#36: a brief sentence

Here’s the crux: the anti-Trumpers expect the pro-Trumpers to realize their folly, either now or later, to admit they were wrong, but the pro-Trumpers either don’t believe they are wrong or cannot actually admit they’re wrong because to do so is too humbling, just like pro-Bernie people cannot admit that Bernie would not have won the Presidency, and, thus, they must still yell about the DNC; admitting wrong-ness, or fault, would indicate a breach of responsibility, and, thus, we have elected a man (and his minions) who will do everything he can, with the backing of an entire political party, to dismantle government as we know it and to accelerate the destruction of our climate, because it is easier to make a traditional dollar now than it is to make the world better for a future generation; people don’t have to realize their folly because they will be dead before it truly matters, and, so, we are too scared to admit we’re wrong and we’re too selfish to care beyond right now.

#35: on clouds

[a brief explanation, which acts as throat clearing for me: my youngest sister has requested I write more. In turn, I told her to give me topics. She suggested the previous post. Then this conversation happened:
me: What’s the next topic?
her: Clouds.
me: what the hell kind of topic is that?
And, thus: scene]

You could, of course, attempt something dramatic and Romantic, in the ‘Keats and Byron and Wordsworth’ version of the word, with sweeping gestures to dreams.

You could, instead, look at it as a giant research project, looking into types of clouds and making links to your own life.

Or, you could never reference clouds at all. Make people believe you are, in some wildly subtle way, using the very idea of clouds to underwrite a personal story.

Really, and most obviously, what you want is to basically do all of the above, something lovely and researched that connects dots and lives and random cultural references, but to do so in a way that doesn’t feel forced or I Am Writing Something Epic Here. And you realize, right at that moment, that this is what you always want to do, and it is why you don’t write often.

Instead, you remember the time you sat on the steps of the school down the street from your grandparents’ house, the one you stood in front of waiting for the bus to your own school, and you realized how much you enjoyed removing small rocks from the soles of your shoes.

Because that makes sense.

According the the UCAR Center for Science Education website, there are 8 types of clouds, based on shape and altitude height: cirrocumulus, cirrus, cumulonimbus, altocumulus, altostatus, stratocumulus, cumulus, and stratus. The notion that we have 8 versions of the word ‘cloud’ probably means the bureaucracy has grown too large.

The most popular, or at least most recognizable, are cumulus clouds–they of the puffy white dollop against blue in which we see shapes and where Peter Pan sits.

Is it weird for there to be a ‘most popular’ cloud? It is weird for there to be a most popular cloud. Is it weird to enjoy removing small stones from the soles of your shoes? It is weird to enjoy removing small stones from the soles of your shoes.

For a significant part of my life, I have had a Westerner’s inappropriate obsession with ‘Zen,’ as though it is a thing and not a belief. I have read about it; I have pretended to understand it on a superficial level; I have, most of all, believed that understanding it would mean I’d be a happier person. I have looked at miniature ‘zen gardens’ online, told myself I should order one, and then, after much debate, finally admitted to myself I would never be able to actually handle maintaining one. Which, out of all of this, probably indicates that I could use true study of zen.

It’s easy, then, for the rocks-in-soles and cloud-staring to be adapted into this revelatory moment of Zen. Behold how I focus on this simple task and derive enjoyment of it! I am at one with myself! But here’s the real question, and it is, I think, the most important question of all: who the fuck is ‘myself’?

Here’s the rub: you will never answer that question. The idea of ‘self’ evolves daily; you are not, in any fashion, the same as 10 years ago, 3 months ago, or yesterday. The idea of being ‘one with yourself’ would mean waking up every day with a complete understanding of yourself, having the same thing happen at lunch, at dinner, and then before bed. Forever.

Maybe that’s a possibility. Maybe you need to believe it’s possible. Maybe you need to admit it’s possible to have an understanding of yourself without ever fully understanding yourself. The ‘of’ matters.

Let’s say you start a list. This list will be without much thought, rhyme, or reason. You call this list, ‘An Unabridged and Unthought List of Things I Like.’ It goes something like this:

The smell of cooking onions
Free Energy’s albums
Cassette tapes
College football
Hot dogs
Peanut butter milkshakes
The desert
Vineyard Vines clothes

What would this list look like five years ago, without adding things?
The smell of cooking onions
Cassette tapes
College football
Hot dogs
Peanut butter milkshakes
The desert (in abstraction)

What would this list look like 15 years ago, without adding things?
College football
Hot dogs
Peanut butter milkshakes
The desert (in abstraction)

Imagine you could write a complete list for yourself today. And then write a complete list from 5 years ago, from 15 years ago. And imagine how you would fail to recognize yourself if you were confronted with your younger self. Most of all, imagine your younger self would be capable of knowing how s/he would change to become you. Would it still be possible to be you?

So, what matters to me? What understanding do I have of myself? Based on that short list, it would appear my ideal situation would be tailgating at an Arizona State home football game.

But, is that who the fuck I am? Obviously not. It’s a short list, made shorter; its inherent flawed design means it’s merely a snapshot of myself; it’s not even possible to produce an ‘Unabridged and Unthought List of Things I like’ because the list would never end.

