awarewolf

One of my ponderances of late has been how our exposure to the news shapes our perception of the world.

I read at least 100 headlines a day, knowingly or otherwise. I scroll through facebook, reddit, twitter, and my RSS feeds a few times a day. It’s all filtered through the people and organizations I like or trust, building into some vague sense of what the state of the world is, what the nearest possible futures look like. But that whole sensation of knowing what really goes on in the world is just a complicated lie, a house of cards built from countless availability heuristics.

I try to counter that by searching for data and statistics, but this is just a fart in the hurricane. For instance, there’s no way to test the idea that global xenophobia is actually getting worse; I can only make a guess based on the number of bigoted statements that make it into the headlines over the last month. And the certainty of that guess is always haunted by the very plausible notion that the world is the same as it has always been, and I just happen to hear about more of the awful things that occur.

What is the true value in this increased awareness? There’s so much anxiety to be found in keeping up with the goings-on of humanity, but I feel a responsibility to keep trying, lest I unknowingly perpetuate the sins of my ancestors or participate in the errors of my own generation through my ignorance.

Some of these matters, I tacitly know that I lack the discipline to contribute to the solution. Knowing full well the horrors of industrial farming, I really do just love beef, even the stuff they dole out at Taco Bell. Meanwhile, my outrage over racial injustice seems to be limitless. My heart ached in very literal pain and anger as I read of the latest shootings last week, even though these incidents are total deja vu.

There is a temptation towards nihilism as I add all of the latest crises together. There are so many, and none of them can be considered unimportant or irrelevant. Is it possible to care about everything that much? Can our hearts stretch infinitely so that we become capable of empathizing with all the important goings-on of the world? Or are we forced to pick our battles and hope that, between the lot of us, someone else cares enough about the other problems – climate change, education, sexism, poverty, health care – to take care of them? Don’t most of these problems require effort and attention from everyone to truly solve? Is humanity really capable of solving its own problems, or have we built a society more complicated than our meager brains can manage?

Happy Monday, friends.

abundance is everywhere

Littered in my sketchbooks are outlines of a modern progressive epistemology, where I try to detail each of the core tenets of progressive politics and ideology. It’s a fun thought experiment, but when I try to flesh it out into paragraphs and pages, it grinds to a halt.

I ask myself who I’m writing this for.

It can’t be for myself – dreaming up political theory in a vacuum is a gross cocktail of narcissism and solipsism.

Who, then, is it meant for?

Providing support for progressives that already agree? Eh. The world doesn’t need more preaching to the choir.

Attempting to sway centrists or conservatives? Most progressives wouldn’t read a modern conservative’s epistemology, nor would most conservatives have any interest in my treatise. Another poor tool for effecting change.

So, I put to rest this notion, but there remains an urge. Change requires unity. Unity requires shared understanding. Everywhere, I see a lack of shared understanding.

Discord seems to be growing in America across all spectra. Demagoguery is on the rise. Tensions are building. Sure, it’s election season and maybe things will chill out in 2017. I tend to doubt it.

How is that even possible? Regardless of what the future looks like, we live in a time of the greatest abundance in the history of mankind.

There is, at this very moment, enough food to feed everyone on the planet.

The most common deadly diseases can be cured, treated, or vaccinated against – globally.

We have enough labor and materials to provide shelter to everyone.

Knowledge has never been more widespread and available.

But we’re still fighting over basic goods and services.

Given dire enough circumstances, humans will do just about anything for survival. That’s a pretty uncontroversial fact. It’s the premise of most post-apocalyptic stories, but history gives us a pretty good picture of this as well.

For most of history, humanity has had little control over those dire circumstances. A year of drought could lead to mass starvation. Disease could swoop in from a few rats (or gerbils) hanging out on a wagon. Our margins for error were a lot thinner. That’s in societies where more than half of the population were farmers or directly involved in agriculture, and they still struggled to feed everyone.

A War on Poverty would not make sense in ancient China, medieval Europe, post-revolutionary America, or any other point in history. Eliminating poverty wasn’t an achievable goal until the mid-20th century. Class and caste systems inherent to many past civilizations are a direct response to that. There’s no point in hoping for a better life – you were born into poverty, best just to accept it as your lot in life and hope for better luck next time.

Scarcity changes everything.

But we don’t live in a time of scarcity.

If there’s one idea that I think needs to spread, it’s that we are in an era of overwhelming abundance. There are enough resources to meet everyone’s needs, without qualification or exception. This is a fact.

That doesn’t mean it’s an easy task; the logistics of distributing resources are intense. Our economies might not be configured for the task – but that can be changed with less difficulty than we might imagine.

Many of our current political schisms seem to be premised in the notion that not everyone can be prosperous and not everyone deserves to prosper. But if the first notion is false – we have the abundance to provide basic necessities universally – why is there any need to determine who qualifies for help?

Abundance is everywhere. Everyone can prosper.

identiclasm

There’s a lot of work yet left to do, but so far I’m pleased with how things are coming along.  From the design side of things, I want to convert the background to SVG so that I can take it to the next step, that being a dynamic and potentially interactive scene.  I’ve had musings of changing it based on the tags within a given post, or perhaps animating the birds, waves, the sun, and so on.  It’ll be a while before I get around to that, but I’m already getting a bit tired of the existing scene, so the clock is ticking.  Moving on: thoughts after reading my entire blog from start to finish – the first time I’ve ever done so.

Memories are recorded very differently in words than in photos.  I go through all of my pictures on facebook once a year or so –  not as a ritual, but at some point I just find myself scanning through them, revisiting the progress of my life, trying to see what the pictures say about the names and faces contained therein.  Photos capture moments, but they don’t immerse you into the time and place.  They make that moment easier to access, but the only story they tell is the one you already know.  Writing, on the other hand, is quite like a short film of thoughts and feelings, available to be re-experienced an infinite number of times.  In this sense, I relived the last nine years of my life through the lens of my writing.  It was more intense than I had expected it to be.

Continue reading identiclasm

cull

As little as I post, the blog weighs heavily on my heart from day to day. I think often of the posts that I should and could be writing, but the last three years have found me incapable of seeing the process through to the end on a consistent basis. I have this overwhelming sense of potential for this place, reinforced by a nagging awareness of how cathartic writing actually always ends up being for me. I’m easily discouraged, however, and if I don’t find myself spewing forth beautiful imagery with every keystroke, I wander away to other corners of the Internet that promise more immediate satisfaction. I’ll leave a tab open with the two or three half-fulfilled paragraphs just waiting to be injected with life, and every time I sit down I am forced to conjure a new reason why I can’t complete the entry. At this point, I feel with certainty that I would benefit greatly from lowering the bar for what’s worth publishing. I have been awkwardly using social networks to do what this blog is much better equipped to do. Shorter posts will go a long way by placing less pressure on each individual entry. But enough melancholy.

At a friend’s recommendation, I read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn (wiki). It’s a philosophical text written in the form of the Socratic method. As it happens, the last book I read was also written in this format, so I guess I have an affinity for the style. Halfway through the book I began to realize that the author was genuinely crazy, which was a shame given how valuable a lot of his insight had been up to that point. Still, I enjoyed his perspective on culture and mythology.

