Quality of Life With Other Non-Humans (A VO Review of Living with a Cat)

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Pet owners — or fellow folks who live with a species that is accustomed to domestic life — may be familiar with this scene: a visitor comes over, cozies up on the couch, and you’re domesticated animal friend approaches the visitor but they recoil or are at least display hesitance towards the level of affection and contact the animal entreaties. In the past, I have been the type who could have this sort of uneasiness around house broken animals. I wouldn’t say it’s a disgust reaction, but that a foreign and unusual feeling is evinced. What is this furry thing? Why is their so much hair coming off of it? What does it want from me, it doesn’t know me? Likely, there is an evolutionarily ingrained response, a subconscious concern that an unknown creature might carry disease or pose some other threat.

My family had cats when I was younger, and I don’t recall being pet averse back then, but our cats were outside most of the time. I didn’t think about them very much. We had a brief stint with a cocker spaniel named Adam, of which I was not prepared for even though it was my idea. In my youth, I recall a pet dog requiring more of an adjustment when it came to issues of cleanliness. That experiment was short lived, but there was a grateful family willing to give Adam a home.

The cats we had while I was growing up basically kept to themselves. We called them all “pooty” as in “I tawt I taw a pooty tat”. They had real names — Powder, Mittens, Autumn, and Spice — but we didn’t use those names much. For a good stretch of my adult life, however, I’ve lived in petless homes. Living with Caitlin, now, I’ve had to reacclimate to pet proximity with her lovely cat Raelyn. It’s been an enjoyable and rewarding experience.

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That’s not to say there wasn’t an adjustment period. I think more for her than me. I was the foreign and strange thing. I stomped around the apartment helter skelter like. I banged the pots, dishes and pans around…and I was the apocalyptic agent of the monstrous vacuum. I would sing made up songs or shout things randomly and in weird voices, the frequencies of which caused her ears to flip back in effort to block out the sonic disturbance. I’ve learned to resist the urge to wrestle and scoop her up in my arms in hopes of squeezing out all the cuteness. Slowly I’ve adapted and become more gentle; increasingly mellow in my various commotions. Raelyn has basically trained me.

She is often now my reading buddy. She will knead the lap blanket and cozy up. She also likes towels. I’m usually first up in the morning and she awaits the slightest stir, following which she announces her presence to be sure I know it’s time for breakfast. I head out to the cabinet under the sink, scoop up some dry food as she follows, does a loop around my ankles, and goes back into our room en route to her food bowl. This is the morning ritual.

I didn’t think I had it in me to be a pet/animal lover. But I truly see her as a part of a small family in this little studio apartment that we inhabit. I believe it’s made me more patient and considerate, certainly less spastic. Her little yowls and meows to me have a twinge of existential angst, as if like me she’s also wondering “what does it all mean”…these probably just mean “pay attention” or “I’m bored”.

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Cat’s sleep most the time so I wonder if they think their waking life is actually a dream. So asides from assuaging loneliness and refining my temperament, Raelyn in unexpected ways enriches my intellectual and philosophical thinking — even if all I’m really doing is irrationally projecting my emotions onto her through the means of anthropomorphism. Caitlin and I are constantly snapping photos of her with our phones. There seems to be no end to the funny poses and at times it seems that Raelyn is willing to ham it up for the lens. With these I occasionally post to Instagram with kitty contemplations on life.

I understand now the claim that pets help relieve depression. It’s rather subtle, but humans have a tendency to associate living qualities to a variety of things (both animate and inanimate). While Raelyn might not actually know what I’m thinking or saying, my brain is wired to respond and assume there is some level of communication occurring. This is by its nature healthy for human beings. Even seeing her slink along the ground from the corner of my eye is probably enough for me to subconsciously feel like I am less alone. When she reacts to the opening of a can, scurries across and perches on the edge of the couch by the countertop, an understanding has been reached. It’s not always something she’ll be inclined to taste, but if it’s tuna, or if I’m cutting chicken breast, she’s in for a tiny treat that I know she appreciates.

“Breeeowwwww.”

“I know it!”

“Grreeeowwwww.”

“It’s a tragedy.”

“Mrreeeaawwwww.”

“I agree, babe.”

“Preeowww.”

“I feel exactly the same.”

“Meow.” Flops on side, rolls onto back…exposes belly.

All around, living with a cat gets a perfect 5 * out of 5 from me!

