The Burden of Choice

•March 7, 2016 • Leave a Comment

No matter what happens, you have to decide for yourself. You have to decide for yourself what to do and how to do it. You have to decide what to believe. There is no way to avoid this moral responsibility, though many people pretend they don’t have it.

“Oh, I just believe as science tells me,” or “I just behave as the church tells me.” Yes, you can choose to structure your life by adopting a creed whole cloth, but you can’t avoid the simple fact that you have chosen it. And you own the results that arise from believing and acting according to that code.

And if we look honestly at the habits we live by, and the beliefs that guide us, we will likely find many ways large and small that we have put our own spin on things. And that’s okay. The burden of deciding for ourselves can be heavy, but it is freeing as well.

Challenge Accepted

•February 18, 2016 • Leave a Comment

As Marcus Aurelius said, The obstacle is the way. Use adversity as a tool to make yourself better. When life knocks you down, get back up and say, “challenge accepted.”

This is Nietzsche’s “Yay!” but in more of a “Yippi-ki-yay, motherfucker!” sort of way. We want more than passive acceptance, though that in itself is better than denial and avoidance. No, what we want is active engagement.

Build up the skill of mindful attention and then make the choice about how you engage. Both the skill and the choice are necessary.

Life in the Wreckage

•May 10, 2015 • Leave a Comment

We are living in post apocalyptic times. The world that was has already ended. We are surrounded by the detritus of a society that no longer works. The people around us are survivors of the cataclysm.

That’s why we are so isolated, so depressed, and so very angry. It’s trauma. Trauma of an event so big we don’t even recognize it happened. We blot it out of our minds. It comes back to us in flashes. Fragments that terrify and enrage us. Feelings we don’t recognize or understand.

You can see hints about it in our culture, our fiction, our music, and our films. You can see it in the matrix. In fight club. In the walking dead. In the show firefly. You can see it in the way hollywood doesn’t make new movies anymore it just makes reboots of reboots of reboots. We’re looping because we have no idea what to do next.

I’m not sure when it happened. Some people think it happened in 2001, when the twin towers fell. Others have suggested it was 1984. What we know is the great plastic facade that was the world cracked and crumbled. Instead of one piece we now have fragments. More schisms, and smaller factions now compete. A chaos of meaningless forms, like static.

But there is no crisis without opportunity. We need only to look at our situation differently. Stop rebooting and start remixing. We have the option of taking these broken parts and putting them together in new ways, new relations. A million broken stones can be a mosaic. We can stop complaining about the shit and use it as fertilizer.

The world ended… but there is life in the wreckage.

 

This is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time

•June 22, 2014 • Leave a Comment

There was no meaning to his death. One day a man went to lunch with a friend. He bought a taco. He choked. His friend tried to save him. Nearly a dozen people tried to save him. Nearby a half dozen other people didn’t even take a break from their meals. He died. I don’t know his name. And someday, maybe, I’ll forget the colour he turned or that final look in his eyes.

There is no meaning in death. Death is what forces us to find meaning in life. When you realize, when you really understand, that our time is limited, that it can end in any moment, that something as mundane as a taco can end all that we are or ever could be… it really forces you to consider how you are spending your days… your hours… your seconds.

What matters to you? Strip away the distractions and look at what you really care about. If you were going to die right now, “what would you wish you’d done before you died? You have to know the answer to this question!”

There is No One Answer

•May 30, 2014 • Leave a Comment

The problem is we look at a complex horror like the recent murders by Elliot Rodger and we want a single simple answer. We want a word of phrase that will let us banish its horrible complexity and think about it no more.

The people saying it’s about misogyny are right. As are the people saying it’s about mental health. As are the people talking about gun control. The people talking about the way he was raised by his parents are right. The people talking about the communities he participated in on the internet are right. Even the people talking about socioeconomic class and affluenza are right.

But none of them are exclusively right. And each one of those things are complex issues in themselves. You can’t say it was mental illness and end the conversation there. There are different kinds of mental illness and there are ways that people become mentally ill and ways that people can get better when they are mentally ill.

And when you look into those details you will see they connect and interact with his relationship with his parents and with his believing the toxic ideology of misogyny and with the weird internet communities he participated in and with his wealth and the way that almost everything was handed to him and how this lead to his utter rage that not everything was as easy to get as his car.

