No Matter Where You Go

CavemanIt didn’t start this way.

It used to be that when you didn’t agree with the group, you’d wander off somewhere else on the planet and do your own thing. It could be about anything – if you saw more good in the risk of leaving the group than the bad of staying, you could wander off. Do your own thing, whatever it was, wherever you went. It was all pretty straightforward. If you got a group together that agreed on this, you’d have your own little starter tribe moving off to another part of the world.

No matter where you go…

The beauty of the world was that we hadn’t quite figured out that it was round, much less finite. It was all pretty infinite since we were using our feet back then. Then more you disagreed, the further you and your group walked. Maybe you were very angry but you find somewhere relatively near that was hospitable, and because of that you ended up closer than you probably should have to your original tribe. So you came up with a tree branch that you could whack other people with, or you figured out how to sharpen it. If you encountered people that you didn’t like, it was a simple matter of whacking them over the head or introducing them to your sharp and pointy stick. Eventually they would do the same.

Maybe you reconciled. Maybe you didn’t. At some point, you either ran out of people or one group moved further away than another. Things moved on. Nobody remembers Ug’s last stand where he was surrounded by pointy sticks, all begun because he believed in picking the fruits a little earlier than they did. Ug felt strongly enough to die for it. He’s not in your history books. Ug also had strong feelings about quantum mechanics, but we’ll never know.

If only Ug had wandered away, we might know.

And so diversity in thought came to the world as people moved just far enough away from each other to not get on each other’s nerves. They created little genetic pockets that caused a change in appearance, however small, even as they figured out how to make metal to chop down forests so that they could use that new invention, fertilizer. Populations grew, and soon the distance that was far enough some time ago was no longer far enough away for some. Wars were waged, walls were built, and conquerors decided that their way of life was so good that people wouldn’t mind a little violence to have their way of life.

As luck would have it, during that violence many people who disagreed with the invading way of life would be removed from the planet…. or the invading force who was convinced of how awesome their way of life was were removed. None of this was decided on merits. It was decided by technology, by aggression, and by strategy. There are some that say that this hasn’t changed very much since.

During all of this, one of the descendants of the folks that killed Ug – remember Ug? – figured out that things floated and, with a little work, they could make things that could take them over water. On a planet mainly covered in water, this was a pretty big deal though they didn’t know it at the time. Some guy would later be accused of proving the Earth was round the same year that the globe was invented, all because he was lost. He wasn’t the first, of course, but the people who wrote the history books wanted him to appear first – so he did. We know better now.

And so some people got to wander again, finding different lands where – surprise – they found different people who had been minding their own business and fighting with each other for as long as  they could remember. This was inconvenient, so after a while they conquered them if they didn’t slaughter them. Or, maybe it was time to have some slaves again – slave technology had been around for a long time and hadn’t changed much. For slave owners, who had the authority and power granted to them by themselves, sea faring meant being able to travel with the comforts of slavery to do things that they wanted to do without getting too dirty or sweaty. That these were other human beings didn’t mean too much to them. In fact, they denied it despite obvious indications that this was so.

Populations grew. There was no real place left to wander, and when you get enough people packed closely together for a long enough period of time, they find things to fight over. They did. World Wars came and went, bringing aircraft into the mix even as they started flying around. And so things went.

Meanwhile, with people all over occupying more and more land, there needed to be more effective ways to communicate. Before you know it, there were wires running and people tapping away in code to let other people know something that someone thought was important.

This evolved to the Internet, which you are likely using right now. Connecting the world that had been made of wanderers, it demonstrates how far apart people have grown more often than not.

…there you are.
– Confucius

On Success

Money PropAn article yesterday had a headline along the lines of, “If you’re intelligent, why aren’t you rich?”. The teaser asked, “Why don’t people with high intelligence become successful?” I won’t bother linking the article because I didn’t read it – all because of the headline and teaser. There are so many things wrong with these things that I decided not to waste my time.

First of all, measures of intelligence are flawed. Secondly, success isn’t necessarily being rich – society may believe that, but individuals may not. Third, because of the prior 2 points, who is to say whether those with an incisive (unmeasured, immeasurable) intellect in certain areas or on a broad spectrum are actually unsuccessful?