Therefore, I make decisions; I elect to frame myself according to some internal picture, and champion certain things I like at specific times. This is why the self is so goddamn frustrating: we are a millions of different selves with overlapping likes and dislikes; wants and wishes; attitudes and beliefs, etc., etc., etc. Your projection of self is entirely based on an internal compass of what’s necessary to project. You can’t be one with a million selves. You can only accept that your self adjusts.

When I was little, I used to think I could sit on clouds. They did so on cartoons; angels supposedly lived there. I relished fog because I thought if it got thick enough, I could sit on top of it. I couldn’t comprehend that planes could fly through one; I thought they had to avoid all clouds. When you start driving, you realize how much fog can disrupt your life. It’s a weird factor of adulthood, like discovering that snow days aren’t fun or that your basement getting water in it after a thunderstorm isn’t ‘an indoor pool.’

I started taking pictures of clouds once cell phones started having decent cameras. I would (and will), dangerously, attempt to snap photos from my car as I’m driving. I know this is stupid. I berate myself as I do this. But I am always a happier person later when I get to see the pictures I took. I have said to my wife, ‘This is a good cloud day.’ I used to think, like a young child would, that only I truly appreciated clouds in this way. Then I stumbled across ‘clouds’ on Pintrest. Turns out my snowflakeness is an incredibly popular internet / photo hobby.

I sometimes think about taking my camera and driving around for a while on a good cloud day, snapping photos as I go. But to do so would mean taking time away from other things and chores and dogs. I may bask in clouds, but life does not.

It’s hard, in a way, to be alive. I don’t mean that in some depressive way. I just mean, being alive means having a self, whatever or whoever that self may be. And having a self means having to make decisions, both simple and complex. Being alive means dealing with life. That sounds like one of those desperate attempts at being profound; what I really mean is, the only way to know you are dealing with something is to know that you are alive. It’s actually a way of simplifying all of your decisions: the decision process, as obvious as it is, demands you to be alive.

Understanding yourself, then, is actually meaningless. Understanding that you’re alive, however, is essential. Clouds, as far as I can tell, just float.

#34: in which I am tasked with defining ‘happy’

I’ve started this roughly 10 times. Typically, as I’m falling asleep, I figure out how I would like to approach this. Then I fall asleep. And by the morning, I remember none of it. The key stipulation here, as dictated by my youngest sister, is that I cannot reference family or friends.

I am, either by nature or by creation or, perhaps, by both, a cynic. However, it is, to coin a phrase, a dynamic cynicism, in that, I represent the following dichotomy: I excel at righteous anger, and righteous anger needs negative things to even exist; and, yet, I am a dreamer, a fount of ideas and aspirations that have no grounding whatsoever in reality. This means happiness, in any form, must overcome two fronts: the search for negativity to fulfill my daily quote of indignation, as well as my failure to live up to the dreams concocted in my head.

Happiness is a complex emotion; to find happiness is to celebrate something without regard for how others view it. It is impossible to examine happiness without, to some capacity, examining lack of self-awareness, which is an inherent oxymoron. This means, at its core, happiness is an expression of unsolicited self-ignorance created entirely by a true and real feeling about something. Which, granted, sounds somewhat terrible and definitely sounds like nonsense. But perhaps that is because the idea of any unsolicited emotion runs counter to a cynic’s belief. As a cynic, you are reacting to the world around you by questioning it; happiness, while a reaction to something, does not question  what prompted it.

I have often ignored the idea of happiness in exchange for the pursuit of contentment; it seems like a much more attainable goal. The difference exists in its lack of upward mobility: I am content, therefore this is okay. As a sentence it seems dismal; as a life goal, it feels shockingly simple, a way to say to oneself that while not everything is going well–a job, a relationship, a whatever–it is still possible to say things are all right.

Contentment, you see, is denial–a denial of self in order to satisfy the cynic’s belief that things could, and probably should, and most definitely will, be worse.

Ignore for the moment the impossibility of attaining contentment when you feel the world always on the precipice of disappointing you, and consider: in what way is John Lennon’s “Imagine” a good song?

“Imagine” exists solely as the last gasp breath of the hippies. You may want to believe in the possibility of the song, but no one actually does without being made fun of by other people. The idea of imagining a supposedly better world where everyone gets along is incomprehensible because dissonance between people is natural. The idea that happiness or world peace or brotherly love or whatever can exist simply if we imagine it, if we try hard enough to stay positive, does not match the civilization that humanity has created for itself. It’s not that it’s wrong or that it’s right; it’s that such belief imagines a humanity that has never existed.

The question that “Imagine” then forces is: Are we fools for not believing in it or are we idiots for doing so?

And no matter how you approach that question, it is impossible for “Imagine” to be anything other than overwrought dynamic cynicism. It is not a good song. It’s a big dream that Lennon had no intention of attaining; it is Lennon in his Working Class Hero t-shirt–a model of want, not will or real.

This does not mean it’s impossible to make the world a better place; it means that making the world a better place isn’t a dream or a pop song; it is, instead, a fight against both cynicism and contentment, which means, making the world a better place is the fight for happiness–a better world is a world in which people have unguarded celebratory reactions to the world around them.

