Sow in the slough

I’ve been very suspicious of empathy (and by association altruism) since the beginning. Ha ha. It always seemed (to me at least) like a psychological deadfall, meant to pin you down in a bad situation. Especially when empathy is employed (often against you) as a factor in a decision making process. This also likely explains my libertarian bend. I much prefer a more ‘honest’ approach to doing ‘good’ in the world…

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Mr. Lincoln once remarked to a fellow-passenger on an old-time mud-coach that all men were prompted by selfishness in doing good. His fellow-passenger was antagonizing this position when they were passing over a corduroy bridge that spanned a slough. As they crossed this bridge they espied an old razor-backed sow on the bank making a terrible noise because her pigs had got into the slough and were in danger of drowning. As the old coach began to climb the hill, Mr. Lincoln called out, ‘Driver, can’t you stop just a moment?’ Then Mr. Lincoln jumped out, ran back, and lifted the little pigs out of the mud and water and placed them on the bank. When he returned, his companion remarked. ‘Now, Abe, where does selfishness come in on this little episode?’ ‘Why, bless your soul, Ed. that was the very essence of selfishness. I should have had no peace of mind all day had I gone on and left that suffering old sow worrying over those pigs. I did it to get peace of mind, don’t you see?’

-‘Mr Lincoln once remarked’, C Daniel Baston et al , ‘Where is the altruism in the altruistic personality?, Journal of personality and social psychology 50 (1986).

Abraham is my second favorite US president… in so far as I’ve thought about this sort of thing, where one person is ranked over another in a certain sphere of proficiency and (often) perceived personality. Theodore is… and likely always will be my #1. If only because in a celebrity death-match I give more credence to Teddy’s barrel physique and penchant for firearms over Abes tall and wiry build. Although maybe that expertise with axes could count for something…

In any event, be more selfish, do more good.

I am mother

I don’t really do movie reviews. Because… eh.. I’d like to say I don’t watch a lot of tv (because I’m doing all these other amazing things with my life) but really its because my prefrontal cortex never got the critical firmware upgrade… so whenever I try and devote myself to a singular activity that requires a certain level of attentiveness, there is often the accompanying aroma of something (with distinctive odour of polyethylene) burning. Which is a trite way of saying my concentration span is shot, likely addled by years of abusive relationship back and forth with the internet. Besides being a veteran (of life) and having recently procreated another infant, who has the time to commit to two hours of frivolity? Not when the opportunity cost is sleeping.

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Also most tv, these days, is not meant for consumption by sentient beings. Having said that, every so often though, something cool does happen. To me, usually by accident. Enter, I am Mother. Which… as titles go… personally I would have gone for something more… its difficult to say what it is that I don’t like about it, but my consumer psychology brain doesn’t like it… it sounds, uninteresting, drab even.

Fortunately their marketing screen grab also included a robot which gave me pause, thereby gleaning the valuable seconds it took my brain to illicit interest before clicking next.

I am really loathed to link to the trailer because in the spirit of storytelling… the trailer for this movie is a dismal failure which will rob you of some of the joy in watching it. Instead I will just paste the synopsis.

A sci-fi thriller about a teenage girl (Clara Rugaard), who is the first of a new generation of humans to be raised by Mother (Rose Byrne), a robot designed to repopulate the earth after the extinction of humankind. But the pair’s unique relationship is threatened when an injured stranger (Hilary Swank) arrives with news that calls into question everything Daughter has been told about the outside world and her Mother’s intentions.

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I really enjoyed it. And more perhaps more interestingly, it gave a fair number of things to ruminate and mull over post event. There are some compelling philosophical considerations posed during this flick. Ostensibly its lifeboat ethics/runaway trolley car stuff… mixed in with AI and dystopia. All the things that make Joey, if not cheerful, then certainly erect. As in sitting upright, (and paying attention) he added, as an afterthought.

In any event. I was entertained. And since I hate 99% of everything thats got to count for something.

4am

Productivity stroke life hacking. It’s supposedly a thing. You know, where you take on the the stellar habits of ‘successful’ people. I think how it works is that you’re supposed to carefully graft this patchwork of heavily curated and apparently desirable traits onto your personage so that you can be less like you… and more like… Frankensteins monster.

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Being efficient at life is an important skillset, if you cultivate the ability to cram more of it in there… following the trusted maxim of ‘more is always better’, you should definitely be getting up earlier.

I wake up every morning at 4am. Because… well.. I also want to be a winner and be elevated up to a paragon of my kind. In fact ‘Be more like Joey’ should be the mantra on the lips of every neophyte ready to take their first step on their journey to… well  probably damnation (if we are going to be completely honest) but let’s pretend our end point is going to be somewhere nice.

