On Veterans

The argument can be stated as such.

  1. If you are willing to risk your life for a worthy cause, then you ought to be recognized by others for doing so.
  2. Enlisting in the military is risking your life.
  3. The military exists to defend a nation.
  4. The defense of a nation is a worthy cause.
  5. So those people who have enlisted in the military ought to be recognized by others for doing so.

I find premises 3 and 4 to be questionable, for many reasons, but that isn’t my point here. I have friends and family who are veterans and I care about them very much, and I believe they joined the military because they believe in premises 3 and 4, that’s my point.

Today is Veteran’s Day. A day in which we give thanks to all of the people who have served in the Armed Forces. How do we thank them? By having this day! Where everybody who is off of work sits around and thinks about how great all those veterans are, wherever they may be. Maybe we post a picture of grandpa and Uncle Joe on the internet with a caption about how proud we are. In the meantime, 40,000 veterans will be sleeping on the street tonight, almost half of those being veterans of color, and another 1.5 million veterans are on the brink of joining them. I wonder what they think about Veteran’s Day?

The government spends more than half of its money on defense. This is in a country where if you want to have your baby in a hospital you better have cash, and you better get your ass to work the next day. A country where you have to spend $80,000 to get a job that pays $40,000 a year. A country where vast amounts of people are struggling to survive off of food stamps that are under constant threat of being taken away. We spend so much money on defense, in lieu of so much else, and yet we let even those who served in that respect suffer once their tour of duty has concluded.

For today to mean much, it needs to be backed up by a system that takes care of those people who believed in 3 and 4 so much that they abandoned the possibility of an easier and more stable life to prove it. In a perfect world, today ought to be a day that we remember those ancestors of ours who fought in wars that actually meant anything. The fact that this nation constantly produces new veterans without really explaining what the hell anybody is fighting for is ridiculous.

So, an election already happened, so I can’t really encourage you to vote. Even if I did, this isn’t an issue people make paramount to their campaign, though those candidates in favor of strengthening social services are the closest. If I have any advice, I suppose it’s to not just let days like this drift by. Today is meant to be a day to reflect on the sacrifices of veterans, so let’s do that, but do so in a way that lends itself to action. It isn’t the sacrifices that veterans chose to make that ought to drive our reflection, but the veterans who have been sacrificed by the very nation they sought to defend.

 

 

Holy Shit!

70070003I would like to lay out an argument.

  1. If curse words are intrinsically harmful then they should not be allowed to be said in certain situations.
  2. Nothing can be intrinsically harmful because of arbitrary reasons.
  3. If curse words are intrinsically harmful then it is because of arbitrary reasons.
  4. So, curse words are not intrinsically harmful.
  5. So, it is not the case curse words should not be allowed to be said in certain situations.

Let’s make a few distinctions. Curse words regards words that have many synonyms that are not curse words, but mean the same thing. Shit is a great example, it has many, many synonyms that are not curse words, poop, doo-doo, kaka, crap, etc. Are they impolite words? Sure, but they are not considered intrinsically harmful the way the word ‘shit’ is.

Curse words are not slurs. Slurs are words that are intrinsically harmful, as they denigrate entire groups of people as if those groups are not composed of individuals. Therefore, the allowability of curse words is distinct from the allowability of slurs.

My third premise is that if curse words are intrinsically harmful then it is because of arbitrary reasons, and as that cannot be the case, curse words cannot be intrinsically harmful.

In less academic terms, cursing is a stupid concept designed to distract people from actual problems. Even the adjective ‘curse’ reveals the idiocy of this concept, it literally suggest a word like ‘fuck’ has magical properties. It does not, it’s just a goofy word. Should everyone say ‘fuck’ all the time? Of course not, just like no one should say ‘splendiferous’ all the time, because that would be terrible.

Consider what is allowed on network television, the incredible violence, sexual aggression, the prioritization of money over human beings, the wanton disregard for suffering around the world. Not the word ‘asshole’ though! Gotta have standards! Should radio stations have to make a beeping noise instead of the word ‘fuck’ though? No, goddammit, of course not! That’s insane!

