motto of my home state is "The Show Me State"; skepticism has been ground into me since day one. I was raised to believe that people should never fear their governments, but that governments should fear their people. I am a child of Don Quixote, windmills are made to be tilted at. Freedom is not a privilege, it is a right. Deep down within all of us, I believe there is a revolutionary that has been carefully groomed and prepared, because there could come a day when it is necessary to stand against the machine. Every young American who learns our history is taught to be a revolutionary, because if we ever forget that, we will lose the very thing this land was created for. We need to revolt against something. Especially now, with complacency rife and government corruption prevalent. It is a dangerous thing to raise children to honor those who questioned authority, and then present them with a ruling power that could very well be unworthy of the authority they have. It stews and simmers in us all, but we are free enough that we simply create fantastical fictions where it is not so, so we can feed our need to revolt. Movies and music, screaming out against the establishment, these things appease our cravings, but they don't remove them completely.
So when I found a gateway to revolution, a chance to finally unleash a lifetime's frustration at repression, it was a non-issue for me. Iranians were no different. If anything, they worship their revolutionaries even more than Americans, so that internal tension must have been even greater. The people who are throwing themselves into this, both Iranian and the web-based community at large, we are all doing what we were bred to do. Social repression, injustice, and violence towards a populace who did nothing to warrant it? It would be harder for us not to fight. My tools are meager, my life mostly safe, and my rage is largely impotent.
But I was raised singing the songs of angry men. I can't help but raise my own voice when I hear the chorus begin again. I support the Sea of Green.