Abnormal behavior

Retirement is an unnatural act.

Perhaps more accurately it is the final act (before the curtains close) in a series of unnatural events that punctuate our modernity. In the extremely short period of time that the concept of retirement has been around it has managed to become so ingrained into our psyche that we don’t even consider that what we are doing is contrary to our biology or even just contrary to basic reasoning and logic.

Let me start my tirade with the industrial revolution. Arguably this is the time where things went both really right for us (as a species). And also really wrong. Although maybe we can just skip the evolutionary anthropology paragraph and just agree that we are not designed to wake up early, caffeinate ourselves to a point of bare minimum functionality, commute to a place (that we hate) where we sit all day in a cubicle farm, under artificial light, replying to email. After which we come home, expose ourselves to more artificial light, sleep for six hours and then repeat the entire process… For forty five years.

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We are essentially large hairless primates. Primates that can cooperate effectively to get stuff done, but basically we are still monkeys. In the wild primates live in large family groups, as did Homo Sapiens, until very recently (on the universal time scale). In fact imagine for a moment that we lived now as we had evolved to. As opposed to all the craziness we have foisted on ourselves. What would that look like?

As a social mammal I would have grown up in a large communal home with my grandparents, my parents and all my siblings. Lets just pretend it’s always worked like this. (in my utopian analogy there are strong property rights and everyone believes in Libertarianism, ha ha) Because our family has never moved, that land belongs to us ergo we have managed to harness potentially the biggest factor in financial independence, inter generational wealth. We pool our resources and share assets like communal appliances and cook communal meals. In fact because there is no food scarcity in our modern world (ie we don’t have to grow our own food or hunt for it), the savings associated with living in community and the level of technology available to us we find that we would hardly have to work at all.

This is obviously in direct opposition to the way we live now. We can’t wait to move out  and get indebted buying our own home. (after getting indebted getting a usually completely useless degree so we can get our awesome cubicle job) Then we have to repurchase everything we had had while we lived with our parents, and then have to work like crazy to afford all this new stuff. If we are considered savvy we save and invest our money so that we can afford to ‘retire’ in our twilight years before spending our final chapter surrounded by strangers in some palliative care facility that our kids have picked out for us on Google. (likely the first or second entry, after all who has the time to scroll anymore)

Not only do we see nothing wrong with living like this, we embrace it. We endeavour to  become a valuable commodity to those who want to sell us pension plans and tiny homes in sleepy sea-side towns.

In a tribal culture you don’t move out. When you procreate your tribe helps to raise your children. When you get old you don’t get sent off to a ‘home’ to die quietly, you live out your life surrounded by your family and the people you love.

OMG. I hate my parents. They drive me mad. And you’re suggesting I live in close proximity to them… forever?

And, I suppose, therein lies the rub.

On the one hand we are encouraged towards independence, we fight for control, seek out power and dominion over others… all the things that make habitat cohabitation socially challenging.  Yet until recently this is how we lived. In some cultures it’s still how people live. It’s just my Western culture seems to have forgotten how to live this way. We perpetuate a broken system that splits up our family’s, destroys our social bonds and makes us poorer, both in monetary terms and in quality of life.  It makes no sense.

I think the misconception is that only new age hippy families live like this. Or poor people. And that you either have to live in a teepee in the woods next to a rusted out Buick or in single room corrugated shack in a shanty. The truth is with modern architecture we can design dwellings that make communal living a breeze. We’d have more money, more free time and likely lead better, more social lives with better mental health.

Probably.

I think we might already be too far gone. Become too self involved. We have taken our biggest asset as a species, our ability to communicate and cooperate and made it redundant. Imagine the possibilities if we worked together like we were meant to instead of trying to do everything on our own. I think that would be quite something.

How are you?

I want to say this ‘kid’ makes a valid point. But then, looking at the handwriting I decided the evidence is not conclusive, this could have been me at age 40, so maybe I shouldn’t rush to any conclusions about the lifespan of the author based on penmanship. Whoever wrote this is clearly a philosopher though.

Why do we ask how people are? Clearly, most of the time we don’t really care. Well… I certainly don’t care how you are, unless you’re part of my niche circle of friends, family and confidants. This trite exchange has been drilled into me since birth and reinforced through social convention and it’s a difficult one to shake.

I have (lately) been trying to end my salutations with hi and hello and not necessarily take it to the next superfluous step. People are reluctant to leave it there though, most of the time I am ‘good’. I mean unless I have a gushing head wound, or other circumstance that may potentially be accelerating my demise faster than I would prefer. But having to constantly underscore that I’m ‘good’ feels like I’m bragging.

