You Know It Just Ain’t Easy

There are a lot of things in this world…perhaps brought about by humans, but nevertheless exist at least as part of our lives.  They important things, things we fight for, things we live for.  I’m speaking of things like freedom, justice, love, spirituality, loyalty, equality, truth, and there are probably others that I’m not thinking of right now.  These things often give rise to a lot of disagreements in terms of what they mean, they often lack a specific definition, and very much depends on one’s perspective based on the family, culture, society in which we were raised.

But they do. And maybe sometimes they should.

All of these things are core to who we are as a species and have the ability to impact our own personal happiness and sense of well-being, as well as how we treat each other and all life in general.  All of these things can also be extremely frustrating because of how different we view them.  Ever tried to love someone who wasn’t all that impressed with the way you did it? Ever had someone question your loyalty even when you thought your behavior expressed loyalty?  Ever fought for some group’s freedom, but have the very same group question the way in which you fight for that freedom or even claim that you weren’t helping but making things worse?  Ever believe something was very important to spiritual health only to be told by someone else that it was irrelevant?  The truth is that that all of these things are really really complex, regardless of how simple and natural it might feel to you.  These things are often very dynamic, leaving us with moral and ethical conflicts over time, sometimes changing our views slowly or rapidly as we experience new things.  They are often tied strongly to our emotions and sometimes seem beyond reason, they are just how we feel.  It also tends to be not very satisfying to be alone with our perspectives.  We seek connection to those who share similar perspectives and points of view.  I would say all this is good, and that our perspective should change over time.  We should be seriously considering other points of view and striving towards some sort of universal truth about these things even if we never actually reach it in our lifetime.  Because if we can nail down these things it is the benefit of all.

However there is another core part of who we are as a species.  We don’t like things that are hard to define.  We like to organize, we would prefer things to be simple.  Simple is less costly, it gives us more time for other things.  We spend less time sitting their thinking when we need to make sure we’re safe, getting resources to survive.  It’s very evolutionary. When things are actually hard, when they are not quite within our grasp, that’s when the real trap springs.  Our need for organization, categorization, and simplicity begins to create rules.  It begins to create rituals.  Rules and rituals are easy.  I’m not saying that we haven’t created some convoluted rules and rituals, but they are easy because we know that when we follow them the conclusion is guaranteed.  At least that’s the way we tend to think.  They give us the intangible in tangible form.  They turn things that are dynamic into the static.  It takes things that might take a lifetime to learn into an instant discovery.  For those with a penchant for defaulting to authority, it is a Godsend. Literally.  And while it might be natural for us to do these things, it is a complete disservice to these lofty ideals and values we live and die for.  And maybe it’s not even a bad thing that we try to create a system that fits these things, but when we reduce it to the system alone things usually turn out badly.  Love has to be more than just placing a ring on someone’s finger.  Justice has to be more than just an immutable punishment for an immutable law.  Whenever we think we’ve reached a state of equality or discovered a truth, we must still question and test instead of resting on our laurels.

The Geocentric Theory. One of the best examples of human fallibility and seeing connections in nature.
The Geocentric Theory. One of the best examples of human fallibility and seeing connections in nature.

While I think that we have developed a very good method in the scientific method as a “way of knowing” which is demonstrably the best way of knowing we have so far.  It takes very little effort to look around the world and see that the best way is not only not the only way in which people come to know things, and it is often by no means obvious.  I mean it’s not to say we don’t start off life as little infants constantly testing and trying to understand our world through observations, but we do often make mistakes in trying to understand the world around us.  Mostly related to our tendency to find patterns that done’t exist.  Our senses often deceive us because we evolved for life in a small geographic environment, with a small group of people, and that is often what matters the most.  As “ways of knowing” get better and more effective, it reveals our fallibility.  It tells us we aren’t as smart as we think we are, and that we might not be doing things as well as we could.  Even as a scientist, who feels like I know my way of thinking is a more reliable one, it can often not feel like enough in a world with so much suffering and when so many need help quickly.  It is not realistic to simply wait for people to come around to a better way of looking at things.  As much as I like to philosophize “ways of knowing” we must also remember that such things are not so easily divorced from “ways of feeling”.

Collapse after angle of repose is exceeded

History tells us that change comes through slow increments like weathering and erosion and also through suddenness of revolution, yet in both cases forcing it doesn’t necessarily help matters.  It’s like life is like a slope of sand which slowly over time, grain by grain is deposited on a slope until we reach some critical mass beyond the angle of repose and the weight of the sand causes a sudden change in the landscape.  With no real way to predict which grain of sand will cause it all to shift and give way.  It’s like we all have to really try to do better, while at the same time just watch it all happen as if we aren’t even a part of the story.

