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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.