Continue reading cull

existential hat trick

Vocation, con’t

“Jack of all trades, master of none, but oft times better than the master of one.”

This phrase, written first in 1612, was regarded as a compliment during the Renaissance. Renaissance humanists believed humans to be limitless in their capabilities, and as such should pursue knowledge and mastery in every possible manner. Also known as polymaths, these individuals would learn multiple languages and musical instruments, developing not just intellectual skills, but also their physical prowess, social accomplishments, and artistic capabilities. They’re the reason we use the word university (universities were once places of universal education) and why the liberal arts are called the humanities.

Not everyone agrees with this ideal.

“He who embraces too much, has a weak grasp”
“You aim for everything, but you hit nothing”
“Who chases two jackrabbits catches none”
“Seven trades, the eighth one – poverty”

The problem with quotes is that it’s easy to mistake a catchy zinger for valid truth, so here’s something a little more personally relevant. An extended relative of mine – a concept artist for a custom car designer – gave me a framed piece when I was sixteen years old of this wonky car doing a burnout, and he signed it with this oddly prescient quip:

“Tim,
Pick your direction,
aim it & GO!”

My point, I hope, is illustrated. There’s an approach to life that says being well-rounded makes us better at life as a whole, and there’s another that says exclusive dedication is the path to success. The truth, I suspect, is a mixture of the two.

Continue reading existential hat trick

more birthday manifesto

A big thanks to Ben Myers for the domain name suggestion. A few people said they would have liked oftim.net more, but I figured it was time to embrace the name of the blog. Maybe we’ll see oftim make a return somewhere else, though.

Relationships, con’t

As unpredictable and tempestuous as my emotional state can be, I’ve never had cause to question the depth the connections I have with my family and friends. Even at my most self-absorbed, I could never bring myself to say that no one in the world cares about me or loves me. Perhaps my greatest mistake over the past years has been giving legitimacy to feelings of loneliness. Which leads me to conclude that the loneliness I’ve experienced has very little to do with a lack of companionship, but a discomfort with being alone. It would be easy to pass that discomfort off as me just being a social guy, but I think the existential crisis demands a more complete explanation.

Continue reading more birthday manifesto

a birthday manifesto

For my twenty-second birthday, I decided it was high time I sat down and had myself a genuine existential crisis.

What?” I hear you say, “Tim, you’ve been having an existential crisis since you were thirteen. Come on.

Probably, but it’s my birthday and I’ll have an existential crisis if I want to. Stay a while and listen, kids. My intellectual struggles over the past few weeks have revolved around one question. What is my reason for living?

I’m hunting for something that justifies my continued existence. I reject the tautology that we can just live for the sake of living. I need something more. I don’t mean more in any kind of supernatural or extraordinary sense – just something more than myself. I’ve been attempting to explore all the options for what that can mean. These posts will be a part of that exploration.

Continue reading a birthday manifesto

domystify

The most recent issue of National Geographic featured an article on animal domestication – in particular, that of foxes. I highly recommend reading it (there’s also a great Radiolab episode that discusses this topic), but for the purpose of this post I’m going to quickly summarize some of the most important details so that I can dive into making my point, which I’m hoping will blow your mind. Fingers crossed.

In the 1950’s, this guy in Soviet Russia started breeding foxes for domestication by selecting the friendliest ones to breed. Just nine generations of breeding later, he had foxes that were completely in love with humans from birth, without any conditioning. They weren’t just friendlier foxes, though; they adopted a whole suite of behaviors and many of their physical characteristics transformed as they became more domestic. Here’s a short list of changes that appeared:
– Multicolored/spotted coats
– Floppy ears and raised tails
– Tail-wagging, face-licking, barking, and whining
– Higher intelligence, more able/willing to learn human social cues and commands
– Can breed twice as often

Some of these qualities are present in wild juvenile foxes, but are quickly lost as they reach maturity. In domesticating the fox, researchers essentially ended up making foxes that are, in many ways, permanent adolescents. There’s two quotes in the article which I think will help illustrate where I’m going with this:

‘…they remind me a lot of golden retrievers, who are basically not aware that there are good people, bad people, people that they have met before, and those they haven’t.’ These foxes treat any human as a potential companion…

‘They didn’t select for a smarter fox but for a nice fox,’ says Hare. ‘But they ended up getting a smart fox.’

Continue reading domystify

the tenets of my bleeding heart

edit: The first commenter made a very salient point, that my train of thought is quite incomplete at the end. There were a few paragraphs missing – hopefully I’ve managed to remedy this.

I have not often strayed into discussing the directly political, but I am gradually understanding that if I want to pretend to be an agent of change, I have to face facts. The slow, creeping resignation that changing society means more than just changing minds has forced me to stop and take stock of what I really believe when it comes to the role of government and the purpose of law. Politics isn’t easy conversation, but I’ve found that practice truly does make genuine discussion more viable over time. Primal emotions are accessed very rapidly as core values are placed at odds, and my knee-jerk response to toss away respect for others has to be tamed in light of the very constant reality that I really won’t find many people in the world that agree with me about everything. It’s the joy and curse of individuality.

It’s strange to rediscover what it feels like to have a moral zeal for something like, say, global warming – an issue I once believed wasn’t happening at all – and to now find myself gravely concerned for the future of the human race because of it. I’d changed my mind about it a few years back, but I didn’t quite get the “big deal” factor until more recently. It started by watching nature documentaries (if you want to feel emotional about global warming, watch a polar bear try to hunt walrus because it can’t find land), but relentlessly consuming TED talks and working with brand new ecology manuscripts every day has exposed me to a lot of really potent research. Statistics are cheap, but having a glimpse into the excruciating amount of detail and thought driving the process gives meaning to otherwise anonymous numbers.

Continue reading the tenets of my bleeding heart

veer

I love conversations that spin wildly out of control. One moment can be spent talking about something incredibly mundane, but an off-key observation sparks a fast-paced back-and-forth and a solid fifteen minutes are spent hashing out the finer details of the disagreement, ensuring that no logical paths have been left unwalked. The ever-present danger in such a conversation is that things might get too complicated to enable a strong and coherent analysis and response at each turn. Creative thinking has to be applied within the box that the initiation of the conversation set. The best conversations make use of all the space within that box before expanding outwards as may become necessary, and they end when enough has been said, regardless of whether a consensus has been found.

Continue reading veer

loss

Many of my youthful memories involve passively eavesdropping on various phone conversations in my house. I was an introverted child devoted to his video games, but also capable of multitasking well enough to shoot noobs, guzzle coke, and listen to my mother on the phone. As a result, hundreds of anecdotes swim in my memories like little tadpoles doomed never to grow into proper frogs. Frog-memories. Memory-frogs. Whatever, man.

One such memory was of a young girl entering puberty. This girl was experiencing great distress over the phenomenon of growing up. A hither-to perfect child, focused in her studies and obedient in her manners, she found herself anxious and distraught at the introduction of such foreign objects like bras and tampons into her daily life, and rebelled for an exceedingly long period of time to a level that, compared to her previous demeanor, was rather shocking.

