A Walk Down Memory Lane. “Scrooge This: The Five Reasons I Do Not Celebrate Christmas”

2020 marks my 8 year anniversary of blogging. As a result, I have been going back and reading some blogs from my earlier years for the sole purpose of using these as a benchmark for determining my own personal evolution as a human being. Do I still agree with the Jimmy of 4, 6 or 8 years ago? As I read some of these earlier entries, I noticed that I largely still agree with myself, yet now tend to possess slightly more nuanced opinions. For example, I have written a couple of blogs on the subjects of relational cheating and monogamy in the past, and largely still hold to those previous positions. However, as I shall post next month, my position has been modified and somewhat crystallized when it comes to these subjects (read: teaser).

For this month, I take a trip down memory lane, December 2014, to be exact, to read of my thoughts towards the Christmas Holiday. As I present to you the article below, untouched from when it was written 5 years ago, I still stand by every word. I suppose the only thing that has really changed is that with each passing year, the notion of Christmas becomes a more distant and unrelatable memory. Frankly, though I still stand by sentiments, in 2019 I’m not sure I even care enough about Christmas to waste my time writing a blog about it.

This being said, I still find people intrigued by my complete Christmas apathy. I would love to read any pro-Christmas arguments you may have as well as any thoughts to contribute to the matter.

Now, Tis the season…to read this blog blast from the past.

Scrooge This: The Five Reasons I Do Not Celebrate Christmas

Now that Christmas is over I feel free to write the blog I have felt compelled to write the entire month of December –though did not do so because I did not want to rain on anyone’s Christmas parade and harp on the negative– and then subsequently be called what I have been labeled for many years, “Scrooge,” followed with an insulting, “bah humbug.”

Our family does not celebrate Christmas–nor Chanukah, Kwanza nor any other kind of December holiday. No lights, no tree, no manger scene, no Santa, no presents, and, above all, no stress –and I love it. So what is the point in writing this blog? I am not out to change anyone’s mind, even if I could. Yet, since I get the question all the time by perplexed and surprised people as to why we do not acknowledge this holiday, I will now put my sentiments in written form and when asked the question in the future, I can simply point to my blog.

In my last entry, I explained how we are like seeds in the fields of culture and it becomes very difficult to objectively be critical of that which is literally a part of us. For many, there is no cultural practice more ingrained into our personal and collective psyche than Christmas –to question it is ludicrous and so iconoclastic as to be completely off the critical thinking table. Christmas is the untouchable sacred cow of the masses, I realize this. So, that said, I encourage you to hear my 5 reasons for not celebrating Christmas with an open mind. Again, I am not out to change anyone’s mind, rather, at the very least, promote understanding that there are legitimate and beneficial reasons for not observing the holiday –and perhaps some take it easy on those of us who choose the Christmas avoidance route and understand we are not awful people, ie. Scrooge.

1. Christmas is great for the economy though very dangerous for the soul.

I believe we all would agree that for the great majority Christmas is about gift giving. At its face, gift giving is a wonderful and edifying practice that nourishes the soul. Yet when we culturally mandate compulsory gift giving, it sucks the spirit and heart right out of the practice; frenzied, tit-for-tat gift exchanges zap any genuine life right out of the otherwise healthy custom.  Our shopping malls turn into crowded, soulless bastions of bargain shoppers robotically hunting for the best deals after they have fought tirelessly for a parking spot –only to typically purchase crap that no one really needs. But, hey, this comes from a guy who believes a part of his soul dies every time he waits in line at a Wal-Mart. I love meaningful and relevant gift giving, yet it means so much more when it comes at unexpected times, motivated by none other than love. I realize not every activity in life will feed the soul, though it is important to avoid activities that will drain it.

2. It goes against the goal of living an emotionally balanced and healthy life.

Things are never as good, or bad, as we think they are.  Perhaps I am only speaking from personal experience, though I have found that whenever we get too emotionally high we can expect a crash landing into the emotional lows of life shortly thereafter.  If we were to compare holidays to drugs, Christmas would the crystal meth…on steroids. “The most wonderful time of the year” is frequently the emotional peak time of the year for many.  I do not blame Christmas and the holidays for depression (contrary to popular belief, depression and suicide rates are not higher during the holiday season; they are highest in Spring time) rather I am suggesting it certainly does not help those of us in the quest of living a life void of major high/low swings. Observing the Christmas holiday contributes to a ‘bipolaresque’ type of up-and-down existence as it embodies the manic stage -at least it did for me.

3. It sends the wrong message to children.

I believe we all know this and acknowledge it -we even make movies about this phenomenon, I am thinking “Jingle All They Way” among others. Like the insane person who never learns from her mistake, we continue to engage in creating spoiled, entitled and materialistic children, instructing them to write letters explaining everything they want to a fictional figure. Can I be blunt? That is just plain fucked up. Why are we messing with our children’s minds in such a way? Is this not a mild form of abuse? I realize culture is so ingrained in us that it is often difficult to be critical of it, yet if one can stand back and objectively observe this practice, just for a moment, it is just wrong; I, for one, do not want to perpetuate this practice. The practice of Christmas teaches children that, above all, we are soulless consumers first and foremost.  When will the consumerist madness stop? We buy things we do not need for the things we do not need. Christmas teaches children we should strive for what we want –not what we need. Christmas has become much more a venture capitalist holiday than a spiritual one.