It also teaches us that the words we use are more important than the content of our speech. If little Johnny calls Sally dumb we barely bat an eye, but if he calls he fucking dumb then it’s straight to principal’s office. There is no qualitative difference, in each case Johnny is using words hurtfully, but the lesson Johnny learns is he can harass people all he wants as long as he doesn’t use certain words.

We have picked a stupid battle to fight, and it is time to recognize it. If we abandon this childish obsession with naughty words, those words stop being naughty, and we can all focus on actual problems. The fact of the matter is that Johnny needs to learn that what he intends to cause with his words is what matters, and if it is meanness and pain, then that’s a problem, regardless of the actual words used. In truth, it’s a lesson we all need to learn, myself included.

 

Pathy!

Lately I’ve been thinking, and writing, about how nothing in the universe actually matters in any objective sense, and how given that our consciousness is only mud risen to reflect on mud, before becoming mud yet again, we ought not let stress consume us. These fundamental aspects of my belief system are my xanax, my zoloft, my therapist, and my couch. The crippling anxiety that regularly rides up my spine is alleviated, not suppressed but actually dispersed, through my reflection on, what I perceive to be, these truths.

A potential argument against such a viewpoint is that it could lead to apathy, and indeed it could. Why wouldn’t it? Life doesn’t matter, why strive to improve it? To this I can only offer the obvious alternative question; why not? Strive to improve it! March in the streets! Vote! Run for office! Write letters to the editor! Build a shelter! Dig a well! Go do something! You know what stops people from trying to make things better? Fear that they will fail, and it will all have been in vain. Good news everyone! It is all in vain! Not doing anything is all in vain! So, if nothing matters at all, you might as well shoot for the goddamn moon!

Besides, just because life doesn’t have any objective value doesn’t mean it can’t have subjective value. You’ll be dead soon enough, may as well get a little life in while you have the chance. This can be an argument for bungee jumping and skydiving and swimming with supreme court justices, but if you’re willing to take significant risks, then make them in the pursuit of bettering the fleeting and meaningless existences of your fellow earthlings. Life doesn’t matter, so get on your soap box on the corner and rally against the injustice of charging pregnant mother’s to have their baby in a hospital. Life doesn’t matter, so call your senator to express your horror at their lapses in intelligence. Life doesn’t matter, so knock on every door in your neighborhood to ask them for a dollar to send to starving families in Syria. Life doesn’t matter, so eat the rich, feed the poor, and buy as much Bornean rainforest as you can afford and donate it to an orangutan sanctuary. Why not? It might not work, it may make no difference at all, and you might have wasted your effort. But good news, eventually the sun will swallow the earth so nothing matters on a cosmic time frame anyway! You’re failures are just as irrelevant as your successes, but aren’t successes so much more fun?

Apathy is for the scared and weak, the people who foolishly believe things matters, and so refuse to try things. Things don’t matter,so try them all! Choose pathy!

Of Course There Is No Afterlife! Although…

IMG_2050I’m an atheist. I don’t think it’s the most interesting thing about me, it isn’t something I need tattooed on my forehead, I have other beliefs that would seem to annoy people who disagree with me far more. None of these things would have been true a decade ago, when I was beating people over the head with “The God Delusion”, but you live, learn, and become a determinist. That is a good book though, I should probably read it again.

At any rate, as an atheist, I find the idea of heaven and hell to be laughable. How convenient! Scared of death? Don’t worry! You can’t die, ever. But, if you follow my rules, you live forever in paradise, if you don’t though, just fyi, you burn in hell.

The whole idea of infinite existence is exhausting in either situation, who has the energy for that? If there is a heaven, it’d be punctuated life times in various enjoyable situations. It’d need to have context in order for the joy to be experienced though, otherwise you have the gambler in that Twilight Zone episode where he always wins vibe going on.

That scenario is actually in line with the machinations behind my own secret desire for life after death. This variety of the afterlife, essentially repetitions with variation of the kind of life I lead now seems possible without divine intervention, via two physically possible scenarios. One is that the universe contracts and expands repeatedly, and does so with slight variations. Infinite iterations of the universe lead to a great number of universes in which you exist in some form or another. Life after death!

