Tag Archives: people

We are drones. Good slaves. Obedient.

A co-worker, Angie, and I had dinner tonight. A meal and a drink.  She chose a fine glass of wine I had never heard of. I was immediately drawn to the dark beer they had on draft, locally brewed, of course.

Angie grew up in a well established suburb of north Atlanta – her neighbors included a few famous Braves baseball players from the mid-90’s you’ve probably heard of and she went to a top private school. Her father is the proud owner of a PHD in religion from Yale. He even did a short stint on a conservative late night radio show some years back.

Angie spent a few months in Europe and was a member of a popular sorority. She and her father are both recent converts to Catholicism. Her mother refuses to call herself anything but Southern Baptist.

To be honest most guys would probably enjoy the company of Angie, but to me she is almost as uninteresting a person I can imagine.

She’s traveled around Europe, but had almost nothing to say about really being there. She spoke fondly of Catholicism, but wrinkled her forehead in disapproval at the mention of Islam.  Privilege and opportunity without an ounce of character or depth.

Angie is an A+ student. Money, fashion, cars, diplomas, education, job titles, religion, and an SUV all mixed together in a carefully blended milkshake of American-made mental incarceration. Life is blurred by lens of perspective that can almost certainly never be undone.  It’s a phenomena I can barely explain.

Angie is a person, but not one.  She’s there, but I can’t have a conversation with her. It doesn’t work – there’s a part missing. The spark that makes us human – the part that allows us to have the basic interaction that proves to one human to another that you are alive – that you are thinking – is missing.

That thing that used to make us human – thought, love, discussion, disagreement, depth. That connection you can only sense from instinct that draws you to an individual, and says, we’re on the same team, we get each other, we’re both human!  It has been replaced with smart screens and anti-social networks. We are drones. Good slaves. Obedient.

I finished my dark beer. A milky head, slightly sweet.

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People who Disgust me

I think I am becoming disgusted with people.

Today I was in the elevator with two terribly obese women. Each at least 300lbs.  We went up 7 stories which took approximately 1 minute. For each second of the entire minute the two fat ladies complained. They complained about the heat. They complained about work. They complained about their co-workers. They complained.

“It’s so HOT! You’ll never hear me complain about winter.” One obese women said. I noticed her neck jiggle as her chin moved up and down.

Frankly she was disgusting to me. She had two huge chins and her clothes fit more like sheets fit a water bed than a t-shirt should fit a person. Plus, something rubbed me wrong about a person complaining about the heat in Florida. What the hell is she expecting?

The entire time I thought to myself: “You wouldn’t be so fucking hot if you weren’t so goddam fat.”

Do you know what bothers me? People who complain about so much about nothing. When the  person comes in such a disgusting package it irritates me even more.

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People are no longer Free Thinkers

It never fails to amaze me how easily people are fooled by propaganda. Especially if said propaganda aligns with the beliefs an individual already holds. I find case after case of this on Facebook. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t find Facebook terribly scientific nor do I care for it much; however, I do find it a useful tool to check the pulse of people’s thinking. Especially people whose views are being shaped by popular media sources.

A prime example was today when I logged in and found literally a dozen of my connections sharing an article supposedly written by Bill Cosby. (You can read the entire article here.) The article goes on to critisize social programs, “spread the wealth” ideaology, lazy people, and even Muslims. I immediately knew this couldn’t by something legitimately accredited to Bill Cosby – especially publicly.

I did a quick Google search and quickly found dozens of sites (including Bill Cosby’s personal website) saying the article was a fake. So why was everyone else so easily fooled, so apt to propagate the lie, and too lazy to fact check? Was it because it so easily confirmed their own beliefs?

This is a pattern. People immediately accept whatever falls in their lap as complete truth. People are no longer free thinkers – rather they are sheep-sponges who obediently fall in line, absorb, and spread any information provided to them in which they find convenient.

A respected pop-culture icon and black leader, like Bill Cosby, spouting popular conservative ideals was just too delicious to pass up – thus it spreads like wildfire on social networks. A few items of hate speech, sprinkled in with a few lines of truth, and suddenly the entire message is accepted at once. The lies and hate are absorbed in the blood stream as inconspicuously as they landed on everyone’s homepage.

