Monthly Archives: August 2012

RIP, Neil Armstrong.

Neil Armstrong has died at the age of 82.

To shamelessly alter and abridge the contingency speech prepared by William Safire in case Apollo 11 were to fail:

“Fate has ordained that the man who first went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the Earth to rest in peace.

He will be mourned by his families and friends; he will be mourned by his nation; he will be mourned by the people of the world; he will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send her sons into the unknown.

Others have followed, and found their way home. Still others may follow in future, or may follow and fly still further to set foot on other worlds. Humanity’s search will not be denied.

But this man was first, and he will remain the foremost in our hearts.

For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will again be reminded:   that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.”

Ave et Vale.

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Guys, Gals, Grrls, and Other Slang For Women: A Broad Analysis

The Atlantic has this interesting piece by Lily Rothman about the decline of the word “gal” – despite such an analogue to “guy” being more needed now than ever – and the hope of its resurrection.

Personally, I use “guy” as a gender-neutral term all the time – male or female, everyone is equally likely to be “guy,” “dude,” or even “man,” in the “Hey, ___, what’s up?” or “___, look at that!” kinds of ways. (…But not “bro.” Never “bro.”)  Heck, I sometimes use “guys” and “dudes” as placeholder names, in the same sense as “doohickeys” or “whatsits.”  “Hand me one of those little metal guys.” “Put these dudes in the drawer for me?”

I’m sure something could be said about patriarchy there; that this blanket use of masculine terms carries some implicit assumption that all persons are male until proven otherwise, that even all humorously-personified inanimate objects are male by default, or that all things should be male, or something equally ridiculous. Nevermind that the mass-noun substitution could also be seen to objectify males just as much as it masculinizes objects.  But that’s a separate and less interesting discussion.  (As is the discussion that could be had on slang terms for females that are also terms for prostitutes, or for the female genitalia.  It’s self-evident that none of them would be an equivalent to “guy.”)

Regardless, the common current options for females do leave something to be desired. “Girl” does have those connotations of dependence and immaturity. “Woman” isn’t casual enough. And “lady” implies an elegance and sophistication that may not be present or even desirable. A lady is the counterpart of a gentleman; to presume that female-shaped-and-or-identifying humans are somehow classier, more refined, or have more genteel sensibilities than males is just a different sort of stereotype. Also, something is fundamentally jarring about a sentence like “Two shirtless guys are punching each other in the alley next to the dumpster, and there’s a lady hitting one of them with a shoe.”

I know where Rothman is coming from, but etymologically, “gal” just comes from “girl,” which makes it feel like a somewhat insufficient substitution.  It also doesn’t seem to be quite as neutral – there’s a sort of fun-loving, inherently-friendly connotation there.  “Gal pals.” Buffalo Gals, dancing by the light of the moon.  Something almost sounds contradictory about an “angry gal” or a “dour gal.” It might just be the vintage nature of the term, but I only ever think of a gal as a perpetually smiling 1940s-era woman, staring off the page of an advertisement.

Despite the musical’s suggestion, “dolls” is not a suitable counterpart for “guys,” either. A doll is a toy, a passive object that exists to be played with by others — and, moreover, one whose purpose usually falls into one of two types: infants to be nurtured, and disproportionate fashion models. In both, the doll is an object of the player’s actions, rather than a protagonist in its own right.  But if I had to be one or the other, I’d rather be called a “girl” than a “doll;” girls are at least sentient.

“Babe,” taken literally, is even more infantilizing than “girl,” though still less objectifying than “doll.”  Even after a near-century of use, it’s still a little strange that a word for babies is also used to describe sexually attractive women.  What constitutes “attractiveness” is always subject for debate, but this still makes it far too specific to be an analogue of “guy.”  You can be an ugly guy; you can’t be an ugly babe.

“Chick” is slightly better than the previous options, but still iffy. It has a lighthearted and somewhat lightheaded association, even an affiliation with commercialism, which I think comes more from its other formations – chick lit, chick flick. Chicks hang out at malls until dudes pick them up in cars that are total chick magnets.  Chicks don’t go to the library.  Chicks go to the bar – and they never have to buy their own drinks.

I’ve never quite been sure if the British slang “bird” had the same, er, flighty connotations of “chick.” But since it’s never yet caught on in the States – and since both it and “chick” might, to the pedant, be too dehumanizing – it doesn’t seem particularly viable, either.

Anything spelled wrong is right out – that means you, “gurl.”  “Girl” is bad enough; spelling it wrong and implying lazy typing or outright illiteracy is not making it the least bit better. And “grrl” only wants me to give the user a REASON to be incapable of pronouncing vowels.  It might – might – have a small window of utility for females aged anywhere from 13 to 17 or so, but it lacks credibility even for them. It’s trying to be meaningful and distinctive and tough, but only comes across as cutesy and a little desperate, the very opposite of the independent attitude it’s trying to convey.

So too with “womyn.”  The Old English “man” at the root of both “men” and “women” was basically a synonym of “one” or “anyone,” with no connotations of gender in the first place; knowing that etymology, stripping away the “man” and keeping the “wo-” seems to be missing the point.  Going back to wer-man and wyf-man for males and females would be pretty nifty, as it would acknowledge two main groups and leave “man” itself open for the gender-neutral – but it wouldn’t exactly be casual.  Politically-driven language rarely is.

“Skirt,” on the other hand, goes way too far in the opposite direction; it can stay in the old detective fiction, if you ask me. It just describes a whole person (or gender of persons, in fact,) by a single garment.  Females have been rocking the bifurcated trousers for long enough now that “skirt” is rarely even an accurate description of one’s clothing, anyway.  Given the rough timeframe when both began falling out of favor, we can go back to calling girls “skirts” when we can accurately call guys “suspenders.”

“Dame” also has that wonderful old-fashioned flair to it.  It’s a strange hybrid of high and low class.  A dame is the equal of a knight, a status of even higher import than a lady! And as such, it has the same sorts of assumptions, at face value.  Elegance, nobility, poise, grace, and all that jazz.  Used as the slang term, though, it’s much more low-down and streetwise, to the point of mild offensiveness.  I’m not sure what made it become offensive, originally – if there was an element of sarcasm, or if it was just the fact that it was a common slang term for women from a time when being a woman was seen as inferior.  These connotations don’t seem to balance each other out as much as they trip each other up.

Even more obscure, and more purely low-down, would be “moll.” The gun moll is already the counterpart to the wise guy, when it comes to 30s-era gangster slang.  But that’s a little too much inherent criminality for “moll” alone to be a useful all-purpose analogue for “guy.”  There’s also an implication of codependence – the gun moll is a partner to, or supporter of, the gangster, not quite someone who operates on her own.  No dice.