So what is the answer to seeing eye to eye on these very important values?  I don’t know.  I think the best we can do is accept that things change, and that nothing is settled.  We can still try to create rules, as long as we are not a slave to them.  We can try to make things tangible, as long we accept that those rituals are empty without a lifetime of effort.  One thing we can say for certain is that life would lose far too much flavor if it all could be settled so easily.  We must accept that life is hard in large part because it simply can’t be done alone. And while I might be an idealist thinking that we might someday reach at least some level of harmony among all humanity, I see no harm in striving towards that.  What we have to gain, I think, is too great to just give up and say “It can never happen”.  As I always say, there is much more in this world that we all have in common than what drives us apart.

Life, the Universe, and Everything

“And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a girl sitting on her own in a small café in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.”

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

It is today my 42nd birthday and I decided this would be a good year to reflect.  Why 42, why not 40 like any other normal person with a penchant for round numbers?  According Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series a supercomputer was asked to come up with the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything and 42 was that answer.  So I am at the age which is the answer, but of course if you read the series you know that while the answer was determined a more powerful supercomputer had to be created to determine the question (which turned out to be the planet Earth).  So 42 seems like a great age to think about answers and questions.

This is also the year that I often joked would be when I started my own cult.  This was supposed to be easy as I was going to have a good portion of Twitter followers, find myself a good compound with fertile soil and enjoy the good life.  Extra wives would have been optional.  It’s weird how as I get older there seems to be more of a drive to keep life simple and surround yourself by like minded people.  Anyway, Twitter really doesn’t suit me, for as you can see, I don’t say many things in 140 words or less so my followers are few, and I think life is better that way, and also I’m not a very proficient gardener, so I’m probably better off living close to the farmer’s market.  So here I am, nobody famous and nobody to follow, and a mini essay of reflection is probably more suited to greater personalities, but hey, it’s the age of information and I have a blog, so why not write? 🙂

Life

I think what makes being a teenager so difficult is that this is the time in your life when you start to self-actualize a lot more and really think about the future.  It’s a terrible thing really, because you are also still young enough where you really don’t know shit.  I remember thinking a lot about the type of person I wanted to be.  My dad was (and still is) an alcoholic and as a teenager I knew that I didn’t want to be like my dad.  Kids respond to those who are consistently there for them, and my mom was that person.  Of course I’ve come to realize many positives about my dad as well, but as a kid I knew that whatever way my dad was, wasn’t working.  My mom was loving, supporting, nurturing, and always there.  At the time I never really looked at my mom and dad’s personalities as related gender, but more as what are the behaviors that lead to increased happiness and that bring increased happiness to others.  I am sure it did in many ways shape why I’ve always felt more free to be myself more in front of women than men, and why I look beyond arbitrary categorizations of people and simply try to stick to values that bring happiness.

I also remember thinking that I was not the person I wanted to be.  I felt like I was this amazing person who was trapped inside myself. Inside a shell that I needed to break out of.  I know now that there is a certain element of being a child of an alcoholic that makes us more fearful of self-expression because of how we internalize our parents’ addiction, but I think teenagers can simply be apprehensive about inserting themselves in the world no matter how much they want to.  I know I am a person who leans toward safety over risk, and that was one of the things I wanted to get better at as I got older which was to be bold.  It’s still the quality I struggle with the most, but I’m proud to say that the vision I had for myself at around the age of 16 isn’t far off the mark.  The compliment that I have received several times and means the most to me is when people tell me that they can tell immediately the type of person that I am because I am so open and.  It is the part I like about myself the most especially because I think life is too short to pretend with people.   I am proud that I have reached a point in life where I am comfortable in my own skin, and it is something that has always seemed like a necessary way to be, but I in no way want to imply that I have go there solely on my own.

Another thing I worried about when I was young was that I wasn’t original.  I felt like everything I was, was copied from somebody else.  I didn’t have any original ideas, I wasn’t creative.  As I was thinking about what to write in this post yesterday I was wondering if I should say that the meaning of life is “theft”.  We are born as absolutely blanks and while genetics may texture our canvas to a certain respect we are painted on by the many people we come to know in life, our culture and society also paints broad brushes over us too.  Of course theft isn’t really the right word.  People and society paint things upon us and we have little say in that.  And in most other cases it is people who in my life who have given, and I have taken, and I would like to believe that with time I have been better about showing my gratitude.  It would not be until a certain Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode that I felt better about my lack of originality.  Here Captain Picard comments on the emotionless android Data’s violin playing.

PICARD: The good doctor was kind enough to provide me with a recording of your concert. Your performance shows feeling.
DATA: As I have recently reminded others, sir, I have no feeling.
PICARD: It’s hard to believe. Your playing is quite beautiful.
DATA: Strictly speaking, sir, it is not my playing. It is a precise imitation of the techniques of Jascha Heifetz and Trenka Bronken.
PICARD: Is there nothing of Data in what I’m hearing? You see, you chose the violinists. Heifetz and Bronken have radically different styles, different techniques, yet you combined them successfully.
DATA: I suppose I have learned to be creative, sir, when necessary.
PICARD: Mister Data, I look forward to your next concert.