My biggest fear is that my peers have forgotten how to think for themselves, how to distinguish a lie from the truth. They are now good slaves propagating whatever they hear or see on whatever screen is in front of them. That is dangerous.

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3 Key Components to an Awesome Relationship

Today Holden sent me a very insightful email that I would like to share with the world. 

I think the key to getting along and having a fruitful relationship with your spouse, family, co-workers and anyone else has three essential elements.

1. Look Beyond Yourself

The first element is, you and the person you are trying to have the harmonious relationship with need to be able to look beyond themselves. They have to be able to recognize their own bias and remove the cloudiness of their own personal perspective and see other’s perspective.

For example, I never realized just how boxed in and self centered I was until I worked at GISTech and really got my ass handed to me over and over by my two senior co-workers who were as self centered as I was. When you have three extremely self centered people who always think their perspective is the only perspective, its going to spell disaster, and I was the low man on the totem pole so I got shit on there and bullied. I think this might be where Stoicism could play a helpful role. Removing yourself emotionally to free yourself to survey the surrounding environment.

I remember I use to trash my wife’s dad the way your wife will freely trash yours, then I finally realized that despite everything I said being blatantly true and her feeling the exact same way, maybe I should just leave the bashing to her. I still take jabs at the guy, but I shouldn’t. I should just leave it to her, because she really doesn’t need me to remind her that her dad sucks. She knows it, she lived it. It took stepping outside my own little box to realize that.

2. Roll with the Punches

The next element is part reciprocation, part just letting shit roll off your back.

Sometimes people say things that really do not jive with or annoy you. You just have to learn to let it roll off your back, but the other person also needs to learn to reciprocate and return the favor when you’re being the asshole. I think my and your wife’s issue is that she doesn’t reciprocate well. I feel like she expects all of us to simply let anything she says roll off our backs, but she doesn’t take it well when we say anything that slights her in the least. Then I eventually get to a point that I stop letting things roll off my back, and she thinks I’m bullying her and hate her guts. I don’t really how to address the problem. If it were you and I we’d just tell the other to quit being an asshole.

My wife and I used to have the same problem, She’d take my bullshit all day, but then if she dished a little, I would blow up on her ass. Hell, it still happens sometimes. Its a lifelong growing process. I’m still guilty of dishing more than I take sometimes. Its just important that you don’t let me get away with it if I am.

3. Admit when You’re Wrong

The final element is admitting when you’re wrong.

When I do something really shitty (like punching a hole in the wall, throwing a tantrum… etc) I’ve learned just to suck it up and admit I’m a douchebag. Fuck it. I’m a douchebag. The first step to a de-douching yourself is admitting your own douchiness. Some people just can’t admit it. Some people really can’t stand to lose face or look foolish. You have to get over it if you’re going to have successful relationships. You have to learn to admit you’re wrong.

So, there you have it. This is what I’ve been personally working on. The lucky part of my marriage is that my wife just seems to naturally have most of this down and she’s very receptive to me just calling her out, as you are. I’m the one who needs most of the work. Luckily, I’ve grown up enough over the last few years to finally realize it. In your case, the tables are turned I think. I think you know everything I said above to be true and you follow the philosophy. The next step is just bringing your wife along with you.

A New Year. An Old Man.

“You better give your Peepaw a hug, I don’t think he has much longer left.” I told my wife.

His eyes were watering, he was struggling to breathe, and sometimes I would see him shake a little as he was trying to move around. The rest of the house was rustling about almost like they didn’t notice the poor old man coming to terms with his own demise.

It was only a year ago, Christmas time last year, that I had spent time with my wife’s Great Grandfather. He seemed so much more alive then, but now his body seems ready to give out. To let go of the life still in his eyes, to rest.

I wonder to myself if he feels alone. The children running around the house, parents chatting about nothing, but Peepaw sits alone in a comfortable recliner enjoying what will probably be his last Christmas. My observations are full of mixed emotions.

Here sits a man who has had a full life, much better than most. He has been married to his dear wife for over 60 years, he has started and handed down a successful business, and has a wonder family surrounding him. What more could a man ask for in his final days. How much more peacefully could anyone go?