4. The entire Christmas narrative of Santa, elves, the North Pole, etc…is a lie.

no-christmas-yetMost theological scholars would even agree that December 25 is not the birth date of Jesus. Please understand that I am all for cultural myth and ritual. Totally. Myth plays an important part in the process of understanding ourselves and the human condition…but call it for what it is, MYTH. Can anyone explain why we take a perfectly healthy tree, cut it down and bring it into our house?  I didn’t think so. What is the lesson from myth we can learn from this practice? In the case of Christmas, we blatantly lie about the whole thing. I told our children from the moment they could understand my words that Santa is a lie…that simple. People can go to jail for lying yet we encourage it toward our most vulnerable and gullible of society…and for what reason? I am all down for lies that might protect someone from hurt, yet we perpetually, albeit innocently and with good intentions, lie with the outcome of creating false expectations as we set children up for disappointment at some level.

5. It trivializes and demeans Christian-based religious faiths.

When I used to be a pastor many moons ago, I despised Christmas (which may explain, in part, why I was such a shitty pastor) much more than I do now –presently, I essentially just forget about it altogether.  I could never speak for, or on behalf of God, Jesus, Tom Cruise, Mohammed, or any other deity-like figure, yet, something inside me believes even Jesus himself would condemn the practice of Christmas –for all the ethical reasons I have mentioned.

I collect Jesus junk. Thus far I have Jesus duct tape, a Jesus action figure, Jesus T-shirts, socks, etc… I do this as a reminder how our culture has taken that which is to be sacred, revered and honored and morphed these entities into unholy and profane trivial commodities. Christmas, as we practice it today, trivializes the holiness and reverence of a religion’s most sacred event.  I used to find this disturbing yet today I find this more amusing -as these things act as a constant reminder of the culture I am dealing with on a daily basis.

So these are the five reasons why I choose not to celebrate Christmas. Agree with me or not, I have arrived at these conclusions through analysis and reasoned observation. In fact, I am quite certain many of you agree with me –at least in part on some things. Then, why is it when someone asks me about Christmas and I explain these things, I am then insulted for my calculated decision? Scrooge was not calculated, he was just an asshole. Contrary to some people’s opinion, I am not an asshole. I choose not to partake in the, what I respectfully believe to be, irrational, materialistic, unspiritual endeavor and I get questioned? Our culture has done a really good job of creating this illusion –to the point that the free thinking ones, not taken in by the smoke and mirrors of the holiday, get criticized for their sane and logical conclusions. Again, I am not out to change anyone’s mind, even if I could, but please do not disparage those of us who do not see this holiday as you might see it.

I am very proud to proclaim we have raised four very strong, independent, passionate and free thinking children who all have a very different take on Christmas today. They not only survived an, essentially, Christmas-less upbringing, they have thrived. We all live life to the very fullest.

I guess I just rained on the Christmas parade. Not to worry. You have nearly an entire year to recover.

The New Childhood

Reviews.

Having written just a few, I rarely write blogs concerning the specific content of various media.

I prefer attempting to come up with my own ideas rather than spending a lot of time critiquing others’ ideas. If I am a critic at all it is of culture-at-large.

However, regarding the current book I have just completed, The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World, by Temple University Professor Jordan Shapiro, I cannot help myself. Shapiro has an amazing ability to view the world through an informed lens of human history as opposed to confining his understanding of the world through our current cultural context alone.

When one views the world historically, and I do mean from the beginning of human history as we know it, it becomes apparent our species practices a very consistent behavioral pattern concerning, well, just about everything.

This book is a history, parenting, philosophy, technology, sociology and psychology book rolled up into one cohesive outlook, critically analyzing our current relationship with technology from multiple points of access.

I have typically understood our culture’s relationship with technology through the lens of the dystopian/utopian continuum: that is, there are those who either believe the internet, and technology in general, are leading us onto a path of great dystopian destruction or to a wonderful utopian place of enlightenment and progress…with every view in between these two extremes.

No more.

Shapiro has challenged my thinking in this regard. Yes, both dystopian and utopian views exist, yet I would create a new category for him, perhaps called, a “realist-ian” or better yet, a “justdealwithit-ian.” He has convinced me that this dichotomy is misguided and unhelpful in 2019.

Shapiro looks at human history and examines the invention of the child’s playground sandbox, family dinners, the family hearth, television, clockwork mechanics, the Dewey Decimal system, even penmanship, among other overlooked cultural phenomenon, to assist us in better understanding the human condition and the monumental change technology is having upon contemporary global culture.

Just as with every innovation in human history having its fair share of naysayers, it is not long before the “back in my day” crowd slowly dies off and humanity progresses forward without the irritation of the OFD sufferers (not to be confused with prophet-like critics whose warnings are a needed and necessary aspect of moving forward with discretion).

Engaging in the dystopian/utopian discussion is akin to still giving those who refuse to get a car (“my horse works just fine, thank you very much, the world is too damn fast anyway”), or a computer (“nothing wrong with my Royal typewriter”) or even a phone (“if someone wants to talk to me they can put forward the effort to get on their damn horse and knock on my door”) some credence and validity, as if they possess reasonable objections to these contemporary conveniences.

In other words, “Dystopians, (in my richest Italian accent) get over it already! It’s called progress.”

Shapiro examines historical human innovations and details the strangely similar human reactions have been toward such innovations.

“What is it with these mechanical clocks? Was something wrong with the sun dial?”

He has convinced me that blaming the ills of society on a technology is simply misguided. Rather, any negative outcomes we believe a technology may result in, rests in our incorrect and misguided use and application of it.

