A new liberalism

Or possibly a new conservatism. Trying to fit new ideas into the old one dimensional politics is like trying to define a cube without depth. It’s impossible.

Anyhow, my topic today is about the necessity of forming a new political movement. Call it rational liberalism, or evidence-based compassion, or whatever you like.

But the left needs to divest itself of its lunatic fringe of radical reactionaries if we are to march boldly and firmly into the future. To be limited by the exact same kind of thinking that causes the right wing social conservatives to blindly oppose things like gay marriage and marijuana legalization is not only unfitting our high intellectual ideals, it is a virtual guarantee that our voice will be confused, weak, diffuse, and ineffectual.

Because the plain truth is, you cannot lead people forward if what you really want is to backward, whether you are looking to retreat to a 1950′s that never existed or a state of balance and harmony with nature that also never existed.

The true enemy is irrationality. It is people swept up in passionate ignorance because it feels good and it’s easy. Just let go of your intellectual integrity and believe that which you already find easy to believe, with your usual set of villains and the scary scary things they do, and you too can enjoy the cathartic release of screaming in righteous rage at the Satan of your choosing without those pesky nuances and (heaven forbid) actual facts getting in the way and ruining all your fun.

Just try being the voice of moderate, fact based reason around people and see how they pout at you like they are children and you are spoiling a very fun game of make-believe. Then you will see what is really going on.

And before you get all smug, liberals, and assume I am only talking about Tea Party whackjobs jizzing all over themselves with glee as they pillory Hillary and satanize Obama, remember that this applies equally well to lefties screaming about nuclear power, GMOs, or the rain forest.

A key to the guidance of this new liberalism will be to question any movement that resists your looking at the real fact, the hard data, instead of their overheated and hysterical rhetoric. If people are worried that you will reach the “wrong” conclusions if you are left alone with the facts, it is a sure sign that these people have deep seated doubts about their own positions and are afraid that the facts do not actually support said positions, and that they have therefore been at best ridiculous and at worst possibly downright evil for vastly insufficient cause.

Because that is the thing about the kind of pure irrational high of total righteous conviction. It provides an excuse for all kinds of sins. Because if the enemy is infinitely evil, then all actions taken against them are justified, right?

People who otherwise would never think of screaming and foaming at the mouth in public will gladly do it at a political rally where it is not just allowed but socially rewarded on a massive scale. What is truth compared to that kind of pleasure? It feels good to be so sure of yourself. It feels good to get praise and reinforcement from like-minded people. And it really feels good to experience such unity with others, to be of one mind with so many others in a confined space.

Why, it’s just like church, except without the depressing and boring parts.

So I can see the appeal of these movements. I really can. All you need to make it perfect is your own source for news from the “right” perspective, already processed into the soft and digestible form your prefer, with nothing that might upset your mental digestion and cause the heartbreak and anxiety of actually having to think about what you think about things.

And again, I remind you that this applied equally to Tea Party morons who have no idea why they hate Obama and hysterical, hand-wringing environmentalists who have no idea why they hate GMOs.

They just know they are scared, and that is good enough for them.

So we fact-based moderates, we people of compassionate goals and rational means, we people who want to change the world by facing the facts, we who know you can’t get anywhere without taking a good look around to find out where you are, need a single unifying voice around which a movement can coalesce.

We need a motto, a rallying cry. As Jon Steward said, you can’t just march down the middle of Main Street chanting “Please Be Reasonable”. It needs a better fulcrum than that, some sort of inspirational sound bite that encapsulates what the movement is all about in a way that really speaks to people.

The problem is, of course, that reality is complicated and nuanced and thus nearly impossible to turn into a perfect little gem of a soundbite. That is precisely the problem. People prefer to believe in simplified, cartoonish versions of reality because it helps them cut down the complexity of the world to something they can handle.

And there is no royal road out of that mindset. You cannot make people think harder than they feel like thinking about things, You can present people with the absolute truth, a truth that is not just well expressed but vitally important to their own lives, and if it is too inherently complicated for the small amount of space they have open for new thoughts, it will simply bounce off their heads and fall to the floor, unnoticed.

So it looks like we will need to either be willing to dumb down the truth (bad) or lie in its service (worse) in order to get the point across.

There has to be another way, a way to bring people into the data-driven, results-based fold without scaring them off or misleading them. Some way to get them excited about the truth.

Damned if I know what it is, though.

Talk to you again tomorrow, folks!

The ethics of science fiction

I have tried to tackle this issue before but never got satisfactory results. Tonight, I will take another crack at it.

First of all, I need to clarify just what we are talking about. I am not talking about the role of ethics in science fiction media. There have been lots of science fiction tales that revolved around ethical questions, of course. In fact, those tend to be my favorite kind. But this article is not about them.

Instead, I will attempt to address the common ethical nature that forms the bedrock of science fiction. It is elusive and gets easily lost in the manifold diversity of science fiction, but there are actually certain moral foundations that run so deep in science fiction that we fans don’t even notice them most of the time.

If I had to summarize them, I would say they are the high minded ideals of liberal intellectuals. These are the very ideals that drive social progress and have brought us into the modern world, as well as being the highest ideals humanity has ever conceived.

