Lacking All Conviction

things fall apart; the center cannot hold

Boom! Right in the karma.

by spastictactician

“We have bigger houses but smaller families:
We have more degrees but less sense;
more knowledge but less judgements;
more experts but more problems;
more medicines, but less healthiness.
We've been all the way to the moon and back,
but we have trouble crossing the street
to meet the new neighbour.
We build more computers
to hold more information,
to produce more copies than ever,
but we have less communication.
We have become long on quantity
but short on quality.
These are times of fast foods,
but slow digestion;
tall man, but short character;
steep profits, but shallow relationships.
It is time when there is much in the window
but nothing in the room.”

Now, this is exactly the kind of bullshit I’m talking about.

I’ve seen this quote several times, recently, always attributed to the Dalai Lama (Per Snopes, attributable to Dr. Bob Moorehead, former pastor of Overlake Christian Church in Seattle — Ed.).  As far as I know, he said it.  Frankly, it doesn’t matter to me whether it was actually him, or not.  For all I care, it could be the work of a bathroom graffito at a truck stop or some poor, misguided philosophy student just coming to grips with the fact that he knows nothing.  The point is that its being lobbed around, with very little criticism, as some kind of wisdom saturated guide to self deprecation and analysis of modern society. I’d like to point out, however, that it is actually a pretty good analog for exactly what is wrong with the people who do the speaking for the liberal minded factions of unsatisfied people in the world.

What we have here is someone who has noticed some problems with the way we live our lives, here, in the first world.  There is nothing difficult about that.  There are some really upsetting things about western civilization and some truly horrific ways we behave.  Pointing out the different ways in which we suck is less an exercise in careful research and analysis, and more a “Holy shit! Look at all the fish in this barrel!” kind of deal.  Pretty much anyone who has any sort of perspective on life in developed nations has a problem with it, unless, of course, you’re one of the assholes sitting at the top of Mt. Excess, chucking spark plugs at poor people as they try to clamber up the sides to escape the lakes of bullshit you installed at the bottom just to increase their misery.

It should be really, really easy to write a statement that is 100 percent accurate, doesn’t resort to imagination in place of observation and describes things that we should think about changing in our society.

Instead, the author of this quote has taken a very healthy stride away from reality, put on his “Oh no! Every single thing ever is worse than it used to be!” coloured glasses and vomited this poetic looking puddle at housewives, hippies and people who want to save the earth one facebook update at a time.

There are plenty of parts in this quote that deserve a harsh slap and some serious red pen, but I’m gonna look at just two:

Example of just… horrible judgment number 1: Line 5 – “more medicines, but less healthiness.”

It would take a truly, significantly error prone observer to believe that this is even remotely accurate as an assessment of modern living.  To even sort of believe that people living in first world countries aren’t medically better cared for than ever before is quite close to stupid.  We live in a time where we have medical treatments, procedures, pharmaceuticals and machinery that almost guarantee a life lived into old age.  The fact is that people living in developed nations, (even America, where so many have what some consider to be dangerously substandard health care), almost never die (of illness) before living a full, long life.  We have the ability to defeat or diminish almost every disease or affliction that has ever been considered a scourge to humans.  The fact that there are a few left unconquered is not evidence of how crappy our health has become.  Merely the fact that we can confidently identify what these killers are and that we are actively (meaningfully) looking for better ways to fight them should tell us that we are pretty fucking awesome at this keeping each other alive business.

Example of just… horrible judgment 2: line 9-12 – “We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we have less communication.”

Here, the suggestion appears to be that we have displayed our creative genius and might by creating the most powerful communication devices and networks the world has ever seen, connecting entire populations throughout the world with each other to communicate cheaply, effortlessly, with virtually no limit, but that we waste it by posting bullshit on facebook, instead.  Putting aside the irony of the fact that I keep stumbling over this gem on facebook, there is still so very much wrong with this assessment.  In order to avoid seeing the truly deep, important communication being achieved every moment of every day between people who, in previous ages would never have had the opportunity to even recognize that the other existed, one would have to be, just phenomenally cynical.  Allowing uninspiring, lazy communicators to cloud one’s view of the really excellent communicative ease we enjoy is disingenuous, at best.  Were we to take the worst of everything and judge the total by it, we’d never see positive in anything.  Judging modern communication by teenagers’ texting habits is like judging the relative worth of cinema by Pauly Shore’s filmography.  To not see that science, humanitarianism, literature, art and literally every single worthwhile endeavor humans attempt are being assisted tremendously by our communications advances is not possible for a person who has taken even a perfunctorily honest look.

