rant

Peace in Our Day (Tranquility in a Time of Ruin)

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The Blue Marble, a famous photograph of Earth taken by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft in 1972. (Photo source unknown.)

I was raised a Catholic. As it is, I don’t much go to church anymore. (Mea culpa.) On Sundays now I’m more apt to sit in front the window in my kitchen, drinking coffee and waiting for the peculiarities of life to bubble up from out of where only God himself knows.

Every Sunday, at church, there was a long procession down the center aisle, under a colorful velvet light that flooded in through the stained glass on either side of the sanctuary. Smoke wafted from the acolyte’s censer and projected translucent shadows onto the walls. Then the priest, at the helm of the procession, halted in front of the altar, and the liturgy was spoken and intoned.

Then, about two thirds of the way through the Mass, after the reciting of the Lord’s Prayer, the priest would say an embolism. In Latin it used to go, “Libera nos, quæsumus, Domine, ab omnibus malis, da propitius pacem in diebus nostris…” Since the 60s a less literal version of the English translation has been used:

“Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day…” Every Sunday he said that without fail.

My little trepidations and larger concerns were, at one point in my life, overshadowed by an unshakable faith. After all, what’s on the news, or beyond the horizon, or down the street that can stand against a firm sense of religion?

God is a bulwark for the mind. That I quickly came to realize. I understood, though I was young then, that the world could be harsh, and sometimes so harsh, in fact, that only its creator and superior could circumvent disaster. Thus, he could also intervene in the mind. What was there to fear, then? What could happen to me or anyone else that divinity couldn’t rectify?

Of course, people change. People are always changing.

So it was at some point, now vague in my memory—sometime in adolescence—that my faith was shaken. I can’t really remember what lead me to my current outlook, or why, but that’s beside the point, anyway. I have since understood, in my own way, that God doesn’t deliver us from every evil. Very much the contrary, actually: In fact, evil seems to be closing in at every turn.

The insistence is always that, as we humans are now the masters of our destiny, and that we have within our power the ability to create something that at least approaches utopia.

Yet the reverse is hard to ignore: We are the “masters” of our collective fate inasmuch as a heroin addict is of his individual one. Let’s own up to the facts: We are myopic creatures, addicted to our own greed, wrath, and ignorance. We are the supposed stewards of this planet, but our bang-up job has so far consisted of an unconscionable destruction of the world’s ecology and a destabilization of the climate which makes it humanly habitable in the first place.

We are the makers of the Anthropocene, a time when, as they say, “with great power comes great responsibility,” and more than ever that being true. The ability (and incentive) to act responsibly on a global scale is being crippled, however, as governments falter under the pressure to preserve what’s left for a world that consumes and pollutes and reproduces with unbridled apathy toward an inevitable and unspeakable outcome. And, while some positive steps are being taken—e.g. COP21, the historic climate agreement that took place in Paris this past December—I’m left to wonder how effective these will really prove over time.

My news for you is this: God is not coming to save us in the event of a massive disaster, whether it’s a protracted problem like anthropogenic climate change; or a relatively sudden one, such as a nuclear attack. There is no deus ex machina built into the equation of human flourishing, or even the basic survival of species. Pray to whatever being you please, asking for “peace in our day.” (I am not debating the existence of a deity, benevolent or otherwise. On that matter I’m agnostic.) But the fact remains that nearly all of the creatures which have, at one point or another, called this planet home, have gone extinct, and neither we nor our cherished way of life are immune to the same fate.

Peace neither of mind, nor in the world at large, has ever been guaranteed. Throughout history all manner of turmoils have been commonplace. It is at this pivotal junction in the story of the human race that we may either choose prosperity or destruction, love or hatred, greed or charity. If we have any concern for the collective life and flourishing of this world, we must act immediately and without restraint to combat the forces which threaten to undo everything good we have secured for ourselves.

I worry. I worry about the world and how the people in it will fare in the coming decades. I know worrying never makes up for action, and I was tired of never acting on my worries, so I put down the cup and decided to write. These words were born of that impulse, and from the desire for “pacem in diebus nostris.” That is, “peace in our time,” and, at that, for all time to come.

Acceleration

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Memento Mori (woodcut), by Alexander Mair. (Image courtesy of Mundabor’s Blog.)

A RAMBLE:

“Everything one does in life, even love, occurs in an express train racing toward death.” So said Jean Cocteau, French playwright and filmmaker. Similarly, Marcus Aurelius, the great Stoic emperor of Rome, notes in his Meditations, “Yesterday sperm, tomorrow… ashes.”

I suppose it all wouldn’t feel so brief if time simply stayed at a regular pace.

Granted, this is a nonsensical statement, at least at first glance. How can time have a speed?

Actually, I don’t really think I need to spell it out. We all (or at least most of us) feel the acceleration of time, even if that feeling makes no sense when we try to translate it into physics. However, it should be rather obvious, just observing the simple math of it, why we feel this way: The longer you live, the smaller any particular unit of time becomes relative to the entirety of your life. In other words, when you’re two years old, one year is half of your entire life; when you’re fifty-two, it’s only 1/52 of your life.

What has always tripped me up is the fact that I don’t like to be rushed… I should also note that most things makes me feel rushed. Even if I have to do something in two months, the gulf of time feels as if it dissolves in a matter of days. At first it may seem as if I have some slack, as if I can shrug it off and say, “Hey, I’ve got two whole months,” but then things become a bit unbearable as the days, almost suddenly, turn into hours or minutes.

