Category Archives: Philosophy

The Deciders

You gotta give it to him. He never shied away from a decision...no matter how hairy things got.

I’m usually a fan of liberty.  Determining one’s own destiny, living the life that you want to live, making your own choices, it’s all great stuff – usually.  Still, I’ve been thinking a lot lately that freedom of choice can be an awfully heavy load to carry.  I can’t help but feel that sometimes, it would be uber fantastic to part with some of that freedom in exchange for peace of mind.

You know what I’m talking about.

Should you move to San Francisco for the job you’ve always dreamt of having, even though you know absolutely no one there and doing so would mean walking away from a 15% higher salary?  Do you kick it with Eric, the mischievous golden boy with the soft interior (kinda like a slightly rotten Twinkie)?  Or do you get all homewreckerish and throw your chips down on Alcide, the loner with rugged good looks, a heart of gold and a crazy-ass bitch for a girlfriend?  I mean, even something as “simple” as the admittedly bougie law school/business school conundrum is enough to drive the most stable of us to drink.

So, wouldn’t it be nice to just opt out?

If you could have someone else spend time deliberating, then make the decision for you, wouldn’t that just be awesome balls?  Whenever you found yourself at a point at which your ability to gaze through the fog of your own emotions was too limited to allow you to take another step, you’d simply reach out and *POOF* a helping hand would emerge from the mist to pull you onto the right path.

Think of all the excruciating pain you could avoid and the precious time you could save!  You could approach the biggest challenges in life with a sense of optimism, free from fear of that manipulative bastard, Pride or that relentless bitch, Guilt.  You’d always be secure in the knowledge that whatever happened, you made the best decision that you could…given the available data.  (You know the applicable phrase: shit in, shit out.)

Of course, there would be some guidelines:

  1. No decision would be made by just one person.  Instead, each Supplicant would request a decision from a Triune of Selectors; one subject matter expert, one mental health expert, and one lay person.  The objective would be to assess the relative merits of an option with as holistic a view as possible.
  2. Every citizen of voting age must serve as a Selector once per year.  The service period would last for a month.  During that time, the Selector would be called to serve as needed.
  3. Supplicants can elect to pay a fee for the service, or use it at no cost.  The fee would equal 5% of the supplicant’s yearly salary.  If they are unemployed, or otherwise lack the financial wherewithal to pay, then they would be made to perform an extra month as a Selector that year.  If they choose the free option, then they’d pay nothing, but the Triune’s decision would be unequivocally, incontrovertibly binding.

You might be wondering why the cost is relatively high.  Well, as any American middle schooler will tell you after the Civil War unit in social studies class, freedom is never free.  This includes freedom of choice, kids.

The power to shape one’s life is so fundamental to having a worthwhile existence as a human being that willingly relinquishing that freedom should have a price, too.  And that price should be high enough to serve as a reminder of the value of the possession that you’re handing over to a bunch of strangers.  Plus, it keeps idiots from registering a request every time they can’t figure out whether they should get with the flat-chested one with the apple bottom or the human life preserver with an ironing board ass.

I don’t know about you, but I so would love to have this option in my life.  The decisions only get more complex as I get older, and relying on friends and family to help out ain’t always a good idea.  Are you really gonna get career advice from your underemployed brother?  Oh, and I’d guess that your divorced homegirl going through the custody battle ain’t the best source for relationship tips, babygirl.

Still, I know that this is just a pipe dream.  In the end, we’re all the ultimate arbiters of our destinies; we’ve all got to channel our inner Dubya to become The Decider.  (I know, I know.  I just threw up inside my mind a little after I wrote that.)  And hey, I guess if even that dude can accept the challenge, so can we all.

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Filed under Living, Philosophy

Me, Myself and I: Children of the Selfish Gene

"'I Love Me, Myself, And I And the Whole World,' wouldn't fit. So I just left the most important part."

Let me begin by saying that I have yet to read the Richard Dawkins book to which the title of this post refers.  With that said, I’m aware of it’s overall premise.  Plus it’s on my summer reading list, so shut your bleeding hole.

For those of you who are equally unwell-read or just damned ignorant, the idea is not that there is a singular gene that determines the presence or degree of selfishness in an organism, but that genes are the fundamental forces behind the evolutionary process, powerfully pressing down the path pointing to the peak probability of their propagation.  (Yes, I did that.)

In most instances, what’s in the best interest of the gene is in the best interest of the organism.  After all, one is the vehicle for the other, so it makes sense that the two are usually on the same page.  There are certainly times when that’s not the case though.

