Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Kiss My Disease

Is there anything these days that isn't a disease or disorder? Hell, does my eye-rolling skepticism toward this pop-psychology bullshit have a cool disorder name as well?

I am Tiger Woods, and saying the greatest golfer on the planet got married too young is a cheap cop-out that misses an essential point: that this is really about a man who has everything and nothing at the same time, a guy medicating with women to fill emotional gaps -- the way some people use food, alcohol, drugs, work and golf on television.

...That hearing words such as "dog" or terms such as "commitment issues" only serves to mask real issues. We use them so people such as Tiger Woods never take the time to Google "Attachment Disorder" or "Love Addiction" or look at how their old man treated their mom and what kind of message that sent to a gifted child who would grow up to respect a game more than his wife.

...When all three fell from pedestals -- and one of them paid the ultimate price for it -- that's not a dangerous trend of infidelity; that's disease.

...When married billionaires bring breakfast waitresses to the family home in the middle of the day after they've already hooked up in a parking lot, that's not sex; that's real affliction.

...When the world's most recognizable athlete uses his Blackberry to text a relative kid in Las Vegas about how much he misses her -- and she's but one of a dozen -- that's not sex; that's sickness.

...Tiger Woods has an emotional void in his life. This void must be huge. For him to be where he is today, this deep emptiness must have consumed him, must be something he has been living with for a long time. Moreover, he has to live with his emptiness while being fully aware that everyone in the world knows just what a manufactured lie his image has been.


Man, it's a good thing someone thought up profound terms like "Love Addiction" and "Attachment Disorder" to explain the heretofore inscrutable mystery of why men enjoy fucking as many beautiful women as they can get their hands on, or why a man would possibly choose the sensuous life of a postmodern king over a quiet life of bourgeois middle-class respectability. I mean, humor me for a moment here -- could it possibly be that people enjoy sex and drugs because they're pleasurable, not because they're actually immature attempts to cope with some hidden trauma that unconsciously motivates our every action?

If humans differ from other animals, it is partly in the conflicts of their interests. They crave security, but they are easily bored; they are peace-loving animals, but they have an itch for violence; they are drawn to thinking, but at the same time they hate and fear the unsettlement thinking brings. There is no way of life in which all these needs can be satisfied. Luckily, as the history of philosophy testifies, humans have a gift for self-deception, and thrive in ignorance of their natures.

- John Gray

We're naturally selfish, unreflective creatures. We enjoy things that make us feel good. We want to have as many of those things as we can, even if they cause us problems later on, even if some of them are mutually exclusive. We try not to think about that, vainly hoping that we'll successfully cross that bridge when we come to it. Tiger Woods is no different than anyone else insofar as he's prone to always thinking that the grass is greener somewhere else. It's just that he already has a life most of us would kill for. That's not a "disease", to never be satisfied with what we have, that's human fucking nature. The best we can do is be aware of it and able to laugh about it. I suppose there might be a few people in the world who just sit calmly, desiring not a thing, contemplating their perfect serenity and unruffled self-assurance, but the rest of us will go to our graves feeling inadequate, unfulfilled in some way, beset by fears and anxieties, wishing we could have had this or done that.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

YY UUUU

I have to partially disagree with Ed (and Heywood) here.* Not on the galling aesthetics of texting or Twittering, no indeed. I've never even read anything on Twitter, let alone used it, and I've never sent a text message -- what, as if having instant electronic mail and a tiny phone you carry everywhere isn't fast enough for all your communication needs? Regular readers know my opinion on the amount of care and attention that should be devoted to email correspondence. And I've had eleven people shot for not being able to tell the difference between "they're", "their" and "there"! So, with my literary snob bona fides firmly established, let us move along.

I think it was reading The Lexicographer's Dilemma by Jack Lynch that softened my attitude on this sort of thing. To wit:

Once again, traditionalists see in these messages a society on the verge of collapse -- young people can't spell, they don't know grammar, they don't know punctuation! But this misses the point entirely. Yes, the writers of these things violate the rules of spelling, grammar and punctuation -- but they do so intentionally. The comic effect comes not from an ignorance of the rules, but from a willful flouting of the rules. If the authors and their audience didn't know what proper grammar and spelling were, those passages would lose all their force. In a way, playful lolcatters and texters aren't ignoring the traditional rules of English; they're depending on the existence of those rules in order to raise a laugh.

