Life: the ultimate contradiction of terms

I was recently fortunate enough to have had a chance encounter with a higher up from my present employer. As I listened to him spew nonsensical buzz words out of his mouth for the better part of 10 minutes I had one of my many Michael Douglas ‘Falling Down’ moments. The filter between my brain and mouth has long be on hiatus but over time I have learned to tapper down the beast. This is a good thing as I’m quite sure if I had this conversation even just 8 or 10 years ago it might have been my last as an employee. You see life is an insane contradiction of terms.

In this particular case we have the classical conundrum of human redundancy actively seeking out efficiency. I took the time to point out my confusion before even trying to offer any insights. Insights to most people in charge are like having a second asshole…it seems like a good idea to help get rid of waste but really just acts as a way to flush out good ideas. Needless to say after pointing out why this ‘new’ problem exists in the first place I quickly made my simple yet elegant (I just wanted to use that adjective today…there was nothing elegant about it at all) suggestion. Now my current crop of co-workers tend not to be interested in things outside popular culture, gossip and talking about their children (all things I give zero fucks about) but for a brief moment I had all the entire crews attention. After making my suggestion and the supporting evidence as to why it was ideal everyone was in agreement that it made the most sense.

Fast forward several dozen meetings and months from now and what will the solution be? It will of course be any one of hundreds except the obvious one I made. Why is this you ask? The answer is simple – life is a breathtaking array of contradictions. This small, seemingly unimportant (because it is) example can easily be followed up by dozens of others. Take any of a wide ranging number of socio-economic issues. Lets start with taxes, because beyond death and mythical religions this works up Americans the most. Political parties and certain media personalities spout off about the virtues of low taxes and modifying the present structure to something simpler. Huge problem – we have hundreds of thousands of jobs predicated around the complexity and never-ending changes surrounding the current system. Why would any of these people, or the likely millions depending on the income generated from these jobs want to be suddenly jobless? They don’t, on the same token nor do the developers of drugs for type two diabetes (life style caused) want people to really eat healthier or exercise more – your problem represents a multi billion dollar industry.

This leads me to the quintessential paradox of our existence – the problem solving/problem creating paradigm. I’m not intelligent enough to speak on the exact genesis of this – be it rooted in evolutionary biology, the occult, etc – but I can say with great certainty this fascinating contradiction drives the human species in all sorts of directions; some good, some not so good. Perfect example is in the defense manufacturing industry. The right to defend oneself and the general sovereignty of a universally recognized nation is a very legitimate concept. The problem lies in the fact that how does one both a) know they are properly equipped to do so and b) continually support the people who make this possible? This is where we slide into the right side of the curve, problem creation, and in this particular case, with this particular human en devour, it involves playing off two of our favorite emotions – insecurity and greed – to create a problem with someone else — in this case another country, or more recently a rouge, border-less group of individuals we call “terrorists” with the result being casualty filled warfare.

The aforementioned is of course an extreme example, quite possibly the most extreme, but an effective one in grabbing our constantly drifting attention. You see we are unknowing victims to this paradigm on a daily basis simply by the things we say and do. Our actions, or inaction, push the balance toward one direction or the other. Having to participate in this game at times is inevitable because some (perhaps many) people we interact with choose to remain unaware of this phenomenon or even secretly get off on the self-created drama that is the resulting byproduct. The key is taking a moment to analyze a nagging situation or a new one that pops up…or even ideally taking a few moments to look to the future. See the possibilities, potentials or eventualities and strive to position yourself in a position of problem solving. Better yet study, observe and be an ‘future issue identifier’. This will unfortunately require a tremendous amount of energy and isn’t likely to be successfully accomplished on a grand scale but at an individual or even family level is certainly feasible. Besides in the end you should be looking out for number one anyway.

50 Shades of A-hole

Took a recent departure from writing, as is often the case, to think more about things. As ideas for different topics swirled around my head I kept returning to the theme of reality-setting. What I mean specifically is identifying the true nature of ourselves and relating that to the society in which all of us operate. The one, unequivocal truth I keep arriving at is we are all assholes to some degree or another. If at the reading of this you find yourself taken aback, in disbelief or ideally even offended that’s a good thing. Collectively put together it means you are quite sane and that the garbage programming you received growing up is open to being re-written.

As I’m once again on the road I’ll make an analogy to something relatable. Think of our need to be dicks as a light switch. Most of the time just enough to illuminate our view will do the trick, say getting up to take a leak during the middle of the night. Whereas there are other times where we are required to turn it to batman signal magnitude. The key is assessing the situation and starting at an intensity under where we initially might suppose. By doing this it alerts second parties of our intention to convey something they were likely blissfully unaware of – or possibly didn’t give a shit about. Once the light is on we can begin to adjust accordingly.

