Monday, November 30, 2015

Why We Ought to Admit We Don't Really Care about Each Other

People have been complaining about apathy for decades; maybe forever: "People just don't care." It would seem the direct result of this has been the creation of absurd expectations. Now, people seem to feel bound to care about everything and everyone and, worse, that everyone ought to care about them.

But that is not natural. Our ability to care about one another has limits and so does the ability of others to care about us. To think otherwise is simply an act in ego-centrism that is bound to lead to profound disappointment.

If the parent of an acquaintance dies, I will pause and say, "Aw, man. That's too bad." I might even offer up a quick prayer for the deceased. Within minutes, however, I will be happily going about my business, the death of the acquaintance's loved one completely forgotten. (Bear in mind, I said "acquaintance," not "friend.")

Is that cold? Or is that a reality most are afraid to admit?

If the deceased is a loved one of a close friend or of a family member, everything is different, however. My day would be ruined. My thoughts would dwell upon my friend for an extended period of time. Why? Because of a real bond -- one that has been developed over years. To expect me to feel -- deeply -- the loss of someone I barely know is to cheapen human friendship and human love.

I hope we are in agreement with this. It seems to me that anyone who would react in the same way to the loss suffered by a friend and that suffered by an acquaintance is either an abnormally empathetic person or a praise-seeking faker. It has to be one or the other and my guess is that is is usually the latter, but I'm no expert.

What if I made list, right here, of the people I don't really, truly, emotionally care about? -- not people upon whom I would wish harm or whose suffering I would witness without some sadness or even anger, but those for whom I really don't deeply care. The list would be long for me, and I would speculate that the list, if you were being honest, would be long for you as well.

How many people can we deeply care about in a lifetime? I'm talking about the kind of caring we can really feel.

The proverbial pendulum will swing, though. and maybe the complaints of apathy have caused us to feel obligated to disproportionately care about every creature on the planet. This is ridiculous and it is, as I said, unnatural.

The call seems to be for everyone to feel strongly about everything. Of course, the Internet is a big cause of this. We are attacked by people's cries of inequity and of injustice on every front from race to animal rights to local politics. We are also inundated with the views of people who speak right from the gut. The vomiting of "positions" is met with hooting and hollaring of approval. A reasoned argument is now seen as cold and uncaring.

The entire flip-side of this, for me, is that we --- especially young people -- seem to think people are obligated to care about them.

I recently watched a video of a confrontation (start at 1:35 to avoid extra comment) based on the Yale email incident (in which students who were offended by an email regarding Halloween costumes berated and called for the dismissal of the ones responsible). The upshot of it all? The students feel Nicholas Christakis, a professor who presides over one of their colleges, ought to do whatever they ask and that he ought to think whatever they want him to. (That's my reading of it, of course, but it is the right reading, if I do say so myself.) This is what they see as his being their "advocate." The main confrontation is with a girl whose emotion runs high because the professor (who is always calm, always reasonable, and, in my opinion, always right) doesn't feel student (who tells him at one point to "shut up" and, at another, curses at him) comfort and happiness is his only responsibility.

This is the generation that comes out of this shift from apathy to unreasonable emotional demand. They somehow feel their needs are paramount. It's not as if their needs are not important; it's just that these kids are not as prominent in the minds of others as they are in their own. To live with the illusion that it is otherwise is to set up expectations that are likely to lead to a life lived in a constant state of offense.

(Regarding more on Yale, read this excellent article.)

Monday, November 23, 2015

A "To Do" List in a Social Media World

Things to do just today, according to my friends, follows and fellow social media users. (Of course, I will have to do this after work and in between child-raising activities):

1. Sign petition to keep out Syrian refugees
2. Sign petition to let in Syrian refugees
3. Share meme about Jesus to prove I am a good Christian
4. Defend Christmas
5. Change my profile pic to the French flag to prove I have a heart
6. Find a missing child
7. Adopt fifteen pets without homes
8. Find a missing old woman
9. Support gay rights
10. Praise Caitlyn Jenner
11. Condemn Caitlyn Jenner
12. Hate the police
13. Love the police
14. Stop shopping at Chick-fil-A because they are evil
15. Go to Chick-fil-a because they are awesome
16. Stop shopping at Bloomingdales
18. Care about 127 youth soccer games and comment on all the pictures
19. Adopt fifteen more pets without homes
20. Sign petition for concealed carry of guns
21. Sign petition against concealed carry of guns
22. Mourn for Paris
23. Don't mourn for Paris; mourn for Beruit
24. Don't mourn for Beruit; mourn for the Russian dead
25. Apologize for mourning about the wrong people
26. Remember to call transexuals "she"
27. Remember to call transvestites "she"
28. Remember that if I judge people, others will condemn me
29. Draw a conclusion on an ongoing court case
30. Share a meme to prove I am a good father
31. Share a meme to show I am a good son
32. Share a meme to show I am a good husband
33. Share a meme to show I am a good treacher
34. Feel guilty that people are starving during the holidays
35. Wonder why people don't want me to feel guilty about this the rest of the year
36. Hate Donald Trump
37. Love Donald Trump
38. Hate Hillary Clinton
39. Love Hillary Clinton
40. Support particular homeless people (gay, transgender, under 20, over 50, women, men...)