I love the word “broad” though. I can’t quite explain why. It’s similarly vintage, and even if it’s supposed to be pejorative, it’s still a great sounding word. I don’t know where it came from – broad hips, maybe?  If so, cool; nice to imply that being more than 16 inches in diameter is okay again.  That wouldn’t make too much sense, either – males tend to be broad in the chest and broad in the shoulders, so it doesn’t sound like it could be a physical term at all. Even if it was originally an invective, or at least meant to be demeaning, it doesn’t specify anything about attitude or appearance, and it therefore has… well, broader applications.  You can’t be an ugly babe, but you can be a classy broad.  Or a smart broad.  Or a strong broad, though that sounds like Rule 63 for Strong Bad. It isn’t inherently youthful, and it isn’t matronly. (Though you can be an old broad, which is rather more casual than being an old woman or an old lady, and less oxymoronic than an old girl – or an old gal, for that matter.)   Even acknowledging its history as an insult, people are trying to reclaim “bitch” as an empowering term, and that’s an outright swear!  It’s a direct insult against a person, whereas “broad” is, if anything, vaguely dismissive – and even then, not half as disdainful as “toots.”  “Broad” is less harsh and less cruel than “bitch,” which might mean it has less need to be defused and reclaimed – but it also might mean it would have more (and more meaningful) success.

To seek to ennoble the word “bitch” can be misconstrued for a celebration of “bitchiness” itself.  The very point may be that the traits that constitute unacceptable “bitchiness” in a woman are often the same traits that constitute laudable boldness in a man, but the term is much more often used to describe regular old rudeness, viciousness, and self-entitlement – sneering, snarling, and snootiness. The absurdity of the idea that women should deserve a separate word for their rudeness than men is a fair counterpoint; women certainly don’t have a monopoly on such attitudes — but I’ve rarely heard “asshole,” “pig,” or even “jerk” ascribed to a female, and for men to try to reclaim any of those words would be somewhat similarly weird. This isn’t true for “broad,” however.  A reclamation of “broad” can’t be seen as an attempt to celebrate the unpalatable behaviors or attitudes it’s used to describe, because “broad” isn’t descriptive.

At least, not in that sense.

Used more generally, “broad” is rarely a negative adjective.  It’s good to to be broad-minded, to have broad knowledge, to be unrestrained. To be broad is to be open, expansive, and it can describe both someone who has explored and the expanse of the places or concepts she’s been exploring.  To be broad is to be rife with possibilities. To be broad is to inherently defy being belittled or overlooked or disregarded; to defy being pigeonholed. It is to not only be there, but to take up just as much space as you damn well please, and to contain as much as you damn well like within yourself.  If something is broad,  with broad implications, in broad daylight, and you still can not or will not see it, everyone knows it’s because you just aren’t looking.

Broadly speaking, I think it’s a pretty good option.

But what do you guys think?

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Your Daily Rage: Senate Nominee Says RAPE-rape Doesn’t Cause Pregnancy; “Journalist” Is Fine With That

Rep. Todd Akin seems to be ever so slightly misinformed.  As stated in this interview with the Jaco Report, he seems to believe that rape cannot result in pregnancy.  Rather, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

But, y’know, I think he’s really going somewhere with this “legitimate” distinction. Bodies apparently know the intent behind various kinds of physical trauma, and react differently depending on that context. Did someone try to slit your throat? Well, if it were a LEGITIMATE throat-slitting, your body has ways of clotting the blood and shutting that whole thing down! If you find yourself bleeding out after your throat’s been cut, well, there’s just something wrong with you then. You must have wanted them to do it.

You may have just been sliced ear to ear by a stranger, a jealous lover, or a drunk friend; who did it and how is vital to determining whether they actually slashed you, or if you just FEEL like they slashed you. Some kinds of throat-slitting are just more real than others. For instance, it’s a legitimate throat-slashing if a knife-wielding stranger jumps out of a bush as you walk home. But were you asleep, or drunk, or even slightly intoxicated, and when you came to, you were bleeding profusely from the neck? Or maybe you only found the scars a while later? Well, you might have been “slashed,” but you probably weren’t SLASH-slashed.

It’s also important to know how much you fought back. Were you so scared of the knife-wielding aggressor making threats against your body that you froze and couldn’t run away? Did you think trying to fight would only make them cut you even worse? Did you forget to say “NO” in a loud clear voice, so that they would know you didn’t agree to have your throat cut? Well, maybe he was just following his natural instincts.

Needless to say, it’s a completely illegitimate throat-cutting if you went out wearing a low-cut top: a thick wool turtleneck would’ve protected your neck much better! You think you can just show off your soft, fleshy neck in public, or even in private with a friend you thought you knew, without inviting exactly this kind of thing? You should have known better, and the fact that you’re bleeding out right now is proof that you actually wanted this to happen. Your body would have defended against it otherwise. It’s science. I understand it from doctors.

So, don’t try to make everyone else pay for your bad deisions! Cover your necks, say NO, and just remember: if you didn’t want this to happen to you, your body would have kept it from happening. That’s more than reason enough to limit the kinds of medical choices you should have available.

…Oh wait – you mean he misspoke?  He was able to make a complex statement and try to justify it as being information he got from doctors, but it was all just a slip of the tongue?  Somehow, that sounds like a very difficult flub to make.

So here’s the compromise:  either he didn’t know it was wrong when he said it, which displays a staggering and abhorrent level of scientific illiteracy as well as failings in fundamental human empathy… or he knew it was wrong and said it anyway, which is a little thing we like to call a “lie.”

It wasn’t misspoken.  He didn’t leave out a “not,” or confuse a subject and an object, or make any error in his manner of speaking.  The error was in the content of what he said, and in what he thought.  He could have said he learned something today.  He could have embraced the chance to move forward with a better understanding.  But no, it’s easier to simply brush it off as a simple little flub, that he misspoke, that everyone should have understood what he meant.

The only thing that isn’t legitimate here is his apology.

Oh – and the interviewer’s journalistic integrity.

“Mmhmm.  Okay, let’s go on to the economy.”   Let’s not, Jaco.  Let’s take the opportunity to teach something, instead.


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Other People’s Words: Sam Biddle Hates Everything

(Fair warning: this is not just a rant, but one of those high-powered caffeinated 3:00am-and-onward rants that I may not even remember clearly in the morning in the mid-afternoon.)

