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.

Slow and steady wins the race

As someone on the outside looking in at the success of other’s I’ve noticed an interesting commonality. Lasting achievement doesn’t resemble a hurricane, it’s more a steady rain that provides the fields of life with just the right amount of sustenance to keep everything green. This is something visible to both the well-known and common person alike. The strange and interesting thing to me is how often this is overlooked. In our desire to have all the necessary items of existence ‘out the box’ ready we fail to recognize where the true success of the average lies – in the process of growth. The concept of steady improvement, adjustment and learning along with calculated planning has taken a back seat to dominance.

From the business world to sports a person can see this everywhere. A company and its board bring in a new CEO to replace an outgoing one who was not given enough time to execute their vision. A team drafts a player that was a high achiever at the collegian level with the blind belief that the level of success will automatically translate in the pro’s. The trouble with this thinking is that it puts little premium on tomorrow while placing nearly all the eggs into ‘today’s’ basket. We trade in impact for stability and in the end often get neither. Is there a solution to this conundrum? You bet there is and it involves a radical process…exercising patient.

To breakdown the pitfall of not allowing natural growth to take hold I’m going to turn to a place where it’s most obvious – the world of sports. Of all the positions in a sport one that has possibly the greatest premium is the quarterback in American football. Let’s take what many analysts consider to be the top five players as of 2018: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, and Aaron Rodgers. Of these guys only two of the five (40%) were drafted in the first round and neither (Roethlisberger or Rodgers) was selected in the top 10. Also, of note is that the teams Aaron and Ben played were a complete non-factor in the race for a college championship title – Miami of Ohio unranked the entire season and the University of California finishing the season 7-4 in the 25th spot.

The point of this divesture is that reaching a certain level of success, on whatever stratosphere it exists, relies perhaps more in the foundation than the completed project. Time changes things and the ability to adapt is often time as critical as skill level. Peaking, while a naturally occurring phenomenon, should not be where the greatest concentration is placed, albeit sport or life. Rather I purpose a two-prong approach. The first, operate within a healthy framework of output. Whether that is athletically, academically or even professionally – too much, too soon, ultimately equals something that doesn’t last. The second is prepare for the transition. This one is a little tricky because it requires a lot of self-reflection and/or unbiased 3rd party opinion. An ounce of honest, intelligent, reflection is worth a pound of long term future achievement.

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.

Time is the Enemy

I wanted to follow up on the piece I wrote yesterday to speak in greater depth about a particular sub-topic that emerged from it. Weaved within the idea or concept of commitment is a fixed constant that depending on a person’s scientific or spiritual affiliation is as inescapable as paying taxes…time. As a greater fan of the sciences than the supernatural the doors that have been opened recently in the paradoxes of this idea have been amazing. From absolute time (Newtonian) to quantum time to relativistic, an individual could spend their entire life in pursuit of studying these fields and only make microscopic progress. The expansion of these theories appears boundless but one thing that is certainly not is the human lifespan. It is from this point I will move forward.

In the article prior to this one I spoke about commitment and what I felt was a better way to view the process, particularly as it relates to emotionally underdeveloped individuals like myself (see neurotic twats). I still stand by the importance of viewing life in terms of a series of decisions rather than unwaveringly blind devotion but it’s the second part I feel necessary to clarify. True a decision can be made in favor of something, made against something or not be made at all. There’s one small caveat to the last choice though and that’s where time comes in. As time passes and events unfold and become the past a tiny phenomenon occurs that effects the foundation under which indecision stands.

This anomaly moves the resulting outcome of indecision toward a either a positive end result or a negative one. Based on my own experience I have found it trends more toward the negative. I can’t speak to why this is; whether it’s bad luck or part of a greater course of interconnected things I’m unable to see and have no data to directly correlate. Regardless the prevailing logic the only thing I feel that matters is the present or immediately foreseeable result. I have found that there is a small pattern between the time lag and the type of decision being avoided. It is this pattern that could potentially help patch the messy roadwork between staying indecisive and choosing a course of action.

