Wednesday, February 15, 2017

On Being Right

"Give me an opinion you hold that you believe to be false." I submit that you cannot meet this challenge, at least for any non-trivial opinion (e.g. something that isn't just a cute-but-vacuous logical trick).

The last resort of someone who has no argument is, in some cases, the old saw, "Well, you don't know everything." A particularly pernicious variant of this is "Well, everyone else thinks you're wrong. What, you think you see farther than everyone else?" What a lovely way to squash an unpopular opinion. Of course - if you have an unpopular opinion, you must be wrong, because otherwise you'd be egotistical. No, I don't get it either.

But that's the ultimate problem with these arguments - we all think we're right. You can say "Well, that's why I just give up on it. I don't know if I'm right." But in truth, you're just copping out. You're just giving up for fear of being wrong. What's more, that argument is dishonest - you do believe you're right. You're just coyly refusing to admit it.

Here's a novel idea: stop being afraid of being wrong, and go ahead and push for the truth. What else will you do? Waste away in meaninglessness because "It doesn't matter, maaaan."? No - that makes you miserable, and you know it. Take up the truth that you can live.

Lost Souls

Looking around at my friend group and the people I went to high school with, I can hear that God-awful song "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" playing in my head. We're a bunch of guys who could have done something with our lives, but never did. A few succeeded - one of the guys I knew is now a software engineer working for Google, and thus makes a lot of money, although I don't know if he's really happy with his life because I don't know him that well. But many of us seem to have simply given up. I know a guy who has only two or three credits left to finish his degree, and who talks about doing so but never does - why? I myself tried for many years to finish my degree, but never did. And this is a characteristic of my generation as a whole, not just my friend group. I know that people like graphs and statistics, so here's some statistical evidence that I'm telling you the truth.

I don't live with my parents, but I do have a low-paying job and no social status. Partially, this is because I don't care so much about money and status, although financial security is nice. But it's also because I, like many of the people I know, simply couldn't feel the motivation to do this stuff. We're lazy, because we don't see any point in accomplishment. Why would we try to make more money and do "great things?" We know that being a cubicle-dwelling mid-level cog isn't going to be any more fulfilling than factory work or warehouse labor or working at Wal-Mart, so we largely don't bother trying. We look at our parents' generation and see the quiet desperation and confusion, and realize that doing what our parents did is not going to make life any better. Easier, perhaps, but not better.

There are other factors too, of course. We know that getting a degree doesn't do you much good, so many of us just haven't bothered. We know that the economy sucks and that the hot job we land today will probably be outsourced or automated next year. Most of all, we know that all the things that our parents told us to pursue are things that made them miserable, and we're not sure what to do about that.

We're a culmination of the sickness of modern times, and we're not doing anything because, as far as we can see, there's nothing worth doing.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Misanthropy, pt. 3 - The Working World

One thing I often heard as a child and a teenager was that I was naive because I had never held a job. I grant that this is true, but the wrong reasons were given for it. The adults around me always told me that I'd understand the world better when I "worked hard" and "payed bills." Well, I am now an adult myself, and I pay bills, but that's not why I'm more worldly wise than I was as a teenager. Nor is "working hard" - I have made a living wage working several different jobs, and while working overtime is unpleasant, it's not because the jobs were particularly difficult (one or two were physically taxing). Most of the people I know who work in similar vocations to mine (manufacturing) make a lot of noise about their "hard work," as if making the same set of motions over and over again while operating a machine is somehow challenging. It's not.

No, the worldly wisdom I gained was not from "working hard" or "payin' muh bills" or any such thing. The worldly wisdom I gained came from interacting with people in the working world and seeing how self-serving and broken the culture and environment and people are. You can be a nice guy outside your job, but you had better be wise as a serpent if you want to keep getting paychecks. You have to operate under the assumption that everyone around you will stab you in the back at a moment's notice, not because they will, but because enough of them will that you have to compensate by keeping your guard up all the time. You can't work too hard, or you'll raise expectations and have to work that hard all the time - for the same pay, of course. You can't follow all of the rules, because some of them are there to protect the people who own the company, and you can't really follow them and still do your job satisfactorily. You can only trust the people around you to the same extent that you are sure your loss isn't their gain, and even then you have to sift out the sociopaths and bullies. Naive notions about extra effort being rewarded will not help you. What will help you is the principle that your value to your bosses is in making them look good to their bosses, regardless of your ability to make money for the company.