Anyway… As I said, I think there are more places to hammer at this quote and I may do so in another post.  For now, I’m just happy to have started off my blogging life by unleashing some haymakers at the Dalai Lama.  If we can’t rely on hugely influential world icons with reputations for integrity and honesty to speak with integrity and honesty, it really does not bode well for the average person chiming in with his thoughts while a circle of people tries to hammer out an “occupy” manifesto.  There isn’t a rich asshole in a position of power anywhere in the world who can’t poke this quote full of holes without even uncocking his incredulous eyebrow.  We need you to try a little less hard, Mr. Lama.  The truth is infuriating enough.  Stop making shit up, and try to focus on the stuff that’s actually broken.

To A Young Man Of Strong Convictions

by eataTREE

You are clever. You may even be brilliant. Yes, I know, you are failing, you doubt yourself, you despair. All things proceed as they should. Young men have too much self, and you are too much like yourself right now. You are firm in your convictions and becoming more so as you find ways to commit to your many ideals. You are tight, reactive, passionate; you hurt and will hurt more and this is all as it should be: this is the part where life punches you around for a while.

Stay with me, there’s an upside. Each blow will require you to roll a little bit, to deviate from your principles, to admit that things previously thought clearly determined were perhaps not so hard-edged; that outcomes can require the admission of facts previously unconsidered. You will begin to doubt, to compromise, to admit margins of tolerance within absolutes. And you will find that when you do this, as Life, that bruiser, continues to administer the punches, that in giving way a little not only do you mitigate the pain but that you gain wisdom.

You will learn what is crucial to your identity and and what is, to quote pop culture, pride fucking with you. You will be forced to compromise on things previously thought sacred and to your great surprise it will make you a better person. You will become looser and more mellow. And also, too: you will become cunning. You will learn to be mean when you need to. You will learn to hit back, and not think about the pain you’re going to cause; you will learn to, sometimes, with consideration suppress the empathy which comes so naturally to you. To your even greater surprise this will also make you a better person.

You will learn to anticipate the hits and sidestep some of them, and you will even learn to cherish somewhat life’s pain, because the rain of punches ends only at the Final Bell. You will be tough like leather and flex like rubber and you will be less like yourself but you will be better and stronger and this will be the biggest surprise of all.

It’s going to be awesome. Trust me.

The view from the Canadian suburbs.

by rabbithasbrains

Every friend who engages me in a politically-tinged discussion, irrespective of where they sit on the sociopolitical landscape, walks away with the impression that I disagree with them about everything. I don’t, of course, but my actual views (where they exist) are obscured by the little fetish I make of understanding and sympathizing with differing political arguments, which is to say arguments about all the meaningful choices that we collectively bargain as a society. By extension, when anyone starts a sentence with some analogue of “I just don’t understand how they can actually believe…” I straighten the sleeves of my shirt and enthusiastically start to lay out the arguments and assumptions that go into whatever bat-shit-crazy, but earnestly held (I’m looking at you Ron Paul), belief that they (the friend) are censuring. The odd thing is that where I start with a simple explanation, if I keep at it long enough I actually start to believe what I’m saying; little pointy-words like “freedom,” quickly bifurcate into separate meanings depending on which side of the argument you happen to be defending. “Freedom from poverty,” magnanimous as it sounds, is a head-scratchingly vacuous grouping of words to someone who regards (cherishes, even) “freedom” as an individual’s liberty to pursue a given opportunity without prejudice. Enter the contemporary political landscape of the United States.

The occasional glimpses I get of Fox News (always) and MSNBC (occasionally) leave me disheartened and frustrated; the rhetorical style, slick and emotionally charged as it is, never seems to foster any meaningful exchanges — not a unique observation, I know. But the point is that I engaged in these dialogues out of a yearning to listen and feel heard and somehow it often gets swapped out, mid conversation, for hurt feelings and a reinforcement of some calcified worldview. On occasion, however, mid-defense of a random bat-shit-crazy-Ron-Paulism I suddenly see some connective thread linking our differing values and one of those just-look-at-our-shared-humanity moments passes with a brief, barely noticed, pause and I ask them (again, the friend) “does that reasoning make sense to you?”  Sometimes it does.

Spastic Tactician Tells You How It Is

by spastictactician

My brain works differently than yours. Tourette Syndrome is a son of a bitch. OCD too. I’ve got a conscious mind that I can’t trust to do the things I would like it to, and a subconscious that trolls me constantly. I grew up so damned confused all the time, that I had to develop some coping mechanisms, some hacks to bypass the broken parts of my mind. Chief amongst these techniques is a near constant meta-filtering of my thoughts and ideas. Each thing that pops into my head goes through a three point check:

  1. Is this my thought, or just some random bullshit my jackass of a brain conjured to fuck with me?
  2. Do I want or need this thought?
  3. Based on what I know and believe, does this idea have merit?

Everybody does the third check, to some degree or other.

