Archive | January, 2014

The facade on top of the truth

29 Jan

“Honne and Tatemae are Japanese words that describe the contrast between a person’s true feelings and desires (honne) and the behavior and opinions one displays in public (tatemae). See also: Facade.”

Perhaps I’m just tactless or socially inept but I can’t stand when people put up facades. If you feel a particular way about something, just say it and don’t waste my time. I hate trying to decipher the true meaning behind what people say or how they act. Perhaps one of the most common everyday areas where this can be seen is in dating.

Dating or “the game” is all about honne and tatemae and figuring out what the other person thinks. Do they like me? Do they not like me? Are they attracted to me or no? I don’t want to appear too eager or disinterested. I want to appear cool, calm, and confident. Will they go home with me tonight? How can I find out without offending them? How can I say things without saying them?

I hate all that shit. It might be fun for some, but it’s a giant waste of time from my perspective. I wish people would be upfront and forward about what they want. “I think you’re cool. Let’s bang.” Life would be so much easier and less stressful if people were honest about their feelings, but we’re not because we’re either afraid of rejection, afraid of hurting someone else, or hiding something.

A girl may not be interested in you because she finds you physically unattractive. Instead of just coming out and saying “I find you unattractive” she may try let you know in other, less painful ways, that she is not interested in you. Nonetheless, these less painful ways don’t change the fact that she is ultimately not interested in you.

I’m using social interactions and dating as an example to try and elucidate the following:

Ultimately the there is a truth. Truth can often be uncomfortable. We try to cover up this uncomfortable truth with facades and niceties. All those facades and niceties might make this truth more palatable, but in the end it does not alter the ultimate reality of that truth.

This applies to politics too.

I think a lot of my worldview and cynicism comes from the fact that I am always trying to look past the  political facades. I don’t care to debate what this politician or that politician said. What I care about is what is the ultimate truth behind all of it. I care about raw power and how that power is exercised. Where is the money going? Who benefits from how things are? Who is really calling the shots?

Politicians are masters of facades. They will spin something any way they feel they need to in order to get the public to swallow it. They’ll pass a bill letting companies dump toxic waste in rivers and call it the “clean water act.” They’ll let unemployment benefits expire for millions of Americans and stop counting them as unemployed and then turn around and say “Look! Unemployment is down! The economy is getting better!” Perception management (facades) is the name of the game. This doesn’t change the political truth that they don’t give a fuck about the unemployed or the environment.

What infuriates me is how most people don’t want to talk about the political truths. It makes them uncomfortable. They like living in the pretend land of perception management. They’re fine staying within the confines of a debate framed by the politicians. They’ll happily debate who should store all the data the government is collecting on its citizens but they won’t touch the issue of the legality and ethics of collecting that data in the first place! The raw political truth from those in power is clear: “We are going to spy on everything everyone does for whatever purpose we want and there isn’t a goddamn thing you can do about it.” What worse, people will accept this as long as the government couches it in a comfortable way. “We’re protecting you from terrorism!” is the facade when what they’re really doing is targeting everyone to stifle dissent.

Here’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about in the wild:

An independent review board found that the NSA’s bulk phone data collection program was illegal and ineffective.

“We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation…”

That completely destroys any argument a politician might make about continuing the program to fight terrorism, and yet the program is being continued anyways. Why? Why is it being continued even though it has been shown to be completely useless at stopping terrorism.

Because it isn’t about stopping terrorism.

That is the facade. The real truth behind that facade is that it is an excellent program for keeping tabs on your own citizens. But nobody wants to talk about that! It’s fucking infuriating! No body wants to deal with the uncomfortable truth that we live under a power hungry Orwellian government. That’s too ugly and not polite. It’s maddening!

I’ve said it before on here, but another uncomfortable truth about or society is that all government power extends from violence. People look at me funny when I say this. Rule by violence sounds so barbaric and brutish, but that’s the truth of it. We live in a world where violence is power. We cover it up with layers and layers of facades and niceties like a judicial system, lawyers, tickets and all the other facets of a bureaucracy, but at the end of the line there’s a man with a gun and the threat of violence if you do not obey.

