A Nice Cup of Tea (p.990)
When it comes to understanding ourselves, I strongly defer to looking at the habits we partake, our associations and dissocations (us-them distinctions), and the language and nuances we use. Each of these things is an excellent indicator of what we think, believe and value--not because I say so--but because they are real-time demonstrations of these things.
This is why I am more of a proponent of demonstration-based paradigms of understanding and defining yourself. Anyone can write up who and what they want to be on paper, but our actions, nuances, and short- and long-term goals truly demonstrate who we are. And the great thing about this? We can change our demonstration(s) at our will. Our willed actions are much more realistic compasses of ourselves than our ideals or fantasies of ourselves, because the will by default engages us with reality, and our fantasies are escapist. Ultimately this is great, because if there is anything humans can do, it is produce willed action, both outward and inward.
I am not going to claim to have compiled an comprehensive list of the markers of understanding the self. If anything, the more markers that intellectuals continually identify, the better chance we each have of being more centered (acting and choosing based on our natural inclinations, and goals), and more balanced in our relationships because we will not be searching for ourselves through other people. We will let people be themselves, because identity-confusion/torture will not cataract our ability to see others truly empathically.
I stumbled across the ideal of additives lately, which I will be adding to my above list of markers used to understand the self. Not just any additives, life additives : what we think and believe we need to add to our lives to improve them. Now, although I am not a big fan of belief because it is by definition a statement without evidence, a belief however can be an excellent springboard, because a process of evidence can follow. We add things to our lives all the time without even reflecting we actually made a choice; identifying these things objectively can help us see ourselves more clearly. Thus, investigating and exposing our life additives through our intellect can help expose them, because they often hide in the recesses of emotional affirmation. I am not just talking about the high-ended, existential stuff, I am actually focusing right now on the more domestic sphere. The little things we do day-in and and day-out nearly thoughtlessly because they are either a part of our routine, or things we posit at beneficial to our self-interest.
Pausing and reflecting for just one moment on the life additives we are enlisting right now, and just enlisted a few seconds, minutes, etc., ago, can buck our impulses and compulsions and potentially provide a real-time gauge of who we are through who we act, or in other words, the selves we actively demonstrate. This puts us in a position of making an informed--or more objective--choice of whether these additives are helping us draw closer to our short- and long-term goals, or unknowingly draw us further away.
Thus, implementing thought-based additives in place of belief-based additives allows us to forecast our own lives, rather than react to them.
Pleasure Spots (p.985)
I went to an all-inclusive Mexican resort once, where upon arrival they slapped a bright-colored bracelet on to indicate my status as a temporary royal. Anyone without the bracelet does not get access to the bars, restaurants, pools, beaches, human-sized chess set, or beaming Mexican smiles. You were American royalty.
Each day was the same though; wake up, go to breakfast, sit by the pool and nap until lunch, then start (or continue) drinking. Once full on food and liquor, take another nap, then engage in a late-afternoon physical activity like swimming or paid tour, which was the only thing paid for out-of-pocket. Have dinner, then drinks, then pass out. Every day. I realize that seems like a perfect vacation for many, but after a short while of ubiquitous pleasure, I grew bored. Bored?! How does one get bored with being waited on hand-and-foot?
Because there was no intellectual requirement. No challenges, no goals, no debates, nothing. And I was pretty directionless at the time; I had not begun writing yet.
I quickly grew to despise the resort. I referred to it as a compound. Having everything provided felt like my will was imprisoned, because the daily milieu was not realistic in any way. Reality involves a myriad of choices, stressors, consequences and rewards, yet an all-inclusive resort dulls this stark truth by pandering to our emotions and utopic ideals. Again, I realize many people love these places, but if this vacation is merely an escape from permanent reality, how good is it really for us? I am not being an intellectual snob, it is an honest, valid question.
Another trip I took was to Moosehead Lake, during deep winter. In the other seasons the town of Greenville was a nexus of tourists, but in the dead of wintertime, it was just the locals. And me and my dog. I rented a small cabin with just enough room to stretch our legs. It snowed a few feet when we were there, which was just a few days. You could barely see the next cabin, or even the lake for that. What we did see when we looked out the large cabin windows were trees, snow mounds, an clouds. Or in other words, white with just a touch of green. It was so quiet you could hear the wind blow through the trees, the fire crackle, and the cabin groan in the wind. I kept thinking I would get lonely and would not know what to do. I anticipated loneliness, though it never came.