So yes, I now feel original, thanks to lines written by somebody else.  Star Trek has actually taught me quite a bit now that I think about it. 🙂 Life is also full of irony and paradoxes enough to make you scratch your head for a lifetime.  In the end though, isn’t this what we really are…a product of others, both biologically and environmentally with a unique level of proportions such that we are originals? What I really mean to say about all this is that I feel really grateful to all those who have given and for what I have taken.  I have taken the best of you to the very heart of me and a result carry you everywhere.  Some I’ve not seen or talked to in some time, some it may have only been a brief time in which we knew each other, or perhaps were not even very close friends, but I saw what was good in you, I smiled at it, and celebrated it and let it course through my arteries.  I am thankful for all the love, the friendship, the inspiration, the memories, the lessons taught, and yes even the criticism and in some cases hurt.  I am unique and original because of all of you and there is no other way I’d rather be.

The Universe

Growing older also means growing more aware as you continue to experience and learn in life.  As someone who is strongly committed to learning as awareness grows so does the burden of that knowledge.  It is only in the most recent years that I have truly understood the expression ignorance is bliss.  However, it is also important to remember that your own bliss is of little value to anybody else but yourself, and we are a social species.  As I’ve learned I continued to have more awe for this amazing universe we live in, uncovering the darkness that shrouds knowledge also means discovering the horrors, the malice, the pain, and the suffering.  It is all the worse when you are one of the lucky ones to have things far better than so many.  It makes you question the very right to feel happy.  And when it comes down to it, it makes me feel bad just complain about how heavy the thoughts are sometimes, because I am so fortunate to just have to think about it and not actually experience the hardships so many bear.  I am fortunate that I can put those thoughts to the side at times. However, I also know there is no denying it either.  And I know that just feeling sad and depressed all the time would be debilitating so there is nothing for it but to do something about it. I am not helpless under this weight although sometimes it can feel that way.  So I try, and I let myself feel happiness for all the beauty that exists as well.  There is much to fight against in this world, but I feel if we forget what we’re fighting for, it’s easy to get lost in the darkness.

The cosmic glow of the Carina Nebula as seen in a stunning 3D reconstruction in Hidden Universe, released in IMAX® theatres and giant-screen cinemas around the globe and produced by the Australian production company December Media in association with Film Victoria, Swinburne University of Technology, MacGillivray Freeman Films and ESO. The Carina Nebula contains two of the most massive and luminous stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way. The original image was taken by ESO's Very Large Telescope.

I believe that it is this mixture of awe-inspiring beauty and soul-draining horror that drives us.  I think we can’t help but feel small in the face of it.  Some try to conquer it by building belief systems that explain it all, some try to chip away at the answer slowly through careful investigation, and some just turn to vices to distract themselves and to numb themselves.  However, from what I’ve seen, the true winners in this world are always the ones who accept how small they are in the face of it all.  It’s bigger than any one individual and it’s the one thing we all have in common.  It is enough to make you just sit there and think “Why can’t we just all get along? It really does seem so simple to just be nice to each other.  Nobody has to get nailed to anything.

As I look forward the things on the horizon are amazing.  Just as there are things in my young life I never thought possible but exist now, I know there are many unknown wonders that await me for the rest of my life.  I like being this age and knowing all the things that I know.  Wisdom comes to you without even knowing it, and I like it. I admit that I am not a big fan of leaving this existence.  I see us getting closer to things like unlocking the mysteries of aging, replacing organs, interfacing the computer to the brain and I wonder if in the not too distant future we might have a choice to live far longer than we do to do.  I am jealous quite frankly.  As someone who embraces change and has seen how changes occur over time spans far greater than our human lives I would like to experience it.  I want to choose when I want to leave this existence and have a shot at deepening that well of wisdom beyond this short time on Earth.  When I think of all the change that has occurred over 1000 years, 10,000 years and so on…I wonder what it would be like to see it…what perspective that would give you…how you would look at the universe differently.  I suppose such a chance will not happen, but I keep the dream alive only because it is at times helpful to remember that we are not only small in terms of the vastness of space, but also the vastness of time.  I can’t be expected to figure it all out, and that’s okay.

And Everything

Mommy_DhyanThere isn’t much more to say here.  Of course there is more to life I suppose, but it’s amazing how important some people become so that even the other things seem to tendril out from it.   I know that there are no guarantees in life, but that’s why living in the moment is so important. I am lucky that I have a life where I can take care of them just as much as they take care of me. The fact that our love can put some things at the center of our life, at the center of our universe, is amazing  What more could I want?  I do have everything.

