Monday, May 24, 2010

I have several points

Last month or so, I wrote about how I wanted to say something, and how I wanted to write the truth. I wasn’t real clear on what exactly it was I was trying to say, though I dropped a few hints and said a few things about it. I know what I want to say, I really do, I’m just not sure how to say it. Hmm. I had a shitty childhood. Straight up. I’m saying it right here. Both of my parents would probably argue that it’s better compared to a Nigerian child who grows up poor and dies young. Tons of internet cynics would too. Lots of people, droves of them. And they might be right. They might agree with the part of me that says that too. But I don’t give a fuck. I had a shitty childhood. It did not leave me as a capable and responsible adult. It did not leave me with a cornucopia of friends and the social experience to match. It did not help me understand much about who I am, though it taught me plenty about who other people want me to be.

This is a tirade, straightforward and up-front. I am complaining about stuff I have already complained about. If you already hate me or hate listening to me complain, please, there’s the little tab up there, x out of it.

My point here is: my life sucks. Or at least sucked for a very long and very influential period. Shit happened. I am sort of over it now, but I really don’t think I can be over it. And certainly, when I go to other people’s houses and meet parents and families that aren’t horribly dysfunctional and made of rational and (relatively) mature people, I do feel jealous in spite of myself. I don’t know if that will ever go away. It’s a dumb thing to get hung up on, and I know it.

So what I want to say comes down to essentially “holy shit, this shit is bullshit, you fuckers.” I hate it so much. I hate the feelings that I went through. I hate the situations I was in. I hate myself for letting it happen, I hate the world for letting it happen, I hate everything. I am a very bitter person. Really, I am. It’s the truth. And I realize, though, that this bitterness isn’t going to get me anywhere. I’m not going to stop this kind of crap from happening to other people just by hating it. So I do my best, whatever I can, to fight it. I wish I could say something really impressive and be all like “oh yeah I stopped like thirty teenagers from suicide by talking them out of it and raised such and such amount of money for foster care and child protective services,” but obviously, I can’t. I suck. I suck too much for that kind of thing. I can barely handle my own issues, let alone solve anyone else’s.

Suicide annoys me. There are large and obvious reasons for a person to want to kill themselves, and I went through all of them. The biggest problem though, Is people’s reaction. They act like it’s a tragic event and attempt to comfort the people they left behind and so on. Suicide hotlines are set up so that really depressed people can talk to someone and get talked out of ending it all. Drugs are prescribed that are supposed to “level” your mood so that you won’t off yourself. All of this shit is bullshit. They’re addressing the symptom (suicide) and not the cause. People don’t just suddenly up and decide to off themselves, they do it because they can’t bear to live in the world. Why not? Lots of fucking reasons, but pretty much all of them come down to other people. My mother is fucking insane. She would whip from caring and being kind to me to being the meanest bitch on planet McBitch. She made every effort to eliminate my control over my life, all while questioning me. “Why won’t you take control of your life, Jacob? Fix your problems, Jacob. You need to look inside yourself and find out where your problems lay, Jacob.” All of this shit was directly related to how psychologically crazy she insisted I was. A new diagnosis popped up for her every couple of months. I went through half a dozen different psychiatric programs. To this day, I am still listed as an emotionally disturbed person in Montgomery County, Maryland. All of this thanks to her. And what bugs me most of all is that I still have a voice in my head that tells me “well, maybe you are crazy, Jake. Maybe she was right.”

That shit made me want to kill myself. I had no control over my life, right when I was a teenager, the time you’re supposed to start taking control of your life. I had no friends, because I was too busy going through the psychiatric wringer. I had no life, my mom wouldn’t let me get a license, let alone drive me anywhere. I had nothing but the material possessions she bought for me. Even those I lost at her whim. I had no options, no way out. So suicide seemed pretty good, but I never did go through with it. I never really had that option either. If there were some legitimate drugs or a nearby bridge or an actual gun at that house, I might not be here bitching about shit.

So anyway, my point is everything sucks and I know why it sucks and I don’t want it to suck any more. I don’t like the way western society is run. I have problems with the fundamental understanding of this society. Yes, it’s partly capitalism, yes it’s partly Christianity, but the problem is bigger than that. The problem is the basic assumptions people make about other people. The problem is our flawed understanding of how people work or how society works. I have a problem with the moral and social underpinnings that allow the average person to accept the wholesale disregard for human life that is so popular today. I have a problem that happens to be the same problem many people have had for a very long time, so it’s often and readily dismissed by those who find change too difficult or too painful to handle.