Consider the tragedy of the male praying mantis, who the female often kills after copulation.  Why does he engage in this fatal behavior?  No, it’s not ’cause mantis females really know how to work that thang…whatever that would mean to a lime green, awkwardly shaped insect with pointy spines on its appendages.  (That’s a recipe for bad foreplay if you ask me.  But whatever.)  According to Dawkins, it’s because their genes are on a mission to ensure that they get copied – at any cost – and it’s only when an organism is intelligent enough to understand its own interests as distinct from its genes’ interests that it can rebel.

That brings us to good old mankind.  We’re pretty smart as animals go, so do I think that we’ve come to the point where we can ignore the pressure to act in our genome’s best interest?  Yes, I do.  But I’m not talking about situations in which parents die for their children or some guy donates a kidney to his aunt.  After all, these are simply the undercover machinations of selfish genes.  Those folks may suffer somewhat individually, but for their family’s shared genes it’s a net positive result.

No, I’m talking about the times when a total stranger takes a bullet for someone else or, in an everyday context, a volunteer spends a few hours a week helping underprivileged kids with their homework.  I can’t think of an argument that would explain how these acts help further the proliferation of their genes at all.  How sweet.

But not so fast.  Since the heroes aren’t acting in their genome’s best interest, does that mean that they’re being altruistic?  I say no.  Humans can short-circuit their programming and ignore their genes, but they simply cannot pull away from the warm embrace of selfishness.

On those rare occasions when we rise above our embedded biological imperative, we don’t replace selfishness with altruism.  We just replace the source of the selfishness: instead of sprouting from our genes, it flows from our ego.  That stranger takes the bullet because they’re motivated by a sense of duty.  The volunteer heads down to the youth center on Tuesdays and Thursdays for the same reason.

This notion of duty is inextricably tied to the notion of honor, and where there’s honor, there’s ego.   There’s the desire for self-aggrandizement.  There’s Me, Myself, and I.  Heroes big and small are willing to give their lives, or at least portions of them.  That’s certainly true.  But they do this to get a bigger life in return, and that bigger life exists in the psyche of others.  Where’s the sacrifice in that?

When Dick spends three nights in one week at his girlfriend’s place in Blüdhaven, even though he lives and works in Gotham, he ain’t doing that shit for his health.  On top of the sweet, sweet lovin’ she delivers, he also garners increased real estate in her heart and mind, all because he demonstrated a willingness to trade his convenience for hers.  This translates to real social currency, redeemable in the future.  I mean, why do you think they call them coochie coupons?

Now, take that social currency and multiply it by like, a gazillion.  That’s the kind of ego cash that heroes and philanthropists rack up when they do what they do.  Risk your neck for enough folks and you can become larger than life.  As a matter of fact, you don’t have to risk anything.  You just have to make people believe that whatever you did was all for them.  A certain Galilean Hebrew and his PR team pulled this off about 2000 years ago, and whether or not it’s true, dude is now like, the biggest superstar ever.

So, the next time you do something good for someone, think about that cascading warmth that you feel.  I’m willing to bet that it’s not coming from some inner spring of beautiful intentions.  Nope.  It’s just the excess heat generated by your rapidly inflating hot air ego balloon.

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Let’s Go Crazy: The Case for Insanity

Blow up the damn elevator. Now THAT’S crazy.

Ever feel that the life you lead isn’t the one that’s meant for you?

I’m not talking about some kind of materialistic craving for a better car, a bigger house, or more money.  I’m talking about a fundamental feeling that your existence – your career, your city, your partner – is somehow a world apart from the one that should be yours.  Sure, there are those gorgeous moments when you can feel yourself alive in your true identity; eyes wide open, bathing in the rays of your own colorful light.

Those occasions are the exception, not the rule, and most ticks of the clock find you awash in numbing grey.  Through time’s bleak passage, you can’t help but feel that YOU ARE GREATER THAN THIS AND WERE MEANT FOR MORE.  So, just what is one to do when the vision of their true place in the universe is so vastly different from their accepted reality?

The only logical answer is to go crazy.

I don’t mean give oneself over to psychotic breaks, schizophrenic attacks or dissociative episodes…as fun as Showtime TV series make them look.  Instead, I’m suggesting that you allow all of the rage, the frustration, and the sadness to push you toward rejecting the day-to-day ins-and-outs of your hyphenatedly disappointing life.  You’ve got to get angry enough to push back against the situation that’s responsible for all of the emotional turmoil in the first place.  Basically, you need to lose your muphuckin’ mind so you can get it back again, and losing your mind means destabilizing your belief in reality.