One key drawback about this is that your internal light will always need to be running – like the alternating & direct currents of electricity. This can be exhausting and an exercise in futility. Take heart though, I once attempted to be a world of smiles, rainbows and metaphysical sunshine. It didn’t work and it won’t for most people because we are most people. The odds are not in our favor and chances our they never will be…and that’s okay. Embrace the dark side of the force. Contrary to what religious tards and other do-gooders may want you to think the world isn’t a good place – it’s not a bad one necessarily either…it’s just a place.

Unfortunately, the dispelling of dishonesty in life isn’t going to come about by being honest, which would appear to be the natural progression of the process. No, honesty is only going to come about by first us being a-holes with one another then after a decade or two this will give way to the self-correcting measure of honesty. It’s a strange paradox but what about being human isn’t strange…or paradoxical? So, in signing off I encourage you to do your part now to get our species on track toward a brighter future for all. A future in which more people are prepared for the reality of existence – one that unreturningly states life isn’t fair, all things are not equal, that silver spoons are in short supply and that Santa isn’t real. Who would’ve thought we could accomplish all this simply by embracing our inner asshole?

The Space Between

The greatest distance a person will ever travel is the space between perception and truth. While there’s a myriad of reasons for this the only one I’d like to bring up is the foundational principle of honesty. Honesty is part and parcel a core concept in child rearing and (in theory) a fundamental element in establishing trust. Herein lies the problem, from the very beginning of our existence we are lied to – be it about a big, all powerful, all loving (yet sometimes vengeful) creator, or mythical characters that leave presents if we’re well-behaved individuals, the stories presented to us when we are most vulnerable have the greatest effect distorting the later eventualities of life.

As these systems work their dastardly worst we become further separated from any approximation or semblance of truth. This perversion continues until our lives become an uncontrollable array of paradoxes. ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ becomes a living mantra. I write today on this topic in light of a recent series of personal events but will highlight only one. A close family member of mine is struggling with the dynamics of a parental relationship. Her father is in advanced age and like those who have suffered loss and heartache (and will continue to do so) she struggles to connect to those who have gone before her through this relationship.

The problem is this relationship has some very unhealthy components to it – the most unfortunate of which is the controlling, manipulative nature of her father. For every brief flicker of good that emanates from this man comes an endless barrage of posturing, verbal judgment and ridiculously off-putting demands. The youngest of seven he is a byproduct of clear favoritism from his father and this special treatment likely re-enforced his behavioral pattern from an early age. His modus operandi appears to have always been about gaining leverage with those closest to him and exploiting it.

I’m confident many of us have relationships in our lives similar to this, with the majority yielding to this type of calculating individual until the day they (or we) die. Is there an answer to breaking this cycle? Of course there is…and it involves taking on the challenge of what was presented in the opening paragraph – bridging the gap between perception and reality. One single true thing, that’s all it takes and let it come completely out of the blue. There’s no need to notify this person of what’s about to hit them; in fact it’s better you don’t. Strike first, strike hard, no mercy – it’s of no consequence whether the individual is a so-called love one; if respect isn’t given it must be taken.

If anything was worth fighting for, worth waging battle to win, it would be in establishing ones self-worth. Protect the integrity of yourself. When others treat you like a number act in a way that turns the answer of the equation to 0. For that is what they ultimately see you as, nothing, and so to them they become nothing. The law of reciprocity exists everywhere in the universe. Newton’s third law states this – ‘for every reaction, there is an equal and opposite reaction’. Yet for some reason humans in their behavior attempt to circumvent this. Likely inspired by guilt, they seek to take the high road – as if there was something wrong with the ‘low road’ – often at their own peril. Understand this – when it comes to managing relationships – if you capitulate, you lose.

Look at Me

Welcome to the new world. In this world, things such as humility, candor, and sense of a unified purpose have been replaced by self-aggrandizement, back handedness, and the will of the individual. We have moved from a society of forward progress and achievement based on production to one of mindless consumption. Despite the tone of my words I don’t want it to be thought I find this backward slide a critique on society; particularly in America. This is a natural part of empire, we are western Rome leading up to the crises of the 3rd Century, only instead of Christianity to calm the fervent masses we have social media. The super natural has been supplanted by the ordinary and talent-less.

Where I would diverge from many of the critics of popular culture today is that I first don’t fret this transformation. History, as its been continuously stated, repeats itself and I am merely an observer. Secondly, the turning from the outward to the inner is the direct result of an overly subservient personal nature. The scales of balance between ‘me’ and ‘we’ have long been broken and the default of the human system is always back to the self. For of all the negative characteristics that can, and do, exist in the id the inability of the collective to carefully manage and respect the necessary autonomy of the singular person make it an even more unlikely candidate than pure, classical liberal thought to reign supreme.