There are too many of us. That’s all it comes down to. The world is getting rather full, and some of us are taking larger slices of it than others. We have here in America a system that not only allows for it, but morally justifies it with the idea that they’ve somehow contributed more to society than most. A lot of the time when you hear teachers demand greater pay, that’s the message being delivered “we help society more than some corporate slave, pay us better.” It’s a huge sham, of course. Bill Gates didn’t invent the computer, nor did he invent the GUI operating system, nor much else of worth, but his aggressive business tactics propelled his company to the forefront of equally qualified competitors. Nothing Windows does these days can’t be done in some other way. Yet still, he is sitting on a fortune that is the approximate lifetime earnings of about 27,000 average college educated Americans. And no one gives a shit. It’s just how it is. Not even you, you don’t give a shit. You’re reading this and thinking “oh you” instead of being angry. I’m angry. I’m really angry. No one in a society is worth that much. We will not suddenly lose that much of our GDP if Bill Gates died tomorrow. No one will starve, and very few will be unhappy. His wealth is totally contrary to the very system underlying it. And again no one cares.

I’m not saying “abandon money.” Money has a purpose and is pretty handy as far as a human tool goes. I’m saying “Stick to your principles or abandon the pretense.” I’m demanding consistency in message and in action. The stock market at its simplest is not a terrible idea. People collaboratively pool their money and invest it together with other people to make up corporations that can get lots more done than a single person can. Collaboration is important. That’s how we’ve got all of the nice things we’ve got. The problem is when stocks began to be bought with money that people don’t actually have. The problem began when corporations became able to purchase other corporations or spend money on campaign contributions or pay its employees more than its investors. The problem began when people started valuing housing far beyond the actual labor and costs that went into building it. It’s when we lose touch with the purpose of our inventions that we begin to take them for granted and assume that their current iterations are the proper ones. When we forget that a bank’s purpose is not actually to lend money but to hold it and keep it safe from thieves, we allow them to take that money and lend it back to us while charging interest. Banks become a profit-driven organization. You put your money in a bank, and you essentially hand your money to someone who really really doesn’t want to give it back. That was ultimately the cause of the first great depression. People wanted their money back and banks just plain didn’t have it. The numbers in the columns didn’t add up to the amount in the safe.

But I’m getting away from the point. What I’m trying to say, what I want to say is that we as a species need to start thinking as a species. Yes, part of it is that we need to stop thinking “east” and “west” and “Christian” and “muslim” and “this culture” and “that culture.” We’re smarter than that. We’ve identified the mental processes that generate these logical missteps and we may even have found a gene that codes for it. National boundaries are meaningless in this day and age just as they were thousands of years ago. Every single line between “us” and “them” exists solely within our minds.

We need to stop thinking in the short term. Humans in general have this problem, and it’s a very good way of thinking when survival hinges on your short term decisions, it’s very bad when your survival depends on what goals you operate on in the long term. Humans are unique in the animal kingdom of being able to frame themselves in the long term and think past their children all the way to their grandchildren. We really ought to embrace this very divergent quality of ours and start thinking not about how we’re going to get more oil out of the ground, but how we’re going to live without it. It may not happen in 50 years, it may not happen in a thousand, but it will happen, and ignoring it is at our peril. We need to consider what may be happening to the climate. Changes have and will happen, with or without human intervention, and we need solid, sustainable strategies for adaptation. “It’s too expensive” won’t cut it. Money doesn’t exist.

We’re going to run out of space on earth. It’s inevitable. There is literally no way around it. So it baffles me to hear people describing the space program as a waste of time and money. We need to get out of here. We need to get off this planet. Or. And that’s a big Or, we need to cut down and enforce population limits. We can’t stay here and have babies willy-nilly. We cannot have it both ways. It appalls me that we halted operations in space just because a shuttle’s worth of crew members died back in 2003. We would have never gotten here from Europe with that kind of misdirected value for life. I read an article recently about the oil volcano lamenting the 11 people who died. WHO THE FUCK CARES? THIS OIL VOLCANO IS GOING TO KILL US ALL IF WE DON’T DO SOMETHING.

Seriously, almost worse than that are the suggestions that we should blow up some nukes underwater to stop it. What kind of messed up backwards retarded idea is this? This isn’t an oil well, where we pump the stuff out most of the time, following an initial surge, this is a compressed gas and oil volcanic monstrosity that will continue to flow up and out until all the gas is dispersed. If you nuke the sides of it, you’ll just be treated to some hilarious rock shooting action, blasting them out of the hole and only serving to make it wider.

And fucking nukes, my god. We’re already dumping oil into the ocean, are we going to irradiate it too? This is exactly the kind of thinking that led to this disaster: Short term and without concern for the consequences. It’s a problem. It needs to stop. Fixing these disasters, applying safety regulations, making broad statements of concern, these are all aimed at treating the symptoms of this mindset and not the cause.

