Discussion: Understanding Patriotism

Yesterday, one of my fellow bloggers made a post about how he doesn’t get all the drama surrounding national anthems, whether you stand, sing along, put your hand over your heart etc.  I share his sentiment.  I’m not much for forced rituals that are supposed to have meaning, but seem so common place, overdone, and generally practiced by so many people who don’t even seem to share those values that it just feels superficial.

I’d like to go a step further and say, I just really don’t understand the sentiment that people of your country are somehow more important than people from any other country.  This has been on my mind with the migrant crisis at the border.  You see so many comments from people who at best demonstrate indifference for refugees, to what essentially boils down to disgust.  I can’t for the life of me how the first reaction can’t be one of compassion.  These people are literally dying to get here, being made to suffer in intolerable detention centers because of the conditions that they are fleeing.  Instead of accepting that an entire political party simply uses any excuse to see them as people who need help.  Forget about accepting the fact that we made this problem through our fruitless war on drugs and that we should bear at least some responsibility for helping them now.

And nevermind the fact that when Syrian refugee crisis existed, the most moderate of Republicans well still like…”I won’t take them here, but we can help them over there.”  Meanwhile, I’ve heard when it was suggested that we provide aid to the central American countries as a way of keeping people there, people now say why should we give money to other countries?  Conservatives will talk about all the help American’s need here at home, but they won’t support welfare programs, they don’t put homelessness at the top of their political platforms, they won’t support first responders from 9/11.

I find the disregard for humans in need just insufferable.  Like being American was something most of us tried to do.  It wasn’t a choice, most of us were just born here.  If there is anybody who actually wants to be American it’s the people coming to our borders in need of help.  Accidents of geography are no basis to deny people who are suffering help.  Yet this patriotism banner is being waved like it actually means something.  Just maybe if such people were interested in helping Americans I might just believe it, but it’s all talk.  There are the people who can help, and those that need help.  That’s all.  Nationalism is meaningless to me, unless through that structure you can use that power to make lives better for other people on the planet that sustains us all.

Honestly I just don’t understand.  Anybody else that can help me to understand, I’m all ears.

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Rhapsody #109 – Entropy and Disorder

Recently I wonder why don’t more of us,
Just spend our days crying?
I’m just so tired of being outraged,
But the things people do to each other.
It’s enough to really make you question: What is it all for?

I’m tired, and tired of being tired.
But what right do I have to complain?

The very essence of life is survive,
And there are some strong people out there,
Who have been at the receiving end of senseless cruelty,
That toughness might not look like much to you,
But even if they took the time
To stand on this Earth just a little it longer
There’s more toughness in them than you know.

And people have the gall to criticize safe spaces,
You can’t really know what another person’s been through,
Yeah you may be tougher, but so what,
Life isn’t all about toughness,
Toughness is just the cost of life,
It ain’t none of the flavor.
And everybody…I mean everybody has their safe spaces
Just for some people their safe space in their head,
That black and white world,
Full of a few simple rules that will keep them alive,
Those rules are the fiction they cling to,
Just to feel safe and rail angrily at everybody,
Simply because they recognize it’s all been made up.

Word to the wise,
None of us are safe.

The only real rules are in physics,
And it’s like a chess board.
Not that we know where all the pieces go yet,
But the set up looks ordered and tidy,
But the universe isn’t the set up, it’s the game.
And there are more possible moves in a game of chess,
Than there are electrons in the universe,
And somehow the universe has chess in it.

One thing makes me feel better and also worries me,
Is that from the perspective of the universe we are all idiots
The universe is behaving exactly as it should
We are too,
The problem is the universe is far more complex,
I mean we’re pretty complex and the universe has us,
We definitely don’t have the universe,
We’re just life, and life’s only purpose is to keep life going,
And there’s nothing wrong with that,
But sometimes I wish we could all understand the universe a bit better

You may think now that this should all come back to a single unifying point,
So that the strands of what I said could clump together,
Maybe a hammer that swings down and crushes life.
But that’s not this universe.
The last time we were one thing,
The last time we were all the same,
Somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 billion years
We were hurled off into space and change began
Branching into smaller and smaller strands,
Moment by moment,
And we’re all unique and we’re all beautiful
We’re all sort of freaks of nature,
And that’s how we’re all equal
And maybe accepting and loving that thought,
Is all we can really hope for.

And then I ask myself,
Is all this self-indulgent pondering of the grandeur of the universe,
Just a way to make myself feel better?
Maybe it keeps me strong to take on the world,
Maybe it just lulls me into inaction,
Maybe I shouldn’t feel so bad for a moment of calm,
I’m only human.

I’m Expecting

Well if you thought the last post was about abortion or birth control, then you’ll think this one is about me being pregnant.  Life is strange. 🙂

In my last post about how we make plans and goals I mentioned that one of the things we have to decide about our goals may have to be how realistic they actually are and this relates to expectations.  Lowering our expectations may make it easier to achieve our goals, but we may not then know how far we could have gone, while having expectations too high may leave one with feelings of disappointment.  Of course, as I also mentioned before, there may be other variables that we cannot predict that might lead one to not meet our goals, but very often we internalize our failures and can chastise ourselves for setting our sights too high.

