Hip-hop News (or Newsies Delight)

What’s the difference between what we’re calling “news” nowadays and popular music? Sample. Remix. Mashup. Grab a little from here, grab a little of that. Throw it on Twitter. Throw it on Facebook. Put it on a blog. Rinse. Repeat.

This came up from a comment that was made on a Facebook group I’m a part of:

They have a Twitter post in there. Let me double check though. Sheesh I miss the days when a story was a story.

“…when a story was a story.”  My first reaction?  “Sheesh I miss the days when the medium was the message.”

Has the internet finally killed McLuhan?  Besides the fact that he’s been dead for quite a while, I mean. We got hung up on “global villages” and extending our senses without noticing that “medium” doesn’t mean much anymore.

I have absolutely no business talking about popular music. I will look like the complete idiot I am because I know very, very little about it. It’s not a point of pride.  It’s not something I apologize for. It’s not that I don’t like music. I love music. I just don’t follow it much. I hear stuff I like all the time. I just don’t care enough about it to nerd out on it. I’m probably missing out, but I’m OK with it. I’m glad other people do.  I do know the process of making music is digital, though. Deciding to “be analog” is an artistic choice that comes with its own baggage. It used to just be the way things were. Sampling started pre-digital, but it got a lot easier to scale when digital came along. Anybody could do it. And they did.

I look forward to the day we have to explain a dual-“turntable” digital DJ mixer to a space alien. It’ll be a good warmup for explaining Twitter.

I’ve been thinking for a while that the processes described in Joshua Meyrowitz’s No Sense of Place have been accelerated and magnified through social media. He describes in his book how broadcast television broke the connection between physical and social spaces. Simply put, television showed everyone how the other half lived. Or at least it purported to, anyway. The effect was disruptive. The Civil Rights movement and the other social upheavals of the the 1960s and 1970s tracked right along with the rise of television as a dominant force in American society.  People saw how other people lived and said “holy crap, we’re getting screwed.” And they went out and did something about it.

I’ve been OK with this idea, but it hasn’t quite clicked for me yet. What’s happening now is similar to what Meyrowitz described, but I’m not sure it’s just that there’s more of it happening faster. I think it’s the matter of resolution.  Just like analog-to-digital processing can sample at rates far above human perception,¹ social media allows us to drill down below the level of broad group-level descriptions. We knew that what we saw on television back in the day wasn’t real representation of anyone’s specific life, but it was probably some sort of average. Now?  We can see down to the pixel or the sample. Facebook and Twitter shows us the trees and now we realize don’t really understand forests anymore.

My students are in the process of writing final projects for the semester and one of the things I keep urging them to do is revise, revise, revise. Write and then go back and fix it. You’re not going to write a finished product in a first draft. You’re used to reading final drafts. They didn’t start out looking that way.

We used to live in a world where we based what we knew off final drafts. Now we’re just waiting for the next remix.

Still not done with this.  Have to think about it more…


¹And I don’t give a fuck that you think you can tell the difference between a sampled file and an analog one. Compression?  Sure. Not all perceptual compression is going to fit everyone’s specific sensitivities. But not mere sampling. Your ego is exceeding your hardware.

Posted in The Ol' Philosopher

Doing What’s Right

simple-candle-800pxIt’s becoming increasingly apparent to me that Mike Pence took the deal John Kasich was offered. The Grifter doesn’t want to be President. He just wants to be in charge. He wants to be the top of the food chain. As long as he’s El Jefé Anaranjado¹ who gets his cut from whatever money’s being made, he’s going to be happy. He’s going to reward those who helped him and punish those who hurt him. He’s not worried about the details. That’s what he has Pence for. Oh, and how Pence has taken the opportunity! Want to be in the Cabinet? Be white. Be rich. Be opposed to anything that wouldn’t fly in an Indiana town that has more churches than liquor stores. I have this picture in my head of Pence Interviews: The Musical where a chorus of interviewers sing (to the tune of The Spice Girls Wannabe): “Tell me that you’re white, that you’re really, really white…If you wannabe in my cabinet, you really gotta hate the gays…”