As the world has grown to unsustainable proportion the competition has only gotten fiercer. Try as we may to wear a smile during our interactions people have become more of a concern than ever to other people. Our dispensing of kindness, particularly in business or potentially competitive settings, drives a greater number of people to judgement rather than analysis. We haven’t quite reached the point where we view each other as enemies by choice and colleagues by default but that is certainly a possibility. The concept of blending in is perceived as disastrous, yet becomes a necessity at some juncture particularly as group size increases. A bizarre duality that makes managing life feel like the equivalent of traveling backward on a one-way road, blindfolded.

Is there an end game to all this? What is a person to do that doesn’t know where they stand in all this mess? The only advice I can offer is for those at the fringes; for those people caught between generational commitments, those who are torn between the concepts of loyalty to others or loyalty to self. Simply remove yourself from the spectacle, at least for a period of time. When you can see how things unfold from the sideline you get a better sense of how the rules of life dictate the sport of existence. After this grace period you can then decide what works for you, an existence spent glorifying the self, honoring the group or if your especially clever navigating back and forth between the two. Personally, I haven’t mastered any of these skills but with an early enough start future generations possibly can.

Judge not yet ye…never mind go ahead and judge

The opening part of the above title is likely as well known in the United States (and perhaps most of western or Christian-leaning culture) as any other maxim. Taken from the new testament text of Matthew the passage loosely states to ‘judge not, that you not be judged…for with what judgement you use, you shall be judged and with what measure you use it shall be measured to you again’. How lovely and idealistic a recommendation…actually more like how misguided and baseless a concept. Judgment is the very foundation on which the decision-making process was built. It involves on some level the use of our otherwise expansive brains to see the necessary potential for action and to move accordingly based on various information (or even the lack there of).

Judgement exists in two forms: judgement before an action and judgement based on the interpretation of (ideally) relevant facts. The first part of this involves the use of prejudice. Prejudice as it’s viewed in today’s world is a very loaded and dangerous word. In the modern liberal wing of political thought, it is an enemy of the people that needs to be snuffed out from existence in order to bring balance to the world. But, let’s think about it for a second, what is prejudice at its core other than a preconceived opinion not based on reason or actual experience; essentially it is a thought lacking perspective. Developing perspective on a matter is an act that requires involving oneself in something an individual may otherwise, and most likely doesn’t, have experience in. The problem is that we are hard wired to judge, especially in situations of duress…which are from an evolutionary standpoint brought on by uncertainty…things we don’t have experience with (particularly as it relates to our well-being – this is called the ‘fight or flight’ response).

Unwarranted prejudice, something very much alive and well, makes no sense and can even be categorized as reprehensible if for no other reason than the individual has made zero attempt at trying to understand that with which they are casting judgement. This doesn’t mean that the act in and of itself should be abandoned. It’s because of the blanket manner in which judging is itself judged that we as a species (which is far, far more important than the characteristics of race and certainly ethnicity) find ourselves still in a rut. It goes back in large part to the earlier piece in which I spoke about the dangers of being nice – by forgoing this natural, built-in mechanism, we find a large number of us taken advantage of by life’s inequalities (the majority of which are unfortunately predicated on race, gender and socio-economic status).

What we need, perhaps now more than ever, is to judge; judge whether or not a particular company is a good fit for us before we pack up our bags to discover it otherwise isn’t (my case), judge whether college is a good fit as the debt we are likely to be straddled with will take decades to pay off, judge to what degree an elected official is full of shit (as they all are to varying degrees)…the list goes on and on for the unforeseeable future. When we judge it has to be understood that the system of weights and measures is so out of whack it’s like comparing the American standard of measurements to the Metric System. There’s ‘rich justice’ and ‘poor justice’. There’s the judgement of the rights of victims versus the rights of the accused. There’s even the judgement of majority versus minority opinion. No where does it state that life is fair, at best it’s a sliding scale and to see and act as though everything is peaches when most things are broccoli is like cutting a brake line before driving downhill – not a good idea.

Farewell Reality

Recently I was talking with a co-worker who had a couple of children and seemed very distraught about the situation she and her husband were experiencing with their youngest. The girl had finished her freshman year of college and returned home for the summer. Within the first week back the woman had noticed something “off” about her daughter. Normally one to engage with her family she’d withdrawn into a new digital world she created for herself. It appeared as her body had become little more than a surrogate to her iPhone. It was like something out of an episode of ‘Black Mirror’.

To my surprise she asked my advice on the topic. She was somehow aware of a book I had written a few years back, which in it had a short section about navigating through the family dynamic. As a social leper I had made what I thought was serious headway managing my relationship with my family and simply documented what worked. The problem though was that it was written from a slightly different generational perspective. I told her I’m not a millennial and I don’t have a strong understanding of their drives. My guess, I told her, was that they weren’t too entirely different from any other group of young adults; the chief aim to define themselves through social groups/orders that would supposedly recognize and celebrate individuality but really were a subconscious call to a singular identity.

