Friday night news

Not feeling like doing the Big Think tonight (hey, even visionaries take the day off now and then) and so tonight will be simple personal reportage with the usual amount of rambling and whatnot.

Gotta watch out for that whatnot.

First, here’s today’s video.

Sorry for the poor audio quality. Guess I still don’t know where the damned microphone is on my tablet.

More on Joe’s car problems : On Tuesday night, Joe’s “check engine” light came on. Being a sensible guy, he immediately took his car to the dealership. That meant he needed to rely on Felicity and his father for rides while the car was out of commission.

Luckily, it was just some little part that needed replacing. But of course, they had to order the part in (my theory is that auto repair parts never actually stock any parts) and that meant the whole thing took another day.

Which meant the car was not ready until yesterday, Thursday, and that just happened to be the day his car insurance ran out. Isn’t life fun?

And then today he has a weird (for him) shift. Poor Joe! What a series of curveballs.

Compared to that, the mild disruption that was my having to be dropped off early was nothing. I had a pleasant meal at IHOP. Took me a while to make up my mind what to have because I was super hungry, but I enjoyed my choice. It was a pot roast melt…. just pot roast and cheese, pan toasted melt style. Very simply and quite tasty. Plus fries, of course,

After all, this IS Canada.

I was a bad boy and had dessert. Hot fudge sundae. It tasted good, but it was too small to be six bucks, so… would not recommend. But who goes to IHOP for dessert?

What with all the pancakes, waffles, french toast, and crepes, most of their entrees are desserts anyhow.

Afterward, it was a very short walk to therapy. Like, not even a full block. I do believe I have found my new breakfast spot for when this sort of thing happens. No offense to Denny’s, but the food is slightly cheaper at IHOP and having such a short trip after was really, really pleasant.

Therapy went fine, although I continue to worry that we don’t seem to be getting at the real deep dirt lately. I suppose it is up to me to steer things into darker and more therapeutic directions instead of just skimming the surface with whatever I have been talking about on my blog lately.

One thing we did talk about is my sense that other people have this feeling, somewhere deep down, that they are not alone. It’s not all up to them. And I am not talking about religion, although that is the face this phenomenon usually wears.

This is a deeper and more powerful sense of not being alone, and I think you get it from your parents. Either they were there to pick you up when you fell down and comfort you when you were upset, or they weren’t, and if they weren’t, you had nothing to internalize as your base level feeling of safety in the world and you are left adrift, emotionally abandoned.

Studies have shown that in many mammals, the quality of early care has a dramatic and possibly permanent impact on an animal’s life. Rats that did not get enough licking in their first week of life grow up to be more easily frightened, panicky, and even die earlier than rats who got the right amount of licking.

Monkeys raised apart from other monkeys when they are infants end up as hostile, anti-social adult monkeys who can only view other monkeys as threats and who will never, ever learn to properly socialize with other monkeys, and likely will never even have sex with another monkey.

No word on whether bullied monkeys can also end up the same way.

So I am intensely aware that something went drastically wrong with me. I can see in others that which is missing in me, and it is profound. They have a basic sense of safety that I will never have, not even if I lived in a mansion filled with the latest security systems surrounded by an army of security personnel. I will always have this sense of constant vulnerability and exposure, or at least I will bear the scars of having it.

It seems odd, but the only thing that fixed that feeling of constant danger was Paxil. We live in an age where we can chemically cure psychological trauma, or at least treat the symptoms. No doubt if I were foolhardy enough to stop taking my Paxil, a lot of that would come back to me real, real hard.

When I think about the true scope of wrongness and just all that I am missing, it is hard not to just gape at the horror of it all. It is the sort of thing that stuns the mind. I feel like a lot of my immobility has been caused by this sort of thing. I am too keenly aware of how broken I am and how much I am missing that should have been there right from the start.

But sooner or later, you have to pick your jaw up off the floor, dust yourself off, and take a good hard inventory of the assets you DO have. And I have a lot of them. Gifts unavailable to the more traditionally socialized among us. Things do grow strange in the dark, but some of those mutations are beneficial. I’m a wizard with words, I have a rich imagination, I am hella smart. Ans so forth and so on.

Now if I could only fix this busted transmission that keeps all that from driving me forward, I would have all I need to go out there and conquer the world.

All I have to do is get the hell over myself already.

Any minute now.

I will talk to you nice people again tomorrow.

The irrationally rational

I have talked about this subject before, but I feel like taking another swing at it tonight.