“Air bags, shmare bags. I would prefer the old fashioned way of enduring accidents. Death.”

Speaking of which, imagine when the automobile became mass produced and we were driving for the first time as a society en masse: it was some time after that when we figured out stop signs would be a really good idea (1915 to be exact), that speed limits needed to be imposed while a universal lighting system consisting of green, yellow and red would really help us apply this new technology most safely and effectively. It took a while for us to figure out that, say, crosswalks and limit lines would be nice…but that took some trial and error as well, perhaps an accident or two, before we got there. These better ways to apply this new technology did not happen overnight.

Like in the application of most technologies, there is a learning curve. (As an aside, whoever thought of the left turn, red light arrow was just a flat-out mad man who should have been kicked out of the traffic meeting).

Therefore, we need to best figure out this internet technology thing as we are still in the infancy stages of its use.

How do we best apply new technologies? What new “stop signs” do we need to employ? How do we invent digital versions of crosswalks and limit lines? Shapiro asks these questions and more.

So, for a good read, I would highly recommend The New Childhood. Like myself, you may find yourself at odds with some of his extreme progressive positions on certain applications of technologies (for example his strong encouragement for his young boys to engage in, what I would deem, excessive video game play), yet his points are very well taken and his message very much needed in an age when there is no turning back.

But be warned, Shapiro can either be viewed as a utopian on steroids, or simply a person who recognizes that there is no putting the cat back in the bag nor the toothpaste back in the tube. Technologically, it is what it is and this is what it shall be until our next great innovation, at which time we will have to figure it out best practices all over again.

Now, enough reviews. I need to come up with some of my own ideas.

In the meantime, you can find the book here, among other places.

 

 

 

Legacy

I think every family has that “weird” uncle, right? I am quite certain, that in my family of origin, I am that weird uncle to certain nieces and nephews. In fact, I know I am.

However, if you believe this moniker of “weird” is somehow unflattering or disrespectful, you have no idea about my thoughts on “weird.” If interested, you could read about those thoughts here.

In short, I really like people who are different. How boring this planet would be if we did not have eccentric, strange people inhabiting it.

Enter my Uncle Les. My 87 year-old uncle recently passed away from lung cancer. As the one who presided over the funeral while delivering the eulogy, I had a chance to sit back and really reflect on my strange uncle. Though was he really that strange? You be the judge.

Uncle Les never married. He rarely dated, at least to my knowledge, and I was around for 56 of his 87 years. He never had children, or if he did he performed a stealth-like job keeping it a secret. He lived alone with his two pooches in a modest house in the hills of Burbank.

While recently cleaning out some of his belongings in his home, a neighbor came over and informed us he was very territorial and, allegedly, threatened gun play when someone dared park in front of his house or trespass on his property. I do not think he was a violent guy, you know, he just, like, didn’t appreciate unwanted trespassers I guess.

I have plenty of Uncle Les stories, like the time when I was a kid and my family was driving home one night and we watched as police officers were giving a man a field sobriety test…lo and behold it was my uncle.

But that was a long time ago. Uncle Les stopped boozing sometime in the mid 80’s.

Yet perhaps the strangest thing about him was his relationship with money. In our Hungarian family he was known as an “ocho sheggi,” (please do not hold me accountable for the spelling of this phrase) which is Hungarian for “cheap ass.”

To illustrate, often times for Thanksgiving he would eat at the local Salvation Army to save a few bucks. He was generous enough to will me his car upon his passing, and though Uncle Les had plenty of money in the bank, several properties, and a home worth damn near a million bucks, he left me a 2011 Toyota Yaris with crank windows.

I had no idea they still manufactured cars with crank windows in 2011.

You could say he was a “no frills” kind of guy. He actually enjoyed being extremely cheap, saving every penny he could whenever he could. He would brag about how little he paid for things…if he even paid for it at all and was not picking it out of a local dumpster.

But dammit, I loved the guy…a lot. I really did, particularly as he aged. His relationship with money was endearing in a strange kind of way. We would often take him out to lunch or dinner and I would pick up the tab. As I swooped up the $32.49 check to pay, he had a look in his eye like I just bought him a new Tessla Roadster or 14 carat diamond watch.

And, to be fair, he would treat on occasion as well…even if it was the greasy spoon called Harry’s Family Restaurant in beautiful downtown Burbank, where the omelettes are 4.99 though the cockroaches come for free.

But this is not why I write today. I write because Uncle Les is remnant of a bygone era whose values are sadly dying with it. Born circa 1930, a depression era baby, Uncle Les and his ilk did not run out and by new socks when one wore a hole through one – you stitched it back up and off you went.

You valued hefty savings accounts not expensive cars; a “rainy day” fund over fancy clothes. Uncle Les had enough money to do whatever he wanted to do: buy a bigger house, a nicer car, a vacation property or two, but, no. He had developed a lifestyle that he was content with and lived life on his own “ocho sheggi” terms.

So now I, along with my siblings and cousins, am left with what Uncle Les refused to spend and I feel really weird about it. Really weird.

Perhaps my biggest take away is the old adage, that money cannot buy you happiness. Or that a man worked his entire life and saved damn near every penny for the sole purpose of leaving it for the next generation – a next generation that did not include any children of his own.

Uncle Les lived in an age where character mattered and the legacy a person leaves actually meant something.

As we buried Uncle Les we did not bury his legacy nor our gratitude for his profound generosity. As we lowered him down his legacy rose like a phoenix out of the ashes along with our love and appreciation.

