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Providing a platform for new and different voices...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The powers that be...

“Certain groups like G-77 are not happy when a few people make decisions,” Sergio Serra, Brazil’s senior climate negotiator said. “It’s not an inclusive exercise. Perhaps it can’t be.”

Only in this system my friend, only in this system...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Personal Wars

Amazing to read and discuss about this situation with the shooting at Fort Hood in Texas.  General American sentiment seems to dismiss the reality of how difficult it must be to be a Muslim in the US army today.  Statements of the prejudicial treatment he received – keyed car, 'camel jockey get out', diapers in his car with claims it should be his headdress?  This is a man that decided to go into the military – for whatever reasons – and should have been afforded the respect of that commitment.  It also needs to be said that he committed at a time when the military didn't seem so solely focused on issues that could be seen to fall on religious or ideological lines as could be seen today.

These wars, and American society as a whole, have been and are showing Islam as a culprit – as these prejudicial acts show.  There are people that viewed his religious situation as a problem, and this I believe is where the problem comes from.  If the military was more 'open minded' (yes, I did just say that), perhaps a Muslim man would have felt more welcome in this institution.  But the military doesn't care about individuals or their religion, sexual preference, etc.  It just wants to create soldiers willing to do what the country's leaders deem to be necessary.  Yet this inflexibility and the cultural hostility that is growing in America made a well qualified man feel uncomfortable enough to lash out and kill.  And all the official statements can be made that anyone wants, but we should all know full well that the military is stretched, looking for numbers, and was not going to be trying to release a Arab-American psychiatrist at a time like today, or that the people he spoke to from within this military would even pretend to be sympathetic to his concerns.  The bottom line is they don't care, and they are taught not to care – An Army of One.  

The fact of the matter is that today we have another front on the war-on-terror opening up.  This man was a part of 'us', part of America, yet he was pushed out and ended up 'fighting' in  virtual cohesion with the 'other side'.  And the victims, the dead soldiers, are not any different than others from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, they are casualties of this war.  People need to recognize that these wars are bigger than tanks and troops on the ground, and each person in the world fights their part of it every day.  It is about ideology and culture – both of which are wholly individual and subjective – and our individual actions to every person we see.  In provoking an attack like this through verbal provocation or subtle antagonizing messages we are fighting a battle.  Which side do your actions place you on?  Do you need to be on a side?

There are no cookie cutters and no past victories to learn from in this type of warfare.  In a world where the individual is solely taught to focus on themselves, yet while the system simultaneously tries to thoroughly group and categorize us all away, it is very difficult to factor in individuals and their variances.  This man was a person with ideas, beliefs, and issues to be heard.  Yet no one was listening with any intent on truly helping or including him and/or his concerns into the system.  This type of front has been around forever yet seems to never be realized by people.  It must be fought by us all, all the time.   The key to it is to realize just as any war, their will be both attacks and retaliations, and their will be casualties.  Enough individuals fired insults, and enough institutional rigidities and insensitivities where thrown around that a retaliation was made – and one that cost people their lives.  The person that keyed his car, the diaper person, the camel jockey person, are wholly responsible by being the ones that fired the first shots, thus causing this man's retaliated.  So lets think about where we stand in this 'war' every time we open our mouths.  Do you want to fight for one 'side' or the other, or do you want to be a conscientious objector and/or peacemaker?

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  And despite what we were taught as kids, while sticks and stones may break bones, words can break PEOPLE...  and there is no retaliation proportional or equivalent to this type of damage – a broken wo/man has no limits as to what they are capable of.  So think, every time you say something, A, will I break something, and B, am I ready for the retaliation if something does break?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Maddeningly Unaware

Awareness is a word that presently lives 'within the box'.  Defined, it means: having knowledge; conscious; cognizant, or informed; alert; knowledgeable; sophisticated.  To me, an even more illuminating analogy of how it relates to our lives is from the sports and video game world.  “Madden” is an American football video game mimicking the top professional league in the US, the NFL.  Every team and player in the NFL has their own likeness in the game.  Each one is based on the perceived skills of each individual's real life capabilities.  This is broken down into a number of different categories, speed, strength, agility, acceleration, toughness, catching, carrying the ball, tackling ability, breaking tackles, throwing power, kicking power, etc.  All of which are more or less important for each player depending on their position.  But perhaps one of, if not the most important, category is 'awareness'.  Speed is not so important for a quarterback who throws the ball nor is 'carrying' for a linebacker who rarely touches the ball, or tackling for offensive players such as a running backs and wide receivers never really asked to stop anyone.  'Awareness' is the one key component of a player's overall grade that greatly affects every player in the game.  It is a measure basically of how aware they are of everything going on around them during the course of the game.  It is pretty much the only mental indicator in the game and has run throughout the Madden series (now on number 20), and it encompasses a general player's cognitive ability to play the game.  Speed, strength, etc. are all important, but awareness is about a players mental ability to be in the right place at the right time, or to even know how to get onto the field of play.  

But think of this in our own lives.  Imagine if we were all given 'awareness' ratings.  Who is it that would assign them?  And how much 'awareness' must they have?  It is one thing in a specific sport like American football.  These players are judged on 16 to 20 games a year and on the specifics of the game by a few people sitting in a room assessing their skills.  There is a finite amount of knowledge in and of the sport and it is fairly obvious in these game situations.  The people that make the ratings in the game just watch every game (and I'm sure Google the players to find articles that might express 'awareness' capabilities) and grade out each player on all the categories.  If they are seen to make mental mistakes, they lack experience, do the wrong thing, run the wrong route or blow an assignment then their awareness ratings would drop.  So in this type of game this is somewhat evident – it is their 'awareness' in relation to this one sport.  It is not an intelligence meter, or an experience meter, but it is something that includes these perceived characteristics.

So what about in our lives?  How would we measure our 'awareness' and who would do it?  I mean firstly, 'life' is not a finitely defined game with specific rules.  It is an open container ready to be filled with the undefinable intricacies of our individual lives.  But it seems to me that if we decided to undertake a judgment like this, we would end up judging our 'awareness' on a very simplified scale based on strict views and 'rules' of society.  What would be the highest rating?  And how would you judge it? common sense? book smarts? age/experience?  The people that where given the task of grading us all would most likely come up with a criteria based on categories: education, life experience, travel, criminality, promotions, etc.  They would base everything on a person's ability to navigate and work within the confines of the legal and social scenarios that their immediate world entails.  But is this really a good way to measure 'awareness' of our world and 'life'?

The fact of the matter is that we really don't have a clue about our world, but our definition would lie strictly within the confines of what it is that we do (think) we actually 'know'.  And this here is where the issue lies.  Having 'awareness' of our world would actually be coming to understand that we don't really know much of anything.  Does a person recognize and know where the power resting above them hails from.  Who or what it is that controls them and their existence.  Is it of this world, another?  How are we to know?  People claim god, some claim politicians, others corporations, the list would be infinite.  But that is the point, our awareness of our true lives is minimal.  Yet on the sliding scale we would think to grade ourselves on, someone would certainly get a 99 (0-99 scale).  Some Nobel prize winning economist or professor for sure.  But really, is it that just because they have a great knowledge of the world that we have shown ourselves does that mean they really know anything of time, space, crossing the street, etc?

And what of us, the average people?  Do we really know anything?  After all, we do not even know anything about the known world that sits in front of our eyes.  What is the global percentage of children that will starve this year?  How many people live in poverty?  What about even your locale area, what are towns like outside of your normal area of usage?  What is the poverty level in your town?  But those are statistical things not to be felt, smelled, or tasted – think about food; what is in the food you eat?  Read the ingredients, do you know what everything is and where it comes from?  Do you know about the company that manufactures the product, the ingredients in it or the individual that grew it?  What type of agricultural products went into it?  If it is meat, was it fed with animal byproducts (usually pig shit), was it doused with pesticides or other chemicals?  Is it in-fact bad to eat chemicals?  Your clothes, your cars, your friends, your lives.  How much do we really know about any of it.  We go to a store, we pick up a product based on its appearance or maybe even simply our mother's preference, and we buy it and use it, and buy it and use it.  Maybe we switch if something else catches our eye or it doesn't work exactly as we think it should.  But do we really know if the person that made our shirt was 9 years old and working 14 hour days and the product was then shipped thousands of miles, or if it was locally produced and/or under respectable working conditions.  Do we even care?  What are 'respectable' working conditions?

