Expect Little!

My mission to procure cigarettes and beer from the liquor store nearly ended in disaster one night last summer when a woman in a swell car almost ran me down.  She had responsibly checked for oncoming traffic — in the wrong direction — before executing her turn, and as she passed me our eyes met through the passenger window.  She looked at me as if to say, “oh! how long have you been there?” and I stood in the street, toes mere inches from her rolling tires, grinning back at her in frank amusement.

I should have been outraged.  I should have spit upon the hood of her car.  The thing is, I just didn’t feel any anger toward her at all.  I found it funny that she might have killed me outright and, altogether oblivious of her  manslaughter, simply gone on to shop at Target.

Was it remarkable that a person should make such a glaring error among the throngs of humans negotiating the myriad avenues and boulevards of Los Angeles County, thought I?  Oh, hardly.  In fact, only an idiot wouldn’t expect it.

Then suddenly, as I went on my way with a wide smile warming my face, I shrugged, and an epiphany descended upon me as if from heaven.

“Expect little,” I said aloud.

And I’ve been saying it every day since.

The obnoxious behavior of others is normal for human beings. Expect little.

Expect little is a prayer.  It soothes and calms.  It educates.  It’s an unlikely mantra which inculcates a sort of passive humility.

It may be a nice gesture to presume that everyone is endowed with friendliness, elementary skills and common sense, but it’s an unlikely supposition which can only lead to discontent.   One ought rather to expect little of others.  Hate becomes very difficult when people act in accordance with your already-low expectations of them.

It behooves us all to acquaint ourselves with the idea that humanity may not be cut out for greatness, not even in our own hackneyed estimation.

Expect little, friends, because the highest percentage of people is always more rude, stupid, and unkempt than the minority of well-mannered, intelligent, and hygienic people.  This is because exceptional characteristics are by definition above average — which is to say, that they are the exception, rather than the rule.  Expecting little from people allows you to be content with the way people actually are, and pleasantly surprised by above-average behavior, which is as it should be.

To expect excellence from people, on the other hand, is silly.  People have never been cool en masse, but mass media has programmed us to expect everyone to be beautiful, polite, and at least somewhat intelligent.  This is (ha, ha!) not the case.

Expecting excellence from people is not even respectful to them.  In fact, it’s condescending.  You aren’t so cool, yourself, you know, particularly from the perspectives of people who don’t live up to your high standards.  We — you and I — are not cool enough to expect good things from others.  We don’t even know what cool is, in the universal sense.

Let people be stupid.  Let them be themselves, for God’s sake (big G).  Let them be stupid today, because you’re probably going to do something stupid tomorrow.

Think you're especially brilliant? Wrong. Each of us is just as gloriously idiotic as the next. Embrace humanity.

Expect little, because you can quickly become depressed by the amount of people who fail to meet your expectations.  That’s not any good.  Discontent with others leads to treating people as though you do not like them around — which tends to convince people that you do not like them around.  Pretty soon, you find yourself without anybody around, and where do you suppose everyone has gone?  Why, into the next room, of course, where everyone is frowning in your direction and calling you an elitist asshole.

Of you, they would do better to expect little.

We don’t only have irrationally high expectations of people, though.  Occasionally, we even find ourselves angry with luck, itself, as if it were slacking or something, remiss in its duties, not paying close enough attention to us and producing the wrong kind of random event.   This is perhaps our most common madness.  Why should we expect good fortune from random chance?  Random chance is the one thing from which we shouldn’t expect anything at all!

The world’s smartest computer can’t make accurate predictions of what random chance will produce.  Why bother lamenting an unfortunate mishap as if shocked that it might inconvenience you?  Mishaps happen.  In fact, mishaps happen so regularly — and with such colorful variety — that we ought long ago to have stopped guessing what should or should not transpire within the course of a day.  However, the rusty computers between our ears are always half-dedicated to overestimating their ill-collected data and faulty projections.

You see, then, we even expect too much of ourselves.  We’re only human, friends.  Chase your dreams in earnest, quest valiantly for glory, and by-all-means be the change you wish to see in the world, as the neo-hippies say — but…

Expect little.

Luck of the draw got you down? Dice come up snake-eyes again? Take my word for it -- expect little.

Expect little!  Expect your neighbor to make too much noise.  Expect your boss to give you too much work.  Expect helicopter parenting, drunk driving, and repeat offending, often by the same culprits.  Expect your favorite band to use too much cowbell.