My mother deemed that she had experienced a childhood that was, perhaps, exceedingly good, and puberty for this girl meant the end of all she knew and held dear. My mother went on to conclude this girl’s reactions as evidence of original sin – that even the best families with the most excellent children cannot escape the taint of Adam. I would, of course, reach a different conclusion.

I think of all this as I ponder a commonality among some of my social groups that I find to be wholly disturbing. How can someone who is but twenty-four years-old truly look at all the world and see nothing but what once was, when “once was” is such a limited and incomplete definition, one borne of the naivety of youth? Was his childhood really so glorious that he is now permanently embittered to whatever new experiences he has yet before him? Or was he like this from the start, complaining to his mother that her milk was wholly inferior to the efficiency and convenience of the umbilical cord?

I would be content to consider this a mere anomaly if I didn’t see it in varying forms across every spectrum of life. I am terrified to consider what kind of old age these folk will experience. Oh, dear Sally, that Halo 6 you’re playing is absolute rubbish compared to the original Unreal Tournament! Everything after that – absolutely terrible, but they had the right idea, back then, mhm. There has always existed a mighty contingent of humanity that opts to criticize rather than to create, but I deem that this is a unique extreme of this population, and one that threatens to strangle itself with standards that cannot be matched.

I’ll leave this with a conversation.

[psimon] We call it “golden-age syndrome” because we forget that the golden age has a much more accurate name and the complaints about SK and games are symptoms of a more profound disease.
[psimon] Childhood.
[salmon] excuse me while my head explodes
[psimon] np
[salmon] i guess my initial question then is
[salmon] i loved my childhood well enough
[salmon] it was pretty great, plenty of magical moments
[salmon] but i have to say i’m enjoying adulthood a lot too
[psimon] Do you complain about Golden Age?
[salmon] i guess not
[psimon] I don’t think you do, but I’m asking just to be sure.
[psimon] Well, there you go, Salmon.
[psimon] You enjoy your adulthood and do not complain about the Golden Age you experienced before this current stage of your life.
[psimon] You have just come to understand the true nature of golden age syndrome
[psimon] Some people will spend the rest of their lives trying to figure this out.
[salmon] but i guess i still wonder
[salmon] let’s say ted had a really fantastic childhood
[salmon] the kind filled with technowonder
[salmon] how could he be poisoned against everything so quickly, before he’s even experienced it?
[psimon] I have my answer, but the answer is only worth anything when you’ve made it yourself. I’ll share mine not to deliver the answer to you, but to give you something to think about while you make your own
[psimon] I’ve found throughout this “real world” that many people.. scores of people.. are unhappy. Miserable. They complain, mope, get angry, any host of reaction, but at the core there is a lack of contentment.
[psimon] thinking about this and a few good books I was lucky enough to read…
[psimon] Some people grow into adults without realizing that contentment is a choice.
[psimon] So they go around looking for all these things that could be wrong, all these needs to try and satisfy…
[psimon] forgetting that the external world isn’t where your emotions are created
[psimon] its an internal choice, being happy, and people who don’t know that often don’t do that.
[psimon] children don’t have as powerful a capacity to resent or be displeased
[psimon] and the only exclusively human thing in this world is hypocrisy
[psimon] People who grow old without growing up become jaded and convinced that they’re right.

oasis

A while back, I came across a rather simple ytmnd that was just a clip from an old cartoon I was rather fond of.

Listen kid, love is the only chance for happiness you’ll ever get in this life, and if you’re gonna let a little thing like rejection stand in your way, maybe you just might as well stay right there on the ground ’cause people are gonna be walking all over you for the rest of your life.

Whenever I am faced with a conundrum for which I do not possess the wisdom to solve, I seek the insight of pretty much anyone that will listen. It’s been a while since this I’ve felt the need to do this, but the diversity of perspectives that I encountered offered a significant amount of clarity into this issue.

!: “hit it and quit it”

I am young and possess every quality necessary to gratify all of my carnal desires. This will not be the case forever, and it is likely that I will regret it if I do not capitalize on this soon. I am at the stage in my life where experimentation and exploration is easy and approved of. Manipulation is to be expected, and should be embraced if I wish to avoid unnecessary attachment while maximizing my enjoyment. Love begins with the mutual abandonment of said manipulation, and is maintained with much sweat and tears. Outside of this, romance is at heart a cold-blooded affair, in which every word and action can be broken down into simplistic motives, none of which are noble or laudable in any way.

@: “don’t be a manwhore”

Relationships are an enjoyable convenience that, when one is fortunate, might blossom into something worth keeping. Most of the time this will not happen, which is to be expected, and not to be mourned. With the appropriate mindset, attachment to casual partners may be avoided, but this is not an approach to be overused, lest I find myself incapable of escaping it, thus spoiling the opportunity for something more meaningful and long-lasting. True love is a fairy-tale. The simple reality is that my chances of being with one woman for my whole life are rather slim, and it is naivety to believe I am the exception. There is no magical match, only better relationships and worse relationships.

#: “expect nothing”

Searching for love is futile – it will come, or it will not. Love is rather like quantum physics – attempting to observe it will simply change the result, making it wholly worthless to try and predict or control. I should conduct my life in such a way as to survive as if love is not a possibility or does not exist.

$: “know thyself”

Happiness is primarily a matter of learning what is best for me. Each person is different, and thriving is a matter of finding deep connections. These connections can only occur if I know what it is I do and do not want, which requires a playing of the field, as it were. The better I know myself, the better the love (and the sex) I will eventually experience is going to be. Part of maturity is in figuring out the relationships that are worthwhile. Losses will be experienced, but I will be richer for them, and they will make future relationships better as a result.

%: “good things come to those who wait”

“The one” exists, somewhere, and every effort should be exerted to ensure that when I find her, it is as glorious and incredible as possible. Every possible form of attachment and commitment should be saved for the moment when this love is realized. Sex is an expression to be shared only with “the one”, and to dilute it is to disrespect “the one” and dilute the relationship I will eventually experience. This love expects to be waited for, however long it might take – but it is a love that will reward back in spades for the effort.

It is unfortunate that all of these seem to contain elements of truth.

decay

I have, for twenty and a half years, maintained that sex contains some metaphysical quality that made it special and unique among the many acts that comprise the human lifestyle. I have long felt that innocence was key to ensuring that sex remains what it should be; a holy and separate act that should be shielded from corruption and embraced solely as an act of true love. As time marches on, these feelings seem naive, more than aught else.

My doubts do not stem from lust, but from a re-examination of the nature of love. My hope has forever been that love is akin to a treasure that one stumbles upon unexpectedly, and that every effort should be exercised to ensure the glory of that discovery. As such, preserving sex for that moment would be tantamount. To dilute that experience with conflicting memories would serve to ruin its beauty.

If love, however, is not so much about a magical bonding, but about hard work and commitment, then what does that say about sex? If sex is not the penultimate expression of love, but time, devotion, and compromise are what matter most, where does sex then fall in the spectrum of expression? I had assumed that abstaining was a part of that devotion – an effort that was a demonstration of foresight and anticipation. This assumption seems increasingly faulty when I consider the reality that the connection between sex and love is not so necessary, and that it means little whether one comes before the other.