For example, science fiction heavily favours freedom, especially freedom of thought and expression. Whether it takes place in an anarchist utopia or a fascist dystopia, science fiction makes it very clear which side it thinks is right, and it is nearly always the side of freedom.

Rare indeed is the science fiction story that suggests we would all be a lot better under authoritarian rule. The dictator might win or he might lose, but he’s almost never the hero. He’s never right.

Similarly, science fiction heavily favours diversity. This is a facet of science fiction’s strong belief in open-mindedness. Science fiction teaches us to think before we act, to step out of the herd and take a look around at what is really going on, and to question our beliefs constantly.

These are classic liberal virtues, and they are the virtues upon which modern society was built. Despite the infinite delusions in infinite variety of social conservatives, all modern societies were built by people who were the radical liberals of their era, just a bunch of crazy intellectuals with unrealistic ideals of freedom and equality, and it is exactly those kind of people who have been pushing society forward ever since.

Speaking of equality, that is another virtue science fiction promotes. It goes part and parcel with its belief in diversity. Science fiction believes that diversity is always a good idea and that the operating principle of diversity, namely tolerance, is a primary principle from which modern civilization springs.

The more we tolerate one another and are willing to just let people be who they are without judgment or suspicion, the more free society is and the better off we are as a species. The history of the twentieth century can be seen as a long struggle to learn to accept those different from us, and the process continues to this day and will probably continue well into the next century. We are still a young species, and we have so much to learn.

Speaking of learning, science fiction also believes in the value of knowledge, education, and, of course, science. Despite the proliferation of “What hath man wrought?” science fiction stories where science leads to a terrible catastrophe, science fiction believe in science, progress, and the value of teaching what we have learned to the next generation so that they can pick up where we left off.

In general, science fiction is strongly humanitarian. It seeks the well-being and comfort of all us crazy humans and even three headed green space men, if they are sentient like us. It embraces a very broad conception of compassion that encompasses all of humanity, even if that humanity is found in the body of an alien, a robot, or a cloud of plasma drifting through space.

A classic example of this higher compassion is my favorite Star Trek original series episode, The Devil In The Dark. In it, Kirk and Spock face a genuinely frightening and completely alien creature call the Horta, who by the time the episode starts has already killed 50 miners.

The miners, of course, want the thing dead, and if you are a human being watching the episode for the first time, so do you. Every instinct in our bodies says that if something kills us, we band together hunt it down and kill it, period.

These are the same instincts that made us deadly opponents despite our seeming weakness back in our hunter-gatherer days. Any predators that threatened us soon learned the error of their ways. We may seem weak as individuals, but when we band together, we can beat anything, no matter how big.

But Kirk sees past that. Even when Spock is ready to phaser the Horta into oblivion, Kirk tells him to hold up and it is then that we learn that the Horta is just protecting her eggs, and that if the humans leave her eggs alone, she will leave them alone. And Kirk then convinces the rest of the miners to forgo revenge for their losses and live in peace with the Horta that killed 50 of them.

That represents such a high ideal of understanding and compassion that it still leaves me breathless to imagine it. If Kirk and Spock had hunted down the Horta and killed it, few of us would have questioned it. That is what you do when animals threaten humans, let alone inhuman monsters. Even the highly civilized people of today simply accept this truth. We can live peacefully with the animals most of the time.

But if you threaten one of us, the deal is off.

And yet, Kirk listens to his heart and his mind instead of his primal instincts, and the folly of what they had been about to do to the Horta is revealed when the Horta uses its acids to etch these words on a piece of rock “NO KILL I”.

Those are the three most poignant words in all of science fiction, in my opinion.

So in more or less conclusion, the ethics of science fiction are the highest ethics of humanity : freedom, compassion, cooperation, tolerance, peace, progress, knowledge, and the never ending pursuit of higher morality that has driven humanity to this enlightened age and will drive it still further on, till one day the people of the future will look back at us and wonder how we endured lives of such chaos and savagery.

Some say that science fiction only appeals to intellectuals. I would counter that recent box office receipts belie that. But even if that was true, it is we intellectuals who push our societies to better themselves.

And by and large, it is science fiction that pushes us.

See you tomorrow, folks.

The question of my innocence

(TRIGGER WARNING : Child sexual abuse, bullying)

Innocence has always been a difficult concept for me.

I lost mine at a very early age. How early, I am not exactly sure, but it was definitely preschool. So I was three, four, five years old, or somewhere in there.

I lost it when my father, Larry Donald Bertrand, formerly of 135 Belmont Street, Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Canada, molested me in the showers of a place called simply The Spa in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

And when you lost your innocence at so young an age, you never really have a sense of loss like you would have if it happened when you were older. I never had a sense of my own innocence, and so I had no idea what I had lost. My memories of that point in my life are half-formed and hazy at the best of times. So my sense of “before” and “after” is blurry as well.

Still, I can remember being a happy, adorable, energetic child who charmed the socks out of bemused adults with his precocious intelligence and unusual way of seeing things.

And I can remember being…. not that any more. Somehow I became the brittle, fragile kid that couldn’t handle school and fell to the bottom of the totem pole and didn’t know what to do about it. Somehow, I acquired the fatal weakness of spirit that has been my primary problem for my entire life. I became the sort of person who gives up, the sort of person who crumbles in the face of real pressure and just wants to give up and get away and hide.