I went snow-shoeing. I read. I wrote a little. But--and this is going to sound cliche'--what I did most of the time was just be. There were no distractions. Just nature. I would stare out the windows wondering if I was wasting time, but my introspective thoughts were not weighted by civilized noise, making substantive thought inevitable. Thinking back to the Mexican resort, when I stared off the balcony, I always felt like I was wasting time.
What was the difference?
I have heard this lesson many times, but it was always brought up from a resort-type scenario. That is, always reactively; from a place that treated simplicity as a salve to a difficult current situation. On the other hand, when you view and experience simplicity from a cabin-scenario, as something in-itself, unencumbered by social mantras, a purer type of simplicity is experienced within the self. My teacher defines this type of experience as interjective. Interjective is not a solely subjective or objective perspective or experience, it is a mixture of both. It is the inner experience of letting your emotions and reason interact without prejudice. It battles existential dissonance. If I told you this tool/perspective allows you to be affected and effected simultaneously, you would probably balk since it sounds like jargon. I understand that, but I have no better way of portraying this concept in one sentence. I myself am still a novice.
The biggest problem with the Mexican resort was that it was so comprehensively pleasure-oriented that it strengthened and reinforced a solely subjective perspective, and subjective cues. The cues were significant in this scenario because they were the ubiquitous physical markers and artifacts purposed for maintaining or encouraging subjectivity. This is why the Mexican staff waited on us hand-and-foot 24/7; to continuously indoctrinate us that it is all about me.
Being in the cabin, on the other hand, thrust me into interjectivity due to the total immersion in nature. No matter where I turned nature greeted me. In other words, my parent greeted me. It did not thrust itself upon me with bright lights, large artifacts, smiling faces, etc., it simply just was. The quietude allowed any repressed thoughts to surface, which normally would have roused feelings of shame and embarrassment. But again, the immersion in nature let me air those thoughts, looking at them much more calmly because I was not reinforced to shame them by ubiquitous cultural/social mechanisms and institutions. Out in nature, civilization's droning has little to no power. I have thus come to believe one of civilization's purposes is to prevent this calm interjective state, because interjection allows subjectivity to be earnestly evaluated more objectively. I did not say logically--I said objectively. Logic is limiting. Interjection introduces and allows thoughts, ideals, beliefs, alternatives, arguments and existent knowledge systems to interact with each other without our socially-compulsed intervention. It is putting ourselves on the table without freaking out that we are failures, without protecting ourselves from risk, and without beating our chest in self-aggrandizement. Again, interjectivity is one of the cures of destructive, confusing existential dissonance because it is designed to ultimately harmonize us with reality.
This perspective is an active practice of simplicity. Simplicity does not always mean shaving things down to bare roots, it means engaging in activities that pertain to a natural state. What could be more simple than revealing and developing our emotional and intellectual attributes? Sure, staring out the window of the cabin shaved my normal everyday-distractions, but it also actively provided a platform for both my emotions and thoughts to interact, conflict, and eventually harmonize.
To just be.
Looking at myself in the cabin was not that hard because it was freeing. Even though it was not all about me, it involved me, though in the right proportion. Ironically, an interjective perspective is purposed to reveal our nuclear self--both emotional and intellectual--through thematically reinforcing that it is not all about us. That we are just people who choose, feel, think, and act. Just like everyone else.
Interjection is a practice of orienting/reorienting ourselves with reality. It is a form of intellectual meditation--rather than emotional meditation--because reality is the endgame. Not subjective or emotional appeasement. Due to this, even though emotions and reason are allowed to interact, the interjective process is ultimately a function and practice of objectivity. This may be hard to grasp, but I want to be clear that I am not promoting an inclusion of, or requirement of, our subjective mind in the execution of every daily practice or conversation. No matter our natural orientation of thinking versus feeling, using our intellects as our decision-making centers allows us to choose and decide more widely, and more proportionately.