In an ideal world, they come simultaneously. It seems, however, that I do not live in the ideal world, and that true love (as I imagine it) may, in fact, be one of many works of fiction that exists only in the world of elves and phoenixes.

escapism

I’ve spent the last three weeks holed up in my room, for no particular reason. After oversleeping for a test in my logic class, I suddenly lost all desire to keep going, and here I am, accomplishing quite little. It’s relatively the same circumstance I found myself in a year and a half ago.

I’ve been consumed with the concept of purpose. The popular mindset is such that purpose is equivalent with desire. We do not have a distinct purpose outside of what we want; we seek something, and we do what is necessary to acquire it. It is unsurprising, then, that the nature of depression lies in apathy. If our purpose is derived from the basic notion that we have something we care enough to pursue, we lose purpose when either we lose that which we used to care for, or we cease to care. Statistically, suicide is most common among individuals that have recently experienced significant loss – a job, family, etc, or have very weak ties to those entities in the first place.

The pervasiveness of simplistic evolutionary theory in my psychology classes has thus far been rather depressing. I don’t buy that most of our facilities can be reduced to functions of mate selection and special superiority. That just isn’t how I live my life on a day-to-day basis, nor anyone that I know. I recognize the importance and necessity of evolutionary theory in, say, biology, but I’ve come to think of the matter in this way: if we have evolved such that matters of morality, of love, of art and music, of poetry and film, are merely abstractions of survival mechanisms, then perhaps it is best to treat them at their abstracted level, rather than attempting to simplify them into more quantifiable terms. The process strips all that we gain in that abstraction, leaving us with very little that, to be rather blunt, makes us happy.

Perhaps what is so attractive to me about love is that it is both a desire and a purpose.

the lost and the lonely

My peers are hopelessly divided between the pretty and the ugly.

Nobody would ever put it like that – such terms are uncouth to our ears. Yet our words cannot hide our actions. I go to one group, and clustered together are meticulously prepared mirages of persons, yearning to be judged and found acceptable by the discerning. I go to another, and the art of presentation has been lost, drowned by society’s unspoken demands, embracing a hopelessness that provides solace against the onslaught of judgment.

The beauty around me is corrupted, marching its way into meaningless oblivion as it hungrily pursues itself, its incest creating a fog of self-absorption. I wander the halls looking for beauty, but I do not find it. Each woman is the same as the next, offering fake smiles to match their fake hair. At least they are consistent. The men speak in voices deeper than puberty granted them, wearing attitudes of pre-packaged rebellion like fine jewelry.

There is a solution, but I know not what it is.

blight

I thought I’d go ahead and share two papers I wrote recently. This first paper is from one of my sociology classes, Definitions of Normality. I referenced a few posts back. Although I had to resort to some hyperbole to make my point and I had to gloss over some really huge stuff to cram it into six pages, I like how it turned out.

The purpose of the paper was to write a time in which I’d “passed”. We recently read a book detailing the lives of various people that had pretended to be people they weren’t – black for white, gay for straight, etc.. I asked her if I could take an alternative approach, and she approved it.

If passing is defined as an attempt to circumvent unjust exclusion, I cannot confess to having done such in any meaningful way. I cannot recall a time in which I chose to hide important realities about my history or identity for the sake of attaining personal social equality. That is not to say that I have always loved who I am without reservation, nor do I suggest that I have never faced situations in which I wanted desperately to fit in – at any cost. My response to those feelings and circumstances, however, has not been to pass, but to consider the worthiness of the challenge, and change myself accordingly, all the way from appearance and mannerisms to my core values and beliefs.

This story starts in Mississippi, where my father was the vice president of a prominent theological seminary in Jackson, while my mother managed a large campus ministry. I lived there for ten years, until my father left his position to pastor a Presbyterian church in Ithaca. Until we moved, I had never once been challenged on or had any reason to question the religion of my parents, and I thought little of it until I was thrust into a new culture that did not embrace my father’s ideals. With this move, I continued to fit in marvelously with my peers at church, but I did not fare well in my elementary school experience. At the suggestion of my homeschooling friends, I spent most of my time in junior high homeschooling, a choice which radicalized my religious and political views. I began to read my Bible daily, prayed for God to take away my lustful thoughts (he never did), and I cheered as Bush took office.

Throughout this, however, I was tremendously unsatisfied with myself. From elementary school onward, I had a piercing desire for one thing: a girlfriend. I talked often of my loneliness to my mentors at church, and I trusted them when they assured me that God had a plan for me, and that I need only wait until God decides I should have one, if ever. They stressed that secular relationships would not afford me any happiness, and that I should seek to attract a holy woman by earnestly seeking God. The idea of adapting to modern romantic standards was repulsive; dating was a flawed and selfish system, devoid of any redemptive qualities. I should not seek to be ‘cool’, either, because ‘cool’ was not the measure by which men served God. So I ignored the conventions my few secular peers followed, even as I entered high school, and I took pride in being different.

I had but one friend (from church) as I entered my first day of high school, and he invited me to come to a gaming party at his friend Ben’s house – eager to see what exactly I’d been missing for fourteen years, I arrived without any notion of what to expect. Descending into a pitch-black basement, I entered a room whose walls and ceiling were covered with soft-core pornography, while half a dozen adolescents cursed furiously and compared everything to boobs and penises. I had no clue what to do, so I threw myself at an Xbox and tried not to look away. I managed to inquire why the walls were covered with tits, and Ben matter-of-factly explained that this was his sister’s room, and that she was a lesbian. I decided to save my shock for after I won the current round of Halo.

I quickly realized that this reality was at complete odds with what I’d been living for years before. I walked into church a day later with nothing but compunction and confusion. My father’s sermons told me that there was something fundamentally wrong with what I witnessed; they did not go to church, they were lustful and vulgar, they were sinners. My training told me that because they did not know Jesus, they were missing something from their lives and had no true purpose – but the more I came to know Ben (I went to every party he had thereafter), the less this conviction revealed itself to be true. Ben was an intelligent, caring, and hilarious person whose day-to-day problems did not find their solution in religion. He had something I wanted – even beyond a girlfriend – he seemed to have no need for the God I deemed so necessary.

I could have chosen to live a dual life. I could have easily maintained the facade of a proper church boy while participating in the godless hedonism of my peers, but I chose, instead, to integrate the two. I played both sides of the fence. I engaged my friends at school in much religious discussion, attempting to convert them to Christianity, while I did the reverse to my peers at church, playing the devil’s advocate, borrowing from many of the arguments my friends from school offered. I did it as a means towards figuring out which path contained more truth. At times, I resonated far more with one side than the other. But I never pretended that I was someone that I was not. I sought first and foremost to accrue knowledge, that I might make more informed decisions on my future.

I began to part from Christianity. A slow realization started, wherein I saw that the relationships around me – particularly the romantic relationships – operated on a set of rules that I was not properly following. My religious background had taught me to ignore these rules, but as Professor Baker noted, rules are what bind us together, they help make sense of the world. I realized that these rules existed for a reason, and that I must understand them if I wished to be a part this society around me.