There’s that strange feeling in the gut, or the head, or somewhere… I’m not sure where it is, or even what… But it’s there: That your life has been an instant, and its contents seem “thin” or [thus] trivial, somehow.

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A bust of the emperor Marcus Aurelius from L’Image et le Pouvoir: le sicle des Antonins at the Musee Saint-Raymond in France. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

I always say, in regard to myself, that it’s been something like “an hour between now and when I was sixteen.” It often does feel that way. Thinking of it, I’m reminded of a particular moment when time seemed to accelerate, surreal though that may sound:

I was in a buffet, in Waterbury, a city maybe forty minutes away from where I live. I was roughly thirteen. I think I was there for my birthday. I’m not sure. All I know is that somehow, for some reason, I associate the moment that I stepped up to the exit of the restaurant—glass double doors—with a weird contraction of time.

Since then, it’s felt like very little time has passed. And that was eleven years ago.

This is a paradoxical impression, of course, considering that, while often times the past, present, or future seem short, there are also those moments when life is actually quite long.

Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes there’s this creeping feeling that you’ve been alive a thousand years. I mean, again, logically that’s obviously no the case—but it feels that way. This feeling comes to the forefront of consciousness in the examination of remembrance, and especially in recalling something that you’d thought you had forgotten. One of those “oh, yeah!” moments, you know?

A freshly-renewed memory marks a particular point in time, and breaks up the monotonous blur that is often one’s sense of retrospection, and the general notion of what constitutes one’s life. Hence in that “oh, yeah!” or “aha!” moment, you’re compelled to do a double-take, and think, “Well, if I didn’t remember this [at first], what else am I forgetting?”

There’s another way of looking at the problem of “acceleration”: What if the issue isn’t something like “Well, time flies when you’re having fun” or (more simply) “Life is short!” but rather a lack of action, and ultimately a lack of contentment?

Perhaps the dismal feeling one has when thinking “Life goes by too fast!” really boils down to “I haven’t actually used my time wisely!” Even more so, perhaps it’s “I want more” or “I wanted more” or “If I had done this, that, and the other thing, that would have made me proud of myself, and confident, because I accomplished what I felt would have made me happy in a reasonable amount of time!”

That is to say, what we’re maybe, ultimately just looking at is a lack of fulfillment. I think we all have some notion or another that the materialistic, mundane tasks pitched to us by modern, consumerist society and culture—making a lot of money, or having a lot of sex, or being famous—do not really constitute the “good life”. We are, most of us, well aware of other things, things we usually think of as being nobler, some how. Things like love, and peace, and charity, and so forth. Even if we don’t pursue these as regularly as the former, and “fall into temptation,” as they say, we’re aware of the latter, maybe “higher” values.

Yet imagine a person of moral excellence. Even in the pursuit of upright things, is he not, at the end of the day, still itching for just a bit more time? Isn’t even the “good man,” if not afraid of death, infatuated with the prospect of life? Isn’t even the most miserable, suicidal individual, in the back of his mind, thinking “If I just had a happy life… if I just had the means, the time, to make a happy life… If I could just go back in time and start over…” Doesn’t he just want, if not more time, then a better time?

Experience is all there is for us, and experience is entrenched in time—intimately bound to it. All we know, as conscious beings, is “now,” and “then.” For every choice we make, no matter how pure or perfect or pragmatic, in its wake we leave an infinite number of possibilities—“what-ifs” and “had-beens.” And, what’s more, there is no real time to contemplate: Life is relentless, and the seconds press on with locomotive force.

Sometimes, in the midst of this barrage, it seems as if you’re juggling the entire universe.

Certainly, use your time wisely. But also admit to the fact that, in every moment, there are a thousand million ways to act.

Can you, in that moment, “perfect” yourself?

Can you at least try?

And is trying good enough?

As the emperor Aurelius himself said, “Do not act as if you were going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good.”

My Fucking Town

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I did some finagling with a photo found on Trulia. This is the iconic gazebo in the heart of downtown bumfuck, CT.

NOTE: This post is intended to be somewhat satirical. (“Quasi-satirical?”) However, some genuine frustration is expressed here, and, while my choice of words may be a bit abrasive to those whom the subject is a personal matter (i.e. Nutmeggers), please try to understand that this isn’t intended to offend or come off as “whiny,” so much as provide some perspective on being broke in a small town. As the post concludes (at the conclusion, naturally), New Milford isn’t an outright hell-hole, although for the sake of emphasis it may be treated that way. Yes, life could be much, much worse, and I’m not promoting ingratitude here.

(March 1, 2016)

I live in porcelain white Limbo. I’m shacked up with my folks, broke—no car, no nothin’. Connecticut. The cost of living is through the roof, the liquor stores close at 9 and diners stop serving liquor after 10. The bars sell up-charged, watered-down bunk. What am I saying? I don’t even got to bars. I can’t afford that. A Steely is my pride and joy… or a splash of shitty vodka, if I’m lucky. No. I barely ever make it to the package store.

I’m 23. I say to myself, “you should’ve been in grad school, or half way around the world by now. You should have a car, and an apartment. You should be dating, and doing shit. You should…” yada yada. So I sit at home and sleep and then I write about it.

It’s not all bad though. Really. And precisely because this is porcelain white quasi-suburban bullshit-land. I mean, those basic amenities are our blessings, right? I’ve got a roof over my head, food in my belly, and a laptop from which I can communicate to you everything from Paganini to the heat death of the universe. I live in the country with the most disposable income of any developed nation, with the highest GDP per capita. I live in a nation that enjoys all these fruits in a way that it totally unsustainable, and which will eventually crash and burn under the weight of its pollution, over-consumption, and unsustainability, should dramatic actions not be taken. But we have to enjoy the moment, as they say. I’m sort of a curmudgeon, but I try to, anyway.