Gizmodo contributor Sam Biddle has the following insights to share in his article, “It’s OK To Be A Hater Because Everything Is Bad.”

The opening salvo:

Almost everything is bad. Usually, really bad, and not even bad in an interesting way. Tech is no exception—if anything, tech might be the worst of the bad. The Internet? Gross. The people who use it? Ugh. And it’s fine to hate it all.

The final blow:

It’ll go on like this forever, because people will never change, but technology will only get faster. Well, we might change, in that technology is turning us into ever-stupider, ever-strunger-outer attention anorexics with a thirst for nothing but meme gristle and Internet lists. Before we implode from the psychological strain strains of saying, doing, making, buying, sharing, and generally slathering about the worst ideas and products in the history of humanity, let’s all agree that it’s OK to whine. It’s OK to say that things are terrible, because they are. It’s OK. It’s true and it’s OK. Try it with me. Try it with me and then go to hell, because you’ll probably share a Scumbag Steve pic later today.

In between, he rails against various material goods and kinds of people who buy such material goods and such peoples’ focus on popularity and, somehow, on Internet culture.  The Internet is gross and ugh and bad?  And how, Sam Biddle, staff writer at!  And how.

But I can’t say it’s an unfamiliar sentiment.

I remember being a kid and seeing how my parents never seemed to enjoy anything, or have fun with anything. And how I wasn’t supposed to enjoy things either, because none of the fun stuff was necessary. They got by without it. So I could, too — whether I liked it or not. (And no sir, I didn’t like it, and grew to cope with being a perpetual alien to my own peers  – not by embracing my own unique qualities, but by resigning myself to the futility and giving up on social acceptance. But that’s another story.)

I remember being a disaffected and misanthropic “tween” and teen, who wanted to believe everyone else was stupid or inferior somehow.  All those normals with their Abercrombie shirts and their iPods and camera phones and their low-cut flares.  What sellouts, what dupes. Despite my virtually nonexistent self-esteem, I still at least wished I were better than them.  In times of more clarity, I just wished that the preponderance of people valued the same kinds of things I did – things like “preponderance” and other cool vocabulary words, for instance – and would value me as a human being to some degree as a result.

All throughout childhood and high school, I remember telling myself that I wouldn’t be like that when I grew up. I’d know how to have fun, and wouldn’t hate myself for doing, wearing, or buying something unnecessary sometimes, if it were still a useful thing that I thought I could enjoy for a long time.  I told myself that I wouldn’t be content with being bored and dismissive of the world around me. That I wouldn’t have a knee-jerk contempt for novelty. That I would know how to separate “squandering” from  “frivolity” from “mostly practical, but also fun,” instead of lumping them all into the same category and turning my back on it all.  I thought there was always something of value, something to think about, something to learn, from everything in our culture.  Maybe I only started to think that because I was seeing it all from the outside, or because I had to maximize the value of whatever pop-cultural fragments I had access to.

But I knew this much: I didn’t want to grow up to hate everything all the time. I hated everything and everyone already. How could I let that same miserabilism, that same stoicism, that same ennui run my life when I was finally an adult, free from the peer-pressure pressure cooker of school life, and finally free and independent enough to make my own choices?

Why would I want to?

Who would want to live with this much bitterness and contempt in them?

I don’t know what the author’s damage is, but it must be something. There could have been a whole article here that said something meaningful about critical thinking skills, about arguments from popularity and arguments from authority, about the apotheosis of the ignorant and the cultural concept of idiocy as freedom.

Instead it sounds like a sad old man shaking his cane at these young whippersnappers and their headphones, and all these newfangled iPads. Back in his day, ain’t nobody needed any iPads. They used a desktop PC and didn’t move their bodies for ten hours a day or walk on the grass but twice. and, by gum, they liked it. It’s not making any argument for why these things, or more accurately these people, or far more accurately these thought processes are bad/faulty/lacking — it’s just I Hate This. Codgery, curmudgeonly I Hate This, with a not-so-subtle subtext of You Should Too And If You Don’t, You’re What’s Wrong With The World.

I Hate This As If Hating This Will Make It Better For Me Or For Anyone.

It occurs to me that this is why people don’t listen to such arguments. Because griping about young people and new technology and other new stuff is Just What Old People Do.  That’s why the young have a knee-jerk contempt for authority: they see them as speaking only about Things or about People These Days, the outward manifestations of which can hardly be expected to stay static, but completely unable to draw parallels between their pasts and the young peoples’ presents.  They’re too distracted by the material differences to recognize the cultural and emotional touchstones.

There are always trendy and useless products.  There are always trendy and ridiculous-looking clothes.  There are always idiots.  There are always cheats.  There are always TV shows that seem to herald the end of all civilization.

There are also always people who overreact to the “threat” posed by these specific products/bands/media or their consumers/fans.

But products are products.  Stuff is not a statement.  If someone buys stuff to make a personal statement about themselves, that’s probably a little absurd. If someone buys stuff because they think it will make them More Like The Kind Of Person Who Has This Stuff, yes, that’s absurd and a little sad.  But if someone makes a moral and intellectual judgment about someone else based on the stuff they own, presuming that the purchase means they bought it because – and only because – they’re trying to be The Kind Of Person Who Has This Stuff, that’s significantly worse.  You are buying into the stuff-as-statement pretense, too.  You’re believing they’re either That Kind Of Person, or that they aspire to be That Kind Of Person, instead of acknowledging that, of the various but still limited options, someone decided to purchase that particular piece of stuff for some reason or other.  Maybe it’s a logically sound reason.  Maybe it isn’t.  But you don’t know what it is just by looking at the person.  If you think you do – positively or negatively – you are just as duped. You are not better for owning different stuff.  You are not better for not owning any such stuff.  You are not worse for not owning stuff.

Stuff, stuff-buying, and even stuff-as-statement, is not the point Biddle is even trying to make, I don’t think.  I think he does have a point in all that ramble, but he’s dancing around it.  Rather, he chooses to rail against these specific currently-trendy products (and the people who own them) and means of communication (and the people who use them,) instead of talking about the timeless but preventable characteristics of shoddy thinking, where the lessons actually are.

Why would he do this?

Perhaps because people don’t want to admit that they once liked or coveted popular and frivolous things, too. Or that they once wanted to be “cool,” and have had to content themselves with the fact that they can now be no more than “pretty cool, for an adult.” If you can look at how ridiculous youth culture is now, you can feel advanced and wise, and can also feel pleased for yourself that you didn’t fall into the trap of looking as trendy-foolish back when you actually had the chance. But for some reason, it’s easier to not only detach from popular culture, but rage at it as you do. It makes the dividing line clearer, for the sake of everyone who cares… which is mainly only you. It makes it a lot more clear to others that you aren’t one of Them. You aren’t one of those people who define themselves by certain things they buy – you define yourself as one of the people who HATES people like them, and who buys certain other things instead!  It’s easier to hate. Easier to hold things in contempt, to waste time and thought and energy on loathing what you can’t change.