Anyway, this was just all today. Please forgive me if I don't get to all of them. I have to pick up my sons after school at chess club and then help them with their homework and then help with dinner and then read some essays for school tomorrow... But I should get to at least 30 of these...

Monday, November 16, 2015

"Thanks, Jasmine"

There is an argument to be made, of course, for our complaints when they can be categorized as "first world problems." Louis CK does a great interview with Conan O'Brien in which he references our lack of appreciation for the incredible technology we have. He speaks of people complaining about small things about their airline flights and he reminds them that they should be constantly amazed in flight. He reminds them: "You're sitting in a chair in the sky." What more do we want, right?

But...what if, thirty years ago, you were on the phone in your office and you needed a pad of paper on which to write an important note and there was none to be found? You'd have flipped out and gotten angry, because the convenience/necessity of a notepad was not available, right?

This morning, I came in to school and had a million things facing me from the first second. The first task was to check and respond to emails. The first email of the day was to a teacher and I needed only to send: "Thanks, Jasmine." It should have taken about six seconds.

This took me more than fifteen minutes to do, because my email kept freezing. Four "force quits," two "restarts," multiple profanities and one floor-crawling switch from wireless to wired connection later, I got the email to work.

I guess one could argue that I am spoiled -- but the whole worth of this technology is for it to make things faster and easier. When it does not work, our flow is destroyed. I think a little anger is justified.

I wonder if, some time in history, there was an old guy and a young guy in a room and the young guy cursed because his quill point broke and the old guy said, "Dude. What more do you want?  You dip a feather into ink and you can write...and you are going to complain when your point breaks? We used to have to chisel words into stone and if you messed up you couldn't just cross it out..."

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Who Do We Think We Are?

Everyone knows, based on the old cliche, that the inmates cannot be allowed to run the asylum, right? I think we are forgetting what a republic is supposed to be and we are losing perspective on what leaders are.

I think when Jefferson, et al, said that "all men are created equal," they meant that all people are created with an equal starting point. But I don't think that they thought that, in the end, all people end up equal, in intellectual or even physical ability.

Could "all men are created equal" possibly mean that everyone is on the intellectual level of Thomas Jefferson or Einstein or Shakespeare? Could it mean that all are at athletic at Michael Jordan or Ted Williams or Jim Thorpe or Rhonda Rowsey? -- as talented as Beethoven or Ravel or Jimmy Hendrix or Segovia?

Of course not. There are people in our (and in every country) who are either unintelligent or uninformed or downright misguided. Those people shouldn't be running the asylum and our forefathers knew that.

To that end, a government was created in America that allows the people to contribute their preferences for elected officials and then stand back and let them work. This is not to say that the general populace should have not input, but that, the way to fix things is speak up, write articles or to elect someone else when those in office not longer fit the bill.

And in the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson was careful to point out that the idea of revolution is one that should be carefully stepped into:

"Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes..."

Now, it seems to me, we common people in the everyday world have come to the impression that we make all the decisions; that we can pick up the pitchforks and torches whenever we want and demand anything we want; that the things we don't like are cause for lighting fires and burning them down. 

Everything is not cause for a walkout or a riot or a protest; though many things are. And after the mass protest -- whatever it is -- someone has to be in charge.

I just heard that one of the demands of the protesters at the University of Missouri, after the requested resignations happened, was that the protesters were demanding a say in the hiring of the next university president.

Sure. That's a great idea. We should let people from their teens into their low twenties decide who is the right person to run their university. Great idea. Because we all know how crystal clear our intellectual processes were at that age. And, it is common knowledge that the average college student knows perfectly well what it takes to successfully run an institution of higher learning. (Of course, some will try to argue that the ridiculous tuitions at the average university give students the right to choose their president. Not really, if you ask me.)