Creeps and Cat Calls

catcallsI posted the above graphic on my Facebook page the other day and it elicited a good bit of discussion.  I had started writing a response to someone’s comment and it was getting a bit long so I thought I would turn it into a blog post since it goes to the very roots of how I became a feminist.  Actually I would rather say “how I began my journey to become a feminist” because I don’t know if I truly am yet.  It takes a lot of time to overcome social conditioning in a world tilted against half of the population.

It wasn’t until the age of 23 that I had really fallen in love and had what I considered my first serious relationship.  Her name was Anna (well still is) and she was just a wonderful human being.  She announced to me early on that she was a feminist and studied gender sociology.  The word feminist at that time, and even still today, had a negative connotation and I was not unaware of it, but I’ve always been one to go beyond the label to know the quality of the person, but one can’t help but have the only ideas that you know about feminists in your brain, even though I knew that there was no reason for men and women to be treated differently, and so I had no problem having her teach me more.  The fact that she was crazy about me made me feel pretty good about myself because it meant that I wasn’t like other guys and that there had to be some spark of equality in me that made her feel safe.  She taught me a lot of things, but it’s interesting how academic it can all feel.  Not that I don’t take academic research seriously, or even feel a certain level of outrage, but sometimes things don’t hit home until you really see it and it becomes personal.

We were both grad students at the University of Oklahoma and while I had roommates she had her own place and our relationship got to the point where I was spending most nights there.  One night we were fast asleep in bed, when the phone rang, which was next to her bed.  It woke me slightly and I heard her pick up the phone and say “Hello?” A few seconds passed and she once again said “Hello?”. And then after a few more seconds she yelled “Oh my God!” and hung up the phone.  When I asked her what was wrong she said it was a guy on the other end of the phone and he asked her to keep talking so he could masturbate to her voice.  It was an incident so befuddling to me that I almost couldn’t process it in the moment.  I know I held her, but I don’t think at the time I could truly understand how it made her feel.  However, I did know at the moment that something was wrong.  Something was fundamentally wrong in the world.  This was not the first time she had experienced something like this.  And it was by far not a rare experience for women in general.

kate-nash-quote-feminismFeminism has come far, fighting a lot of the big and obvious things that have been suppressing women in our society, but the undercurrent of misogyny remains.  I realized the day after that night time phone call that there were simply certain things in this world that I would never have to face.  While laws had been passed to protect women, to give them better opportunities for jobs, better pay, a wider variety of careers, there were certain things that I would never feel.  I would never be cat called, and I would never have some creepy person calling me in the middle of the night using me for purposes of masturbation, and I would never have a guy honk at me because I of the clothes I was wearing.  It would be easy to be glib here and say as guys we would love all these things, but it’s a position of privilege to feel this way because I could enjoy the fantasy and then once it’s over I would go back to being a man.  Someone who isn’t judged based on the most superficial qualities about myself.  No one would really question my morals for wanting to be sexy or liking sex.  No one would criticize me if I wanted to be more modest.  I would never have to deal with a date who seemed nice, but felt that if he was going to pay for dinner I had to put out.  That he had a right to my body at a certain point, and that being physically weaker I might not be able to fight him off.  I would never have to face the humiliation afterward when my body, when my very personhood was violated and reported the rape that so many women have faced by having the finger pointed at me.  What was I wearing?  Did I have any alcohol?  Did I lead him on?  Did I invite him into my home?  None of these things are permission for rape.  And so like so many women I might also make the decision to not say anything.  Just suck it up and move on so as not to invite criticism and judgment, and possible even more violence at the hands of the person who raped me.

traditionThese incidents are not rare.  They are not spread out sparsely across the multitude of women.  They are common, there is no hiding from them, they happen every day.  It is the totality of all these things a woman has to face.  This oppression and disregard is sometimes more obvious and sometimes less so, but they are ever present.  Is it any wonder that many women begin to think the worst of men?  Find it hard to trust them?  Find it hard to trust themselves when it comes to even telling one of the good ones from the bad ones.  At times I have been one of those men who complained about women not appreciating a nice guy.  I was wrong to do so, because even if I am nice, given what so many women have gone through, my compassion should always have been at the fore.  And if all this isn’t sad enough, it’s important to remember that this is one of the countries where women can consider themselves having it good compared to many places.

Look, I’m not blind that there are issues that negatively impact men as well, but the issues men face aren’t even close.  I also find that as we actually truly start to value those things that we consider feminine those culturally narrow definitions of masculinity also begin to fade.  While I may not know yet whether I am the feminist I want to be, I know that it’s the fight for equality is everybody’s responsibility and that it lifts us all to a better position morally, ethically, and spiritually.  The only way for everyone to have power is through equality.  Power combined with inequality means that someone is losing.  And women have been losing for far too long.