Expect people from poorly educated states in poorly educated countries to act poorly educated.  Expect people crammed into tight quarters with millions of others to develop hurtful prejudices.  Expect full-grown adults to parrot what they see in movies, in magazines, and in mainstream music, and expect their teenagers (raised likewise by televisions and gangsta rap) to be perfectly disrespectful.

Expect politicians to lie, and cheat, and steal, not to mention fornicate with people you’d rather they wouldn’t.  Expect people with guns (soldiers, cops, and criminals) to shoot people.  Expect druggies to do drugs and go about in public on drugs, and to act just as though they might be high on drugs.  Say to them when you see them shrinking from the demons down aisle nine at Rite-Aid, “Hello, druggie.  How do you do?”

Expect preachers to sin, marriages to fail, and sons and daughters to leave the family religion.  Expect athletes to take steroids, psychiatrists to prescribe poison, and models to mutilate themselves surgically.  Expect wonder.  Expect marvel.  Expect to be astonished at the spectacle in which every one of us plays a humble part.

In other words, expect people to act just as though they were human — but for your own sake as well as that of others, the next time your friend complains that a significant other has forgotten an anniversary, or that some ruthless businessman has destroyed the local economy, or that a hapless driver has run over his or her favorite author (ahem), just shrug your shoulders and smile sympathetically, offer a beer and say to your friend,

“Expect little.”

With a great big smile and my fingers crossed, I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

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The Saintly Altar of the Altered State

I.

The human brain, contrary to what mom told us, is not a miraculously engineered wonder of the Western world.  It’s miswired, misaligned, and mistaken much of the time.  Many charlatans — or psychologists if one prefers — believe that the brain’s first experience, birth, permanently damages it.  Birth is violently traumatic, and both emotionally and physically brutal.  In response to high levels of stress such as this, our brains shoot us up with adrenaline, hydrocortizone, and steroid hormones (glucocorticoids, if you really want to know) which means our first birthday present is that we get to enter the world innocent, healthy, and high as fuck.

— And that’s OK, because if it weren’t for altered states of consciousness, we’d have no genuine experience of this world’s completely random nature at all.

Since we can’t be born every time we want a fresh jolt of reality, we spend the rest of our lives self-medicating.

Holistic medicine the old-fashioned way

The brain operates a crackhouse in our heads, producing such heavy hitters as dopamine, a natural upper which makes us talkative and excitable, endorphin, an anæsthetic which has three times the potency of morphine, and serotonin, a mood enhancer which makes us act and feel like hippies.  Most of the meds recommended by school psy-charlatans for depression or anxiety alter the amount of serotonin produced by the brain.

These mind-altering substances have side effects which can prove worse than the emotional irregularity they medicate, such as violent tendencies, hallucination, depersonalization, derealization, psychosis, phobias, amnesia, and obsessive compulsive disorder — and that’s just for the benzodiazepines.  We don’t hit heart arrhythmia until Eldepryl (™).

Sexual dysfunction and gastrointestinal distress commonly affect patients taking Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs.  Pop-culture knows this hip family of psychomeds well, which boasts such rock stars as Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft.  Approximately twenty-two million Americans take these drugs every day, or statistically, every fourteenth American one encounters on the street.

So, the next time you’re shocked at the number of complete assholes you meet in a given day, remember that fourteen percent of America hasn’t taken a shit in four days and hasn’t had an orgasm in months.

Without sex and regularity, anxiety patients feel much better

II.

If the human brain were able to regulate its chemicals, nobody would recommend cooking up meds like Prozac and Paxil.  Since science has proven that many do not, though, society accepts these meds and also allows for a margin of error in prescribing them to healthy people.  Many groups in the United States froth at the mouth over the prevalence of drugs such as these — as well as that of other mind-altering substances, both legal and illegal.

One might as well try to place the entire nation on a single diet as try to stem the amount of self-medication engaged in by Americans, though.  Seventy-two million of us diagnosed ourselves and regularly took some sort of alternative medication in 2002.  The rest of us might not consider ourselves medicating, but we do, of course, and not just the usual Tylenol, Robitussin, and Pepto-Bismol, either.  We purposefully alter our brain chemistry all the time.

Over half the population of the U.S. drinks coffee on a daily basis to take advantage of its stimulant properties.  Sixty-four percent of us drink alcohol, perhaps to counter the tension from all our coffee.  Twenty-two percent of us smoke cigarettes to relax, especially while drinking alcohol or coffee.  Approximately eighteen percent smoke grass.  That’s without even discussing all the more-inventive drugs, such as LSD-6 and MDMA.