So many people simply want a cheap price for something functional.  But again that is the point.  We are not aware of the lives we live.  We grow up with an ingrained list of awareness priorities. Emotional security, nutritional security, physical security, etc.  The thing is though that in the world we live in so much of this comes down to financial security as this is the key to be able to to achieve the others given our current socio-economic system.  But this line of thought is not the point I'm trying to make here, the point is that this type of prioritizing has left us mostly disinterested in the rest of the world as it actually surrounds us.  Yes, of course there are some that choose to research and learn some of these things (of course this information is only available as it is interpreted and presented by others).  Even so, how would these people fare on the 'awareness' scale.  Would a local hippie type that knows all there is to know about food and clothing production and where/how the things intricate to their lives are obtained be measured highly on this scale?  Unlikely. It would be the academic, not the local hippie buying local and organic and showering every other day.  This person is not seen as 'aware' but perhaps as an outlier.  Yet they know a great deal of how things seem to work, and perhaps it is exactly their disengagement with society that grants them a level of awareness that even the smartest of academics can't have.

The world is a tricky place that we know virtually nothing about.  This is the key to life.  We do not know as a civilization, let alone as individuals.  We each must learn to recognize our inabilities (and our world's), and at least attempt to rectify our own disinterest and unknowing of the known world.  Frankly, we are not aware of anything – foreign or domestic.  We do not know how people dance in Thailand, cook in Africa, or view the world in Venezuela.  And actually, we probably don't even know how people across the river or in the next town celebrate their birthdays and holidays, or even how the family next door eats dinner.  Fact is, we actually have no 'awareness' of life as a whole to make a measurement of, but even if we attempted to on our own sliding and distorted scale, we would all grossly fail as we are all grossly unaware of our lives.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Breathing through the wrong skin...

So did you ever wonder why it is that we know that if you put a frog in regular temperature water and then start to boil it that it will not jump out of the pot but slowly boil to death?  Well it’s simple.  Because someone thought it would be interesting to boil a frog in a pot.  I have a fundamental issue with this.  Now I understand there is a general argument for the fair and ethical treatment of animals and that is a well documented principle followed by many, and personified by the organization PETA.  So this is no revolutionary ideal.  But the average person is simply thinking about respecting animals and not hurting them.  Maybe they just love their animal and think all should be treated with respect or maybe it is that they have a holistic principle that entails that animals and humans are equal (or at least should be treated equally).  This is a fair start in regards to why the above treatment should not be done.  The bottom line is that an animal’s life is no more or less important than a human beings life.

As human beings – the dominant species on the planet – we collectively believe that we can do as we wish with the world and those in it.  There is no amount of respect, responsibility, or civilization in humanity as a whole.  This does not stop at mere animals, our closest relative, but goes further to all living – and perhaps non-living things – on this earth.  I always find it amusing to hear a vegetarian say that they are against the killing of animals and thus they do not eat meat, but they have no problem with the cutting, killing, and eating of plants.  What is the difference?  Only in our mind is there something different between the two.  We can break down the world in different species, but the problem then arises when we consciously and subconsciously rank them as too order of importance.  People have no problem killing a spider, or a bug of some sort.  “icky” little creatures that inspire fear in many.  So we just kill them.  This is wrong.  I mean it goes without saying that we live in one ecosystem that balances itself through the lives and non-lives of all mater and things in it.  Everything has its place and its role.  Remove something and perhaps something else will step into that role – but at what cost?  And is it sustainable?  This line of inquiry is again simple and obvious for people to grasp, yet this rationale does not seem to be doing the trick as people don’t follow it.

Ultimately, this all comes back to our everyday ‘ranking’ system of importance in the world.  By doing this we are claiming that we as human beings are ‘better’ than other things in the world.  It is odd that if you ask a number of people are they better than another person – I mean 'inherently' and wholly prior to development and socialization (i.e. One person feeling better than a black person because they are white).  A great deal (and hopefully a huge majority) of people would not claim that they are intrinsically better than another human being, but what if you asked them: are you better than a spider, a cockroach, a monkey, what about an amoeba?  I don’t think most people would get past laughing to actually truly answer the question.  It is taken for granted that human beings are the ‘higher’ species on the planet and that we can control – and deserve to control – the rest of the world simply due to our dominant abilities.  But where is the responsibility in this situation (after all 'with great power, comes great responsibility”), where is the civility?  I keep coming back to the idea of civilization.  But I truly believe that this is encompassed in the ability to rise above basic animal instincts, to dismiss the desires to do as you wish, to dominate others, and to act in the greater good of humanity and the world in a 'civilized' manner.

What does this mean though?  “The greater good of humanity and the world.”   People don’t tend to be able to put things in context, to see beyond the world directly in front of their face.  Is this because we are inherently shallow as human beings or because we just have not been socialized or taught to see holistically and/or in terms of the world as it exists itself?  I would say it is because this is not what we are taught to do.  I remember early in a graduate program one professor challenging my depth of thinking on one issue and pushed me to take my thinking wholly and completely outside the box and to creatively go beyond the simple object in front of me.  It hit like a light switch, and all of a sudden I saw things differently.  Why would it be that only I would be the one to experience such a thing and to see things in this context.  I learned this, as many others have.  It is just that we – as a collective social whole – have not been presented with and taught to see contextually in this respect.

We must rise above the narrow view of here and now, and understand that ‘here and now’ are much broader than we generally imagine today.  Only by seeing the world collectively/wholly together and respecting it collectively/wholly together – bugs, plants, animals, bacteria, dirt, etc – can we attempt to show the world, and all it entails, the mutual love that it deserves.

Equally Unequal

Why is it that we talk of wanting equality, yet still use it primarily only as it suits us?  Hopefully I do not have to explain my stances on equality in all aspects of life – including gender – more than my blog already posits – but I will state again at the beginning of this that I truly and wholly believe in the equality of all.  However, I find it amusing that we as people – despite claiming the same ideals – do not in fact hold ourselves strictly to this.

Let us take male female interaction.  Women should be treated equally in the work world, unfortunately they are not.  They still make less money than men in similar positions – a travesty.  This trend is certainly lessening, and this can give us hope.  In life and culture the equal rights movement has come a long way.  Fifty years ago the general stereotypes put women at home, and men as the primary 'breadwinner'.  Women cooked and cleaned, raised children, and did 'woman's work'.  There were cultural roles, taboos, and places that women were not allowed to enter (and I should say that a great deal of the non-western world is still very sadly like this).  Luckily emancipation has decreased some barriers in the West, and at the same time opportunities have greatly increased.  Men are in the kitchen, cooking, cleaning, and doing other work once looked at as for 'women'.  Western culture – young culture and 'progressive' culture specifically – has embraced equality like this.  Yet why is it that some women, while truly benefiting from this and even pushing for it, still insist upon a man asking them out?  That a man should pay for their dinner or their drink?  I can understand these things 50, 100 years ago, etc strictly along pragmatic lines.  If a women didn't have a job, or culturally it was unacceptable for them to 'ask' a man to do something in public, things can be understood.  Yet how is it that today, in 2009 a progressive women would expect a man to pay for her?  If both are equal, neither one predisposed to being 'barefoot and pregnant', then why must these old stereotypes remain?  If women want equality, then they can not pick and choose which parts they want, just as minorities can not either, and men should not pick and choose what powers to give up.  If someone wants equality in the work place, you need to take it at home or out.  Think of it like this.  Gender does not exist.  You walk out of your house and there are two people there.  They are not man or woman, they are two people.  They both (in an ideal world) have the same opportunities, they both bring equally important perspectives and experiences in life to the table.  They both should be there under their own accord, and should be willing to accept each other on completely equal standards.  If women want to go back to having men pay for them, they should be willing to go back to being barefoot and pregnant, just as if men want to go back to dominating relationships, they need to be prepared to give up a females income for the home.

The bottom line is that unfortunately our culture is founded upon inequality.  This is obviously a bad thing, and something we are trying to move away from.  Yet we are doing it selectively and hypocritically in many senses.  Luckily (for inequality only) our economic conditions have quickly put us in a place where we have to find more equality economically whether we want to or not as it has become so tough now to live a life on one income today – let alone one income for a whole family.

So lets do this.  Lets look at everyone as equal (I mean we should have been doing this from the beginning of time anyway).  Men, stop being threatened by strong powerful women – face it, that individual can do things you can't, and perhaps some would even argue that biologically women as a whole can do some specific things better than men (this of course is claimed visa versa as well).  And Women, realize that you should not be beholden to any man.  You have every right to do as you please, as if on an equal playing field – live as you please.  Any interaction is simply about two people coming to the table – not man, not women – two people.

Challenging Love

I just thought of a sports analogy that is ignored in 'real' life (I know this blog is fairly anti-competitive, and this point does not want to take anything away from that stance, so bare with this point please).  In order for someone or something to be the best this status must be proven regularly, repeatedly, and sustained.  This is a simple logical truth regarding competition and ranking.  This point being said, think about what it takes not to rank oneself against others but merely to challenge one's own self.