We’re going to start hearing a lot about rights soon, especially religious “rights.”  I have a complicated relationship with religion. My first and foremost belief is that my religion is none of your business. The second is like unto it:  I don’t want to hear about yours. I’m interested in what you do. I couldn’t care less why you think you do it. You have a justification? Yay you! Want a cookie? Regardless of what you do or don’t believe about life, the universe, and everything, the authority of your belief system ends where your skin meets the air. Your moral code has an intended population of one:  you. What you do to me matters to me. What I do to you matters to you. Everything else is rationalization.

Here’s what I’ve decided is going to be my standard going forward: No one has the right to make anyone else’s life harder. It’s a good thing to try to make people’s lives easier if you can, but it’s not always possible. It’s never OK to make someone’s life harder,

Life is hard all by its own self. You can do everything you’re supposed to do and try to be good to people and still get slapped upside the head with a metaphorical frozen fish. Make the circumstances weird enough, it becomes a real one. If something can go wrong it probably will. If there’s a bad time for someone to lose hope, that’s when it will most likely happen. If there’s a really bad time to become overconfident, someone’s going to ask you to hold their beer. If there’s any evidence it doesn’t work that way, I’ve yet to see it. Given that the essence of human nature is to screw thing up, the least we can do is not make anything worse for anyone else. When we rise above our natures we might actually make things better.  Hippocrates got it right, though.  First, do no harm.

If the news from the past couple of years is to be believed, the biggest threat to religious liberty are selling wedding cakes to people who you don’t think ought to get married and signing the legal documents necessary for the same. Forget the fact that refusing to sell the cake doesn’t stop anyone from getting married or that the state gets to tell you what forms you need to sign if you’re an elected official. What you think is going to happen to your soul is your business, not mine, but what you’re doing is making someone else’s life harder just because you want to. That’s not OK. Your life doesn’t get any worse if you sell that cake or sign that document. It goes on just like it did before.

“OK,” you say, “so I want to rob a bank. That guard at the door is making my life harder.” Yes, but you’re planning to make other people’s lives harder. The people in the bank. The people you’re stealing from. That guard is preventing you from making other people’s lives harder.

“Oh, OK, then,” you say, “so what about abortion? You’re making the fetus’s life worse, aren’t you?” Not so fast, Skippy. The fetus doesn’t exist separately from the mother. That fetus is entirely dependent on every decision the mother makes no matter what. Sounds like to me the only one qualified to make any decisions vis a vis the fetus is the mother. Someone does have to decide. It’s just not you. Unless you’re the mother. Otherwise all you’re doing is getting mixed up in something where you’re more likely to make someone’s life worse than better.

So as we enter these dark days ahead — and make no mistake, dark days are coming — hold on to simple truths. Evil isn’t complicated. “Fuck you” is a pretty simple concept. It pays to have simple truths for yourself to hold onto. The simplest truth is this: no one has the right to make someone else’s life harder.

Anyone who tells you otherwise will be happy to make yours harder.


¹The Orange Chief

Posted in I Object, The Ol' Curmudgeon, The Ol' Philosopher

Ends and Means

I’m not aware of a circumstance where loss of citizenship is the penalty for a crime. Maybe one exists, but I’m not aware of it. It’s extremely difficult to give up one’s citizenship. Not that I ever checked on it when Shrub got elected the second time…

Antonin Goddamned Scalia said this about flag burning:

“If it were up to me, I would put in jail every sandal-wearing, scruffy-bearded weirdo who burns the American flag,” Scalia said. “But I am not king.”