As Donald Trump spoke last night in what people continue to call “presidential” tones, I sat on my couch screaming rather incoherently at the television while my wife probably debated if a dog muzzle would fit on me.

1) There is nothing presidential about not sounding unhinged for once.
2) Trump still managed to be racist as ever (like, VOICE. Because only immigrants commit crimes).
3) Trump still has no idea about any actual policy plan, and that appears to be his governing plan.
4) Trump is proof that contentment has a ceiling.

Rage / Anger is by far the easiest expressed emotion. It requires no actual thought. To be controlled by anger is to be controlled by nothing; you are hampered by anger only after the fact, if at all, if you bother with self-reflection. Anger is the base human emotion, and it drives most of civilization.

Trump’s ascendance to the White House has been exhaustively covered by the media. Everyone wants to talk about the forgotten white people in forgotten industrial towns. It’s a chance for the media to celebrate whiteness without having to justify it; it allows the angry white man to be celebrated for his determination to challenge the status quo or whatever other bullshit drivel the media keeps pumping out. Black Lives Matter, a group fighting for the mere recognition that an entire population of people, based on genetics which determine skin tone, have been forgotten, are labeled as terrorists; white people whose class status has changed because, in large part, of policies crafted by the very people they keep voting for, are part of a ‘revolution,’ according to our president.

But what all of this really is a group of enraged people wailed enough to get what they think they want, and, in turn, we get a seismic shift in the international order.

It’s easy to be angry because it’s easy to feel like all that emotional rush amounts to change. But, in reality, anger soothes only for the moment, and after the moment, the consequences must be reckoned with. And, far too often, we have no idea how to deal with the consequences because to do so requires we actually stop and think. And anger requires no thought. Thought requires time; it requires patience; it requires self-awareness; it requires an awareness of the world around you; it, most of all, requires you recognize the impact decisions you make have on multiple levels: yourself, those around you, and those who you will never meet.

The hard part is this: screaming incoherently at Trump made me feel better about myself in that moment. But it did nothing to improve the world for my soon-to-be-born child. And if I do want an improved world for my child, then I cannot believe in contentment; I must believe in happiness.

If I exclude family and friends as drivers of my happiness, as I’m supposed to for this piece, then I think the happiest I have ever been was sitting on a ledge at the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, AZ. I had never been to Arizona before, but I had long believed for whatever reason that it was a place I belonged. I struggle with the Winter Blues (immensely) and the idea of place filled with sunshine seemed like a logical landing point for me.

However, I did not expect to be overwhelmed to such a degree. As I sat on that ledge with G., I stared at the red rocks and green shrubbery and insane blue sky and realized that for the first time in my life, I understood the phrase, ‘this is home.’ It was an immense feeling, matched only by marrying G. (sorry, Hannah, I’m going to cheat a little here). And I realized that happiness, for me, is the creation of ‘home,’ by way of finding the pieces of the world that fit accordingly with myself: the desert sky; a day spent golfing; a Saturday filled with college football; a really good hamburger; a Coca-Cola after swearing I would stop drinking it.

The strength of anger is that no matter how destructive, you can always justify it by saying it’s ‘how you feel.’ You ‘feel’ that immigrants are stealing jobs–even though the large percentage of them accept jobs no American actually wants–so you’re justified in feeling angry about them and demand a wall be built and demand they be deported. You ignore the economic ramifications; you ignore the increased cost of goods caused by your anger; you ignore the way you have been fooled into blaming The Others for choices made by the wealthy to continue to enrich themselves. But it’s cathartic to yell and to blame; it’s a release because to look at ourselves would be too revealing.

I screamed at Donald Trump, but when I woke up this morning, he was still President. The only way to change that is to stop screaming and to start making a difference. Dynamic cynicism here means only that I dream of a better United States and expect the worst for Trump’s presidency. Tell me, what exactly does that accomplish?