On the other hand I feel a hint of dread. The curtains are closing, his inevitable death is coming quickly, but he is alone in his journey in this. No one can truly empathize with what he must be feeling – it must be a little strange that everyone moves around so carelessly going about their daily business as he knows that these are his final hours. Literally his final moments of existence on this planet. Everyone pretends not to notice – getting dessert almost seems more important.

Of course it’s not that no one cares. He’s an 89 year old man and his death is something almost everyone has accepted – even if it’s just subconsciously. Something unsaid we have all agreed to. Inevitability. Finality.

Still part of me feels like we should all be crowded around him – appreciating the man and his life – while he’s still coherent enough to appreciate the gesture. Part of me wants to lean in and whisper a question: “What is the one thing I should know about life?” Oh the knowledge, the wisdom, he must have during these final hours. Regrets, pride, advice.

If there is any sort of afterlife. Any karma. Any higher power. Or even if there isn’t. Let it be known that a young man noticed you that day – your final Christmas. Maybe its some comfort, some justice. A young man unrelated by blood, a young man that never said more than a few words to you, a young man who only shook your hand and stared you in the eyes and tried to communicate at that moment that I appreciated your existence, noticed, cared.

I didn’t ask anything, you never lectured me, but I learned a lot from you.

I think I’m a Stoic

Recently I ran across this Wikipedia article on Stoicism. As I read through the basic tenants it hit me: I think I’m a stoic.

Reason Over Emotion

There are a few things that ring completely true to my own way of thinking:

Stoicism teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions; the philosophy holds that becoming a clear and unbiased thinker allows one to understand the universal reason (logos). A primary aspect of Stoicism involves improving the individual’s ethical and moral well-being: “Virtue consists in a will that is in agreement with Nature.” This principle also applies to the realm of interpersonal relationships; “to be free from anger, envy, and jealousy,” and to accept even slaves as “equals of other men, because all men alike are products of nature.”

This passage rings almost totally true for me. Often when I find myself boiling with anger I think to myself : “Take a step back, think clearly, logically.” I have always valued the searched for truth with unbiased data and thinking. I especially appreciate the idea of freedom from emotion to see the world clearly.

This certainly does not mean you are free from feeling emotion. Everyone feels emotion. I think the overall point is honing the ability to transcend the emotions you are feeling and examine yourself externally for the self. Almost like an objective outsider examining the facts of your own situation.

The Stoics believed that knowledge can be attained through the use of reason. Truth can be distinguished from fallacy; even if, in practice, only an approximation can be made. According to the Stoics, the senses constantly receive sensations: pulsations that pass from objects through the senses to the mind, where they leave an impression in the imagination (phantasia). (An impression arising from the mind was called a phantasma.)

The mind has the ability to judge (sunkatathesis)—approve or reject—an impression, enabling it to distinguish a true representation of reality from one that is false. Some impressions can be assented to immediately, but others can only achieve varying degrees of hesitant approval, which can be labeled belief or opinion (doxa). It is only through reason that we achieve clear comprehension and conviction (katalepsis). Certain and true knowledge (episteme), achievable by the Stoic sage, can be attained only by verifying the conviction with the expertise of one’s peers and the collective judgment of humankind.

This idea also seems naturally true to me. How many times has an eye witness been wrong based on misinterpreted data they “thought” they saw or experienced? True answers, it seems to me, come from data and examination.  Emotions are important, but they are subject to error and manipulation by ourselves and external forces.

My wife and I have arguments all the time because she says I’m emotionless and too logical while I accuse her of being overly-emotional.  She will laugh or cry easily while I can’t remember the last time I felt emotion strong enough to cry. It’s hard to feel an emotion strong enough to take action if you naturally take the “I need to think this through” approach.

My natural inclination is to stop, wait, and examine the facts.

Ethics and Morality

Even my natural deriving of morality seems to be borrowed from Stoicism.

…the foundation of Stoic ethics is that good lies in the state of the soul itself; in wisdom and self-control. Stoic ethics stressed the rule: “Follow where reason leads.” One must therefore strive to be free of the passions, bearing in mind that the ancient meaning of ‘passion’ was “anguish” or “suffering”, that is, “passively” reacting to external events—somewhat different from the modern use of the word…The eupatheia are feelings that result from correct judgment in the same way as passions result from incorrect judgment.