Most thoughtful people do the second check most of the time.

Not many people would even consider the first one possible, let alone necessary.

The upshot of having a tiresome, involved process in place to evaluate every single thought I have, is that I have become rather good at thinking carefully about what I say or do. Whereas most people can blame their errors on failure to put enough thought into their decisions, I can only blame poor judgement, poor information or faulty beliefs. This leads me to a clearer understanding of where and why I go wrong. I don’t get to chalk up my foul-ups to something I can avoid by thinking before I act next time. If I don’t change something fundamental about what I know or believe, I’m going to make the same mistake over and over again. In short, I make plenty of mistakes, but very few careless mistakes. This sets me apart.

All that to let you know that I see through your bullshit. I am really very good at taking a statement, idea or philosophy, breaking it down to its roots, examining it for flaws, and reassembling it without those flaws. This leaves most statements, ideas and philosophies without the punch the author hoped for. We are so used to exaggerating, adding emphasis, cherry picking, lobbying or lying in order to score points for our side, that we abhor an argument without real knockout power. We just don’t see it stacking up against all the competing BS out there. The common belief is that one can only fight bullshit with an ever larger pile of bullshit of one’s own. I find it very rare to see any truly honest social or political commentary. It is almost all dishonest posturing. And this is why change for the better is not forthcoming.

When those in power are faced with angry masses who won’t keep their arguments intellectually honest, they find it exceedingly easy to publicly dismiss those arguments. The slightest untruth, exaggeration or logical fallacy can derail rather powerful ideology by giving the targets the ammunition they need to punch it full of holes. Once the holes start appearing, the people you hoped to convince get to sit back and watch the whole thing collapse, then turn to each other and guffaw through mouthfuls of champagne, or brandy or whatever you drink in the back of a gold plated Bentley. (Bentley? This isn’t a Bentley, It’s a Rolls. If you can’t get your facts straight, how can we possibly put any credence into what you have to say? Hawhaw. <sip>) The bad guys see what you are doing and they are better at it than you. Choose different methods.

So I rant. I pick apart weak arguments. I find the places the holes will appear and I implore the authors to fill the gaps…without resorting to hyperbole. This almost always leads me to disagreements with people whose ideas I mostly agree with. I come across as a neo con or, at the very least, less than liberal, but, truth be told, I’d be ecstatic living in a world built on the honest of the hippie ideals (but not the patchouli…Please not the patchouli).

You want change? Real, earth rattling, ass saving, hubris delivering change? Start with an argument that is predicated on a good idea, then surround it with truth. Now stop and really think about it. Don’t make a mistake in what you say or do because you didn’t think about it. Then, if you fail, adjust the poor judgement, clarify the shoddy information, or change the faulty belief that let you down. At this stage in history, this should be more than enough to piss people off and stir them to action (or at least to share a link on Facebook).

Ready? Go.


by eataTREE

I admit that I was wildly overoptimistic about it all.

I really couldn’t help it, though. Consider my background: raised in an isolated outpost on civilization’s northern frontier where everyone’s an engineer or a civil servant or a university professor, I came of age with the Internet, a new and magical thing that seemed poised to transform us into our best promise of what the future could be. It really seemed like for the first time in human history universal enlightenment and prosperity was within our reach, a technological post-civilization that would reward us for the beauty of our ideas and that would spread through the world leaving no one behind at last. And so I came to New York, and, flush with the glow of new dot-com employment and the promise of untold riches, I applied for my American passport in the lobby of the biggest and most gleaming building in that big and gleaming city. It was July of 2001 and as I looked up at the towering solidity of the World Trade Center it really did seem like I was helping to build, finally, the shiny future we’d all been promised.

I remember telling my father, in the aftermath of the destruction of the WTC by terrorists and the first economic shock of what would be many to come, that as a young adult in the 1990s I’d somehow got it into my head that peace and prosperity is the natural human condition. How, I asked him in stark disbelief at my own naiveté, could I have possibly ever have held such a silly idea? I guess I held a lot of silly ideas: the previous decade has been a painful exercise in serial disillusionment. The future I thought I was building was merely the final stage in the ascendancy of a new global elite: a billionaire class to whom state power is increasingly irrelevant and for whom the welfare of mankind is no particular priority next to the maintenance of their new controlling share of the world’s money and power. And our new masters, whom I helped steal the store in the name of the Future, have no interest in the old structures and institutions of our society that existed to promote the public welfare and broad prosperity: they have no need of such things, as they are not interested in those ends.

The only thing now clear is that the current order will not hold. I fear that we are witnessing the fall of the American empire of the 20th century; Western civilization will persist in some places in some forms, but it has passed the peak of its influence and a new and, I fear, dimmer age begins. I was there when it all began to end: this is my story.


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