Quick Hits:

Observation so far from rewatching Lost: A decade later, writers seem now to do better not only using female characters as a means for making the leading men more interesting and complicated. Kate in season 2 is poorly written and merely used as a device to create tension between Sawyer and Jack…and that’s basically her purpose. Lame!

Current reading: Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other

Random Occurrence for the Week: Bullet hole being shot through our building 10-15 below where I was reading the other night

Thing to be bummed about: The waning of autumn colors

Gone Girl (A VO Review of the film and Fincher coolness)

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Warning: Minor Spoilers

I no longer have doubts walking into a David Fincher flick. I have a fanboy trust in his skill as a movie director. I recognize that someday he might let me down, but for now, I’ll ride the wave and admit to my unabashed admiration for his craft and style. When it comes to the early 21st century internet/tech age, when we look back 30 years from now, we should point to Fincher films as statements for the time. Paired now with the creeping dread coolness of Trent Reznor scores, it’s basically blissful.

Gone Girl continues the legacy of coolness. Sometimes while enraptured by the said coolness, there is a dissonance, as though a great film shouldn’t excite or thill this much, as though I should be taking it more seriously. Gone Girl, however, can easily be viewed with a wry smile throughout. It’s Fincher’s most comedic and satirical work since Fight Club. To be sure, the comedic tone is black. It’s a critical rumination of marital superficiality, suburban and small town life, and the 24/7 news cycle. At times the players involved feel like caricatures. When this occurs, however, it’s in the service of getting the point across. When the film drifts into this hyper-real storytelling, the experience is hypnotic rather than disengaging.

Ben Affleck plays the glib but likable white man with fleeting and mediocre ambitions. We’ve all met this sort of guy, the one whose style we dig while maintaining the feeling that we wouldn’t mind smacking him. So, Affleck basically plays himself…and it works. Rosamund Pike’s role as the leading Amy-Elliott-Dunne borders the closest to cartoonish. Eventually, though, it’s understood that this is a part of the trick. She can play any character at the flip of a switch if it advances her twisted machinations. The interplay between the leads is witty, fascinating, and when appropriate, chilling.

Gone Girl could be a lot of different things for a lot of different people; a thriller, a mystery, black comedy, small town drama, mildly soap operatic. For me, it was a contemplation on the duplicity inherent in human nature (I guess that would make it a mystery) but it’s more about the psychology and mind tricks than purely being about ‘whodunnit’. The film is masterful at arousing discomfort as viewers consider the competing and contradictory narratives.

I came away unsettled, but completely satisfied. There was definitely a psychological hangover lingering for the rest of the day. That’s often when I know a movie made an impression. It will be interesting on repeat viewings to better pick apart how Fincher pulled off this clever ruse.

Random appearances from Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris worked to great effect. They reminded me of other bold choices like the casting of Justin Timberlake in The Social Network, or the recent trend in television of comedians in small dramatic roles. You wouldn’t have thought of it yourself, but when seeing it on screen, it’s an unexpected stroke of casting genius. It’s these subtle strokes that elevate Gone Girl from pulpy thriller to biting and brilliant social commentary.

From a social and philosophical perspective, Gone Girl I think is asking to what extent the gawking and voyeuristic media has cheapened or made real human connections feel stilted, awkward, or trivial. Also, toying with the audience, challenging them to consider which relationships in their lives might be built on dishonesty or half truths. The more cynical moral of the story might be that many people are living outright lies, perfectly willing to maintain the facade as an act of self preservation.

David Fincher is easy to take for a misanthropic auteur. But, there is a lightness to his touch that allows us to glimpse these darker human impulses without recoiling. Seeing this darkness can serve simple entertainment purposes or allow us to better recognize darkness in ourselves and in others. In doing so, we might prevent slow destruction via self deception. It might not be for everyone to look into the dark heart of humanity, but for those willing to explore and understand it, a self aware artistic examination from an artist like David Fincher can be a powerful tool. It doesn’t have to be taken too seriously though, as Gone Girl on the mere surface is wildly compelling.