It didn’t have to be that way. If the incident at The Spa had never happened, I could easily see myself having been a far stronger, more ambitious, more aware, more socially adept personality. The sort of person who fights for themselves as opposed to the kind that tries to hide from the world instead.

But I lost something that day. Something I have to call my innocence. It’s the only word that fits.

Historically, I have not given a lot of thought to innocence. For a long time, I protected myself from the realization of my loss by telling myself that innocence is just another word for ignorance, and you are always better off knowing, so innocence is not something anyone should be sorry to lose. You didn’t know how the world really worked, and now you do. Sure, that can be a shock, and even depressing, but you are still better prepared to deal with the world as it is now, so you are better off.

It is hard to argue with that logic. That doesn’t mean it’s right, it just means it’s extremely plausible. As a way to protect myself from what had happened to me, it worked quite well for decades. Decades in which I didn’t exactly forget about what happened to me, I just stopped thinking about it.

When it resurfaced in my mind, it would always come as a shock because the knowledge that it happened had been right there in my mind all along. It’s like suddenly realizing that there’s a wolf in the room with you, and that you had seen the wolf dozens of times without noticing it before now.

So I gave short shrift to the concept of innocence for a long time. Maybe that was okay for the sleepwalking sheep of the world, but I was too smart to accept ignorance as a blessing. I knew things.

Things I was too young to know, arguably. I have lived my life never, ever resisting knowledge. In that sense, I have lived my life wide open to the effects of whatever came along. Whether it was input from the world or things I figured out on my own, I have denied myself the protection of ignorance at every turn.

I want to understand things, and you can’t understand them unless you are willing to go wherever your quest for understanding leads, no matter how dark, how disturbing, how outside of normal knowledge, and above all, no matter what sort of damage it does to me emotionally.

My quest for understanding drives me over or through all obstacles and emotional damage be damned. And this leads to a very detailed and nuanced understanding of the world. It leads to great understanding.

But it is also quite harsh and unforgiving. There should be room for at least some self-protection. Maybe I would be a stronger person if I had given myself a break now and then. Maybe I inflicted a lot of my own injuries.

Maybe there is more to life than being a rugged and fearless intellectual. Maybe sometimes you have to stop letting the huge and powerful dog of your intellect drag you through knothole after knothole in its headlong pursuit of understanding.

If so, I don’t know if I am capable of it.

Still, I can no longer reject the concept of innocence so blithely. I have always sensed that there was something that other people had that I did not. A sense of safety, of connectedness, of not being alone in the world.

A sense that everything was okay, more or less, and that if they needed something or someone, it was there for them. A sense of the presence of others even when they are all alone.

A sense of safety.

And maybe that is called innocence. Maybe the ignorance is not the point of innocence, it’s just its most obvious sign. Maybe the real meaning of innocence is that inner sense of safety that can either be preserved long enough for you to be ready to know more or brutally ripped asunder by traumatic experience, leaving only a lifelong scar in its place.

Maybe there really is value in a return to innocence.

Even when it feels like the first time you have ever been there.

That’s all for today, folks. See you all tomorrow.

Safety in numbers

I have had thoughts about the sort of people who hate math (versus those who hate English class) and qualitative versus quantitative thinking running around in my head again lately.

I think it would be fair to say that there are qualitative people and quantitative people. Nobody can be completely one or the other, but there are people who are only comfortable with one or the other, and will always consider the other one to be alien and unreliable and unpleasant.

A qualitative person is most comfortable with thinking in terms of ideas and emotions rather than numbers and facts. They compare and contrast in order to get answers. They are comfortable with ambiguity, and in fact prefer it in some situations. They tend not to believe in Truth and they place a high value on relationships between things rather than the things themselves. The world of data and numbers and calculation seems very cold and unnatural to them, and liable to mislead people into making the morally wrong choices simply because the numbers told them to do it, or worse, be used to justify people being rotten to one another.

Quantitative people, by contrast, are quite happy in the world of numbers and data and calculation. It is ambiguity they dislike. They want to be able to find an answer, and anything which does not lead to a mathematically demonstrable answer is viewed as highly suspect. They believe in Truth and think there is an answer to all questions, no matter how seemingly qualitative, can be answered with sufficient data and the right questions. They are not interested in the vaguely defined world of relationships and instead seek answers via applying logical tools to analyze data, eliminate meaningless variables, and derive the answer in a quantitative form. They think that it is the qualitative world that leads people astray by giving immorality the space to hide in its ambiguity, and letting people go on thinking demonstrably wrong things by giving them an excuse to ignore the data and, indeed, reality itself.

Of course, I am somewhere in the middle. I am quantitatively biased, I will admit. If it can be solved through logical, number based analysis, it should be. But I know that a purely mathematical view of the world is limited in many ways. It is very easy for people to get lost in a forest of numbers, fall in love with a beautiful equation, and entirely lose track of what they were trying to do in the first place. Statistical analysis is a cruel and deceptive mistress, and it takes a very special kind of mind to avoid her illusions. A mind that is quite able to step back from the numbers and deal with things qualitative as well as quantitative, and thus avoid the problems of both.