[...]

Crystal's summary is probably the wisest take on the whole phenomenon of extravagantly nonstandard English in electronic forums. "Some people dislike texting," he says. "Some are bemused by it. But it is merely the latest manifestation of the human ability to be linguistically creative and and to adapt language to suit the demands of diverse settings. There is no disaster pending. We will not see a new generation of adults growing up unable to write proper English. The language as a whole will not decline. In texting, what we are seeing, in a way, is language in evolution."


There's much more, of course, including plenty of humbling reminders that words and spellings and abbreviations we take completely for granted today as standard and proper were once similarly bemoaned as linguistic barbarities. I remember rules I was taught in seventh grade English that are pretty much obsolete now and would make me look bizarre if I employed them, and I remember some that I choose to pointedly ignore, such as the dispute over commas and periods inside quotation marks. Point being, I like to think I have at least an above-average facility with written words, but I'm sure a professional editor would find all sorts of things to cover with red ink on this blog. Who really cares as long as you get my meaning?

But I repeat: I'm not arguing that text messages or lol-speak are equal to well-crafted prose, obviously not. I'm just saying that most of those kids probably know better, and if they don't, they'll probably learn enough to get by, so relax already. Speaking of which: how much clear writing ability are any of us going to need when we're all working as slaves on Chinese robot farms? I mean, I'd personally love it if we all wrote and spoke like modern-day Shakespeares, but let's be real: most people just don't need that ability in order to succeed in the business world, which is increasingly the only one that mattters.

So it comes to personal taste, then, and like I said, I shudder at the sight of misspelled words and random, erratic punctuation and capitalization myself. I guess I've just gotten to a point where it's not worth the energy to pull my hair out over it anymore. Of course there are countless dolts out there with mundane thoughts and near-illegible ways of expressing them, but when has it ever been otherwise? I'm not usually known for optimism, but it seems like the glass can easily be half-full if you want: mass education and technology have helped create more good writers than at any other time in history. And as much as I'd love to believe otherwise, bitter experience does not show me any solid connection between a person's writing and thinking. Too many people can do one but not the other. Being able to construct a grammatically correct sentence does not necessarily imply an equal ability to think logically, or even sanely. Different parts of the brain involved, I suppose.

As for Twitter itself, it seems to me that the problem is the fact that someone felt it to be a necessary invention in the first place, not the fact that people have to come up with inventive shorthand to stay below the 140-character limit. Again, I say, complain about the fact that the pace of modern life is out of control and always mindlessly speeding up if you want to complain about something threatening to our civilization, not the cosmetic ways people attempt to adapt to it.

*I'm only addressing the parts of their posts regarding language and technology. As for She Who Shall Not Be Named, I couldn't care less what she said or how she said it. Her phenomenon, such as it is, has been exhaustively mined for all symbolism and significance, and seeing as how she seems content to remain a poli-celebrity, unlikely to bother with actually running for office again, I don't see any point in continuing to pay her undeserved attention. Yes, she's the avatar of fucking idiocy in this great nation of ours, but that constituency has always been with us and always will be. She just happens to be a charismatic, photogenic expression of it. There's really not much more to say about it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Six Feet Under


Cold is the hell that beckons onward

- dead horse


Easily up over my knees already, and we've still got all day to go. It's been nearly fourteen years since we've gotten this much snow.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

We Don't Need No Water


TBogg's hilarious even when he's being serious:

If Rahm Emanuel is all he was supposed to be, we can safely assume that the Obama White House either never gave a shit about health care reform, or they managed health care reform so horrifically and incompetently that they are now willing to settle for a “win”, no matter how meager.

I hope they enjoy their Pyrrhic victory because they just burned the base.


Yep, knocked me over with a feather, it did. Anyway, I guess it depends on what you mean by "the base". The people that matter are doing just fine, thanks, getting what they give and then some.

As for the simple farmers, the people of the land, the common clay, you know...let the motherfucker burn! Correct me if I'm wrong, but I do believe a "Pyrrhic victory" means a disproportionately heavy price will be paid. What? Democratic voters are going to tell their abusive politician-spouses to fuck off and die? Go on, pull the other one! And this from a guy who can always be counted on to have a stale Nader joke near to hand!

