Archive | June, 2011

A final note on cynicism

27 Jun

I say a final note on cynicism because the last handful of posts I’ve made over the past few months have been me letting go of the edge and beginning the free-fall into cynicism with acceptance. Nobody likes a Debbie Downer and so I’m going to try* and limit the outrage posts. It really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t make a difference if I link to some new fresh outrage. Yeah, I could raise awareness about some issue, say pregnant women being sent to prisons for miscarriages, but it doesn’t matter. I’m mostly preaching to the choir and the whole thing is just a big circle jerk.

I’m not here to list any more reasons for cynicism, I have plenty of posts about those. What I’m here to say this time is in response to a sentiment I seem to encounter a lot in response to my cynicism.

A week or two ago I was at dinner with a bunch of friends and I mentioned how I had finally accepted my cynicism; that I had no hope for the future of this country, and how I wanted to get out while I still could.

One of my friends agreed with me, though another said that while they fully understood my reasons for feeling this way, that they “had nothing to gain from that philosophy.”

This struck me in a strange way. I felt like my friend was admitting to knowingly deluding himself simply because he did not want to face the alternative. Several other people who I’ve talk to about this have voiced similar sentiments.

What I found really perplexing was that my friend who told me this was a fellow atheist. “I have to believe there is a God because the alternative is too terrible to imagine” is something we atheists hear a lot. Now replace “God” with “bright future for America.” It’s just as ridiculous.

When the evidence predominately points in one direction and yet you refuse to accept it, you’re deluding yourself.

Interestingly enough, just as existence without a god is not as terrible as theists imagine, existence with cynicism also is not as horrible as deluded optimists imagine.

Just because you’re cynical doesn’t mean you can’t be happy. It doesn’t mean you can’t be hopeful for some things. It just means you’re more realistic about how the world works.

The cynic can never be disappointed, only pleasantly surprised. 

Since I embraced cynicism I’ve often felt like people dismiss me out of hand as being a “the sky is falling!” loon.  They point to the people on street corners with signs warning that the end is near and ask me how I am any different.

I understand where they’re coming from. A while back I would have said the same thing. Things have always been changing, we’ve always pushed the envelope further and further. Who’s to say we’re finally near the breaking point?

To a certain degree they’re right. The world is not going to end, society is not going to collapse, the end is not near. That’s never been what I’ve been saying. I’m saying things are getting worse.

“But things have always been getting worse!”

That’s a very myopic view. In my hopeful, naive, firebrand liberal days I always believed in the “steady march of progress!” There is no such thing. Things sometimes get better, things sometimes get worse.

From the middle ages to the 19th century things got bad for western women. Slowly over the last century things have been getting better. Now it looks like the trend is reversing again, at least in the US. Things in Germany were going well at the turn of the 20th century and then took a turn for the worst. Afterwards things slowly got better.

I guess my cynicism is just a realization and acceptance of this cycle of human existence.

All I know is that our situation with regards to the economy, environment, education, civil liberties, etc are all getting markedly worse in this country. We’re facing another trough in this human cycle. Sure you can be upset about it, but it’s perfectly natural, like seasons. The US is going to have to face the consequences of its decisions sooner than later.

I just don’t want to be around for the winter that precedes the spring. By all indications it’s going to be a harsh one.

America is a lost cause

11 Jun

A little while back my friend greengeekgirl wrote a post expressing her anger and bewilderment as to why all these horrible things keep happening in American politics. I sympathize completely with every sentiment echoed in that post, but my rage is more of one of silent acceptance. I lost my faith in humanity a few months ago, but I lost faith in American politics long before that.

From the standpoint of everyday Americans (those not making $250,000 + a year), things are bad and they’re only going to get worse. You see, the problem is with the very institutions themselves. American style representative democracy does not work. 

Ideally the masses would elect individuals to go and represent their interests in government, but nothing in this world is ever ideal. In reality, we create a political caste system. Only the rich can afford to run for political office. In the 2008 election, $2.4 BILLION dollars were spent by the two parties. In the 2010 mid-term elections it was close to $4 billion. People go into government to represent themselves and to get rich. It’s just the way things are. Once they network and form contacts, they leave office to become lobbyists or company executives. Government officials don’t even try to hide it anymore! Perfect example: Meredith Attwell Baker. She was the head of the FCC that regulates telecom companies. She approved a massive merger between two huge companies and then quickly resigned to become the Vice President of the new super company she just approved.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is how the world works. It’s not pretty, it’s not right, but it is reality.

The biggest underlying flaw with the American political system is that it is a one party system.  Democrats and republicans are two sides of the exact same coin. They’re both controlled by special interest groups, and both are filled with the elite political caste of the rich. Our one party system is a totalitarian “democracy”.

What do we get to vote on? We get to choose between shit and shit to go to Washington and get rich. We don’t get to vote on important issues like the war, or the bailouts, or healthcare. 70% of the American populace wanted a public option for healthcare. Did we get to vote on that? Fuck no! Big insurance made damn sure we didn’t get to vote more competition into the market. Joe Rogan has a great* bit on all of this. *(Up until the last minute of the video where he goes off the deep end)

If the time between the 1960 and now taught us anything, it’s that change can’t come from the inside the system. It just can’t. What happened to all the idealists of the 1960’s that were going to change the world by going to college, getting degrees, and entering into government to make the world a better place? They all got swallowed alive. The system is too big, too powerful to be altered from within. If you don’t play ball with the blood suckers, then you get black listed and stonewalled. Think “Mr. Smith goes to Washington”, minus the happy ending.