Most importantly, we must not be complacent. We cannot fall into the familiar old routines of our lives and forget about the world we live in. I don’t care what your personal politics are. I don’t care if you hate everything I’ve said. All I care about is whether or not you are actively expressing yourself. If you feel some way about something, don’t be afraid to let other people know. Don’t flip your shit if they disagree either. That’s just the way it is when there are literally billions of other independent consciousnesses out there. What matters is that you make your life a statement of intent. What matters is that your life has meaning to you. You won’t get that by just going with the flow, living day to day. You won’t get that by staying silent for fear of offense. You’ve only got one life, and that’s gonna end one way or another. Make it count.

Ugh. I feel so dull when I write this stuff. I also hate it. I hate everything I write within a few days of writing it. I literally don’t trust the opinion of anyone who thinks my writing is good, at least when it comes to writing. But that’s me. I have an awful self-image, about half the time. People who take interest in me clearly have something they want from me, because no one actually cares what I’m like. I don’t care how many people prove me wrong, that’s just how I feel most of the time. A lot of that is tied to my childhood. It’s a hell of a downer when your mother treats you as though you were deranged. On the other hand, I try to make the best of it. I’ve got more than one voice in my head, and at least one of them is telling me that I’m doing the right thing and that “Hey, you look pretty good” or “Hey, that was a darn good joke you told.” For every embarrassing conversation that gets played back in my head for some reason, I get a nice positive experience played back some other time. I dunno.

I don’t really practice what I preach. Well, I do, in that I participate in long-term thinking and I seriously don’t let my judgments affect my behavior, but I am not great at expressing myself. I say that here in an expressive essay, sure, but in person I’m really very shy. Like retardedly shy, if you’ve ever spent any time with me, you’d probably notice that. I’ve been working on that, trying to put myself out there more, but it’s still pretty hard. It’s not really that I’m afraid of people, it’s just that I’m afraid that I will go and put myself out there and then hear that cynical part of me talking back to myself. I dunno, I guess I’m just being typical. I better shut up now. I like the people I have been hanging out with forever now okay because I know I can be myself with them and they won’t just up and leave. Maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s an abandonment thing.

ANYWAY I hope this essay has left you with a little more understanding of who I am. I’d fill these things with my own conclusions, but then you’d just be hearing who I think I am, and not me per se. I am glad that some people bother to read these. I was told once or twice by anonymous to put them in a text file and keep them on my computer and never share them, but then where would I be? What would be the purpose of expressing yourself if you’re not communicating it to someone else? Of course all forms of self-expression are regarded as pointless egocentrism by anonymous, as that is their goal and purpose for being anonymous in the first place. It’s really very interesting.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The New Locality.

Humans escaped Africa by working together. Small tribes of people shared knowledge, tools, food, and love. This altruism is the key factor in humanity’s dominance over all of nature. None of us is as strong as all of us, a concept only shared by colonies of insects in the wild. We worked hard to get where we are today, and most importantly, we worked together. This is true in every society, in every culture, all across history. Altruism is the single most important factor in our survival, more than any amount of intelligence, any number of weapons, or any development in agriculture. Nowadays, however, we don’t live in tribes. We don’t live in communities that have to work together for survival. It’s perfectly possible and incredibly common for people to get along just fine without knowing anyone in their neighborhood. My parents didn’t have any friends. Friends and the like are for school, where you’re forced to rub up with other people and navigate socially. Once you’re done with schooling, all you have to deal with is co-workers, who you don’t get to choose. There’s no reason to make friends, so many people don’t. And why should they? Having friends is tough. There is all sorts of interpersonal drama inevitable with any size of group. You can avoid any of that altogether by simply not having friends. You can’t be disappointed if you don’t care about anyone enough to expect things from them.

That’s the world we live in today, here in suburban middle class America at least. Social interaction is voluntary and altruism outdated. Only here in this society, only here in this culture will you hear the idea that humans are all “competing” or that we’re all “ruthless motherfuckers who would stop at nothing for want of some resource” or the idea that humans are “inherently selfish.” It’s not surprising. We live in a culture that gives us the luxury of being selfish, but without significant moral or historical grounding for this attitude, so we start making the assumption that it’s just a base part of human nature and we selectively cherry-pick examples from nature or history or biology to support this simply so that we can justify our culture to ourselves. It’s not that we’re heartless. It’s not that we’ve stopped being altruistic. We just don’t live in a time or a place that supports it. Americans grow up and get out of high school and typically leave their homes and travel some fairly large distances away from their families and hometowns. We have to. We need to go where the jobs are to make a living. Our locality is determined by the fiscal potential of a place, much like nomads traveling the desert in search of oases. The difference is that now it is just you traveling, not your family or your tribe. So communities are destroyed simply by dint of necessity. It’s not a new thing, not at all. Here is a Time article from 1972 covering a book discussing exactly that. The author mentions that his closest relative is 110 miles away. How close is your family? I have two living relatives within fifty miles. Every other one is at least 300 miles away.