Rationality is extremely powerful. It is one of the most powerful factors in the extraordinary and unparalleled success of the human species. Our prefrontal cortexes not only allow us to inhibit our instinctual emotional responses and thus give ourselves a chance to choose our actions instead of merely reacting to stimuli, but they also allow us to recognize patterns in our knowledge of the world and make predictions based on that knowledge. This lets us pursue complex non-immediate goals and opens a world of possibilities unavailable to other animals who cannot “think ahead”.

Because of this extraordinary power, there has historically always been the danger of slipping into believing that rational reasoning is all you need and that you can, in a sense, abdicate your humanity in favour of living in the comfort of the understandable, predictable, and sensible world of rationality.

As far back as the ancient Greek philosophers, there was a feeling that one could deduce absolutely everything about the world and the universe via pure logic alone. This, we can assume, was a great comfort for philosophers, who overwhelmingly tend to be the sort who would rather stay home and think than go out there and actually find things out.

But this sort of rationalist escapism is a terrible trap. It is all too easy to be so dazzled by the wizardry of rational inquiry that one forgets that one is still a living, breathing, incarnate human being who has needs, desires, and fears which have nothing to do with rationality and which cannot simply be wished away or eternally suppressed by force of will.

Clearly, a course of action which involves ignoring all the variables that we don’t like to think about cannot be considered rational, and any human being who attempts to walk around with their head entirely in the clouds should not be surprised to find themselves bumping into things and in general doing very poorly at life.

But still, the siren song of rationalist escapism calls. Throughout the ages, thousands of mystics, monks, scholars, and philosophers have sought to escape the messy, petty details of reality and move into the clouds on a permanent basis. This is, in fact, the entire basis of all forms of asceticism. The idea of trying to “purge” yourself of worldly concerns and attain some sort of state of holy purity via self-denial is solely based on rationalist escapism, whether you’re a Babylonian mystic traveling through the desert in search of wisdom, a self-flagellating monk in a cell praying to God, or a hyper-rationalist philosopher looking for a “higher Truth” that supposedly will set you free.

Free of what? Free of humanity, of course. The rational parts of our mind, quite irrationally, think they can escape the ugliness and messiness of things like emotions and bodily needs. This is an illusion created by the fact that pursuing certain lines of reasoning makes us feel as though we are distancing ourselves from “worldly” concerns, and this makes us feel that it must be possible to complete the process and detach entirely.

But what would that even look like? Without emotion, there is no motivation, and without motivation, there is no action. Even the desire to escape via reasoning is, in itself, an emotion. Without the rest of our mental apparatus, the rational parts of our mind are nothing but computers without operators, gathering dust, waiting for someone to turn them back on.

And no matter how certain lines of logical reasoning make you feel (another emotion), you are still the same limited irrational mysterious human being you were before your flight into rationality. There is no true transcendence, no way to overcome all the non-rational parts of your mind and move entirely to some hypothetical “higher plane” that clearly cannot exist. Transcendentalism lies. You cannot escape the game by playing the game.

The only real transcendence is in self-acceptance, not denial. Spiritual wellbeing requires us to recognize, embrace, accept, and integrate all aspects of ourselves into our conception of ourselves. Only then can we feel whole and complete. Only then can we forgive ourselves for being human and move on in life as strong, confident, happy individuals.

Rationalist escapism keeps this from happening. It blocks the necessary growth. It keeps you pursuing its impossible dream of a purely rational existence and denies you the kind of deep, intuitive, subrational truth about yourself that leads to greater happiness and fulfillment in life.

You can analyze yourself all you like, You can come up with all the plausible sounding explanations for your troubles in the world. You can impress as many people with how bright and insightful you are as you want to. But until you are willing to take a hard look at yourself without the protection of rational make-work and comfortable detachment, you will never understand who you truly are under all that rationalist razzle-dazzle and if you don’t know who you really are, you stand absolutely no chance of becoming who you really want to be.

So ignore the siren song of rationalist escapism. Accept that you are a messy, flawed, imperfect human being with petty desires and self instincts, and learn to love yourself for who you really are instead of hating yourself for not being someone you can never, ever be.

Someone who is no longer human. Someone who never makes mistakes, who never does anything stupid, who is only motivated by the highest and noblest of emotions and who never feels confused, vulnerable, lost, embarrassed, un-confident, or lonely.

Nobody escapes being human. If it seems to you like someone has, then you are merely letting your impression of them overwhelm you. They are as human as you or I or that homeless guy down the street who smells like pee.

We all have tiny areas of competency in the vast sea of human endevour. None of us are anywhere close to perfect and there is no amount of thinking that will make it so.

