The Illusion of Choice

ChoiceWe choose so many things every day. We choose what we wear, we choose where we go, we choose who we are with, and we choose when we do all of these things.

Sort of.

We work for a living, most of us, so the choice is whether we should work and get paid to pay others for other things. It’s a social contract born into, where we expend time and energy to get things that we need. We start with the basics, hopefully, of food, of shelter, and of clothing. Maybe we’re lucky enough to have those basics when we are small and defenseless humans, children, and maybe we aren’t forced down other paths to get those things. Then, when we are considered adults by society – and let’s be honest, some of us aren’t when society deems it so – we thrust ourselves into the world and stop depending on the elder humans to take care of our needs. If you’re reading this while living with your parents, I’m not judging, but others are because of the societal contracts we inadvertently signed with our first screams. 

Then we deal with our wants.

“The human race is a monotonous affair. Most people spend the greatest part of their time working in order to live, and what little freedom remains so fills them with fear that they seek out any and every means to be rid of it.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’

ChoicesAnd here we are. So we decide what to do with this ‘free time’, with this ‘freedom’, and we are presented things to buy. We are presented with things to occupy our time.

A man, looking at those urinals, will see choices and after being a man long enough will pick one basically out of habit. A woman offered these choices will probably be dismayed, but that means they probably made the choice to go into the men’s room instead of the women’s room. By all means, I have no issues with that, so let’s not get lost in who has the right to use which bathroom. I’m just writing about freedom and the illusion of choice, and this image popped up in a search.

The choices we are given are largely decided by others, and they’re not really choices if we consider that. You could have gone and done anything else, but you’re here instead, reading this entry, which I’d say was a choice. I’d hope it was a good one. But without me writing this and sharing it, you would not have had that choice, without others writing things to compete with your attention, you would not have had that choice.

I didn’t data mine to write this, I didn’t tailor it for you, I didn’t do any of that. I simply felt like writing it. I don’t care about SEO or any of that crap here- maybe someday I will, but I doubt it.

The point is that I didn’t use any ways to induce you to be here. That gives you more of a choice in a world where you are presented things you like based on things you have liked, sticking you into a rut of thinking that you’re comfortable with, that you feel safe with.

If you’re comfortable and feeling safe, you’re not stretching. If you’re not stretching, you’re not growing. And if you’re not growing, you’re making the human race a monotonous affair.

Except Billionaires.

Captive SkyYesterday, I wrote a post on my other site that challenged a World Economic Forum post – as people should. Part of that post dealt with this thing we call freedom.

I love freedom, yet every time I become slightly more free I am reminded that I am not allowed to be in one way or the other. Breathing is a compromise of freedom. We Americans that dominate the social media and social networks in our own vacuums tend to believe that the United States is the only nation with ‘freedom’, when really most of the world has it and some nations are arguably more free (step out of your vacuum). As a multicultural, I get to see the world a little differently – but in the end, we know what freedom is and what freedom isn’t.

We know that in a capitalist society – and this is no smear against capitalism, it’s all I really know – that if you have more, you have to protect it. If you have something of value that you want to keep, you have to fence it, protect it, have an army of lawyers to protect your intellectual property, have a firewall on your systems (or better, air-gap them). Suddenly, by simply having more than someone else, you are less free.

Around the world, while there may be less poverty, there are more clear striations between haves and have-nots. In the Global Income Inequality post(which, oddly enough has the same citation as the optimistic post on the World Economic Forum I originally responded to: Max Roser), data seems to indicate it’s on the decline but is still high.

Who is more free, the person that has and needs to protect it or the person who does not have and cannot get it legally? Where is the freedom?

Around the world, people do what they can to be free. As individuals, we all have seen the people who plod and plod without getting ahead, those stable people that society depends on to keep us from sliding into the abyss of our own humanity and lack of it. We see those aspiring to do better, maybe working their way through college – maybe getting a job afterwards to pay off any debt incurred, maybe not. We see members of the military sign up to defend ‘freedom’ come back with lost limbs, or worse, with the scars that cannot be seen – and how much more freedom does anyone have, and how much freedom would someone have lost?

The chains of yesteryear became the financial chains after the abolishment of slavery – indentured servitude being the start, and de facto indentured servitude continues. To become more free, we collectively believe that we should accrue more financially, and when we do so we are limited by the very thing we thought would set us free.

“Except billionaires”, we might think, and yet how free are they?

