Archives for category: Meanderings

Although the sharp edges of my previous postings no doubt serve to convince the faithful that I am deeply unhappy and angry at ‘god’, that is not actually the case. I’m not angry at any of the thousands of deities man has postulated–I just have a wounded mind. 

Depression is both discrete from grief and not reliant on having a rational source. If I may be forgiven for flippancy, I would say that depression and anxiety are the Tillandsia of the emotional spectrum–they root in little or nothing and remain obstinately hale with only the very slightest support from real-world events.

As Andrew Solomon mentions in his excellent commentary on the subject, (found here) depression is not unhappiness but rather the absence of vitality. A crushing enervation and bone-deep chill which siphons the zest and enjoyment from those who suffer it; known by the sufferer to be nonsensical, irrational, and baseless but inescapable nevertheless. I’ve been dealing with it for a long time, and the best strategy I’ve been able to find thus far is to recognize that it’s in some part external and focus exclusively on self-care. The obvious disadvantage to this strategy is that it tends to rapidly corrode one’s work or school performance, and there’s nothing quite as delightful as depression spiced up with guilt and anxiety.

My trouble tends to be that I want to analyze and solve problems, and depression is a bottomless pit of problems that cannot be rectified. The only winning solution can be found in Wargames. The only winning strategy is not to play. It sounds like giving up, you might say, and in some ways it is, but if one’s brain is constantly keening in agony and screaming that nobody cares, nobody loves you, nobody ever will, and you don’t deserve to live… It might be a good thing to avoid trying to sort all that out right at that moment and have a sandwich because you know you haven’t eaten yet and you really ought to.

All I’m saying is that god isn’t going to make you that sandwich.

 

 

the next time you see one of us walking down the street, take a moment to look past the posture and the haircut. if you could see inner worlds, you would avert your eyes from the terror, horror, and pain that suffocates us with each breath; surrounded by the ghosts of bloody, haggard comrades who march with us. none of us ever said it, but each of us pledged the same solemn oath: I will never forget you.

think before you speak–we already know that it isn’t OK, and it probably never will be. nothing can replace the missed birthdays and lost loves, and we’ll never forget holidays tinged green and tan and brown and black, and the forlorn slices of dry turkey in cheap cardboard trays. disposable–just like us. we might be monsters to you, but the blood in us is red just like yours. if we never speak of the things we’ve done, it isn’t because we don’t care, it’s because there is no way you could possibly understand where we’ve been and what we have seen.

we are wracked by the shadows of war. gripped by the inescapable and terrible intimacy of minds trained to trust nothing and no one but the men and women who also wear the uniform, cursed with hands that will forever reach out in the lonely and insomnia-riddled hours of the night not for the touch of a lover but for the slick, cold solidity of a rifle.

if you dared look within us you might admire the spartan austerity of souls which have been hammered flat to ensure a good field of fire–survival is everything and leaves room for little else. we are demanding for reasons that kept us alive, our comrades safe, and all of us working until the job was done. we were never perfect but we tried like hell at it, exacting and draconian and ferociously loyal.

you think of us as brainwashed, and perhaps we are, but I wonder if you have the strength to stare into oblivion and feed yourself, mind, body, and soul into cauterizing flames and burn away your weakness. we knew service was pain and blood and death, but we kept putting one foot in front of the other until there was nothing left but cigarettes, booze, and nightmares.

we tore ourselves apart, and not a one of us will ever be whole again.

you’re welcome.

Just as I thought life might return to its former level of roller-coaster hijinks, a pubescent Bambi look-alike left off reading Russian literature just long enough to decide that life was no longer worth living. This paragon of quadrupedal excellence made a lightning-fast decision: death via the right-hand side of my bumper and hood was preferable to facing another post-modern deconstructionist essay on Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. It was one short leap for Bambi, and one comparatively simple calculation involving a 1134kg of car moving at 80.5kph before braking madly for ~.5s (call it -~8kph?) resulting in a simultaneous giant headache for me and a giant leap for Bambi. To the right, off the hood of my car. (Bambi’s leap was augmented by about 5700 N for anyone curious)

All of this has given me an interesting and mandatory look into the economics of automobiles, and through that a look at some of the problems that have become systemic in the U.S. (probably elsewhere too.) I need not be a scholar of Marx to tell you that capitalism is insane. However, rather than diverging into a useless rant on how communism is a superior economic system and that the lumpen proletariat will rise up against the Imperialist oppressor and the state will wither away and we will all be borne away to paradise in the arms of our new-found communist paradise… Not only has it been taken care of already by countless other dewy-eyed students of liberal arts colleges, (UCSC represent!) but plenty of other people as well, (hi, Vladimir Iyich Ulyanov.)

This is the kind of thing that runs through my head lately. We have to be able to make the distinction between the theoretical model of a system that exists in an ideal vacuum and the reality of it as we have implemented it. So of course that means that I have to be able to make that distinction when I speak or write about the subject to avoid raising the hackles of the rabid defenders of the various economic models. Not that said rabid folks are really even that much of a problem in the grand scheme of things; they at least care about the topic, even if they have invested a comparatively small amount of time and effort into educating themselves about the subject.