Now put down that rationalist kaleidoscope, and go out there and have fun.

I will talk to all of you nice people again tomorrow.

My life as chess

I am starting to feel like I having been playing a game of chess inside my soul for my entire life without knowing it.

Nobody can see the chess board. Not me, and certainly not anyone else. The pieces move, and the game changes, and the consequences are quite dire, and yet I have only an intuitive and very limited grasp of what is going on. I have a sense of my position, and what moves are open to me, but that is about it.

I certainly don’t know how to achieve specific outcomes. Any ideas I have in that direction are thwarted by the other player, who presumably is also me.

They say that when you play against yourself, you can’t lose. But you can’t win either. The score is eternally tied and the result is permanent stalemate. Pieces are moved, positions change, options change, but there is never any doubt as to where it all ends up : stasis. A dynamic stasis. Homeostasis.

I’m a big fan of homeostasis. Do you know what that is? Of course you do.

And the thing about this eternal game of chess is that it limits me in ways I can’t explain to myself or others. Sometimes the only reason I can’t do something is that I don’t have any chess pieces in position to make that move. All my inner resources, all the bits and pieces of me that I use to make believe I am a person. A real person.

That’s why I respond so badly to big surprises. I just can’t handle the sudden. Everything I do must let me have enough time to slowly move my pieces around the board until I am in the right position to do it. Sudden things tip the board over and scatter all the pieces. I can’t handle that, not yet.

Of course, the real world happens in realtime. Hence my inability to deal with it. This intellectual cage of mine is really great for a whole host of mental activities like contemplation, creativity, analysis, and pattern/anomaly detection.

But it requires a stillness of body and spirit to enter this intellectual mode. Any unexpected action or stimulus will shatter the trance and leave you naked before the world, without all those high level mental creations to help you, You will have to deal with things as they happen instead of always having time to think them over, and that means you cannot play the slow, careful game of chess you prefer. The kind you can play without leaving your deep intellectual cave at all.

And all the while, the shifting patterns of play on the chessboard fool you into thinking you are moving. That you are getting somewhere. And yet you keep ending up in the exact same places. Everything moves, and everything changes, and yet everything stays the same because no matter how long you play or how clever your stratagem, you are still just playing chess with yourself. And there is no play clever enough to change that.

So how do you escape this eternal game? This semblance of motion, this simulacrum of life? The game is impossible to win or lose, so those exits are blocked. That only leave one possibility : quitting the game entirely.

But this game is not so easy to walk away from. It has a strong hypnotic pull to it, like a hypnotic kaleidoscope. Even if you know that you should close your eyes and pull away from it, its shifting patterns and pulsing colors have a soothing effect as they combine stimulation with repetition. It is so much easier to just sit still and watch the pretty colors swirl around than it is to deal with than the far too stimulating real world with its unpredictability.

So you make your moves and you study the board and the pattern is never the same two days in a row, but before long you have seen every single pattern there is, and it takes a certain kind of willful amnesia to forget that and pretend each new move unleashes a world of possibilities.

It doesn’t matter, because you’re still playing the game. No matter how good you get at it, you can never escape that way.

And if you have been playing the game for a long time like I have, the prospect of just getting up from the board and walking away is daunting. What would I do with all that mental muscle I have developed? There would be not just one but two of me to keep occupied then. And what happens when all that mental sedative wears off and you begin to really feel your psychological injuries again? The ones that have never healed because you keep them frozen instead? What then?

I honestly don’t know how to be human. At times I feel like I just plain can’t live as other people do. Like I have said many time before, things grow strange in the dark, and I have lived in this here cave of mine for a very long time. There are times I think that the best I can hope for is that if I keep on digging tunnels, I will come out the other side.

I just feel so damned tired sometimes. I am beginning to think that is the true definition of age : tiredness. The older you get, the more tired you feel, and death truly is the final rest… the one where you have given up for good.

No matter how big your cage (or cave) is, it’s still a prison, and true freedom comes at the cost of a very big part of yourself. An unhealthy part, sure, but a big part nevetheless.

How can everyone else function so well in world that is so damned loud? What’s wrong with me that I am such an introvert that normal, everyday things can hit me like I am a member of the House of Usher?

That’s what therapy is for, I guess. With a therapist, you have someone else to play against and they can introduce new moves and new elements to the game.

Maybe with therapy, I can some day win.

I’ll talk to all of you nice people again tomorrow.

My life in video games

Video games have be central to my entire life.