For me, a great example of this is Freud. Yes, Freud got a lot of things wrong and he’s all “debunked” now, but his main contribution to psychology was not his theories, it was the very idea of the mind itself.

In Freud’s era, it was the empiricists who were dominant and to them, his theories, and the very idea that you can heal someone just my talking to them, were roundly ridiculed as superstitious nonsense by hard science bigwigs of his era.

What, was there something magical that passed through the air from the therapists lips into the brain of the patient? Everything had a physical cause, everybody knew that. All this nonsense about talk therapy was just a bunch of religious superstition wrapped up in scientific terms. And just where was this “subconscious mind” Freud was on about? None of it could be verified empirically, and so it’s all a lot of nonsense and we should stick to what we can prove.

Freud replied to his critics that the “proof” of his ideas was in his reasoning. You either examined his ideas and found them sound or found them wanting. Otherwise, the help he gave to others in making them happier was all the proof he needed.

Talk about quantitative versus qualitative! Personally, I think limiting yourself to one or the other is ridiculous. I am a passionate pragmatist and that means I use whatever tool works, regardless of its provenance. To me, it is cheap and weak and quite pathetic to pretend that the half of the issue that you don’t like is somehow flawed and suspect and that therefore you can feel free to ignore it and concentrate on the side that comes naturally to you.

I am quite comfortable with both sides. I am driven to find answers and solutions, and I will use whatever tool produces effective and reliable results.

Because I am all about the results, baby. That’s what pragmatism is all about. Whatever WORKS.

So I have equal contempt for the people who ignore evidence as I do for those who ignore relationships. Some questions have no quantitative answer, others no qualitative. They are not that kind of question, and to pretend that science and knowledge must limit itself to that which can be counted is just as bad as pretending that all questions are unanswerable and the numbers and data do not count.

There’s nothing wrong with knowing what you are good at and what you are not. That is fine. There is no royal road to becoming equally good at both. Nobody gets to be good at everything.

But to pretend that the things you aren’t good at are somehow inferior to the ones you are good at is the worst kind of provincial, small minded “sour grapes” thinking.

The proper response, if presented with a question from your non-dominant side is “I’m sorry, I don’t know, someone else will have to come up with that answer. ”

It is NOT “What a stupid question. I shouldn’t have to answer that kind of question. Besides, that stuff’s all stupid anyhow!”

Grow up, and take a look at the full picture.

That’s it from me for today, folks. Talk to you tomorrow!

Either assumption

A double dose

Well, I really topped myself today. Normally, my being an absentminded, head-in-the-clouds spaz does not end up actually have an effect on my health, apart from the occasional bump or bruise, but I fucked up big time today.

I ended up taking my psychiatric medications twice. I double dosed myself. I currently have twice my usual dose of Wellbutrin and Paxil in my bloodstream, and it is all my fault for not paying attention to what I was doing.

Story of my life, really.

I just glanced at my dosette (sp?) box, saw the pills there, thought I had forgotten to take my meds with breakfast, and swallowed them down. If I had taken the time to really look at my pill box, it would have been apparent that I had taken them with breakfast just like I am supposed to do, and the pills I ended up taking were actually tomorrow’s dose.

But no, I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing, and as a result, today has been… eerie. The double dose in my bloodstream really mutes my emotions, so everything feels cold and remote, and I am not used to that any more. It has been years since I was on an absurdly high dose of Paxil and so being on a double dose now feels all kinds of wrong.

To be honest, it makes me feel like I am not quite alive.

At the same time, Paxil and Wellbutrin are both, technically, stimulants. That’s why people are advised to take them with breakfast. You are certainly not going to be able to sleep after taking them, so it is best to be kicked into a higher gear when you are at work.

Trouble is, I ain’t got a job.

So I feel muted and wired at the same time, and that is not a comfortable feeling. My good friend Clark once described the effects of Irish coffee as feeling like being “asleep tied to the front of a speeding freight train”, and that roughly describes how I feel now.

Like I am physically anxious from the stimulant effect (and, admittedly, some ill-advised Diet Coke), but the drugs in my system don’t allow me to be emotionally anxious, so there is this big cognitive conflict going on.

And the creepy thing is, that doesn’t bother me. And that bothers me.

Oh well, it will all sort itself out. I am going to skip tomorrow’s psych meds entirely (after all, I already took them) and hopefully that will be enough to let my blood chemistry rebalance itself.

You can bet I will be being very, very careful with my pill box from this point on. I have had a stern lesson about making potentially very dangerous assumptions around my meds. Every time I take them, I will make sure I am supposed to do so.

After all, this time, in all likelihood, there will be no lasting long term effects. Double dosing oneself is not good, but it is not too bad either, at least with my meds.

Oh, and I also took an extra dose of two of my diabetes meds too. So hopefully that won’t cause a blood sugar crash. At least I didn’t double up on the most powerful one, Januvia.

That might have been…. tragic.

Otherwise, things are going okay. I still need to learn to discharge more of my energies. My days are just not absorbing enough. I should at least start making videos again. I had a lot of fun doing that.

And some of them are pretty good! Like this one :

See? I’m a funny guy.

But it’s so hard to make that trip from not doing anything with my afternoons to committing to do something, the same something, every day. Even though I did this for many months last year, so I know damned well I can do it, there is this voice in me that feels like sacrificing a couple hours of my incredibly boring afternoons would just shatter my tiny mind.