That’s the lusory attitude I talked about the other day: “I have my strong feelings about this, but I have to work within the system.” Scalia was saying there that he understood and accepted his role in the system.  Bush v Gore showed  he was perfectly willing the put his thumb on the scales when it was his turn to do so, but he colored inside the lines.

For all you “wait and see” types.  He just told you his ends. He’s bigger than the game. He wants what he wants and that’s what’s important.

What do you suppose he’s going to do when he has the means?

And who’s going to stop him?

Posted in I Object

Breaking Faith

This is not normal.

He has no proof this happened, of course. He can point to nothing because there’s nothing there. It’s not on me to “prove” millions of people didn’t vote illegally. It’s on him to prove they did. And he can’t do it. Because it didn’t happen. The only reason you write something like this is to delegitimize your opposition in the minds of your supporters. He won the election because of a loophole in the electoral system that was put in place to block the direct popular election of the President. As with most things having to do with the Yam-Colored One, this has been floating around for a little while.

alex-jones-trump-vote

The fever swamp from which the new national discourse emerges.

This, in turn, apparently has its roots in a series of tweets from some guy with a Twitter account named Gregg Phillips who claims to have a database of 180,000 registered voters “tagged with non-citizens.” Whatever the hell that means. Other than blustering statements about how the evidence is solid, he’s so far refused to let anyone see it. It doesn’t matter of course. It’s “out there.” It’s already been accepted as truth by the base. Like all stories having to do with the person who I’ve privately started calling The Last President of the United States, the details of this particular train wreck are mostly irrelevant. I’ll only throw out that the “story” begins emerging around the time it became clear Clinton was going to win the popular vote by a large margin. The fact that people keep harping on that and the margin keeps growing and Jill Stein decides to ask for a recounts before she returns to whatever cicada nest she sleeps in until Presidential election season rolls around again has really harshed the mellow of The Hairpiece that Roared. Forget the fact that the rules for being elected President of the United States don’t require you to win the overall popular vote.  It’s a wrinkle that’s been in the rules from the beginning. It’s happened before. The popular vote?  Sure, it’s nice to have.  It’s not required. Them’s the rules. Say what you will about Shrub back in the day. He’d just shrug and say “I won.”

So why is it such a big deal to Herr Twitler? It’s part of a pattern that makes perfect sense if you don’t mind being utterly terrified.

So a couple of the classes I’ve been teaching this semester deal with games.  In the process of the crash course I’ve had to subject myself to on game theory, I’ve had the great fortune of being introduced to a delightful book called The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia by Bernard Suits. It’s a deceptively simple book written (partly) in the style of a Socratic dialog using the fable of the Grasshopper and the Ants as its basis. The Grasshopper isn’t an irresponsible slacker here. He’s actually a subtle thinker who develops a philosophy of life that sees Utopia in a life of all play and no work — even when that life leads to his inevitable death. It sounds depressing, but it’s really a book that attempts to refute Ludwig’s Wittgenstein’s assertion that games can’t be formally defined. Suits didn’t care for this position and wrote this book. The centerpiece of the book is his formal definition of a game:

“My conclusion is that to play a game is to engage in activity directed towards bringing about a specific state of affairs, using only means permitted by rules, where the rules prohibit more efficient in favour of less efficient means, and where such rules are accepted just because they make possible such activity.”

Later he sums it up even more succinctly:

“…playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.”

Compare this to anthropologist Mary Douglas’s description of an institution in her masterpiece How Institutions Think:

“Minimally an institution is only a convention. David Lewis’ definition is helpful: a convention arises when all parties have a common interest in there being a rule to insure coordination, none have a conflicting interest, and none will deviate lest the desired coordination is lost.”

Games, conventions and institutions all require willing participation, what Suits called the “lusory attitude.” Lusory is a term that’s pretty common in Game Studies.  It more or less means “playful,” but sounds better when talking to colleagues from other departments at faculty gatherings and you don’t want to keep saying ‘playful’ all the time.  Most everyone but the physicists will let it slide and who cares about physicists anyway? Screw those guys.