I tried briefly substituting other words into the standard formulaic exchange. But quickly found people weren’t really listening to what I was saying anyway. Or if they were listening it quickly becomes awkward for them. Words like irritable bowel syndrome and femoral hernia are like spike traps in the conversation free flow… especially if all you want is a pint and a pack of Marlboro.

In any event, I think we should stop doing it. Drinking, smoking and asking people how they are. Maybe give it up for lent… or take up a 30 day challenge. I think we’d all be better off.

Things girls can’t do

Perhaps, he thought, I should qualify this whole diatribe with some sort of statement of personal bias, lest I inadvertently offended people. Offence is inevitable, I understand that. Especially since I’m the male of the species and therefore the dominant and authoritative voice on the subject matter of gender. God blessed me with some mighty fine (and lets be honest about this, totally above average) junk. And since God is a dude (fist bump) and created me first (in his image) I feel this gives me some sort of divine expertise on the subject matter at hand.

I’m weary of opening with satire. Satire means you might not get dinner. Or risk having a spanner* tossed in your general (girls can’t throw) direction.

*if you’re dating a girl from the other side of the tracks I mean. Initially I was going to write ‘broken bottle’, but I’m trying to give them the benefit of the doubt. Ha ha.

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Despite what I might claim, I am actually still quite prejudiced. I find it disturbingly instinctual and somehow, deeply embedded in the gray squishy stuff inside my cranium. I find myself constantly having to auto-correct my more basic and primordial instincts (that are underlined in red). Outwardly of course I’d like to believe I can function as a seemingly egalitarian paragon, which is how I’d like to behave and be perceived. But it worries me that I constantly need to be battling the sociopath within my own mind.

Let me illustrate my bias with an example.

I was sitting on a plane recently waiting for the boarding procedure to wrap up when the pilot’s voice came over the intercom. You know the usual blurb welcoming you on board, expected flight time etc. Only the pilot was a female. While this shouldn’t have mattered, my reptilian brain immediately took note of this development. The hamster in my mind likes his pilots to be male. Middle aged. And preferably white. Any deviation from this perceived skill set causes him to fall off his wheel and briefly run around his enclosure, wringing his hands and upending his water bowl.

A nano-second later the auto-correct feature kicked in with its soothing logic. After all there is nothing that would suggest one gender (or race) is somehow superior to another at operating an aircraft. I truly believe this.

Still, somewhere in the dark, cavernous interior of my brain, some stray neuron fired that shouldn’t’ have. I suppose one could argue that its some sort of perceived loyalty to my ‘tribe’. And that its that loyalty ascribing some spurious sense of superiority to my own kind.

I suppose that is possible…. I still don’t like it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about equality lately since I have now procreated and produced a girl-children. Before this, in all honesty, I only ever really thought of equality in very broad and dismissive terms.

This is likely because ignorance is bliss. When you are a white heterosexual male (generally speaking) you don’t care. You really don’t. I mean how can you… and why would you? You have no concept of being discriminated against, it’s something that’s NEVER EVER happened to you. It has certainly has never happened to me. Well not that I’ve noticed. And if someone has tried, my brain and ego would immediately override it as ‘Clearly this person is some kind of idiot’ and I would never think about it again. How can I can empathize with something that I have no experience with? I mean I can make some assumptions and maybe hypothesize what it must be like… at best all I’m really doing is upsetting people with my cutesy academic approach and at worst I am just being dishonest. Humans are selfish creatures and when you perceive yourself to be the apex predator what reason do you have to change your behavior?

I generally consider myself a moderate (although really isn’t that just another tribe or label) and I imagine Feminism occupies some point left of me. For a long time I thought Feminism was just a form of extremism. And therefore worthy of derision that comes with fringe politics. It seemed to me they had drifted so far off towards the horizon you could hardly even see them anymore. There they seemed to have pilot fished themselves onto whatever (vegan) creature existed there and now seemed content to fight battles other than the bout they were created for. But then I started wondering what I would do, under the circumstances…. and how angry I would get if this was me who perceived a slight.

The answer is probably very angry.

But how does one rage against something that the other side doesn’t think is really ‘a thing’? And if I do acknowledge that it is a thing, it doesn’t really affect me anyway, so support from me is clearly going to be limited, the status quo totally benefits me. It requires some serious altruism to get my ass off the sofa and try help find a solution to… well… if you guys want to call it a problem then okay…

I don’t have any really good ideas about this. For the most part I’m just talking out loud. I do feel that didactic conversation is better that aggressive debate where one side intractably screams down the other and everyone eventually just resorts to playground bullying and name calling.