In addition to all this we must consider the oceans of so-called “health nuts.”  Fitness fanatics come in various degrees of seriousness and mental stability, from the casual weight-lifter to the manic Olympic triathlete, and nary a one of them considers himself or herself a drug addict.  Nevertheless, the scientific community established long ago that physical exercise heavily affects hormone, endorphin, and serotonin levels, and also that addiction to these natural substances occurs easily, naturally, and predictably in lab rats.

Since these highly addictive endorphins target all the same opiate receptors, 24 Hr. Fitness can be considered the modern American opium den.

Portrait of the American Addict

III.

We certainly do like to fuck with our brains.  Who can blame us, though?  As aforementioned, we’re the inheritors of broken machinery, the unhappy inhabitants of chaotic mental domains which do not even function in the haphazard, unpredictable way they should.  Humans fix things.  When a shoe comes untied, we tie it.  When a brain comes apart, we glue it together with whatever we happen to have on-hand: coffee for fatigue, whiskey for tension, tobacco for anxiety, what-have-you.

When we tinker with our minds, we’re seizing temporary control of our neurochemistry.  We don’t drink alcohol in spite of its tendency to impair our judgment; we drink it precisely because it impairs our judgment, and unlike other mind-altering addictions such as — oh, I don’t know — television, say, we know exactly how our brains will change when we indulge.

Humans have used mind-altering substances since the dawn of time.  Beer, alone, has a documented history going back six-thousand years before Christ.  When we look at our ancestors from so long ago, though, we can’t help but notice that their uses for beer, wine, tobacco, drugs, et cetera extend far beyond self-medication.  Of course, they were used for recreation, but the original use for most of these so-called vices was for creating an appropriate environment for religious and spiritual rituals.

The Greeks drank wine to evoke the ancient god, Dionysus.  The Jewish tradition of the Passover Seder requires four glasses of it per person.  Five-million Hindu sanyasi sadhus smoke hashish to repress their sexual desires and aid their meditation.  Over fifty American Indian tribes practice Peyotism today, a religion centered around ritual use of natural mescaline, which they use to communicate to the dead and to various deities.

These people aren’t balancing their serotonin — they’re putting gods on speed-dial.

Not seeing angels and demons, yet?  Here, drink some more of this.

They're gateway drugs, alright

IV.

These days religions get a bad rap.  Atheists can say the bad reputation of spirituality reflects its failure to cooperate with contemporary Western civilization, sciences, paradigms, and increasingly agnostic peoples.  Religions themselves, however, deserve no animosity.  One cannot judge a philosophy by its misuse.

Religions originally appeared because humans became convinced of evidence alerting them to other beings, other worlds.  Rituals appeared because humans wanted to commune with these other beings, other worlds.  Mind-altering substances proliferated in rituals because they provided sufficient evidence of their usefulness to millions of adults with brains the size of canteloupes.  We no longer use these drinks and drugs to speak with gods, though, because so many people these days seem to think they can do it without spending beer money, and many others don’t think very much of the idea of talking to gods, anyhow.

In other words, lots of boring self-styled “realists” think those other beings, other worlds never existed in the first place.

The funny thing is, everyone on planet Earth believes wholeheartedly in lots of things that don’t exist.  The value of currency, for example, is absolute balderdash.  It is valued for its various markings and symbols which invoke the names of people who lived hundreds of years ago, and which declare mottos and oaths in ancient, dead languages, markings and symbols which cast an enchantment over both buyer and seller, and in this mutual confusion one can purchase an automobile with nothing but decorated scraps of parchment paper.

There is no difference between the purpose of the markings on a dollar bill and that of the markings inscribed within a sorcerer’s sigil, or those upon an altar, or even those upon a WELCOME mat.  We live in a world of our mind’s creation, and everything real to us has been made real by us.

How did we miraculously make reality real?  Easy.  We simply named it that, like we did the table, the chair, and the dust bunny.  “Reality,” we said, “thou shalt be real,” to which so-called reality said in its easygoing way, “Alright,” and that was that.

The unreal didn’t mind being left out at all, though, because all of a sudden, it didn’t exist.

Wait, did you guys see that -- or am I crazy?

V.

So, here we are, then . . .  Nothing is real, and nothing is unreal.  Quite a mess we’ve gotten ourselves into at this point, and we’re very proud of it.  Naturally, we’ve taken the next step and done what any bipedal, cerebrally cortexed hominid would do in this situation: we’ve become ontological agnostics.  We don’t know what truth is, where to find it or how to prove that it’s there, but we believe in it all the same, bumbling about like the decorated surrealities we are, chasing after decorated scraps of parchment paper, and taking turns chastising one another for having faith in decorations.