VO Review Score: 4 ½ * out of 5 *

Quick hits

Great Album That Came Out of Nowhere: Unravelling by We Were Promised Jetpacks

New Effort to Keep Myself Sane: Turn my smart phone off and hand it over to Caitlin

Bad Habit to Break: Laying in my bed to read books…less effective

Stuff to Be On the Look Out For In Self and Others: Narcissistic self righteousness

New Focus (A 3 out of 5 Star Review of Being a Critic)

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The name I gave to this blog some years back was ‘The VO Review (…of life and whatever)’. I’m not sure what prompted that exact wording along with the parenthetical and triple dot; but I went with it and if I recall it came to me quite quickly. I was eager to get into this blogging thing. I’ve never really been prompted to change the name, although I don’t know if I’ve ever been very clear what the VO Review is supposed to be. I’ve later added in the header “feeling free to think too much” which, granted, is sort of cheesy. But it describes quite well how I am and what I feel like I’m doing when I write.

So today while on on my daily jog I started getting some inspiration. I felt a desire to more clearly detail what this ‘Review of Life’ is and what it means to me to be a critic. There are all sorts of opinions out there about critics and what worth criticism has. Many people associate the concept with unpleasantness and labored justifications for judging an artist, person, or public figure, and their works, persona, or impact on society. You may have heard before that, “those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, criticize.” The quote is reductive and nearly useless unless someone were to elaborate on what they thought the words meant.

For me critique is more often associated with the literary notion of it. I took a course ‘Academic Writing on Literature’ and learned about various approaches and theory with regards to intellectual critique. I myself am quite fond of giving more than a thumbs up or thumbs down opinion of movies or saying more than whether I liked or disliked an album, artist, band, or song. This particular college course and my own opinions about art and the world have made it clear that I am intrinsically motivated to intellectually analyze and criticize “stuff”.

Some critics can twist themselves into all sorts of knots trying to see what isn’t present in a text or a film or whatever they are being critically observant of. So I understand some of the unease that critics create within our judgemental internet/information culture. I’ve recognized how many critics can take up an authoritative tone such that they assume people should listen to what they are saying; that they themselves were making a definitive statement on whether a band was the next big thing or why it was almost imperative that we agree with them that something was objectively bad. Criticism can easily devolve into very wordy and convoluted contrarianism. Perusers of a Pitchfork Media review might understand what I’m talking about.

So back when I named this blog the ‘Review of Life’, I had the intention of observing and analyzing just about anything in life, and ruminating on the worthwhileness and intrigue provoked by my various experiences. I also planned on doing far more media (music, film) reviews than I’ve actually done. The content, however, has drifted more in the direction of social criticism and philosophy. But, so be it.

With that in mind, and after that inspirational jog, I now feel motivated to take a more committed approach to this angle of intellectual criticism. Criticism is rewarding and useful when it acknowledges the nature of its subjectivity and presents ideas for improvement while acknowledging what is impactful about the subject matter. How did something make me feel? Did I learn something? And how will others possibly think or feel about it?

Consuming content, watching movies, listening to music, is more than being about the mere enjoyment of it. I do understand the draw towards simple escapism, but I still find it absurd that, for example, the Twilight films are some of the highest grossing films of all time. There are some things that I cannot help but notice and consequently feel like they are objectively bad, uninteresting — or even worse — a blight upon society. That’s still my opinion. But there will be times that I feel the need to declare such things — such as, the world may have been a better place had Twilight never existed. Nevertheless, maybe we just had to learn our lesson as a society with regards to that. I want to be self aware and authentic when I make these sort of statements, but also don’t want to be the rain on a parade or the poop on the party.

So with that in mind, I wish to begin this now more focused review of life by levying a 3 out of 5 star score on the practice of ‘being a critic’. Being a critic can be rewarding in that you challenge yourself to understand an artist/person’s intent, explore what might be there for improving one’s life or society, or simply acknowledge how it impacts you on a basic human level. However, criticism leads to discontentment — and if not done with a relative amount of self awareness — critics will soon become the cynics and naysayers and tastemakers of life and all art. This modest rating of 3 out of 5 is a demonstration that it’s good to constructively be critical of things, but that it’s probably a good idea not to be critical of all things; most often being reserved for either artistic or educational purposes.

Now just wait for when I give a critical review and levy a sore upon life itself!

Quick Hits

Show that earns its greatness merely from its pilot: Community

New approach to knowledge: Love knowledge for what it teaches me, not because it helps me prove that other people are wrong or ill informed.

New approach to my moods: Understand how they may be a pattern and habit of thinking that can be improved and redirected in an effort to foster greater well being.