Let me complain a little:

I live in New Milford. I’ve lived here since 2001, when I moved from Austin, Texas. This town is basically a series of Dunkin’ Donuts and strip malls that opened up along U.S. routes 7 and 202, snaking along the Housatonic. There are auto bodies and a few car dealerships, industrial parks and convenience stores, condo complexes and old white churches with weather vanes or crosses on top.

Roger Sherman once lived here. I’m sure he thought it sucked, too. Anyway, his house is now town hall. There were a few movies filmed here, including that old Adam Sandler bit, Mr. Deeds. Indigenous Weantinock used to live here. I’m sure they enjoyed fishing in the Housatonic long before it became the river Styx. I’m sure they enjoyed the deciduous woodlands long before they were all chopped to shit and replaced with Walmart, Kohl’s, Verizon, and every other boring big box mart.

The demographic makeup of this town seems to mostly consist of pasty white soccer moms. They like to barrel down Rt. 7 in their minivans. Their kids have iPads and think they’re either living in Compton or an underground vampire lair. As you make your way toward Gaylordsville, a little “borough” of the town, you will notice a sharp increase in the number of rednecks, as well as old Methodists. (Throw in a few Catholics, Baptists, and one or two Jews for good measure.) A lot of these people wear plaid button-downs, tucked into their plain jeans. They peruse antique shops and thrift stores and the million fast food places that line the pot-holed streets.

There are no sidewalks to speak of. (Unless you’re downtown, of course.) If, like me, you don’t have a car, this is a living nightmare. I have to play Frogger—crossing four lanes of death—every time I want to buy cigarettes or a soda. If I walk along the back roads I have to make sure to balance myself along a two inch dividing line, a thin margin separating me from sixteen-wheeled hell freighters and farting Chevies.

Did I mention the rednecks? Despite being this far north of Dixie, you see a lot of pickup trucks, some of which are even audaciously adorned with the Confederate flag. The people who command these vehicles are known for tossing empty tins of Copenhagen and cans of Busch Light out their windows. This is part of the reason why we have a thick layer of trash built up along the roads. (I also see—in my many aimless walking excursions—empty bottles of Crown Royal and Sutter Home and little nippers. The other day I found a socket wrench, a saw, and a pair of pants. But I’m meandering, anyway.) They also seem to be the ones most likely to blurt out “faggot!” or some other obscenity, or blare their car horns, as they pass you down the highway when, say, you’re walking home from one of a thousand diners.

The diners, though… I always end up at diners. Not sure how. I just find myself in places like Three Brothers, Windmill, Johana’s, Theo’s—all these fuckin’ diners. And if it’s not in this town it’s in every one of its satellite settlements. Especially Danbury, which is a separate beast altogether.

Don’t get me wrong… I love diners. (Especially when they serve endless coffee for $1.25.) I just get bad déjà vu. Veggie burgers, home fries, spanikopita, challah, little metal pitchers filled with milk, the waitresses that call you “sweetie…” I dunno.

We have five (FIVE!) Dunkin’ Donuts in this town. If that doesn’t portend the apocalypse, I don’t know what does.

We’ve got a million copies of the same bank, always seemingly within spitting distance of each other. There are tattoo parlors and fast food places and stores that sell upholstery and furniture and clothes and a bunch of other boring stuff. It’s really just too much, the monotony of running up and down the same bullshit stretch of road, seeing the same pizzerias, the same bridges, the same empty and overgrown lots, the same nasty creeks… sprinkled with trash.

Downtown—the green and its surrounding “historic village”—is the main attraction, and draws in the majority of the tourists. (Though why you’d want to explore Limbo rather than, say, New York City (maybe an hour-ish away) or New Haven, is beyond me.) We have a stupid green and white gazebo that acts as a kind of symbol for the town. (It’s on our town flag—equally as pitiful.) I remember sitting in there a number of times, once looking over a graffito which read something like “I FUCKED HER HERE!”

Bank Street—so named for the large bank building on its corner—is prime real estate here. Every several months a business seems to close down on Bank Street, presumably unable to keep up with the cost. Some have staid for years: Archway News and Tobacco, the Bank Street Coffee House, a novelty/gag shop, the iconic Bank Street Theater ($5 for movies on Tuesdays) and a health food/organic grocer. But these are the minority. Most businesses on or around Bank Street close up as soon as they open. We’ve had a comic book shop (the owner was flaky?), a music shop, bars (too expensive, and the drunks were loud), furniture stores, clothing boutiques, and a Tex-Mex restaurant (wasn’t that great, anyway) go south.

I used to work at one of the Dunkin’ Donuts around here. It was one of those you see built into the corner of a gas station. Working with four other people on shift, confined to a hundred square foot space, is basically a nightmare. Especially for minimum wage.

Despite shitty customers (and let’s be honest—customer service is basically always taxing), there was some comic relief. Among the throngs of homeless nut jobs who wander the town green, one guy, who calls himself Ed (though he used to say his name was Matt…) would come in and talk to me about the most absurd shit, all while I pumped crappy coffee full of caramel syrup. He didn’t care. He’d lean his big arm on the sticky counter and just start yapping. One time he brought in a plastic bag full of maple seeds. He showed them to me and said, “hey, you see these apple seeds?” I told him they were maple seeds, a statement which he just outright denied, and then he told me something along the lines of, “man, I’m Johnny Appleseed. I’m going to plant these things all over the country.”