What arrogant, blustering bastards we all are.

But how can we escape this cycle of idiocy?  How can we step from delusion and credulity into anything but delusion and credulity, if everything we know seems illusory and incredible?

Beer.

Cold, crisp, clean — beer.  And pills.  And smokes.  And coffees, wines, and liquors; buttons, tabs, and capsules.  Strenuous, extended exercise.  Yoga.  Za-zen meditation.  Brutally sorrowful dramas, uproariously hilarious movies.  Bitter, hate-filled debates.  Violence.  Pain.  Exquisite, sin-soaked and passionate pleasure.  The sweetness of selfless generosity lifetimes long, the glorious splendor of victory in competition, the self-righteousness of upbraiding one’s brother for having fallen from grace.  Mind-altering substances, mind-altering experiences.

In a paradoxical word, we can step away from the illusory by taking a break from reality.

In a life where nothing you think real can possibly exist, a world of erratic change and nebulous phantasms, mind-altering substances and experiences offer the most realistic opportunities available to a human.

— But of course, one could just go on as a believer . . .

With a glazed look and a raised glass I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

Stumble It!

THUWH9S5JMPC

Self-Abasement, Incorporated: an Industrial Revolution

At the U.S. headquarters of Self-Abasement, Incorporated, a boss begins to instruct his underlings in the delicate art of business attire.

I.

Business attire, as we all know, is that particular brand of fashion which obscures one’s personality. Business attire offends people at places of relaxation and amusement, and doesn’t look distinguished in one’s workplace, either, regardless how much money one has spent on it.

Business attire, though having been designed to look respectable, handsome, and elegant, fails to do so, because while companies can require that one wear a pinstriped skirt, they can neither require that one should own several such skirts, nor that one should daily press the wrinkles out. The boss can force us to wear a tie, but not to tie a fresh knot daily. These are discretions belonging to the wearer, and this is the irony of business attire.

When one’s silk tie has been in the same Windsor knot for six months, it’s insincere to feel elegant.

You'd be amazed at how long a necktie can go knotted, how long a bra can go unwashed

Yet the boss, a college graduate of average ambition, has also a boss, and this chief boss is the one telling him to enforce the company’s dress code. The command strikes little boss as odd because the dress code has always been followed with little trouble.

“But no,” the chief tells him. “Following the code is just acceptable; we can’t have our employees looking acceptable. Our employees represent the company, and the company can’t look just acceptable.”

“No,” says the boss, “of course it can’t, of course the employees can’t,” even though he is thinking of the word acceptable, its definition, and wondering why there ought to be a dress code at all if not to define precisely how employees should dress for work.

So the boss bows out of the presence of the chief and makes his way to his own cubicle. His cubicle has a window overlooking the blacktop of the parking lot below, because he has worked with the company for twenty-one years and has earned this luxury. Once there, he reviews the company’s dress code, then clicks his mouse pointer to create a new document. His creation takes forty minutes. Making copies takes three. He delivers them to his underlings in no time at all.

The cubicle creatures have become wary of the boss’s hardcopy memos, so they wait until his squeaking loafers have rounded the corner to pluck it up and take their medicine.

They grimace at the familiar arial font, and they sneer at the bullet points. The tone and content of the memo is no different from any that have come before: heartlessness approximates professionalism; condescension masquerades as magnanimity. Tragic, terrible irony seeps from every typo and grammatical error. The cubicle creatures begin to pop up like gophers. They peer over the walls of their little boxes at one another, holding up the memo and pointing.

What bullshit! They can’t do this to us. I’m going to talk to Johnson right now. Can you believe this shit?

They cannot believe this shit.

I Cannot Believe This Shit

ATTN: ALL EMPLOYEES

AS OF 4/25/10 the dress code is being clarified. Some employees arent following company procedure so this should help them dress aproppriately for work. NO EXCUSES! NO EXCEPTIONS!!!!!!!!!!

– Shirt and tie, men

– BLUE or BEIGE blowss, women

– BLACK or NAVY BLUE slacks

TO CLARIFY IN ADDITION!