I now realize Uncle Les is in many ways a role model for all of us and I am now challenged like never before to consider what legacy I can leave the next generation when my number comes up.

I guess sometimes (Uncle) Les(s) is more…than you could have ever imagined. Thank you. Your legacy lives on.

Heterodox Academy and the Community College System

Below is the published version of my Heterdox Academy blog. Since I have written it a little over a month ago, I have grown in my conviction that it is the community college that resembles the real face of a diverse country.

I encourage each of you to check out the Heterodox Academy website and let me know what you think of the organization in general. From where I sit, it seems to good to be true, though would love to hear your opinion!

 

Heterodox Academy and the Community College System

Old Fart Disease

If any of jimmysintension readers have been engaging with this blog with any regularity, they would certainly know my position on any number of matters- perhaps none more so than my thoughts on what is not so affectionately known as, “Old Fart Disease.”

Allow me to provide some background.

Historically, OFD was a condition that primarily effected those of advanced age. However, current trends suggest OFD may effect anyone at any time at any age. Recent studies out of Brown University do point to the idea that a growing number of young people suffer from this dreaded syndrome, which also knows no race, ethnicity, educational level, gender, class, etc…

Researchers have various theories as to why OFD is spreading in younger populations, though first let us take a look at the symptoms, how to identify the disease, and possible cures.

Symptoms often include phrases such as, “These damn kids today…” or “Well when I was growing up we did not…(fill-in activity/behavior that is now perceived reprehensible by the OFD victim).” Those who suffer from OFD may have feelings ranging from mild irritation or bewilderment on the one hand, to disgust and anger on the other.  In severe sufferers, it can dramatically affect their quality of life as feelings of contempt toward the young pervade their every thought.

OFD sufferers are known to complain about the background music in restaurants and often wonder out loud how anyone can actually like this shit. In addition, you can find them frequently verbalizing about the “crap today they call entertainment.” When dealing with one who has OFD, it is recommended by doctors to avoid contact or attempt to reason with victims as often they will deny the disease while stating they are simply, “set in their ways.”

There are currently no known cures, yet sufferers have found ways in which to cope and manage the disease, so there exists hope. It has been suggested, though not yet clinically tested, that taking a long and honest self-assessment of one’s attitudes can help manage the symptoms (usually with the needed help of a professional therapist). In addition, the afflicted can gain positive results by going back into old journals and recall memories in the attempt to remember what it was like to be the age of those who are now their OFD triggers. Though the side effects of such treatments have not been thoroughly tested, some early inconclusive reports suggest they may include psychological trauma and severe anxiety as they now are forced to have to live in reality, on reality’s terms.

It is recommended that those with OFD staunchly avoid observing younger people in their natural and unsupervised habitats, such as stores and restaurants, or any public event that has diverse age ranges. When dealing with a bout of OFD, it is suggested that one remove themselves from the location of the youngsters and turn off all media that may provide unwanted depictions of the young offenders –depictions that can set off the disease at a moment’s notice. There have been several reports that depressed OFD victims will purchase Tide pods and attend a gaming convention or Comic con in an attempt to end their life.

Unfortunately, many sufferers of OFD never fully recover and live their remaining contemptuous years in semi isolation. Should a victim choose to have relationships, they will typically surround themselves with fellow sufferers. Though such clustering (also known as OFDC, Old Fart Disease Clusters) of those with OFD may provide temporary relief of symptoms, it is known to make the disease progress far more quickly with much less hope of recovery.

As suggested, new research is shedding light that the disease may be spreading to younger generations. Experts have suggested that with the rapid growth of technology, such OFD symptoms are becoming much more prevalent among Millennials and Generation Z. There have been reports of these generations spotting young children in restaurants who are playing on their tablets and mumbling that when they were young children, they “never played on a computer when eating dinner with the family at a restaurant. That is just rude.”

Dr. Henrietta Merlow of Brown University warns, “Though it is strange to see young person acting like an old ass curmudgeon, it is a growing phenomena that we can no longer afford to ignore. It is now quite possible to suffer YOFD, “Young Old Fart Disease.”

Frequently OFD is misdiagnosed. For example, those who might critically assess new innovations in search of their unintended consequences may appear to be afflicted with OFD on the surface. However, though such behavior does mimic some symptoms of the disease, upon further observation they are actually providing benefit to the younger generations.

It is critical that diagnosis is left up to professionals.

If you fear that you or someone you love may suffer from OFD, it is important that you be evaluated for treatment immediately. The longer one remains in the state of OFD the more resistant they may become to a possible cure. If one waits too long, they may become a DOF, also known as a Dead Old Fart

Now you know.

Mad Respect. Thanks Mom.

The other night I was pumping gas at the local Exxon station. As the 87 octane was flowing from pump to Honda Civic tank, in my proactive attempt to avoid the annoying television screen that pops on when you start filling, I stared off into the night. It was not long before I noticed a dark-haired woman of about 50 years of age foraging through a trashcan just a few feet from my car. This is not at all an abnormal occurrence, but, for whatever reason, I seemed to take extra strong notice of this activity on this evening.

As I watched the dumpster diving unfold, it appeared she was looking for recyclable goods, such as plastic containers and cans. I noted her shopping cart, left at the station entrance, was full of both these things as well as blankets and clothes, so it was pretty much a dead giveaway she would soon be off to the recycle bin. We caught a quick glimpse of each other as she looked me in the eye for a quick millisecond creating the briefest of gazes. Then, without the remotest hint of wanting anything from me, looked down in her continued quest for a few dollars’ worth of trade-in goods.