Shameless admission: These quick hits most certainly sound like self improvement platitudes

Relevant quote: “Self Improvement is Masturbation” -Tyler Durden…Fight Clube (5/5 Stars)

Why that’s okay: It’s perfectly normal and healthy…to improve oneself

Movie that can be identified as freedom and war porn: 300 Rise of An Empire (I watched it recently) 2/5 stars

If I had to yell out my favorite movie while being dangled over a pool of piranhas: Unforgiven (5/5 Uber Stars)

Would I feel restless and unsure about it later even if it saved my life: Yes

PEACE

On the Forming of a Habit (The Sorcery of Delayed Gratification)

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The other night Caitlin brought to my attention that I had been jogging daily going on a month now. Initially that fact seemed inexplicable to me. Not because I didn’t believe I’d done it, but I couldn’t account for more than 30 days of jogging in my head. Well, also because it was hard to believe I’d established the habit. I’m no couch bum, but building routine in my life has been a nagging and sometimes debilitating struggle. I might even suggest that I’m a professional and skilled half-asser.

The concept of delayed gratification in many ways does not compute in my head. It feels like faith to me, and I possess very little faith. This might come across as depressing or color my character in some other negative light; but I do not mention this as if I am at confessional or admitting to my deepest character flaws. Whether I’ve established this bad habit of not building habits through my own volition, or if it is more a function of my predispositions is mostly irrelevant. What is important is that my brain has internalized and recognized the goodness of a new habit without me even really having thought about it. That is habituation.

I am not a reformed man, I did not wake up one morning and decide that things would be different. I just started jogging one day. Slowly, the jogs got longer. I recognized that podcasts and audiobooks weren’t enough to keep me out of my head, and when in my head I become more keenly aware of my boredom and discomfort. So I started listening to music instead, along with running different routes every few days. This seemed to keep a certain freshness to it, and the rhythm of tunes kept me in my body and out my thoughts.

I quietly noticed I was feeling better mood wise and that my days were becoming more evenly structured. Things were just sort of happening and now a month has past.To my conscious and often scattered mind, this almost feels like magic. I don’t even know how to fully describe it, but the best way I can think of would be to say that my mind works in bursts of frenetic thoughts and observations, what most people seem to possess in the way of “motivation” and sustained commitment has at times in my life felt utterly foreign and otherwise fleeting. I’m aware that this may be some narrative I’ve constructed to excuse the manner in which I’ve skillfully half-assed my way through life. Either way, it is what it is. I have a relative non-judgement in recognizing this about myself. But the unassuming way in which I tricked myself into jogging daily while hardly even thinking about it is a significant breakthrough. It might be good for me to accept it as some sort of sorcery so that I might put faith in the doctrine of habit and delayed gratification. It’s a small thing, but I’ve been encouraging myself to celebrate “wins” when they come along.

As I said earlier, however, this is not a rebirth or reformation. Too many times in my life I had it in my head that I had turned some kind of corner. I prefer to think of this right now as a revision of a script that I had been playing out in repeat for much of my life. A very minor revision, as I will reexamine some of this progress months down the line and see if further magic has been cast upon my person.

Let’s see if I can trick myself into writing that book I always talk about. But I’ve been told it’s kind of insulting to writers to just nonchalantly talk as though you want to write a book. It is no easy task, and is certainly more involved than forming a month long jogging habit. But, I REALLY don’t consider myself a dreamer, so I’ll allow myself to have this ambition even if that irks a more seasoned and accomplished writer out there somewhere. The next task is to use the mysticism of habit forming in an effort to build a daily routine of writing.

<<<<Quick Hits>>>>

Habit I encourage others to form in full recognition of the hypocrisy I posses in asking others to do what I am bad at:

-Read daily and begin saying of art (music, film, etc) that it is more than merely GOOD or BAD.

Albums that must be listened to:

-Alt-J ‘This is All Yours’

-Sylvan Esso ‘self titled’

-Kate Tempest ‘Everybody Down’

-FKA twige ‘LP1’

-Sharon Van Etten ‘Are We There’

-Killer be Killed ‘self titled’ <<<<<side project supergroup w/ Max Cavalera and dudes from Mastodon and Dillinger Escape Plan…nuff said

Deep thinking books that can be read on the crapper:

-The Accidental Universe by Alan Lightman

-You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney

-Straw Dogs by John N Gray

Pseudo-events that serve to distract and not to enlighten:

-IPhone 6 bendgate

-Whether or not Roger Goodell gets fired

-Underpants that make your flatulence smell like mint <<<<like seriously, #DYSTOPIA, stop this nonsense

Words and concepts to know for maintaining your status as a quasi-intellectual:

-Predicate

-Quasi-intellectual

-Concern troll

-Difference between correlation and causation

-Loss aversion and sunk cost (you don’t even have to understand these completely, just throw it in your comment and you’ll sound smart)


PEACE!