Chalk it up to being a nerdy kid who needed a lot of mental stimulation, but I cannot remember a time when video games were not a big part of my life. Like I have said before, I remember “playing” Space Invaders when I was too small to see the bottom of the screen. (Not sure what I was getting out of the experience, but when you are that small, your needs are simple. )

From that point on, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that video games were the best thing ever. Nothing could compete. Sure, I also loved reading and watching TV (more mental stimulation), but if by some weird happenstance I had been asked to choose, I would have picked video games in a heartbeat.

Even before the Atari 2600 (I wonder how they picked the number?) came along, I had been exposed (without owning) to people’s “Pong machines”, and of course, there was always the arcade. I haunted everywhere in town that had video games from Grade 1 onward, even taking trips to the other end of town (uphill on the way there, even) to play games they didn’t have on my end of town. I was just that dedicated.

Or obsessed. Tough call.

The problem with the arcade, though, was that you only have so many quarters and unless your allowance is huge, you always run out of quarters before you run out of appetite.

So then came consoles. I ended up with an enormous library of Atari games, which I now know was partly because of the Atari glut that led to the Great Atari Crash of 1983. Other kids would trade a dozen games they didn’t want any more for one game they did, and I was only too happy to make that trade.

I have always had mercantile instincts. You should see some of the lunch room trades I made.

The consoles were a poor substitute for the arcade back then. Console graphics were hopelessly primitive compared to the graphics on arcade games, and so the arcades continued to thrive. I spent a lot of time both in arcades and in the basement, playing Atari 2600 games on an old black and white TV.

Some of my favorite arcade games from back then were Tempest, especially when my local arcade The Asteroids Arcade got a sit-down tabletop version with the dial controller. I loved the original Karate Master with the two-joystick controls. My first fighting game. I loved Gyruss, one of the few shooters I really loved. And I loved a game called Shao-Lin’s Road, a very cartoony version of a Bruce Lee movie. Kind of like a more sophisticated version of Kung Fu Master.

On the home front, I loved Pitfall. That was as immersive as it got back then. I remember being blown away when I learned that you could go up and down the ladders. I loved this game called Dolphin, where you were a jaguar. Just kidding, you were a dolphin making your way through the ocean with the help of sound cues. You would hear a tone, and the higher the tone, the higher up the gate through which you would have to pass next. And I loved Dig Dug, a game so weird I could not possibly explain it.

The NES is the first game console I remember asking for and getting. It was the Xmas gift that year for both me and my brother David, and we played the heck out of it.

Sadly, by this point, the sort of spontaneous game trading that had brought me so many Atari titles had dried up because this was the dawning of the video game rental system. So I didn’t have the variety that I had with the Atari, and renting a game created its own kind of tension (oh crap, I have to pay for another day in order to finally beat this game!), but I still played a hell of a lot of the games that were out there.

Some NES faves included the Ninja Gaiden series (first game with serious cinematic cutscenes, made the whole thing so much more immersive), Dragon Warrior, the Final Fantasy series, and so many more.

And of course, I played the hell out of Super Mario Land, which game with the console. I played it so much that I eventually burned myself out on it and for years after, I could not hear its signature music without getting a headache.

Then game the SNES and it, of course, blew my mind. Not right away, though. At first, it did not impress me all that much. Sure, it had better graphics, but so what? It was not nearly as big a leap as from Atari 2600 to the NES.

But I came around when I figured out how much more was now possible than on the SNES.

Next would have come my Dreamcast. I loved that machine, because it was hackable. You could totally download games from the Internet, burn them to a CD, and play them just like you had bought them from the store.

For someone like me with an insatiable demand for video games, this was a ticket to heaven. It was the same deal with the PS1 that I eventually acquired. I have always been an enthusiastic video game pirate and this was its perfection.

The third generation of that was my Xbox, which I still own, carrying case and all. Every now and then I ponder taking it out and hooking it up, but nah. Sometimes nostalgia is best left undisturbed.

Of course, during all this, I was also playing games on my PC. That did not have the stability and accessibility of console gaming because I could never keep up with the latest games that required the latest PC to play them, but it was still an excellent source of games that were a lot more sophisticated than could be done with the relatively crude controls of a console.

Then began this new era which I am still “enjoying”. I don’t have the latest consoles any more and my PC grows more ancient and unstable every day. But that doesn’t bother me, because thanks to the miracles of Flash and Android, I have access to tens of thousands of games any time I want them.

A younger me would have thought that to be the very definition of heaven.

I will talk to you nice people again tomorrow.

What government is

Government is bureaucracy.