Willing participation. I’ve mentioned it before in another context, but I can’t think of this without thinking about this George Carlin routine:

“‘Cause that’s what they taught us; it’s what’s in your mind that counts; your intentions, that’s how we’ll judge you. What you want to do. Mortal sin had to be a grievous offense, sufficient reflection and full consent of the will. Ya had’ta WANNA! In fact, WANNA was a sin all by itself. “Thou Shalt Not WANNA”. If you woke up in the morning and said, “I’m going down to 42nd street and commit a mortal sin!” Save your car fare; you did it, man!”

Can anyone point out anything the Yam-Man has done that could reasonably be interpreted as wanting to hold the country together more than getting his way? The fainting-couch crowd will gleefully point out that I’m being rude to him.  That I’m not showing any respect to the duly-elected Grifter-in-Chief. And you’d be right.  I’m not.  I won’t.  I don’t have to. That’s one of those unnecessary obstacles that’s built into the game. It’s not a bug.  It’s a feature. I, as a citizen of the United States of America, have the right to believe that the man elected to be President of These Here United States is a simpering bag of pus with tastes that would make a bordello owner say “Jeez, that’s a bit over the top, isn’t it?”  The fact is, my opposition only matters if you favor the less efficient means of putting up with it over the more efficient means of lining me up against a wall and shooting me. He’s not allowed to have me shot yet.  Yet.

The most dangerous time for him is right now — before the reins of power are handed over to him. This is not a man who handles pressure well.  We have to keep it up. Don’t let the bastard breathe. We don’t have to give him hell.  All we have to do is tell the truth and he’ll think it’s hell. But also remember we’re all asked one question every single day:  is this country worth it? What are you willing to give up and set aside in order to keep the country together?

Then ask what is he willing to give up to keep the country together?

That’s really the biggest question of all.

Posted in I Object, The Ol' Curmudgeon, The Ol' Philosopher

We’re All Day-to-Day

simple-candle-800pxI asked this morning on Facebook and Twitter what, exactly,  people with a “wait-and-see” attitude toward the Short-Fingered-Vulgarian-in-Chief needed to see in order to quit waiting and speak up. Most of the answers were along the lines that “He hasn’t done anything yet.”  This, of course, the morning after he appointed the former publisher of Breitbart News (hell no I’m not linking to it) — a man who brags that he’s made White Supremacy mainstream again — to be his Chief Strategist and Senior Counsel. The other thing he’s done is appoint Reince Priebus, a man who can’t even take a principled stand on “i-before-e”, to be his Chief of Staff. You’ll recall that the whole purpose of this campaign, besides throwing out brown people who are here and killing selected ones who aren’t, was to “drain the swamp.” Guess what?  He just appointed the swamp to be Chief of Staff.  You know how this works, right? The Chief of Staff decides who sees the President and when. The Chief Strategist and Senior Counsel is the person the President goes to see when he feels like talking to someone. This after picking Mike “Pray the Gay Away” as his Vice-President and surrounding himself with failed-90s-politicians-also-on-their-third-marriages Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani as probable cabinet members. Ben Carson seems to be in the mix in there somewhere, but there’s always the chance with him he’s just confused about where he’s supposed to stand.

I ask again:  what in the HELL does this man have to do in order for you to say you’re a little nervous?

You actually don’t need to answer that question because I already know the answer.  There is nothing.  You’ve already made your choice.  You’re OK with all this. Not OK, exactly, but willing to let other people do the heavy lifting. Let someone else get their hands dirty. “Such and such will NEVER let him do so-and-so!” you say with confidence based on nothing other than the pressure on your sphincter from you praying you’re right. “I don’t have to say anything NOW because SOMEONE ELSE will stop them THEN!” Really?  Why would they? I’m some faceless bureaucrat in the bowels of the government and some order comes down that is going to hurt a lot of people.  Why does it fall on me to stop this?  Who will know? Who cares? I’ve made my entire career giving my bosses what they want. Why should I stop now? It’s not like anyone cares, right? Nobody but a few cranks are talking about this, and no one takes them seriously anyway!