A pair of examples that come to mind because of their diametrically opposite timeframes are post high school career life decisions and the unhealthy romantic relationship. With the first a person could put off making a ‘decision’ in theory for the rest of their life. While the ground on which this commitment stands is not made of sand it’s not necessarily concrete either. Along the way chance or circumstance will expose a person to a unique variety of opportunities. There’s a very strong potential for one of these being an excellent future life pursuit, but if a person remains in the neutral zone the prospect for a more meaningful existence will be lost. On the other hand, in the case of the unhealthy relationship the longer one waits to address the issue, to make the necessary decision(s), they will discover the quick sand they have built this part of their life on sinking at a frantic rate.

At the end of the day it’s your life; only you can live it. To do or not do, that’s all on the person. The final call belongs solely to the individual party. Solace in having the freedom to pursue, avoid, or act in direct opposition to a present or future decision/commitment is liberating. But keep in mind that as time robs our bodies of the mobility of our youth it also acts to make decisions potentially harder and less easy to avoid. So, in summary, use your head – as the saying goes there’s a time and place for everything…just keep in mind time is not necessarily your friend, or on your side

Mistakes

“It’s the code you added sir…the reveries…it has some…”

“Mistakes…it’s the word you’re too embarrassed to use, you ought not be you’re a product of them, a trillion of them. Evolution forged the entirety of sentient life on this planet using only one tool…mistake.”

This small, beautifully written dialogue is an excerpt from what has become a bit of a television obsession of mine – West World. In this scene between characters played respectively by Jeffrey Wright and Anthony Hopkins they are discussing an issue that has arisen in their place of work; an adult fantasy world in which wealthy, paying guests can inundate themselves in a recreated American wild west. Full of the classic story lines of that era: cowboys, Indians, booze and sex. People enter this world to immediately find themselves the “guests” of this life-like reality. A caveat exists though, the ‘people’ inhabiting the land ‘guests’ are visiting are not in fact real people but rather extremely advanced robotic organisms.

In lieu of rambling on about the show (something I highly recommend people watch) I wanted to take a moment to discuss the topic of mistakes. I specifically want to begin by defining what they are in my own words. It’s true, on the surface I appear to be lacking the conceptualized credentials of Mr. Hopkins character Dr. Ford. With a background rooted deep in the fields of engineering, mathematics, evolutionary biology, genetics, psychology and perhaps even anthropology he is no doubt a learned man. My experience and expertise lie rather in the field of failure. In this venture I am as clever as any tech start up genius.

Mistakes exist in various forms and are open to interpretation. Their identity has the potential to change over time. In essence they live along the same timeline as any person’s lifespan. In fact, I’d argue that they’re exactly what’s at the heart of Murphy’s Law which states – ‘anything that can happen, will happen.’ The correct and incorrect happen simultaneously and are the end result of chance and choice…probability and programming…or whatever else you’d like to call it. It’s difficult to pinpoint what state of form the correct or incorrect (mistakes) exist in but if I were to pull something out of my ass I’d say decisions that are accurate/positive in nature are like a straight line moving forward and/or upward in space; whereas mistakes are like loops that force a person either backward to the point the error occurred or even potentially further back in time.

As the mysterious doctor pointed out they are a necessity of life but to the degree and frequency of their nature they can (and do) occur….to this point I draw objection. The newly fashioned idea that mistakes happen so that we may learn is misleading. The idea of learning ‘after the fact’ is a premise that is just as guilty of inviting error into play as having no desirable concern for the outcome at all. The crippling effect of this mindset is that it gives leeway to the credence (excuse) that mistake is unavoidable, natural and should not have its validity challenged as part of the everyday experience. As someone whose failed countless times in countless ways throughout their life I believe this is a most dangerous social experiment.