I stopped wanting to debate politics with people when I realized they weren’t interested in talking about the real fundamental flaws in our society. It’s the same reason I stopped debating the particulars of religion with people when they can’t reasonably demonstrate that their god exists in the first place. Transubstantiation vs consubstantiation is a pointless debate when the god the whole religion revolves around doesn’t even exist! But that’s all people want to talk about, that’s all media outlets want to cover: this artificial debate about non-fundamental issues.

Why? I think people are afraid to talk about the real structural issues with our society. I think people are afraid to talk about why we allow governments to exist where being a megalomaniac psychopath is almost a pre-requisite for holding office. I think they’re terrified that the whole system of society might not work. Everyone is so deeply, so inextricably entangled and dependent on society that any thought of it being broken is too much to bear. I think that’s why anarchism is seen as being so dangerous. Anyone who takes a step back and says “You know, maybe this isn’t the best way for human beings to live” is dangerous and needs to be stopped at all costs! I think there are some deeper philosophical issues at play here. Issues revolving around man’s fear of freedom, fear of being alone in the universe, fear of being responsible for his own decisions and actions. People are willing to cling to a broken and horrible system because it gives them a sense of stability. It gives them walls and boundaries to operate in where they can derive meaning. I don’t need it for the same reason I don’t need some external god to give my life meaning and validation. I’m brave enough to find those things on my own.

I can’t fault people entirely though. They’re born into a society that encourages dependency. They need the government to protect them, they need religion to save them from themselves; it’s constantly drilled into them from birth. If you comply and go with the flow you’ll be looked after. Everything will be alright. You won’t have freedom or independence, but you’ll be warm, fed, and safe. At least that’s what society promises. And so people continue living within this facade, debating the finer points of frivolous issues. Meanwhile  really horrible political truths continue to exist and people who attempt to bring attention to them are denounced as  crazy radicals.

Auf Wiedersehen Amerika, hallo Berlin!

25 Jan

This morning I put in my two weeks at what has so far been the most fun and best paying job of my life. I’m quitting to pursue a decade long dream of becoming an ex-pat and exploring the world. I’m moving to Berlin, Germany in the end of February.

I’ve never been there and I know nobody. To be honest with you, I sway between stressed and terrified. I always thought I would be thrilled. I always imagined I would experience this incredible sensation of freedom and relief as the plane took of and I escaped the US. Who knows, maybe I will feel something like that, but lately I’ve been too busy to think about it.

I’ve been planning this move for months. One night I just got the idea in my head “I should go to Berlin” and I started planning. I’ve been wanting to move out of the country for ten years now. I remember deciding to do this when I was just sixteen. Over the course of that decade I’ve swung back and forth on what country to move to. At one point I had a wall in my first apartment covered in paper, forming a giant spreadsheet of sorts, weighing the pros and cons of each possible country. The top few were always Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Germany. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand were appealing because of the lack of a language barrier, but they were either extremely far away and remote feeling, or America lite.

The language barrier has always scared me. I’m terrible at languages. I was always a C student in German and I took it for several years in school. It’s the biggest obstacle for my move. I hired one of the local university German professors as a personal tutor and I’ve been seeing him twice a week. Outside of that I’ve been listening to podcasts auf Deutsch, and working on duolingo.com.

I want to study Computer Science or some other technical field. Since my BA is in history, I can’t jump from the humanities to the sciences, so a master’s program is out of the question. I’ve got to start on a second degree. The thing is, all the undergrad degree programs are taught in German. I’m aiming to start in the winter semester at the Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft, but I need to get my Germany up to B2 to apply. To that end, I’m moving in February to find a place to live and start language school classes in March. I’m hoping I can get to B2 level by May.

This whole thing is a mad race. There are so many things I need to do in specific order, with limited time, or else this whole thing falls apart and I’ll be forced to come back to the states penniless and unemployed. I’d rather die.

The level of planning and research that I’ve put into this trip is absurd, and yet I still feel unprepared.