To be fair, it’s not really something I have thought about much (until recently). I mean I’ve always agreed with the concept that men and woman should be treated equally. As an aside, I don’t think men and women are equal. (We have different qualities and I think those qualities are impossible to weight and rank in order of superiority). But treated equally, sure I could get behind that.

I was with my daughter on the playground the other day. I was sitting there watching her crawl around and explore one of these big installation pieces. This other slightly older girl had climbed up onto the second tier of the jungle gym. Sitting there, I surmised she wasn’t in any real danger and she seemed quite capable. Only her father swooped in from the other side of the playground and scooped her off the jungle gym. As he took her down he chided her, ‘You need to be careful honey, that’s dangerous’.

Would he have done the same to his boy child? I don’t know. We allow boys to engage in slightly riskier activities while girls are restricted because they might get hurt. Boys falling and scraping all the skin off their knees is a right of passage. For girls it’s an undesirable trait that needs to be discouraged.

For all tense and purposes that dad had good intentions. He didn’t want his daughter getting hurt. But this episode opened up a whole can of murk inside my mind.

We treat boys and girls different right from the get go. How do we expect to create this Utopian society when our social norms are so deeply ingrained in us? Is an egalitarian society just a pipe dream?

I heard this great analogy recently about hypocrisy and speeding. Broadly speaking we appreciate that a speed limit in a suburban environment is a good idea and that setting a speed limit is a societal preference that makes things safer for all of us. Yet at some point, we all break the speed limit and we believe that this hard rule should (sometimes) be bent just for us. It should definitely NOT be bent for that other person though… they are clearly a selfish maniac. ‘Fuck you, buddy, fuck you!!’.

When it comes to equality aren’t we all hypocrites? We talk a good talk. But when it comes down to living these concepts as hard unyielding rules, we struggle. Maybe I should just speak for myself. It seems a bit unfair to paint everyone with this brush. After all I might just be the exception and everyone else is more like the twelve peers of Charlemagne.

I don’t really know where I’m going with this. I just wanted to ramble. I do think that maybe small incremental steps in the right direction is perhaps a better form of attack. You know, slowly boiling the frog as opposed to forcing him into the hot water. With our immediate gratification mindset maybe we’ve forgotten that these things take time. Potentially longer than our meager lifespans will allow. Is the best we can do to build a solid foundation for the next generation to improve on?  Is that potentially our lot in life?

Maybe we should start with all just being a tad more honest with ourselves. I think that could help.

 

Purveyors of domesticated male bovine excrement

I have a love/hate relationship with twitter. I find it quite alluring in so far as it allows you access to the people you like… but I also find it all very Orwellean. Only George called it Newspeak.

‘Newspeak is a controlled language, of restricted grammar and limited vocabulary, a linguistic design meant to limit the freedom of thought’.

But obviously I have bias, my medium of choice being the more ‘long-form’ rant/tirade. Ie The blog. Which in of itself has its flaws (and also likely dates me). But then no medium is ever perfect.

Sometimes when I’m bored I like to search for people that I like. Which is often a mistake. You know that old chestnut; you should never meet your heroes. Well…You should DEFINITELY never (ever) follow your heroes on twitter. Their largely mundane, inane thoughts stripped bare, just left there to rot, like some bloated marine mammal… stop taking selfies and roll it back into the sea already. It’s grim. And often, a little sad. The ubermensch you admire is just a mensch. Twitter kicks Nietzsche in the groin. Nietzsche grits his teeth and mumbles something about ‘what doesn’t kill you…’. Twitter kicks him again. Nietzsche goes down. And stays down.

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Still sometimes I do it anyway. Go onto twitter I mean. It usually starts to go sideways for me with their bio. *Joey rolls his eyes* Bio’s are often hilarious. But not because they’re funny. People either take themselves super seriously. Or attempt wit. It rarely works out that way. Personally I attempted wit… which is not really my forte…. but the alternative is egoism… or leave it blank. The latter seems quite anti-establishment.

Then there is the content. If anything social media has taught me that…

the internet is not all pornography.

But when you subtract the writhing naked humans out, all you have left seems to be the aggrandizement of self, bellicose jingoism, name-calling, carnival barking and hustlers. And… of the social media titans, twitter feels like the most concentrated tincture of all this. At least the pornographers are out there creating actual content. (albeit it warm and sticky)

 

I, of course, have been party to all of this. I don’t pretend to judge myself any less harshly for my complicity. Despite my all my reservations I have in the past been mean and combative for no reason.  I have gotten into ‘robust’ conversations with people who domicile under bridges, perhaps even venturing under an overpass myself now and then. I have ascribed ‘likes’ to things that would likely make me suck air through my teeth if reviewed now. I wish I could take it all back. But I can’t.