What is it that makes us sharper?  In sports it is said that you can only get better by challenging yourself, you get better by going against the best.  Challenging yourself daily, or perhaps repeatedly, is the only way to hone, develop, and maintain a skill-set.  I could go on for days about how it is these moments that challenge us that confirm our resolve, make us 'better', stronger, more convicted, etc.  It is essential to keep pushing ourselves or striving to be better if we want to expect consistent of greater things of ourselves and to try to live up to these expectations.  Sports, business, life.  Challenge yourself and your strengths show through and new strengths you didn't know you had come about.  A diamond is created by pressure.  Heard that before?

Now take this line of thought and apply it to relationships.  We get involved in relationships, yet we don't challenge them.  We don't truly test them.  It is only in the face of temptation that a true relationship is tested.  You will not love something that you haven't struggled with or fought for.  But it is not about fighting, it is about testing yourself, challenging yourself.  Why don't we do this as a culture?  It is not viewed as appropriate to spend time with another person if you are involved in a relationship.  There is fear, hesitation, worry.  But why?  Why are we so hesitant to find out if the one we are with is really where we want to be?  We get upset about 'cheating', yet there is plenty of doubt – both scientific and practical – as to whether humans are wholly monogamous creatures.  Society has created a culture that values, rewards, and expects a settling of us into monogamous relationships (case in point legal rewards for marriage, tax breaks, etc.).  What would biology say about this?  Are we not here simply to procreate the species?

This being said, 'wo/man' is said to be a social being and need human to human compassion and caring.  So where is the happy medium?  To me, I think it is about testing oneself, and one's relationships.  If you are involved with someone, don't you want them to know they want to be with you?  Why are they not challenging themselves daily? Weekly? Monthly? Yearly? Etc?  The more people you spend time with the more you realize what you want in life.  To me, I think we should all be looking at things openly.  Life should be about two things.  Honesty, and following what one thinks is the right thing and thus wants to do.  (yes, again this can be seen to conflict with other posts – but it does not.  If society constructs individuals to think more inclusively about society and beyond themselves, then their desires will reflect more of the stuff I have been talking about in other posts).  In relationships, it seems that we end up committing and staying together out of a subconscious belief in duty and responsibility, yet more realistically mostly in failure (as the divorce rates keep rising).  I believe relationships should be about openness, and a contextual understanding that allows us all to realize that we want people to be involved with us because they ultimately want to, not because they have to.  How many people have been or are in relationships that feel confining, or entrapping?  Most people have been at some point, yet could they spend time with other people to either be reaffirmed, or to find a better option?  It is so common to go away and miss someone, or to spend time with someone else, and realize that ultimately the time apart simply shows that you are fine where you are.  “The simple thought of her means more to me than another's presence.”  Good quote, but how do you know until you have been both away and in another's presence?

As a society, we need to open ourselves to being more friendly, more open, and more experimentative.  Nothing is known without trying to know it.  And yet what is the best way to learn, is it by doing it or by not doing it?  I think it takes both.  Just as no athlete will ever reach their peak training on their own, so is the case with human's and relationships.  We will never truly find our place without constant challenge to our current place – both in presence and absence.  Learning through failure is just as important – if not more so – than learning through success.  

Columbus Day

Why is it that America celebrates this day?  After all, it is well argued that Lief Ericson discovered the Americas first, and even that the Chinese may also have nearly a century earlier.  Yet it is not in fact this moment that we celebrate, but the myth of Columbus day itself that we try to remember.  It is the idea of what this day really stands for in our eyes that we want to show – the beginning of 'civilized' Europe's expansion to the Americas.  The interesting thing about it though, is that this is not a celebratory day, especially for the native Americans that were were displaced by this expansion.  The hundreds of thousands (or millions) that were killed in what would be considered genocide today would certainly not look at Western expansion in a celebratory manor.

In fact Columbus day is really a day to celebrate the beginning of the Westernization of 'America' and the Western expansion of the world in general.  It is not about a man, or a discovery, but about a shifting moment in time.  The time in world history where a 'new' world became available for use, and in 'American' history where the country began to become who/what it is today.  The problem is, that what was done to get to today, and also where the country actually is now are not exactly celebratory things.  Columbus was nothing more than another arrogant imperial Westerner.  He looked down upon the local population and saw them as easily malleable and conquerable.  He was merrily a pawn in the Western game of dominance.  But this type of statement has been laid out innumerably elsewhere   (i.e.: xxxyyy)

The key to understanding Columbus day is not about the man's legacy, it is about this very myth of what America would become, what this time had ushered in.  It began the Westernization of the world.  This is in fact what we now commemorate.  The day the world stood still, and one of the greatest travesties the world has been privy to (and especially since the Bubonic Plague of the 13/14th centuries) began to take shape...  Western expansion and expropriation of both the physical and social world.  In fact, the expropriation and enslavement of the rest of humanity.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Timely Awareness

What is a minute?  An hour?  A mile?  A kilometer?  They are all nothing.  Images in a mind manufactured from the imagination of a simple human being.  When I am running, my body doesn't know the 'time' I have been running for, and it does not know how 'far' I have gone, it simply knows that it is working.  It knows that the heart is being asked to do more, that the muscles are being asked to exert more, and the adrenal gland simply knows it must exert itself.  When you get to a point of fatigue where the muscles have gone past that present day's threshold, they simple start working differently and the chemical needs and compositions of them change.  We feel fatigued, our muscles tighten up,  we struggle for more oxygen, etc.  Our body does not know that we have just run for 30 minutes, there was no switch that flipped and said 'time's up'.  The reason for this is that A; our body doesn't care about time but only about its own physical capability.  And more importantly, B; that that 30 minutes could very easily be 15 minutes if we simply defined what a 'minute' is differently.  If a minute was 120 seconds rather than 60, our lives would change (even though they really wouldn't).  A day would be 12 hours long, 6 o'clock would be midday and there wouldn't be any debate over 12 versus 24 hour clocks.  The earth rotates on its access in a certain time period, why must it be '24' hours when this period could just as easily have been broken up into different definitional segments.  Our bodies don't care, the earth doesn't care, we only care socially.

The point is that the measurements we have created are arbitrary.  An inch? A foot?  A millimeter?  A kilogram?  A liter or a ton?  We have made them all up, and they could just as easily be changed.  Yet the problem with these measurements is that our lives are completely governed and dictated by them.  Think about it.  Your entire day is ruled by time.  What time did you get up this morning?  What time did you have to be at work?  What time are you meeting your friends after work?  What time does your daughter leave school?  Obviously, as mentioned the name given to these times is completely arbitrary and could just as easily have a different label which would not change our lives much.  Therefore it is the concept of time itself that we need to address.  Why is it that we must live our lives to such a strict accord?  Think about how much time you mentally spend thinking about, or putting pressure upon yourself in the name of time?  The alarm clock, getting ready to go to work, meeting friends, a deadline for a project, getting to a meeting, the list goes on and on.  We live our lives as slaves to our own contrived definition of time.  We have made our own master and yet have absolutely no control over it.  If you really want to open your mind to it, what really is the problem when/if a person is late for something?  Realistically, the only reason to worry, or only thing affected by it, is that the rest of your (and perhaps another's) time and schedule may be thrown off.  So you rush to keep yourself rushing, to keep yourself under the pressure of time.

Now I understand that time provides us with organization and a measurable mechanism to more easily interact in life and with others.  But why must we become slaves to it?  Imagine a world with no clocks?  You woke up as you wished, you went to work as you wished, did what needed to be done, left as per the sun's position, darkness, whatever.  I am not specifically saying this is ideal, but think of the freedom you would feel if you never 'had' to be somewhere at a certain time, or 'had' to do something by a certain time?  Some people may enjoy the rigidity and discipline of the clock.  But the point worth making is not that we should have one or the other – measured time or unmeasured time – but that we should understand that time is quite possibly the largest and most consistent pressure and causer of stress in our lives.  As slaves to its will we are constantly rushing to be somewhere or get something done.  This hurts us personally.  Puts a weight on our shoulders (and immune system) that is entirely man made and controllable.

So please, see time for what it is: a man made and contrived entity that – in actuality – is truly flexible and forgiving despite its fictitious appearance of rigidity.  Remember, your body does not know what a minute or a mile is, it does not know what time is bedtime or how long it takes to get to work.  And honestly, it does not care (at least not until you weigh it and its immune system down with the stress that time pressures put upon it by our hectic lives).  Your body lives and feels absently of the world's arbitrary social measures.  So don't spend so much time dictating to your body how it should live its life.  It knows.  Its tired or its not, its bored or its not, it has energy or it doesn't.  Learn to live more by feel than by forceful social dictate.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Omnipresent Values

Imagine this... what if in fact there was something or someone that saw everything that you ever did.  An all knowing big brother type camera watching you at all times.  No this is not god or any such entity, but merely a way that everyone on earth – family, friends, colleagues, strangers, and so on – could see every move you make and hear everything you say.  Would you live your life differently?  If you want to be considered as an honest person, you would have to be thinking that everything you do and say would be known and the judgment of you would not be as per the information that you chose to tell each individual person, but as per everything you said to each individual person and everything you did.  Obviously, some people might cry civil liberties and government intervention, but that is not what I'm talking about – no CCTV cameras everywhere.  I am talking about living one's life to a certain standard.  If you are an environmentalist, and were being judged by your peers on every action, would you use the paper towels in the washroom if they could see you?  If you thought you were an integrity type and you knew everyone would see the truth of the white lie, would you tell it?  If you were a politician and all of your constituents could see you in the back room, would you still make that deal?