That’s why 60-year-old-men and 16-year-old Goths sound surprisingly similar – and similarly wearying – when they talk about mainstream culture.

Biddle is correct when he vaguely, loosely, tangentially alleges that youth culture lacks self-awareness or the ability or willingness to use critical thinking or reason (as implied by his very loose allusions to the arguments from authority and popularity, and the fact that the Monster cables he derides are indeed the homeopathy of the electronics world.)  But it’s not just the youth, and it’s not just the Internet. It’s everywhere.  Hell, by this very emotion-driven and material-goods-focused screed that makes sweeping generalizations, appeals to ridicule and to spite, he’s doing this, too.

He’s not helping.

He is, in short, part of the Bad.

Even if he’d approached his actual complaints directly, the author would have had a hard road ahead of him. Primarily because the youth culture and Internet culture that Biddle so derides has a little phrase of its own:

Haters Gonna Hate.

A “hater” is, in its original usage, someone who, for whatever reason, won’t allow another person their own happiness or success, and instead must cut that person down. Someone for whom nothing is ever enough. An irrational grudge, generally. But although it started out specific, as a way of brushing off hostility and unwarranted criticism, “Haters Gonna Hate” has developed into a brushing-off of not only hostility but also virtually any kind of reaction other than agreement and encouragement. It’s an automatic and unthinking dismissal of virtually any unpleasant response. Yes, it also gets applied to people making well-reasoned arguments. But it goes further than the similar “Everyone’s a critic,” in a way that is symptomatic of the greater critical-thinking problem Biddle so very tangentially attempts to sort of allude to (I think.)

“Haters Gonna Hate” recontextualizes any criticism, critique, correction, or even any comment into an emotionally-driven argument. Its persistent use evinces the fact that people, especially young people, are not equipped to diferrentiate a rational argument from an emotionally-driven attack. Moreover, it implies a difficulty in rationalizing other points of view.  It presumes that the criticizer must feel jealousy or actual hate – that nobody would possibly have any other reason to give anything but praise.  Therefore, “Haters Gonna Hate” speaks to a deep-seated sense of self-entitlement. A strain of “I’m okay just the way I am” that’s somehow been bred for aggression, becoming “Fuck you, I do what I want.”

To such people he describes – presuming, for a moment, his sweeping generalizations of selfishness and immorality and inhumanity were actually founded – Biddle would be seen and dismissed as a hater. He seems to embrace the idea of this – or at least he would embrace it, if his joints weren’t acting up and if he weren’t fresh out of liniment. (No, he isn’t even old, but he speaks as if he wants a head start.) He welcomes hating.  In more than one way, he invites contempt. Because, intentionally or not, Biddle IS making only an emotional argument. He’s not actually calling for discourse. He’s not calling for reason. He’s not calling for anything but whining and hate, not realizing that his semi-strawman targets are already well-prepared to dismiss it.

Another related concept among that so-despised youth culture and Internet culture, “drama” generally consists of somebody doing something emotional and irrational, then refusing to acknowledge the consequences, the irrationality itself, or the legitimacy of any complaint. It’s sometimes a result of the inability to contextualize or to plan, of an underdeveloped sense of empathy, or of difficulty accepting and recovering from unexpected hardships.  Sometimes it’s intentional attention-seeking.  Regardless, the “drama queen” seems to thrive on such conflict in lieu of almost any other kind of interpersonal interaction.

Biddle’s screed is no bold dramatic monologue, addressing conflict, reasoning through problems, making difficult choices, reaching a conclusion, and taking a stand.

It’s just drama.

(And possibly even trolling.)

Drama is also not exactly a new phenomenon, and its spread has only been easier as communication has grown more pervasive.  There are scores of avenues to spread gossip, rumors, and general unsubstantiated crap, most of them with ever-lowering barriers to entry.

However, it might be argued that the self-entitlement mentality and lack of critical thinking skills that spur drama (and therefore spur the “Haters Gonna Hate” defense mechanism) seem to be more pervasive and more shameless now than in the past.  Which is also not a new sentiment.

But is it any wonder that it seems true now more than ever?

Advertisements don’t just talk up their own claims and run the viewer through a gamut of fallacies and appeals to emotion – they also bash the competition by name. No more “Brand X,” no more “the leading brand,” no more slightly-different spoofs.

In the 80s and 90s, talk shows featured histrionic freakshows of namecalling and chairthrowing; from the 2000s to the present, it’s “reality TV.” Both purport to demonstrate how people respond to criticism or to conflict. Both tend to rely on subjects with a disproportionate sense of self-worth who cannot acknowledge their own shortcomings, no matter what.

And then there’s the 24/7 cable news quandary, where a lack of verifiable information is no longer an impediment to continuing coverage. Where user comments are reported with the same authority as journalists’ observations, because  opinion, speculation, and hard data are rendered virtually indistinguishable – it’s the attention that matters.

Anyone can write anything on the Internet, and one can easily pick and choose one’s own news sources to get only the information with which they’re already inclined to agree.

It’s not just the media, either.  Good sweet unmerciful crap, don’t get me started on political “discourse.”

Or on parents who simply don’t know how to teach their children, give them guidance, set an example, or otherwise help a child learn any sort of structure, self-discipline, empathy, or understanding.  Possibly because they don’t have those skills, either.

It’s all added up to teach people to value attention for its own sake.  The more undeserved the attention, the more it becomes a grotesque point of fascination.

We have more sources of information than ever before.  More choices, and more freedom to remix, satirize, recontextualize, and otherwise augment that information.  Short of some revolution that annihilates the Internet (and with it most of our economy and social structure,) that’s not going to change.  It does not have to turn us into, as Biddle says, “ever-stupider, ever-strunger-outer attention anorexics.”  It will require – already does require – nuance and the ability to parse multivalent statements.

Information can’t all be taken at face value – that makes you one of the literally unbelievable people who can’t distinguish an Onion article from a non-satirical article.

Information can’t all be dismissed out of hand – that makes you one of those people who thinks they’re always right in the face of all evidence.