There was a time I aspired to be both intelligent and successful in these contexts. I recall staring at a MENSA letter in the late 1980s and wondering, at that point, what being a member would mean to me. The idea that intelligent people should only hang around intelligent people didn’t really rub me the right way – because of my personality and the way I grew up (we could argue chicken and egg here), I counted loyalty and honesty to be the most important thing for social connections. My experience with those accused of intelligence did not demonstrate either of these things. I tossed that invitation in the bin. It was a big moment – a decision that to be intelligent I didn’t have to be recognized as intelligent by some group of people who sat around doing puzzles.

I hated writing that paragraph because in it’s way it’s self-defeating, but I believe it adds value in context. 

I’d already figured out life was a puzzle, a puzzle provided with no answer to work toward. There was no image on the box to guide me- society had one, but it assumed certain conditions that simply did not exist for me. When I applied for financial aid at college, as an example, I had the misfortune of not being of African or Hispanic descent and an inability to be dishonest about it. And yet I was a minority. Society didn’t care about minorities, it cared about appearing to care about minorities.

Churchill success quotationThere was little that I tried that I couldn’t do. This, in retrospect, came down to grit. Grit is what got me through my life so far; intelligence was only a tool. I can’t tell you the number of times friends and family told me that I would fail. Every time, without exception, I succeeded. Did I make lots of money? Sometimes. Did I spend it on the same people who thought I would fail? Sometimes. Why? Why would I help those who wouldn’t even give emotional support? That question haunts me.

I’m no dullard, yet I have met people who are – at least in some regards, if not many  – are more intelligent than I am. Being intelligent doesn’t actually mean anything, particularly in a standardized education system where intelligence is anything but standard. The world needs all kinds of minds (read that link).

And what, really, is success? Is it fighting to accumulate things that mean nothing to you when dead? Is it really all about accumulating wealth? Society largely says so.

SuccessI measure success differently. My success is about being able to look myself in the mirror and like what I see – not physically (as we get older, we appreciate that disappointment more) but emotionally and mentally. I am successful.

But financially? Well, that’s another story entirely. But because of how I gauge success, I owe no one anything. People owe me.

And their success determines my financial success, but does not determine my success.

I do that. And that’s my real success – not being tied to society’s version of success.

Delusion.

protect delusionYou were born in a place on a planet. Where this happened defines your nationality, for better or worse.

This does not mean you should not travel to other parts of the world outside of the resorts and tourist destinations to meet people around the world.

You were born into a culture which shaped how you think. A religion was passed down to you; before you could speak you were surrounded by that culture and religion.

This does not mean it’s the right culture for you, or it’s the right religion for you. This is not even a factory default setting in a human. You are free to choose others, or free to choose none.

You were born into a socioeconomic situation. This will either give you opportunities that those without will call privilege, or will keep you from opportunities through your lack of privilege. There are myths and legends of hard work making you a financial success – and then there’s the story of Sisyphus.

It’s better not to be Sisyphus.

Oh, and you were born a particular shade of humanity – but that too doesn’t define you.

These are some common delusions we propagate from generation to generation.

It’s time to stop. Think. Choose.

Paths

Stay On the PathThe trouble with society and it’s war of narratives is that it’s all on a defined path. Some people are happy keeping their hands and feet inside their moving lives, content to watch as they meet waypoints on the path. They judge themselves and others by what society determines is a right path and a wrong path. What many fail to acknowledge is that these paths don’t work for everyone and that the paths were decided long ago and may not even be relevant anymore.

The human species is amazingly boring that way. It’s sort of like watching a colony of ants; everyone has their place and does what they need to do to sustain the colony. Where this falters in mankind is the concept of individuality. Where we tell children and later adults that they can do anything. That if they work really hard and follow the dictates of society, they will prosper. It’s plain to see that this is not working out very well for a majority of people around the world who, not unlike drones, go off searching for food for queens.

Are we no more than that?

It would seem so.

But then there are those who find other paths.

Perspective

spaceWe used to look up.