I believe that we have to hold ourselves to a higher ideal.  It becomes easy in life to bend our rules and principles in an effort to navigate through our lives.  Yes, it is easier to use the dryer than hang up your clothes, but what about the energy usage?  Yes, it is easier to drive than take public transport sometimes, but is it worth it?  Does it fit unhypocritically into your value system?   Maybe I should take the stairs instead of the elevator two flights...  Obviously, some people just don't give a damn about these things, but the concept here worth getting across is that if we all lived our lives thinking that with every move, our peers – and in turn our own self worth – would be able to pass judgment on our adherence to our own principles and values; would we still compromise them?  This is a good way to work on one's self.  Would I do this if my friends were watching?  My family?  My colleague?  The 'hot chick' at the coffee shop?  The beautiful man you always see on bus?

Live your life to a higher standard.  Yours.


Which comes first, the individual or the group?  What makes which?  Does the individual make the group or the group make the individual?  This seems like a pretty simple answer to me.  Beyond just the basic logic that multiple actors are usually more powerful than one single actor, it still is worth discussing given today's focus on the individual as primary.  First and foremost, groups have history, and society – as a group – is THE history (not referring to the written record of it, but all of it as it existed and became today).  An individual is born one day and does not exist prior to that moment.  Yet in examining society we mostly break a study of it down to the individual, reducing our frame of reference to singular actors and their interaction within the group.  But these actors do not exist in a vacuum, they exist in social and physical settings that existed long before them as individuals and will remain to exist long after them.  Individuals, as we like to believe them to be, do not exist as such.  The are formed by and largely reducible to the group with which they identify with.

Obviously there is an argument for which came first, the individual or the group.  It would be simple to say the individual was first and then they came to be in groups as they expanded.  A christian type religious view could support this.  Yet an evolutionary view would look at the slow evolution of entities into conscious beings that found themselves acting in groups.  Honestly, I don't see the point of this type of debate, who's basic point is trying to figure out how or why we are here – or what will happen upon the end of our time here.  I find it far more productive to focus upon now.  The time that we can see and act both upon and within.  So my point is that society exists prior to the individual.  Individual's can act upon groups, but individuals gain the ability and methods of action through socializing in groups, and thus are beholden to groups.

This being said, what does this mean about/for us as humans?  If we understand that we basically live in both groups, and one immense group, then it is in fact these groups that we must change – not the individuals within these groups – for the individuals will then change upon variations from within the group.  It is the system, the group, that creates and molds us that must be looked at and changed.  We are all but products of this system and our moment in time.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Imperial Armor

I find it very interesting to drive in the United States as opposed to Europe.  In driving in Europe it is as if the drivers are courteous and respective, while in the US, drivers mirror the competitive nature that I have discussed throughout the rest of this blog.  In Europe, no one seems threatened if you wish to pass them, no one seems concerned if you are driving faster than them, or above the speed limit itself (which is much higher in Europe).  If you come up on a car from behind in Europe people simply move over to the right lane.  If they don't see you there is no problem with simply flashing your lights and then they move over.  This is not taken as an affront or as being rude, simply because they are not concerned with a car traveling faster than them, and they know that slower moving traffic should keep right.

In the US however, cars will simply stay in the left lane – thinking as if they owned that physical space.  Flashing of the lights seems to be generally taken offensively and as an aggressive gesture.  And as a faster car moves into the right hand lane in an attempt to pass, it is wholly common for the slower vehicle to speed up.  Is this a conscious move?  Is it a competitive gesture?  A 'teaching moment'?  Why would they suddenly speed up?  If the faster car does manage to pass, the other drivers may flash dirty looks, as if the driver of the faster car is the culprit.  Is there a problem with being passed?  Is it a race every time we step on a road?

There is generally no need to weave in and out of traffic in Europe – people simply and courteously move out of the way.  There is not an air of 'if I am in this lane, it is MY space.”  The general principle is that someone traveling faster than you should be allowed to travel that fast if they wish and it is not your position to hinder them.  But in America, road travel is an extension of an aggressive society.  People get into cars and suddenly feel the power of the metal armor and the air of invincibility it provides.  Pedestrians, cyclists, other motorist: they are all enemy's, not to be respected, and generally to be treated with disdain.  Aggression and competition are a disease.  They pervade all levels of social systems, and in America they are a rampant epidemic.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Blind Polling...

I just received a telephone survey for a political poll for the US elections in November 2010.  Now, it should be stated that I have done both undergraduate and graduate level work in the social sciences and specifically sociology and political science – thus I understand a bit about polling.  However, I had never actually been a subject of this type of poll.  As the questions went on I found myself actually wanting to talk, to express what I really thought rather than whether I simply strongly agreed, somewhat agreed, somewhat disagreed, strongly disagreed, or didn't wish to answer the question.  I mean think about it.  When you take a multiple choice test in school it is annoying when you have studied and know the answers, but what is in your head isn't one of the choices. 

On a scantron sheet in a class its not make-or-break, but this type of poll is different.  I am one of the people who's voice will be heard in the newspaper – 54% of Americans believe X.  But how do you explain what you really think on a scantron sheet, in a multiple choice test, or in a poll?  Do I approve of the job the democrats are doing in congress?  No, but that doesn't ask if I approve of anyone at all, or the political system in general.  In this election will I vote democratic or republican?  I ask, aren't there any other choices... “no, this is all that I have on my sheet here”.  And that is the essence of the US system.  There  are no choices, the political system is all but cut down to a scantron with an A and a B.

Basically, I feel teased.  Like I just had a chance to tell the country and its political leaders what I really thought, but you know what I got?  A scantron answer sheet to fill in.  How do you feel about health care, A or B, how do you feel about the economy, A or B, how do you feel about the country's leaders, A or B.  It is really sad that actually, in life, in this 'democracy', I really don't have any real say.  Just the cookie cutter responses that I'm offered to choose, or one or the other on the ballot.  There was no space, for “hey, lets erase it all and start over again.”  Hey lets find an alternative system... no no.  Just A or B.  How can we ever get better with only two options?  And actually, come to think of it, are they even really two separate options?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Realistic Disassociation

I am continually troubled when discussing social scenarios with other people.  It is not because we have differing opinions on certain issues, details, or processes within which our lives function, but rather because almost resoundingly to a person there is a relative inability among people to disassociate themselves from the 'reality' that they both see and have come to believe as fact.  It is as if people simply can not grasp that the reality that they see is completely subjective, undefinable, and constructed by social interactions.  When thinking of political mechanisms, is it not evident that other such mechanisms can/do exist?  When thinking about social motivations, is it not obvious that simply by providing alternative social rewards people would be motivated to do things differently?

From Academics to random individuals, there is very little divergence.  The world, as 'seen', tends to be the world that is readily accepted and taken as 'fact'.  I struggle with this word fact.  A fact is simply a generally accepted 'truth' of the time.  This is not to say that this 'fact' was seen as true 100 years ago, or will be 100 years from now.  200 years ago the field of sociology didn't exist, 100 years ago it was something completely different from today, and most likely in another 100 years our conceptions of society and its study will be wholly different than they are today.  With every invention, our previous 'facts' are disproved, expanded upon, added too, or in some other way disputed and/or reputed.  Yet we all want to believe that what we see today are 'facts', almost as if existing in a time vacuum.  Why is it that we can not just see 'reality' and its 'facts' as they are: the present day best or most educated 'guesses' given present information.

This is an issue for me in current society and its discussions.  Just because we see or experience something as 'real', or 'fact', does not mean that it is this absolute truth.  It is as if the world is being taught to think simply of the present and not of the possibilities.  Obviously this helps maintain the status quo and provides an impetus for unimaginative thinking.  This is not at all levels though as thinking outside the materialistic box to come up with new technological inventions is rewarded, while thinking outside the social box we live in is not (think Georgia state legislators attempting to cut funding to social science classes teaching about homosexuality in favor of maths, sciences, and business).  Think about the world we live in.  We get up in the morning and do what?  But why?  No really, why?  All we need is food shelter, social interaction, etc, yet we get up and go to jobs and do things that don't necessarily make us happy, but simply because that is what is needed to survive given our current world's 'reality'.  But throughout time, and in other places, different methods of survival have existed.  Why is it that we as individuals can not isolate out some of the fundamental and individual motivations of society and think of them under differing conditions and circumstances?