The interjective practice/perspective is done by ourselves to reveal, assess, and judge ourselves, so that we can choose our means and ends more effectively and less destructively. It is a tool of developing self-sufficiency, not a tool of social diplomacy. In other words, it is not practiced when engaging others, and is only a tool of more productively engaging ourselves.
Here is Orwell's closing sentence on the matter, which I find brilliant:
For man only stays human by preserving large patches of simplicity in his life, while the tendency of many modern inventions--in particular the film, the radio and the aeroplane--is to weaken his consciousness, dull his curiosity, and in general, drive him nearer to the animals.
Just Junk--But Who Could Resist It? (p.983)
I am not really sure where modern man's voyeuristic tendencies comes from, but it does not take much to see that a large portion of the population is compelled to watch without participation in some form. Now, this does not mean that all voyeurs are couch potatoes, is simply means that the cultural milieu is immersed with artifacts and activities that facilitate being born witness. And that people in their own idiosyncratic way, generally participate in some form.
You can split hairs and say television is not solely voyeuristic because the commercials and shows aired are designed to get you up off the couch and buy something. However the operative part of voyeurism is the birth and cultivation of the desire to watch. Whether or not a physical action follows at some later time is irrelevant. I do not attribute voyeuristic compulsions solely to television, and as I stated before, I am not really sure specifically where they derived. But I can speculate that with the advent of technology and institutions designed to bring desirable commodities and entertainment toward you, rather than require you to seek them out for purchase or entertainment, seeds of an attitude of voyeurism were planted.
At this point in time, voyeurism is primarily identified with unwarranted personal viewing, mostly private in nature. In other words, voyeurism is nuanced as sexual, but although it can indeed manifest sexually, highlighting this particular nuance really limits our understanding. My critique is language-based because the words, phrases and concepts we use on a daily basis steer our attention and mold our attitudes. This critique-of-nuance is simply a way of stating that I see a behavioral red flag, not that people are inherently gullible or wicked.
What's the red flag, you might ask, if the most extreme and invasive nuance is used to highlight the word? It's protecting people! Well, identifying voyeurism through sexual nuance surely takes a step in the direction of protecting people from sexual crimes, however all the other unhealthy and destructive forms of voyeurism become bypassed. When we bypass, we not only give license, but we do not even bother having the conversation with ourselves about what we are voyeuring because we do not categorize it as voyeurism. We categorize it as something else, something less suspicious, sometimes even positive. That may sound innocuous, but how we categorize determines everything from our values, relationships, habits to judgments. Yes, it is quite a serious topic.
There is one story involving voyeurism I cannot get out of my head. It has nothing to do with television or peeping toms. My friend used to be a paramedic and responded to a drowning call, though was unable to resuscitate the woman. She drowned in the middle of the street. But how? She had a seizure, fell face-down in a puddle of water, and all the bystanders merely watched in horror as the woman seized. No one flipped her over, and she died. If this sounds ridiculous, in that you think you would never (I am involved in the hypothetical as well) let some die like that, I associate with your sentiment, though history proves people permit this stuff all the time. People have been mugged or raped on the street and others have merely drawn the blinds. This is a mergence of the psychological concepts change blindness and confirmation bias, where we physically and emotionally draw our attention away from what is uncomfortable and toward what affirms us (ergo toward comfort).
What does this have to do with voyeurism? Well, going back to attitude, if we develop and cultivate voyeurism in multiple facets of our lives, then we have all the ingredients to watch someone drown in the puddle on the street. But first--and this is the really hard part--we need to redefine the concept of voyeurism, reverting its limited nuance of sexuality back to the original categorical parameters. Then we can understand if, how, and why we voyeur, and make an informed decision about how we will actively lead our attention and values. Then maybe we will not be one of those petrified people standing on the side of the road while some poor person seizes and drowns in a puddle. Those people were voyeurs, but did not even have a clue of that fact.
Banish this Uniform (p. 977)
Solidarity can be one of the most effective confidence-building mechanisms we can engage. If we are part of a team, no matter how we screw up, we are still part of a team. As a member of a family, no matter what decisions we make or behaviors we experiment with, we are still a part of the family. The list goes on. Solidarity is not morally qualified though, it is simply morally affected, so any group can have solidarity so long as they have certain codes and beliefs that bind the members together. So it is not inherently good or bad, it just is.