We like to pretend like they are separate things, because that fits better in our hierarchical naked beach ape minds. Goverment, we like to think, is that top layer where our political alphas do their important political stuff that we, the rest of the monkey troupe. need them to do in order to keep us safe.

Bureaucracy, on the other hand, is that annoying stuff with people shuffling pieces of paper around and making you go through a bunch of seemingly needless steps just to get your goddamned driver’s license renewed.

But that’s a false separation. A bogus duality. Government is bureaucracy, bureaucracy is government. Government is made of bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is the government. There is no government that is not also bureaucracy.

It is easy – childishly easy – to forget this. We make a game of pretending that the parts of government we like are “the government” and the parts we don’t like are “the bureaucracy”, but you just have to compare maps between two random citizens to realize just how petty and arbitrary a distinction that is.

Every part of government is a part of a vast bureaucracy. The solider in the field, the cop on the beat, the road worker repaving a section of sidewalk, and the middle management interdepartmental liaison are all equally bureaucrats. The fact that they are at the lowest level of the structure, the parts you can actually see working, doesn’t make any of them more important or less a part of government any more that the wheel of the car is more important than the engine because that’s the part we can see and interact with. It is all government.

We Canadians seem to have a somewhat better grip on this than the Americans. After all, they have “truth, justice, and the American Way[1]” and we have “peace, order, and good government”. We Canadians are, however dimly, aware of the fact that we are the government and the government is us. Whatever level you are dealing with (national, provincial, municipal, school), we remain aware that the bureaucrats we are talking to are fellow Canadians, just like us, and so we feel the same obligation to deal with them in a polite and reasonable fashion as they feel towards us.

Not so down south. Americans are constantly at war with their own anti-authoritarian oppositional/defiant nature, and so they are compelled to divide everything into two camps, Us versus Them. The Little Guy versus the Government. Republicans versus Democrats. Coke versus Pepsi. Great Taste versus Less Filling.

But we are talking about degrees of the same disease. Every democracy struggles with these same false dichotomy these days. The Baby Boom generation cannot stand to be told what to do, no matter how righteous the order. So they reactivate their faded memories of being anti-authoritarian rebels and pretend like it is still Us Versus The System, even though they are the system now and have lost all rights to be considered the underdog.

I guess they never learned to be responsible. Responsibility, after all, restricts freedom and is therefore evil. Nothing else is relevant. Any arguments that they are being irresponsible meet with “LA LA LA, I CAN’T HEAR YOU”, or its equivalent.

So even though they are in power, they are The Man, and they are The System, they still behave like spoiled teenagers for whom everything is optional (or should be) optional, including taxation, law, government, and anything else they don’t like.

Global Warming is going to kill us all? LA LA LA! The wealthy are destroying democracy? Whatever, dude, I’ll be fine so who gives a shit. The police are shooting black people, like, a lot? Nah, we killed racism, everything’s cool. Whatever they have to believe in order to justify doing whatever feels good or is fun to them, they will believe it.

They did it when they were hippies telling themselves having lots of sex and taking lots of drugs will somehow bring about world peace, they did it again when they decided getting jobs and going corporate wasn’t really selling out, they did it a third time when they convinced themselves “greed is good” in the Eighties, and they have done it again now that they are the system and the power but they don’t feel like taking on the responsibility that clearly entails.

Nope, we’re still the put-upon victims of a tyrannical System that only wants to keep us down by doing the worst thing possible in the entire catalog of human sins, making us less rich and more poor. We literally cannot think of anything worse and there is literally no possible justification for it, ever, period.

And this will remain true no matter how many fun wars we vote for. We don’t have to pay for that, The Government does. The Government has unlimited amounts of money from…. I don’t know, somewhere… and therefor can do whatever the hell we want it to do without having to charge us one red cent for it. They only take our money because they are big greedy meanies who like hurting people and hate success!

That’s what we have to believe in order to continue being selfish, callous, and irresponsible, so that’s what we believe.

It’s high time we make these motherfuckers grow up at last. You can’t always have things your way. Some things remain true no matter how much you dislike them. There are lots of things that you still have to do even after your tantrum. There is no Great Depression generation to be the responsible parent and clean up after you any more.

You’re in charge. Behave yourselves. Take a good hard look at reality and deal with life as it is, even all the parts that suggest, however mildly, that sometimes you should not, in fact, be allowed to do whatever the hell you want.

It is high time you admitted to yourself that you are the grownups now, and it’s up to you to clean up your own messes.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Note we don’t say anything about “The Canadian Way”. That’s because we don’t automatically assume that the way we do things is the best in the world. We don’t need it to be.