So I changed. I decided to pursue and conform to these rules as best as I could. I started running and working out nearly every night. I started observing the fashions around me, I noted which colors went best together, how they wore their clothes, they way they walked and the way they talked. I watched movies, and I examined the men that my female friends considered so dreamy, and what made them so attractive. Cooley would be proud, no doubt; I shamelessly sought to emulate the best of what secular society had to offer. I wanted to be awesome. This wasn’t a new pursuit; I’d always wanted to be awesome. I was redefining what awesome meant to myself, and rethinking what awesome meant to others.

Quite simply, I was repeating the process of socialization. Baker describes this as the means by which people learn to be members of their social group. I was altering my primary social group to include a wider variety of people, who operated by a very different set of folkways. Prior to this, I had seen popular culture as being devoid of meaningful rules, but in fact, its folkways formed a network at least as complex as what was within the church. It wasn’t simply that I was adopting new folkways to achieve a goal, nor that I was abandoning old folkways; I was altering my core values in such a way that adopting these new folkways would be completely natural.

Over the following two years, I left Christianity completely, even after spending four months at a Christian study center in England. I got a large tattoo of a phoenix on my chest. I started smoking. I went through my first serious relationship, with all the accompanying highs and lows. My musical tastes expanded from almost exclusively listening to techno, to chamber pop, death metal, and trip-hop.

Goffman says that we are forever performing for one another, projecting an identity to those around us. Not everything I’ve done and all I’ve changed has been a grand projection for the entertainment of others, but the lifestyle changes I made feature an important common factor: they are, for me, parts of my life that I share with practically all of my peers. In changing my body, my religion, my music, these were expressions to those around me (as well as to myself) that I’ve changed, and that I’m no longer the person that I once was.

The path that these changes have taken me on has not been easy in any regard. The distance between the old church culture and myself grows ever wider as I lose common ground with their values and I decline more of their folkways. I am still close with many of my church friends, but a tension lingers over every conversation, composed of unspoken challenges and questions. I still yearn for what the faith purported to offer; the idea of an intimate and involved God is both beautiful and powerful. The community was also open, caring, and supportive, and the norms of my chosen social group do not lend themselves to such entities.

Although change is a difficult and frustrating process, I feel strongly that it’s a superior alternative to passing. Many people have “successfully” managed two separate lives, one for religion, and one for everything else – but such duality is ultimately destructive, as well as deeply disingenuous to both cultures. Passing, in this matter, seems unacceptable, a choice made out of weakness, an inability to choose between two competing societies that offer different realities and promise radically different futures. I have devoted my identity – the only identity I have – to one world, rather than diluting it, and I’ve changed it as has become necessary with society’s evolving norms. I take pride in having avoided passing thus far, and I hope that I can continue to do so for as long as possible.

This next paper is a little more obscure. I wrote it for my ethics class. The goal of the paper was to utilize Aristotle’s virtue ethics in approaching abortion. It’s a little meta, but I love me some meta, so I really enjoyed this one.

The realities surrounding an issue such as abortion are inexorably grim. At the core of the matter lie millions of unwanted and unplanned pregnancies, for which abortion offers a permanent solution. This solution is not without its concerns, and it holds a number of grave reflections upon the virtues we hold dear as individuals, as well as a society. What virtues are at stake when considering abortion? Does abortion lead us towards those virtues, or does it send us astray? Although Aristotle would have had no concept of abortion as we know it today, his ideas can form a powerful basis for considering what is worthwhile in this debate.

To determine the virtues relevant to abortion, we must consider the consequences of an abortion. An abortion is not just about ending a nine-month pregnancy, but about preventing the birth of a child that will exist for years to come, and the burdens that are involved with raising that child. An abortion is also a matter of desire; excluding cases in which the pregnancy threatens the mother’s life, abortion is being considered because the child is not desired, whether due to a lack of financial or emotional readiness, or a simple absence of motive to become a parent. Finally, abortion also holds serious consequences for the physical well-being of the mother, particularly when contrasted with the alternative outcomes involved with childbirth.

All of this is largely a matter of looking forward. How will the mother’s life change with the presence of this child? In what ways will society be altered? What can the child look forward to? Although a multitude of virtues are weaved throughout the nuances of these questions, a few can be considered of greatest importance. These are questions of prudence. Is it wise to birth a child into an environment that is not prepared for her arrival? It is likely that such a child will be afforded far fewer opportunities – educational, financial, and social – than a child brought up inside a ready home. Likewise, an unprepared mother will certainly suffer stresses and anxieties that other mothers might not. When a child’s home cannot provide for all of his needs, it is left to society as a whole to provide support, a pressure which becomes quite serious with each unexpected child.

Aristotle would look to the importance of prudence as a matter of balance, an approach which works surprisingly well in this regard. Too much prudence might involve aborting every unexpected pregnancy, regardless of the mother’s wishes, for fear of the burden these children bring upon their mothers ans society at large. Too little would see abortion struck out as an option entirely, with mothers foolishly embracing the potential of new children without any consideration for their practical ability to care for these children.

Abortion is also an issue of fairness. If a woman does not desire her pregnancy, is it fair – to the mother and to the child – to bring the pregnancy to term despite this? Is it fair to bring a child into the world only to send them to an orphanage or foster home? By the same token, is it fair to place such an expectation on society to support the child? Is it fair for a woman to undergo the rigors of a nine-month pregnancy and risk childbirth against her will? If the unborn possess full human rights, is it fair to end their life despite these concerns? Is it fair to abort a pregnancy simply because its future is not the same as others?

Aristotle’s approach proves less effective in this regard. The median of fairness is highly nebulous; how may a woman be too fair as she ponders an abortion? Can society truly be too fair, too considerate of all relevant interests? To further complicate the matter, fairness is a more subjective virtue. If one values the life of an unborn child very highly, it becomes more fair to ensure the pregnancy comes to term, regardless of what outcome that child faces on the other side of the womb. Conversely, if one values a woman’s ability to control the future of her body as greater than her pregnancy, the fair choice is already made. Indeed, the answers to questions of fairness seem almost independent of the virtue itself, being predetermined by our attitudes on independence and the nature of human life.

Another direction to be taken with fairness is the simple answer that nothing about an undesired pregnancy, aborted or not, is fair. It is ultimately unfair that we are forced to make these choices, and as Aristotle himself acknowledges, the point from which we start our lives is hardly fair, regardless of how prudently we plan ahead. That being said, this route opens up a better question: are there cases in which it is more fair to abort, than to bring to term, and what are they? In this way, the virtue of fairness is still the goal, but it is less about achieving an objective status of equality, so much as choosing the fairer of two imparities, and we may still honor the importance of fairness in morality.

This brings us to the third, and perhaps most important virtue, conscientiousness. While it might first seem but a synonym of prudence, the conscientious person is driven by a conscience that is satisfied only by a wide awareness of what is it hand and a cautious examination of available evidence. Prudence and fairness without conscience are lifeless, as the goal in ethics is to make decisions that are moral, not just reasonable, for what is strictly reasonable is not always moral. The virtue of conscientiousness drives us to use our prudence and our pursuit of fairness to achieve a most moral end.