The idea was to be free of suffering through apatheia (Greek: ἀπάθεια) or peace of mind (literally, ‘without passion’), where peace of mind was understood in the ancient sense—being objective or having “clear judgment” and the maintenance of equanimity in the face of life’s highs and lows.

For the Stoics, ‘reason’ meant not only using logic, but also understanding the processes of nature—the logos, or universal reason, inherent in all things. Living according to reason and virtue, they held, is to live in harmony with the divine order of the universe, in recognition of the common reason and essential value of all people…

Following Socrates, the Stoics held that unhappiness and evil are the results of human ignorance of the reason in nature. If someone is unkind, it is because they are unaware of their own universal reason, which leads to the conclusion of kindness. The solution to evil and unhappiness then, is the practice of Stoic philosophy—to examine one’s own judgments and behavior and determine where they diverge from the universal reason of nature.

These ideas are beautiful. Recognize the “common reason and essential value of all people”. I wonder why the Greek people were such sophisticated thinkers? It’s kind of amazing to think people had these brilliant thoughts a thousand years ago, but they are still applicable today. It seems human’s haven’t changed all that much.

Drones and Children

Someone I know sent me this link today. It is a list of 47 children who have perished due to Drone strikes under the Obama administration.

I think this list is meant to be an interesting juxtaposition to the “crying for the children” Obama presented to the public after the tragedy of Newton, Connecticut.  Leaving many Americans wondering what makes the Newton County children any more a tragedy than the deaths of 47 innocent brown children over the past few years.

Grey Area

Of course it isn’t that black and white. Some might argue that the end justifies the means as related to the deaths of 47 middle-eastern children. They are casualties of war – a sad consequence of terrorism and radical Islam even. War is dirty and the loss of innocent life inevitable while those children slaughtered in Newton remains completely unjustified and purposeless.

Still – I can’t help wonder why Obama doesn’t occasionally take a step back and express his deep regret for every innocent life lost as result of Drone attacks – especially the children. Especially in a war against “terror” and not against any particular nation.

Doesn’t the Administration owe it to every country to apologize for the death of their citizens as result of our mission to kill a particular individual? Maybe not – I don’t know how this works. What is the etiquette in a war like this? And no doubt a legion of right-wingers would be waiting to pounce and call Obama weak at the first apology uttered.

Reflection

I guess what I’m saying here is that tragedy is everywhere and we should take time to reflect on the cost of war. We should appreciate and mourn the loss of every life – not just those in our own nation.

For myself – I wonder why the death of 22 children in Newton is so much more difficult a pill to swallow than the death of 47 children in some distant land I can’t fully conceptualize? This post goes out to all 69 of the innocent lives lost as result of someone else’s mistakes.  A sad reality of the world we live.

A Religious Journey: Searching for Faith

I’ve struggled with religion and faith my entire life. My studies began early and continue today. It started before I can remember as my Parents dropped me off at Church. Some of my fondest memories are those in a little Baptist Church as a child. Sunday school, church plays, and of course the plethora of Southern banquets featuring some of the finest dishes Grandmothers from around the county could muster.

Religion and the church community gave to me what everyone desires in life. An absolute truth, the warmth of love and affection, family, the kindness of a stranger smiling at you from a few pews away, and of course belonging. In a word: Comfort.

But from the time I can remember “believing” was always difficult. I would constantly struggle with the nagging feeling religion is make believe. I felt out of place and wondered how everyone else seemed to believe so whole-heartily and so easily while I struggled with my faith constantly.

I didn’t give up. As in life, the things that didn’t come natural to me (faith), I worked twice as hard as the next person to achieve. So I prayed daily for God to help me “believe”.

“Dear God – Please help me with my struggles in faith. Please help me find the evidence I need personally to find strength in my faith in you. I am sorry for my lack of faith and I am working hard to  find it.  Please put me on the right path.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

So my days would go from about the ages of 12 – 18. There were even times I believed strongly that God was there. Sometimes my hard work seemed to be paying off – though my doubts were never far behind.

Search for Faith

When I first arrived in college I decided to get serious about religion. I started watching videos that I hoped would strengthen my faith. I met a “preacher” who taught young people. And so intense self-indoctrination began – seemed to work – but eventually failed.