We think like we are taught to think.  If we grow up in a society that focuses on the individual then we will be individualistic.  We we grow up in a society based on communal living with and for others, our focus can be more communal.  Just as if we grow up in a family that is politically conservative our tendency is to be conservative.  And if we grow up thinking America is the greatest country in the world, we believe this, even without going anywhere else or dissecting our teachings.  We are what we see and learn.

This is not all innate, but rather socially learned upon a foundation of individual physical and biological tenets.  Just like a computer; our bodies are the hardware, our physical capabilities (mentally, musculoskeletally, etc) are things such as the random access memory (RAM) that allows for the number of things a computer can run and have open at one time.  Then the software is our social existence.  The operating system, such as windows on a PC, is the social and educational foundation of our childhood and then in present day we download and/or install any other 'software' or 'experiences' that we want – education, travel, daily interactions, etc.  We choose what new software to install based upon our previous installs.  If I want to install a game, I have to have find either the PC or Mac version or it will not work properly on my system, just as if I have learned social norms or 'facts' are a certain way, and then go to another country and see them different I would find it perplexing, intriguing, and even uncomfortable, and discombobulating at how things work (think The Matrix and 'freeing a mind').  And then if I want to install an update, upgrade, or the like, I have to already have downloaded the previous software – there is no expansion pack without the original game.  Our lives are based upon our previous social software and then expanded upon.

Life mirrors this analogy.  But the important thing to take from it is that the 'software' of our lives is added and controllable.  Think of it like PC and Mac, and then Linux.  Linux is open source, while PC and Mac are proprietary.  Our society is thus-far running proprietary socialization software.  We are learning the same things from the same books and sources, and while claiming to be working to expand upon this, we are at the same time limited by its foundations and principle tenets.  There is no open source version of life.  You can not simply grow up learning without being taught, or without basing that learning on information previously interpreted by others (parents, teachers, friends, etc.).  We are to young and too heavily unaware of the information we are receiving in our most impressionable years.  Thus it needs to become a responsibility of everyone to reevaluate this socialization and information once they have become aware and able – question it and think about it in different lights.  But this is not where our societies focus is.  We are socialized to work within the system, not to try to make a new one or critique our present one.  (by this I do not mean critiquing current details such as specific political policy on health care, etc, but rather the very foundations that those policies are based upon – such as social motivation, cultural rewards, and why that policy is deemed worthwhile or necessary, let alone if under alternative motivational scenarios we may not even need to institute such policies as there would be no need.  Why would you need to invent a band-aid if there where no objects sharp enough to cut skin?).

It needs to be our general disposition as social individuals to view society sceptically, and to foundationally question our 'reality'.  Other realities are/were possible.  One slip here, one different calculation there, and there are different outcomes.  You ever think, “hey, what if I was never in that one place at that one time – if I turned the corner just one minute later – would I ever have met my spouse?  Made that connection and gotten that job?  What if I took the flight on September 11th instead of the 10th?  What if one policy decision was different and had caught the hijackers?  We second guess those decisions all the time – especially in our political discussions – so what if they where different in regards to major courses in history and subsequently history itself differed?  What if Alexander the Great, Ghengis Khan, Ghandi, Hitler, Adam Smith, or Karl Marx were never born?   If Lenin slipped in the bathtub and died in Zurich without ever fomenting the Russian revolution, where would the world be now?  Would communism have come to play anyway, or would the world be a much different place?

The bottom line is different realities are wholly possible.  Yet no one seems to be able to recognize this in relation to their daily existence.  Humanity needs to see 'fact' as fiction, and 'reality' as constructed and changeable.  This inability of people to exponentially dissect society through disassociating themselves from what they have come to see as 'reality' is strongly hampering our society and its progress.  Be bigger than now, bigger than here, and grander than then.

Monday, October 5, 2009

What is real? ...are you sure?

"Once Zhuang Zhou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flittering and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know he was Zhuang Zhou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuang Zhou. But he didn't know if he was Zhuang Zhou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuang Zhou. Between Zhuang Zhou and a butterfly there must be SOME distinction!" - Zhuangzi

Friday, October 2, 2009

Deadly Culture

Uummm....  So does anyone else see something wrong with this?  I mean, I must admit I have played some of those games once or twice (grand theft auto, etc.), but I never found them to appealing - luckily.  But come on, not only what kind of message does this send to people, but what does this tell us about our society.  Anyone reading this blog would certainly see that I am not a very conservative person and am in favor of all sorts of non-mainstream type thinking and stuff.  But what kind of culture are we producing, or is producing this kind of 'entertainment'?  Guns and violence are such a part of our lives at this point that no one thinks twice about this type of entertainment to distract us from our daily lives.  Its not that these types of games should be regulated away, but more importantly that these games actually exist and are a product of our culture.  The fact that there is such a market for games like this is what I find amazing.  I mean lets break the audio down:

This is Rubi.
She's not big on forgiveness (as she chugs from a liquor bottle),
but she's big on revenge (as she kills a helpless man begging for his life).
There's a word for people who cross her,

WET, rated M, for mature.

hhmmm... no forgiveness, but revenge is ok.  And when people cross you, you should kill them.  WOW!!  I mean, hey... the games we play are simply the products of our society.  There is a tremendous market share for games like this because that is the type of interests that our society produces within people.  This is the problem, not that we play them, but that we want to.

Part of the issue also lies in our disassociation with reality.  The women recording the voice for the lead character says in one trailer (as she refers to her role in creating the character): "its fun to do all that nasty, dirty stuff, and have no repercussions."  Meaning that she can be aggressive, violent, and murderous, yet not actually kill.  I guess she was forgetting about the social and cultural ramifications of having so many kids and adults playing the virtual role of killers that are doing this 'nasty and dirty stuff'.  It is interesting to, because I go see action movies with violence in them, and if this was a movie I would probably see it (says something about me as well).  But I think there is something different about physically playing the role of murderer, assassin, and killer as opposed to spending two hours watching a story about one.  In a game you become the character, you control it.  If it kills, you physically and mentally make the decision to do it, in a movie you have no control.  In games like these you let your anger and rage go, you 'kill' people, yet... you believe there are no 'repercussions' (as the lead's voice over says).  But this is to ignore what this game means both to the people that play it, and about the society that we live in.  That we like to kill people, and that we find it fun and entertaining.  

More Video:
Get 'WET' Developer Diary
'Welcome to the G House' Developer Diary
Another Trailer

Words worth hearing...

True words are not fine sounding;
Fine-sounding words are not true.
The good man does not prove by argument;
and he who proves by argument is not good.
True wisdom is different from much learning;
Much learning means little wisdom.
The Sage has no need to hoard;
When his own last scrap has been used up on behalf of others,
Lo, he has more than before!
When his own last scrap has been used up in giving to others,
Lo, his stock is even greater than before!
For Heaven's way is to sharpen without cutting,
And the Sage's way is to act without striving.

- Lao Tzu, Dao de Ching, Chapter 81

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Religiously Responsible

Religion is a strange thing. I can see the appeal to it, a person – while settled into society – is left wondering as to what exactly they are doing there, what is their purpose. They are asked to look at their world for what it is and accept it, yet they don’t understand why, or for what purpose. Spend some time around nothing but very religious people and it begins to make sense. Religion gives them a purpose and a reason. But more importantly it goes a long way towards taking the onus for their lives off of themselves and applying it to something else, a separate entity that they are not responsible for.

If I am me and I am sitting here in my own little world there is little I can do for myself that I am not responsible for. Yes, I know my other philosophical tenets discuss the socialization and constructivist aspects of life as foundational, but this is on a philosophical and informational level, but this is not in the sense of the decisions we make. We still own those decision more than anyone else. No matter where I learned something, if I do it, it becomes mine and me. If I treat people poorly because I was taught to treat people poorly ‘why’ still doesn’t change the outcome, the outcome is still there. That being said, our actions are founded upon the actions social origins, but at the same time they still happen, thus they are ours. However, with the existence of ‘God’, both of these actions cease to become ‘ours’. The world is still constructed – this time by god – but in our actions it is ‘God’ that dictates them and preordains them. Yes it is said that we control our own actions on a daily basis, but this is all done in relation to ‘God’s’ wishes, plans, etc. The onus for one’s actions rest externally from our own self. People do things, because God either makes them do it, or they do it for ‘him’ (yes, not her :-/).

This line of existence is of course appealing as it takes the fundamental basis of our lives and puts it in someone else’s hands, and absolves us of responsibility on the most fundamental of levels. When times are tough, you don’t have to look in the mirror and take the responsibility for yourself, but rather sigh and believe that it is all for a reason – a divine/ordained reason.

This is not to say that religious people do not have responsibility or are not responsible people. They are responsible on a day to day basis as the tenets of most religious orders espouse responsible actions. But again, on a fundamental level, they are being responsible because someone (or something) else ‘says’ so, or rewards them for such, not because they take it solely from themselves.