The internet doesn’t change you, rather it likely reveals who you really are. Which is quite frightening sometimes. Despite the veneer we like to portray to the world, underneath its often a rotting substrate barely holding everything together.

Sometimes I find it all very dystopian. (then again I lean towards pessimism)

I’ve have however realized that this medium seems to be the ONLY way to communicate with content creators whose work you like. You can send them an email, but chances, they will never get back to you. Some do write back and kudos to them. But for the most part your admiration just gets lumped together in a folder with spam and hate mail and eventually deleted.

This however leads to another problematic area for me; the compliment retweet. Someone says something nice about you and you immediately flaunt it to the world as some sort of achievement. #dopamine. Basically you’re high fiving yourself.  Authors are especially prone to needing this sort of affirmation it seems, especially newly minted authors. Established old hands don’t give a fuck. Whatever happened to graciously accepting a tribute? Or does everything piece of bric-a-brac tossed your way have to be displayed on your mantle-piece? Maybe just the most nauseatingly toadying ones?

I think the biggest issue I have though is the time it takes to manage all this hubris and shift through pages and pages of asinine drivel in search of something to make the economy of effort seem worthwhile. I’m not sure how people justify this? (says the guy who can easily loose an hour of his life on Reddit)

In any event on my deathbed I will undoubtedly be grateful for all the time I spent languishing on social media. Seems unlikely. But maybe I should just follow better people?

The first cut is the deepest

I am never taking a Gillette Mach 3 to my dome shaped melon head ever again! Or to any other body part for that matter. Okay, that’s a lie. I wanted to try some outrage on for size, see how it fits. Turns out outrage isn’t really my color or indeed my cut. (see what I did there)

In the spirit of full disclosure (and other body parts) I did try shave my legs once… which… if anyone had walked in on me would have had them hauling my plus sized carcass out of the bathtub and frantically bandaging me up… all while giving me a serious oration about how ‘life is worth living’.  APPARENTLY there is little to no skill transfer in being able to shave your face and being able to the navigate round the curvature of your knees and ankles with a razor blade. Who knew.

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While I roll my eyes at corporations who wants to moralize and preach ideology in their commercials and press conferences I don’t really mind if they do. I mean really, who cares? Apparently though we do care… enough to get a little bent of shape, suggest boycotts on social media, debate the state of the world (which is completely fucked btw) with our co-workers around the water-cooler and listen to angry soliloquies from our favorite podcast or youtube personality on our morning commute. That doesn’t really feel like time well spent… but maybe thats just me.

Razor blades is a tough space. It looks competitive and while you can make a commercial that glorifies a macho lifestyle the net effect is likely a zero increase in razor blade sales for that particular brand. If you want to blame someone… blame the hipsters and their penchant for facial hair and beard oils. Might as well try a change of tack and appeal to a different market segment… the one who is likely still doing the shopping. But hey, if it doesn’t work out for us… consumers are fickle… and unlikely to remain outraged for long. Strategically, I think its probably not a bad idea.

In any event, while I don’t agree with Gillettes eh… attempt to school me in acceptable behaviour, I am inclined to take the stoic approach to their machinations. If you choose not to be offended… you won’t be.

Easy peasy. Japaneasy.

Its the end of the world

…as we know it. – REM, Document, 1987

And I feel fine?

Many of us like to imagine the things that will end the world. Or is that just me? Perhaps I shouldn’t broadly speculate about what other people do in the bathtub. In my case its usually that, or playing with my U-boat. No, that is not a euphemism. Its an actual scale model U-boat. I thought a plastic yellow duck cast doubt on my masculinity and general Alpha male… eh, ness.

In any event, when I’m not stalking merchant ships in the North Atlantic my mind is drawn to apocalyptic scenarios… like a moth is drawn to the blue light of a bug zapper. I amuse myself with schema that will most likely cause the end times. Asteroids. Artificial intelligence. Anthrax. Which are all very cute (and alliterated) But the real threat ALREADY lives among us! They are known to us. We interact with them every day. We might even be fond of some of them. But these people are the walking, breathing embodiment of the end times. I’m talking about the greatest danger to continued human existence to ever walk the earth, I’m talking about the Baby Boomers.

And their stubborn refusal to die!