Another is what is called the coke bottle theory, or I think it’s called that. I think Brian Greene called it that. At any rate, what it comes down to is that in a given area of space there will only be so much material. Too much and it’ll form a black hole, too little and it will disperse to other areas. Given that there can only be so much material, it can only take so many forms. Given enough space and time, those forms will repeat. So, some of those forms will include me sitting at this computer drinking instant coffee because the goddamn jug part of our french press keeps breaking and you can’t just buy the jug part you have to buy a whole new french press and now I’ve got multiple presses and no jugs. Someday I’ll die, but the universe will repeat that french press-less form of me at the computer and presto, life after death!

It’s baloney. One, the universe isn’t contracting, and shows no signs of ever doing so, and if it doesn’t contract it can’t expand. This is the only universe we get, so don’t litter! Even if it did, and in the coke bottle theory of the afterlife, the best you could hope for is that the universe construct an exact replica of yourself, right down to the genetic code. In order for that to be “you” though, you’d have to have some continuity of consciousness, that replication would have to somehow cause you to come online again, which it wouldn’t, because if it did then identical twins would be experiencing each other’s lives, and, as far as I know, they don’t.

So, no afterlife. Which is fine, really. You get to be alive! What crazy universe is this that the dirt stands up and looks at itself? Almost too good to be true. It also alleviates any and all concerns of alternative timelines. There are none. Every choice you’ve ever made is the only choice you will ever make in that exact situation, there is never going to be a do over. So get over it already!

Unless of course this is all just a video game, and maybe I’ve got another guy after this one!

Life and Death

needle double

September 6th marks two important anniversaries in the life of someone to whom I was uniquely close, his name was Don. Don was born on September 6th, 1982, and he died on September 6th, 2011. A neat and tidy 29 years, no remainder. It also, now, marks the birth of the daughter of one of my great friends, she was born on September 6th, 2018. Mazel tov!

On September 9th of this same year, my own daughter was born. Mazel tov to me! And to her, and her mother of course. Great joy! In an email I received while still in the hospital the next day, I learned that my brother’s dog was hit by a car in the streets of Chicago, and had passed away.

So much spinning on the wheel of life! Life emerges, departs, emerges, departs. Such a funny and sad and amazing thing. My brother and I adopted our dogs on the same day, incidentally. We went to the shelter, just to look. We were both hungover, and prone to depressive states. Perhaps we thought looking at cute dogs would make us feel better, or perhaps that looking at cute dogs in cages would let us wallow deeper in our existential numbness. At any rate we left with two cute little chihuahuas. His dog may have been the daughter of my dog, they weren’t sure. I will say that I told my dog about what happened, and she has barely gotten off the couch since. Am I projecting? Quite possibly. I am just a dumb ape with barely any hair and not one redeeming adaptation besides a big stupid brain after all.

So, a lot of death and life all crammed into 4 days (it’s strange how calendar math works, 6+3=9, yet the 6th through the 9th consists of four days, not three). A lot more than just my old friend, my daughter, my friends daughter, and my brother’s dog. Hell, just in regards to people I know a friend lost a cousin to suicide in the same time span, and another old friend had a daughter as well. Imagine how much life and death there must have been in the city I live in, nevermind the whole fucking planet!

What’s the point? Well, that’s my question. I’m exalted and over the moon about my daughter, and my friend’s as well. I am saddened deeply for my brother, it is no trivial thing to lose a pet, especially after almost a decade of companionship. Is it a wash? Is there a lesson to learn? If there is, I am afraid it might really be trivial. The lesson being simply that things that are alive die, so rejoice in them before it happens! Hug your daughters! Hug your dogs! Look at the birds! Smell a goddamn rose! The mud became conscious, and now it is your turn to enjoy it, don’t fuck around!

Congratudolences to all!

Do Whatever You Want, You Have To Anyways.

The title of this piece is false advice. If you want to hurt people, don’t. If you want to hoard money for no reason while people starve to death, or work menial jobs forever to no happy end, don’t. However, if you want to move to the beach, do. If you want to open an ice cream stand, do. If you want to forget all of your debts and walk off into the woods, go for it.