“Fair enough,” I told him.

He also once expressed to me that he owned a gold mine, one which so happened to be behind the very Dunkin’ Donuts that I worked at. Or so he said, at least. Funny. I never saw a gold mine. Just a parking lot, a creek, and some crumpled newspapers.

There are a few other nutty homeless people who travel to and fro, from Danbury to New Milford and vice versa. The HART bus (local public transit) is their drunk tank, as it is mine. (Sans drunk… for now, at least.) You see ’em hobbling around the streets, smoking, and just talking. Thankfully they don’t really beg much around here. They just file in and out of the tobacco shop.

When I volunteered at the local soup kitchen I’d encounter some of these characters. One was named Paul. A decent guy. Rumor was that he was a Harvard graduate. Used to ride a bike and smoke a little cherry wood pipe. He died of a heart condition not long ago.

Another was Dougie, or “Banjo Man,” who used to walk around drunk in the middle of the night, singing wildly and strumming his banjo. Once, he came into the soup kitchen asking for extra bagged lunches. (We gave out bagged lunches for later consumption, but the policy was to limit them to one per person per day.) He demanded more lunches in order to feed his “three-headed dogs,” which he supposedly lived with behind the local supermarket. There are, in fact, some bums who camp out there (or who at least used to), but I have my doubts about mutant canines.

Teenagers have nothing much to do here, seeing as this town is basically an open-air coffin anyway. Well, they have a skate park. And a baseball field. And a rowing team and parking lots to stand around it. And we’ve got the Maxx—the name itself makes me cringe—the “teen center” which miserably fails in its job of keeping kids out of trouble. If there were any drug deals going on while I was still in high school, it was always in the parking lot of the Maxx. Strangely enough, there always seemed to be a security guard walking around, though I guess he just didn’t give a shit, or didn’t notice.

There are these obnoxious bikers that fart their way up and down the road, often stopping at one of the trillion Dunkin’ Donuts to hang out in the parking lot for hours on end. Seems that’s what a lot of people do here: stand in parking lots. Unless you’re rich, in which case you probably have a house on Candlewood Lake, and your own pontoon boat, and can take lavish excursions to who-the-fuck-knows. Maybe Tahiti or Barbados or London or Mongolia…

We’ve got gas stations. And a few tattoo parlors. And a frozen yogurt bar. And a library. And golf courses/country clubs. We’ve got little hiking trails and ponds and the lake and some streams. We’ve got people kicking the dirt and picking at their food, drinking coffee and playing pool. We’ve got a few farms for pumpkin-picking and corn mazes, during the fall, of course. They’ve got cows. And the cows have got sheep. And the sheep have chickens. And the chickens have the earth.

Rolling hills. It’s all the rolling hills of Litchfield fuckin’ County. The “green wave” of the local high school. The mascot of which looks like a cracked-out version of Gumby… And we’ve got our fair share of parks and trails: Clatter Valley, Lover’s Leap, Dyke’s Point, the Still River Trail, and so forth. We’ve also got a tiny cave, called Tory’s Cave, which I’ve passed by, but have never been inside of. I hear that a British soldier once hid out there, during the Revolution. I also hear it’s a tight squeeze.

Beneath and along the bridges are graffiti etched out of the rust and painted over the steel. Beneath the big, red bridge on Lover’s Leap are some curious symbols suggesting the sigil of Lucifer, or the inverted pentagram, or just edgy-as-fuck teenagers getting stoned in the woods.

We’ve got mowed lawns and divided highways, back roads and abandoned lots (did I already mention that?), a psychic and a bunch of old, Victorian (-ish?) buildings converted into law offices and insurance agencies. We have a basketball court, a tennis court, gyms, a few marinas for the lake-side yuppies, and a factory or so… I don’t know whether they ever shut down the old Nestlé plant. All I know is that one day it just stopped smelling. I mean, for some reason, when it rained, the whole town would start stinking like urine and beef bouillon. I recall it less than fondly—having to stand there in the foggy morning, waiting on the school bus, wanting to puke.

We have little bits of swampland, criss-crossed with roads and bridges. Some of those bridges and passes are dilapidated, some drenched in spray paint, some overgrown with Japanese knotweed or goldenrod or wild mustard.

All in all, I guess it’s not such a bad town. If you’re rich enough, you can leave whenever you want. For myself, travelling three towns away is a serious ordeal. But that is also a product of my own laziness, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain.

Ah well. C’est la vie.

We’ll All Learn to Love the Cold

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(From Alpha Coders.)

This past year, it became clear to me that the vast majority of the world’s leaders are either suicidal, insane, or both. And not only that! When they go, they want to take you and me with them!

In the face of the current climate crisis very little is being done. It seems that presidents, prime ministers, kings, and chancellors would much rather take short-term economic ease over the long-term survival of the human species. This really is insanity—self-destructive, masochistic, damning insanity—considering that the IPCC’s warming limit (2°C) for dangerous climate change is perhaps only two to a few decades away. (And, according to at least one report by the IPCC, even if we stopped all greenhouse gas emissions today, we would still be “locked in” to a global temperature rise of 1.45°C above the pre-industrial average. (And considering that at the current 0.85 degrees (mean surface temperature above the pre-industrial) we’re already witnessing hugely detrimental effects to agriculture and the environment, a 0.6 degree increase will undoubtedly bring much more chaos.)