And we as a society need to understand young men who do horrible things like Elliot. Because while he made the final choice to murder, for which he holds ultimate responsibility, he made that choice embedded in an array of social and psychological pressures. He is not alone in facing those pressures. They aren’t going away and so neither are people like Elliot.

We have to understand how the interacting of those pressures leads to choices like his, so that we can help them learn better ways of acting and thinking before a murder spree is a choice that makes sense to them.

Privilege and Performance

•January 10, 2014 • Leave a Comment
I’ve been thinking lately about privilege. By the standard doctrines of privilege, I am very privileged. I am a straight cisgendered white man. But think for a moment what each of those descriptors are. They are socially constructed identities that each come with behavioural expectations. It is not me that is privileged, it is those identities. The benefits of that privilege are only experienced by me to the degree that I am willing and able to play along, to perform those identities.
If I fail to live up to cultural expectations, my privileged identity is stripped from me and I am further punished for the transgression. If I fail to play the role of a straight man, I will be called a “wimp”, a “pussy”, or a “fag”, and I will be humiliated and discriminated against.
Or take the example of the hatred of so called “wiggers”. Have you noticed how open and venomous it is? Sometimes it is even worse than the treatment black people would receive in the same context. These “wiggers” no longer get the benefit of being white and they further get shamed and punished for transgressing that privileged identity.
But what of those people who chose to play along? Some people might be playing along in order to gain the advantages the privileged identity grants them. Some people might perform because they are unaware that they have any other choice. And some people comply out of fear. If you were born with surface similarities to a privileged identity, you have spent your entire life being severely punished for the slightest transgression of cultural expectations for your presumed identity.
Additionally, the person with surface similarity will consistently see media representations that correspond with the cultural dictates for those identities. If they do see a representation that transgresses, it is almost always shown as bad or made to look foolish and comical. The message is clear, if you seem to fit a privileged identity, act like it or you are bad, act like it or we’ll humiliate and punish you.
So what happens when you have someone who appears to be a privileged identity, is mismatched for those cultural expectations, but chooses to play along? Stress, from constantly pretending to be something you aren’t. Shame, from constant messaging that who you really are isn’t acceptable. Fear, that you will be discovered as a fake. Guilt, over constantly misrepresenting yourself to others.
So when a seemingly privileged person reacts badly to being called privileged, it might not just be an artifact of that privilege. It might be that for a large number of people, privilege isn’t experienced as a privilege but as a prison.
The takeaway I want to leave you with on this is as follows. People aren’t privileged, identities are. The system of privileging certain identities over others and the cultural expectations for, and enforcement of, those identities is the problem. We need to work on alleviating the oppression of the supposedly privileged at the same time as we work to alleviate the oppression of the more obviously disadvantaged because they are one and the same problem, just seen from different angles.

Why is Batman so compelling?

•September 14, 2013 • 1 Comment

Yeah, he’s a pretty cool image and yeah, he’s an indulgent fantasy but those two things do not make something last in the cultural awareness. Slick cool indulgent fantasies have a shorter cultural lifespan. Slick cool indulgent fantasies do not motivate people the way Batman motivates people.

So what is it about Batman?

The core of it isn’t found in the glamorous image of Batman the hero, it’s found in a much more pathetic image. That image is of the rich, well dressed, sheltered, and spoiled young Bruce Wayne collapsed onto his knees in the blood of his two dead parents in front of him. The person who Bruce Wayne would have been died in that moment, he was utterly defeated and his whole world shattered by the world of crime.

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And then that person on his knees, turns himself into Batman. He creates a self that can do something about the very things that destroyed who he was. He can’t be defeated because he already was. He can’t be killed because he already was. He transforms from someone who life happens to into someone who does, who acts on the world.

We all have our moment of personal destruction. It might not be as extreme or total as his, on his knees in the blood of his parents, but we all have our own personal defeat. His may be larger than life but we relate to it, we map ours on to his.

And Batman is so compelling, Batman endures, because all of us hope that we can also transform as he did. That we can accept our defeat and, not despite it but through it, turn into someone who can do something about the things that bother us. That we can transform from people who life happens to into people who can act. That we can create a self big enough to turn our defeats into victory.

 
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