Conscientiousness is a virtue whose mean can be found in relation to prudence and fairness. While it may sound odd to be too conscientious, giving too much weight to our conscience would be to defy reason, to follow our gut without consideration for the practical realities and consequences of the situation. Too little conscience would, as mentioned before, result in purely mechanical decision-making, holding no regard for the sanctity of life and happiness, stripping us from what makes these matters important in the first place.

There is a potent example within Rachels’ book, The Elements of Moral Philosophy. He describes the infanticide that was once common in Eskimo society. The Eskimos lived in a harsh environment with very scarce resources, and families could only grow as large as the hunters were able to provide. As such, families were simply incapable of supporting more children; thus, they enabled society to survive by limiting how many children they raised; raising them was simply not a feasible option. Their choice was prudent – they looked to the long-term future of their community, and saw that they could not support more dependents. Their choice was fair – how could the life of a child outweigh the survival of their entire society? Their choice was also conscientious – they did not do this on a whim, but as was grimly necessary.

Considering the importance of these characteristics helps to reveal which choices are truly moral ones. If we thoroughly ponder each virtue, we can uncover a multitude of important questions – questions of prudence and fairness, questions that challenge our conscience. If we follow these questions to their end, it seems that the ethics of virtue may hold a multitude of answers, even if it does not yield them easily.

ware

In general, I’m a terrible gift-giver and the Christmas season is always a little embarrassing for me. I can rarely think of a gift I’d like to give, and I’d much sooner give nothing than resort to a gift card or sommat. I’d rather be thought a miser than uninspired or generic.

Once in a while, however, I do find something that I want to share with another person. An Awesome Book was such an item, and I purchased one for each of my nephews. I also enjoyed the author’s short description of his book.

Something that brings me to despair very quickly is those moments where I feel very alone in my convictions. It’s fitting that I should feel this way after the events detailed in my previous post, but depending on which corner of the internet that I lurk in, the situation can feel very hopeless. Between the hum-drum catastrophes of every-day news and the endlessly pessimistic and self-righteous commentary that follows, it’s hard not to feel helpless and unimportant. A popular decision is to embrace that feeling, too, that one person truly can’t make a difference in light of such ridiculous circumstances. This resignation, of course, is a verbose excuse for laziness.

This is the attitude I was attempting to address in scones. It’s a common scene to see people complain about the status quo without recognizing their part in creating it or contributing towards the solution to the problem. If this weren’t already bad enough in real life, these tendencies are amplified by a factor of ten on the internet. I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise when we value independence as highly as we do. If we are as independent as we believe we are, then we cannot influence each other as much as would be necessary to drive the change we wish to see. It’s a good thing, then, that we are wrong.

scape

Every night, I step outside to assess my situation. The stars are mostly unsympathetic to my questions, and I can’t blame them; thousands others have groped for answers under their dim light, and I doubt I am all that different from my predecessors. It’s comforting to imagine that on a night like this, somewhere in the world another man is stepping onto the balcony of his apartment to stop and consider just what kind of man he is, and that he will be looking at the same sky that I am. Perhaps Socrates did the same thing, shivering in his fruity little toga as he watched the moon wax and wane in precisely the same manner as it does for me. He probably didn’t have any trip-hop to listen to while he did this, though I’m certain he would have liked some.

The timelessness of the universe is shocking, to me. When I consider the earth, it feels so tumultuous and unstable. The trees around me can only count their years in decades, but the stars above have watched for eternity. The stars are so overwhelmingly countless. Consider this picture of the Great Orion nebula. Look at all those goddamn stars. Each of them in their own solar system, most of them larger than our own. Millions of planets and moons, asteroids and comets whose light is unfathomably old. How would Socrates feel, considering himself in the glow of such ancient entities? I am but one person, standing alone upon a stretch of snow, in a city of thousands, in a state of millions, in a country of many millions, in a world of billions. Though Socrates’ world was so much smaller than mine, his sky was just the same as mine, give or take a few supernovae.

I often consider how my understanding of such realities changes with my philosophy. When I began to conclude against Christianity in England, the first question I asked of myself was this: what does it mean to look at the stars as a Christian? What do they become, when I deny Christianity? More importantly, who do I become?

In my brief time off between Christmas and New Years, my family went down to Pennsylvania for our first gathering with my mother’s side of the family in a few years. Inevitably, my aunt probed me about my experience in England, and when I revealed that L’Abri’s tireless encouragement of asking questions and embracing doubt led me to conclude against Christianity, a three hour battle ensued between myself and the whole of my family (or at least, my grandparents, parents, aunt, and uncle). I dearly love a good debate, and I enjoyed the challenge quite thoroughly, but the attitudes revealed throughout the course of the discussion were exemplary of why I’ve left the faith. I should make it clear that I love my family, and that our disagreements have not left me bitter or feeling any less fond of them, but I’m also of the conviction that they’re wrong. And so the discussion went forth.

A key argument for my father and grandfather lay in the idea that Christianity is responsible for the majority of modern progress, and that Eastern societies have only succeeded once Christianity entered into their culture (they cited China as an example, lol). In particular, they cited democracy as a Christian invention. Christ’s focus on human equality, they argued, was a new idea and is the primary reason that modern democracy is able to succeed.

I was quick to point out democracy existed long before Christ’s time, but I focused more on pointing out that it could be argued far more easily that Christianity ended up stifling the rise of democratic government because of the reign of the church in the dark and middle ages. Which brought my aunt and uncle to argue my next example of infuriating thought: Anything that might seem to be a negative product of Christianity, was brought about by false Christians.

Around this time, I started flipping out a little. It was about two and a half hours in and this was an argument they’d brought up repetitively, and each time I pointed out the incredible convenience of labeling anyone that makes your faith look bad as false or confused. Although I can certainly recognize that more than a few folks have taken up the label of Christianity with devious purposes in mind, they seemed to stress that true Christians can do no evil, that any evil that might seem to be a product of Christianity was actually a product of sin. Furthermore, at several points they attempted to distinguish Christianity from religion. When I pointed to the Crusades or the Inquisition, they claimed those were products of religion, and not Christianity. These were impossible arguments to overcome, and I confess that my temper flared just a little in the face of such ridiculous defenses.

A third attitude that left me vexed was the notion that science is ultimately futile. This came up when I was arguing that science offers new ways to understand ourselves as humans, to pinpoint why we are the way we are, rather than dismissing crime and malevolence as sin and exploring no further. They scoffed, however, citing how scientists are constantly contradicting each other and releasing studies that invalidate research released just weeks prior. My attempts to explain the scientific method did not seem to satisfy their qualms with this cycle.

The discussion ended on the topic of homosexuality. After attempting to explain the important discovery of the role of genetics and environment in determining sexuality, my grandfather simply stated that “Science has shown all homosexuals to be liars”, at which point I shook my head and bowed out – further debate would most certainly have led to more regrettable words. My father later came outside to commend me for my performance, a gesture which speaks much to his credit.