Granted, the view that what’s helpful to the environment always comes at the expense of the economy is decidedly wrong. (It seems that way to me, at least. Not to mention a growing number of politicians and corporations…) And it must be! Because we aren’t going to convince billions of people to revert to hunter-gatherer survival, or communal simplicity, when the alternative is a fucking flat screen and a smartphone and a dollar for a McDouble.

This is where anarcho-primitivists (who want or promote said reversion—effectively modern Luddites) and ultra-environmentalists (notably Derrick Jensen—although, to be fair, his critique of civilization is also bound up with notions of anthropocentrism and other, extraneous philosophical stuff) think the world should head (or should’ve stayed) if we want (or wanted) any kind of sustainable, and meaningful, future. They should, however, be aware that they are up against over a billion Chinese and Indian nationals eager to live the kind of unsustainable lifestyle enjoyed by most Westerners at this time. They should be aware that stopping this is next to impossible, and that the best that can be done is to adapt and mitigate NOW, to the best of our abilities.

This whole conundrum, of course, is alarming. And I agree with many of those concerned that modern civilization, especially with its hyper-capitalist bent, is clearly unsustainable. But what can and should be done, instead of a reversion, is an attempt at education, reformation, adaptation, and—as I say—mitigation. “Think globally, act locally,” the mantra goes. Yet the world is in dire need of a global answer to a global problem such as climate change, a problem which is both propelled by the unsustainable scramble for finite resources, and at once also accentuates the current and future lack. (Food and water scarcity seems unavoidable with current projections (including 9 billion+ people on the planet) unless something drastic is done.) The United Nations and the slew of experts behind the IPCC seem to have little effect on the policies of individual nations, and most of these countries are unwilling to do what it takes to save humanity from the inexcusable drove of suffering and death that climate change is sure to bring, should they not act.

It seems, then, that more than ever the future is in the hands of individuals. If we cannot rely on our governments to do anything useful, then it is up to us to make a change that is both local and global in its scope.

If we don’t do anything—and, actually, terrifyingly enough, even if we do something—we ought to learn to love the cold. Because it will get much, much hotter, and much more dangerous. People will be much thirstier and hungrier and the seas will rise and the world will burn. All the more so, I’m just saying, if nothing is done. We ought to take what we can get, you know? Even if we can’t completely stop climate change in its tracks, it’s just sensible to do what we are able to in order to make the future as bright as possible, under the conditions we’ve already brought upon ourselves. (And the rest of the planet’s biosphere.)

My fear is that even the most minimal efforts to combat this won’t really materialize. (Yes, the current pledges by world governments and business leaders amount to less than zero, as far as I’m concerned.) And why, then? Because no one gives a shit. In a lackadaisical epoch of Call of Duty and Oreos, very few muster the courage, resolve, and willpower to tackle the future. And if there is a future to tackle, it certainly is the one just ahead of us.

In summation: Let’s not crash head-on into oblivion, but ease ourselves into the world we want to have, and that we want future generations to have.

Forever and Ever (and Ever and Ever and…)—A Little Rant on the Arbitrariness of All

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(Source unknown.)

“Profound boredom, drifting here and there in the abysses of our existence like a muffling fog, removes all things and men and oneself along with it into a remarkable indifference. This boredom reveals being as a whole.”

—Heidegger

~

A little rant:

What’s the point of being famous if humanity won’t last forever? Who will remember you? What’s the point in trying to do anything with the hope of it being remembered? I mean, look at gravestones. Ever see the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington? Headstones as far as the horizon. A lot of people put a lot of effort into getting those countless blocks in the ground. And yet, when the sun expands into a red giant, every grave on the earth, whether ostentatious or cheap, will be destroyed, along with every other monument and fragment of human civilization. Supposing we create a database that holds all the information about planet Earth and human history, and install it into a generational ship and carry that information to the stars and beyond? What, then, is stopping this monolithic supercomputer from being spaghettified in a black hole or dissolved in the event of the universe’s eventual heat death? I suppose if we have figured out inter-dimensional travel by that point, we can just tunnel into parallel universes for the rest of eternity, escaping the imminent death of each one. Maybe we’ll even find a world where entropy doesn’t exist. Then we can just kick back and enjoy the rest of forever. (And ever and ever and…)

But, anyway, this seems incredibly unlikely. So why do people care about being remembered, or becoming famous? The universe is 13.7ish billion years old. It will continue to exist for billions of years. And yet, even knowing this, so many of continue to squabble over pieces of dirt and pennies on the dollar, neither of which will be here in a million years. Plate tectonics and rising sea levels, globalization and cultural degredation, the modification of language and the unfathomable future we are all beset with… Entrust oneself to change!

So where, exactly, is the human race going, in the end? Will we just continue to exist for existence’s sake, on and on until we go nuts or blow our brains out? (Will there even be brains then?) What happens when we run out of new things to do and try? Will we off ourselves out of pure boredom once every song is written, every painting painted, every book published, every poem heard… every experience experienced?

Science fiction always provides a thought-provoking, albeit outlandish, backdrop: Perhaps the answer is to put humans, or their evolutionary descendants, into flotation tanks of some sort. Then, we can keep them on (what’s assumed to become) eternal life support, and pump them full of feel-good drugs, so all they ever experience is pure bliss. E.g. A strange panacea that, say, mixes the effects of MDMA and heroin, and never causes tolerance. Addiction wouldn’t have to be worried about, since these individuals wouldn’t have to function in society. You’d just have to find space for them in a broom closet or warehouse is all. They could just be butt ass naked floating in these tanks…

Or how about something akin to The Matrix? Rather than Tom Anderson’s dead-end office job, have the denizens of this cybernetic universe live in an eternal play-land, a Cartesian dreamworld-utopia, full of the greatest delights imaginable. How would that be?