I'm not going to be cryptic about the inherent flaws of a solely belief-based solidarity. Just five minutes ago I read how the Westboro Baptist Church protested an openly gay Missouri football player with their usual hate-speech, yet were blocked by a half-mile long human wall outside the stadium. Present are two different types of solidarity; Westboro is bound together by religious-fueled intolerance, and the human wall--comprised of students, faculty, and alums--enacted an event-based and tolerant solidarity.
Not all group-think is corrosive, zombifying, or oppressive; it just seems that way because intolerant group-think often makes headlines. My teacher recently reminded me that when America's Constitution was created, a group of brilliant men banded together to use reason cooperatively but fiercely in the creation of a new country. They had a specific function and used reason to create codes and laws that would be effective not just in that time, but years from that time. The product of their solidarity was not created by their credentials, yet facilitated by their credentials through granting them attendance. I say this because the purpose of their attendance was to create practical, reasonable ideals, not just stand around and be recorded as brilliant men having stood around. It was a put-up-or-shut-up scenario, which is an indication that even though they shared a mutual secular/reasonable respect, it was active and progressive.
Many groups bound by solidarity are not progressive, or open to change through some variant of objective evaluation and improvement. Modern political conservatives do not want to change--hence conservative--thus limiting their ability to improve. I find this limiting because when you are so wrapped up in conserving an ideal, whether it is religious or political or whatever, then you are not open to the myriad possibilities of improvement. But just because you are open to change does not mean you necessarily lose solidarity! The potential for losing solidarity is surely there when you open yourself to change, but it has always been there. Just because your group is stubborn to "evaluate or adapt its principles or values" does not mean it is any stronger than a group that embraces change. This is a major fallacy. Belief-based groups justify their reluctance to self-evaluate through making outrageous excuses, citing the most effective witness ever; history. "We've done it this way for so long, so it must be working." That is merely mistaking quantity for quality. I tend to think past-based groups like Westboro are addicted to certain emotional and subjective mechanisms, handicapping both their ability and will to think with their minds. I am not promoting a purely objective existence--that would be impossible for a large percentage of people--however when we seek out or maintain a solidarity based in mechanisms insulated from reason, or the past, we are not binding together as much as binding against.
I am a big proponent of incorporating the distinction of us and them into any discussion. I do it almost ad nauseum because I have found that it is not popular to clearly identify (thus, judge) the us's and them's present in our daily interactions. There can be universal us's (for me, my teacher), and universal them's (for me, Westboro), however as we maneuver the smorgasbord of engagements, we are going to inevitably associate and dissociate with others based on accidental run-ins. Stop at a gas station, you become an us with others fueling up. Impeded upon by someone soliciting at your door, they become a them. It is only natural. A more significant aspect of our nature though is our ability to understand these relations, because that is the only way we can change them, or even know if we want to change them.
The point I am making is the virtue of being proactive, rather than reactive. The mind is stimulated through proactivity, because that is how it is built; the intellectual centers are designed to process information from the environment, project into the future based on this information, and reflect upon current knowledge or beliefs to construct a newer, more viable solution/vision. This does not have to be high-ended, but the intellect exists to move forward, not backward. Only the limbic system is required for past-orientation. (Not to discredit the limbic system, but it only operates subjectively, and in the past time frame).
Solidarity can thus either be a powerful narcotic--if a group uses emotional or subjective mechanisms to fuel it--or it can be a calm, collected mechanism that allows the members to be individuals to think, explore, and be bound by a sense of common meaning. This manifestation of solidarity is not a shackle, yet a sense of membership and community that harvests an individual person in the moment, rather than as an agent to wage a sense of predetermined purpose. It is a fundamental discrepancy of orientation: Either one specifically and intellectually determines the us group, or they prescriptively and repressively determine the them group. Past-based groups (the latter) are just hell-bent on them-determination, and present-based groups (the former) operate with more us-based determinations, allowing the members to band together like the Missouri human-wall, because their solidarity is defined by overarching commonality and ultimately, tolerance.