It's almost certainly true that some of those joy-popping hopey-changey types will let their disillusionment (to say nothing of their looming homelessness) keep them away from the polls in 2010 and 2012, swelling the ranks of non-voters from a rock-bottom 50ish% back to the normal 60% or so. The committed Donklebots, though, will spend the next year terrifying themselves with horror stories about how the next election is The Most Important One Ever (Until the Next One), and if the Rethuglicans/Repiglicans win, well, then this time it will definitely, certainly, absolutely mean the utter destruction of the nation and worldwide catastrophe, we're serious goddamnit, no refunds. Look, Yggy the Stooge is already riding herd, cracking the whip on anyone thinking about bolting. I haven't checked on the other half of the Wonder Twins of Sensible Liberal Punditry, but I imagine Ezra will get around to helping out sooner or later. Maybe Obama can give another speech, and send him into the sort of rapturous ecstasy seldom seen outside text messages between Edward Cullen fangirls.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Norma Scrittura

Even when you've got hold of it, e-mail—so often dashed off in place of a phone call—rarely achieves a high literary standard. And it almost never supplies the biographically useful details that letter-writing did back when the contents of a sealed envelope were the best means of communication over a long distance.

[...]


Although nothing stings quite like being "flamed" over the e-waves, Mallon mourns the passing of the handwritten, or even hand-typed, letter—whether loving or vicious. "The glaze of impersonality over what pops up on that computer screen" spoils what once was the thrill of learning to "recognize the quirks of a person's typing, and typewriter" or a new friend's handwriting, which "has an intimacy and force that can never be matched." Never mind biographers; all of humanity will lose something incalculable as letters—those "tactile couriers"—vanish, to be replaced with "uniform pixels on a monitor."


Mallon quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson's definition of the letter as "a kind of picture of a voice." Handwriting, even if simply a signature scrawled at the bottom of a typed page, has always been part of that picture. Some of Mallon's correspondents, like WWI poet Wilfred Owen, considered letters an embodiment of the letter writer. "It seems wrong," Owen wrote to his mother from the front in January 1917, "that even your dear handwriting should come into such a Gehenna as this." It's hard to feel the same way about e-mail, IM, or a text message. No matter how you receive it, an electronic transmission, with "Forward" just a click away, can never seem as personal, private, or real as a handwritten letter meant for you alone.


- Megan Marshall


I've written sympathetically before about the tendency to cling protectively to one's aesthetic preferences in the face of seemingly inevitable "progress", whether it be people who will always prefer books to Kindles, or hard copies of music to mp3s. So, sure, if you honestly get a tactile thrill from the idiosyncrasies of someone's handwriting on paper, more power to you.

But when oh when are we ever going to stop hearing this mindless romantic complaint about how email isn't as authentic as pen on paper? Why stop there? Why isn't quill and parchment more "real"? What about papyrus for all the anti-paper snobs? Cuneiform script on clay tablets with a reed stylus?

Once again, shallow romantics perceive essence where there is only form. There is nothing inherent in the medium of email that prevents users from creating interesting letters full of wit and personality, addressed affectionately to people they know well. I do it all the time with friends. And I also have old handwritten letters from friends that aren't all that interesting, written in that stilted, uncomfortable style of those who don't spend a lot of time cultivating and expressing interesting thoughts. It's not the tools you use, it's the effort you put into the work. Don't shoot the instant messenger.

Speaking of work, it bears repeating: one thing that has changed in the last few decades is the fact that more people have to work longer hours for declining wages at less rewarding jobs. Thus, all we do with our "labor-saving" devices is use the little bit of time we save to cram in more work in the vain hope of getting ahead -- or, as the case may be, just trying to stay level. And so we see thunderfuckingly stupid products like this made available. In that sense, I can't really blame people for feeling like they don't have the time to make emails into an entertaining event. While myopic aesthetes are sniffling about our declining literary standards, a ravenous all-business-no-pleasure culture is devouring and excreting everything of value it gets its claws into.