The Gila Ride

Light my fire...It seems like a long time ago.

It was the 1989, and I’d pretty much given up on DeVry Institute of Technology. I was making good money as a programmer back then – it was a good time for programmers. I’d bought an FZR 600 off the showroom floor, cash. It was a nice trade-up from the mountain bike I’d been riding all over Irving, Texas, through the back-trails to get here and there.

Between work and classes, I didn’t have much time. The friends I had were… really, more of acquaintances. I told everyone I was heading to see some family. I wasn’t. I was getting away from everything.

Dropping some bags in storage, I saw a familiar face – she used to come around and see a roommate at one point or the other, but she was dropping some stuff in storage too. She waved, I waved, and we talked – it ends up she was heading to New Mexico. I had some time to kill. New Mexico it was.

Hillsboro. That sounded interesting enough for me. We camped in my storage area that night and broke out at dawn.

I had a light backpack set up for myself; she had a duffel that I tied to the back of the bike. We rode out.

There’s nothing quite like riding a motorcycle on the open road. Stopping for gas, bathroom breaks, bad food and worse coffee, we made it there in 2 days, just enjoying the ride. I learned that the FZR 600 was not intended for long rides, but I was younger and bulletproof.

We got to Hillsboro, she directed me where she was going, and I dropped her off.

“Where you off to?”
“No idea. I saw a cafe, I’ll eat and figure it out.”

A hug, and off I went to – I think it was – the Hillsboro General Store’s Country Cafe. It ends up I was in luck – it was the only place in town to eat. Eyes watched me as I moved to sit, but everyone was friendly. Small town, and I’m not from the small town. And, really, I probably looked dirty.

A thoughtful meal, a pack of smokes at the General Store, I sit on the FZR, arms draped over the handlebars. Leaned forward. She’s walking toward me.

She has her duffel. She walks up, a question on her face. It’s dim, but I can see the question.

“Where you going now?”
“No idea yet.”
“Texas?
“Nah.”
“Been to the Cliffs yet?”
“Nope. What Cliffs?”
“Take me with you, I’ll show you.”
“Hop on.”
“We need some gear.”

We got some sleeping gear, camp cooking stuff and rode out. I didn’t know how long we would be there. She seemed to have an idea, so she lead the charge.

And so we rode out to Gila Cliffs Dwellings (they didn’t have a website for it then), where we hung out for… a week. Really. We didn’t know anything about the Mogollon Culture or the history of the cliffs. It just seemed like a good place to be and we were good at avoiding the Rangers. There were a few jokes about ‘pic-a-nic baskets’. Aside from scrounging food, we just hung out in the dwellings and stayed out of view.

It ends up we just needed a place to be for a while – apparently, like the Mogollons who had made the dwellings.

Millennia of evolution has taught us that night is the time when we’re safest in our most modern and conveniently stocked caves.

Our homes are still caves, bathed in electric light with comfortable places to sleep in safety. Children still fear the dark, as do more adults than would admit it.

But all of that lacks stars.

We pollute the Earth with all these lights at night that you can’t really see the sky. We spent a lot of time looking at the sky. We also didn’t talk too much – she had her reasons, and I didn’t have too much to say. When one of us was hungry, we made something – and handed the other person some of it. It’s just the way it was.

She was scribbling in her notebook. I was scribbling in mine.

Half of the week passed before she asked, “When do you think we should go?”
“Not yet?”
“Not yet.”

It was a good way to live. I’d sit there watching how the place was built – imagining how people lived there once. Maybe had a family. Maybe it was really noisy. Or maybe they were quiet like we were.

I don’t remember why we left- it seemed completely natural. The odd thing was that she threw her notebook in the fire before we left and stared at me. I nodded and threw mine in the fire too.

We left, and as we were hopping on the FZR, I asked her where she was headed. She shrugged. Something in the way she had acted, been and spoke made me think of Hillsboro, but I wasn’t going to mention it. I figured I would just stop there on the way to whatever came next.

It’s a short ride back, really, and I was rested. I started slowing down around Hillsboro and she tapped me on the shoulder. I looked over my shoulder, and she was pointing past the town… and she meant it.

A week later we ended up where we’d started from. A quick hug, and we went our ways.

We didn’t know each other’s names.

We didn’t seem to have to.

These are the little interludes in life that happen when you ride off the beaten tracks, the rat races, and the common… wisdom.

Create Your Freedom.