Thoughts on Personal Narratives (The self truths found in our little life fictions)

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Lately I have been fixating on the idea of personal narratives; the necessary psychological mechanisms that keep our sense of self apart of some overarching life story. Most of us hope this story is one of success, contentment, and perhaps doing some good in the world. Our minds do not deal well with seeing life as the isolated and disjointed moments and events that it is. We crave, or rather, literally have as part of our machinery of thought the need to make all these dots connect into a bigger picture.

A contemplative might say that getting to a place of non-narrative interaction with life is where the things we are seeking actually are; that we are essentially looking in the wrong places. A certain presence and fulfillment is attainable when narratives are shed. It’s probably impossible to achieve such an inner nakedness completely.

I told myself some sort of story to be alive, still breathing, and at this keyboard, today, in this moment. No matter how uneventful the story was, it still led me here and I told it to myself without even knowing it. This seems almost inescapable. But taking the time for existing just to exist can be immensely rewarding. I’ve been sometimes good at it, and at others times woefully misguided. I’m not suggesting I’m any sort of monk or guru on this topic but it interests me greatly

I do not necessarily think the goal of life should be to rid oneself of all personal narratives. This is impossible. Thus, it would seem prudent to find ways of making our narratives work together or at least coexist without chaos. And this might be exactly where my obsessing on this topic comes from. I’ve been making an attempt at comprehending the tangled web of narratives and considering how these become the forces that shape history. From the micro to the macro, butterfly wings flap, etc.

Are we reaching a critical mass amount of narratives? Is the world ultimately too small for all of our stories? Are there any pragmatic ways for our narratives to interact and not lead to devastating conflicts? Has there ever been? Narratives quickly solidify and become the rigid and reckless ideologies of bureaucrats, businessmen, the disaffected mobs, and tyrants. And here I go with visions of dystopia…par for the course.

A bunch of bottomless deep queries and thoughts have been entertained in this blogging exercise, and not much has been provided in the way of answers. The existential gravity surrounding these thoughts are often too uncomfortable for most people to bare and with good reason. But as I’ve over thought issues about society, people and their narratives, I’ve started recognizing and pulling apart the stories that I’ve told and still tell myself. There are many slight and grand fictions that I have persisted in throughout my life; both profound and mundane, yet fabricated nonetheless.

What are some of the things that I tell myself that allow me to feel at ease being me, doing whatever it is I’m doing, right now? At ease being me? That’s a silly notion. Maybe this is where a contemplative might chime in again and say that it is okay to be me right now and I don’t need to justify that with a narrative.

I’ve caught myself following conflicting narratives in the same day; even in the same moment. Which is the voice of reason? Likely neither. But I think one seems to have more sense than the other. So without providing a moral to this story I will go on being my skeptical self about all the narratives human beings weave to give themselves meaning, with the understanding that my self proclaimed “wise skepticism” is also..just a narrative.

Who’s the GOAT?! (Philosophical Ideas Argued Using Hip-Hop and Basketball)

Originally posted on The VO Review (of life and... whatever):

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It’s probably one of the most tiring and old debates in a variety of areas.  Music, literature, sports, art, history.  We are always asking who the greatest of all time is (Who is the GOAT?).  Where I land on the debate is that really there is no greatest ever at anything.  There are far too many subjective elements involved in deciding and bestowing such a title.  Where I can say I am rather opinionated though is in the area of people overemphasizing cultural/historical impact and not actually considering the actual quality of a certain individuals body of work as much as they should.  I believe there are certain talents or great minds that came along with a perfect storm of cultural events that lend to an inflated and distorted view of how great they actually were.  I could drop a few names and I’m almost positive people would think me…

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Super-Charismatic-Large-Personality (…too much cleverness?)

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Wouldn’t it be interesting if we could somehow quantify the amount of influence that one super-charismatic-large-personality (SCLP) possesses? These sort of people don’t have to be explicitly defined as genius, but nevertheless they have an unmistakable gravitas about them. The examples stretch from the admirable and brilliant to the base and absurd. Jesus (if he was one dude), Churchill, and Oprah to Snooki, Rodman, and Daft Punk (despite the helmets, that’s impressive).

