The Importance of Being Uncomfortable
We Are Not Failures
All of this.
When I was little, I wanted to be a firetruck, not a firefighter, but a fire truck. Maybe it’s because I was built like a truck, perpetually a rosey red, and enjoyed playing with campfires… but when I was a toddler being a fire truck was my future goal. As I grew older, my hopes and dreams left the world of the surreal and entered the world of practicality; I wanted to be a doctor, a nurse, a teacher, a lawyer, or a journalist. Instinctively, I had always known that I was going to university.
Being an Indigenous student within the academy, you are held to a different standard within your peers and your family. When you’re an Indigenous student, there’s no such thing as failure, because you’re not just failing from school you’re failing everyone that has worked hard to support you where you are. There’s this added…
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Pulling up Roses
I have concluded that most ideas equated with “positivity” by the mainstream are cheap abstractions, bankrupt of honesty and meaning.
Your life is your garden,
Your thoughts are the seeds.
If your life isn’t awesome,
You’ve been watering the weeds.
They are constantly parroted, like seemingly benign background noise. They have that small element of truth, yet if you dare to challenge them, their ugliness will be revealed and their intent manifest. You will see the ire of a religious zealot whose god has been defiled. If you find yourself down, claiming that you have problems that can’t simply be fixed by a positive attitude; that there are real material obstacles in society, the veil will be cast aside and the beast unleashed.
It is the violent defense of western individualism.
Everyone gets what they deserve.
If you’re down, it’s your own fault.
You just need to try harder!
STOP CURLING INTO A BALL CRYBABY!!
You see, you have just told them that they are not safe. Tomorrow, it could be them. You have shaken their sense of invincibility and they hate you for it. They assume you are attacking them to bring them down “to your level”, when in fact you are begging them to stop throwing you under the bus to maintain their delicate illusion.
Indeed, those fluffy truisms and these hell-fire judgements are but two sides of the same ideological coin.
agape ing void
I was going through some of my 200+ tabs of articles and found one that I never quite got to finish reading. I find that it really articulates some things that have been weighing on me heavily lately. My partner has been going through hell trying to get much needed help from support systems, and instead of empathetic response has garnered not only brutal, heartless scrutiny, but in fact further threat to her stability and well being. Only this week did she gain some moderate reprieve, only to have her housing come into crisis.
As difficult as these things have been, I think the deepest part of the struggle has been the isolation and lack of understanding from those you ought to have been most understanding. Were it not for the competition and subsequent isolation this article addresses, I don’t think such broken systems could ever have developed. We would have addressed them much sooner.
To my mind, the article also relates well to the topic of “loving yourself so that others can love you.” I really believe that this discussion is not a completely honest one. There is a level of truth behind having enough awareness so that you are not an emotional vortex who suffocates people. Such people can’t be satisfied or healed simply by giving them attention.
Beyond that however, this discourse becomes a farce. We DO need each other, and needing each other does not deserve the shame we assign to it. In fact I think that shame only deepens the desperation. The assurance required to help someone out, is not absence of need, but merely a willingness of the individual to take ownership of it; to have a dialog of respect where each has room to express and negotiate.
Radically loving each other and engaging in deep struggle, even suffering, is not only beautiful but necessary. In fact, I think that for society to get back to a level of sustainable humanity, it will take a considerable number of people engaging in immense suffering for the greater good, as the momentum of this Great Machine bears down against their resistance.
Counter-intuitively, struggle and suffering done well can gives us deeper meaning if it is in the service of communion; just as intense competition for selfish gain or even simply for personal security, seems to leave us desperately unfulfilled.
What are your thoughts, your experiences?
I know full well that when the media actually bothers to make a fuss about video games and movies that it’s a farce. The causes of urban violence are much more complex than violent video games. I know that they don’t “make” anyone go out and commit violence in a simplistic cause and effect sense. I know that it’s a smoke screen that lets people direct their frustration and failing sense of security onto the often demonized youth, mentally ill, and minorities.
I will say one thing though. When I watch these civilians and journalists being gunned down by enthusiastic soldiers, chomping at the bit; it tweaks something within me. I’m tickled by a sense of power. I feel that flush in my chest when I hear the BAP-BAP-BAP. I’m flooded with the excitement of the heroic paragon laying waste to his faceless, evil-doing enemies.
“Come on, let us shoot!”