The other day I was watching an a video by The Amazing Atheist on idealists when he said something that blew me away: Skip to 1min 40secs. (The rest of the video is good too, but what I’m trying to get at starts there)

My entire life I always viewed progress as this slow, grinding advance in one direction up a hill. Whenever the conservatives one some legislative victory for their draconian social agenda, I took comfort that the only thing constant was change, and that progress would surely over come them in time. But that’s not how reality works. Change, just like evolution, is not a straight line, a ladder to climb. Sometimes things go backwards. We very well could be entering into a period where that change starts taking us backwards.

But a big part of greengeekgirl’s post was asking “What can we do about it?” Well the short answer is nothing. Unless Americans fight for a parliamentary system, or at least something different than the one party system we have now, nothing will change. Since we know that the people won’t actually act unless they run out of bread and circuses, we can rule that out. My solution? Leave.

You can’t fight it, it won’t get any better. Get out while you still can. For the rest of you, however, I leave you with this song by Alabama 3:

Alternate realities and why I want to leave everything behind

4 Jun

As far as I’m concerned there are two types of realities: Meta and Micro. Standing in front of a speeding train will result in death, commanding the desert sand to produce water will do nothing, gravity pulls objects towards the center of the planet, the earth revolves around the sun, you have X dollars in your bank account. Meta reality are the rules and mechanics of existence that exist universally through all micro realities, whether you want them to be or not.

The best way I can think of to explain micro realities are by books, movies, tv shows, games, etc. The existence within those stories are micro realities. If they’re not completely fictional, they will still obey the laws of meta reality. (Weapons will hurt and kill you, gravity still pulls things down, the sun is a large nuclear reactor, etc…) But I don’t want to get lost in the physics of everything, that’s not important. What I want to focus on is the setting, the world in those micro existences.

Look around you. What are you sitting on? What is the inside of your house like? What furnishings do you have? What style is everything in? What is the local environment like? For most of my readers I’m guessing it’s relatively the same existence they’ve always had. 21st century clothes, items, local food, etc.

But why this? Why not on a pirate ship? Or in some ancient village, an underground lab, or a jungle? We’re all so accustomed to the same old boring existence in our location that we have to seek out new and exciting worlds in the form of movies, books, and video games. We want to see something new, something exciting, to be transported to another reality, if only momentarily.

But why stop there? You have an entire planet to explore! Instead of just reading about other existences, or playing through them in video games, go out and live them! This is one of the main forces behind me wishing to leave the country and travel the world. I want to experience new cultures, new realities.

The other reason why I want to leave is that I don’t like this micro reality.

What I realized the other day was that just about everybody I talk to lives in the same 21st century American micro reality. The vast majority of these people have only ever know this one reality; to them, it is all there is. This is life, growing up, living, working, and dying in a first world country. Along with this existence comes a set of ideas concerning what people “ought” to do with their lives. Back in my grandparents’ day, the correct life path was:

Graduate high school, get a job with a stable company, work there for 30-40 years, retire with a pension.

For my parents’ generation the correct life path was something like:

Go to college, get a degree, after perhaps a handful of jobs find a career, work the majority of your life saving for retirement, retire around 60-65, enjoy the last 30 years of your life.

My grandparents’ correct life path doesn’t exist anymore, and I loath the idea of the one laid out by my parents’ generation.

Why? Why must I live my life like that? What if I don’t care about living in a huge house, or driving a $50,000 car? What if those are not my measurements of success? Why must I wait till I’ve long lost my youth to enjoy life? How am I going to be able to do all the things I want to do, to see all the things I want to see when I’m 70 years old? What if I don’t live that long? What if I waste what time I have now saving up to finally live when I’m old and failing, only for my body to give out before then?

Why must I live in this:

And not this?

Why must I wear this:

and not this?

I find it almost impossible to discuss this with people who exist in the the same reality I’m trying to escape. To them, their day to day is all there is to life. Going to work every day, living in their apartment, feeding their cat, and from time to time going out with friends is all there is to existence for them. Yet existence hasn’t always been like this, nor is this some culmination of thousands of years of history. Your ancestors didn’t chase animals on the plains or build the pyramids, or storm the castle, or cross the oceans so you could get up at 8 am in sleepy suburbia, put the coffee on and get ready to drive to work.

One of the questions that keeps coming up is “what am I going to do for a job?” There are two questions wrapped up in that question. One is asking “what are you going to do to eat?” and the second one “what are you going to do to earn a living?” The answer to the first one is that I will work little jobs here and there, though nothing permanent. The second question shows you’re still stuck in that idea of saving up money to do something later.

If I work 50 jobs in my life time, and live in half as many locations, making only enough money to eat and travel to a new place, I’d be thrilled. THAT is a life worth living! All the stories, people, cultures, experiences! I would much rather spend my life like that than working a steady job, paying a mortgage, driving the kids to soccer practice and occasionally taking a week long vacation to the Caribbean.