People often ask me how I manage this seemingly near impossible feat of will so consistently. (no one really asks me this, but I’m going to blog about it anyway, because every action requires some sort of societal justification)

The secret to waking up early is easy. Go to bed earlier. I know. Dramatic reveal right there. Of course early evenings come with opportunity cost. I have a threenager and an infant, but I’ve heard some people like to go out for dinner at night to restaurants and do stuff outside of the domicile that doesn’t involve cleaning up after the localised hurricane that passes through on a daily basis. I vaguely remember what that was like.

4am to 6am is my time. I mean it could also be 8pm to 10pm. But I found that ‘me time’ tacked onto the end of my day when I was already tired, like some sort of after thought wasn’t very fulfilling.

Pay yourself first. I think this is actually one of the better aphorisms that gets bandied about and one that I find works for me. I’ve found that I’m a better person (to those around me) when I’ve taken care of my own needs first.

Virtue through selfishness.

Maybe it will catch on.

 

Precipitation. And other things that will get you wet.

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Sometimes I succeed at passing myself off as having some semblance of stoicism… the point on the philosophy spectrum I’d ideally like to occupy. But really, I likely seesaw between cynicism and epicureanism, teetering back and forth, in a very uncommitted fashion. Not actual epicureanism mind you, which was quite a serious philosophy and not nearly as frivolous, or indeed gluttonous as the modern incantation of the word has come to mean. Although I tend to channel the more contemporary hedonistic definition thereof. *Joey takes another sip of wine* (which I stole appropriated from my parents house earlier today)

In my defence, it looks like a bottle that I may have gifted them at some point in time previously, the wine in question being woefully out of place in their otherwise… eh… dim collection. In so far as it is has (according to the description) intense black berries and cloves with hints of dried herbs and vanilla on the nose. A combination of blue berries and black cherries with a firm, juicy tannin with a long finish. 

Wine comes with its own particular brand of bullshit. In my humble opinion anyway. Although maybe I’m just challenged in the olfactory and taste bud department* since I  never experience ANY of that. Maybe I need drop acid and then drink wine… because well, I hate to think I’m missing out.

*which might potentially explain my mad cunnilingus skilz. I jest. I’m probably completely average… well I assume I am having never asked for rating on services rendered. Ego however prevents me imagining myself lagging too far behind my peers on the bell curve.

In true Dionysian fashion I’m combining my wine with Easter eggs. I went snuffling around the study cupboard earlier and found my wife’s stash. After my best puppy dog eyes routine (and then when that didn’t work making a high pitched mewling noise) she acquiesced and said that I might as well just eat them, if only I would shut up. This is how I roll. Sad and pathetic. And then pivoting into annoying (depending on results).

And on that noteworthy stratagem on how to succeed in life I will wish you all good night, Godspeed and an auspicious bowel movement.

Dying for an idea

Tribe by Sebastian Junger is one of my favorite books. A couple of years ago Mr. Junger was on the podcast circuit as a guest, an interviewee I devoured. It was during one of these, I think they were discussing fatalism (its been a while and my memory these days is mostly shot) that Mr. Junger posits the following question, ‘What would you die for, what ideas would you die for?’

On the surface (I think) everyone can rattle off a couple of things they can imagine they could or would die for. Family, close friends, maybe. Whether this is true or not, it’s difficult to judge intent until faced with circumstances in which you are forced to act. Interestingly, I seem to remember the discussion… or maybe this is in the book (or maybe I’m completely misattributing this, I’m too lazy to go look it up right now) about a statistical happenstance that occurs when people fall (or get pushed) onto subway tracks and that people that jump onto the tracks to save them, in cases where they are saved, the rescuer is almost always a young male. (something crazy like 99%)Subway.jpgIn any event, I can think my way through saving actual, individual people with faces. That part of the question never really bothered me, since I could imagine myself dying to save my children for example. Thats an easy one because I feel some deep mammalian instinct there.

Where it becomes murkier, for me at least, is the ideas part. What idea would you be willing to give up your life for?

On the surface of it we are taught (or at least I was) that the American civil war was about the economics of slavery. I’m not going to go into the minutiae of it (and indeed the conspiracy theory aspect). For the sake of my post let us assume this to be true and the only concept. People on the North were against it and the south was for it. A war over an idea as it were.

Only it turned out, that northerners we less inclined to die for this idea (on some muddy field in Virginia) than originally anticipated. Sure some of them were, but the government for lack of enough volunteers to fight for their ideology had to implement a draft (and so forced people to die for this idea).