Chris Cornell

 

“It’s really difficult for a person to create their own life and their own freedom. It’s going to become more and more difficult, and it’s going to create more and more disillusioned people who become dishonest and angry and are willing to fuck the next guy to get what they want. ”

Chris Cornell,
(born Christopher John Boyle; July 20, 1964 – May 17, 2017), Rolling Stone, Jan 12th, 1995

Out of all the things he sang, wrote – this is the one that stands out to me the most. I’d seen it, and it seemed like he spoke about it about the time I’d figured it out. I’d decided back then to create my own life and my own freedom.

I just didn’t know how to do it.

I still don’t know, but by process of elimination, I think I may be onto something with what I’m doing these days.

We humans like to talk about freedom a lot, and very few of us can say that we are free. The second you can’t do something because of something you perceive as an external negative outcome, you’re not free. You’re only free when you’re concerned with your internal negative outcomes.

Society has plenty of external negative outcomes to offer. We all have to live within society to some extent. When I’m not out clearing bush and planning crops and where I’ll put what, I sometimes feel like I’m behind bars. Trapped. Enclosed. And there are times, too, when the system works your way and you don’t feel that way, but if you feel trapped long enough, you know that even the best of that comes with some low.

Some prison. So the question people should be asking themselves is really whether they want to fuck the next person over to get ahead or not. And if you don’t, if there’s some bit of innocence not lost in that inner being, you probably don’t want to. There are times when you’ll want to lash out in anger… oh, there are times, I know this, it still happens to me and probably always will… but that rage just… well, the Smashing Pumpkins say it well.

And creating your own life and your own freedom is a thing worth pursuing, even if not attained.

Be authentic.

Thoughts On Independence Day 2016

4th of JulyIt’s Independence Day – the 4th of July, 2016, and I’ve been thinking a lot about things related to it. Here in New Smyrna Beach, the beach is full of people from all over Florida – mainly Orlando, I’d wager. I’m in a coffee shop writing this – a coffee shop open today. I had breakfast today at another place that was open – all getting the tourist traffic while they can.

The city of New Smyrna Beach is of more than 2 minds. Places on the main drag of Canal Street were closed yesterday and today because of the holiday while the town filled with people from outside of the city. On one hand, the wish for development and the want for tourist money for local businesses, on the other, the closed local businesses. Hibernating while hungry.

A table away, there’s a woman reading a paper on taxes in preparation for a conference. The irony of that is something I didn’t mention – part of our independence was about taxation without representation, and in my mind the representation we get for our taxation may as well be to King George. The gap is no longer the Atlantic Ocean, it is the bureaucracy and 3 ring circus of presidential candidates and the media whose journalistic integrity has decided to be below rather than above reproach.

I think of this even as I think of a friend messaging me today, thanking me for my service. My response was that we all do our part, and in turn thanked him for his, a matter of responding with respect to someone I do respect rather than a the shallow response I give to the shallow thanks I have heard at times. I think of those who did much more, paying the ultimate price, and my problem with thinking that our military does anything in recent memory about protecting our freedom. It seems a popular illusion, or maybe it’s something that isn’t what I think it should be.

We’re less free now than when I was growing up, less free than when I signed up with the Navy, less free than I wandered around dressed like a shrub, not quite tall enough to be a tree. Less free than when the Twin Towers were still standing. All throughout every election and the space in between the elections, I have heard fear given voice about terrorists, terrorism, and anyone that is associated with these acts.

Travel is annoying with the TSA, laws exist now so that moving from one state to another can be a nightmare simply to open a bank account or even a driver’s license changed – where the law requires it be done in 30 days of moving to a state, but it can take 90 days to meet the pre-requisites to actually change the license (something I learned in 2010 from Wisconsin). People talk quietly about whoever they consider the enemy to be and when I overhear, I can’t help but consider Cavafy’s, “Waiting for the Barbarians“.

Sometimes surrounded by those who have been well educated, I suffer many who are not well read. Independence Day, a day where we overthrew tyranny as an act of treason that we remember as breaking of shackles. Which is right? Both.

And these days, I see the tyranny of prejudice on the lips of almost everyone. Even those against one candidate who has become a lightning rod for those uncomfortable with those of pigmentation have their own prejudice that makes conversation between the two poles magnetically inconvenient for true social discourse. And those same who call others bigots have no trouble casting their own bigotry about this demographic at that, not realizing their own irony. There is no equal opportunity, there is ‘flavor of the century’. Some will say it’s getting better, but really, it depends on the flavor and how much of it is available.