One thing you can fairly say about our emails, texts, cell phones, Twitter accounts, etc. is that they've done away with what I would call the formality and ritual that formerly accompanied letter-writing. You used to have to set aside a certain amount of time and effort to do nothing else; you couldn't exactly be writing a letter while cradling a kid under one arm and stirring dinner with your hand, all while balancing a corded phone on your shoulder. Now you can put on your Bluetooth headset and send quick messages on your iPhone, which is connected to the Internet and more powerful than the desktop computer you had ten years ago. Like I keep saying, it's not impossible to sit down and concentrate on nothing else but typing a worthwhile email. It's just that the ever-increasing pace of modern life makes it so that you have to dig in your heels to do it. Our gadgets have made it so that personal communication, something that used to require a little special time and focus, is now just another mindless chore to be done as quickly as possible so that we can chase the next shiny object. And even if you don't want to be that way, the fact that everyone else does it means that you either grudgingly join in or find yourself getting left behind in various ways, some of them financially uncomfortable.

This is where we leave behind the nitpicking over technological minutiae and get into questions of human nature: why are we so easily bored, constantly seeking novelty and stimulation? Why is it so difficult to have a philosophical sense of when enough is enough? Why don't we see that, despite all the rhetoric equating increased consumer choice with freedom, it ironically traps us in different types of anxieities and status games we can never win? Buddhist writers talk a lot about mindfulness, the need to cultivate a sense of how to just be, how to exist in this moment. Focus on what's right in front of you right now, whatever that may be, no matter how mundane you think it is. Focus on the person you're having a conversation with, pay attention to them like you've got nothing else to do, don't spend your time craning your head to look over their shoulder, hoping to see something more interesting happening somewhere else. Carry that around with you, and you'll be surprised how you can find profundity and meaning even in the midst of what you've been conditioned to see as a sterile wasteland.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Everybody's Gettin' What They Need Behind Some Make-Believe

But I just can't bear it when so-called serious journalism twists itself into pretzel claiming that the story is really "important" because it violated some sacrosanct "value" and therefore it is in the public interest to show pictures of hot babes on a loop and endlessly ruminate publicly about sex. (After which, without a pause, they rend their garments over how all this will affect the children.) The Tiger story is particularly grotesque because they are having such a hard time justifying their overwrought, prurient interest that they are reduced to fulminating about how he is despoiling his brand like anyone in their right mind should give a damn about such a stupid thing.

- Digby

I would just note that when your "brand" is worth (according to one article I saw) a cool three-quarters of a billion-with-a-B, then it really isn't all that irrational to be worried about tarnishing it. And let me reiterate that I find this interesting for the fact that even that astronomical sum of money, worldwide adulation and an überfrau who looks like she was assembled to exacting specifications at some Nordic Hot Babe factory wasn't enough to make Tiger feel that the grass couldn't possibly get any greener. Students of human nature, take note.

But what's this? You think this tawdry spectacle didn't violate some important value? Au contraire, mon frère! Expecting hapless celebrities to serve as repositories of our projections or conduits for our feel-good affirmations is as American as cruise missiles! His job was simply to stand there and keep grinning that huge post-racial grin, a charismatic, young, mixed-race guy who succeeded beyond anyone's wildest expectations in the quintessential domain of stuffy old white men, a mirror to reflect our self-congratulatory vanity, a shiny symbol of our hopes and dreams, and now he's, uh - he's...um...

Whoa. Just had a particularly vivid sense of déjà vu. Sorry. Who were we talking about?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Aspiritual

Truer words...

"I'm spiritual but not religious," she once told me, and I was actually impressed. It sounded so smart. At the time. In the context. It's embarrassing to admit what a chump I was. But I was. A tool. A fool. An unwitting enabler of this grandiose self-absorbed bullshit. It wasn't until I encountered the book, Spiritual, but not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America, that I -- suddenly, thunderstruck -- understood it was a context-free cultural meme, a buzzword, a badge of membership in some amorphous faux-community held together only by the vague belief of its members that they are "not New Age."

So I started Mystic Bourgeoisie to explore what else might be hidden under the hood of nicey-nice sentiments and trendy affirmations of the type that are common as dirt here in Boulder, Colorado. Of course, I quickly came to realize that Boulder and Sedona and Big Sur had long ago lost whatever lock they once may have had on the market for mystically rationalized narcissistic personality disorders. Such spiritual-but-not-religious not-really-New-Age notions and nostrums had been packaged, marketed and widely exported, such that -- thanks to middleware mediums such as Hay House, The Secret, and The Oprah Winfrey Show --- they now constitute many of the unexamined "core values" of middle-class, middle-of-the-road America: a.k.a. the Mystic Bourgeoisie.