So we are back tot he idea of trying something new, something different. I am re-examining the podcast idea. I set the idea aside for a while because I couldn’t decide what sort of podcast it would be, but now that I have sampled some of the really popular “comedy” podcasts and found them to SUUUUCK, I am feeling somewhat inspired by their atrocious counterexample.

Because believe me when I say, I can definitely be funnier than those schmucks. So much of the podcast world consists of some a bunch of jackasses talking for an hour or so, apparently sans editing.

And that makes no sense to me at all. Sure, if you are podcasting live, you have to take what you get, and I could forgive a certain amount of screw ups and dead spots in that cast. (Although not all that much of that, either. I have been spoiled by listening to the CBC for all these years, and so I have very high standards. )

But these are preproduced shows, not live at all. These people apparently think it is good enough to just start recording, fuck around for an hour, and then post it directly to the Internet without so much as a second glance.

I guess I am beginning to see why all the really good podcasts come from radio stations. Those people know what they are doing. Ninety percent of what I listen to comes from either the CBC or NPR. Those are well produced, info-dense, content rich podcasts that are interesting, fun, and even funny sometimes.

Funnier than fucking Joe Rogan and his broheims, anyhow.

I don’t know, maybe there are hilarious skitcom-style podcasts out there that I have never heard of. But right now, it seems like something decently produced (and, of course, hilarious) with a high density could just roll right over the competition.

Plus, it is something that is not too hard to do from one’s humble apartment. Taking the visuals out of the equation and a lot of things get a lot simpler.

It also helps that I am a lunatic.

Now what would I call it….

Seeya tomorrow folks!

Dear Extroverted People

Dear Extroverted People,

I’m an introvert. But amongst introverts, I’m a bit of an extrovert, so I thought I would take it upon myself to address you and try, in my own way, to bridge the gap.

I know you don’t understand us. Not really. You have to take it on faith that we are how we are, so very different from you, and accept that we live by different rules and have different needs, and we greatly appreciate the consideration you give us in that respect because we know you can’t truly identify with it.

And I know that when you do try to understand introversion, it seems kind of awful to you. It seems like there is something wrong with us, that we are sad people afraid of life, and part of you wants to cheer us up and gets us to come out of our shell.

And the truth is, some of us could really stand to be brought out of ourselves a little. But it can’t be done by force. You can’t drag us out into the light because we will just scurry back into our comforting darkness and cling to it all the harder in the future, and never trust you again because you are not “safe”.

To us, it is a loud, bright, upsetting world, and we treasure our retreats from the noise and hustle because it is only when we can escape overstimulation (and our comfortable stimulation level is much lower than yours) that we can be calm, relax, and recharge our social batteries by drawing strength from our highly developed interior lives.

It is those interior lives that let us understand you a little better than you understand us. We can understand, at least in the abstract, how you thrive on stimulation and excitement, and take your strength from the world instead of your own inner resources. You don’t have batteries that need recharging when they are spent. You take your energy directly from the environment, like a solar calculator, so you naturally seek environments full of energy and stimulation where you feel alive and happy. It makes total sense from your point of view.

But we don’t work that way. I know that it is hard for you to understand, but we can be perfectly happy alone with a book. We are not lonely and sad. We sincerely enjoy being alone because that is when we feel calm and safe. If you give us the space and time to recharge, and thus let us feel safe around you, you will find we can come out of our shells and be sociable with you and you will reap the rewards of connecting with a thoughtful, intelligent person with a point of view quite different from your own that can be a source of much interesting conversation, not to mention our emotional depth.

The trick is, you have to be very patient with us, and I know that is not easy for you. We are not very stimulating to be around when we don’t feel safe, and so it is hard for you to be patient and not give into your frustration with us. You normally avoid low stimulation situations because they make you depressed and it can be very tempting to just give up on us and go seek a more stimulating companion.

And that’s fine. Nobody said you were morally obligated to draw us out. It is up to you to decide if you are interested enough to take the time to get to know us. If you do not, we will just go back to our happy internal lives.

But if you take the time, we can do each other a lot of good. Us introverts can gain much wisdom on how to embrace live and live in the moment from people like you. You seem so very alive to us that we often envy your freedom of self-expression.

Of course, other times you scare the hell out of us.

No, really. If you remember, we prefer quiet environments because that is where we feel relaxed and calm, so you can imagine what high stimulus environments (or people) does to us. We get very anxious and freaked out, and all we want is to run back to our quiet caves as fast as we can.

So if we seem scared of you, try not to take it too personally. When we don’t feel safe, we can’t view things rationally and sometimes that means we are not being fair to you. We are reacting like the scared animals we are, and we can’t calm down and view things in a more rational, sober light until the fear stimulus (you) is gone.

Therefore, your usual instinct, to just go at a problem until you solve it, is not going to work. It is, in fact, the exact opposite of the correct strategy. You need to just leave us alone for a while, and wait for us to come out of our fear state and maybe even emerge, ever so cautiously, from our caves on our own.

What happens next is vital. You have to make it safe for us to approach you, and build up that trust slowly. We only trust a little at a time, and at any moment we could bolt back into our holes, and so we’re sorry if it seems like we are testing you.