Those names immediately make what I’m talking about seem rather broad. But for the sake of discussion let’s examine the abstract idea that the amount of fame/notoriety/influence a person gathers can be quantified into a number. Every person, given the right circumstances, certainly has potential for being noticed and furthermore having an impact. But what is different about those who possess the ability to make their “15 minutes” into something more sustainable? And why/how is it that every now and again we get an uber SCLP. A nuclear bomb of personality that has the capacity to move society into new phases (both for good and ill and everything in between).

These types have been a focus of our fascination for centuries. That has in many ways been the goal of history, to learn the psychology and the biology and to zone in on the genius and freakish gravitas that key figures had; to understand and learn from it. Cleopatras, Hitlers, Washingtons, Mandelas, Jobs, Bezos, etc. Where do they lie on the SCLP scale? Does this attempt to measure the concept very loosely just do a disservice to the complicated creature that is a human being? Probably.

It seems clear that there have always been people whose genius, charisma, and otherwise difficult to term “social pull” has astronomic potential. Whose words that, regardless of being true, bring others to follow them. A demeanor that garners irrational trust, regardless of whether their intentions are pure. Stirring up a devotion so intense, that many times these personalities are lifted up to a level of sainthood. Some will be very much deserving of admiration, even if just for the skill and technique they possess, but hopefully more so for the fact that they make the world a better place.

And here is where a significant problem exists. How often is that gravitas used to pull humanity down a darker path? Has that not been our tendency? Even in the name of doing “good”? Has the net benefit of this SCLP resulted in a better world for most? Is uber SCLP a gift or a curse to society? Or should we, as Gautama says to Siddhartha “beware of too much cleverness.”

 

A Personal Meditation (Mindfulness Reminders)

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I wrote this over a year ago at a time when I was doing serious reflection about my life. Questioning, doubting, and trying to show the proper amount of self compassion (something I think we all struggle with greatly). I wanted to share it here as many of my friends at the time said they found the meditation/poem helpful. I know I haven’t revisited the words enough, but if I did, I know I would be more centered:

A plea to my Deepest, Authentic, Inner Self

 

Allow me to give of myself that I might find myself

Let me see more the good around me and in myself

Turn away from secrecy in my actions

and the hiding of my feelings and thoughts

Be present

Accept the past

Have curiosity and not despair for the future

Remain patient when hope is fleeting

Know that someone is there to listen

Reach out when someone is struggling

Understand the power of sharing the human experience

Remember that I am not alone

Help me find a cause for good

Find where my talents can be beneficial to others

Give freely and do not revel in praise or recognition

Maintain vision

and when I lose sight, remember where that can and has taken me

Let go of what I cannot control

Embrace and have reverence for mystery

Always aware of that uncertainty

But inviting towards the possibilities of each new day

 

A Cascade of Self Awareness (Reveling in a Recent Torrent of Understanding)

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There are so many things I’ve been wanting to write about! This inspiration overload, coupled with a general level of procrastination, has been the impetus (or lack thereof) behind why I haven’t posted on my personal blog in some time. I’ve also started a new blog (http://flashphilosophers.wordpress.com) with a great friend, and the collaborative element has been very encouraging. Much growth comes in the free exchange and the unrepentant, rigorous challenging of ideas. I’d like to talk about some of the growth I’ve been experiencing since right around January.

I once wrote about the concept of ‘lunar moon landing’ moments. I now like to call those ‘red pill’ things (books, movies, conversations, epiphanies, etc). These are moments where we are taken out of the self-created narrative about our lives and realize that things aren’t what we thought they were. It’s the moment where you “CAN handle the truth.”, despite the discomfort and dissonance.  I have a sick fascination with trying to induce these moments, but the bottom line is I can’t just will these experience into happening. However, I do believe there is a certain kind of mindset that comes along with those who try to challenge themselves constantly. This mindset is designed to guard against ideology and dogma. This is called critical thinking.

Now, let it be known that skepticism and critical thinking, appealing to reason, can be it’s own form of ideology. There are people in this movement who just like to be right and enjoy crapping on other peoples beliefs or misinformed opinions. I will say, if you’re going to be an asshole, it’s at least good to be right with regards to whatever you’re being an asshole about. However, this smugness and contrarianism is more often just counterproductive. There is a lot of tit for tat going on when it comes to social media and the internet. Our dialogues mostly stink. I believe the best attitudes that should motivate a person who sees themselves as a truth speaker and a delusion dispeller are compassion and concern. And if you fancy yourself a speaker of the truth, make sure it’s the truth you’re actually speaking.