After all this, I’m left feeling quite strongly that if Christianity were true, their faith would not produce such convictions. I believe quite firmly that the truth will set you free – but I do not see freedom, here. A faith that produces the belief that “circular reasoning is okay if you’re right” (a quip from my father, during this debacle) is not, for me, intellectually honest. God would not grant us intellects of truth and logic if he did not intend for them to be fulfilled.

There’s a lot more to say on the matter, but I’ll leave it at that, for now.

“In truth, there was only one Christian, and he died on the cross.” – Nietzsche

token

By nature, humans are born with limited awareness and a single perspective through which the world is experienced and understood. We’re left with finite quantities of knowledge, and the quality of this knowledge is at times unverifiable. The basis of any disagreement is in knowledge: I believe my knowledge is superior, until my opponent can provide me with new knowledge that forces me to reconsider. It’s hard to provide new knowledge, though. People with strong opinions tend to believe they already have a complete knowledge of the matter at hand, and telling them otherwise raises a lot of ire. Although ‘pure knowledge’ is theoretically universal, the knowledge we use and experience is worlds away from being pure: it is extremely personal. To threaten something so personal is fundamentally impolite, and it’s why Americans have chosen to label the discussion of religion and politics as unfit for civil conversation. This is one of the fundamental powers behind America’s religious right.

Religion exists to fill in the gaps for our immensely incomplete knowledge. It answers the questions for which there are no answers, or for which the existing answers are not satisfying. The answers to these questions – why is there evil, what is the purpose of life, where did our universe come from – are monumental, and will ultimately decide how a person lives his/her life.

Politics, on the other hand, exists to make decisions about how society will function. At its best, it is the art of compromise, seeking to craft policies that will satisfy as many people as possible without alienating the minority. At its worst, it is a tool of control, a system for amassing and maintaining power over others. Religion holds a striking parallel here. Religion can give birth to harmony unequaled – the peace and fulfillment that results from a community that earnestly seeks truth and goodness is overwhelming, and this is a reality I’ve experienced first-hand. Religion also offers immense opportunity for control, when a community devotes itself to dogma and doctrine, particularly when these doctrines are maligned by a leader with impure motives. When a politician refuses to vote outside party lines, he is not doing justice to the purpose of his profession. Likewise, when a believer unquestioningly follows doctrine, her faith loses focus. Instead of having faith in Christ, her faith is in her doctrine, and it becomes enslaved to technicalities and fine print.

Thus, when political policy becomes indistinguishable from doctrine, and a community of believers dare not question doctrine, a political force is created that cannot be talked down. To doubt policy is to doubt doctrine. To doubt doctrine is to doubt faith. To the ears of such a citizen, promotion of, say, abortion, gay marriage, or sex education is a direct attack on faith, an assault on God himself.

This kind of thinking was the power behind many of history’s greatest dictators. Stalin, for example, crafted himself as being one with the State, the essence of the people’s will, unified with the needs and desires of the nation. To question Stalin, then, was to question your friends and neighbors, and nothing less than treachery. Less extreme examples are not hard to summon. Many a pope, king, and emperor made use of similar tactics to maintain their power.

The logical fallacy here is simple: it’s all non sequitur. Doubting the quality of one man does not necessitate doubt in everything that man purports to represent. Likewise, questioning the church’s stance on one matter does not necessitate doubt in the entire church. A community based in love has room for disagreement. Two intellectually and morally honest persons can examine the same situation and reach different conclusions. Alienating the opposing side is not the solution, nor is ignoring it, nor dismissing it. These attitudes permeate both sides of America’s socio-political landscape, so please don’t think I’m only ragging on the right-wing, here – but I do believe that Falwell threw the first stone, in this matter.

It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.
– GK Chesterton

gore

Years ago, I absorbed one belief about love – that love is a choice, and that true love is not a matter of planets aligning and stars colliding, but of mutual intention and desire. As such, love – real love – is less concerned with compatibility than it is with character. If the state of Western culture is any indication, this is not a common reality. Our culture’s dream of finding the right person is rarely realized, leaving most of us to settle for significantly less than what we had hoped for. While comparing happiness is a dangerous foundation for argument, our many social revolutions have not created a culture of happy marriages and happy families.

This kind of focus on counter-culture was (and continues to be) a source of great interest and admiration for me, when I look upon Christianity. I find much truth in examining our culture’s failures, and the basic tenet of questioning the nature of what is deemed acceptable is more than just a worthy ideal, but the only sure-fire path for fulfillment.

As I explore what a world-view without Christianity looks like, my desire to stand contrary to my society’s lifestyle has not waned, yet I find myself thrown into a maelstrom of un-identity. I have these convictions, yet I have no one to share them with, no group to identify with, no cause to believe in beyond this vague notion of betterment. As I look back at every moral juggernaut in history, I can readily see that every one of them was a piece of a greater movement, a portion of a greater identity that more than just a few participated in.

My fear compounds itself as I see that my convictions cannot stand on their own. My will alone is not enough to carry me through hardship and tribulation. My wisdom is not enough to understand what needs to be understood. If I depend upon myself, I cannot be selfless. To try would be self-deception, and it’s what many others do to assure themselves of their true ‘goodness’. Truth, beauty, and goodness cannot be realized alone, but are the fruit of strong community and living relationships.

Where, then, can I find this community, when I have forced myself to be so strictly alone? I’ve said often that my phoenix remains true regardless of my faith – Christianity will forever be ingrained in to me, belief or not. Christianity engendered my ideals. Am I not fooling myself when I attempt to find others of similar conviction so far away from the source of my own identity?

I have not forgotten my many frustrations with the faith – they remain as strong as ever, and I do not think I must abandon my critical eye to revive my faith. I see, however, that I have demanded perfection in a world that is incapable of producing it. Despite what strict rationalism purports to offer, there is no undamaged truth in the world, but everything is tainted by our limited humanity. The Bible is riddled with passages that I find unconscionable and utterly repulsive, yet it is steeped in truths I cannot deny. I can only conclude that there is understanding that I lack. My craving for understanding is matched only by my desire for companionship, and the world is not about to yield these to me willingly. As one old guy with dementia said many times at L’Abri: I believe in order that I might understand. If the past few months can serve as any evidence, I am far better off serving Christ, than not.

I started this post four days ago, and not with the intention of taking my faith up again. But as I dwelt on the nature of love, this is what came out. I’m interested to see where these next few days will take me.

bones

The word drama is so contextual. From one situation to the next, it invokes entirely separate visions: it can describe the superficial complexity of tensions between a group of sexually amoral co-workers, or the engagements of valiant men duty-driven to to battle one another, or the soul-piercing intensity of true romance intermingled with the conflict of circumstance. Yet they all share a comment element of urgency, falsely or otherwise. The sense of urgency that comes with a compelling circumstance is, for some, the only source of meaning (however hollow it might be) that can be found. They doom themselves to a restless cycle of increasingly meaningless conflicts that never see resolution, but serve only to perpetuate endlessly until distracted by catastrophe, or silenced by misery and death.

While drama is itself a fascinating and alluring occurrence, it is not an end to itself. It looks forward to its conclusion that its participants may find themselves better off than they began. If drama has a purpose, it is in its finality, in resolution, and in completion.