I try to be good because I think it is the right thing to do, not because I will be punished if I am not – i.e. go to hell, etc. Action by fear is not voluntary or wholly honorable. Living yourself for someone else or per their wishes is virtual slavery. Living for a cause or a belief system is one thing, but living for someone else or to do their wishes is a tough one – especially for a society that values the individual first and foremost.

Anyway, there is an appeal there, it gives 'answers' to previously 'unanswerable' questions, it absolves the self of some responsibility, and provides momentary happiness. And this last one is a key. If I believe that I am the only one responsible then life is going to be tough on me, there is no scapegoat, no one to blame, only me. With someone else to 'blame' and someone else directing my life I can take those weights off of my shoulders – there is an easy way out. That is the biggest thing I walked away from a recent religiously engorged long weekend with. If I want my life to be easy – then I can take the easy path and just give it all over to God, let ‘him’ handle the big things, and I’ll just deal with day to day maintenance. Its like the difference between being the CEO of a multinational 'you', and being a localized assembly line working 'you'. A person with less ‘worries’ within their daily existence.

This may sound like a tough way to put it, but it is in fact an admirable position to be in. Less worries, simpler lives – I mean life is so much easier when you have someone else working for/with you. The problem for humanity is that absolving your self of this responsibility for you and your greater picture does not help present society in a quest for a better now. You can work for yourself, towards your own self salvation, but what of how your actions (or inactions) affect others? What are you/we doing for others? What of the system that everyone else must live in? If we all give ourselves to god, then who will truly and independently work for others, who will take the initiative to ‘make’ a better place for us and for future generations after a person has 'gone to heaven’?

Life is about motivations and rewards, if our lives are about giving away responsibility and focusing on ourselves then were do we as a society go? No long term goals, no present day initiative or responsibility, and most importantly very little hope of making life better here on earth.

Good people that do good things, or help others, because it just seems like the right thing to do are much more admirable than people that do good deeds because they will be rewarded if they do them, or punished if they don't. Break free...

Capitalism's Dulled Star

So I'm perplexed... how is it that perhaps the world's penultimate and foundational capitalist city – New York – is so appallingly disparate and poverty stricken? I mean, if capitalism is such a great system then why wouldn't its bright shining star be able to provide for all (or at least almost all)?

“The city and surrounding region had its share of grim news: The Bronx remained the country’s poorest urban county; the income gap in Manhattan was still higher than in any other county; and the poverty rate in Connecticut rose faster than in any other state.”

Nearly 20% of the city's people live in poverty. Obviously this is not abject poverty of African standards, but the word still means the same thing. “The state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support; condition of being poor; indigence” (dictionary.com). This poverty also falls more excessively along racial, ethnic, gendered, and locality lines. Even Connecticut's poverty rate is almost 25% - a quarter of the population in poverty!! Think about it. Even the suburbs have risen to 20% there.

I would expect a great metropolitan region and socio-economic system to be able provide for all. But maybe that is really the biggest misnomer. The concept that a rising tide rises all ships, omits the concept that waves by definition still produce great crests and troughs, and also – in attempting to navigate the turbulent seas of a storm – many an overturned ship. This is the crux of our current situation, as the difference between rich and poor, the amplitude of these 'waves' is immense... “The median income among those in the top 5 percent was $857,000, and that group collected nearly twice the total income of those in the bottom 60 percent. The top 20 percent made about 42 times as much as the bottom 20 percent. Income disparities were higher in New York than in any other state.”

Think of the social implications here, of want and desire. If we all have nothing, there is no desire as there is no knowledge of something to want. And again, if we all have everything, there is nothing to want. Yet if some have and others don't, there is want, there is desire, and there is a motivation to have what one doesn't. Who is to say that this desire manifests itself cooperatively and peacefully? If the social system is predicated on cooperation and sharing of resources for all, this could be a functional distributive mechanism, however, if the system – as is that case with capitalism – bases its cultural norms on the self interest of individual actors and on satisfying wants and desires for one's self, competition, contention, and eventually conflicts arise. It is not about sharing, or working together, it is about working within the system enough to try to get yourself onto the crest – above the rest, not with the rest. The disparity of means is a great motivator, but is it for 'me' or 'us'? I think it is pretty safe to say that Capitalism – and its grand showcase in New York – are not about 'us', and they are not providing for all of 'us'. Rather it is providing for a few and suppressing most. Why is it that we believe in it so much as for it to be our greatest export? Capitalism is not the answer.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Why shouldn't Iran have Nuclear Weapons?

I hate to seem like a 'party-pooper' or the barer of reality, but can someone please actually think about what we are all saying about Iran and nuclear weapons? We are saying: I can do something, but you can't. It is not more complicated, or in-depth than that, it is a simple case of one entity (or entities) claiming that they are allowed do one thing while while another can not.

I understand that there are legally and internationally recognized treaties that have been signed, but these treaties are based on 'belonging' to an international regime that is in no way freely joined or adhered to, but necessitated. In order to be a respected part of the international community it is important, even mandated, to be a part of these treaties. Yet, still, how does one navigate this community when it is so grossly skewed in the favor of one set of power brokers or ideological distinction? Iran is sitting on the outside looking in at a world who's global 'laws' are controlled by the five permanent members of the UN security council. Iran holds no real international sway and are at the mercy of others both economically and militarily (as are virtually all nations).

Iran is caught in a region of the world who's ideological predispositions are already marginalized and who's power is waning. In countries throughout Europe there is a drift to the far right as people try to maintain their 'cultural heritage' and ethnic homogeneity. This is of course in a place that is in a dominant position in the global race of ideology and power and only marginally affected. In the Middle East, there is a great diverge between older customs and the westernization that has been overtaking the region for hundreds of years now. Of course there is blow back here.

Iran, in looking to defend its own interests has fought regional wars and has always been deeply caught up in the Middle East's religious struggles. Israel has nuclear weapons and their main benefactor, the United States, is the world's dominant power player – nuclear or otherwise. Iran falls on the other side of any strategic discussion with these two countries and is viewed as an enemy in both places. Given this situation, why in the world wouldn't Iran want to obtain nuclear capabilities? Especially after the world saw what this meant for North Korea upon gaining nuclear capabilities.

Unfortunately, the world we live in is still based on the uncivilizing tenets of self/national-interest, and the use of force to gain advantage for one's interests. Iran has every right to pursue nuclear weapons given these principles (that the West pushes) and the only reason the international powers (specifically the West) feels like it can 'legally' tell Iran what to do on this subject matter is that, for all intents and purposes, the these 'powers' wrote the rules on nuclear arsenals and don't want to see the 'balance of power' change (i.e. they don't want their unbalanced power relationship with another country to actually become more balanced.)

I find this logic absurd when looking at the world as a whole and not from the viewpoint of one actor. Yes, I understand that the world is a 'dangerous' place, but this is of its own historical making and can be lessened by its own making. The world today is predominantly 'run' (politically that is) by the five victors of World War II. I mean just think about this. How is it ever possible to think that the world's governance can be set up to include all and function, when only one side is represented? Granted the system has functioned very well at times as those victors fell out of favor and into two distinct camps that had their own cold war. But seriously, this is no way to govern a world, especially now that those two camps are not so far apart as they once were – and are economically coming closer and closer to the point where they are wholly dependent upon each other.

Iran is a part of the international community and has tried to maintain a relationship within it. But this community is not set up for a country like Iran to succeed – at least not along its own lines, only those set out in Western principles and goals. Iran wants to protect itself and its own interests (this is also the fundamental ideological tenet of the Western countries and their peoples, and very much a Western concept as per its institutions). Iran – given its adversarial position with other major players in the region and world – should be pursuing an alteration in the balance of power currently held, and should be seeking for a more assertive voice. This focus on the self is a profoundly Western concept – Liberalism, Civil liberties, Democracy, Human Rights, Private property, Free-markets, etc. – are all admirable concepts pushing for individual liberty, yet seemingly only when these 'liberties' fall into line with Western principles. A state or foreign culture looking to its own independently originated interests and maintenance of power (what the West is trying to teach it to do) is not allowed. Iran can profoundly do this by gaining nuclear capabilities. This gain will give it voice and power far sooner than 'economic development' ever could. Currently, the US, Israel, and others in the region are in a position to bully Iran. The US in general is in a position of bully throughout the world. I for one, would like to see this power held further in check. Given the norms found in today's world, I'd like to see Iran and other non-western oriented states gain nuclear capabilities, strictly so the US and other uncivilized actors in the world can not bully those that do not share their cultural, economic, and political views.