No, the biggest hurdle is the mass of people who are ignorant and ignorant of their ignorance. None of these folks is necessarily stupid–but if nobody ever educated them in critical thinking, economics, and government, they start out and will likely remain easily led sheep whose fervor can be nurtured by sound bytes and directed by aesthetically pleasing and vapid talking heads to vote however is convenient for the people with the most money and the least scruples. Unfortunately it seems as though even those people who are interested in doing the right thing are generally drawn into the game, joining the arms race that they are all but guaranteed to lose.

I doubt if any amount of angry, angsty undergraduates is sufficient to change the world if the world is coasting along on its own course and constantly receiving reinforcement in the form of ignorant or apathetic people whose ability to think critically has been starved or beaten into submission by human necessities like a place to live and food to eat–and a job in the present economic system to provide them. The youth of the world sees that the sleeping mass needs waking, but what they cannot wrap their heads around is that the sleeping mass probably did not start out asleep, but more than likely gave churning through the morass of activism a shot and gave up in disgust.

My message to the young (as I am SO elderly myself) is this: do not make the assumption that all you must do is make people aware of something to suddenly trigger the same epiphany you are undergoing. That is easy, emotionally satisfying, and almost completely useless. The project that will make a real and lasting difference is going to involve hardship, discomfort, and misery. We have to push the roots of education through the artificial barriers thrown up by unscrupulous politicians, moneyed interests, and people who have given up and would rather cherish their comforting illusions–treating the symptoms and not the disease.

Even if someone could overthrow the U.S. government, completely dismantle all of the corrupt portions of it, and maintain an absolute mandate by force of arms or popular support–it would last only so long as that unifying force kept it going. The answer is not revolution and destruction but re-imagining and education. Perhaps you will attack me for being too vague. My response is that walking this Golden Path is like walking any other; it is a task that must be undertaken by many and not by only one. There surely will be trailblazers and people who will scout the ground in advance of the main body of civilization, but each individual person must learn to keep their eyes open and carry the responsibility for recognizing the blazes, checking their maps, and putting one foot in front of the other safely.

The fix is not a hero or heroine who will save us from ourselves, show us where to step and coddle us to protect our illusions. The solution to our problems, and indeed most human problems, is for individual people to educate themselves to the point where they can predict the results of small changes in their choices with a fair degree of veracity and use critical thinking and communication to combine their individual efforts to solve difficult human problems. That sort of rampant individualism that claims that everything must be done by the individual is not only nonsensical but actively retards this process, to the benefit of amoral people.

 

One of the things that happens to all of us is getting rooted in a static perspective. It is sometimes difficult to see this calcification from our own viewpoint, but it can stand out like a sore thumb to other people. The trick seems to be working furiously to keep our defensive reactions from browbeating other people out of telling us when we seem wrong from their perspective. That, and finding enough people who do the same to keep the input useful.

Long story short: we can all be wrong due to errors in data and thinking. I suppose the best indicator is being slightly uncomfortable at all times from a constant awareness of this. Comfort seems to presage motionlessness unless it is the comfort of temporary respite from hard work with the sure knowledge that shortly it will begin again.

 

More later.

 

Apparently I took Sunday off without realizing it. My sense of time is, well, not particularly well developed. So here is what I would likely have written about yesterday, had I recalled that it was, in fact, Sunday and not Saturday:

I would like to take a moment to plug the Hidden Peak Teahouse (I am in no way affiliated with or benefiting from this endorsement) in Santa Cruz. I had a lovely visit with two of my dear friends and my lovely and talented better half. My friends tried two of the green teas (Green Summit, Dragon Well) and were quite pleased, and my dear and I decided on a somewhat fancier oolong (Formosa High Mt.) tea with a lovely rich and mellow flavor that changed quite agreeably over the many steepings it allowed us. If you have not had the experience of a gung fu tea service, I highly recommend it both for the richness of the flavor and for the experience itself.

The point of the tea is not to enable a high-speed impact with modernity with fueled by sugar, milk, caffeine, and the promise of “anti-oxidants,” and you will do yourself an incredible disservice if you attempt to approach it in that manner. Divest yourself of your digital devices, bring anywhere from $0.99 to perhaps $10.00 and make the conscious choice to let yourself enjoy the experience at a relaxed pace.

One of the difficulties I predict new tea drinkers, (as I am myself,) is balking at the prices. So I will quickly explain how it works so you are not caught off guard:

When you go to the average coffee shop you are paying roughly $3.00 for a cardboard cup of hot water with one/two teabag(s) in it. Most of the time it gets over-steeped in short order because we are on the go or not thinking about it. There is nothing wrong with this choice–if you are on the go and need that jolt of Earl Grey to wake up in the morning, so be it. However, once the 12 to 20 ounces of steaming stimulant are gone, away goes the cup and you continue on your trajectory.