Of course, people cover all of this up with a lot of dishonest talk about "hard work" and "responsibility" and "being a productive member of society" that rides the line between euphemistic and delusional. It's just one more illusory opiate that modern man uses to dull the pain, a pain which he has learned to accept as intrinsic to his existence. Would-be revolutionaries will tell you that it is all in service of the bourgeoisie or the ruling class, but the fact is that this wasn't intentionally set up to make you miserable by some secret cabal. The ruling class leads an extravagant life that is nonetheless as empty as yours. Nor is this meanness and dysfunction intrinsic to human life. It's intrinsic to modern life, because of how modernity works.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Misanthropy, pt. 2

Many years ago, I worked 2nd shift as a security guard at a hospital. At one point while I was working at this job, I asked a lady who was also working 2nd shift if she had seen one of the 1st shifters. I vaguely remember that the 1st shifter in question was someone I needed to talk to for reason of accomplishing some banal administrative task. I asked her, "Have you seen so-and-so?" and her response was, "No, I don't talk to day pukes." By "day pukes," she meant the 1st shifters. For the record, most of the people working at this place were middle-aged.

I remember that, even at the time (I was about 19 at this point), I regarded this reaction with a mixture of exasperation and amusement. Really? "Day pukes?" What, are the people who work 1st shift the kids from the other side of the cul-de-sac who we don't talk to? Do they sit on the other side of the cafeteria at lunch? Are the two different shifts like the gangs from West Side Story and we're all gonna walk toward each other while rhythmically snapping our fingers and have a war? The lady I was speaking to wasn't the only one, of course. This attitude was widespread. But it wasn't just the cliquish behavior that bothered me. It was the fact that the cliques were based on what shift you worked, of all things. It was as if the same instinct that causes people to despise the kids from the high school one county over had simply not been squashed by workplace responsibility or the demands of adult life, and here they were, people still acting out the social roles they learned sitting in Mr. Crabtree's health class in the ninth grade.

This was the first of many times in my life that I encountered the lesson - which I did not take on board at the time - that the vast majority of adults are still quite juvenile. I don't mean "We're all just little children pretending" or "We're all building a boat as we sail it." Those two are at least partially true of everyone, and they're the reason that you have to be patient with the people around you, because the person whose shit you're putting up with is also putting up with your shit. But again, when I say that the vast majority of adults are still quite juvenile, I'm not talking about people still figuring it all out. What I'm saying is that, when you look closely at the people around you, you will quickly come to the conclusion that more than half of them are still acting out childhood and adolescent neuroses. They're not just imperfect people doing the best they can, but are actively malicious, and that professional demeanor is a veneer (in many cases a very thin veneer) disguising a petulant, egocentric little gremlin who likes to watch other people fail. They sabotage those around them, not for their own advancement and gain, but just to make themselves feel better about whatever petty psychological issue drives their behavior.

This is one of the many things that will eventually turn you into a misanthrope if you follow it to its logical conclusion, which is either that our current methods of social organization are profoundly f'ed up, or that people in general have just always been kinda crappy. It gets worse when you realize that both of these are true.

The key is to remember not to be a misanthrope in the dictionary sense, that is, as somebody who hates people in general. Hatred is toxic and weakens you. You can be a misanthrope in the sense that you have a realistic appraisal of human beings, which is misanthropic inasmuch as a realistic appraisal of humans comes out pretty dismal and people will get offended and call you a misanthrope if you just state the plain facts about how people are. Just remember not to let it affect you so much on the emotional level. There's no reason to hate everybody. Just be kind and wary. Especially wary.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Misanthropy

One of the biggest tipoffs to whether or not someone is a cynical jerk, aside from outright jerk-ish behavior, is the fact that they seem to be convinced that everyone else is a cynical jerk. For example, dictionary.com gives three definitions for "cynical," as follows:

1. distrusting or disparaging the motives of others; like or characteristic of a cynic.
 
2. showing contempt for accepted standards of honesty or morality by one's actions, especially by actions that exploit the scruples of others.
 
3. bitterly or sneeringly distrustful, contemptuous, or pessimistic.
 
Granted, these definitions can all be used in isolation from the others, but I think it's telling that the biggest characteristics of cynicism are distrust of others and exploiting others. It leads to a chicken-or-egg question; does the cynic distrust others because he assumes that they're like him, or is he a cynic because he distrusts other people? It can begin either way, but it proceeds in a circle. The trouble is balancing a realistic view of how people work with being kind and seeing people as people, and not climbing up onto a high horse.
 