I was actually very impressed with this “apparently-but-who-knows” homeless woman. She did not have a dirty homeless look about her, rather a perhaps “recently homeless” look as if a homeless “newbie” or a woman on the verge homelessness. However, what impressed me about her was, during our millisecond gaze, having the greatest of opportunities to ask me for a handout and not doing so.

As the prepaid $24 worth of gas continued to pump, I realized what this woman was doing. In addition to perhaps providing the few dollars for a meal that evening, she was actually performing a public service. Her trash activity was making all our lives an environmentally better one. She was helping herself yet she was also indirectly helping you and me as well. I wanted to reward her so I reached in my wallet and took out a $20 bill. By this time the woman was on her third or fourth trashcan and now about 30 or 40 feet from my car.

I was thinking: What do I do? Should I approach her? Would this be insulting and demeaning? Dangerous? Is this a really bad idea? A really good idea? If I do approach her, what do I say?

I really just wanted to get in my car and drive off, though my impulse was strong on this cold and very rare, rainy Southern California night.

To better understand my inner conflict, know that I am very big believer in not enabling panhandlers and the like. When I see people giving money to street beggars and such, I am repulsed, as I believe providing money to those seeking handouts only perpetuates the problem and, in turn, creates a much larger one.

This anti-handout position in no way, shape or form applies to those wanting to provide some type of service for a handout -in which case it is no longer a handout rather a payment for services rendered. I will frequently drop a few bills in the tip jar of a street performer or give the guy at the red light a buck for washing my windows as I am stopped.

I also refuse to give because, well, I frankly believe many of those seeking handouts are compulsive liars and are not using the money for basic necessities.

Just a few weeks ago in the city of Redlands, CA, at another gas station (this time an Arco) a man came up to me and asked for some money for gas. I would normally just walk away, though, for whatever reason (am I changing?!?) I told him to pull up to the pump and I would fill his car up for him. He said that was not possible cause the car was several blocks away and he did not even have a gas can. He just wanted the cash.

I politely told him, “good day.”

Now at Exxon, I fought my instinct to drive away as I watched the woman continue to forage. I slowly began walking toward her, still not knowing if when I arrived I would follow through with my giving her the cash.

I was now a few feet from her,

“Excuse me, do you need some help?” I mustered the courage to ask.

She smiled and said yes.

I handed her the $20.

She smiled and said, “God bless you.”

That was about it. Not a lot more to write. Not a lot more to say. She accepted the money and I walked away and she continued in her recyclable endeavor.

However, I must say that, in addition to giving her the money making me feel really good, I realized how much I respected that woman: for both what she did do –recycle otherwise landfill refuse- as well as for what did she did not do –ask for a handout.

As a young teen, my mom once told me that there is never any shame in earning an honest dollar. Of course she told me this as she was getting ready to begin her afternoon cashier gig at the McDonald’s across the street from my high school. Pretty amazing words coming from a registered nurse who was taking some refresher courses to get ready to jump back in the nursing game.

I would take my dearly departed mom once step further…not only is there no shame, there is some mad respect. Deep mad respect. I love you mom.

And thank you woman. Thank you.

Sometimes It Is Better To Just Take The Hook And Forego The Line And Sinker

It seems as the years go by, my aging process is bringing with it an ignited resolve to live in peace with one another. Lest you think I am transforming into a pacifist loving, liberal tree hugger (sorry tree huggers, know I love you too and believe we really do need you), I absolutely LOVE grappling and wrestling with positions and ideas, yet can do so without personal animosity or ad hominem (personal) attacks against a disagreeing party.

I love arguing ideas for the purpose of learning and advancing, yet I detest “fighting” with people. One can argue with me whenever they please, though once a name is called or a personal insult is hurled -which are more indicative of petty fighting and immaturity over the beauty of arguing (hello youtube and twitter)- I am completely out. Which is probably why I am down to having only one social media -two if you count this blog- but that is a different blog for a different day. Uncivil dialogue is really not dialogue at all.

As I ponder my newfound resolve for peaceful and concurrently productive encounters, it occurs to me that one such root cause of the strife and divisiveness found in our current cultural conversation can be traced back to our collective suffixes of ments, ism’s, ist’s, and ity’s.

Nearly all ideological monikers that possess such a suffix must be approached with great caution and a discerning mind.

I am very reluctant to give an example of each as it may seem I am referring to a particular ment, ism, ist or ity: I am most definitely not. This blog does not concern a critique of any ideology or collective belief system in and of itself, rather it concerns the problematic nature of marrying into and identifying completely with ANY such group with this suffix.

But aren’t there both really good and really bad ments, isms, ists and itys? Absadamnlutely, though it is essential we understand the dark side of completely committing to ANY ideology and its thought forms. Once we commit to identifying and being perceived through the lens of an ideological group ending with such suffixes, we must realize we are now potentially placing an ideology over logic and reasoning as we often remain loyal soldiers to our suffixed movement -particularly in the face of an overall very reasonable movement possessing an unreasonable position.

Certainly some ideologies are overall better or worse than some others for the good of society as a whole, yet I will put forth the grounds that there exists no perfect ideology: all ideologies have their flaws. Once one identifies with an ideology or movement, there exists a pressure to conform to this system even when their own personal logic, reasoning skills and even personal intuitions may suggest otherwise.