So here we have a situation that is anathema to the very functioning that humans developed to survive. It’s being held together by artificial concepts like money and the over-emphasis of very real concepts like individualism, but it’s not enough, and people know that. Have you ever wondered why high school musical is so popular that they went back in time and made a prequel called grease? Have you ever heard the phrase “high school was the best 4 years of my life?” What makes high school so magical and different? It’s the community. It’s the fact that everyone knows everyone else. That jokes can be shared across a huge body of people because they’re all familiar with the subject matter. That the people you see are the same people you’re going to see for the next four years. It is magical. It is totally outside the scope of adult experience. Like it or not, here in America and now at this time, you’re not likely to experience anything like it ever again. Sometimes I describe Las Positas as “high school part 2.” It would be true, except that there is no real sense of attachment to LasPo. Even at the larger schools, unless you’re in a fraternity or a member of dozens of clubs, the experience is just a hollow mockery of what high school was. People realize that. That’s why high school is so thoroughly fetishized in our culture. That’s why ridiculous things like alumni clubs, yearbooks, reunions, letter jackets, and all that stuff exist. When you get a job, you don’t take a lot of pictures and conglomerate your experience into a book every year. If you’re lucky there may be an employee of the month program or the occasional snacks in the breakroom.

So we do realize that we need community. We realize it to the point of worship. And we do try our best. There are dozens of clubs and groups and hangout spots even here in Livermore, all trying to keep a membership going and find people with similar interests to do stuff with. Heck, before it became over-saturated thanks to starbucks and its ilk, coffeeshops used to be a major hangout for the literati. But none of these are working, because not enough people care or are aware of their existence or are too scared to try or they simply don’t like and don’t trust strangers. That’s understandable; strangers are pretty much the most horrifying thing you’ll meet on a day to day basis. Other people walking around with the free agency and potential to kill you are good enough reason for many to stay in. But even so, everyone wants to “be a part of something,” even if that something is hating strangers. Humans are incredibly community oriented. What’s stopping us is not internal or mystical or interesting, it’s just simple geography. We live too fucking far from each other.

That’s not really new either. We spread across the U.S. pretty quick and spaced ourselves out quite a lot, under the (correct) assumption that the land would be totally worth something someday. For a long time, we didn’t have any real way of distant communications. There was the mail, which you could get on trains and such, but that still took a fairly large amount of time and was largely unavailable to most folks until the middle to late 19th century. Then we invented the telegraph, which was just like mail, but faster and shorter. It was rare and not particularly widespread until we ended up building lines all over the place. Good timing too, because we invented the telephone shortly after, which used those lines. And woah. Suddenly you’re hearing voices from the other side of the country. The phone played and still plays a huge role in the American life today. It has long since displaced mail as the primary method through which families keep in touch. It’s just something about hearing the human voice. Now we have the internet.

The internet blows the doors open for non-local interactions. It took all of our previous methods of communication, combined them, and added more. Want to send a letter? Send an e-mail. Want to have a chat with someone? Use any of the dozens of voice transmission services available for free. Want to post on a bulletin board for people in your area? Craigslist. Want to make friends with people who have similar interests? Join one of the hundreds of thousands of internet forums or BBSs. Hell, just want to talk to strangers and see their faces? Chatroulette is but one of several websites that do just that. Want to share the stuff you do with your time? Take your pick of twitter, facebook, tumblr, livestream, whatever. It’s amazing. This is where it’s at. These forums are communities, with personalities, drama, crises, all of the things that would affect a community in real life. Even better, these communities are totally voluntary unlike early human tribes, so you can be certain to find people who actually do think like you or share your interests. And if it upsets you, you can simply walk out without the bothersome worry of dying in the wild. At last we have overcome the problems of distance and isolation. At last we have transcended the physicality of our bodies and discovered a new locality, one that is not limited by petty things like “proximity” or “propinquity.”

In the end, though, it’s me sitting here with my laptop. Mern, as much as I love her, is just a blinking icon and some text and some low resolution video. Ina is a girl who I might have met once but I probably wouldn’t recognize in real life. Emily is a shout “hey you” and a fleeting glance. Both Gavins are just static pictures and interesting conversations to me. Ryan is an identity on a forum I was banned from plus some pictures. Adam is a guy I met based solely on his putting his aim screenname on 4chan. None of these people are “real” to me in any traditional sense. No matter how complicated and thorough interactions on the internet become, they’ll never be the same as being physically near someone. No matter how many quizzes are taken and pages liked, who you are on the internet is still a grossly distorted version of who you are in person. Many are comfortable with this facsimile, just as many use it only as a supplement to their “real” lives. It fills a need, even if not as satisfactorily as it could. Socialization lite, now without the potential anguish of a “Real” relationship. Still, physicality exists. Still, locality is a barrier. Still, I am trapped here in myself.