The tyranny of financial markets and algorithmic trading, of toxic financial instruments. The tyranny of the homeless and despondent, be they they veterans or not; the tyranny of a bureaucracy of poor treatment of those we have put into the harm’s way when they’re supposed to be back safe and home when they aren’t safe and whole. We casually call this the V.A., but it’s larger than that and it’s a fool’s errand to fix just the VA.

There’s the tyranny of those not making a livable wage, and the derived tyrannies of the unfair comparisons between groups that all need a livable wage – including our active duty military, wandering around protecting whatever freedom we have need of in the Middle East. I’m not sure that we need that freedom, but we apparently believe we do and send our younger men and women to go protect it at the cost of parts of their lives. The tyranny of 22 veterans committing suicide every day, with one likely having taken their own life while I write this. How awful. That’s a damned tyranny.

I see the tyranny of poorly informed people voting – sure, we could talk about Brexit, but let’s instead talk about stupid things right here in the United States, where even those who accuse themselves with intelligence mistake health insurance for health care, where they’ll do anything to support a candidate – even ignore their own issues. Like rowdy supporters of a football team, it seems we’re on the precipice of getting to the level that British football fans are still trying to either live up to or down to (I’m not sure). In this presidential election so far, we’ve had blood spilled.

We’ve had blood spilled by supporters of presidential candidates. People on the left and the right feel so disconnected with government that it’s amazing what they will say and do.

A month ago, I had two Trump supporters at a burger place tell me that Trump isn’t a politician. I said, “Well, he is now, he’s running for President.” Then they claimed him a great business man, to which I brought up the bankruptcies, and their response was that he himself never went bankrupt. “Fair enough”, I said, “so if he runs the economy into the ground, we can be certain he won’t be bankrupt.” A pause, then, “Well, he’s better than the other.”

I wandered across to a coffee shop and there sat a circle of Bernie Sanders supporters having an open meeting. I listened; they were desperately unhappy that Hillary Clinton had gotten their party’s nomination but generally stopped when it came to criticizing the party. One said he would vote for Hillary just so that Trump didn’t win, the guy after said, “no way, he was voting his conscience”. When asked about what he would do if Trump won, his response had me wondering if I was inadvertently a witness to conspiracy.

Those two camps  – and there are more than two – are so busy talking about what the politicians and media want them to talk about, they’re not talking about their own issues. I heard someone who claimed that ‘Obamacare is great’ complaining about having to go to Winter Park because their insurance didn’t allow them to visit a specialist in town. They saw it as inconvenience, but not an issue. Why? Frankly, because elections are not about rationality, it would seem.

Outside of the echo chambers of social networks and cable news networks where opinion is manufactured, people are stubbing their toes on all sorts of issues that they should be talking about but only speak of that which they are told are issues. It’s the tyranny of being lost from ourselves, lost from the reality so many of us live in.

I read this article on Star Wars and the Fantasy of American Violence – perhaps too high brow for most voters out there, at least partly because of an education system that needs more sense than dollars. The ending of that article:

…There is another version of America beyond the noise our fireworks make: not military strength, but the deliberate commitment to collective self-determination. Perhaps this Fourth of July we could commemorate that. Instead of celebrating American violence, we might celebrate our Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and the ideals those documents invoke of an educated citizenry deciding its fate not through war but through civil disagreement. Instead of honoring our troops, whose chief virtues are obedience and aggressiveness, we could honor our great dissenters and conscientious objectors. And instead of blowing things up, maybe we could try building something.

It’s our choice. We make our myths. We show by our actions what our holy days mean. Forty years after the American Bicentennial, 13 years after I stood on a rooftop in Baghdad, and 10 years after getting out of the Army, I won’t be out under the fire, cheering our explosions. I won’t be watching “Star Wars” either. My America isn’t an empire or a rebellion, but an ideal; it’s not a conquest, nor a liberation, but a commitment.

I’d like a commitment for us to stop creating our own tyrannies, but I think that may be a bridge too far. The tyranny of the lack of self-determination needs to be the first thing to go, and it shouldn’t just be here in the United States but instead around the world.

But today is Independence Day, the 4th of July, so I think of America, and I think of the freedom from our self-imposed tyrannies, for their is no other group or nation powerful enough to impose tyranny on us. We’re fools to think otherwise.

And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.