At one point I was ready to testify to my fellow college students on campus. I had almost convinced myself it all made sense. I painted an almost clear picture of what I had come to believe. But what I found mostly radicalized me and I saw in myself the symptoms of any individual induced to delirium.

Most of what I found I could not reconcile with my own personal thoughts and feelings.  Everything seemed overly radical, lacked evidence, and seemed almost loony. Though I learned many good lessons – those lessons were not independent to Christianity and proved nothing.

There were young earth creationist, those that claimed religion was about faith and not proof, those that claimed man and dinosaurs roamed the Earth together, and worse. Even those whom I admired failed in their efforts to provide reasonable evidence.

So, as a college student I decided to seek knowledge the best way I knew how. I enrolled in a few religion classes and finally I found what I was looking for, but not what I expected to find.

The scholarly approach to Religion was exactly what my personality craved. I learned about the history of the Bible, I found evidence of scholarly research, and was surrounded by people seeking the same information I desired. I had Christian Professors, Professors of different faiths and belief systems, and Professors with no beliefs at all.  I was truly left to gather the evidence and for the first time decide for myself rather than be told what I should believe by a Spiritual/Intellectual leader.

My Decision in Faith

I have become comfortably Agnostic. I’m an Agnostic because after years of searching for the information to strengthen my faith in Christianity, after giving it all I have to feel the right emotions, and after an entire youth spent in the indoctrination process of religion – it all failed.  I still came out hopelessly unable to believe.

I’m an Agnostic because I am a Scientist of sorts. Not a Rocket Scientist, of course, but a Scientist in logic and methodology. I am open to new evidence, new ways of thinking, and new interpretations. For or against religious belief.  Thus far all evidence points toward the non-existence of a God – especially the one described in Abrahamic religions.

I’m an Agnostic because for the first time in my life I feel like I am not lying to myself. I’m not struggling to force myself to feel a certain way or to believe a certain idea because that’s what I’ve been taught is right.  I think that’s something I can live with.

* I have written in length on religious topics on this blog.  You can check them out here.

Ying and Yang of Growing up Rough

From the ages 6 – 12 I lived in a predominately black neighborhood in South Atlanta.  To be honest it was the hood. Not just the kind of place where people claim they grew up in a rough neighborhood, but it was really just the suburbs – this was quite literally the ghetto.

Rough Neighborhood 

I was the only white kid, that I knew of, in my neighborhood.  I remember two high school guys fighting outside my house one day and even my dad was unable to break it up. I remember being a little scared that the one boy was going to kill the other.

He had a padlock in his hand and was bashing the poor bastard’s skull in.  His white shirt was drenched in blood. What’s even more fucked up is I remember rooting for him too.  The guy that was winning was from my section of the neighborhood and I kind of looked up to him.

Another time a young man was shot a killed at the beginning of our subdivision.  I remember walking to the bus stop for school the next morning and seeing his blood still staining the sidewalk.  It was strange – he was the first and only person I have ever known personally who was murdered.

There are times I look back on my life and relive it like a movie.  I can barely believe it myself.  I remember times my parents would have so many people over they wouldn’t notice and wouldn’t care when people slipped me shots of liquor, which I took proudly, just to seem cool.

I remember seeing pounds of pot stacked in my living room being packaged for sales.  Even back then I knew how many grams went into a nickel, dime, or quarter bag of marijuana to sell on the street.

I saw my Dad go to jail a few times, I saw my Mom on the brink of self destruction, and I saw enough young people come and go through our home that I’m quite sure both my parents will find a warm spot in Hell for all eternity for blindly instigating their addictions.

Ying and Yang

My life is almost a Ying and Yang.  On the one side I look back on events that seem surreal – some of which I’ve mentioned. Other events make me realize how I made it.  For example, my best friend, who I spent a lot of time with, had two of the best parents on the planet.

They were from Puerto Rico and devoutly religious.  I distinctly remember once suggesting to the Father that he lie to his daughter so we could leave to play basketball without her getting upset.  He looked me directly in the eyes and said: “I never lie to my children.”  That will stick with me for the rest of my life.