We are, in fact, testing you. Sorry. But it can’t be helped.

So just keep it mellow, and if you pay careful attention, we will give you clues as to the level of stimulation we are ready for. The basic rule is, don’t give back more stimulation than we give you. As we open up and relax, we will naturally raise our output bit by bit until we reach our higher comfort level.

And that is when both extroverts and introverts can get along great together, two halves of the same whole, and we are far stronger together than the sum of all our strengths apart.

That’s all for today folks…. see you later!

Turn down your high beams

Another thing that came up during yesterday’s therapy session is my intensity.

It is another facet of my struggle to understanf just what sort of effect I have on people. I have been lost in the cave of echoes for so long that I just don’t know what my true reflection even looks like any more.

I need to replace the false image I hated for so many years with something more balanced and true.

And part of that larger mission is my effort to make sense of my childhood. It is not news to anyone that I was a very diffifult child. All those brains and sensitivity, without the slightest clue how to be tactful and thus avoid biting the hand that feeds me. Willful and extremely stubborn, effortlessly indepedent of mind and will and hopelessly and patheticly dependent on my teachers for attention, extremely different yet desperate to be liked, to say that I was a handful would be a profound understatement,

I was an entire round of applause-ful.

What I realized yesterday is that I was not just a difficult kid, I was UNIQUELY difficult. In all regards, I was simply off the scale of what most non-specialy teachers could handle. I had the bad luck to be a four dimensional peg in a three diensional hole, and I cannot get too mad about the system just plain not being able to handle me.

Sure, in a perfect world, every school system would be able to handle any student, no matter how unique. But here in the real world, systems are designednbsp; to work for the largest number of people possible, and that is always the middle of the bell curve, not the outliers.

And I am an outlier amongst outliers.

From the point of the view of my teachers and family, I was very difficult to deal with, and very easy to ignore, Dealing with me meant fielding my way out of left field questions, dealing with my obvious kicked-dog neediness, and enduring the high wattage spotlight of my attention.

That last bit is what I mean by my intensity. The thing about being very bright is that you are hard on the eyes. Dealing with you is like looking directly at a lit lightbulb, especially for people of normal intelligence.

Whereas ignoring you not only spares people all that, but also incurs no penalty. It is not like by ignoring you, people have to deal with you acting out, or pestering for attention, or anything else.

And all it takes is the slightest hint of rejection, and I will go away and stop bothering you. It is the ultimate in convenience. A self-disposing child.

I was hard to take but easy to ignore.

Explains a lot, really.

See you tomorrow, folks.

A mess of links

Time to clear out the browser!

Check out this awesome article about what creeps us out about robots.

Specifically, it talks about a very specific thing about how us humans interact, a phenomenon known as gaze avoidance. That refers to how, when we are talking to one another, we do not look at each other the whole time. We have a whole array of little tricks, like blinking, turning our heads, or shifting our stance in order to break up our gaze.

Why? For one simple reason : to avoid staring.

Staring is universally an aggressive act in the animal kingdom. In a social species, therefore, with a high level of interaction, it is vital that staring not happen accidentally.

So our gaze flits about. It has to. The only difference between a look and a stare is duration. That is why people who are on the autism spectrum get in trouble for staring at people. They lack the social sense to know why this is wrong, and to be honest, most people will not be able to explain it to them.

Blessed are the articulators.

Check out this video of a robot programmed with the proper amount of gaze avoidance.

He really looks like he’s listening carefully and attentively, doesn’t he?

Now check out this one programmed with too much gaze avoidance.

All that has been changed is the timing, and yet now the robot seems shy and embarrassed, maybe even untrustworthy. It is not a pattern that would put people at ease. It would actually make people nervous.

What a perfect exemplar for the kind of Catch-22 that shy people face. They are hesitant and afraid to make eye contact, which makes other people nervous and irritated, and they pick up on that and become more nervous and hesitant…. you get the idea.

I think this also explains why we think our dogs are hanging on our every word. They pay such close attention to us! Of course, that is really just because we are their alpha dogs and they are eager to see what comes next.

But it looks like they are listening!

Next up, we have a Splitsider article that ponders the answer to the question on every comedy nerd’s mind : what is Comedy Central going to use to replace the Colbert Report now that Colbert is taking over from Letterman?

It’s a good article, lots of solid, sensible speculation. That’s all it is, speculation, but that’s all we have right now.

I can’t see any of the current cast of correspondents on TDS being able to do a show by themselves. Not only are none of them the sort of breakout megatalent that Colbert was, the show has systematically destroyed the likability of each and every one of them. So any of them would face a huge challenge in winning us over and getting us to trust them on a new show.

And of course, the one dude who could have pulled it off was John Oliver, and he’s already gone!

I don’t know anything about the other Comedy Central Stars. I haven’t seen any of their shows. All I can do is caution that skit comedy and television hosting are two wildly different beasts and they should not assume that someone who does well in one stands a chance in the other.

Going outside the CC stable is definitely a possibility. I would give Craig Ferguson a shot except that I think he is going to be taking over another late night show, one of the second-slot ones, and thus unlikely to jump ship.