Who the heck, exactly, do we think we are? All men are created equal, but they don't all wind up equal and they certainly are not born with the qualifications to decide everything. We can make noise; we can protest; we can vote, but it may be prudent to acknowledge that we might not all be up to the job of being the rulers of the universe. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

In Defense of Phil Collins

We've all had those "that's just not funny" moments. We've all been the only person in the room not laughing at a joke we found distasteful.

I recently had one while zipping around online. To me, this "joke" is a manifestation of how cold we have gotten as a world society. It shows that, even in jest, we have adopted a belief that it is okay to simply shut down that with which we disagree or that which we don't prefer and that we can say what we feel like simply because we have a forum to do so -- no thought or consideration of others necessary. 

Recently, Phil Collins announced that he would come out of retirement. A few days ago, I saw that there is a petition -- that has been signed by thousands -- designed to force Phil Collins back into retirement. 

Yes, I know it is meant to be satirical and funny. To me, though, it is not funny. 

Maybe because I grew up, musically, on Gabriel and Collins era Genesis -- even though I may have faded away from them some time after Invisible Touch (or, in the case of Collins, No Jacket Required). Maybe it is because Collins's Hello I Must Be Going album spent nearly a year on my teenage turntable. Maybe it is because Collins was one of my early drumming idols. But, it could also be because I know what kind of work-ethic Collins has or because I know how sensitive he can be to criticism (based on what I have heard in interviews).

Or, maybe it is because I have come to believe that Collins is just a plain good guy, based on what I know of him. (He's the only artist who played both in London and Philly, on the same day, for Live Aid in the eighties. Why? Because he believed, in light of the kind of money he made, that it was the least he could do.) On top of it all -- why did he retire in the first place? Because of his kids. So he could raise them properly. Sounds like a good chap to me. 

Collins has always been saddened by the critics, who have never really been kind to him. Filling stadiums didn't change that, it seems... 

I know there are legions of people who are excited to see Phil come back, so this petition should not affect him in the least. But I think it will, on a personal level. And even if it doesn't, it is still not funny. 

What I do find funny is that the internet mobs are fine with attacking someone who, say, makes fun of fat people ("It's insensitive to make fat jokes; it's body shaming...") but they are fine with attacks on individuals. Further proof that the individual is getting swallowed up every day. Welcome to the collective...

I know the people who signed it and the guy who created it find themselves insufferably hip. I know that they are above beautiful songs like "Against All Odds" because they have moved on to the new crop of garage band level musicians who fumble along on their instruments (style out of weakness) and who piece together songs rolled out of cool and non-committal insincerity. And I hope this petition helps them to further convince themselves that they have a lens fixed on what is fashionable. I really do. They seem to need it. 

I also hope Phil knows that the cleverest of these clevers will be drowned out forever after a nice, fat, sold out world tour and by the thunder of a Collins/Thompson drum duet. 

I'm behind you, Phil. For what it's worth. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Choosing One's Most Difficult Act

I have mentioned before that I take a half-hour walk each morning at 5:30(ish). The benefits of this are many, but I am certainly not going to become a health blogger. (Before I do that, I should probably stop eating takeout food three nights a week...)

But there is one benefit that occurred to me this morning on my walk. At least, I think it is a benefit:

The most difficult thing I do every day is self-imposed. For me, it's getting out of bed at 5:30 in the morning. The actual action; that 10 second struggle of lifting my big, fat, sleepy head off of the pillow, swinging my seven-hundred-pound legs out of bed and wobbling (and I do wobble) down the hall and out the door is just plain miserable. I hate getting up early more than I hate just about any other mundane activity.

There is good in this; there has to be. There is, of course, the simple satisfaction of knowing that I have done it. Also, it is a kind of life-control implicit in the act. I determine my most difficult moment of the typical day. (I say "typical," of course, in exclusion of unpredictable things that could be much worse and sometimes are.)

Maybe the practice of walking at an ungodly hour is not unlike that of martial artist who punches a tree over and over in order to toughen his hands and his mind. It's not a great act, in and of itself, but the repetition of the act lends itself to slowly accumulating strength, both within and without.

I'm sure this cannot be an original idea -- that choosing one's most difficult act of a day is beneficial -- but I don't think I have heard it articulated before. Somewhere in my head (sometimes subconsciously and sometimes in full awareness) the things I do during the day are easier by comparison. Stop at the store for milk when I would rather go right home after work? -- drive the boys to an activity? -- go shopping for winter clothes? -- bring the car for service?

Meh. It's not a cold, solitary walk in the dark of a morning before a busy day... I already brought that on myself.