I feel a cognitive dissonance. I don’t want to admit to it; I want to cover it up. I want to explain away, to justify. “It’s just war”, I tell myself. “They’re just doing what they have to”, I say. “Things get all topsy-turvy in combat”, I shouldn’t be so simple-minded and sentimental. I feel sick.
“Well it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle,” says the soldier.
What kind of context makes an argument like this start to sound plausible? Is it even as simple as video games and movies? Is it sensationalized and the status quo media? Is it our empire state of mind? Are there even any individuals who have ultimate responsibility, or is this a collective problem that implicates all of us?
I don’t have any simple answers for you. I’ll just say that the fact that I don’t think I’m that unique in feeling this cognitive dissonance. I know that if I were not as curious and questioning as I have become, I would not be writing this as I am now.
I leave you to think about it.
Goblet Runneth Over
I’ve been watching my favourite Harry Potter movies tonight. Namely, Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix. What I love about these stories has nothing to do with magic. What’s really beautiful about these stories is that Rowling doesn’t use “kid gloves” with her audience, young as some of them are. It’s the deepest respect and dignity with which she entrusts her audience.
At the end of Goblet when Cedric is killed, Dumbledore defies the ministry and chooses not to spare the young wizards any of the heart-wrenching truth of its circumstances. In doing so he reminds them and us of what makes life precious: honouring and celebrating each other in both life and death. Through Dumbledore, Rowling shows us that by not avoiding death we can be our most vulnerable and genuine with each other and with ourselves.
As the story continues on into Order, a major theme is the contrast between Harry who dares to struggle with the reality of Cedric’s death; and by contrast the tragedy, destruction and misery perpetuated by Cornelius Fudge’s determined avoidance of it. Voldemort who is himself a death figure is, at the end, expelled from Harry’s mind not by magic spells, but again by Harry’s state of love and acceptance against Voldemort’s of denial and avoidance.
I think Rowling understands that the young, just as well as the old are not only capable, but have so much to gain in knowing these important truths.
There is so much going on in the whole skepticism versus religious debate, which is what I really take this article to be about, the lens focused mainly on the skeptic side of things. Personally, I am someone who resonates with skepticism. But one has to ask whether I mean skepticism the ideology, or skepticism the culture. If you listened to some skeptics, they would have you believe that they don’t have a culture, or at the very least that their reasoning isn’t affected by it. This strikes close to the heart of the most damning flaw of skeptic culture as I see it, and which I believe this author, and his subject matter, Nagel, are also trying to pick apart.
Weiseltier seems to dance around, poking holes at it from different angles, but not quite put a name to it. I think I can help him out.
We will go out into the world and save them with science, enlightenment, democracy and “free” markets. In this case it’s mainly the science and rationality that are glommed onto.
In past iterations they were called positivists whose definition seems very close to that of “scientific naturalist”. They even tried to re-label themselves as “brights”, which is also very telling of what really drives the less seemly behaviour displayed by the culture.
I am not familiar with Nagel at all, so I don’t know his intentions, but I have to wonder if his phrase “Darwinist imperialism” was meant as more than just a instigating jab. On the one hand I see some very unenlightened, regurgitated, blind stabs made by the religious against skeptics: oversimplified associations of them with social Darwinism as though anyone but themselves couldn’t possibly have a scruple without god. Yet, I also notice that skeptics are far, far too quick dismiss this inconvenient and embarrassing history, as future generations will likely (hopefully) be embarrassed of us.
The sad fact is that there really was not merely a small, powerful cabal that praised the so-called science of racial superiority and eugenics, but it in fact was widely accepted by the society, including many now still considered to be great minds of the time, and it was the science that rationalized it. It is of course absurd to suppose that rejection of god puts one firmly in that camp, but what they do in fact share with the scientific minds of that time is the same hubris.
I don’t mean the hubris that they are often accused of for daring to be good enough without a deity, or for seeking knowledge once thought to be off limits. No, I mean the hubris that says “now is the enlightenment”. Oh, yes, we were ignorant before, but that all changed now. Yet more horrendous is the wistful ease with which skeptics often dismiss the idea that they could possibly be affected by politics, social contexts of our time, or especially (ack!) emotions. They believe in rationality after all.