Contrary to Biddle’s insults, regular Internet users are probably more likely to navigate this information successfully, out of familiarity and necessity.  Learning how to identify trolls, detect sarcasm without intonation or gestural cues, recognize reliable sources of information, and identify common hoaxes requires a certain kind of information literacy.  Moreover, it’s been among the Internet culture – which is rather more broad than Biddle acknowledges – that I’ve personally found the strongest reactions to mainstream media culture.  Before denouncing memes entirely, Biddle would have done well to observe what kinds of content are given the “I Don’t Want To Live On This Planet Anymore” reaction.  Intolerance, vapid pop music, idiotic statements, poor grammar, Twilight, and other offenses are all given this summary rejection of not only the post itself but of the mainstream culture which created it.

So, the problem is not “information overload.” It’s not the Internet. It’s not technlogy. It’s not the media; it’s not consumerism; it’s not capitalism.  It’s not the kids or the adults, the democrats or the republicans, left or right, high culture or low culture, elitists or idiots.  The problem starts and ends in the three pounds of matter within every individual skull, which processes that information, processes other information around it, figures out how to perceive the world, and figures out how to act upon it.  The problem is – always has been, and always will be – a lack of or willful suspension of critical thinking especially when such thought would create cognitive dissonance with one’s sense of self-entitlement.

There have always been those who thrive on conflict, outrage, attention, and fear, in lieu of empathy, acceptance, humility, and wisdom. No matter how much you whine, no matter how much you hate, your contempt and your loathing will not challenge or change them.   It will not change you, either, except to make you more of the kind of person who can’t stop thinking and talking about how much you hate everyone and everything and how everything’s gone downhill.

Yes, this will make you sound more like an adult.

No, It does not make you sound more mature.

It certainly does not make you sound more wise.

It might make you feel better though.  And that’s okay, though I question the mechanics.

Refusing to acknowledge large swaths of unpleasant or inconvenient reality might also make you just as detached as the people you vituperate.  And that’s okay, too – if you’re going to make rude and sweeping generalizations, maybe you’ll be happier keeping to yourself?  But I suspect that, if you feel this angry, it’s not because a bunch of young dumb brats have somehow displaced you, but because you’ve let yourself grow so estranged from what you value, and maintain such a tenuous hold on it yourself, that you’re able to perceive a total stranger wearing expensive headphones as a threat.

Maybe what you really want is for your intellectual values to be shared and reaffirmed.

The funny thing is… these strangers don’t have to share any of your intellectual or moral values.  They really don’t.  They’re okay with making what we might see as mistakes all the time.  They’re okay with looking stupid.  Or being stupid.  Or not even being able to acknowledge their own stupidity.  And they’re probably happier than us.  Remember, they probably don’t even care what other people think, as long as they’re happy.  And there’s not much we or anyone else can do to change that.  Even if we – individually or culturally – did a better job of equipping them with the intellectual tools, and the knowledge of how to use those tools, and even a social structure that better rewarded people who used those tools and used their intellects, it would still be up to the individual to actually use them.  Do they owe it to themselves to think well and wisely, spend well and wisely, live well and wisely?  Sure.

But they do not owe it to you.

If you acknowledge this, and you’re ranting anyway, maybe you’re really trying to reach out to other people who are already like you. Smart, angry others.  Frustrated, disaffected others.  Others who are tired of feeling all the shame and humiliation that these materialistic simpletons refuse to feel.  Others with whom you might commiserate, here in this dystopian world-gone-mad of Monster cables and Honey Boo Boo Child and swag, here at the end of all days.

I don’t speak for anyone for myself, but I’m tired of misery, private or shared.  I’m tired of whining.  I’m tired of hate, hating, and haters.  I’m tired of drudgery and deception and excuses and shallowness and injustice.   I’m tired of nihilism and tired of those who only enjoy things ironically. I’m tired of antiheroes and impossible ideals.  I want to see sincere, self-aware pursuit of individual goals.  Even if those goals are ridiculous.  Maybe especially if those goals are ridiculous, so long as they’re also positive or at least mostly harmless.  Whether it’s a thesis paper on ancient Greek philosophy or a Viking longboat made out of cereal boxes, I want to see people who know what they want to do, even if they don’t know why they want to do it, and DO THE HELL OUT OF IT, and feel accomplished of the thing that they did as a result.  I don’t want to see people stop being proud – I want them to stop being proud of STUFF and stop being proud of MONEY and stop being proud of ATTENTION and start being proud of what they’ve done and earned and made and meant.  I don’t want to see people being bleak and apathetic and backsliding into sarcastic 90s nihilism as some pendulum-swing response to “swag.”  I don’t want to see hipsters playing games with authenticity and clinging to irony as plausible deniability.  Admit that what you like may or may not be popular, and may or may not be popular among some other subgroups as a direct result of the original popularity value, but that you like it anyway.  Just like what you like anyway.  If it’s not hateful or harmful, like what you like, do what you do, and do what you’re like (if you’re lucky.)

I’m as tired of stupidity as anybody else, but I’m also tired of tedious self-important misanthropes wrapped in a threadbare cloak of intelligence and a homemade crown of moral superiority, who – instead of offering even the most condescending advice on independent thought to these lost little iPad lugging lambs – spend their time flogging those who have fun the wrong way or who have the wrong stuff. You who would do this, you have the Curse of Greyface upon you.

Fun is not the opposite of work.  Happiness is not the opposite of honesty.   Hope is not the opposite of truth.

And hate is not the cure for selfishness, for stupidity, for arrogance, for irrationality, or for anything but serenity.  Your hate changes no one.  Your whining means nothing.  It is not a clarion call for reason and discourse.  It will not crumble the halls of the media.  It will not humble the unjustly proud.  It will not even clearly or thoroughly express your own discontent.  It will only make you another loud, angry talking head, spouting into the cacophony – a willing part of the Fear And Outrage Machine.

So I see Biddle’s challenge in the final lines, and I raise it.

Let’s do more than whine. Let’s do more than hate. Let’s say something meaningful instead.  Let’s make arguments without anger and hypotheses without hyperbole, and politely tell people off if they won’t do the same.  Let’s learn logical fallacies and teach them to young people – as part of government/econ classes, at least, and ideally as early as elementary school. And also teach self-esteem that doesn’t assume everyone’s awesome all the time, but also teaches how to give and receive constructive criticism.  Let’s stop teaching kids that “stupid” is a bad word – and teach them what things really are stupid, and why.  Let’s regain our tolerance for thoughtful pauses and change the channel on shouting matches.  Turn off the TV, don’t feed the trolls, and do things for the sake of genuine personal satisfaction – not attention.  Let’s presume everyone else is as civil, moral, and intelligent as we are, until they prove otherwise – even if they’re carrying an iPad or wearing something we think is funny-looking.   Let’s not confuse censorship for civility, or vice versa.