I don’t know exactly who I mean by ‘we’. Maybe it was my generation, when we had seen man actually make it to the moon. Maybe it was people of my mindset.  I’d like to think it was my generation, with parents who had watched the original series of ‘Star Trek’ – and our generation who saw the original ‘Star Wars’. Or,  ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, or even, ‘E.T.’.

We used to look up. We used to stare at the stars, some of us, while laying in the grass.

I’ve spent most of the day watching this live stream, in the background, as I read and did other things. It’s beautiful. It’s amazing. And we take it for granted, we sit there staring at phones, communicating about little of worth.

The things of worth we do talk about are about how we can’t keep things from flooding, or people from doing dumb things, or arguing over which idiot is better than which – we who could put a man on the moon, who could build an international space station, who could go peeking at other planets like a nosy neighbor.

We have the capacity to know where we are on our own planet with accuracy that would make ancient mariners ecstatic, and we have that on devices that Tesla told us we would eventually have. It wasn’t so long ago that these things didn’t exist. We dreamed big.

Then the Internet happened – a complex system of communication, too complex for our communication as we began to talk to people around the world. Kittens and pornography propagated it across the world.

Some were so intent on selling their products, services and thoughts that they got really good at marketing. In fact, they got so good at marketing that their marketing became better than their products, services and thoughts.

Somewhere along the way, I think we stopped looking up with a sense of awe. We stopped seeing what our combined efforts could do if we chose to work together.

We should look up.

What Dost Thou Do; What Hast Thy Done?

Attempts at Self Portrait (6)Invariably, people who have reconnected or just connected with me have gone through the Q&A with me that I used to find painful.

Whether I’m married (no), how many children I have (looks around), what I’ve been doing with myself (where do I even start?), what I’m doing…

These questions have never made sense to me, particularly the last two. Whether I’m married or not is no gauge of completeness or even content – I have empirical evidence on both ends of the spectrum. Whether I have children assumes that I would want to try to explain the mess of humanity to a little human without having to apologize all the time – and nevermind the biological requirement of said little human having a mother who I would have to put up with, and more importantly, she would have to put up with me… I’m sure I don’t know. Absolutely sure.

The last two, though. Now, all of these questions are related to how people view the world, their lives, and what a life is. In that, the last two are bothersome.

So here’s how I’ve come up with my new answers.

What have I been doing with myself?

How many times have I thought to say, “that’s a rather personal question… what have you been doing with yourself?”, but opted not to?

I’ve been living. I’ve been growing.

No, really, I’ve been living. I’ve been growing.

See, as a kid, when everyone was being asked what they wanted to do, and the answers ranged from policeman to fireman to doctor to lawyer… I wanted to be an oceanographer. And then life happened.

I ended up working with electrical motors, then offset printing, then computer programming, then software engineering (there is a difference, kids)… In college, I started as a EET, then went to CIS, then dropped out. then I joined the Navy as a Sonar Technician, switched over to Naval Nuclear Propulsion, then switched again to Hospital Corpsman.

Then life happened again; I worked at a blood bank where I trained phlebotomists and made custom furniture for mobile blood drives – then went to Honeywell, where I got to play with Inertial Navigation and GPS stuff, then went to…. well, I did a lot of things. And then somewhere along the way, someone started paying me to write, and I picked up photography and people paid me for that, too. Then I inherited some land, and I applied a lot of what I know about learning to learn more about agriculture, land management, and generally, how to get results without confrontation.

Just a few days ago, a lawyer sat across from me and said, “You don’t need me, you do all of this stuff by yourself.” No, no, of course I need her. I just think her talents are wasted on the mundane things I can solve myself by simply not being a jerk and working with people. It’s a novel concept that most religions were centered around at some point – we see how that went. But I digress.

And all this time I’ve been reading, thinking, exploring the world as much as I can in all ways that I can – not just physically. So what have I been doing?

The answer is looking for something. It’s looking for some sort of answer to gauge where I am in society. Am I someone who wields influence? No, not really, I wouldn’t like to think so. Am I rich? No, my bank account is something that I have a detached relationship with. What sort of car do I drive? How big is my house? How much tax do I pay?