Nonsense Poetry: The Lear Omnibus edited by R.L. Megroz (p.973)
I am not a big poetry follower because I find it limiting. Call me long-winded, but I like exposition, flashback, dialogue and subplots in my fiction, and consecutive or overlapping arguments in my nonfiction. I realize poetry is efficient by design because it lacks traditional filler and transition devices which give fiction and nonfiction breadth, however just because poetry is stark doesn't mean the meaning is necessarily clear. Often, I find poets take license to write more ambiguously because they rely on this starkness.
This is not an absolute statement, because many types of poetry are exceedingly clear, which I enjoy reading. Take the limerick on page 975:
There was a young lady in Portugal,
Whose ideas were excessively nautical;
She climbed up a tree,
To examine the sea,
But declared she would never leave Portugal.
We can see the woman climbing the tree and smelling the sea salts, plus the poem has a lyrical quality. It's like song verse. Quick and punchy, but I have enough information to imagine a whole story.
And this one as well on 977:
There was an Old Person of Basing,
Whose presence of mind was amazing;
He purchased a steed,
Which he rode at full speed,
And escaped from the people of Basing.
The capitalization of "Old" and "Person" is intriguing, because it infers more than age. We can also infer that the people of Basing were chasing him out of town for his wits, which is a common occurrence in great thinkers. Again with the lyrical quality typical in limericks.
I also appreciate structured poetry more than open, or free verse poetry, because it's closer to its root. Poetry began as a mnemonic device to aid in the transmission of culture before the advent of the written word. So poetry is an ancient form of culture, which was created from a very practical need; the transmission of values and beliefs are facilitated if structured in a way that rolls off the tongue. So I respect poetry for its place in our literary heritage.
Since we have a myriad ways of communicating in modern times, poetry is no longer needed as a mnemonic device, therefore it takes on various forms. I am all for the expansion of the arts, however in my view the open form of poetry known as free verse is simply an early phase of brainstorming that most fiction and non-fiction writers do before they actually write.
I did a basic search for free verse poetry and quickly found one. I understand that free verse exists to allow the artist to be unfettered and "freer," and have the highest respect for a writer who wants to release or develop their inner voice, but there is a thin line between freedom of expression and relinquishment of editing.
Here is the poem as it appears, which is titled Friendship is a Rosebush, by Katherine Sessor.
Friendship is a rosebush that blooms beautiful
When nutured with love it grows stronger
Take away it's petals, they shall regrow
As a rosebush, it contains thorns
Needles that prick the unaware heart
Leaving a bleeding scar that needs to be healed
As a rosebush it will die
When kept out in the harsh winter
It will wither and fall
Friendship is a rosebush that blooms roses
Small blooms of love that is shared by all
But if not loved, they shall wither in the winter.
It is written well in that we know what is going on, despite the typos and grammatical errors. But the literary sin it commits is redundancy. We have one idea--that rosebushes and friendship both wither and die in winter (or neglect), which is a valuable life lesson. However, can we not trim the entire piece down to: "Friendship blooms like roses, shared until not, then withers?" This embodies my main critique of free verse; it is intended to be more pure, however it very often bypasses fundamental literary techniques which would facilitate potency!
Being structureless allows a stream-of-consciousness type of literary experience, however, from my experience in working with a lot of other writers--both fiction and nonfiction--I fail to see how free verse poetry is any purer or more meaningful than basic pre-writing and brainstorming exercises other writers perform.
In Defense of English Cooking (p.971)
Cooking is hardly in my purview because I have unknowingly adopted a pedestrian attitude: cooking is strictly a function of something else, whether it is sustenance, occupation, or eating to avoid conversation, to give a few common examples. There are many more ways cooking is made a function of other things, but at the heart of each is the use of cooking as a type of utility to increase-self interest through future effects.
It is challenging to separate results-oriented cooking (the functional use) and means-oriented cooking because each one of us needs to eat and drink to survive, so on some level, cooking food will always be a function of sustenance, or result-orientation. However, limiting cooking to a functional activity due to that is like settling for basic literary devices because they fulfill the basic requirement for communication.