I do not believe that nuclear weapons are something that will actually ever be used by states again. Iran – and specifically its leaders – will know full well that if they used these weapons that it would be suicide for themselves. And yes, some entities throughout the world do not see this martyrdom as a problem. But I fail to see how a state actor could possibly use the weapon as anything but leverage and an attempt to readjust the balance of power it has with the world. Even if used, a lesson learned we would have. To take others seriously, treat them with respect, and not think that they could or should be bullied. People like Osama bin Laden are reactionaries. They are defending their cultural and ideological views (just as Americans and others do). Terrorism is a term used by those in power to demean the point and means of their adversaries. Yet these people, are no different than America's revolutionary war heroes. They are fighting for their freedom and independence. Would you want a Saudi Arabian military base in Maryland? Americans don't even want maximum security prisons that house 'terrorists' in relative vicinity to themselves, never mind a foreign military base from an ideologically different country with ulterior motives close by. We must show respect to the world and its ideals in order to function amicably within it. And by this I do not mean in verbiage, but in fundamental goals and systemic desires. The current capitalist regime's focus on growth and expansion does not allow for this respect. The goal is to gain scarce resources for our own (or companies, or nations) immediate reward, not to live respectfully and cooperatively with others or for another's development.

Actually, if you really want to know my true ideological view on it all, we should all just get rid of nuclear weapons entirely, US, Russia, everyone. But unfortunately that is not realistic. So I figure that perhaps a true balance of power is more apt to help the world. If more states have nuclear weapons, the world will be playing on a more equal playing field, and it will be less likely that someone will use them for fear of their own demise. Perhaps it is far fetched given the more of some thing there is the more likely it could be used – as is seen with guns. But this is on a different scale, a riffle and a nuclear warhead are of different levels. And while it would be nice to take away all of these means of easy death, some are more influential on a mass population and political level than others. Given the world's political, economic, cultural, and military power situations, right now all I see is the bully trying to tell the bullied that the bullied can not do what the bully does out of fear that the bully will no longer be able to bully. This is a simple power trip saying “I can do this, but you can't, and because I said so.”  The worst thing to me about it all, is that the general populaces of these 'democracies' do not recognize the absurd logic in this line of thought, and simply condone this bullying behavior because that is the message presented to and ingrained within them. Despite that being bullied is not OK on the playground that one's child plays on (where a bruised eye/ego and lost lunch money are about as tough as it gets), but it is ok on the world's geo-political landscape where economic dearth, political isolation, and war tend to be ready outcomes of bullying behavior. Billions of people in the world, and we're only concerned about and/or allow ourselves to identify with the few that live near us or share cultural similarities. Think people, don't listen, think.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Development as a concept is interesting. The general implication in its usage today is usually either in terms of something happening – 'a development' – or in a more positive sense of something growing, expanding, or 'becoming better'. The usage of the word as generally seen in economic, social, and political terms in regards to the 'developing' world is generally the later: that they are 'developing', i.e. growing, expanding, or 'getting better'. This concept rests on some pretty large assumptions, and not much more profound than: that the area to be developed is in 'need' of, or desires to become, something else – something deemed 'bigger', 'better', or the like.
This is in fact tricky though, as in order to be something 'else', whether more developed or not, the 'thing' must first be either envisioned or influenced by another entity and then evolve to another stage or position. As 'the status quo' is followed, there is generally little but standard, small scale intermittent change that slowly and sporadically builds upon itself. However, upon a distinct external actor with different information influencing the original object, change then becomes a visible option and thus can be envisioned as an end game. The general developmental evolution of small scale change is generally on a step by step basis that is slowly evolving and envisioned by local actors throughout each step. In the situation where a new external actor enters the fray, there is no longer a simple step by step scenario, but rather an vision of an end result further ahead, but no real distinct path from A to B.
In the sense of colonial development, entity A is a local African social institution, object B becomes the life style and material goods of the European. The African's can not easily see what it took to make B, they can not see the step by step directions as they happened, they can only speculate through their own eyes as to what happened or to take the word or direction from the Europeans that introduced the concept of 'B' to their own preexisting world. Both of these situations have substantial shortcomings. In using their own indigenous speculation ideas like Cargo Cults come to the fore. Local populations then end up trying to 'reinvent the wheel.' However, it is not a simple reinvention, as they are doing it without the stone or wood used prior. In listening to the European path of development, they are subject to the selective memory of the Europeans' developmental existence and subconscious interpretation of the current self-interest of both man and country. The history of 'development' in Africa is a direct by-product of this 'missing link' developmental pathway.
It has still been asserted though in some academic circles that a period of colonial rule is a 'necessary precondition' for the emergence of modern and technologically advancing states from precolonial Africa and Asia.1 This line of thought was pronounced as justification for the implementation of a well thought out and adhered to practice that started as colonialism and then transformed into what we now call 'development'. The problem with this line of practice is that it is technically flawed, not only along the lines directly discussed above, but it also fundamentally begs the question as to where did the European colonizers come from? If they managed to develop without the need of an overlord's expertise, what makes their developmental pathway so culturally different from those on other continents? If they developed naturally, why couldn't other areas? This brings us directly back to the concept on another external entity forcing change, and skewing the pathway to the final outcome. Agneta Pallinder-Law brings attention to several cases where it has been argued that the adoption of some elements of western technology were present before colonization – independent of European rule – and that ‘modernization was in many cases frustrated rather than accelerated by the European conquest.' (Pallinder-Law, P. 65).
If this line of thought is in fact the case, is the generic model of 'modernizing' that the West has been applying – first as colonialism and in current day as development – in the 'less developed' areas of the world more an imperialist agenda than anything else? A fictitious road map to 'modernity' that administrators may not even realize is fallacy? Even the best of intentions – if that is in fact what they are – can go wrong. In fact, the system that has created the West, and the system that the West now lives in and seems to believe is the harbinger of 'development' and 'success' in life, has produced a people and system that is based on self-interest – whether personal, regional, national or otherwise. This system, as it consumes its own resources, sees the 'development' of other areas of the world as paramount to its own self-interests and success. The fact that the West has things that to the touch (in the productive aspects of life) and in a military sense seem more useful and powerful than another cultures 'stuff', produces a self-arrogance and belief in ones own system that 'justifies' the expansion of this system over others in the eyes of the originator and expander. They see themselves as 'civilizing' the others, but in fact they are merely changing them into something more similar and comforting, something more like there own 'civilization'.
It is in fact this self-interested motivation that creates a system that is based upon competition rather cooperation. Competition can not exist without a hierarchical structure based on status and power that does not seem to be able to willfully be changed from the top down. The developed countries will not wholly welcome the equality of the ‘lower’ raising to the level of the ‘higher’. Some countries – mostly democracies lead by a small swell of ‘concerned voters’ that bring the plight of the less advantaged to light – will attempt to put forth development programs that speak of helping the less developed world. But in reality, whether a few individuals want to or not, the country's policies don't end up really looking to raise these countries to the highest levels given political and democratic compromise. Whether they say they do or not, intrinsically – conscious or not – they are motivated by self-interest. The countries end up more importantly looking to accumulate the means of production in ownership terms and then to create a group of countries with a strong set of middle managers that can help with the extraction and route to market of the rich amount of resources in said countries. It is not about equality, it is about accumulation by dispossession, whether they consciously believe it or not.
Some of the ramifications of this line of thought are succinctly discussed by Arturo Escobar in Encountering Development as he expands upon the competitive aspects of the system in stating that “The system that generates conflict and instability and the system that generates underdevelopment are intricately bound.” (Escobar, P. 34) Escobar believes that “massive poverty in the modern sense appeared only when the spread of the market economy broke down community ties and deprived millions of people from access to land, water, and other resources. With the consolidation of capitalism, systemic pauperization became inevitable.” (Escobar, P. 22)
Capitalism does not allow anything else on a motivational and systemic level. There are of course always outliers that will try to generally do alternative things (i.e. best intentioned developmental concepts), but on the whole, the system rewards and thus produces self-interested actors (individual, state, or otherwise) that will put their own situations ahead of others even if it appears otherwise as they do what looks to be good-natured developmental work. Profit maximization – ‘I’ll save lives if I can profit from it’.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Soul as Competitor

Competition is an interesting and often unchallenged foundation of western society. In America it is the unfettered absolute of social interaction – espoused as the way to move and motivate individuals to make themselves better, and to provide society with social and economic growth. In Europe it seems to take a softer tone, finding verbiage in business and ‘right-of-center’ political circles, and has only been a part of the vanguard since the privatizing 80’s. I myself – having been raised stoutly within an ultra-competitive athletics atmosphere – was once called ‘the most competitive person’ my coach had ever seen (and he’d coached several world class athletes). This motivation has begotten me a great deal of what I am in life, yet today I find myself at war within myself over this drive and determination. After all, competition by another name is the drive to be better or best – the unquenchable thirst for self satisfaction in relation to others; or better termed as the drive to make someone, or everyone, worse than you – inferior to yourself. Do I really want everyone else to be worse than me?