It’s okay to say that things are terrible.  Believe me, I do.  And I’m no optimist. But it’s even better to recognize exactly what is terrible, why it’s terrible, and to do your part to not be terrible yourself, and to figure out ways to be awesome instead.

The media may take away the lives of children and of the vulnerable inside and out; it may behave irrationally, distort the world, deceive you, tempt you, try to define your dreams, ask you to fear, and reward you with only more reasons to cower – but, like Jareth, it has no power over you, and it’s mostly made of our own imagination.

Maybe we can imagine ourselves something else.  (*ahem*Internet culture*ahem*)  But something more… well, real-world.  Maybe we can.  Maybe we can’t.  But hating, whining, drama, and perpetual conflict – and our cultural fascination with them – are why things are where they are.

I don’t believe they are how we get back out.

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Your Daily Rage vs Today In SCIENCE!: Brutality, Humanity, and Curiosity

Sunday’s news ran me through the gamut of emotions.

Barely even awake yet, I read the news that some bald 30-year-old man had barged into a Sikh gurdwara and opened fire.  That four people, later updated to seven including himself, were killed.  As investigations have unfolded, it became evident that he wasn’t bald by genetics or just for style – but that the killer was a white-supremacist skinhead.

Before I went to bed that night, I watched the live feed from NASA TV of the Curiosity landing, as a car-sized nuclear-powered mobile science laboratory – the culmination of years of hard work by dozens of humans – flawlessly performed an incredibly elaborate landing sequence on the surface of another freaking planet.

A friend of mine posted a comment on Facebook, noting the discrepancy between the general media uproar surrounding the Aurora shootings and the relative lack of focus on the gurdwara shooting, overshadowed as it was by the Curiosity landing.

I understood the point he was trying to make, and agree that the gurdwara shooting deserves significant media attention, but I winced automatically at what seemed to be a dismissal of Curiosity and its value.  Then I tried to figure out just what it was about the comparison that clashed, to me.

For one, I’d strongly agree that what happened in Wisconsin was particularly abominable, in a way unmatched by the Aurora shooting. What was already an act of murder seems – by recent reports – to have become something even more despicable:  an act of domestic terrorism, designed specifically to inflict fear and some manner of punishment on a specific group of people (or anyone who does not fall into a specific group of people,) and motivated by prejudice.

Though murder is rather obviously A Bad Thing, and the most utterly objectifying act, I think there’s a special kind of stupidity and a particularly depressing “motive” behind those motivated by prejudice.  It denies the victims their humanity in a way that other acts of murder do not.

While a random shooting depersonalizes the victims, making them into nothing but abstract targets, a bias-motivated murder both depersonalizes the victims AND projects upon them some fictitious set of beliefs or intents.  The killer not only believes he (statistically, most have been males) is displaying his power, and not only believes he’s acting rightly, but believes that the members of the group he’s targeting – in specific and in general – pose a threat to the survival or functioning of society.  By their murder, he thinks he’s doing something heroic – something to help or protect humanity from danger.

The man who killed six Sikhs in a house of worship spread some of his racist rhetoric via the music of his band – a band called End Apathy.   According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, he said the following: “The inspiration was based on frustration that we have the potential to accomplish so much more as individuals and a society in whole.”  In the same interview cited by the article, he also said he was “trying to figure out what it would take to actually accomplish positive results in society and what is holding us back.”

This doesn’t sound particularly depersonalizing.  It sounds like the kind of statement with which almost anyone could agree – an affirmation in the potential of humanity and society when people become aware, become active, and cooperate.  However, this was a man with with tattoos featuring white power iconography, like the Odin’s cross superimposed with the number 14 – a reference to the number of words in popular white power saying: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

The choice to include that one single word, that one specification – white – casts a completely different light on that credo — and on his other statements, as well.  This was a man who, when he spoke of “society” and “society in whole,” was speaking only of white people.   This was a man who – from all information so far – believed that non-white, non-Christian persons were not part of society, were not part of humanity, and that their existence and future should not be secured to the same degree.  This was a man who apparently concluded that violence against them was not only acceptable, and not only necessary, but valiant – in that the act would ostensibly benefit white people.

Therefore, he killed six people whose religion calls for selfless service to all people. Sikhs have a long tradition of fighting and dying for freedom – not just their own, but for the freedom of anyone who is oppressed. (Just check out Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib Ji.)  They don’t just treat community service like it would be an awful nice and noble thing to do – rather, it’s a core of their beliefs.

Twice a day, every day, Sikh gurdwaras serve langar – a free meal for the community. Vegetarian, at that, to accommodate as many people as possible.  Regardless of religion, regardless of status, regardless of color or gender or age, everyone is welcome – and to symbolize the equality they see in all humanity, everyone sits on the floor.  No heads of the table, no honored positions.  Oh, and that kirpan they carry – the symbolic dagger – is a reminder of their commitment to protect the innocent from violence, persecution, and oppression, and as a tool to use for such defense only when all else has failed.  Again: regardless of the sufferer’s religion, status, color, gender, or age.

When Sikhs say “humanity,” they mean it.

True, given human nature, you could argue whether or not your average Sikhs really put these values to practice, or whether they pay them just as much hypocritical lip service as other members of other religions.  But ultimately, it seems like it would generate a LOT more cognitive dissonance to be a bigoted, aggressive, self-entitled Sikh than to be a bigoted, aggressive, self-entitled member of any religion or culture that believes theirs is the only true way.

So, yes: it is incredibly galling that anyone should commit murder like that, and even moreso to be motivated by bigotry, and (arguably) still moreso to kill Sikhs, of all people.   Outrage, anger, or calls for reflection would all be in order, and I can see why somebody would feel grim that this wasn’t happening to the same degree as in the aftermath of the Aurora shootings.

But what I think I found brash about my friend’s comment was the implication that the Curiosity landing was somehow keeping us from taking that collective step back to reflect on society and reaffirm to ourselves the value of all human life.  To my mind, Curiosity’s accomplishment was anything BUT a failure to acknowledge the potential of humanity. It did nothing but make me feel hope for humanity that, at the end of the day, an incredible and momentous act of human ingenuity and teamwork was seen as more meaningful, more valuable, and more true than the actions of one misguided man.