#33: a Dystopian Conspiracy Theory

  1. Russia uses its military in Syria, under the guise of fighting terrorism, to greatly increase refugee movement into Europe and the United States.
  2. Saudi Arabia, in a show of force against Iran, continues to bomb Yemen.
  3. Iran, with Russia’s implicit backing, continues to use Yemen as a proxy against Saudi Arabia, knowing that doing so increases the refugee pressure on the West.
  4. This refugee pressure, combined with the continued economic regression, starts to fray the social contract of the United Nations / NATO / European Union.
  5. Emboldened by the success of discreetly supporting Brexit, Putin moves to affect other elections / decisions.
  6. Using the leverage he has on Donald Trump because of the massive amount of debt Trump owes Russian banks / oligarchs / government combined with the successful false information campaign against the Democrats during the election, Putin secures the United States will look away as he takes over the Ukraine.
  7. The domino elections of right-wing populists in major European countries dooms Eastern Europe to the new Soviet Union.
  8. China, realizing a) there is a giant power vacuum on the world stage and b) suddenly concerned about Russia moving into it, breaks off relations with Russia.
  9. Russia consolidates power with Eastern Europe and Iran-favored Middle Eastern Countries.
  10. China, on the other hand, consolidates power with Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates and other such-leaning Middle East countries as well as a significant number of African countries.
  11. As England attempts to re-orient itself in the post-Brexit market, its power is further diminished with the collapse of the western Europe trade block.
  12. Dubai becomes the new London, as most financial power brokers relocate out of Europe.
  13. China spends hundreds of billions of dollars on infrastructure projects in Africa in exchange for getting to exploit countries’ natural resources. The African Union morphs into a China-esque capitalist communism.
  14. Western European countries are forced to agree to a trade plan with the new Russian Union.
  15. The United States, following an extensive protectionist program, continues to suffer a dramatic recession, with its number one trading partner, Canada, electing to agree to a Pacific Rim trade agreement written by China.
  16. After gutting the EPA, the United States can not keep up with the constant contamination of drinking water, thus creating water wars between states; after multiple oil pipeline leaks destroy drinking water aquifers, the United States is unable to provide sufficient drinking water to its population.
  17. South America, unsure of its economic role in this changing landscape as exports of natural resources to China have been greatly reduced now that China has increased its exports from Africa, starts to compete with south Asian countries (Vietnam, Philippines) for low wage production companies.
  18. The United States, in a desperate attempt to change course, try to put together a trade agreement with Central / South America, Japan, and South Korea.
  19. With no NATO and no United Nations, Putin’s Russia successfully neuters any opposition to the new Russia Union oligarchy, and is able to secure natural gas and oil deals with most of western Europe.
  20. China and Russia begin a new Cold War.
  21. The United States is forced to sign a trade agreement with China because of China’s massive U.S. debt holdings, and, thus, is required to back China in the Cold War against Russia.
  22. With so much infighting between countries, no international cooperation through the U.N. or NATO, and all attempts to create economic success a race to the bottom in regards to taxes, safety and health regulations, and worker rights, climate change accelerates at twice the predicted pace, with a significant portion of the world’s population seeing a steep decline in health and life span.
  23. Nobody apologizes and, instead, puts the blame anywhere they can.
  24. Hate crimes aren’t listed as hate crimes any more because they are too common.
  25. Somebody writes an updated novel called 2084. It’s also sold in the non-fiction section.

#32: A Manifesto, of sorts (part one?)

It seems impossible to believe that the United States has descended into an argument over the meaning of ‘fact’ and ‘lie;’ it seems even more impossible that a man who celebrates his bankruptcies as smart business maneuvering is president because people think he will successfully businessfy the government and somehow make us great again; and, yet, these same people will tell you that America is the greatest country in the world; and yet, to point out this illogical leap is to invite lectures on how our country has nearly descended into the chaos of Venezuelan dictatorship cloaked under the guise of socialism because we don’t seem to understand 1) the definition of ‘socialism;’ 2) logical fallacies; and, probably most damning, 3) how government works. A government is not a business; it does not have shareholders, and its goals should not be to create wealth for itself. Instead, it should maximize its ability to create opportunities for its people to create wealth and to protect those people. Efficiency does not mean small-government. And, most of all, success should never be measured solely on a short-term horizon; that’s called greed.

The hard part of constructive dialogue after Trump’s election is this: hypocrisy. Republicans spent 8 years trying to delegitimize President Obama, by openly or subtly accepting birthirism; openly saying they were going to refuse to work with him or the Democrats in the hope he would not be re-elected; breaking standards of congressional conduct–shutting down the government, refusing to even entertain his Supreme Court nominee, etc. They did this because it was convenient for them; they did this because partisanship keeps them in office, country be damned. But now, they want to complain about protests; they want to say we need to move past the possible outside influence on our election process. 8 states want to ban protesting, including North Dakota who wants to make it okay to run over protestors with your car, and, yet, they howled that the government would dare intervene when a group of people took over government property, with guns, and refused to leave. That’s an okay protest, apparently.

They say they believe in the Constitution, and then ignore it when it suits them–torture, due process, voting rights, these things are only important when it involves the appropriate citizen: white. male. Hypocrisy is saying they defend the working class and then: Right to Work laws; refusal to expand Medicaid; taking away health care; giving more rights to employers than employees; tax cuts for the wealthy; the demonization of government programs that help the poor and needy; the demonization of education and teachers; the demonization of government programs that protect the environment, and, thus, citizens health; the demonization of The Other; the rank hypocrisy of demanding the federal government stay out of state rights, but states having no such problem taking rights away from cities.

The United States does not just suffer from systemic racism; it suffers from systemic classism; we have, purposefully, created an unacknowledged caste system, which is ignored through the proliferation of the idealized ‘American Dream.’ We float the American Dream in the same way we sell lottery tickets: a sucker’s chance that has periodically worked out for someone so we all can point at it and exclaim, ‘that could be me!’ as long as we ignore the growing data that shows it’s increasingly harder to move up in economic class; millennials are significantly behind their parents when it comes to economic opportunity, and, no, this has nothing to do with laziness; and that, essentially, your economic success in life is determined at birth. That’s a caste system. And it’s built into our society because it suits the people who are at the top. Which is how a caste system has to function.

It is also inevitable that machines will overtake a significant number of jobs. This is essential to the caste system, but, yet, ironically, it also means the end of capitalism. Capitalism’s existence depends entirely on a population’s ability to spend money. Technological advancements that remove even more jobs means even less money at the lower tier, which is, coincidentally, the tier upon which capitalism depends the most as it is the tier that churns through money, creating the quick purchase turnover necessary for businesses to succeed.