Don’t get me wrong.  Stability is often a good thing.  It can be nice to know that every time a step hits the ground, it will feel exactly the same as it did the day before.  But what if, instead of concrete, you were faced with quicksand on a daily basis?  Instead of supporting you, with each step your surroundings are slowly dragging you to a horrifyingly suffocating death.  In this case, stability is an illusion: your life is static, but there’s nothing stable about it.  Recognize this, and your first crazy, rebellious step won’t be too far behind.

Yes, I said rebellion.  Your current reality is a prison, created and policed by enemies who seek to stifle your growth for their own benefit.  As such, you’ve got to rebel against said reality and its enforcers.  This may not be as emotionally easy as it sounds – it could entail rejecting friends, family and even the coppertop formerly known as YOU.    But you’ve got to get on with it.  Gum up the works.  Stick bananas in tail pipes.  Throw your fists in the air.  The sheep will call you crazy, but you’ll be too busy losing it to hear them.  Too busy with your crazy little rebellion.

The first shots of said rebelionita will manifest in various forms, suitable for the personal struggles to which they are intimately connected.  It might mean taking back-to-back, unnecessary sick days on Friday and Monday.  Maybe you’ll sign up for that spoken word event at the local bar.  Perhaps you’ll finally speak to that mohawked cashier at the supermarket.  Whatever it is, if you don’t feel a little scared the day before you do it and at least minimally terrified immediately beforehand, then it wasn’t crazy enough.  You’ve got to push yourself into the heat of discomfort, ever closer to the flame until your fears are illuminated and the fear of the fear burns away.

Notice, I said the FEAR of the fear: the fear itself will never disappear.  When you acknowledge that, it will begin to lose its grip on you, and you’ll start to free yourself from your father’s expectations.  From your boss’ intimidations.  From your own doubts.  You might eventually go crazy enough to quit that corporate job to pursue that passion for dance, or forsake the path of a starving artist to get that law degree you always wanted.  Every day, it will become easier for you to do beautiful, painful things that bring you closer to sweet insanity…also known as true life.

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Your Cheating Heart: Infidelity Is a State of Mind

Dude, you’ve got a LOT to learn.

It’s a pleasantly warm and bright Sunday afternoon.  On one of the first real days of spring, the squirrels are playfully scampering around the path to your boyfriend Kevin’s apartment, and there’s more than a touch of excitement running through you, too.  You’re about to pay your man a surprise visit to celebrate this gorgeous day.

As you thrust the key into the lock, the butterflies do that little dance in your tummy.  Elated smile.  Walking in, those same butterflies rapidly morph into 50 pound stones.  Pained grimace.  You find yourself open-mouthed, staring at Lucinda (the only female friend of his that you never worried about) in a bright red apron, four-inch heels, what looks to be MAC Lady Danger lipstick, and nothing else, bent over the stove with Kevin behind her.  You do NOT like the smell of what they’re cooking.

In fact, it’s safe to say that you’ve probably lost your appetite for the entire week.  But should you lose your boyfriend, too?  Probably not, and there are two good reasons why.

First off, in all likelihood his cheating had nothing to do with you.  Yes, he broke a promise and probably your heart, right along with it.  For that, he’s as wrong as two left shoes.  But there’s a really good chance that his feelings for you are still just as strong as ever…it’s just that Lucinda’s ass looks like it’s pregnant with twins.  His embrace of her body is not a rejection of your love.  Dude just got caught up in the bootyliciousness, and I’d bet good money that if you give him a choice, he’ll choose you.  If he doesn’t, then that means that you didn’t have his heart in the first place.

The second, more important reason why you might wanna reconsider closing the door on Mr. Lova-Lova is the fact that you ain’t no angel yourself.  Please, don’t look all shocked.  Yeah, you may not have physically done anything with your colleague Jamal, but you damn near got carpal tunnel rub-a-dub-dubbing to mental images of him in the shower.  Plus, on more than a couple of occasions you even used him as a tool to push you toward the “little death” on those nights when Kevin just wasn’t killing you hard or fast enough.  Oh, and since y’all work together, you go to lunch with Jamal at least twice a week, and when he can’t make it…your day just isn’t the same.

In my book, that makes you just as guilty as Kevin, if not more.