As with many other aspects of my evolving belief systems in life, I find that I am unintentionally entering a very BuddhIST way of thinking (yes, the irony is not lost on me…just know that I do not identify with this particular “ist” as I am not a Buddhist: as much as I agree with many of its teachings). A writer who applies Buddhist principles suggests, “Millions of human beings have been murdered because the isms and ists applied to them were the wrong isms and ists. It’s pretty simple. Turn something one way and one person’s terrorism is another’s patriotism; turn it the other way and it’s vice-a-versa. Isms and ists can be useful, for example in libraries they can help us sort things. Isms and ists, when used by individuals or groups as descriptions of who they think they are and what they believe, can be, and usually are, a red flag to contraction. It’s often quite flagrant and not particularly useful in clarifying anything.”

After recently viewing the documentary by Deeyah Khan, White Right: Meeting the Enemy, I was deeply saddened as I watched young men (and yes, primarily people with penises who also identify as men) in their personal quest to find some meaning and identity in their lives, being recruited into these white nationalIST organizations. Often the need to identify with a ment, ism, ist or ity is driven by our deep personal needs to feel loved, connected, needed and have purpose in life.

Yet I would argue we can accomplish these same life objectives while remaining an ideological free agent.

Lest you believe I am suggesting we would all be better off without any ments, isms, ists or itys, you would be wrong. We have some excellent ideologies that are providing wonderful sources of positivity and usefulness in our evolution as a culture. Yet, each and everyone one of these movements have their flaws and, left unchecked, can turn an overall positive movement into a less than positive one at best, and a dangerous one at worst. It is certainly possible to be part of an ideological group and remain independent and critical, it is just really, really difficult to do so. It would seem very few can actually just bite the hook while successfully avoiding the line and sinker.

It is so very important that when our “something-is-not-quite-right” personal radars alert us to even the most minor of disturbing occurrence, such as the use of suspect words or behaviors within an ideology, we must take strong notice and listen to that voice of inner reasoning. The dangerous power of the ideology is found in its amazing ability to stop critical and independent thought immediately in its tracks, as if our personal identity is stripped of us in our pressure to conform and serve the ideology.

I personally was involved in an ity for decades and am now ashamed at how many times I ignored my personal radar for the sake of the “greater good” or the “bigger picture.” I suppose when the leader of this ity, who was strongly against the idea of premarital sex, found out his young unmarried daughter was pregnant and was able to convince the flock that she was impregnated without having intercourse, an “immaculate conception” of sorts, I should have turned and run and never looked back.

I was sickened by the whole thing yet still remained true to the cause: ments, isms, ists, and itys can have that effect. It was not until 2006 that I realized I had a brain that did fire a few critical thinking neurons and that I should probably use it.

One of my favorite “ists,” as in AtheIST, Sam Harris, will frequently address the upside of religious communities and what they bring positively to the cultural table, such as community, charity, discipline and good works. However, to put it in his words, why is it necessary to have to believe a bunch of bullshit in order to employ these wonderful practices in one’s life? In my words, it should not take a loyal oath to an ideological dogma, which may result in at least partial intellectual suicide, to practice the good side of what an ideology may bring to society.

Yes, I really do want to live in peace with others as we continue the necessary practice of challenging and refining ideas and thought forms. Loyal ideological foot soldiers frequently stand in the way of such essential dialogues and conversations, and, ultimately, it is both our personal reasoning skills and culture-wide civil discourse that fall victim.

I will remain at the ideological buffet table and pick and choose from each ideology what will best serve myself and others in this short stint called life.

The Potential High Cost of Truth Seeking or Fine, Some Are More Neanderthal Than Others. So What?

What happens when the world of what may be true collides with the world of what we desperately want to be true?

It can get very ugly, very quickly.

So, when political scientist Charles Murray published a book in 1994 concerning intelligence, The Bell Curve, in which one chapter is devoted to the understanding of the role of race and IQ, these worlds collided and it was not pretty.

Since this book was written nearly 25 years ago, Murray has been all but officially banned from the social scientific community and universities -his life and well-being threatened.

In this one chapter, his scientific inquiry led him to the conclusion that race does play a role in IQ in the main, with plenty of outliers. To summarize a complex conclusion based on many variables, his research concluded that of all the populations on the planet, Asians possessed the highest IQ, then something along the lines of whites, blacks and Hispanics.

When I first heard of this book, my first questions were, “What’s the point? Even if there are racial differences in IQ what would be the practical application of such data?”

After listening to an interview with Murray, I never received an altogether satisfying response. He warns of a potentially dangerous “cognitive elite” and something along the lines that social policy should be the product of good science. I am thinking he means policies such as affirmative action, though I am not entirely certain.

He does not sound like a racist, then again, very few real racists sound like racists.

Whether or not Murray is a genius, racist asshole or something in between, is not the point of this blog. I am not a fan of Murray nor have the background or understanding of the brain’s inner workings and its interplay with neuroscience to even have an opinion…and I would bet you don’t either.

I do know the claim that certain groups lack sufficient intellectual skills is one that has been used to argue for slavery, racism, sexism, Jim Crow laws, and eugenics, just to name a few. No level-headed champion of social causes would ever want Murray’s research to be even remotely true.

And this is the point of this blog and the cognitive dissonance I am currently experiencing: When does the search for what may be true need to take a backseat to what that search may cause in terms of social fallout and injustice? If it turns out to be true, that is all racist assholes would need to justify their intolerable and hate-filled views.