As such, I believe the following is not just a good idea, but a necessity: universal income. The government should eliminate Social Security, welfare, and Medicaid. In its place should be Medicare-for-all, with an 80/20 split and a guaranteed income for all citizens who have graduated high school. Private insurers can offer Medicare supplement plans to cover the 20%. While this creates a chasm between those who can afford the MSPs and those who can’t, that chasm already exists, and this gives everyone coverage at that 80%. Employers can also offer MSPs as part of a benefits package, and, as the rates will be lower, it will save money for businesses. The guaranteed income will be $2,000/month and $3,000/month for those who have retired, chained to the Republicans favorite tool, CPI to limit increases. This amount has nothing to do with annual income, and will be doled out to everyone who qualifies. In exchange, there will be no minimum wage, and there will be no paid parental leave; however, parental leave will be required to be guaranteed for a set amount of weeks.

Should you elect to waste all of your money and not work, I hope you know some good charities.

This does multiple things:
1) It acts as a defacto union. It presents a buffer that allows employees to negotiate pay and benefits, while at the same time creating the financial room for people to pursue jobs in typically underpaid arenas, like social work. Even without a minimum wage, employers will have to find ways to make their jobs attractive. Also, the $2,000 threshold does not de-incentivize work because it covers necessities, but does not in any way put people into a comfortable middle-class on its own.
2) It gives people who need it cash protection; it gives people who are a step below middle-class a push into middle-class and incentivizes capitalistic spending.
3) It can help better fund 401(k) accounts, so retirement is not just dependent on the G.I., especially as pensions continue to disappear and 401(k) accounts continue to be overwhelmingly underfunded.
4) It allows for more entrepreneurship, as people can better assume the risk of starting a new business knowing that they have guaranteed income. It also allows money to go directly into neighborhoods, gives people spending power, and facilitates growth in underserved areas.
5) Lowering the retirement age to 60 will encourage retirement without the downside of reduced benefits, thus opening up more jobs for recent graduates.

The left gets something they want: a poverty-attacking plan and health care coverage; the right gets some things they want: no minimum wage, no social security, no welfare, and no Medicaid. And it gives money to people to spend on goods and services necessary to maintain capitalism, while working to minimize the inherent caste system.

Efficiency of government, in turn, can come from streamlining the tax process, identifying wasteful spending, and holding government-backed projects accountable. Creating appropriate tax levels that somewhat lower than now could be possible if loopholes and deductions are eliminated. Essentially, working backward from 30% tax on all income, regardless of passive, etc., or something along those lines.

Instead of spending money on military equipment like planes and tanks that end up sitting in the desert rusting just because representatives want that pork for their region, spend the money to send those workers back to school to adapt their skills to infrastructure rebuilding: roads and bridges; outfitting buildings for earthquakes; updating our entire utility system which is woefully unprepared to endure an attack or a solar flare; and expanding renewable energy sources. These are all jobs that can’t be outsourced because they are all things right here. And they are necessary. Sending people back to school to adapt their current skill set is a necessary investment in the future.

We also don’t need the thousands of nuclear warheads that we maintain; the absurdity of having that many warheads is staggering. It is literally impossible to fire them all and expect humanity to exist afterward. We should be updating our military to be more precise, not in some humanity-defeating arms race that basically sets money on fire. The obsession with military size is outdated and narrow; our military should be judged on its effectiveness and precision. Having a million ships in the navy is irrelevant if, again, all that power essentially means the end of the world and if it is not capable of responding in a precise manner. We are so concerned with a show of force to prevent an attack that we don’t spend that time working on actual prevention; escalating arms races means eventual destruction.

Also, contracts accepted for government-funded projects should not be allowed to staggeringly increase in budget. The contracts should be honored, and any increase to the budget should have a thorough explanation and documentation. It is utterly ridiculous that the high speed train project in California has more than doubled in anticipated costs, especially considering its short track mileage. It’s an inexcusable drain on government spending and efficiency, and it limits our ability to improve our infrastructure, expand our mobility options, and create jobs.

Donald Trump and the Republican agenda is an attack–on governing, on poor people, on working people, and on the sick and elderly. They attack for the sake of supporting the rich, corporations, and large donors (which, typically, are some combination of those three). I do not believe Democratic agendas are inherently better; they suffer from the same lobbying foibles of the rich, corporations, and donors. I do not believe we can tax our way to prosperity. But I do believe it is possible to balance taxes with exhaustive investment in our people–on jobs, on education, on health, and, most importantly, on poverty.

What holds us back is threefold: an ingrained belief that government spending is a ‘handout;’ corporate short-sightedness that cares more about quarterly profit reports and duty to shareholders instead of employees and consumers; and an inability to see our nation as a fluid interface in which we all become responsible, in some way, of supporting those around us. We are selfish and greedy, and we have been told that it is only others who are actually like that.We ignore our own shortcomings while pointing out any that we can find in others–Ronald Reagan demonized welfare with the idea of ‘welfare queens,’ started by one woman who ripped off welfare. Our effort goes into discovering the few negative events and ignoring the ways in which our entitlement programs have helped lift up an incredible amount of people in the fight against poverty. We construct enemies because it is easier to blame the poor / the Other than it is to realize our country has failed to help us prepare for the technological changes in the work force and has also allowed corporations to dictate economic policy. You do not matter because there is no reason for you to matter, under these terms. That’s the caste system.