I’ve been more open and direct with my ideas lately, at least I think I’ve been. And this is because I am genuinely and deeply concerned with the latest trends of anti-intellectualism and fallacious logic out there posing as ironclad reasoning. Since 9/11, and furthermore, since the economic crisis, people have grown increasingly more confused about things that they seemed assured of. This fear and being unable to trust institutions we’d placed so much faith in has led people to adopt outrageous ideologies. They’re pretty sneaky as well because they come at us with a message of “skepticism” and having an “open-mind”. Conspiracy theories have gone mainstream. It is completely normal for very intelligent well meaning people nowadays, at least in some areas of their intellectual pursuits, to all but dawn tinfoil hats.

I don’t mean to be disparaging or ridiculing. This phenomenon scares me. My fervor I think comes from a place of knowing how utterly wrong I’ve been in the past. I know what it’s like to have completely erroneous information and state it as fact. I once spouted political party rhetoric like I was the only person with common sense. I think I’ve always been naturally skeptical and tried to find the flaws in systems and the way people think. I haven’t always done it with the right assumptions about reality, but I was young and I was pretty impressed with myself sometimes. That just happens.

Since January I feel like it’s been one leap after another. I’ve rediscovered my values which I’d lost track of for some time. I had to overcome callousness and unfeeling disposition towards the world. For some time I thought that this just might be how I am. Some kind of mental illness that manifested mostly as anhedonic dispassion towards nearly everything. But, for whatever reason, my mind has begun to clear. I’m reading books, going for walks, taking photos, writing, discussing and debating because they feel like the things I want to do and should be doing. Its been quite odd to be in this state of mind, it’s still kind of foreign. So, if I’m a little off the handle, baring too much of my soul, or sounding a little self serious here or on social media, it’s because I’m reveling in all of this. I am keenly aware of what is important to me, and it just feels like the right thing to do. And it happens to be that some of these topics and issues of which I have interest are of a very serious nature.

But I’m not angry, the disdain or cynicism I often had before is giving way to a goodness I think I actually might possess. Something I wasn’t so sure of about myself before. I feel that this post is getting or has been rather solipsistic, but that’s just how I write sometimes. I hope that somebody connects with these thoughts, these ideas, and similarly understands the beautiful feeling of cascading amounts of self awareness.

If there is anyone who personally remains in a malaise of existential blahness, I know all too well this sensation. Depression has once been described as an inability to construct any kind of future in your mind. None of it seems to matter. All I can say is, be patient, learn self compassion, and people need to find their passions. You are not your job or your possessions. Those aren’t inherently bad, but they don’t mean a whole lot without a sense of fulfillment. I don’t know exactly how or when it happened, but a big part of what needed to happen for me was learning self respect. That I am worth it, a talent with potential if I choose to cultivate it. This is something I think we all struggle with deeply. But we have to believe it. If there is ONE thing I would tell people to just believe, it would be “you are worth it!”

Call it self-helpish, trite, and oversimplified. But not a whole lot can happen, or it doesn’t mean very much, if we don’t even like who we are. Alright then, I’m out. PEACE!!

Why I Call Myself a Skeptic (Who Watches the Watchers?…and who watches those watchers? Watchers all the way down!)

I’ve bounced around the political landscape, often alone and to myself.  Depending on who I discuss or debate with, I can be seen as a radical or one of the sheeple.  Of late, I find that ‘skeptic’ is the best term for describing my life philosophy.  I’ve traveled around from faith and conservatism to political apathy; from trendy anarcho-capitalism to concerned but confused by just about everything.  I’ve tried to put myself in the shoes of political and philosophical believers and I’ve generally discovered that people have real reasons for why they believe as they do.  In most instances people are not evil, bigoted, hateful, even if they do hold some opinions I find detestable.  I remain the kind of skeptic that is concerned but can only be confused (a healthy dose of “I know that I very well can be and will be wrong”).

I read a book titled ‘The Watchman’s Rattle’ that outlines some sobering issues that our society faces.  Things some people completely deny.  Things which other people have completely ridiculous solutions towards solving.  But it’s hard to blame anyone.  Mostly people just want to help.  Most of us DO want the world to be a better place, even if we disagree on how to go about DOING that.  The dilemmas we face, for me, are apparent and stark.  The main take away I got from the book is this idea of the cognitive threshold.