It’s generally at this point that my libertarian-ness gets all hot and bothered, ie that a government can implement a law that can force you to go off and fight and die for something. Otherwise people with guns will come and arrest you, deprive you of your liberty and if your actions are found treasonable enough, kill you. Just because you don’t want to do something.

Also, as an interesting aside, Theodore Roosevelts father, a wealthy New York businessman didn’t want go off and line up on a field to invite musket balls and grapeshot into his personage. His wife was also a hardcore southern belle whose family were wealthy slave owning Georgians. Theodore Senior hired a ‘body-double’ to fight on his behalf, something wealthy people could afford to do and wasn’t necessarily frowned upon by the upper class elites. Theodore Jr, the later president, took huge umbrage that his father had been (in his mind) so cowardly. It is theorised that this episode influenced Teddy to take on above average risk and adventurism with which to prove his personal honor and valor.

Would I die to oppose slavery somewhere far away? Or fascism? Lots of people fought, died or were injured for that relatively recently. Including my relatives who were on the wrong side of that particular conflict.

The truth is I don’t really know. And I’m finding myself leaning towards probably not. Dying for an idea I mean. Can’t we oppose things we find onerous with facebook activism and blogposts? Maybe product boycotts?

I mean suicide bombers die for ideas that they find troublesome after all… although maybe we need to consider intent there, people going off to fight a war might die, but I imagine that is not their intention, where as suicide bombers mean to die. And therein lies the rub I suppose. Might die in the process versus definitely dying.

For some reason this makes me think of Idmon, the seer that joined Jason and his Argonauts on the voyage for the golden fleece. Being a seer, he knew ‘stuff’ about the future and it was revealed to him that he would die relatively early on in the journey. (I think he was either the first or second casualty) Tough when your party loose their seer early on. I think he got gored to death by a boar… in any event, even armed with this knowledge he was still an eager participant and volunteer because it was revealed that his name would never be forgotten.

Maybe this is the sort of death I can get behind.

Honor bound

‘Dishonor is like a scar on a tree, which with time, instead of effacing, only helps to enlarge’ – Bushido maxim

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Truth be told I am a fetishist when it comes to scar tissue. I’m inclined to believe that they are indicative of either a life well lived, or challenging circumstances that has been overcome (since you are still here). Both are worthy of respect and admiration and I’m drawn to damaged dermis and cracked people in a very profound and liminal way. The proverbial moth towards the flame. Although, now that I think about it, doesn’t the moth die in this analogy? (explains a lot of my relationships actually) In any event, I often find they are the best sort. Those with the rent skin I mean, not the Lepidoptera. And are (for the most part) pure, unadulterated sex appeal.

Although this particular maxim isn’t about physicality, it’s about the things we do alone (in the dark) when nobody is watching. Which is an entirely different kettle of fish.

I suppose I should say that I find most discussions about honor to be problematic. Isn’t honor one of those concepts that is supposed to be exhibited through action and deed, as opposed to discourse and confabulation? (Trying to remember the Paladin entry in my Dungeons and Dragons Players Handbook) Any person claiming to be honorable, after all, is almost undoubtedly met with, at best skepticism, but more likely, derision. (Unless they’re super scary looking in which case you might be better off rolling your eyes in secret… and then only slandering them once you’ve put some measure of safe distance between you and your overly principled adversary)

If you do think you are the honorable sort, best to keep that sort of thing to yourself, lest you grind up against the benchmark of your fellows. They are unlikely to appreciate your keen sense of… eh… moral and ethical superiority. 

Sometimes, of course,  I like to pretend to be some sort of upright, deciduous broad-leaf… but I am likely one of the more knobbly, gnarled and crooked conifers in the forest.

I tend to think of myself as having lots of non-negotiable statues in my life… which I constantly seem to be breaking. Of course I keep these failings strictly to myself, but moralize and gossip over others failing my own rule set.

‘that mother fucker, driving like a maniac down my quiet suburban street’. Of course when I’m in a foul mood and do it, it’s totally fine. Justifiable even.

-Insert further examples of hypocrisy here-

Maybe honor is a percentile game? Given the choice between an ‘honorable’ and the ‘dishonorable’ action you take the achievement award if you choose correctly 51% of the time? (I basically passed my degree like this).

I feel the spirit of the game is more akin to a single instance of wavering on any of the non-negotiables equals immediate disqualification. No take backs, quick saves or starting over.

That is quite serious.

Fortunately the Japanese have another concept I find potentially more appealing than samurai aphorisms. That of Wabi-sabi.

In traditional Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi is a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”.

I’m sure it probably only applies to physical objects… but I’m going to pretend that it doesn’t. This makes my barky exterior much more cheerful.