To quote myself from my reply to him:

What happened in Wisconsin was incredibly sad and upsetting on many levels, but maybe it’s for the best that people chose to comment on a significant accomplishment that required multiple people to advance their individual knowledge and skills, create new technologies, and understand the workings of physics and the nature of another planet, and for them all to work together to do something unprecedented in the history of the human race, rather than to focus on yet another semi-hairless ape doing undeserved violence to other semi-hairless apes.

To focus on Curiosity doesn’t diminish or disregard the horror and stupidity of what one misguided man decided to do. It also doesn’t help the families of the fallen; nothing could. But it does reaffirm the human capacity to imagine, to create, to work together despite any differences, to accomplish a feat genuinely worthy of awe and inspiration.

Even if they had taken place on different days, the “viral appeal” of the Aurora shooting, for want of a better term, was the “That could have been me!” phenomenon. Most Americans go to movie theatres frequently enough that they can relate to it. Sikh temples? Not as much. Less “That could have been me” pseudo-empathy tends to breed less actual empathy, as well.

At the beginning of the day on Sunday, one could be forgiven for a grim outlook on humanity, whether because of what happened or because of the seemingly disproportionately low levels of shock and outrage.  Yet another incident where some self-entitled bigot with a narrow definition of “humanity” went out and ruined a bunch of lives. For wondering, “is this as good as we get?  Is this all we are, as people, even now?”  For believing that we humans are still just nothing more than aggressive meatsacks trapped on a salty, wet hunk of rock pointlessly twirling through space, caring only about what’s good for ourselves, and doomed to stupid ourselves to extinction.

Watching the “seven minutes of terror” as a giant man-made machine elaborately made its way to Mars, I simply couldn’t believe that.  Earthbound meatsacks we may be – for now – but capable of so much more when we work together for the good of our collective understanding.  As I concluded,

But still. I think that, for those who watched the NASA TV live feeds to see all the people who had worked so hard, and so surpassingly well, for so long, on something so momentous… I think a lot of people looked at those men and women and thought “That could have been me.” And some younger people looked at it and thought “That could BE me.” They see a room full of scientists celebrating with as much genuine, unbridled joy as any champion sports team or partying rock star or reality-show winner, and know that this world and its future DOES – or at the very least CAN – still belong to the thinkers, the makers, anyone and everyone who can work together to do amazing things.

Those people who perform random or disgustingly targeted acts of violence are not us.  They do not own this world.  They are not our narrative.  By declaring some person or subset of persons as separate from humanity, they only separate themselves. They may give us fear and fascination – which may put more dollars in the tills and coffers of various entities in this world – but those entities do not write nor curate our narrative, either.  At the end of the day, of that Sunday especially, we knew ourselves for more.

We are humans.  We do not have to fear and scorn the unknown.  We do not have to celebrate greed and shallowness.  We  burn with curiosity and the desire to learn and to understand, to reach and to grow.  We are persistent. Where we err, we revise and try again.  We advance ourselves through meticulous feats of engineering and through synchronicitous accidents, through grueling work and inexplicable inspiration.   When we think, when we create, when we work, when we work together on anything no matter how small, when we speak to one another and listen, when we acknowledge the worth of all human life, even and especially in light of our ultimate insignificance on a cosmic scale, it is then that we are mighty.

I can think of no more fitting way to tie this all up than with this speech from the Charlie Chaplin film The Great Dictator:

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Bed, Bus, Bath and Beyond

As I get older, I find myself getting a little more forgetful.  I forget what I wanted to research, forget what I wanted to buy at the store, and forget where I put that whatchamacallit — you know, the doohicky with the whatzit on top; I just had it two minutes ago.  Since I’m not a professor, and therefore can’t justify being absentminded (or wearing tweed jackets with leather patches at the elbows,) it’s been a subject of frustration. My memory didn’t used to be quiet so sieve-tastic. It’s really been a fairly recent thing – mainly since I first lived on my own; moreso since I moved.  I chalked it up to getting older, or being too stressed, or not writing in a daily journal as much as I once did. I’ve even tried playing some memory boosting games more often. But according to this article from ScienceDaily, research indicates that maybe I just don’t do enough nothing.

“Our findings support the view that the formation of new memories is not completed within seconds,” says [physiological scientist Michelle] Dewar. “Indeed our work demonstrates that activities that we are engaged in for the first few minutes after learning new information really affect how well we remember this information after a week.”

Anecdotally, I believe it.  I don’t give myself much – really, any – time to just loaf.  I’m always working, or reading something, or writing something, or making something, or doing something.  I feel anxious and guilty if I’m not doing something productive, and even more anxious and guilty if I’m not, at the very least, assimilating new information of some kind.  It’s hard for me to even watch a movie without feeling like I’m missing out on something.  The fact that I work from home and can more easily choose how to allocate my time only makes it worse – I could, in theory at least, always choose to be working; if I’m not working, for whatever reason, I could be working on a personal project; if I’m not doing either, I could be doing something else constructive; if none of the above is true, I could at least be playing some kind of game (since it has a purpose and a win condition that I could be striving toward.)  Therefore, any choice to do absolutely nothing at all is… well… bad.

However, this reminded me a bit of the “Bed, Bus, Bath” phenomenon, which seems to be one of those things everyone knows about, without knowing who started it.  My search for attribution turned up everyone from Wittgenstein to Einstein to Bohr to Kohler. (And, full disclosure, I totally did it again: put this post on hold for days, because I was busy trying to figure out the background of the idea.)  But I couldn’t find anything reliable, so anyone unfamiliar with the concept will just have to take my word for it, for now.

The Bed-Bus-Bath phenomenon describes how moments of great understanding or inspiration often come to us not when we’re actively striving for them, but when we’re resting in bed, riding the bus, or lounging in the bath.  It’s one of those jocular ideas that doesn’t seem to carry much scientific weight, and which you couldn’t even test for – but it’s anecdotally compelling.

I know it’s happened to me quite a few times.

I think, based on nothing but my own anecdotal conjecture, that Doing Nothing and the Bed-Bus-Bath phenomenon are similar in their psychological mechanisms, but with a few crucial differences. Furthermore, those differences may not have as much to do with psychology as with sociology.

Doing Nothing is a very passive thing.  It’s the most passive thing.  You can’t possibly pretend you’re doing something – unless maybe you say you’re meditating, or checking your eyelids for holes.  So if you’re the sort of person who is prone to self-judgement or overworking or low self-esteem, etc, you are stuck there with yourself and there is nothing you can do about it.

What’s the difference with Bed-Bus-Bath?  And what IS it about the bed, the bus, and the bath that makes them so conducive to inspiration?   Four things.

1)  You’re trying to accomplish something.  Whether you’re going somewhere, getting clean, or falling asleep, having a goal to reach satisfies the accomplishment-hungry parts of your psyche, and keeps them from demanding attention.