Other than his, no other names spring to mind. Hosting a late night show is such a specific kind of skill that it is hard to tell who has it without them having done it first.

I like the idea of moving @midnight back half an hour. It seems like a very fast and funny show. The only problem I see with that is that the Colbert Report has this whole setup to make a Daily Show type show, and it would be a shame to see all that writing talent and production capacity go to waste.

It’s all Colbert’s fault. He just had to go name the show after himself and thus make sure nobody else can host it!

Finally, this CNN article asks : Is the Internet killing religion?

Now I have to admit, the title of the article caused an instant eyeroll. Oh great, another ‘Is the Internet X” article crapped out by some old media dinosaur in order to convince themselves that they get this whole Internet thing.

And yes, it is taking a small bit of info way too far, like this crap always does. The fact that there is a correlation between high Internet use and religious disaffiliation (also known as checking “none” on the religion question) is absolutely meaningless without other studies to show it.

Because as any competent thinker knows, correlation is not the same as causation. All it means is that two things are happening to roughly the same degree. There may be no connection between the two things at all, or there maybe be a third factor that is influencing both of them.

But there are a few good points. Bringing news of the outside world to closed, insular religious communities could definitely have a major effect on young people leaving the faith. When they realize that all the things that their elders told them about the mean ol outside world are simply untrue, they are going to want to go find out for themselves.

Still, I think that the correlation exists simply because young people are the most likely to be disaffiliated (usually before affiliating to some other religion later in life), and young people today use MAD amounts of the Interweb.

Organized religion is failing people all over the world. It simply has nothing to offer young people. And as young people desert the churches and synagogues, there is no new blood and the religion becomes still more dominated by the aged, and they are even less likely to do the things that would make their religions relevant to the youth.

None of that can be blamed on the Internet.

The world needs new religions, religion transformed. Being a nontheistic materialist, I am not exactly the one to start one, or at least, not one that looks anything like regular religion.

I hope someone out there can do it, though. People need religion. They need a reason to go on, a reason to feel like they are not alone in the world, a reason to hang on through the bad times.

The old ways just suck donkey dingleberries.

The Battle of Belmont (Street)

Might do a linkpost after this one. But for now, angst.

Therapy day. We talked about my relationship with my father, and it become apparent that I actually had a lot more of a relationship with him than I thought.

It started with me talking about how I would try to intervene between my father and my sibling when he was getting abusive at the dinner table when I was a kid.

What an absurd sight that must have been, me not even into double digits yet, convinced that this was all just a misunderstanding and if I just tried hard enough, I could smooth it all over and everyone would be happy and getting along again.

Absurd, but touching. I was so earnest and I tried so hard. But this was no misunderstanding, it was abuse. My father is a verbally abusive man. And abusers need to abuse. It is how they cope. If you shut down one excuse for them to abuse, they will just find another, because they are addicts desperate for the hit of rage that will make them feel better.

And eventually I figured that out. The problem was not a misunderstanding, it was him. He’s a broken man whose anger issues drive everyone away from him. The man is diseased.

So far, this is all stuff that loyal readers of my blog already know. But I have not, AFAIK, talked about what happened after I figured out that he was the problem.

I turned on him. Instead of mediating, I started tackling him myself, verbally speaking. If he started being abusive, I would interpose myself and reflect it all right back at him. Eventually it would be like war between him and me, a war of words, and every time we battled, I would remember the arguments he had used to justify his atrocious behavior, and the next time, I would have highly effective counterarguments.

I can’t give a direct reason why I took on this role. I can only say that some people are interventionists by nature. When I see a problem like that, I throw myself into it and try and stop it. I can’t do anything else. It would take a huge act of will and a very good reason why intervening is a bad idea in order to keep me on the sidelines.

I cannot sit idly by while bad things happen. I have to intervene. I have to interpose myself betwixt the innocent and the vulnerable and the cold and uncaring hand of fate, or in this case, the forces of evil.

To some that would make me a hero, to others, just a control freak. I don’t know. It’s just how I am.

As our battles continued, my attacks on him grew more pointed and personal. I told him he was a sad, pathetic, tiny man who took out his frustrations on those he loved the most and that he didn’t deserve to eat with civilized people.

And it only occurred to me today, while talking to my shrink, that I won. Eventually, he started taking meals separately from us. My mom would make up a plate for him and stick it in the fridge, and he’d eat it after the rest of us were gone.

And you know what? I am proud of that. I was someone he simply could not bully. He certainly was no threat to me physically. By this point, I was twice his size, and full of teenage hormones too. He was never physically abusive in the first place, but once I grew into my Bubba-ness, that was less of a choice and more like simple self-preservation.

We mutants LOVE puberty.

And I rapidly overtook him mentally too. He could not out-think me, out-argue me, or intimidate me. I was protecting the rest of the family from him and when I am in that mode, I am unstoppable. I was sick and tired of his abuse of my sister Anne and my brother Dave, and I was determined to never let him get away with it. Ever. Period.

It was not long before I had him completely overpowered. And then it was I who chased him away. Because, all else being equal, it’s the offender who should have to leave. Don’t you think?

And even though I fought this fight alone, and sometimes got quite traitorously blamed for the trouble, everybody got to enjoy the peace I created when I chased that bastard away.