She seemed confused by both the verbiage I used as well as the paradoxical nature of the phenomenon. I told her to not worry about the contradiction, that it was very common in most group dynamics. What I said to be concerned about, though not necessarily worried of, was to where the destination of escape from life was. In the past we sought retreat from our daily life in another world, one in which the real, physical presence of other people was still the central component of this new land. Separate from the other ‘planet’ we were temporarily leaving we found refuge in a slightly different group of inhabitants. But the frontier of these recently rendered digital landscapes was worth drawing attention to.

She seemed a spiritual woman so I made an appeal to that nature. Putting it in terms she could understand I said to think of it like this; if wherever we travel to we in fact leave a piece of ourselves, being drawn into a place that only exists as an electronic construct, a binary composition of 0’s and 1’s, is like a one-way street…we can travel into it but there was a danger in trying to escape back out. The deeper she traveled down the rabbit hole the less likely it was that she would come out and if she did she wouldn’t be the same girl she had raised. The only hope I told my colleague she had was to create a new type of reality to embrace and reel in her daughter. Having her undivided attention in this other-worldly dimension she could better dictate the rules of their interaction together.

Suffice to say I worked with her again recently and am glad to report it seems to have worked to some degree. They still aren’t operating as a whole family unit per se but the individual time the two have spent together appears to have brought joy to both parties. This to a greater degree is where I see the majority of the Americans heading. While I can’t understand it (or like it) in the end my opinion counts for little. The influence of a variety of other forces has been pushing apart the nucleus of humankind for decades and as we transcend into the 21st century this gap will only continue to widen. In the end despite how close we seem to become in reality, technology will ensure we are only further apart…who knows, perhaps nature sees that in their best interest?

Thinking = a truly double edged sword

In a spin-off from my post yesterday in which I profiled the genius of Gustave Le Bon and his book ‘The crowd’ I wanted to follow up with a discussion point inspired in part by the girl I’m dating. I’d also like to thank her publicly for tolerating my strange and never ceasing babel. The topic was thinking and the action as a generality. Le Bon was obviously a keen observer as well as excellent thinker. His insights into humanity are as brilliant as they are underappreciated. That last part is what has drawn me specifically to this concept.

You see I believe that to a certain degree thinking as a requisite to life can be broken down into two types, active and passive (this is probably someone else’s idea but I have zero interest in additional research on this point). The parallel to this in science could be stated as voluntary versus autonomic…programmed versus non-programmed. In passive, autonomic or programmed you have a type that doesn’t sit around waiting for other parts or deeper parts of the same region of the brain to get involved, it simply goes like a five-year old after an ice cream and a can of Red Bull©. Active, voluntary or non-programmed on the other hand involves the coordination of at the very least various types of input and processing before a certain output is arrived at.

This in lies part of the problem…a reality I feel Gustave may have missed. One of the critical components as he pointed out of the crowd (let us presume society as a whole) is the turning off of the mind to allow oneself to more aptly be seduced to the will of the crowd or majority. Where Le Bon believes this is something humans do almost with little effort it’s the why I would say I differ in opinion with. Critical thought may or may not be the default mechanism for human beings. I would like to think it is to some extent, argument could be made to what level that is exactly but I have no interest in that debate. The point I would like to address is as follows.

I believe, particularly in an advanced society, one that even the basic existence thereof requires far more of our brain bulk than ever to just operate through the basics of, there is a two-fold issue with thinking. The first is that it is energy intensive and while our evolution has allowed an ‘upgrade’ to our mental software our hardware is incredibly outdated. The second and perhaps less obvious is the double-edge nature of thinking. What I mean by that is this, say a person is in need of a new vehicle (it doesn’t matter whether it is ‘new’ or ‘used’ per se, they just need something to replace a non-working one) and they spend countless hours researching only to end up buying a total piece of shit (something this author has done on more than one occasion). Time, energy and effort completely down the tube for nothing.

What a person learns from this, which happens in so many day-to-day situations for most folks it’s impossible to count, is that even spending the time and being engaged they gain nothing. The value of thinking has diminishing returns and the cycle of this goes on and on until they (at varying speeds) begin to subconsciously turn off this labor-intensive process because it’s results are financially or even physically painful. This phenomenon occurs most often in economically developed countries where these types of choices have over-run the human experience. It leads some in the population to then ultimately question the value of active thinking at all. Once this epoch is reached it’s all but a foregone conclusion. The greater part of the brain has been put on a permanent vacation and life becomes more manageable (though certainly not less stressful). It is as they say “ignorance is bliss” and a state of nirvana has been reached because they are no longer teetering back and forth on this double-edged sword.