“Banality of evil.” Look it up. No matter who said it first, the idea that the only thing needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing is sound.Why? I think of it as the “Save the Planet” problem.  Sounds good.  Everyone has to be in favor of that , right?  (I mean, except for the person we just elected President.  Not him). Here’s the deal:  The planet is going to be fine.  It’s big.  It has an atmosphere. Its been hit by big rocks and life came back.  Not the same life, but it’s the same planet. For some reason we talk about the planet as if somehow it’s natural we’re here.  It’s not. There was a time we weren’t here.  There could easily be a time we’re not here and the planet will never even notice.  It’ll be fine.  People?  That’s our choice.

So it is with institutions. The only reason institutions have power is because people give it to them. They don’t occur naturally.  They only exist through voluntary participation. In Darkness Visible William Styron made the point that the fundamental choice someone makes every day is whether or not to live or die. So it is with institutions. We have to decide what we’re willing to accept in order for the institution to survive. The Founders made a choice. We think they made the choice for us, but they didn’t. We have to make the choice every single day. Is this thing worth maintaining the institution for? There will be people on the other side of that decision.  There will be institutions. They just don’t have to be the same institutions we have now.

What’s the deal breaker for you? When do you start letting other people know that? Whose job is it to speak for you? When that bureaucrat has to make that call, what does she have to go on?

Years ago there was an ESPN promo where Keith Olbermann says about some ballplayer “He’s day-to-day.  We’re all day-to-day.” So is our country. So are the institutions that make it what it is.

You do what you want. I don’t know what else to do.  I’m speaking out for as long as I can.

Posted in I Object

Same Nightmare, Different Day

My nightmare started in 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected for the first time. Donald Trump is the logical outcome of that process. There was nothing unpredictable about this. Ian Welsh makes the case beautifully and there’s nothing I can add to improve it.

I will be accused of being overly dramatic with that tweet, of course.  Just like I’m always accused of being overly dramatic right up to the point things work out just about like I said they would. It’s not that I’m right all the time. There’s a massive number of things I can’t figure out for crap. But for some reason I have a Cassandra thing going when it comes to American politics.1 Especially when it comes to the lies we tell ourselves.

Donald Trump has no idea what he’s unleashed. He’s vain enough to think he’ll be able to control it, but he’s loosed an animal that is interested in its own survival and nothing else. He made some pretty specific promises to lots of people who like to own a lot of guns. He’s going to have to deliver on them or he’s going to wind up being just one more target. There’s not going to be a pivot. There can’t be. There are armed people who have very specific requirements. They’re not the “alt-right” any more.  They’re in charge. And what are they in charge of? Oh.  Just the most powerful security state on the planet.  You know, the one you voted to give to Bush the Lessor and Obama?  That one?  It belongs to Trump and his Oath Keepers and his Christian Reconstructionists and his Fraternal Orders of Police now.

Mao famously said that political power comes from the end of a gun. Guess who has the guns? And guess who calls Black Lives Matters a terrorist organization? That’s Mr. Donald J. President-Elect Trump to you, asshole. The thing about Trump is he likes power and being in charge. As long as he can be in charge and it profits his family, it doesn’t matter who gets hurt. The French Revolution was crowd-sourced. Trump may have the design sense of Louis XVI’s small intestine, but he’s got no interest in winding up like him.

People are going to be hurt. Count on it. Who’s going to stop them? People who think hashtags mean something?