I had not thought about that period for a long time before today. And it had never occurred to me just how unusual it was that I took on that role and that I fought so hard, without fear or hesitation.

My therapist asked me, basically, what happened after that? Where did that tireless warrior go? And all I can say is, I was not trying to prove anything, I was just coping. I didn’t see myself as heroic or think of this as some major thing at the time. So it never occurred to me that this was some sort of sign that I had a gift that I should pursue.

See, I am not an angry person. My default mode is laid back and friendly. I don’t actually want to be that warrior most of the time. It was the enemy, in this case my father, who brought it out in me, and afterwards, I just… went back to being me.

I was such a clueless teen!

I should have been a lawyer. I had all the skills. I would have made a phenomenal lawyer for the cause of good, like representing Greenpeace, or even better, the little guy (or gal) who has been stepped on by the big dogs and needs to be able to fight back.

If they don’t suffer, they’ll never learn. And I could have really enjoyed teaching them.

But know, I thought law school would turn me into a bad person, and so I never pursued it.

How I wish I could go back in time and smack myself for that.

Oh well, I yam what I sweet potato.

Talk to you tomorrow, folks!

The war within

Today, I am going to talk about inner conflict, because I have a hell of a fight going on inside me lately.

It is the old energy versus inertia problem that I have always had and that is probably at the root of most of my problems. After all, all that anxiety and fear and craziness in my head has to gets its energy somewhere.

And for a long time now, I have figured that “somewhere” to be all the energy that my powerful mind puts out but which doesn’t go anywhere. It gets stuck at the enormous depressive clog made of ice and fear in my soul and instead of pouring out into the world in the form of action and expression, it just backs up back into my mind and produces this massive electrical charge that expresses itself as mental chaos.

For a long time, that was simply the way things were. I stayed all wrapped up in myself, trying to shut out the world and disappear into my toys, and thought that because my mind was free, I was free.

Like hell. I was more a slave in a cage than any pig-ignorant bumpkin who thinks Obama is a gay Muslim socialist fascist. It does not matter if your mind can fly as free as a bird if said bird has a sixteen ton weight tied to its tail.

And so it went for far too many years of my life. After I moved out of Angela’s place and into the apartment I live in now, it became all too easy not to have to deal with the world at all.

So I have been in somewhat of a slump for a long time. And things have only gotten worse since last November. Last year, I was doing a video and a blog entry a day, and doing fine that way.

But now, I blog, and that’s it. And that is not good. Not that I have some sort of obligation or compulsion to do more, but this blog of mine does not absorb enough of my creative energies to keep me calm. In fact, lately writing this blog entry has felt really easy for me. I guess that means I have gotten back into shape, writing wise. This little outlet of mine does me a lot of good, but it is feeling increasingly like a warm-up, not a routine.

This would naturally lead to finding something else to do with my day, and it is not like I don’t have lots of exciting and fruitful possibilities. I could start a new book, or try to pin down some of my short story ideas long enough to write the damned thing, or go back to making videos, maybe with my tablet this time (better quality), or start up a wacky fake news website like I have been planning to do forever, or yadda yadda yadda,

So I have a lot of neato things I could totally do. But I am stuck at the end of the diving board, scared to dive even though I know the water is only a few feet below.

Thus, I am feeling the conflict big time, and it is a very hard thing to resolve. I need an inner conflict resolution expert. My inner self wants to emerge and shine and release all that latent power into the world in the form of wonderful, witty, wacky, warm works of art.

But there is still this barrier within me, the little boy who can’t jump, and that terrible fear that makes me cling to stasis as the only way to keep my demons quiet hold me back.

Hell, it holds me down. I really feel like I am holding my own head under water lately. I used to feel this sort of thing as me staring at myself, unblinking, and holding myself in place that way. Frozen by the light.

But now it feels a lot more like a hand on the back of my head, pushing me down, squashing me into place, keeping me from lifting my head and looking around at the world.

This is the point in the battle for my soul when the skirmishes stop and the war begins. I wish I knew a better way. I am conflict avoidant by nature, preferring to stick with the smooth and mellow groove. I don’t dig the harshness.

And part of me keeps trying to find a diplomatic solution. Something that balances the ambition and the fear and lets them find a third way out of the conflict and into cooperation with each other.

Problem is, that inner barrier has to go. That is not negotiable. That wall inside of me, the wall that has both been keeping me in and keeping the world out, has to be destroyed. Perhaps a new, more flexible, more nuanced barrier will replace it eventually, but for now, the old wall has to come down like the walls of Jericho.

Only when I can let the world in and let myself out can I find a more healthy equilibrium. I will always be an introvert. I will always need serious alone time to recharge after social engagement. I will always seek the quiet spaces where I can do my quiet activities in peace. I will never be someone who is a social whirlwind.

But I need to move in that direction. Let some fresh air into my soul and clear out all the junk cluttering up my mind. Get rid of old thought patterns in favour of new, optimized ones. Patch myself into Fru 2.0 already.

As always, though, the real issue is patience, and faith. The patience to wait for this long damned process to work itself out, and the faith that all of this is, actually, leading somewhere.

Turns out, the war within will not be short or decisive, and will in fact be something of a quagmire.

And here I thought we’d be greeted as liberators.

See you tomorrow, folks!