My thinking about expectations was once again inspired by a podcast I listen to called Invisibilia on NPR.  In one episode titled “How to Become Batman” we hear the story of Daniel Kish who had both of his eyes remove due to a disease at 13 months, but can “see”.  He uses echolocation by making clicking noises.  As a result, he is able to ride his back in traffic, hike, cook, walk around and has an amazing ability to know the distances objects are from him through

his echolocation technique.  In his story he tells us about a kid from elementary school who joined his school from a school for the blind, and unlike Daniel this kid was helpless and had to be led around everywhere.  Daniel had developed his echolocation technique early and was already quite independent at a young age.  Daniel believes that one of the reasons that blind people can’t see is because nobody expects the too.  That if we raised our expectations that many blind children could develop this echolocation technique.  Daniel teaches children whose parents are interested but he says it’s a challenge because as Daniel says it takes a lot of trial and error and can get, well, bloody.  The point is that higher expectations are the best path to reaching higher heights.  Students who have high expectations for their students generally get students who do perform at a higher level, even if they don’t meet those expectations.  If you try to get an A in a class, you will generally do better in that class than any student who comes into the class just hoping they pass.  People often talk about self-fulfilling prophecies and this is a large part is how astrology works and how people come to validate the predictions of psychics is because once an idea is planted we often want it to become true and it does.  Students who say to me “they can’t do science” generally perform poorly.

Having high expectations has its downside however.  Having high expectations as a professor I think are good, but good pedagogy is also guiding the students towards a path that will reach those higher heights.  Without it, students can disengage quickly and not progress at all.  And of course feelings of disappointment, feelings that you did or will not meet the expectations of another can be a source of depression and anxiety.  How many times have we had high expectations in a movie only to be disappointed that it wasn’t all that good, whereas a movie we had low expectations for we are often pleased or pleasantly surprised when the movie is as good or better than we expected?  A good portion of our country feel that there is nothing we can do about criminals and so the best thing we can do is get a gun, in contrast to those who know that the murder rate can be smaller and that there is nothing wrong with having expectations that we as a society can reduce the rate of violent crime.  Given perhaps our propensity to focus on the negative, it is no small wonder that we often learn in life to lower our expectations or even develop apathy or pessimism as a way of avoiding grief, heartache, or anxiety.  Apathy in this case, to me, is an attempt to have no expectations, whereas pessimism is to always expect the negative outcome.  Personally I feel that apathy eventually leaves us to become emotionless, taking all the joy out of life at the expense just so we can avoid grief.  Pessimism, in my opinion, is almost worse because when the expectation is for things to be negative they generally are, and you are unlikely to ever be pleasantly surprise.  In fact many pessimistic people eventually turn into people that can find the bad in every good situation.  So while some can take it to extremes, there is at least a reason why we often lower our expectations in one situation or another.

So even though we know that higher expectations out of ourselves or others, lead to better results than lower expectations, why do we not always set our sights higher?  I have discussed before the conflict we all face between security and risk, and I believe this is part of that same conflict.  Lowering expectations can give us a better sense of security and in the end might would lead to on average more happiness.  High expectations on the other hand are a risk, but more often yield better results, even when we don’t meet those expectations.  Just recently I saw a very interesting short video shown below that asks the question, “Should we be pursuing happiness?”  Maybe happiness is overrated, maybe it’s not what really drives us.  In the video he talks about great scientists and artists who are ready to suffer for their work.  I have seen

myself some of the finest minds in my field spend little time with their spouse or children for the sake of discovering something new.  In the video Zizek talks about scientists who, even knowing they could die from radiation poisoning, still worked with radioactive materials because they set their sights on discovering something important.  Sometimes greatness comes at the expense of even their very lives.  I’m not saying we are all destined to be great, and I am not trying to imply that there isn’t value to happiness.  I think that some balance is part of good emotional health, and a clear mind, and we would likely be even more productive if we strove for a little more balance in life, but once again we see the value of risk and how it constantly pushes ourselves and society to become more.

So what is the answer to dealing with the disappointment of not meeting those expectations?  It seems that most advice, and indeed I had even trouble finding any positive quotations about expectations are to not have expectations or to lower them. My feeling is that if we are to maintain high expectations and avoid the pitfalls associated with them then it is a focus on the process.  To focus on where you’ve started and where you are now, as opposed to where you aren’t.  Try to remember that few people with lofty goals ever meet them, and very often getting close is still pretty amazing, because what you’ve learned along the way, not only a specific sense, but likely other important values like perseverance and courage will serve you well as you change directions or perhaps continue down the path you are on.  Likely there are plenty of things to be happy about and proud of even when you fall short.  In the end I feel there is more shame in stagnation over progress, unless you already in a utopia, but I haven’t met anybody like that before.  Happy New Year all!  Don’t be afraid of being bold with your resolutions.