Society today rewards the ‘winners’ and puts more pressure on the ‘losers’ (See the movie Bigger Stronger Faster), as our present day society – capitalist society – is at its core based solely on the ‘individual’ as the primary actor and motivator. But this motivating force in-turn puts the individual at odds with their surroundings and all others inhabiting them. Competition has innocuously seeped into all realms of society. It starts to get indoctrinated into us as culture with youth sports and gold stars in school classrooms, then with placement in schools, athletics, and status groups; upon which it is finally realized in the jobs, material items, and money of our adulthood. Capitalist society is based upon this competition between wage-laborers, and it relies upon the reserve (unemployed) labor pool to always have another person to fill your post unless you are ‘better’ than them (or they are ‘worse’ than you).

Most people in Anglo-American society are ok with the above concept; after all, if you work hard you can achieve anything, right? But look at the world around us. And no, not just the one outside your country’s borders (often personified as being lead by 'barbarians, heathens, and other distasteful interlopers') but the one within our borders. The poor, the disparate, the crime, gang violence, school shootings… the list goes on for days. Western society is not healthy, and it is tough to justify promoting a sickly model to other parts of the world especially while selling it off as idyllic. The current system is not fundamentally based upon ‘success’, but upon competing amongst our selves, our groups, and our countries – competition that easily turns conflictual, and is never ‘successful’.

Put two individuals (solely focused on themselves) into a vacuum with one plate of food, and they will compete over said plate as within this scenario it is their sole motive to think of their own self and survival. If their mindsets are night and day, self versus group, they will come into conflict as it is me v. you. Only within a cooperatively motivated environment can this situation not actually come to conflict, as the option to share would now be a possibility as they could think about more than themselves. You may of course then say, yes but we don’t live in a vacuum there are so many other societal factors that come into play: altruism, compassion, charity, even negotiation and compromise. Of course, but if at our core – in our soul – our intrinsic motivations focus on the self, opening the door for conflict, then it is a paramount need for society to counteract this competition and subsequent conflict. This is specifically why it is of the utmost importance to create/live in a society that minimizes these singular self motivations. This is not to say that human nature is negative or ‘evil’, but that as we see society today it leads to competitive conflict (if man is a ‘social being’ then it is in his/her nature to compromise the space around themselves in order to share it with others). To create a systemic social, economic, and cultural setting that decreases the chances of competition, thus decreasing conflict, should be our goal – not to expand the institutionalization of individualized competitive scenarios that pervade Western society to other areas of the world.

Think of it like this: today’s society idolizes selfless acts (‘taking one for the team’, taking the bullet for another, accepting responsibility for another’s failure, etc.), yet at the same time society does not ‘set itself up’ to actually facilitate or reproduce these acts, never mind to truly or tangibly reward them, either literally or from within its systemic infrastructure. Singular rewards chosen from 6.5 billion people like the Nobel peace prize are not given to the ‘average’ person. ‘Regular’ people don’t think about this award past a fleeting glance, never mind receive it, and the selfless person that takes individual responsibility for a group’s failure is often ‘fired’ from their job. It is sad, but despite the rhetoric, the ideals and principles of ‘the self-less wo/man’ are but festering and decayed road kill resting under capitalism’s bus…

We can do better.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Ritual of Reality...

It is interesting to think about old debates about the importance of ‘rituals’ and about their usage today. In Ancient Chinese thinking there was a debate between two main competing ideologies of the day, Mohism and Confucianism. Confucianism was based primarily on rituals – that a ritualistic relationships and practices in everyday life were used/needed to stabilize and form society into a moralistic and virtuous place based on these customary norms and obedience to them. Mohism was against the great use of rituals in daily life and focused more on self-reflection and ‘authenticity’ rather than ‘obedience to ritual’. He believed that by ‘reflecting on one's own successes and failures, one attains true self-knowledge rather than mere conformity with ritual.’ With this, he seems to believe that spending our time following social norms – as we are ‘supposed’ to do – does not allow us too truly focus on our selves and the true lessons and moments of that self.

I agree with this concept. Today’s society is wholly ingrained within following these ‘social actions/distractions’ that have now become ingrained in our cultures. Firstly though I should say that when I mean rituals (i.e. ways of structuring society’s norms), I really mean two things: one is ‘things’ to keep our lives’ ‘patterns’ – to basically control us – and secondly, things to distract us from our daily existences. Realistically they are both symbiotic as our norms become coping mechanisms to distract us from the daily ‘crap’ we feel.

Today’s rituals as I see it are things like birthday’s, holidays such as father/mother’s day, valentine’s day, etc, social outings, drinking, smoking, escaping, etc. I mean things that take us away from the self-‘reality’ that we exist in everyday. Throughout the world’s history – regardless of the system – human beings have seemingly always been trying to find ways to increase happiness and ‘feel’ good. What is a birthday, but a ‘reason’ to celebrate? But what reason does/should one need? If ‘everyday’ is a celebration then why do you need an excuse? The problem with today is that most people are living a life that is not fulfilling to them. They are looking for escapes – distractions. Birthday’s are a celebration of another year of existence – like this milestone means something different today than yesterday, like your life is any different from the previous day based simply on the passing of this ‘day’. Yet we follow these rituals religiously. They are things to make us believe that what we see today is not actually today, but a moment away from today, away from the today that we are mostly not fulfilled with.

Rituals designed (fictitiously) to keep us ‘in-line’ or used as a distraction or subconscious controlling mechanisms that keep us from ‘reflecting on our own successes and failures,’ and ‘attaining true self-knowledge’. It is this ‘true self-knowledge’ that we should really all be striving for. For in obtaining this is the only way that we can become truly content – or even happy – with our inner selves. If we are happy with ourselves and what we do/are on a daily basis, then why would we need to live for the weekend, the next holiday, or to see another birthday? Happiness comes from within, and if we work to try to find it outside our selves via socially constructed rituals, we will never understand who we are or what our happiness can/will be. Break free of these petty rituals and find happiness in that day, that moment, and that existence.

Our reality becomes these rituals, and our happiness becomes wholly tied to these rituals rather than being tied to ourselves…

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Profitable Motivation

What is profit? Simple definitions need not apply, as in its most fundamental usage today ‘profit’ is simply about motivation. Profit, is the gain of doing something. It is mostly used in financial or business terms today, and is resoundingly the first thing talked about in the business world – maximizing corporate profits to increase shareholder value and the incentive to invest in a company. But within that motivation is something more, this ‘profit’ is actually taking the focus away from the product, and putting it on the outcome of the exchange of the product. This extra incentive for investors actually adds another outlay into the end cost of a good to the consumer. Yes of course this could be said in some ways to make the entire production process more efficient, in terms of capital usage and access to efficient financial investment, but on the whole, that is again about finding stimulation for investment – i.e. motivation. In turn, ‘profit’, or the reward of investing in something, is simply a/the motivational factor to partake in it. But this ‘incentive’ requires the generation and distribution of a ‘return’ which then actually increases the amount of the good at sale.

Today’s businesses are primed firstly with maximizing profit and providing a service only so well as that it provides the greatest profit for investors/owners. The product is not the prime goal, it is the money made from the product. And in turn, this type of motivational factor increases the cost to the consumer, while not providing the greatest level of service. Of course capitalist competition keeps costs down, but what if these products could be generated at a higher quality and sold without the need to generate any profit? Relatively cheaper consumer goods, which are wholly focused on the consumer’s usage, would of course be the outcome.

This post is however not about finding ways to decrease prices or increase product quality in the current world we live in, but of course to try to generate discussion about alternative ideas/systems moving forward. So in essence, this post is about motivation within the current system. If money/profit is the most prevalent institutionalized motivational factor – yet it comes at a cost to efficiency, a cost in the level of service, and in its social outcome, then why are we not seeking an alternative motivational factor for investment? If profit is what makes people invest in business – yet it decreases service level – then why don’t we look for a motivational factor that puts the service provided first?

Obviously, the average person reading this is thinking wholly within their most probably capitalist upbringing and claiming impossibility, etc. etc. etc. But think about it logically, motivation is motivation. It does not matter what form it comes in – money, emotions, compassion, coercion, etc. – the outcomes are the same: something gets done. In tribal systems social stature was a huge motivational factor, in communist social scenarios the ‘employee of the month’ concept could be the most resounding force in motivation at work, feeding one’s family, gaining the acceptance of one’s self by another, etc. Power, ability, money, kindness, these are all motivational tools. So how is it then that we can create a new system where we have a ‘desirable motivational force’ that does not adversely affect consumers, society, interests in investment, etc? What could motivate you? But not the ‘you’ that you are today – produced within the confines of the social reality only seen today – but the ‘you’ that you would like to be in the society that ‘you’ would like to live in yet prior to today may not have existed outside your subconscious?

Who do you want to be? I.e. what do you want to be your motivation?