I voted for Clinton unenthusiastically Saturday and spent yesterday watching enthusiastic old white people vote for Trump as fast as they could get the ballot filled out. The only thing that slowed them down was arthritis and dementia.  They rode their Medicaid and Medicare paid-for scooters into the room and barely missed all the equivalently paid-for walkers so they could make sure that awful black man’s socialized Kenyan Muslim plots didn’t cost white people anything. Or something. I never really quite figured it out. But more than one person told me it was about their way of life. No surprise here, but they didn’t exactly think it through. I don’t know if it’s going to be days, weeks, or months, but sooner or later some of them might notice that that nice Negro nurse is gone or that Mexican orderly isn’t around to help anymore.  It’ll be a shame, but isn’t it nice that white people have a chance at the jobs first now?  That’s the way of life they were talking about.

I don’t know who’s making out the lists at the moment, but could I please be put on the one for Jew-Nigger-Muslim-Fag-lovers?  That’d be great. I’ve seen this movie before. I know how you like to make sure the paperwork is straight and all the trains run on time.

Have a blessed day.


1Without the being a beautiful Trojan woman thing, of course. Weird thought: this election was a tie in terms of the likelihood that a beautiful Trojan woman would be groped in the White House by a member of the First Family sometime in the next four years. Stay classy, America!

Posted in Nothing in Particular

Anti-social media

If there’s any lesson I’ve learned in life it’s that you’re welcome to hold any opinion you want as long as it’s well-known that it agrees with everyone else’s. I find being around people draining, which is why it’s so odd I’ve spent so much time on social media. I’m increasingly turning into the least social person I know. And I’m OK with that.

I’ve been uneasy with Facebook for a long time. I resisted getting on it in the first place. While I’ve been able to reconnect (and, in some cases, connect) with people I genuinely like, the cost has been high. I’m not going to go into any detail here, but this morning I expressed an opinion that proved to be wildly unpopular. I’ve never been good at saying what people want to hear.

Not my writing style.

Not my writing style.

Craig Ferguson has a bit he does that I think is dead on. He says that before he says anything he asks three questions:

  1. Does this need to be said?
  2. Does this need to be said by me?
  3. Does this need to be said by me right now?

I’m not sure which of these I did wrong this morning. Number 3, I think.  Maybe #2, but I’m leaning towards #3. The point here is that I got up on a beautiful (if a little sticky) Friday morning and immediately managed to piss people off and, in turn, get pissed off myself. I don’t need this shit.  No one does. I’ve got work to do.

I’ve deactivated my Facebook account. For my own sanity. If I feel like I have something I want to say I have a perfectly good place to say it right here. I don’t have to worry about accidently harshing the mellow of those with delicate mellows who might be exposed to a contrary opinion through the vaguaries of Mark Zuckerberg’s latest timeline algorithm. No one’s going to accidentally stumble on something here. You come here and you get what you pay for. Don’t like it? Don’t come here. The other side of it is that it’s not as quick to write things here as on Facebook. There are many more chances to heed Craig Ferguson’s wise counsel. I can have opinions and the world can easily ignore them. Which is how it should be. Everyone seems to be happier.

Like I said, I’ve got work to do.

Posted in I Object, The Ol' Curmudgeon

Long hot summer

It’s been 76 days since I last wrote a post here. I haven’t written because a lot of the time I’ve been angry. I get mean when I get angry and I don’t like being mean. I always regret it later. I’ve saved my rants for Facebook and Twitter because they’re kind of like the ancient privies archeologists are constantly digging up. You’ll find interesting stuff in there now and again, but you always have to remember that at some point in the past someone decided it was best if the thing was covered in shit.