Emphasis mine. This kind of thing is why I forgive him for taking six months in between posts. Not to mention that he, unlike myself, is willing to actually spend irreplaceable time reading page after page of drivel in service to this insight. I can barely make it through one woo-filled post by Deepak Chopra.

The only useful thing I picked up from geometry class was the fact that every attempt to prove a point has to rest on a given, an unexamined assumption. Somewhere around the time that I discovered a love for philosophy, I realized that this could save one a lot of time in arguments, by looking at what the other person's unexamined assumption was and starting from there. And if there's one common thread running through New Ageism, it's a blissfully narcissistic unawareness of why they believe what they believe.

As an aside, let me reiterate that this also reminds me how much I despise the word "spiritual". I do my utmost to use the terms "reflective", "contemplative", or good old "philosophical" when asked about my non-religious views of the big picture. I think I'm also going to start calling myself an "aspiritualist" to go along with being an atheist. After all, more people seem to believe in some vague, amporphous "Ultimate Creative Force", to use one variation on the theme I recently heard, than in a Big Daddy God anymore. These people need a sharp poke in the eye as well.

But anyway, yes -- it seems to me that this no-man's-land, where pop philosophy/psychology and declawed religion meet, doesn't get enough attention. And I guess I can't blame people with actual brains for considering it beneath contempt and refusing to subject themselves to it. But I do wholeheartedly agree that you have to be somewhat au fait with this stuff to really have a sense of where the average middle-class American gets their values from.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Why?


Your question is: why am I so interested in politics? But if I were to answer you very simply, I would say this: why shouldn't I be interested? That is to say, what blindness, what deafness, what density of ideology would have to weigh me down to prevent me from being interested in what is probably the most crucial subject to our existence, that is to say the society in which we live, the economic relations within which it functions, and the system of power which defines the regular forms and the regular permissions and prohibitions of our conduct. The essence of our life consists, after all, of the political functioning of the society in which we find ourselves.

So I can't answer the question of why I should be interested; I could only answer it by asking why shouldn't I be interested?

- Foucault


But why do you write? - A: I am not one of those who think with an inky pen in their hand, much less one of those who in front of an open inkwell abandon themselves to their passions while they sit in a chair and stare at the paper. I am annoyed by and ashamed of my writing; writing is for me a pressing and embarrassing need, and to speak of it even in a parable disgusts me.

B: But why, then, do you write? - A: Well, my friend, to be quite frank: so far, I have not discovered any other way of getting rid of my thoughts. - B: And why do you want to get rid of them? - A: Why do I want to? Do I want to? I have to.

- Nietzsche

Yes indeed. And yet, and yet... I find myself bored of reading and writing about politics.

I don't mean "bored" in the sense of a spoiled consumer whining for a new shiny object to play with, I mean in the sense of having nothing penetrating or worthwhile to say about it in any event, and being unable to keep away from the Ecclesiastes-style suspicion that all of this is a predetermined farce. A conservative Democrat does exactly the sorts of things he said he would do if elected President, and a bunch of liberals progressives who refused to believe their lying ears are now upset at him for failing to live up to the fantasies they harbor about him. The wingnuts I know are hooting that global warming is now proven to be a hoax, and I simply have no desire to try to argue against confirmation bias. In fact, misanthropy relieves me of the burden of even giving a fuck. Go ahead, deny there's any such thing. Maybe now this ridiculous species will seal its fate.

Hell, I even lack the ability to enjoy the quick sugar rush of lamenting the stupidity of mass culture. Yes, yes, the majority of people are unreflective, maybe even stupid, if you want to be harsh. They always have been. Now, due to exploding population numbers, there's more dimwitted people than ever before. You can only notice this fact a limited number of times before shrugging and moving on to salvage what you can. The Tiger Woods story is only amusing because of how it reveals the universal, irrational mindlessness at the heart of human nature: no matter how rich, famous or unjustifiably venerated you are, you're still going to think, "If only I could have that, live there, stick my dick in him/her, then I'd be happy." Other than that, who gives a fuck? This asshole is famous for playing golf, for fuck's sake. If you want to actually make golf interesting, put some Sarlacci in the sand traps.

But I digress. All I'm saying is: I need to make more of an effort to find more worthwhile topics to comment on. If I don't post very much for a while, I'm not dead, I'm just trying to avoid wasting time, watching the same old clown cars driving by.