Yes.  Kevin was definitely burying his bone in somebody else’s backyard.  But you were having a whole ‘nother relationship with another man, complete with full on muthaphuckin’ emotional attachment!  Where I come from, any real relationship is built on emotional bonds, not physical ones, so I’d say you and Jamal were going steady…even if it was only in your mind.  I mean, your mind is the most important sex organ after all, and we’ve known this for millennia.  The Bible says that “whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”  I may not believe the theology, but I’ll be damned (hopefully not) if this ain’t one of the Good Book’s many nuggets of wisdom.

Where the scriptures get it wrong is on the moral implications of said burning yearning: lust is a perfectly natural, amoral emotion, not a sin.  You couldn’t stop yourself from lusting any more than you could stop poor white folks in Texas from voting against their interests.  But, what you can do is acknowledge that those desires abide within both you and your partner.  Don’t try to live in the illusion that no one else exists, ‘cause that will only lead to an unhealthy relationship with dangerously repressed feelings bubbling just beneath the surface.  Science has my back on this, people.  Apparently, being forced to block out other options actually ends up weakening a person’s resolve to stay committed, and who wants that?

So breathe for a second, little one.  Collect yourself.  Slowly walk over to the kitchen…and disrobe.  On top of being the only girl-friend that you never suspected, you always thought Lucinda was sexy as hell.

Hey, it’s a beautiful day.  Time to put a little work into your relationship!

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Filed under Philosophy, Relationships, Sexuality

The Policy of Truth: Morality According to Depeche Mode

I thought the truth was supposed to hurt...

Now you’re standing there tongue tied
You’d better learn your lesson well
Hide what you have to hide
And tell what you have to tell
You’ll see your problems multiplied
If you continually decide
To faithfully pursue
The policy of truth

– Depeche Mode, “Policy of Truth”

Anyone who knows me well knows that I grew up in a Pentacostal household. Unfortunately, the many hours that I spent in church, listening to preachers yell until they were hoarse and watching otherwise sober-looking women launch into full-body convulsions, failed to produce any long term religious fervor in me (my God-shaped hole is HUGE), but I did learn a thing or two about morality.

One of the biggest lessons I gleaned was that a lie, whether an omission of an uncomfortable fact or an outright prevarication, was a bad thing.  My grandmother used to always say, “There are two types of people I can’t stand—a liar and a thief.”  I’ve come to understand that her equal distaste for those social pariahs proceeds from the fact that one simply can’t trust either of them.  And without trust, well, you have no way of establishing a relationship that any well-adjusted human would call healthy.  I went through life letting that precept shape my discourse with others…usually.

That I employed the word “usually” above should be a big hint that my perspective on truth-telling did became more sophisticated over time.  For example, I grasped fairly early on that there were occasions when avoiding the truth was actually one’s moral duty.  Case in point: if you’re living in Amsterdam in 1944 and a man with a funny cross on his arm asks you if you’re hiding Jews in the attic, and you are, you should politely reply in the negative.  That’s extreme, I know.  “Do I look fat in this dress” is a more common, yet equally life-threatening example.  The point is, sometimes you have to lie for the sake of the greater good or to spare a person from unnecessary hurt.

What has shocked me is just how broadly many people’s concepts of “appropriate” and “obligated” lying reach.  I’ve been personally admonished for being too honest with women early in my relationships.  On one occasion, a female friend actually asked me if I was purposefully trying to sabotage my efforts with one lady, all because I acknowledged that I still cared for a past girlfriend.  This was in spite of the fact that my other words and actions clearly showed that these emotional remnants weren’t a hindrance to our romantic progress.  In another instance, a friend recently complained to me that it was commonplace for folks in his company to willfully mislead potential clients about the readiness of product features.  The argument was that if the deals went through, they’d just “find a way to make it happen.”  WTF?!

As I see it, the problem with this expanded notion of the appropriate lie is that it can distort the fabric of our relationships.  We get locked in a kind of arms race, with lies as the weapons of mutually assured destruction.  We begin to lose trust in everyone, all the time, and in turn we start to feel increased personal pressure to hide the truth.  Taken to its extreme, I posit that we slowly lose our ability to even distinguish the valid from the invalid.  We could be staring truth in the face, but because we’ve become so blinded by the darkness of deception, we can no longer discern the difference between it and its twin.

Perhaps that’s just the way the world turns, and I should just get with the Depeche Mode program.  (God knows they were on point with “Personal Jesus”.)  All I know is, I’m tired of playing by the rules, only to find out that hardly anyone else does.  What’s worse, some even consider me the social deviant for doing it!  It seems that yet again, my idealism is costing me…I just hope that I don’t end up morally bankrupt.

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