I also remember playing little league football.  It seems like every child who grows up in a rough neighborhood is absolutely convinced he will grow up to be a professional athlete.  I thought this too, without question, for my entire childhood.  I think that explains why so many excellent athletes come out of seemingly rough circumstances.

It’s kind of funny too.  While my Mom and Dad were terribly addicted to one drug or another most of my childhood I distinctly remember that my Mom would make me do all of my homework and write my spelling words down five times each until I was in the 5th grade.

If she did one thing right it was letting me know how important school was to her. Both my parents knew how to make me feel proud of myself and I think that has proven invaluable throughout my life.  If anything, I have never had an issue with self worth.

Moving Out

I’m not sure how I would have turned out had I not moved out of that neighborhood when I did. Man was that conversion interesting.

I remember going from a school where I was almost the only white kid in the entire building, where you had to be checked with metal detectors before entering the school, and security guards walked the hallways – then to a school with almost all white people and no security what-so-ever.

I had an accent, wore baggy clothes, and was completely oblivious that I was any different from the rest of the kids. In fact, it wasn’t until high school that I started to dress like a typical “white guy”.  It took a thorough lashing by all of my “friends” in high school until I realized I dressed like a black guy. I quickly remediated my wardrobe problems and slipped into the expected mold.

Somehow I found a place on the sports teams, made all A’s, and found a way to fit in. It is almost insane to me how resilient yet fragile the human mind is.  You can overcome almost anything or crumble because of almost everything.

When I take a careful look at my life over the past 25 years I am incredibly thankful for what I’ve overcome.  I’m incredibly thankful for what I don’t have to relive. I’m infinitely thankful for the future I see myself having and sometimes it all still feels like I’m remembering a movie I saw – not my own life.

Step Back, Be Reasonable

Sometimes it’s entertaining to be a little extreme. I find myself doing it all the time when I blog. Sometimes it helps me vet myself for the real world. I can work out ideas, write stuff down, and then look back on it and decide with a clear mind whether I agree with everything I wrote. Sometime I look back on something I wrote and think “Genius!”, but other times I look back over the words that came out of my mind in confusion or embarrassment.

That’s what this little blog is for – its a research and development portal for ideas. In real life I think I’m much more agreeable. I would never take on an issue such as healthcare, atheism, or the economy with an casual friend. People (including myself) sometimes get too emotional about certain issues.

I think sometimes we people get too caught up in an idea. An idea like “I support Romney” or “I support Obama” and forget the essential issue of taking care of you neighbor and doing the right thing. It’s ultimately not about Republican or Democrat. Realistically, those guys and gals running things (most of them) care little or nothing about our neighborhoods, our lives, or what we do from day to day. What we can control is how we treat each other.

Reasonable Requests

I want people to have easy access to healthcare. I don’t want to watch Americans (or anyone else) kill each other in war. I want every child in America to have the opportunity for an outstanding education. I want every adult to be able to marry whoever they want, engage in any activity they want, live anywhere they want, and act any way they please – as long as they aren’t hurting anyone else in the process.

I want people to be able to believe as they please and practice those beliefs, but respect those who believe differently. I want people to be able to spread those ideas, say what’s on their mind, and criticize those they think are wrong – as long as it’s peacefully. I want privacy in my own home, I want my tax dollars spent on projects that promote the longevity of this country, and I don’t want to burden the future of America with a debt that cannot be repaid.

There may be different ideas about how to get there, but I think all of these ideas are reasonable. We are all Americans – above that and more importantly we are all People. Let’s take care of each other.

Different Ideas – Same Goal

There have been many a time I have witnesses two intelligent, good people become enemies because of different ideologies. At our core most of us want the same things. We don’t think its fair when a kid goes hungry and another kid gets an iPad. We want every sick person to get better. We want everyone who has to live in project housing in bad neighborhoods to rise above it.

I was that kid, I know first hand it’s not fair! I’m thankful everyday for the teachers, people, and even Government that helped me get through it. I can testify to the fact that any one of those things on their own could NOT have saved me. I needed all of them. I think it’s important to remember that.

Maybe you disagree who or how we can get past these obstacles, but when you meet a person who cares enough about these ideas to do something about it – don’t discount them because you disagree about the politics of an issue – embrace them because you both care enough about humanity to do something to fix it.