Life is singular folks. Seems very unlikely that it happens again, at the very least not in the same way it is happening right now. Which means you’ve got one chance to do what you want in this world, it is this chance, it is today. Hate your job? Quit. Don’t like your neighbors? Move. Nothing gets better through inaction, no one is coming to save you. It is up to you.

I have even better news actually, it isn’t up to you. Everything you are ever going to do is set in stone. How do I know? I don’t, but I’m pretty sure. Here’s two pieces of evidence. One is just that this life doesn’t repeat itself, which means you go through it exactly once. Every time you have acted, responded, decided, it was the only time you will ever act in that particular situation. Which means questions of what you would do differently if you had the chance are irrelevant. You won’t. Furthermore, even if you did, if you were in the exact same situation again, with the exact same information, you would make the exact same choice. How do I know? Because in that situation with that information, you made that choice. Pretending you would magically make some other choice in that exact same situation is useless, as is pretending you might have been able to learn from the mistake of that choice before having made it and so chose otherwise. Spilt milk.

The other piece of evidence is just the very nature of the universe. It’s causal. X happens, causes y why every time. The pool ball analogy is a good one. If the cue ball hits the eight ball on the exact same table at the exact same speed and angle at the exact same positions, the eight ball will move the same way every time. This has been how things have happened since the beginning. Stars forming, planets, earthquakes, waves, clouds, rainbows, all just a reaction to the laws of nature and previous events. So it is with physical phenomena. You know what else is physical phenomena? Your thoughts, your decisions, your actions. Each is just a reaction to the laws of nature and previous events. Had toast this morning? That was determined by the big bang. Broke up with your boyfriend? Big bang did that. C’est la vie.

So, don’t worry about doing whatever you want, you’re going to. Don’t worry about mistakes you’ve made, you had no choice. Free will is an illusion. Since free will is an illusion and mistakes don’t matter, go ahead and do whatever you want. Of course you shouldn’t worry about doing whatever you want, you’re going to, which means you don’t have to worry about any mistakes you’ve ever made, because you had no choice, and since your mistakes don’t matter, you may as well do whatever you want. Of course you are going to do whatever you want, so don’t worry about possible mistakes, they were inevitable, because free will is an illusion, and since mistakes don’t matter, go ahead and do whatever you want. Why are you so focused on potential mistakes anyway? Maybe it’ll be awesome.

Quotes of Thomas Paine

I am not currently up to the task of either summarizing or analyzing “Rights of Man” by Thomas Paine, which I read recently.  A few quotes, very few given the number of powerful and entirely relevant passages available in this work, follow.

“It suits his purpose to exhibit the consequences with their causes. It’s one of the arts of the drama, to do so. If the crimes of men were exhibited with their suffering, stage effect would sometimes be lost and the audience would be inclined to approve where it was intended they commiserate.”

“Man did not enter into society to become worse than he was before, or to have fewer rights than he had before, but to have those rights better secured.”

“Man can be kept ignorant, but he cannot be made ignorant.”

“When it is laid down as a maxim that a king can do no wrong it places him in a similar security with that of idiots and persons insane and responsibility is out of the question.”

(Italics on that last quote are mine, I’ll tell you that I added them because it seems as though Thomas Paine was talking specifically about the insane idiot that is currently the president of the United States, just in case that wasn’t clear).

 

 

The Trolley (continued)

The brakes on the train lock up, they sound like a giant dragging his fingernails across a city wide blackboard. The man sitting on the bridge leans forward, as if he is trying to get a better look. You decide you’ll save the children, one life sacrificed to save five others, that in itself is sufficient justification. You rush forward, and the man looks over at you.

“Oh, hello Sarah.” he says.

It’s your cousin, someone you haven’t seen in years, but your kin all the same. You should have recognized him, but you didn’t. You falter, tripping over your steps, but your momentum is determined. Your cousin puts up his hands, tries to swing his legs back over the bridge, but it’s too late. You connect with him, and he topples over the side. When the train comes to stop it is with your cousin’s body edging up against the first child. The children are saved, you saved them. You also murdered your cousin.