Capitalism needs corporations. But it also needs workers. It needs spenders. And the best way to get people to spend is to put money in their hands.Anything else is shortsighted.

#27: I’m Better Than You: a Narcissistic (non)Defense of My Inability to Try, part 1

The sun and blue sky lie about just how damn cold Ohio is right now. We will use this as a metaphor, a symbol, because we might as well. We will use this because such contradictions are apt for Joel. He awaits this interview with something akin to Tourrette’s–constant moving, feet bouncing up and down, an inability to stop touching his beard, to not use his hands when answering questions. He often stops talking during the middle of answers to shake his head. When asked about this particular tic, he says he can’t stop himself from finding ways to criticise his responses, which means he can never give a real response because all of his responses have been vetted through some sort of internal-as-external-voices process. The world, it seems, is always just about to break his words into atoms.
Even by appearances, he’s a bit of a contradiction: he wears v-neck sweaters and ties with Red Wing workboots to his job in insurance; his idea of comfort wear is a collared shirt, tie, and a zip-up hoodie. He swears by his boots. He can’t seem to decide if he wants to own a Ford Focus or F350. He fantasises about moving off the grid in Montana or moving to the beach on the Gulf Coast or moving to the desert in Arizona or moving to the perfect weather of San Diego or moving to Dubai because doing so would be, to him, some sort of defiant rebellion about what he’s not supposed to do. He makes no sense, and he’s all too aware of it. The awareness haunts him; it’s why he can’t answer questions without stopping–a crippling self-consciousness, not about what he does, but about what he says and how it could be construed and how it seems that ideas evolve in the middle of sentences. The world, he knows, never stops.

At one point in your life, all you wanted to do was be a quarterback, yet you never actually played organised football. Do you consider this a rather symbolic explanation of who you are?

I mean, I can’t really say no to that, can I? When I was young, I played football all of the time; when we lived in Pittsburgh, I would use a balled-up sock in the living room and throw passes to myself. When we moved, I would play in the front yard, being both teams, driving up and down the yard, throwing passes to myself, running hand-offs, narrating the action. I loved football. I would make my dad run patterns in the back yard. I wanted to be John Elway. I begged for these football uniform things that came with cheap helmets and cheap shoulder pads; I think they were in the JCPenney’s catalouge. My obsession with cleats and mouthpieces–had to have the same one as Bo Jackson–was a bit ridiculous. I remember one time in winter, I was walking somewhere with my mom and I wore a pair of my football pants; I kept telling her I had to get used to the cold just in case Green Bay drafted me. It was a serious consideration in my head.
Sports was easy when we lived there. I was a superior athlete, and I knew that. Like, the day of Little League tryouts, my dad walked me up to the field and on the way he basically told me not to be arrogant just because, even at 9, I was better at baseball than most of the older kids. I had been participating in Little League practices since I was 7, two years before I would even be allowed to be on the team. I never thought about it, but I still knew it, you know? But, there wasn’t a youth football league there. It was all backyard football. After my parents divorced and we moved back down to the Pittsburgh area, there was a youth football league, but I was no longer a superior athlete–I was a typical athlete, and suddenly football was scary–kids were bigger, I could get hurt, maybe I’m not good enough, etc. And I had no drive to challenge that fear and actually find out for myself. I chose to play youth basketball instead.

In the end, though, you quit on basketball as well. The only sports you never quit on were baseball and golf.

I guess it really depends on your version of quit. I didn’t quit playing baseball until I got too old to participate in proper leagues, but, I mean, I didn’t try to play in college or anything. And golf, I’ve continued to play to this day. I really like golf. But in both cases, I have let myself be content with my inherent abilities. Like, I was awesome at baseball, just awesome. But as I got older, I didn’t continue to be awesome because I never worked at it, I was just enough better than others to be considered ‘good.’ I didn’t do drills, train myself, or try to become better. I just allowed myself to be as good as I was inherently. That’s sad. It’s the same thing for golf–I never pushed my parents for actual lessons, I never tried to be any better than I was the first day I picked up a club. I got better over time just from playing, but that’s more to do with the benefits of just playing more often, not because I pushed myself.
Golf is a game I understand, psychologically, as in, it suits me. It’s a loner sport within the socialisation of competition. There’s power, there’s finesse, there’s mental adjustments to the course, the weather, the distance, etc. It involves walking, which, weirdly, I find to be soothing. But I’ve never wanted to be anything other than ‘decent enough.’ Or, rather, I’ve always wanted to be great, but not enough to actually try at it. I am, to this day, convinced that I could be great at golf, or that I could have been great at golf–that I could have played college, gone second-tier pro or something, with the ‘right training,’ that I should have convinced my parents to spend money on training and travelling and the sports pyschologists or whatever. It’s all rather naive of me, but I still think I could do that if I invested the necessary time and money. It’s like having a ghost follow you around everywhere: there’s this person who could have existed and I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about that ghost.
And the real sad part is, like, I gave up on organised basketball after 8th grade, but I still played all the time. It’s probably been my favourite sport to play. I particpated in intermurals in college every single semester and I loved it. And I was damn good, but I always had excuses for why I had quit in 8th grade–I wasn’t tall enough, I wasn’t part of the ‘basketball crew,’ I wasn’t going to given a fair shot, blahblahblah. Basically, I was a chickenshit, scared of what it meant to be challenged by other damn good players, and I could not handle the idea that I might fail. It was way easier to make jokes about practice getting in the way of my pot smoking than it was to risk failure. And so the ghosts just keep queuing up behind me. And I can’t stop myself from thinking that my views on my skills in any sport are way over-inflated, that I’m pulling an Al Bundy, creating grandious ghosts as some sort of bizarre excuse for that fear.