The solution, as always, is detachment. Go ahead and be sympathetic and kind to everyone you meet, but don't expect too much. In fact, outside of predicting other people's behavior for practical reasons, let go of expectations entirely. They do what they do.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Ancient Wheels

Ancient Wheels


Where carnal eyes cannot discern,
beholden only to the mind,
the Ancient Wheels forever turn,
makerless and undesigned.

Where space dissolves and time is broken,
there gear meets ageless gear.
No hand can touch, nor word is spoken,
nor sound can greet the ear.

What matter, space, and time conceal
is shapeless form and deepest Real
that naked thought alone reveals;
the mind beholds the Ancient Wheels!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

A Meeting

I sit in my armchair. I smoked like a chimney until a it became inevitable, and I keep a shotgun around in case I see signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Things are coming to a head, and I am becoming impatient. I sit there tapping my foot and puffing a pipe. I can feel her coming.
And then, up through the floor, I see her, grinning at me like she’s my oldest friend. Her hair is brown and pulled up in a bun, and her eyes are soft and dark. There's a kindness in them.
“Took you long enough,” I say, blowing out some smoke.
“I’m like Gandalf,” she replies, “Never early or late.”
A few moments’ silence, and then I say, “So, are you gonna go through with it?” She shrugs, and says, “Strictly speaking, you can never - “
“Answer the question,” I snap.
She sighs.
“Yes,” she says, “This is it. Happy with it so far?”
“I suppose,” I reply, “I never quite reached Enlightenment or saw it all click together, although I had some experiences. I never became rich or famous, and I’m not sorry about it. But I’ve waited my whole life for this. I’ve spent my whole life preparing. I’m ready. I’ve been ready for a long time.”
Her smile fades and she nods. She does not move toward me, but produces a pistol from her coat, what looks like a dusty revolver from the 19th century, and points it at me. It won’t tear a hole in my chest. It’s not that kind of bullet.
“I never ask permission,” she says, “but I’ll give you a warning: close your eyes. You’ll feel a tightness in your jaw and some pain in your shoulder. It’ll get much worse for a split second, and then you’re done. I’m warning you because I like you.”
I put down the pipe. No more tough guy act. No more acts at all, now. Truth time. I just close my eyes and breathe deeply.
“I prepared,” I say, “But I couldn't stop for you.” She gets the reference, of course.
“I know,” she says softly, “So I kindly stopped for you.” She’s playing along but she’s being sincere. I hear the click, and then the shot. There’s the pain in my jaw, then my shoulder. I feel something seize up in my chest, and then I’m seeing stars like the time I smacked my head on the pavement in a bike wreck as a kid. That incident flies past me, as does everything else. Everything goes black. I can't tell you what happens next.

Maturity - The "Bob Test"

I liken the process of maturity to waking up from a dream. There have been times when I am dreaming, and I begin to wake up. But I don't want to wake up, so I resist and try to stay in the dream. Note that, while this is happening, I don't realize I'm dreaming. I just know that a change is about to happen, and I don't like it, so I'm trying to stop it.

This gives you one means to acquiring maturity, which is to just let go of things. The problem is that other people can use this to manipulate you; how many political ideologues proselytize by insisting that their opponents are suffering from some kind of psychological deficiency? There is a definite difference between not wanting something purely because you don't want change, and because the thing that you don't want to happen is dangerous, stupid, or wrong. In your personal life, this leads to difficult decisions. For example, I have witnessed, on different occasions, teetotalers being brow-beaten for their refusal to drink. The people around them seemed to think that they were inexperienced or somehow didn't know what they were missing. There was little to no respect for the teetotaler's decision to not do something that most other people did. The problem here is projection; "He doesn't drink? He must think he's better than me. Rather than just accepting it, I'm going to reduce my difference by attacking him for it." The political ideologues mentioned previously would seem to be suffering from something similar.

In any case, there is a definite problem here when it comes to making life-decisions, because it can be hard to tell when you're rationalizing. There are probably many ways around this, but I call mine "The Bob Test." The Bob test works like this: imagine, if you will, a person named Bob, who is exactly like you in every respect and lives much the same life, but isn't you. What advice would you give to Bob? This works because it temporarily lifts you out of your own perspective and lets you look at things more the way an outsider would. You will notice, however, that forcing yourself to do the Bob test is very difficult. It does work, though.