The difference is that Hidden Peak is not intending to sell you an adjunct to the endlessly accelerating pace of modern life. When you get a gaiwan, small teapot, or the full gung fu tea service you are getting exemplary tea and as much water (at the proper temperature) as you care to steep the leaves with, and as much time as you care to spend doing so. I myself am rather fond of a tea that costs $13.50 at the moment, the Pheonix Oolong. My somewhat fumbling neophyte attempts to describe its piquant and pleasant character can be most charitably summed up by the phrase: “this tea is a revelation”–and indeed it was to someone who had only ever had Lipton and tea from Costco.

Not only was the tea itself exquisite, but having paid a mere 13.50 for it, in addition to the 5$ extra to purchase the use of a gung fu service set for my wonderful partner and I, meant that the roughly 2.25 liters (roughly 76 fluid ounces) that the fabulous tea lasted ended up costing a total of approximately 24 cents per ounce, left zero trash, and afforded us two hours of peaceful warmth and enjoyment in Hidden Peak’s peaceful little outdoor garden.

To be entirely fair, the $5-$7 tea is also quite nice, considerably superior in flavor, aroma, and character to the average mass-produced stuff, and lasts almost as long as the more expensive tea when steeped. The end result, even if you opt for the slightly more expensive gun fu service is about than 8 cents per ounce of tea. Opting for a gaiwan or miniature teapot reduces this further.

By contrast, tea from the average coffee shop costs about 12-15 cents per ounce, leaves you with a cup to throw away, provides nothing to keep your hands busy and warm, and simply does not taste nearly as nice.*

I do not mean to suggest that swinging by a coffee shop is a bad option, but if you have a desire to converse with some friends in a pleasant atmosphere while sipping away at some truly delicious tea, there is simply no comparison.

On a side note:

The staff is friendly and genuinely knowledgeable–they care both about tea and about matching tea with customer. Moreover, at least on the three separate occasions I have thus far enjoyed myself there, none of the different employees I spoke to made any attempt to sell me something I did not want, and in fact made a point to avoid doing so even in the face of my innocent palate and deliberate openness to suggestions.

Give it a shot, if you enjoy tea in the least, I do not believe you will regret it.

* Numbers based on coffee shops local to Santa Cruz and San Jose, compare with Starbucks Venti (20oz.) tea at $2.45. I am in no way affiliated with any beverage sales business and my numbers are representative of the best information I currently have and should not be taken to guarantee anything.

 

I’m afraid I spent the day moving a rather large chunk of stuff around and organizing it, and so have been a bit less free to write than normal.

However, I have spent some time today considering difficulties in communication. It seems to me that if we are to communicate about anything important, it is vital to stop short of describing our feelings, even short of describing our thoughts, and start first with explaining, to the best of our ability, the starting point and motivation that underlie our methods of thinking.

It seems so blatantly obvious that I feel we often miss it, and it causes a lot of difficulties. One of the reasons science works so well is that this factor is held constant not only by the desires of the persons pursuing it, but also rigorously enforced by the… gestalt, for lack of a better word, of the group.
I’ll probably make this into an Anatomy of a Thinker post later, but for now, my apologies for being too busy to write something longer; finally being free at 11PM did not seem to allow enough time tonight for any of the numerous subjects worthy of discussion.

 

Sleep well, I’ll catch you tomorrow.

Good morning, evening, or afternoon.

I’d like to take a moment to introduce myself, but not in the usual manner. I care about distinguishing truth from falsehood, so if I am in error factually in a post, please do tell me but please be ready with the evidence. I’m a skeptic, and I am increasingly tired of seeing people take things on faith. I like to write, and as you’re reading this, presumably you like to read, so I think we’ll get along. (I read as well, obviously.)

While my atheism might have motivated me to expend copious quantities of energy toward the end of thinking about things carefully and critically, it is not the single end of my writing. I choose the title of contrapologist advisedly; I am not interested in defending science, reason, atheism, or secular humanism–but rather in attacking their detractors with vigor and ferocity. An apologist is often thought of as defending a controversial position, and I posit that clear thinking, and the withholding of belief until the aduction of evidence are in fact not controversial positions and require no defense.

Look around you. The evidence that science is a superior means of discerning truth from falsehood surrounds you in such profusion that the mind can scarcely encompass the immensity of a single facet of it before alighting on another. Virtually every element of modern life has its roots firmly planted in methodological naturalism–what we now call science.

Think about your actions. The evidence that skepticism is the best default position is legion. You look both ways and listen before you cross the street or make a turn while driving, avoid drinking milk past the expiration date–at least until you give it a few good sniffs, and lock your car door when you park in the city.

Babies are not born with a cross on their foreheads, at least not very often, and children must be the recipients of regurgitated faith before they themselves conceive of any metaphysical doctrines. Atheism is the default position we are all born into–some of us just never leave, or come back to it after flirting with the other options.

It will be from this foundation that I launch myself, and ask those who disagree: where is your evidence?

Thanks for reading.