I realize that in 2018 we are striving for an equal playing field for all, though I know with absolute certainty there are a lot of people way, way, way smarter and more intelligent than I (in fact I am not smart enough to know if that last word before this parenthesis was supposed to be “I” or “me” or even “myself”). I do think it is an interesting study to find out the effects of intelligence on society and what the advantages the “cognitive elite” have over myself and others while seeking strategies for a more level playing field.

Yet if such a study would cause social upheaval and used to justify injustice, is the price of seeking answers to these questions simply too high?

To illustrate, I recently read a scientific journal article that stated genetic researchers are finding out certain human beings have more Neanderthal DNA than previously believed. “East Asians have about 2.3 to 2.6 percent Neanderthal DNA, while people from western Europe and Asia have retained about 1.8 to 2.4 percent DNA. African populations have virtually none because their ancestors did not mate with Neanderthals.”

I could not help but think that what if those numbers were flipped and African populations were part Neanderthal and not whites and Asians? If this opposite were true, would it be worth reporting this scientific discovery knowing this could propel a racist narrative for those hungry to confirm their racist bias? What is the purpose of reporting such a finding at all if it means providing fodder for evil agendas, i.e. idiots?

Yet as one who concurrently likes to read and seek out such interesting information, I am squarely “in tension.”

I am keenly aware of the role confirmation bias plays in the human psyche -the path of least resistance is simply seeking out “confirming” information and stimulus that provides the backing for what we want to be true and discard the rest. Also, as one who attempts to critically think, the path of least resistance is never the preferred path.

The easiest thing to do in the case of Charles Murray is to discredit the man as a racist asshole and move forward…and maybe he is, yet maybe he is not. Maybe he is man that loves to study one’s intellect and its role in culture, and, for whatever reason, race is studied as part of that larger equation.

I could not tell you.

Perhaps honest scientific inquiry can simultaneously move society backward and forward at the same time. I have far more questions than answers: Is the “truth” always worth seeking out? If scientific inquiry divides people, is there a good point to it? Why study anything by race…why not just study the human race? What are the ethical considerations science must adopt when conducting such research? Or should scientists just do science and allow the social chips to fall how and where they may?

I’ll write another blog when I figure these out and let you know. In the meantime, I have a feeling many more worlds will be colliding in the near future.

 

 

 

 

 

Russia, Fire Balloons, Divide And Conquer: Can You Say Gullible?

Boy are we stupid. Pardon my French…but we are just so fucking stupid.

This month Congress released over 3500 Facebook stories generated by Russian agencies for American consumption directed toward very targeted communities.

All the ads were paid for in rubles.

What was the purpose of Russia attempting to throw out fake and/or redacted stories and ads before and after the election of 2016? Certainly it was to promote one candidate or the other, right?

Wrong.

How do I know this to be wrong? Two reasons: The great bulk of the fake stories concerned very divisive issues such as immigration, LGBTQ rights, and, yes, racially charged stories such as Black Lives Matter. Sure there was some disconcerting fake stories about Bill and Hillary Clinton, though the vast majority did not concern political candidates whatsoever. Secondly, the Russians continued the practice after the election was over. In fact, they actually stepped up their game once Trump was elected.

Now, why would Russia have a vested interest in promoting American infighting and discord, in which we all so happily followed along like stupid ass lemmings marching in lockstep?

I recently heard one explanation and that is we need look no further than Japan’s use of  in World War II.

The project — named Fugo — “called for sending bomb-carrying balloons from Japan to set fire to the vast forests of America, in particular those of the Pacific Northwest. It was hoped that the fires would create havoc, dampen American morale and disrupt the U.S. war effort,” James M. Powles describes in a 2003 issue of the journal World War II. The balloons, or “envelopes,” designed by the Japanese army were made of lightweight paper fashioned from the bark of trees, which would arrive in America via natural wind gulf streams. Thank goodness it never succeeded.

In other words, though the fires would not directly help Japan’s war efforts, the time and energy it would take to deal with these massive fires would provide an indirect benefit in Japan’s war tactics, as the great distraction would direct our American attention away from the war.

Sound familiar? Create havoc, dampen American morale and disrupt? In 2016 Russia successfully pulled off what Japan failed to do in the 1940’s; only this time the fires were not of a physical nature but a social and psychological one.

As these stories blazed through Facebook like wildfire, they successfully segmented us, angered us, divided us, while brilliantly following the Phillip II of Macedon’s war edict to divide and conquer. How better to weaken a country than to have it’s own citizens turn on each other? If we do not get our shit together, the conquer part cannot be too far off.

In my last blog concerning “Cultural Appropriation,” I noted that this term did not exist prior to 2012. It was as if we were worried that are not enough things in 2012 to be pissed off about so we created a new category for people to get their panties in a bunch.

I would not be surprised if Russians inspired this new phenomenon as well.

Our enemies want us to look at life through our identity first and foremost -be that black, white, male, female, gay, trans, Hispanic, Hungarian, you name it. As we our so busy protecting our tribe and warding off those who threaten it, we weaken the collective and, in turn, the country and, in yet another turn, the planet.

I am not suggesting that we should never take up social causes, because we most definitely should. Yet can we not take up social causes in an inclusive manner? Must we draw a plethora of demographical qualifications to be part of any given movement?

How about this new movement: The “stop believing everything we read and getting pissed off about things we should really not be getting pissed off about and come together as one people” movement? Can we give this one a shot?