Perfection is not the goal or endgame. We should not be inflexible to the variables, that which can’t be seen or is uncontrollable. What our aim should be is to encourage intense observation, open and free dialogue and the ability for development beyond todays socially acceptable standards. Explosive growth of the mind and other abilities is not the desired outcome. Any type that resembles that is a cause for concern as its potential to be metaphorically cancerous is very real. No, what I am seeking is a society built on the premise that mistakes should be a continual point of contention in that they should occupy a healthy percent of our days.

There is this fear, particularly in America, of failing and in order to cope with this we have evoked a number of responses; denial and suppression are a pair that immediately come to mind but the two most dangerous have to be acceptance and intolerance. It’s these two extremes that lead to more problems than almost any of the challenges life throws at us. My solution is simple, make it a small part of our daily routine to examine both our own mistakes as well as those of others. Make it an exercise of analysis not of pure judgement. Find out why something was done, the history before the incident and the recourse afterward. The gift of critical thinking is a present we owe to ourselves as well as to those who come after us. Ultimately because something like mistakes happen don’t mean they should be left alone…some sleeping dogs aren’t meant to lie.

Fear + Guilt = Submission

Despite what film, artists, writers, scholars or humanitarians tell you there are two forces more powerful than any other that flow through the human experience and neither of them are love. Sad, I know, but a truth whether recognized or not. In fact, some of the most powerful structures on the planet solely exist based on these two emotions – religion and the legal system are examples that come immediately to mind. And while to a lesser developed mind these constructs may certainly have held a vital function the day of their role as the prime movers of mankind is in desperate need of an ending. They are like an error in our coding in need of debugging. Their existence serves only to slow down the software of our life.

The first necessary step is recognizing the source of these emotions. Fear is a simple one, it’s root is in the unknown and genesis can be directly traced to the fight or flight response in our sympathetic nervous system. Fear is built almost, if not completely, on the mechanism of self-preservation. In today’s modern context this includes a variety of offshoots of which the first that comes to mind is mistrust and warfare between nation states. Again, how this can be addressed will be explained shortly. Let us move on now to guilt.

Guilt, with the exception to a certain smaller variety of criminal offenses that result in unnecessary physical or financial damage, is a fundamentally misguided principle. In combination with fear guilt is (conscious or unconsciously) harnessed to induce near fanatical panic and in this panic, people are moved to an immediate sense of shame leaving them vulnerable. Vulnerability gives way to an instantaneous need for reconciliation (not necessarily in the religious sense) in order to correct their mistake. It is precisely at this point that they (we) are moved to a state of submission. Our constant movement between these two states of being, the individual and the servant, ultimately gives way to a condition of slavery.

Stripped of the remaining fabrics that bind the illusion of freedom (the state which a healthy concentration of people spend life living in) we trudge along on the path of life forced to give credence to our existence by either the choice of vicariously living through offspring, some type of religion/spirituality or a combination of the two. Existing in a manner of dependence based on being fulfilled by others and/or some mythical figure(s) is in itself a challenge the former I have no experience on the later I’ve discovered is an exercise in futility.

Moving forward the question requiring our attention is this, how do we separate ourselves from these two unnecessary weights? How do we purge ourselves of fear & guilt? While many experts (of which again I am NOT one) will offer up a novel’s worth of advice, or perhaps even a series of books, I have a small series of suggestions:

  1. NEVER GIVE MORE THAN YOU RECEIVE.
  2. DEMAND HONESTY FROM THOSE CLOSEST TO YOU & GIVE IT IN RETURN, THOSE WHO ARE NOT ON BOARD WITH THIS START DISCOUNTING THEM FROM YOUR LIFE.
  3. STOP SAYING SORRY ALL THE TIME. SORROW IS RESERVED FOR SERIOUS OFFENSES ONLY. APOLOGIZE IF YOU MUST BUT MAKE IT CLEAR AND CONCISE. IF YOU DON’T FEEL ITS NECESSARY TO APOLOGIZE YOU CAN ALWAYS COMMUNICATE THAT AS WELL.
  4. UNDERSTAND YOU WILL MAKE MISTAKES YOUR WHOLE LIFE (SOME WORSE THAN OTHERS) – APOLOGIZE AND MOVE ON. FORGIVE YOURSELF & THE OTHER PERSON AND GET MOVING.
  5. NO ONE, ABSOLUTELY NO ONE IS YOUR SUPERIOR. RESPECT IS ONE THING AND IS WORTH DEMONSTRATING BUT YOU (NO MATTER YOUR STATION IN LIFE) ARE SOMEONES SERVANT.