I realize that there are many philosophers who have tackled the overarching problems of purposelessness and dissatisfaction in some way or another: Buddha boiled it down to suffering, whereas on the more existential, Western side we find Heidegger, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Sartre, and so forth. It is largely an individual issue. As such, I’ve never really seen it put into the context of humanity’s long-term existence, eventual fate, and function in the universe. So, anyway, I broached the topic.

I’ve also seen the obvious mystical leanings. I like them… I do. The idea of it all being about “knowing thyself” or simply the experience of pure being, or non-being, or whatever way you formulate soteriology, etc. For religionists this may be Nirvana, or Heaven, or Jannah, or gnosis, etc. And, as I’ve implied, the existentialists tackled this issue, but only on an individual level, really. (“What is MY purpose in this world…?”) My question is, what is all of humanity eventually going towards, and what happens when we ultimately run out of things to do? Do we erase our memories (with whatever lightspeed gadgets we’re assumed to have at this theoretical point in the future, or just some kind of hyper-barbiturate, yada yada) and then just start over, ad infinitum? How is it that we avoid nihilism, or even a concomitant antinatalism, as a collective? Does this differ from the way that we give meaning to individual lives?

I know this may come off as a little silly or outlandish. Granted, I wrote this pretty quickly, so pardon a lack of articulation or elaboration. In any case, I think it’s really a pertinent question of how we value the world.

(SEE THIS ALSO.)

Briefly Defending Everything in the Universe (… And an Open Invitation to Debate)

It was in the corner this whole time! (Source unknown.)

It’s about time! (Source unknown.)

So I just put away a pretty potent drink and I feel brazen enough to respond to an ornery YouTuber (and they often are ornery) who seems to have mischaracterized Taoism. Not that I’m a defender of the little faiths, or a Karen Armstrong or Joseph Campbell or Alan Watts, or a New Age burnout wired on superficial impressions of Eastern religions—attempting to find a way out of my cosmopolitan existential crisis. Though I suppose many of us who contend with the ridiculous realms of the inner life maintain a kind of respect for the Armstrongs and Campbells and Wattses of the world, and so we get tired of the idiot impressions of profound spiritualities. I get a bit irked, anyway.

As a preface, I don’t consider myself a Taoist. I do, however, appreciate, entertain, and even accept some [philosophical] Taoist ideas. Taoism is part of a big hodge-podge of many philosophies, religions, and spiritual worldviews that I fit into my nice little eclectic, skeptic, ever-evolving sense of reality.

On a response video titled RE: Taoism is Bullshitrebutting a video in which the hardline atheist narrator calls out Taoism as just another load of crap in line with Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc.the uploader makes some very good points. In particular, he makes a distinction between skepticism and atheism, terms which are used interchangeably by many people nowadays. Sadly, the nuances of these views are lost to know-it-alls who have the entire universe figured out.

Anyway, the uploader’s straightforward and, I would argue, very reasonable rebuttal seems incomprehensible to one commenter, who states:

“Taoism is bullshit, it’s worshipping (sic) a dead pig’s head and the moon, it’s dualistic and calls itself the oneness, it calls itself simple, but it’s hard to remember, understand, just do, can’t be explained, it doesn’t make sense, it’s not simple, nor is it natural and if you think it is you’re mentally retarded. Taoism with its uplifting music is negative, and it’s unknowable that the Tao exists or not, however its existence is possible, Lao Tsu’s probably making it up.”
Here is my response:

“Taoism utilizes duality as a way of appreciating non-duality (“oneness”, as you call it). Hence the symbol of taijitu (“yin yang”), representing the interpenetration of opposites. (Dark can only be known in relation to light, good in relation to evil, etc. Thus they exist by virtue of their relationship with their opposites.)Hard to remember and understand? Taoism is incredibly straightforward: Try to live your life in accordance with the way that things are, and the nature of the universe. Be natural. Don’t fight life–go with it. Understand the inter-connectivity of everything. Lose yourself in the way that things are, and become free.I’m not sure what music you’re speaking of. Yes, religious Taoism (daojiao) has ritual music. But we’re talking about philosophical Taoism (daojia) here.

Yes, of course it’s unknowable whether or not the Tao exists. The Tao is a priori knowledge, conception, and characteristic. The Tao comes before being and non-being. The Tao is not something to be known. It is merely a principle, symbolized by all that is or ever will be. It is merely the way that things are, and the constancy of this self-evident fact. The Tao is the most subtle universalism you can imagine. It is self-evident by the fact that things simply are the way they are. It is not a thing nor a non-thing.

Lao Tsu was not “making anything up”. He discovered an eternal, self-evident principle, one that has been echoed by philosophers and mystics for centuries. What Lao Tsu called the Tao, Heraclitus called the Logos. The Hermeticists and Thelemites call it the All or the Absolute, or refer to it (in the Kabbalistic manner) as Kether (the totality of all things or the ultimate thing). Buddhists call it sunyata (emptiness), or thathata  (sic) (suchness). It is nothing more than the way that things are.”

Now, I would love nothing more than if you metaphysically-minded folks would mosey on over and debate me on this topic. So few people get down to the nitty gritty introspective bits of Eastern religionsrather summing it up as something along the lines of “yeah, man, quantum fields fluctuating in the 11th dimension make the being of non-being really, like (inhale), mystical and shit, and that’s the beauty of the Tarot man, only $22.95 for this healing crystal shaped like Buddha’s dick. Whoa.”