Some might reason that this is Facebook issue and I understand why one may believe this, yet I respectfully disagree. Facebook just happens to be the chosen platform for the spewing of such propaganda; yet if not Facebook, it would simply be another social media. The problem is not Facebook, it is us and our damned gullibility and lack of critical discernment.

I conclude with a real problem and this would concern the lovely people of Hawaii, who have this little problem called an exploding volcano. As I watch the lava explode and flow while consuming roads, cars and houses, I think to myself, “Now there is a real problem.”

Perhaps the volcano goddess of fire, Pele, is sending us messages to remind us what real problems look like.

And when we read that next “news” story that angers and ultimately divides us, perhaps we can think again.

Thank you Pele.

 

 

Cultural Appropriation, Tribalism, and Unity

I really like to find out how, when and where social issues and trends come into being. So, I ask, how, when and where did the idea of “cultural appropriation” spring forth into the social narrative in just the last few years? Were cultures just way cooler in regards to sharing their stuff way back when in 2011?  Or did subjected cultures just keep their resentment to themselves when different cultural trends were adopted? I suspect a gringo or two wore a sombrero to a Halloween party pre 2012.

According to Google Trends, “cultural appropriation” was nearly unheard of until 2012, as the internet was modernizing and Twitter was becoming more popular.

I am fascinated by the invention of the various social issues du jour. Be it the “White Flight” of the 70’s or the more contemporary uproar over Standing Rock, many of these issues seem to disappear as fast as they enter. Or, at the very least, the dissipation of outrage wanes rather quickly.

So a new politically correct law enforcement unit has been formed, as if the word police enforcers were not enough.

So what is this cultural appropriation trend?

Appropriation is, essentially, taking something from someone for your own personal use. I could appropriate your bank account, take $1000 and use it for my own pleasure. Cultural appropriation is taking something from another culture and doing with it whatever we please.

Before diving into my feelings on the subject, I believe expressing what drives my general fundamental values on this subject is in order. I realize my perspective is coming from a very individualistic, low power distance and low context perspective and I certainly recognize my own biases in this regard.

But that’s ok. We are all products of our varying cultural dimension.

Some time ago, Rene’ and I were having dinner with some friends who happened to be Jewish. We recently attended their daughter’s bat mitzvah so discussing issues of a Judaic/ethnic/religious matter was on the table and “appropriate.” I asked our friends if they would be ok if their daughter eventually married outside the Jewish community.

“No,” he said firmly, “that would definitely not be ok.”

Kind of made me want to crawl under a big, fat, gentile rock.

I mean I get it and understand it. I really do. I once thought that way as well in terms of being, “unequally yoked.”

However, we have no control over our unchecked initial guttural reactions to something and, in this case, it was a feeling of sadness. What if their daughter fell deeply in love with a gentile? What would happen to their relationship? Is that fair to put that kind of pressure on one’s child? I believe love should be between two people who share mutual feelings for each other regardless of religion, ethnicity, gender, politics, etc. and it is only their business and that of no one else…even parents (that’s the individualism in me, I know).

However, what struck me at the deepest level was a more general and overriding value –my disdain for unnecessary societal divisions and further segmentation.

I understand that basic tribalism is a fundamental feature of the human race. We like and need “tribes.” Whether that tribe is a religious community, a family, ethnicity, hell -even as my students would say, a “rave squad”- we like to segment into our preferred groupings. In the above case it would be the tribe of Judah.

As much as I see the necessity of this grouping process for basic human survival, it rubs against my personal grain of social unity and coming together when it is practiced to, what I believe to be, the extreme.

Simply, I like to see society and cultures come together and not further divide based on, well, whatever you want to base it on –race, religion, sexual orientation, customs, traditions, class, etc.

So when I read and hear of people getting upset that another culture is hijacking one of their cultural customs, be it food or fashion, the same unity trigger goes off in my head. Cannot we all be nice and share in the goodness of each other’s culture? Last time I checked there are no cultural trademarks or proprietary laws. I do believe the exception would be in cases where a culture holds something to be sacred and it is appropriated in such a way that does not afford that something the respect it deserves. I totally get that part.

Anna Chen writes, “When cultures meet and mingle, they inform and enrich each other. I can wear tartan, wear pyjamas, knock up a curry, curl my hair, cry along to the blues and dance to funk. I know the difference between a schmuck and a schlemiel. I’ve sat shiva for a friend’s father. I love gefilte fish. Does this make me a cultural appropriator?”

Good question. It’s 2018, who knows?

It is ironic that something with such good intentions as a desire for cultural unity can be perceived as something disrespectful or insensitive.

I love hip hop and rap. Yikes.

When in Croatia I purchased the Croatian national futbol team jersey. Whoops.

Hell, I even own a pair of bright orange FUBU shorts. Why? I ask myself the same question.

I really solicit feedback on this issue. Please help me see what I am missing. Again, I understand those things a culture holds sacred and dear should be afforded a high level of respect. I would hope a Muslim would not use the Bible as toilet paper in the same way I would never use the Koran as such. Conversely, I want to respect a book or custom a culture holds dear whether I subscribe to it or not.

Please. I want to share my Hungarian Kapoosta with you all. I want you to enjoy my Hungarian national treasures: Zsa Zsa and Eva Gabor. Goodness, I’ll even throw in Olympic Volleyball player Karch Kiraly.

This whole issue kind of makes me wonder what we will be outraged by 5 years from now. I am sure we will think of something.

Humans seem to never fail or disappoint in this regard.