A flash of light blinds you, seems to take up the entire world, and then fades away. You are standing on top of the bridge again, your cousin sits on the edge of the bridge. The brakes have just begun to squeal.

(to be continued)

“Miller’s Valley” by Anna Quindlen

I picked up this book for essentially no reason at all, it was in the “Staff Picks” section of the library, which is never a driving force in my selection process. Not that I don’t think librarians would pick good books, it’s just that I pretty much ignore recommendations from anyone in regards to anything. Unless I don’t, which is frequently the case. At any rate, I grabbed it, checked it out alongside a stack of cds, and took it home.

I’ve been reading on the bus a lot lately. I got a summer job at the baseball stadium in the big city, and so I ride in on the bus from my suburban town a dozen miles from the city limits or so. I sit in my seat, listen to my headphones, and submerge myself in some book or another. Not only does it serve the purposes inherent to reading while listening to music, whatever those are, they also stop people from talking to me. I’m not antisocial, except for when I want nothing to do with societal interactions, which is frequently the case. This book drew me in swiftly. I’m also listening to The Dark Tower series via the library app, named Libby, on my Ipod (yeah, I said Ipod) on the recommendation of a friend, a recommendation I did not ignore. That series has a possessive force over my life, and, yet, I continuously chose to read this book instead of diving back into the gunslinger’s world. I mention this only to underline how much I enjoyed this book.

Here’s the deal, not much happens in Miller’s Valley. There’s a girl, she’s young, over the course of the book she grows up. Her mom is a nurse with little patience for nonsense, her father runs the farm and fixes the machines of Miller’s Valley. She has a brother who is much older and moderately successful in his field, another brother who goes to Vietnam, and suffers some significant repercussions. She has a nice friend and a mean one, a shut-in aunt, some stuff is happening in the town. Some people die along the way, in the end some interesting events come to light, raising a few interesting, and unanswered, questions.

So? Who cares? I had about 30 pages left of this book and I realized if it was an autobiography, which is essentially the style in which it was written, I might be embarrassed for the author, thinking their little life was worth writing a whole damn book about it. However, since it was fiction, instead I enjoyed the hell out of it. What gives?

Like The Old Man and the Sea or Women or many countless others, this is a story which shows that the way a story is told matters much more than the content of the story. You can go and fight dragons in outer space, but if you don’t have a feel for timing revelations, or framing characters, or simply the language in which you write, it’s probably not going to be a very good story. Miller’s Valley is just the opposite, a relatively simple story told very well. I might have to hit up that “Staff Picks” section more often.

The Trolley

In your town a bridge crosses an expanse of railway tracks that lead to a terminating depot. Often people stand on the bridge, watching the trains roll into their final destination, or take off again. It is not the majestic scenery of the nearby mountains or lakes, but in the context of a city, for those appreciative of the massive capacity of humankind for producing infrastructure, it is nice to look at.

One day, early in the morning, you are walking across that bridge. It is nearly empty, a rare event, with the lone observer sitting upon the railing of the bridge, his feet dangling over the tracks. Not an entirely safe position, but the man is clearly an adult, an impressively sized adult at that. A giant almost. You edge over to the railing yourself, so as to see the tracks, and you stop. Your heart seems to skip a beat. Down there, as if in a Dudley Doright cartoon, are children tied to the train tracks. Five of them. Screaming for help.

“Holy shit!” you scream.

“I know.” says the other man.

A train is approaching, it’s horn blaring. At this stage it does not move quickly, but neither can it apply the brakes quickly enough to stop before hitting the children, and regardless of its speed the impact is going to end the lives of each child. In a blur of thoughts one seems to ring out a little more clearly. The man is sitting directly above the track, and the combination of the frantically screeching brakes of the train and the weight of the man might be sufficient to save them. Why is he sitting there anyway? Why didn’t he call for help right away? Did he tie them to the tracks? There isn’t time to ask, you either push the man, surely killing him but saving the lives of the children, or you don’t, and the children will die.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.

 

(to be continued)