I want to move to Berlin. Ok, what are the visa requirements? Well what visa do you want to try and get? There are several with different requirements. What are the requirements? How do I fufill them? What forums do I need? Do I have enough time to get these forums? Do I have enough money? How do I open a German bank account? How do I get health care? How do I get a phone number? What do I need to rent a room? How do I rent a room? Where can I find a room? How am I going to get around? How much is food going to cost? When do I need to apply to the language school? What do I need to apply? When do classes start and end? What are the deadlines to apply? The list goes on and on and on.

I’ve spent hours researching all of these questions. Different rules apply to different nationalities and it makes the whole thing confusing. The confusion is exacerbated by my unconventional track: I’m not applying to a master’s program and I don’t have a job lined up paying more than 35,000 euros a year. I explained all of this to my mother and she wondered why it seems easier for refugees from third world countries to move to Germany than for me, someone who has a college degree and work experience in a technical field.

Anyways, I’m terrified. A lot of my fear comes from internal confidence issues revolving around manhood. I’ve never really felt “like a man.” Whatever that means. I guess it comes from being 5’6, overweight, and a bit of a nice guy push over my whole life. The whole experience with my ex fiance going out and sleeping with all those guys was also extremely emasculating. I’ve never had much physical presence and I’ve never been much of a magnet for women. I’m hoping to find my confidence by forcing myself out of my comfort zone and throwing myself into an entirely new and scary situation. Perhaps then, once I survive, I will feel more self-confident, more like a man.

I’ve been telling people that I’m trying not to focus on the fact that I’m quitting my job, leaving my family, and moving to a city on another continent that I’ve never been to before. It’s…actually kind of badass when I think about it, but it’s also really scary. It’s a huge move and a huge life decision.

A lot of this decision has to do with existential issues for me.

It is so easy to be trapped in the daily routine of just living. Get up, go to work, work out, cook dinner, mess around on the computer, see friends for a drink, go to bed, repeat daily with slight variations.

If while standing in front of the copier machine at work, you stop and contemplate the temporary nature of your existence while the machine hums along copying pages, society as we know it just seems absurd! Here I am, the clock is ticking, and I’m standing in an office doing something I’m not passionate about. What the hell am I doing?!

But it’s comfortable! It’s sooooo comfortable and safe. But it’s death. Ever since I decided that I was just going to do it and move, I’ve become acutely aware of all the little things that in American society that, when combined, act to keep us in our mental cages. Trying to escape is like tying to walk underwater. It might not be very forceful, but there is just so much little resistance that it slows you and most people just don’t try to fight it and they drown. They live safe, comfortable, nonthreatening lives and die. Given how much of human history was spent living dangerous and precarious lives where physical harm and starvation was just a misstep away, perhaps there is something to be said for those safe lives the majority of middle class Americans live, but nonetheless I see it as inherently dehumanizing and fatal.

What I’ve come to understand about freedom is that freedom, real freedom, is to have nothing. The moment you have something, you have something to lose, and thus your choices are not entirely free. It’s an ugly paradox: live free with little to nothing, a step away from death, or exist with physical comforts and the illusion of security, but be mentally and spiritually dead. It’s in that small space between having nothing and death that freedom exists.

Another thing that I’ve come to experience during this whole period is just how difficult and scary it actually is to follow your dreams. I hate that phrase, “follow your dreams.” It just sounds so cheesy, so Disney. It’s like a nice, polite, comfortable little platitude everyone swallows; like the message you’re hit over the head with in a children’s movie, or some tacky piece of wall art middle aged moms buy at craft stores to hang in their homes. It’s so cliche, the real consequences are abstracted and made not real. It’s scary to seriously “follow your dreams” if there’s a real risk of falling.

And so I try to remind myself that I don’t have a choice. If I stay, I die. Maybe not physically, but mentally and spiritually. If I go and I fail, I’ll die anyways. Either way, ultimately we are all already dead, dying in slow motion. The end result is the same, I just want to try to live a little, even if it means risking speeding things up.

At least I will have lived.