2)  Despite that goal-seeking, what you’re doing is not completely subject to your control.  You can’t make yourself fall asleep any faster, you can’t make soap lather or rinse any faster, you can’t make the traffic move any faster.

3)  What you’re doing doesn’t drain your focus. Yes, some part of your brain is thinking about what you’ve washed and how to wash it, or whether you’re on time or not, or whether or not your pillow is comfortable, but for the most part, you’re not using your forebrain very much.

4)  What you’re doing is self-justifying and cannot coherently be judged. This, to me, is the clincher. There are a LOT of semi-mindless tasks that can put one “in the zone,” but which need to be justified. Maybe weeding the garden keeps your hands busy and your forebrain free, but someone could easily ask, “Does that really need to be done?  Right now?  Couldn’t it wait? Didn’t you do it the other day? Does it even matter?”  Nobody could coherently argue that you should be doing something productive while you’re on the bus or walking somewhere.  Nobody could sensibly say that you aren’t being useful enough while you shower.  And someone would have to be a special kind of crazy to say you weren’t being useful enough while trying to fall asleep.

Furthermore, these activities can’t be critiqued.  (Well, okay; the way I walk has been rightfully critiqued many a time, but we’re talking normal people here.)  Generally speaking, nobody’s going to judge your form as you walk down the sidewalk.  You aren’t in control of how the driver drives the bus, so you’re not culpable there.  The act of falling asleep is neither art nor skill.  And only the irredeemably rude, and mothers, could criticize how you wash.

Because of these four things, your hindbrain is placated with a sense both of productivity/progress and rest; your emotional bits are not worried about judgement or self-justification or worth, and your forebrain is free to go wherever it likes.  You’re not Doing Nothing, but you’re not quite Doing Something, either.  You’re not even Doing Enough, because that implies that you could still somehow do it to a greater or lesser degree.  Instead, you’re simply Doing What You’re Doing.

And in that condition, when your actively thinking forebrain is not clamoring with other concerns, you’re able to devote your mental resources to other things.  You’re more open to noticing small details in your surroundings that are too unimportant to pay attention to under normal conditions.  You’re also more likely to be freely-associating your thoughts.  Between the two, something you notice or something you think about is more likely to cue up some other thought or memory, which is also likely to be something that isn’t worth thinking about in most of your daily life – or so you believe.  But when you get into free-association, and let your brain cross-reference itself, you can make surprising connections – direct connections, or possibly just metaphors, that give you new inspiration.

Doing Nothing helps the brain to spend a little time thinking about whatever you’ve been experiencing, and to file it away, maybe cross-referencing it with other experiences or memories.  Unlike Bed-Bus-Bath, though, we’re more prone to recognize our doing-nothingness and to see it as something to work against.  That is, we’re more likely to think about what we just experienced and to contextualize it than to let our minds wander entirely.  So I can see how this pure Doing Nothing is better for memory – we’re striving to do something, so what better to do than to just keep thinking about whatever we were already thinking about?

Why, then, is it so hard for us to let ourselves Do Nothing?

I think that, given American work culture’s gross and puritanical emphasis on productivity – we’re the only industrialized nation in the world that does not have any guaranteed annual leave or paid holidays – we collectively don’t let ourselves stop and take a break.  It’s just Not Done.  No matter how much we want to do it, no matter how much we need to do it.  We work late, work without pay, answer emails from home, don’t take all of whatever vacation days we do have, come in sick, and we never have any assurances that our work was for anything.  We can still get fired, demoted, laid off, our hours cut, etc. on a whim, if we’re suddenly “not in the budget.”   Nevermind any other place that the budget could be cut – it always starts at the bottom.  How can we afford to risk looking unproductive, even for a moment?  How can we afford to look like a slacker?  Better to eat at your desk.  Better to at least look like you’re studying something on your break.  Better to not even take a break, or to take it only when your work is done, and if your work is never done then oh well, that’s your fault – you should work harder.

Is it any wonder we’re all, collectively, so incredibly anxious all the time?

From my own experiences with anxiety of various kinds, I know that quiet solitude is not the panacea one might think it would be. You inevitably think about what you should be doing, could be doing, and everything you’ve been doing wrong.  Having time to collect your thoughts is really just time to slow down and realize what a horrible disorganized ugly mess of a person you are and to realize, even if you gave yourself a week to think, you’d never be able to untangle how you let your stupid life get this bad.  Better to drown it out with something.  Doing some kind of activity, watching TV, somehow keeping some part of your brain engaged with some part of the world around you.  Denying yourself any time for personal reflection or recuperation.  If you were good enough, fast enough, smart enough, strong enough, you wouldn’t need to rest.  The very fact that you feel a need to rest is proof that you are flawed, and that you should therefore work twice as hard to make up for it so that nobody takes note of your failure.  And if you have decided to rest in some way – well, you’re a lazy slob; work three times harder.   Or, facing that massive amount of activation energy required to go from rest to full-bore flawlessness, it’s easy to just give up.

Doing Nothing is nothing doing – but relaxing and opening ourselves to inspiration in the Bed, Bus, and Bath?  Now that, we can do a little more easily, since there’s the pretense that we’re doing something. Right?  Not quite so much.  Anyone with a smartphone – which is practically everybody – seems to use any spare minute to do something.  Read, talk, text, research, email, game, whatever. So long as we have the means to do something, we also tend to feel the obligation.

This is where the strange facets of sociology come in.  Where individuals are trying to meet cultural and social expectations of a society that’s made up of individuals.  I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t like to genuinely relax.  Who wouldn’t like to let go and stop being anxious, if just for a little while every day.  Who wouldn’t like to stop living in constant anxiety and stress and fear.

But we see everyone else being competent – or at least looking like they’re competent – and we push ourselves to the same.  It’s not like we can quit.  It’s not like we have choices.  It’s not like anyone else cares about our lives except us.  And we only deserve to care about our own health and happiness when we’ve worked ourselves to and past our breaking point – when we’ve proven that we no longer care about either one.

We can’t afford to do otherwise.

THEY aren’t.

When we’re in the greatest need of rest, of calm, of comfort, of inspiration, of creativity… of Doing Nothing, or at the very least, of accepting that we’re Doing What We’re Doing and acknowledging the sufficiency of that…  that’s when we deny it to ourselves most often.

Or maybe that’s just me.


(I went on more about my own personal experiences with both phenomena, but cut them out to better get to the point.  I’ll put ’em in another entry, if anyone shows interest.)

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