Such is the blindness of every age, and rarely is it more exemplified for us than with this element of skeptical culture. It’s easy to miss the meaning of an interaction for the mere subject matter when that’s all you’ve allowed yourself to recognize. To be this kind of skeptic is to believe only in “facts”. The “how” doesn’t matter, only the “what”, and we are the “who” that owns it. To be right is so irrevocably tied to the angry dismissal to which they feel compelled, that it’s not even questioned. Maybe this is part of what he means when he says that they are not self-skeptical.
Thinking again about the history of racism and it’s connection to the science of its day, our present context seems more clear. The rhetoric of the day was that it was their duty to save the hapless, heathen wretches from themselves. After all, what are we bringing them but enlightenment? What horrors have been committed throughout the ages with such “good intentions” as these?
I will never say that all ideas are equal, for what would even be the point of thinking. There are things that can be known, and things that are clearly more likely. The point is, that I have seen many good people, and many unspeakable cads on both side of this divide and I can unequivocally say that it is not god-belief, atheism, or something else in between determines where they fall, but empathy.
I’m seriously impressed that for once, anyone at all is willing to take responsibility for the latest atrocity of the day. That really is something you don’t see much of lately. Yet whether or not we agree to let him take the blame, or take responsibility ourselves as consumers, or point fingers at rich business owners, I still think that it’s not enough. Maybe some of these, or all of these above actions are appropriate.
I just don’t think that any of them are solutions.
He can take responsibility and push for changes in policy in his company, and they can just replace him. We can fill ourselves with guilt and pretend that everything can be solved by consumer choices, but have you ever tried to find new clothes that are NOT made in Bangladesh or in some other country where people are enslaved and worked to death making our things? If you do find them, they cost sometimes 10x as much. Should we hoist that responsibility on our own desperately poor? We can fuss and fume until the company axes a few heads, but what happens then? Even if we could close that companies doors, how many will be there buying up its assets and filling its shoes the next morning?
I’m not saying we shouldn’t do any of these things. Surely we should keep trying, and I’m certainly NOT saying that it’s hopeless or advocating for status quo. What I am saying is simply that while we do these things, we also need to think more broadly. We need to realize that these things are not just happening due to a few greedy bad apples. We need to realize that these things are systemic. It’s not that people exists who will do bad things. It’s that we passively allowed these systems to form around us where the people who do bad things are not only allowed to get away with it, but rewarded, honoured, and treated with fealty. Even they are not always the masterminds we may sometimes think they are. Often enough, I think they are just as duped by corrupt ideologies as we are (albeit no less responsible or heinous in nature).
We swallow the dogma that allows it all to flourish and grow. We decry the horrible things happening in the world, then turn around and kowtow to free market dogma about what’s good for the economy, good for business, and that we must have growth. The dog-whistle of progress is blown and we howl in chorus. We’re full of “oh dear“s, but when someone makes the radical suggestion that these dogmatic mantras of the elite are not in fact true or in our best interests long term, there’s a wall contorted faces and fears of conspiracy theory.
Our lies bring us comfort.
I don’t have a camp. I’m not an anarchist, or a communist. I don’t have the blind confidence that many of them have to suppose that if we just do X, everything will right itself. What I do know, is that things aren’t working and that I’m starting to become aware of which things are lies, and why, and fairly solid framework of everything ties together at present. To me this is the first crucial step toward change and where things are really getting stalled. We’re far too busy with distractions like whether we’re red or blue: two side of the same ignorant presumptions, firmly in the camp of missing the forest for the trees.
The individuals are sometimes the locus where these systems coalesce into material form and where we can affect it, sure. But like a hydra, we can cut off a head only to find two more in its place. You see it’s not just the indivuduals, or just the companies, or just the consumers. It’s not just the bad apples. It’s the entire self-feeding system and the IDEAS that keep it all running. Most of us, even those who are supposedly progressive and left that are also duped and support. I believe there needs to come a tipping point when enough of us snap out of these default frames of mind, these lies.
I point to another current events happening in Quebec to draw from a very poignant slogan on one of the banners:
“We are not demanding a liberated university, but a liberated society. A liberated university within a capitalist society is like a reading room in a prison.”
Likewise I think that a few isolated policy changes, or sacrificial lamb executives being axed, is not real change. When it comes down to it, real transformative change will be made up of small individual progressive changes, but they must be informed by a broader and more radical understanding, and with such a reach and scope to attack it on ALL fronts at once, leaving no quarter to run to. If one’s perspective is limited to the confines of the current system, they will continue to serve the current system.
Instead of real change, we will just be making a kinder, gentler hell.