In this context, I wonder how it is that I love being as dramatic as I do. I am forever eager to draw lines in the sand, to paint things black and white, to make ultimatums and force absolutes on situations that were born in the gray, and will die in the grey. I’m sure it’s something to do with my imagination; I long for each encounter I’m in to, at it’s heart of hearts, be a glorious and epic battle where true virtue is borne out in its totality, where my humanity will be stretched out to its absolute brink, where I will be tested, and found worthy. I long to be validated in more than shades of gray: I want to be unequivocally white, and recognized as such. The irony is that within the lives of those few characters I can point to as possessing what I strive for, there exists very little drama. The persistent presence of drama is often a sign of poor discipline, of mixed morals, of a lack of focus.

Some mistake that lack of drama as boredom, a lack of creativity, or close-mindedness – but I disagree. It’s the fruit of a true wisdom that can only grow when left undisturbed by the chaos of unending drama, free to know what reality outside the distortions of conflict is. It’s a foresight that only comes when left in total darkness. It’s a sensitivity that only comes when left untouched.

At the core, this is an argument against the sole validity of experience – for what is experience, but participation in a great variety of dramas, a long line of conflicts both resolved and unfinished? I’d even be willing to suggest that at the core of every person there is one great drama that wholly dominates their life, but for each person, this drama is specific and unique. The commonality of human experience lies in that each of us are fighting through this drama towards resolution, that we all seek to know absolution, and that we are all a part of each other’s dramas.

Calling life a drama is, in some ways, a self-fulfilling prophecy. I instantly yearn for a glorious death, for men and women alike to endlessly wail at my passing, for my story to quicken the hearts of young men and flutter the hearts of young women. The vision within my head is so terribly grand! Then, I look upon myself, and I wonder: how the fuck can I accomplish this in the 21st century? The age of apathy, where honor lies dead next to the grave of chivalry, where integrity more commonly refers to bridges than to men?

Broad platitudes aside (though I do dearly enjoy them), I do wonder what kind of character will prove meaningful in this century. Though I believe morality to be absolute, meaningful expressions of morality change with every age. Every age has its drama: what is the drama of the 21st century, and what kind of character will it take to bring it to resolution?

stretched

In an attempt to teach myself how to immerse myself in a book again, I’ve been re-reading Lord of the Rings, and as I’ve progressed through it, I’ve had a growing desire to make my speech and writing more beautiful. The first aspect of my words that comes to mind is my cursing.

Thus far I’ve felt that cursing is merely a fashion of words that polite society drowns upon. Not being much a fan of catering to the easily offended, I’ve taken pride in my choice to utilize the entire English language as I see fit. That logic continues to appeal to me quite a lot, but when I consider it in the context of beauty, it’s immediately apparent how harsh cursing is in comparison to the rest of our language. Even the most jaded ears can spot the difference it makes upon one’s message.

I don’t buy the argument that swearing is uncreative or lazy. The strength of a word such as fuck doesn’t come from its power to offend or its ability to displace other, more proper words. Its strength, as I see it, lies solely in the fact that it’s unbeautiful in its motive and in its result. The unbeauty of its sound and structure seems totally contextual, in regards to the surrounding culture or situation, and is irrelevant in a discussion that seeks timeless, absolute answers.

Considering it in this manner seems more in sync with our speech as a whole. To curse another’s name, is (in this age, anyways), to speak unbeautiful words about another. To be cursed, is to be unbeautiful, and whether that unbeauty is seen or unseen, is irrelevant. The relationship between polite society and cursing, then, becomes more logical; polite society has long thrived on its desire for beauty, to surround itself with beautiful people, beautiful things, beautiful words. Yet, the wise will see the skin-deep nature of this beauty, and thus the absence of something like cursing doesn’t make their illusion of beauty any more real.

Simply, I don’t know what to do with my favorite four-letter words. In many cases, my speech feels wholly neutered or too aloof when I abstain from it, but I often myself being too cavalier about its use. Indeed, I make a point about cursing on this blog so as to set myself apart from my past associations, and I do the same in conversation. Among Christians, I tend to enjoy being seen as a non-Christian: not in an uncouth manner, but I enjoy playing devil’s advocate, and I especially delight in challenging the common assumption in Christian groups that everyone here is of like mind and heart. In non-Christian settings, I prefer to make my mark elsewhere, as I find no moral high ground in declining to swear.

I suppose it might seem obvious that if I wish to make my speech more beautiful, and cursing is by nature unbeautiful, that I would abandon it; but a large portion of me regrets the though of parting from it, and I don’t really know why.

salvation

Does purpose come from meaning?

Or does meaning come from purpose?

Meaning: the personal force that encompasses that which we love and hate. A meaningful event is such because it holds power to influence that which we care about. Meaning is an attribute of external objects.

Purpose: the intended direction of personal action. The driving force behind everything we do. Purpose is an attribute of internal choices.

My gut wants to say that the reality could be both – but I am having trouble reconciling the problems. I do, however, see clearly the conundrum of my faith, in this context.

God gives me purpose, but not meaning. The world gives me meaning, but not purpose.

I love dearly that purpose that God has shown me, but I fail to see how it is worthy with how meaningless it feels so far. The world, likewise, is showing me what it is to be human, what it means to be this incredible structure that I am – but the world has yet to show me anything beyond self-destruction in its ways, defeating the very purpose of life.

Watching Iron Man made me think a bit about what modern guys idealize. Tony Stark achieved his lifestyle through intellectual mastery – with his mental faculties, he obtained fame, fortune, and sex, the pinnacle of what the world considers valuable goals. But these forces are so fleeting – so ultimately meaningless. They are their own meaning. Pleasure for the sake of pleasure.

Which brings me to question the power of purpose in faith. Is it all just purpose for the sake of purpose, just as the world is meaning for the sake of meaning?

I crave, I crave, I crave!

Dominate, pt. 2: Defiance

It’s overwhelming to live in a society which is besieged by such a wide variety of destructive forces. There is no unity against a great enemy, nor agreement about what the highest priorities are. Causes become like clothes, seasonally fading in and out. Devotion to an ideal becomes inefficient and impossible in the face of a populace with a memory that seems only to stretch back for a handful of years.

In an age of such relativity, where just causes must find their source and justification within the self, and not by any objective rule, we have not yet seemed to abandoned our desire for moral unity. The appeal of a story so wicked as a father raping his daughter in a basement cellar for twenty-four years is the complete lack of a grey area. It is as black as black comes, the depth of a depravity we like to think was extinguished with the end of the Nazi regime.

Yet, what I find most unsurprising, is the complete normalcy of the surroundings of this event. Mr. Fritzl was (at least, from all reports) not insane, nor dysfunctional, nor was he otherwise visibly different from you and I. He chose to do what he did, with full knowledge and complete mental capacity. Many people comfort themselves with notions that they are fargone from such a beast as Mr. Fritzl, yet it is just one choice that can send us into the blackness of that moral oblivion. Humans bear incredible responsibility; our choices have such infinite consequences that we will never know.

The more rapidly we embrace the ideology that nothing – no choice, no consequence, no means, and no ends really matter, the faster we will truly find ourselves there.

We must defy our instincts.