We pause. Joel almost looks like he’s smiling, like the only way to respond to himself is to find a way to laugh about it. The twitching continues, the legs move even faster and then suddenly stop. He stares down at his hands and just waits in silence. It’s hard to know how much of this is true; qualifying ‘good’ when it comes to sports is a difficult process. He says he remembers his dad saying he was ‘scary good’ at being a quarterback, but that’s not from an objective observer. He doesn’t have stats or figures or championships to back up any claim, and the way he stares at his hands almost looks like he thinks they, somehow, hold that objective truth.
The real truth is, sports aren’t an objective truth–the only clear truth in any game is winner and loser, and, yet, even that gets argued sometimes. We hear things about who should have won or a team should have lost a game because of mistakes, yet somehow didn’t. It’s as though sports cannot have any defintion, that the act of participating in a game means you have elected to join a fluid universe where subjective views will determine who you are. And that by moving in the fluidity, you will never be able to assess yourself because the only opinions that matter are other people’s.

#22: I continue to try to figure out what it means to grow up and become an actual human being

I have to admit, despite all of my narcissistic writing tendencies, that I have not had too many moments of actual self-realisation. Perhaps such lack of epiphanies is what drives my internal leanings; it would inherently make sense. I don’t know who I am, so I must filter all of my world through the lens of “I.” It would also probably explain my incessant need to start most of my posts with obvious throat clearing: I have no ability to enter a topic without first bringing some sort of meta-commentary on the thought process / develop an explanation for why I am even writing. Life is complicated.

This week, crystalised yesterday in a coversation with my friend, Pat, I realised I am a moron. And this realisation was not difficult to ascertain, nor was it actually a surprise. Pat and I were talking about the ridiculous mindset of some of the American voting public. I relayed to him a story about how at lunch I had to hear an older woman complain about the cost of her healthcare, how she was entitled to disability from the government because she at least earned it unlike all those moochers”, how Obama won in 2012 through a sinister consipiracy of voter fraud proven by facts on the internet, and that while she doesn’t believe we are in the end times at this moment, the apacolypse is coming soon. I cannot handle people like this. I may disagree wildly with the conservative approach to government, but I can, at the very least, allow them to have an opinion if it has its own version of logic. However, you cannot complain about healthcare and demand government money be given to you and then immediately go into how the man who supports those very things shouldn’t be the president. That’s incomprehensible, and it is a specific type of destructive thinking: if it is important to me then it matters with no regard for the actuality of the thinking. I want my government money because I need it; Obama is a Muslim Antichrist socialist from Kenya hellbent on ending the world and this affects me because I’m a solidly white Christian American.

The problem, however, is I cannot truly condemn people who think like this because I do the exact same thing with a loosely connected idea.

I am a strong proponent of strict regulation when it comes to the environment. The science clearly indicates climate change is occurring and that we humans are major factors. To ignore these facts puts the Earth’s, and thus our own, existence in peril. Keep this in mind as I’m about to start writing about something completely ridiculous in light of those previous sentences. I have been, for quite a while now, trying to convince G. to let me buy a truck. And not just any truck, but a diesel engine truck, which means 250/2500 or bigger. I argue that owning such a truck makes sense because with the amount of outdoor maintenance I have to do on our yard, I need a commercial mower which means I need a trailer, plus I need to haul materials and because we need something with four-wheel drive. And the diesel engine makes sense because they last longer and hopefully we wouldn’t have to buy another one in a long time.

This isn’t even the most ridiculous part.

When I decide that we must get something, such as my future truck, I cannot stop myself from looking up prices online. Autotrader is permantly open on my laptop. I see if trucks I’ve marked as “possibilities” [despite already knowing that none of them are an actual possibility] have sold and feel dejected when one has. There is a part of my brain that believes a purchase will occur and some asshole has taken that away from me by going in and paying for a truck I have set aside on a laptop screen in some delusional belief about the future. However, it gets worse. Part (most) of my desire for owning a hulking 4×4 vehicle comes directly from a crippling paranoia of and disdain for driving in snow. I hate snow. I hate snow to the point of panic attacks, and I feel it is necessary to wall myself up in a societally-accepted tank whenever the threat of snow appears. And this is how I started looking at Hummer H2s on Autotrader, and this is why, in terms of weather/vehicles, I am a goddamn Tea Party member.