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Apparently seventy is the new fifty. My old man just turned 71. He is the walking embodiment of the problem we face. He is healthy, strong and certainly doesn’t fit the mold of the decrepit elderly person he should be by now! There is literally nothing wrong with him, besides the fact that he’s annoying… his doctor gives him a solid thumbs up once a year when he does his full medical. He’s even learnt how to use an iPhone. Which I find mind boggling. He comes from a generation of telex-machines, chalk board stock exchanges and post cards.

The old man is anomalous in so far as he did the much vaunted retirement thing ten years ago. He contributed dutifully to his retirement fund. Did the whole living annuity thing which pays him out until he’s 99. (Which he might actually reach) That’s 28 years away. His mother reached the venerable age of 99. (she was still driving at 90)

This is problematic for two reasons. Well maybe more. Lets see how we go…

REASON 1

Not all Baby Boomers planned for their retirement. Which means they have to carry on working. Which means they stubbornly occupy higher order positions in a company that should be cycling. Only they’re not. Because they’re not retiring… and they’re not dying. So they’re causing this strange bottle neck which cascades down the chain of command. Suddenly the middle manager is in his position longer than his predecessor… the bottom of the barrel guys can’t move up the chain either… because the middle managers can’t move up.

Imagine starting out at a company… instead of up cycling every couple of years, YOU occupy the bottom tier for double the amount of time. More importantly your salary stays the same. ie. LOW. You dare not quit, because there are twenty five graduates with MBA’s and a mountain of student debt waiting outside for your job.

Your twenties and early thirties are supposed to set you up financially. But now being stuck at the bottom for longer means a whole bunch of things. One, if you have student debt… that’s gonna take longer to pay off. And two… less disposable income. Why less disposable income, because old people aren’t dying, plus normal population urbanization means a lack of affordable housing. Just paying your rent in an area where it won’t take you two hours to get to work in the morning is half your salary.

Old people are also going to start putting tremendous pressure on health care. The fact that cancer is now treatable makes the insurance companies very sad. They used count on cancer culling the population. Now people carry on living. The longer they live, the more expensive they become to maintain. Old people fall… break a hip, spend five weeks in the hospital… AND RECOVER. You know how much that costs? Millions. Suddenly the money pool is getting smaller… and smaller… and either they can cut back on what they cover… Or… they can increase the monthly cost to cover the shortfall because the Baby Boomers, like the dusty vampires they are, suck it dry.

REASON 2

Pensions run on mathematical formulas that hypothesize how many people are going to die and when. Up until now its been super accurate. It helps keep the pool of money at a healthy level. In fact pension funds had so much money they didn’t know what to do with it. So they bought shopping malls. Now that people are living longer… anyways… it creates a lot of headaches. Even worse headaches for developed countries like Japan and Germany, where healthcare is free and people rely on government pensions. Those aging populations are economically not a viable anymore… but they’re going to cost a fortune to maintain. And you can’t just let them fend for themselves… because those people vote… and for the most part are politically more active than younger people.

REASON 3

No legacy. This sound a little cold hearted and mean, but its a real thing. Inheritance. The longer your parents live… the less you’re going to inherit. Legacy is a huge builder of inter-generational wealth. Its big part of privilege. The longer baby boomers live… the less there is at the end of the day to pass down to the next generation. Looks like you won’t be able to count on daddies death to pay off that mortgage anymore. (Obviously this might not apply to you…)

REASON 4

Burden. The other end of inheritance. Your parents never catered for their retirement. Or have run out of funds. You can abandon them on the street, which I hear some people do these days. Alternatively you can take them in. And care for them. They bring nothing with them to this particular party and they additionally burden you by eating your food, using your utilities and are continuously asking you to change the channel on ‘The Netflix’. At the same time you have to buy diapers for your insanely expensive toddler, you have to buy diapers for your insanely expensive father-in-law. Even worse if you eventually have to get a carer… or someone to help bath them…

REASON 5

Your boss is an 80 year old. He remembers the war. Which war you’re not entirely certain… but it sounds like he may have actually fought in one… and not, you know, piloting a drone. They used to do that you know… I saw it on History.

You have NOTHING in common with your boss. He doesn’t understand you newfangled marketing ideas. In fact every single idea you pitch him is met with a glazed look. Every day you think about how much you hate your boss… you often think about shooting yourself in the head. You imagine going home…. to your sanctuary. But then remember… that your two screaming children and your father in law have used up all your hot water by now. You re-evaluate why you are actually still alive…

 

The good news is. Well… I’m not sure if this is good news or not. But you too will likely live a really long time. Possibly managing to be a burden on society and your children. If the world hasn’t imploded by then I mean.

Yay us!