You owe it to yourself to stop the cycle before it starts…or if it has to develop a plan to get off the roller coaster and on the long but rewarding road to the nearest approximation to freedom a human being can experience.

A Profile of Genius: Gustave Le Bon

While I’m certain there are many definitions for what the word ‘genius’ means based upon the defining source both academically as well as personally I’d like to go ahead and give you mine. To me a genius is someone whose idea (or ideas) stand the test of time in that they theory or theories prove as close to accurate today as they did when they were postulated. For this first ‘profile of genius’ I’ve selected an individual I’m quite certain many have not before heard of – the French polymath Charles-Marie Gustave Le Bon…or simply known as Gustave Le Bon.

Born the 7th of May 1841 in Nogent-le-Rotrou France, a tiny commune in Northern France – population roughly 11,000, Le Bon would go on to receive his qualification as Doctor of Medicine from the University of Paris in 1861. While his career in the practice never materialized he would later take the knowledge he acquired from his education and apply it to the field of anthropology after time serving in the Franco-Prussian war. Influenced by experiences in the Paris Commune of 1871 and time spent traveling throughout the world he would ultimately hone his focus on the field of sociology.

It was during this time period, the 1890’s, he would begin to release a series of well received works. Of them was my personal favorite and title from which I will share excerpts to unequivocally demonstrate his foresight and genius – ‘Psychologie des Foules’ or as it translated into English ‘The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind’ published in 1895. So groundbreaking was this work at the time it was printed into 19 languages within the first year of its appearance. While acknowledging and highlighting the true inner workings of society his text dispelled many of the hard-held beliefs of the idealist socialist class throughout Europe.

Turning the fanciful doctrine of what is now modern liberal thought on it’s head he recognized that throughout the world cultural formation is built upon many similarities and that it is the assembly of individuals into not merely collectives but groups of immense proportion that self-sabotage the ability of people to make advancement whether it be personally, financially or through any other mechanism. As I’m sure you will read upon further research the cast of unsightly characters influenced by this and many other titles I’d ask that you reflect on the following passages I’ve pulled from the publication:

“It is only by obtaining some sort of insight into the psychology of crowds that it can be understood how slight is the action upon them…that it is not with rules based on theories of pure equity that they are to be led, but by seeking what produces an impression on them and what seduces them.”

“The heterogenous [those who are different] is swamped by the homogenous [those who are the same] and the unconscious qualities obtain the upper hand. This very fact that crowds possess in common ordinary qualities explains why they can never accomplish acts demanding a high degree of intelligence.”

“From the moment that they form a crowd the learned man and the ignoramus are equally incapable of observation.”

“When a civilization is analyzed it is seen that, in reality, it is the marvelous and the legendary that are its true supports. Appearances have always played a much more important part than reality in history.”

These four powerful statements, written over a hundred and twenty years ago and contained within just the first half of the book, are as true today as they were in 1895. Fight as we continue to do against the reality of things in an attempt to create an idealized world it is in the very process of coming together on a grand scale that we ultimately fall apart. With the exception of certain times of war, which can be argued are often spurred on by the sentiments of crowds themselves, our ability to come together to rectify problems or issues has rarely worked or been severely slowed by the enormity of the systems themselves. This insight, still likely to be repudiated by a healthy part of the population today, is as true in modern times as it was when Le Bon wrote this master piece. It is this observation along with the courage to catalogue and write about it that makes this renaissance man a true genius in the field of social science and someone whose works continue to be in desperate need of our attention.