We are not all fascinated with writing, you may say, so we just use what we have learned to communicate the best as possible. I understand that, and I am not on a crusade to turn every person into a copy of me; the world would end quickly. However, this is not just an argument about cooking or writing or anything that we use as tools of obtaining other things. There is going to be an element of result-orientation in our engagements, but that just means there is also an element of means-orientation; focusing on this moment. For someone like me it comes more naturally to appreciate and communicate the means of my craft, and much less natural to do so with cooking. But can I be so arrogant as to say I cannot transfer some knowledge and understanding of an activity I am adept onto one I am inept?
Writing and cooking are different, you may say. You are right, at least in manifestation. Is it not true that in both tasks you determine what goes into the pot and what does not, when to add or withhold, and when you need to walk away and let the recipe gel? I will not be arrogant and say that writing is inherently more creative than cooking simply because I have allowed cooking to remain out of my purview. If anything I have evaded it because of all the complexities and combinations involved. The temperatures and times to combine the ingredients! The spices! From where I sit, writing is actually simpler than cooking, but that is because of my subjective orientation to the matter, not because of an objective perspective.
Thus, the more significant aspect here is our general attitude rather than the quest to figure out natural strengths and weaknesses, because an open general attitude allows us to engage almost any task with the same candor and openness, regardless of level of ability. It is not easy, however our attitude is one of the roots of our existential tree; it determines the qualities and characteristics of everything we come into contact with. Make one adjustment to the root system, and everything that comes after will be effected.
Both writing and cooking are excellent examples of crafts that are easily viewed solely as results-oriented, because by design they are tools. Functionality simply manifests self-interested effects, but does not govern our ability to learn about other vocations, making it inherently--though passively--means-oriented as well. Adopting a different attitude would avail a more of these means, because we would not be so focused on the finite result of what we are immediately doing. In other words, we would be actively searching for life lessons, rather than just taking cooking lessons or writing lessons.
The Sporting Spirit (p.967)
All socially collective activities warrant a critical eye because individualities are at risk at being swallowed up by the collective. The whole purpose of collectivizing is to facilitate reaching a common goal, but if the individuals are completely swallowed up by the collective, the cumulative strength blends, mutating the common goal of the heterogenous individuals into a homogenous purpose. In other words, collectivization without embracing individuality breeds power instead of empowerment. This replaces individual accomplishment (and incentive) with a feeling that the group is special and distinct in some way. This is the junction of identity and power.
Accomplishment is a very significant thing. As a writer I know I need a strong support system to help guide my vision, because my artistry requires a finely tuned balance of intellect and emotion which is nearly impossible to achieve all on my own. Accomplishment is a fulfilling reward, as well as an excellent incentive, however--and this is where accomplishment can be mutated into power--if one exclusively strives for the result of accomplishment rather than fulfilling all the steps organically, then what an individual harvests is not the seed of empowerment, but the seed of power.
The seed of power can thus exist both in individuals as well as collectives, however the functions and entailments are different. Collectives rely upon what Orwell calls group-think, a peer-pressure momentum, which sounds like something that only applies to children but is seriously one of the most significant intangibles in collective human affairs. Peer pressure not only validates, but it scorns, conforming people to a culture that is implicit. Since most of us are socially-influenced--in that we're not naturally autonomous--if we don't actively reflect upon the mechanisms and institutions of culture, we can easily be brushed into the direction of the common social tide, unknowingly collectivizing.
Power thus can be exercised with subtle cues brushing people along, rather than exclusively via aggression and coercion. Even though power is both a cause and an effect, I want to bring accomplishment and purpose into the forefront. One's orientation with the phenomena of power determines whether they strive for individual accomplishment (means), or strive toward fulfilling a purposeful end. It's so easy for collectives to operate via purpose because establishing and balancing individuals takes much more work--and doesn't guarantee success--than it does to rely on the strength of the collective to obtain what they deemed a worthy prize.
Collectivism isn't inherently defective and neither is individualism, however collectivism facilitates a flight from reason because of the calm brush-strokes of power that exist between each member. Peer forces and the tacit agreements are thus suspect. If a collective is going to foster individuality and intra-critique then enough reason must be exercised between the individuals to overpower the subtle brush-strokes of power that flows in between the members. For empowerment to occur, not only do individuals need to exert themselves, but the collective itself must insist they exist.
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