So yeah, I’ve been living and growing. I might as well tell people I’m a nomad.

“I’ve been nomadic.” Leave that right there. Give them the hand wave with it and look at them as if they should know what that means. It should be fun.

And…

What am I doing?

Well, to be honest, I’m not quite sure what I’m doing. No one wants to hear that. The truth is that no one knows what they are doing. We’re all winging it. Some are on the beaten paths, though, so that’s what’s really being asked: “Which beaten path are you on?”

Well, I’m not. Truth be told, I never really have been – a few times I tried them, but they just didn’t suit me. They smell wrong, they make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, and the authoritarianism within them fills me with dread. Beaten paths are boring, too.

Meanwhile, I’m the sort of person who just pops up out of the brush now and then to see where everyone is.

Clearly I need a better answer than that. Clearly people want me to impress them somehow, tell them how awesome what I’m doing is, but they won’t see the value in not knowing and figuring it out as I go along.

One of my initial thoughts to answer this question was, “Avoiding answering this question”, but that just seems a bit too… jerkish.

I don’t have an answer to this other than moving stones, and I think that’s the answer I’ll go with.

Beneath The Wheel

The Old Town Astronomical ClockWe are all beneath the wheel, the crush of time, the prolapse of our minds and souls as things change around us.

A Snapshot

The teenager man-boy, a quotient of a fractured home, tries to find his way to manhood in an alien environment where someone who cared enough gave him a roof with conditions, walls with rules, and a freedom to be responsible where before he had none.

He works in the yard under the mock disdain of an elderly gentleman who did not invite the project, but who in his own way wants the best for the young man, suffering the indifference of the teenager to his words.

I am a visitor in this realm, as with most other realms, and I’m supposed to have some purpose here – which, of course, is to find my purpose there, as it is anywhere.

Time is not on the side of anyone.

The elderly man, who we’ll call grandfather, thinks of his downhill slope to the grave. It sits behind his eyes as he looks over the world in front of him – as if it were a story he has seen before, worn, lucid, tired.

The boy – let’s call him the nephew – does not understand that when I look at him, I think of this quotation and ponder:

When a tree is polled, it will sprout new shoots nearer it’s roots. A soul that is ruined in the bud will frequently return to the springtime of it’s beginnings and it’s promise-filled childhood, as though it could discover new hopes and retie the broken threads of life. The shoots grow rapidly and eagerly, but it is only a sham life that will never be a genuine tree. – Hermann Hesse, Beneath The Wheel

He is young and yet he has catching up to do, having missed the starting gun that society fires too often too early for the children it creates.

He is a child in puberty, not yet a young man in mind or spirit. His childhood has not been misplaced, it has been stunted and his misfortune is that given his abilities, he must cast away the slivers of childhood he was left with all the while reshaping into a man before his time. While society creates the children like him, it does not tolerate adults like him.

He feels the crush of the pressure and, being stubborn, pushes back or not at all. He is like a plant that atrophies at the sunlight it needs.

At some point he will bend or he will break, it is the way of the world – a way that is not couched in the anthropomorphized visions  of well intentioned people, but rather the way that is couched in the grand bureaucracies and cultures we use to govern our kind. The same grand bureaucracies and cultures that creates children like him.

And then there I am, an observer and not – an Uncle of sorts, new to his world, young to the older man, trying to have a positive effect all the while considering, thinking about how difficult he was at that age, and how everything that was tried on me didn’t work – and through my own muddlings, I found my answers that became questions of answers, to questions of those, to stand there and not have answers and simply more questions. I see the time short for both, the grandfather and the nephew, and in the reflections of their clocks I see a parallax of my own.

I have no great wisdom to cross the voids, only the knowledge to avoid the cliched mistakes. For self-preservation, I wear the visage of the observer and say things that I hope might make it through in time for the nephew, for he has little time before he too is beneath the crush of the wheel that will only bend him if he learns, but will break him if he does not.

The crush of the world as time ticks onward, and it does not care if you slouch or stand straight. It has no care for what bends or breaks, no empathy, no sympathy. It is the machine, the product of millenia of human generations, an antique as easily found in the basement of humanity as on a museum walls of academia and governance.