The cognitive threshold is where things become too complex for human understanding.  If we think we’ve pinned down a solution or found a causal relationship, we may very likely have missed or consciously ignored a host of other variables that make our conclusions completely misguided.  I believe many of our problems are past the cognitive threshold.  Which is why I may be coming around to the pluralistic and democratic process.  But not the so called democracy we claim to have here in the States.

When I think of this democratic/pluralistic approach, I think of the free exchange and open challenging of all ideas, beliefs, and systems.  Put them to the test, call them into question.  And even when something appears to be working, be willing to acknowledge when it’s deeply flawed or in need of dismissal.  Reject dogma in all its forms.  Avoid hero worship. Everyone is fallible.  Respect actions and ideas.  Generally, it’s good not to revere people because they will let you down…and that’s okay, we are all freakin’ human.  It’s better to know that our leaders make mistakes like anyone else and holding them up as exceptional is dangerous, as history has shown time and time again.

One thing that has been frustrating about the skeptic community as I’ve explored it is that many people have embraced this label of skepticism that I wouldn’t strictly term skeptics.  It is important to distinguish between skeptical inquiry and naked cynicism.  Many who take on the skeptic tag are skeptical of only certain organizations which they have an obvious and apparent disdain for. The government, religion, western medicine, alternative medicine, psychiatry, etc.  It’s easy enough to have an out there belief and call yourself a free thinking skeptic because it’s in denial of the mainstream.  This is a trendy thing to do.  This is not skepticism.

Skepticism is not a faith, it is an approach to ascertaining the truth with a clear understanding that getting at the truth is messy and sometimes you can never fully have it.  Many people will spout stuff as if it is a priori self evident truth, and it simply isn’t.  A theory is something that has at least some justified reasoning for the possibility of it’s truth…a belief is not a theory, and a theory is not big T truth.  Many people who felt they were getting at the big T truth have become exactly the things they set out to denounce.  Julian Assange eventually had people signing non-disclosure agreements…say WHAT!!!  I really enjoy listening to the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, but even they at times get emotional and outright dismiss people with snide remarks.  People who may very well be kooks.  But there has been enough of choosing sides where loyalty trumps responsibility, us against them, I’m right and they are wrong, we are good and they are evil.

We don’t live in the Star Wars universe.  There are no Jedi or Sith Lords.  If an Empire exists, they aren’t sinister lizard people taking blood oaths in secret rooms.  They’re part of the same collective delusions, prone to the same incompetence.  If a noble cause isn’t so noble anymore, they’ve fallen victim to power and done what people normally do when revered and not questioned.  I suppose my point is, if you feel you are a part of some truth movement, you have to guard against those things which can easily make you the very thing that you detest in the first place.

I think some radical thinking is required if we want to get to the places that so many people are trying to work towards.  But I think where a radical shift hasn’t come is in the area of understanding.  Jesus had something going and I wish he’d expounded more on this idea of “loving our enemies”; if indeed it was Jesus who said that (regardless, the concept is intriguing).  I’m not so sure about love, but accept and understand that there was something that lead people down a path of becoming an oppressor or a bigot or a racist.  If we understand that, we can guard against it.  We can keep others from going that route.  We can radically accept our fundamentally flawed human nature instead of playing right into it as we have predictably done throughout history.  And, for goodness sake, stop calling people “enemies”.  That’s extremification, that’s similar to reverence, just on the other end of the spectrum.

I’ve ran on for some time, I hope this sparked some deep thought.  I hope this is challenging and that it clarifies how I see the world to some degree.  We need to better understand how people come to the beliefs, ideas, and opinions that they hold.  Withhold judgement, and if we go about refuting or challenging one another, it’s not about crushing your competition or destroying your enemies.  It should always come from a place of compassion.   Because right now I see a whole lot of team picking and tribal touting with the irony being that no one is winning.

-Watch the watchers and watch those watchers, watch everybody.  Skeptical, not cynical.

-Free minds does not mean acid addled brains opening the third eye going to the 5th plateau and believing that I can partake in multi-dimensional travel through quantum thought bridges.

-Don’t create grand conspiracies where a lot of incompetence is clearly to blame

-Addressing the many collective delusions that exist starts with self awareness and compassion

-Recent media I’ve partaken in (Bioshock Infinite, True Detective, 2nd viewing of House of Cards, Parks and Rec, Louie)

Goals: take walks, write more, read more, filter and limit my internet browsing