First off please, please don’t take this as arrogance. I’m not here to smell my own farts. (Well, maybe a little.) In fact, I’m writing about this specifically because I don’t have enough people openly debate me on my views. (It gets lonely here behind a screen, and having founded several blogs with no followers whatsoever. (Advertising through pity now…) It’s almost like I’m talking to myself…)
No. I want someone to rigorously and unapologetically smash my opinion to bits. And then shit on it. Unless you agree with me. I always appreciate commonality. I don’t know, man… Either way, please, please utilize the comments section!
To conclude, this is one particular problem that arises when discussing things of the inner lifespirituality, philosophy, and so forth: semiotics. We wouldn’t have any of the above without people getting lost in the terminology, the phraseology, the meanings and symbols and connotations. Many of these profound ideas are inferential, but even more so they are experiential. “Tao,” “dharma,” “sunyata,” and all that are not merely spiritually-loaded ideals, or dogmatized woo woo. They mean nothing if they are not apprehended as experiences.
Just my two cents. Two cents from my kitchen table on a Monday. My glass is empty. Now I’m off to take a nap.
~
P.S.
I apologize if the spacing in this article is terrible. I don’t have the patience or wherewithal to deal with WordPress plugins and all that bullshit. It seems I’ll need a PhD in particle physics if I want to make these blog posts look half way decent. Pakistanis need not worry about missing the gorgeous view.
Also, the YouTube account with which I replied is no longer active. That was a sort of “bullshitting” account. Try not to get salty about some of my abrasive punditry, or some of my former views.

We Are Not Alone

fuck

(Source unknown.)

Ryan doesn’t seem a terribly common name, even if it is unisex. So few people know Ryans—at least around Podunkville, Connecticut—that when I tell them my name they have to do a double-, triple-, or even quadruple-take, attempting to correct themselves.

“Brian?” They’ll ask.

“No, Ryan.”

“B-b-BRIAN? You said Brian?”

RY-an. RRRRy-an. Ryan.”

“With a “B”?”

… Anyway, that’s sort of how introductions tend to go for me. It doesn’t peeve me anymore, really. Now it’s just funny. I fully expect to be, and indeed I am, known as Brian to at least a few people. Primarily a co-worker from Peru.

Have you ever been tempted to go online and look up your name? It’s a strange feeling. Next time you do decide to Google yourself, put your name in quotes (of course). I would then highly recommend clicking the “Images” tab—what pops up can be anything from stiflingly boring, absolutely hilarious, mortifying, depressing, or outright shocking.

The fact is that we aren’t alone with our names. Names, those things that encapsulate us as individual beings… you’d think there would be some inherent sacredness about them. No. Sorry. They’re nearly omnipresent, at least for the majority of us.

Imagine my surprise when I found out just how close to “Jon Doe” “Ryan Stewart” is:

Apparently I’m mostly a sports person, which seems odd, since in this particular incarnation sports are the furthest thing from my mind. But there it is—I’m a footballer, a footballer (“soccer”—doing my best to be culturally sensitive), I’m in the NHL, and I’m at least several tall black dudes who shoot hoops for the Detroit Lions and the Long Beach City College Vikings (what a mouthful), among other ball-handling associations.

I also have the pleasure of being a tech-savvy manager for some fancy Adobe software, as well as a Canadian songwriter. Yes, I’m Canadian. (Two of them, at least.) I’m also from Trinidad, interestingly enough. (I’m admittedly a little envious of this other Ryan Stewart. Trinidad sounds pretty damn good, especially with the ass-kicking (I mean that in a bad, bad way) winters we get here.)

So maybe I’m one of a few million people with Gaelic to their name. So what?

Considering this, I began crediting myself as “Ryan V. Stewart” in my blogs and such. There’s no way that anyone else could possibly be a “Ryan V. Stewart”, right?

Wrong again. But only by a hair: There are two—two—Ryan V. Stewarts other than myself. (Well, that’s what Google can detect with its wizardry, in any case.) Apparently one of them lives in Illinois, and the other one was arrested in Philadelphia for possession of heroin with the intent to distribute.

As intimidating as heroin dealers might be, I have to admit that, after finding this out, I had a little bit of a romanticized, albeit sort of morbid, wish to meet this guy. He’s what? Two, maybe three hours from me? Pennsylvania isn’t so far from yuppie-nutmeg-country. It would have been pretty jaw-dropping to meet another Ryan V. Stewart, much less a Ryan Stewart at all.

It was my intention, as an aspiring writer—of sorts—to quite literally make a name for myself, one that would stand out amid the crowd, the sea of John Does, John Smiths, Sarahs and Ashleys and Chads and Joes. What will I do now? I can’t really use my full name. It just doesn’t roll off the tongue too well. “Ryan Vincent Stewart” doesn’t have the same ring as “John Stuart Mill” or “John Lee Hooker”.

And you know what? It wouldn’t matter anyway. Because, apparently, there’s a Ryan Vincent Stewart in West Unity, Ohio.

Now what lightens the mood a bit is Vincent Stewart Ryan, son of Anthony Ryan, apparently a serviceman in the U.S. Army during WWII. After all this debasing of identity, I got a bit of a kick out of that.

It just goes to show that if you do enough snooping ’round digital space you’ll find all sorts of useless facts about people you’ll never meet, or who’ve been dead and buried for god knows how long now. Maybe that makes me a proverbial “creeper”, or just an asshole, or whatever.