The problem with making decisions solely based on fear and paranoia is that irrational thoughts find a way of being rationalised by the person having them. Facts/blatant self-hypocricies/outside opinions will not, cannot, factor into the thought process because it, in some way, totally makes sense to me to think owning an H2 because of the 4 months or so of possible bad weather is a good idea. I disregard all my notions of environmental concern when it no longer trumps my personal concern. What this also means is that I can grandstand all I want about how stupid it is for that lady at lunch to contradict herself about entitelements/Obama, but she’s only thinking in the same exact way I am. Protect myself, worry about the others later if it’s convienent.

It is a deconstructionist approach to life. We can take an abstract idea–say, the social safety net–then destroy it to fit whatever definition works best for what we want. For the hard right, the safety net is an “entitlement.” For the hard left, the safety net is an “equaliser.” We are talking about the same thing, but we’ve broken it down into nothing, which means we are actually arguing over nothing, because the “nothing” [unlike the movie Neverending Story] can only be defined by breaking down other abstractions–entitlement to abuse to moocher to rising government costs to the collapse of American society to the Rapture happening. To me such deconstructionist thinking is absurd, but to those who believe it, not only is it not absurd, it is an inherent truth of being. But, in general, such things are still abstractions because we are arguing over the idea of something–the idea of government waste, the idea of a moocher–because in every single instance there is a counterargument based entirely on the need of the person making the argument. The cycle of thought does not allow for logic because to the thinker the logic is clear and infallible.

Factually, the largest portion of our current budget goes to healthcare and Social Security, and then Defense. Factually, owning an H2 is terrible for the environment. Yet, fear and paranoia dictates the logic necessary to rationalise the need for both. Living in the United States means being part of country where the general consensus states that not only must we have the largest military might in the world, we must have the largest by a wide margin. Without it, we apparently put ourselves at risk of the rest of the world coming together and rushing our borders like some vicious Orc horde; the terrorists win; and the Rapture begins even earlier than expected. There is absolutely no reason we need more missiles than could ever be used in a war without utterly destroying the planet because if it ever came to that, there would be no reason for humanity to even exist. However, we have been trained for decades, starting with the Cold War, that the U.S. must be omnipresent as a War Power in order to protect our way of life. Even if you disagree with that mindset, if you have lived here, you have grown up with that as a societal norm. There is no way to escape it. It’s insidious and pervasive and absolutely necessary to keep reinforcing in order to justify the bloated budget; according to the warhawks’ line of thinking we can’t take away money from defense and put it towards the safety net because without the defense there is no safety net. Change is not in dollars and cents; change is entirely spiritual, and the bottom line is our country’s spirit has been warmongering for decades.

Knowing this as our cultural baseline, it makes total sense our political representatives cannot find a way to talk to each other in non-hyperbolic, accusatory terms. We are all always worried about losing the war, whatever the hell that war may be. Sports are wars on the field, there is a war on drugs, there’s a war on women, a war on Christmas, a war on religion, a war on gun rights; we are all righteous soldiers in the wars of our everday lives. We must win; we must vanquish; we must, at all costs, be protected from the snow. And here is the problem with saying all that: it’s a hyperbolic response to an abstract idea of U.S. society, and it, sadly, ignores the greater good we are all capable of accomplishing.

Perhaps the greatest human fraility is our need to be entertained. We may be liars, at-all-costs-self-protectors, psychopaths, oil baron douchebags, whatever, but the real fraility capitalism, and those who take advantage of it, preys on is entertainment, the desire to be soothed by something other. In its purest form, such a desire leads to creativity; at its most bastardised, it mutates from creativity into self-hatred. It seems pretty obvious to me that those Tea Party Patriots loudly proclaiming their love of the United States actually hate it. They hate it because it isn’t the place they imagine in their flag-waving fantasies; they, in turn, support (capitalism) the voices (Fox News, Drudge Report, Rush, etc) who soothe that hatred by confirming their fears. In this cocoon, we are safe; everyone agrees with us; and anyone who doesn’t is attacking us; the war is ever on. What the previous statement ignores, however, is that, in general, most of the people in that cocoon believe they are accomplishing the greater good. They will save the country from itself; the problem though, again, is that the country they are saving doesn’t actually exist.

Fixing this is rather simplistic: put some bankers in jail where they belong; close corporate tax loopholes in conjunction with lowering those tax rates; stop defunding science that could change the world for the better; stop pretending education is a score-rating endeavour [really, Obama, tying federal funding to graduation rates is only going to make colleges pass students who should have failed (which, really, is already happening because schools need the tuition money, education be damned)–you may have noticed this at the lower education level, perhaps? No? You still think this is a good idea? Okay, well, thanks for that.]; accept strict environmental regulations because the world still needs to exist later; quit pretending that making money is more important than any other action in life–put mandatory CEO salary limits, start investing in your employees because they in turn will invest in the economy which in turn means your company is inherently being invested in, and, for the love of everything, stop acting like making money is somehow a patriotic act; being a patriot means giving back to the country you care about–pay your taxes, bring your companies here and hire workers with a living wage, make people see that the U.S. means something to you other than dollar signs.

There’s obviously more. There’s always more. It’s a fluid society. And if I have to give up my desire for a legal snow tank, then others can make some spiritual changes as well.