Summer-2010-ClipArt9-SunWearingGlasses-800pxTrump got nominated last week and Hillary was nominated last night. I supposed it’s possible someone might not know what they’re going to do about voting, but I don’t think it’s too likely. My guess — and it’s only that — is that the biggest source of uncertainty is turnout. If people were magically transported to the polls (or it was somehow not necessary to go to a physical place to vote) I suspect almost everyone knows who they’d vote for. Intentions and actually doing something about them are two different things, though, so the only question left is who actually shows up in November. When I feel like looking into other people’s self-absorption I go read Medium (Motto: Facebook comments — with pretension!). There are all these posts explaining why the writer is or isn’t going to vote for this or that person. Some are funny. Some are poignant. Most are thoughtful and, I assume, sincere. All are predicated on the flawed assumption that someone gives a crap what you think. People only care inasmuch as you agree with what they already believe. Change is difficult and uncomfortable and most people handle it very badly. Nobody’s going to change their mind because of something you write except possibly what they think of you.

I write because I ceased caring what people thought a long time ago. It’s part of my charm. It also explains why I spend so much time with the cats. They judge me, but their criteria are clear. I’m good with that.

It’s not just politics that have made this a long summer, of course. A lot of people who should be bitching about things along with the rest of us are dead because somebody else thought shooting them was a better way to go. People are doing horrific things in the name of their religion. Buddhist extremists are targeting Muslims in Asia. Muslim extremists are carrying out vicious attacks in Europe. Bill Donohue of the Catholic League gets asked questions on TV. The horrors perpetuated in the name of religion are legion.

So it’s been a hell of a summer. Like all summers, though, this one is ending. When it does I’ll be doing something I really never thought I’d do again. No, I don’t mean being employed. I assumed that would work out somehow. No, the thing I’m going to do that I didn’t think I’d do again is teach. I’ve accepted a one-year, non-renewable lecturer position at Northern Kentucky University in the Media Informatics program in the College of Informatics. I’ll be teaching a basic web coding course, a course on non-linear storytelling, and another on the impact of video games and virtual worlds. They had a couple of folks leave at the end of last year and it left them just desperate enough that I seemed like a good option. I’ve been cramming like crazy to get ready, but it’s been fun. It’s going to be good to work with students again and be able to immerse myself in stuff I love. It’s all happened pretty fast, but I’m very impressed with the department. I hope their confidence in me isn’t as horribly misplaced as it feels right now. My teaching schedule for Fall has all my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so I should have at least some time to work on my own projects. There was a time in my life that a one-year teaching gig wouldn’t have sounded so great, but it’s actually pretty perfect for me right now.

That’s what I’ve been doing. Hope your summer’s been OK. Feel free to let me know.

I’ll only judge you a little. Promise.

Posted in Life

Power Rearrangers

It’s really all about power, isn’t it? All this stuff that’s going on in the world. It’s about power. The power to make your little part of the world the way you want it. The power to decide what little part of the world is your little part of the world. Call it control. Call it agency. It’s power. It’s the ability to affect — and effect — how things turn out for you, short-term and long-term. And it’s also about frustration. What you do when you realize you don’t have power or agency or control.

This hit me as I was commiserating with a friend on Facebook. I don’t want to say too much out of concern for privacy, but sufficed to say neither of us are having an especially good time right now. I was trying to explain my philosophy of “fuck it.” Basically it boils down to me doing this re-evaluation of the things I like to do and the things other people seem to expect of me. Those things I like I keep.  Everything else gets stuck onto the “fuck it” pile. This is still a work in progress and I don’t recommend tossing everything and making it your life plan, but my thinking is that I’m not going to get to the point of suckering people for money earning an honest day’s wages until I know what the rubes will pay for what I have to offer my fellow passengers on this trip though the cosmos.

I’ve been re-reading Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer. It’s such a good book. It was written in the 1950’s so it’s a nightmare in terms of gender-inclusive language, but it’s clear the guy had it together and he’d have written it differently if he were doing it today. Anyway, it’s about how individuals decide to join new mass movements. His examples come from the rise of Christianity, the Protestant Schism, the Bolshevik Revolution and, because it’s written just after World War II, Hitler and the Nazis. An Andrew Sullivan piece that was otherwise a nightmare reminded me of Hoffer’s book. I’ve been thinking about nucleation points — places where conditions are right for a system to start to change from one thing to another — and it hit me that Hoffer’s book is a taxonomy of how that works. He’s not polluted or distracted by the present day because it hadn’t happened yet. All he had to go off of was a past that was less distant to him than us. And there was that whole “being a freaking genius thing.” He had that going for him.