All of this is ultimately the consequence of living in a  world of 7 or 8 billion and counting. What? You expected to be unique? You are one helluva ubiquitous snowflake, my friend.

Maybe, after all, we shouldn’t condemn celebrities for giving their kids such fanciful names as Pilot Inspektor (son of Jason Lee) and Jermajesty Jackson (son of Jermaine Jackson). Then they’ll go down in history without parentheses after their name on the pertinent Wikipedia page; they will be known for something more than the fact that they are the offspring of people who regularly bathe in liquid gold.

Maybe, after all, we ought to start naming everyone John Doe, or John Smith, or…

Drugs of Choice (or, Why I Need Better Drugs)

thirdcircle

The third circle of Dante’s vision of Hell. This circle is the home of the gluttons, those not completely unlike myself on relatively bad days. (Source uknown.)

Food is my drug of choice, and I damn myself for it. Temporarily, that is. Many of us have been through that, or consistently struggle with some style of self-inflicted ass kicking. But then you get hungry again, and it starts over and builds back up to the break.  I eat shit and then crawl up into my head to do a few rounds of “it’ll get better,” watching the words drift out of sight. In a moment I realize that much of that post-indulgent, self-consoling armchair philosophy, all of those machismo-laden aspirations are pretty unnecessary. You know what I mean… you have the entire box of macaroni and cheese—you’ve nearly forgotten the meaning of the phrase “serving size!”—and then afterwards you stand there, uneasy, somewhere way off those mental projections playing out on your mind’s eye, a paradisaical rendition in which you bench wrought iron and walk out the door an incubus…

At some point you just have to watch a button pop off of a pair of freshly ironed slacks and go flying across the room. You have to see it land on the floor or hit the baseboards so that you wake up and shove those flowers down your throat, followed by a large tub of Hamburger Helper. It’s only then, in a moment of glory, that you can admit to it, turn your eyes to the earth, and humbly proclaim, “I’m just a fucking fatass.”

It doesn’t need to get any more complex than that. Really… I mean it’s quite the relief. Because now that you know you’ve got a problem you can, of course, begin chipping away until you expunge from your life every inclination towards pork fat and Boston Cremes. Wipe your brow, raise your hands, and place the cake slowly on the ground.

No, it’s never that simple. Really… because then it’s that chipping away that becomes so tedious… hours at the gym won’t do justice to half of a large pizza on a Saturday evening. You just ate half a fucking pizza. I’m sorry, sir, ma’am, but you are a bona fide fatass. How do you put it, then? … Quid pro quo!

Now let me be clear: you don’t need to be fat to be a fatass. I’ve met fatasses short and tall, rotund and rattling like chimes in the wind. It’s a psychological condition, fatassery. It’s the unassailable connection you’ve got to food. Food becomes a sad savior. The world may be falling apart, but if you’ve got the time and lack of energy to allocate to a box car diner, you may just die happily. Really, is there anything more comfortingly complacent, and yet depressing, than taking so much joy in the simple act of stuffing one’s face? And why, in the first place? You may not even eat when you’re hungry… you may eat out of boredom or to alleviate any one of a myriad of shitty situations. You lost your job? How about we go out for a slice?

It’s no stretch at this point… the mentality of indulgence and routine, lackadaisical waving-aways of reality end up providing you with highs that hit harder and stick longer. Sleep is chief among these. Sleep is my drug of choice.

However, I don’t quite damn myself for sleeping as much as being gluttonous. Because sleep is more universal, you know. There aren’t qualities of sleep more or less hedonistic than food: There is no red velvet cake to sleeping, or if there is, it’s just more subtle. Because unless you’re an insomniac or work the graveyard, do you really envy your neighbor for his Bed of Ware? Unless you recline on nails or your spine is snapped, what is it to sleep that makes it anything other than ideal for everyone, all the time? Sure, doctors say too little or too much is unhealthy, but we don’t disparage over-sleepers like we do over-eaters. We sympathize with excessive fatigue, but frown upon excessive hunger. Or, rather, we could care less that our friend crashed on our couch for 16 hours, whereas if he eats our top ramen we can kick him in the taint. Where are our priorities? Where are our preferences? What is the narcoleptic’s equivalent of fatassery? A sloth? What?

It’s just goes without saying that if people have no obligations or endeavors on a certain day, they might as well, and may very well, continue punching the snooze button until 6 pm rolls around. I often experience this as the fruition of staying up until 7 in the morning. It’s nice to know you’re not in a rush to do anything in particular, although the rebound sets in eventually, and regret pours out of your eyes. At least I was doing something while I was inhaling that burrito. Now I’ve just been comatose for half a day. What did that do, other than to prove that I can waste my precious time? What did it do, other than to show that I have the freedom not to worry, or rather to put worrying off until the strain becomes unbearable?

Masturbation is also a drug of choice. It, too, comes (heh) with the nothing-to-do 20-something package. I mean if you’re really, really bored all day, and don’t even take a step outside for nearly 3 consecutive days, how else do you think you’re going to end up spending your time? And if once, then why not twice, or thrice, or 15 times? Go for the record, why don’t you? You’ll be sorry when you’re sore though.

I don’t want habituation or hubris, just the ability to do things at leisure. Perhaps I’d like a little moderation in all things—as they say—but then what’s to keep that from becoming a new priority? Can you mediate mediation without Jack growing dull? Doesn’t that become a “drug” after all is said and done with? Where’s the standard beyond health or appropriate time management, set for and by oneself? When does my choice fall into a gridlock with my impulses, and then am I really even calling the shots?

These are just some thoughts. But in conclusion, I think I may need better drugs.