Anyway, he talks a lot about frustration. He’s careful not to use the term clinically. Hell, he’s careful with all the words he uses, but especially that one. A good chunk of the book is a compendium of how different life circumstances can lead to frustration. He then illustrates how a new mass movement can give people the hope that their frustrations can be relieved. It’s been a long time since I read it and I’m not all the way through it yet, but one thing that’s becoming clear is that it’s not a good idea for a new mass movement to be too specific with details. People are happy to fill in the blanks.

It reminds of of something I’ve encountered a millions times when sitting down to talk to someone about me writing or making a new thing (video, educational piece, whatever). They generally have a pretty good idea about how they want to feel when the whole thing is done. What’s going to make them feel that way is pretty much a mystery to them. Experience has taught me that whatever they think is the answer is probably wrong (or so hopelessly incomplete it amounts to the same thing).  It’s not their fault. If they knew what they needed or wanted they’d have already done it for themselves. They’re not stupid, after all. They spend their days happily doing stuff I can’t — or don’t want to — do. Part of my job is getting them trust me that it’s OK they weren’t born knowing how to do whatever it is that needs to be done. And trusting me to do it. My job is figuring out how to make the thing that’s going to make them feel the way they want at the end. And then get them to pay me that sweet, sweet money for it. People: good at knowing how they want to feel.  People: pretty sucky at figuring out how to get there. Me: just like everyone else.

I think I “get” Trump now. And guns. And abortion. And how you can repeat all this crap about Obama that just doesn’t hold up to even cursory examination. The thing itself is not that important. It’s the ability to believe in the thing. You get to control that. You can own it, literally and metaphorically. Sure you’re more likely to shoot yourself or a loved one than you are a crook trying to rob you, but you own that gun.  You can have that. You can make that happen. And before you start feeling all that damned superior yourself, you might want to be aware that you’ve got just as many blind spots. Think about that stereotypical person on Facebook that really pisses you off.  What are their characteristics? Congratulations. You’ve just listed the things in your life you are frustrated about. You’ve done a chemical analysis of the soil that will list in great detail what will sprout and grow in you. You want to control, those things. You want to affect how those things turn out. And you’ll overlook things and gloss over things and do everything the person you despise does to prop up the hope that you will some day. “If people would only just…” So don’t get too full of yourself, Spanky. You’re just someone else’s garden.

A couple loose ends:  None of this is new. Or original. People have been frustrated for as long as there have been people. It’s one of our defining characteristics as things that exist in three-dimensional space and fart. The new twist is we have a much wider assortment of things to be frustrated about because we have such visibility into the lives and thoughts of others. We simultaneously know way to much about other people and way too little about ourselves. That’s not a particularly good recipe for happiness. Then there’s the whole thing where somehow we’ve decided that “stuff” is what it’s all about. Whoever controls our ability to get stuff controls us. That’s kind of weird.

Waiting for the punch line?  Waiting for the solution? Sorry. Not going to find any answers here. For my part I’ve been looking around a lot lately saying “What the fuck?” I’ve been seeing a lot of other people doing the same thing. I think I get it now. It’s about power, or the lack thereof. It’s people working out frustrations the only way they can.

I don’t know what to do about any of it (if, indeed, there’s anything to be “done”). But at least I know what I’m looking at.

It’s a start.

Trust me. You can't see my face.

Trust me. You can’t see my face and I dress funny. I’m clearly the answer.

Posted in The Ol' Curmudgeon, The Ol' Philosopher

Idling

Considered skipping,

but that made no sense really.

This is just a lull.

Haiku

Posted in Another damned haiku
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