– Mens slacks must front crease

– NO JEANS on Fri. anymore per Johnson

– Polo shirts are only all right Fri. on floor 3 if they are blue or beige

– EMPLOYEES MUST SHINE/POLLISH THEIR SHOES EVERY WEEKEND BEFORE MON. Mailroom employees must black nylon laces

– No dangly ear rings

– CLEAR or RED only pollished nails

John Johnson wll be reviewing staff Wed. to make sure these rules are being followed.

Thank you for your cooperation,

Gary Melendez

II.

Sometimes when I’m at my job, tappity-tap-tapping on my plastic keyboard and diddling the little touchpad on my laptop from time to time, it occurs to me that I’m accomplishing work which required hours of painstaking, interminable scrawling on sheafs of expensive parchment not so long ago.

Thank you, Industrial Revolution.

The underlings of Self-Abasement, Inc. do not feel the benefits of that historic occasion, though. They feel the crushing weight of imaginary duties, instead, because the introduction of technology to the workplace has eliminated most clerical work, leaving employees with more time between tasks than ever before, time which bosses must fill in order to look industrious.

Having long ago mastered the art of making two hours of work look like a two-day job, proletariat underlings manage to keep their jobs, and this explains how American employment competes with technology which would otherwise make human labor obsolete.

Bosses know that their underlings cut corners and screw off for large amounts of time, though (because they are very guilty of the same thing) so the bosses spend most of their paid hours playing gotcha! with the rest of the staff, ratting out the minimum of underlings necessary to look busy.

Underlings, bosses, and chiefs all have more free time, but the sergeants to whom the chiefs report have no more free time than previously, because sergeants never did any of the clerical work, anyhow.

Sergeants do labor which C.E.O.s need done but cannot do themselves, labor requiring certain talents and educations which computers cannot be programmed to use. In addition, companies need creative, educated humans in virtually every area of their industry, so these sergeants find themselves in high demand, spread thin, overworked and under-appreciated.

The sergeants have meetings, at which they give presentations, with which they sign deals, by which they secure work and money for their employers, which also secures the employees below. They are hard to reach, rarely seen in the office, and have little time for shenanigans. Their private time is taken up with anything and everything that could possibly relax them.

— Drug habits and divorces, for instance.

The big meeting feels like a summer holiday, when your cocaine has gone up both nostrils and your hands have been up both skirts

As a very protracted result of industrialization, then: underlings inflate their jobs in order to look busy and justify their positions; bosses inflate their jobs in order to look busy and justify their positions; sergeants enjoy the odd amphetamine here and there and become extra-marital enthusiasts.

What, the reader may ask, are the chiefs doing during all this self-inflation?

Sergeants have no time to police them and must be content with available evidence that the chiefs are doing their jobs — but just what, exactly, were their jobs? Since dividing their responsibilities among the bosses, the job of the chief has evaporated into the delegation of labor amongst laborers who are many times more experienced at accomplishing these tasks than the chief ever was. In physical terms, the chief actually does nothing.

However, nothing is a very difficult job to perform, as it turns out.

In order to earn wages for doing nothing, the poor chief must somehow take credit for the work his underlings complete and build hard evidence of having had a hand in it, as well, which proved an inexorable challenge until the late-twentieth-century innovation of micromanagement.

III.

Some definitions of micromanagement stretch for whole paragraphs, while others curtly name it in a concise six or seven words. Micromanagement describes more than a mere business philosophy, though. It is an undiscovered culture. It is an esoteric cabal.

Micromanagement is a sorcery woven over North America which upholds the global economy, feeds innumerable hungry mouths, and maintains the eminent prestige of the corporate-American business style.

It shares also the unfortunate distinction of the Faustian pact, however, in that it happens to kill everyone who subscribes to it.

The micromanager, here seen protected from unemployment by his circle of arcane documentation.

When chiefs first aspire to practice micromanagement, they begin by conjuring new requirements to add to existing regulations. This increases the complexity of the rules, and since they must enforce these rules, this inflates the scope of their job, likewise. In the case of the wretched cubicle creatures at Self-Abasement, Inc., for instance, their chief focuses on the company dress code, which had been a perfectly functional dress code except that it was too easy for his employees to follow and therefore did not give the chief anything to do.

By adding a few superficial, superexacting details, chiefs ensure that their cubicle creatures will resist this tyrannical posturing and fail to observe all new regulations. The chiefs then sign a few official documents of reprimand, obtain the signatures of all offending employees, and in this way create a paper connection between themselves and the actual labor performed by the underlings.

Memos, too, serve to solidify a micromanaging chief’s presence in the office. Suggested by the sergeants and articulated through the chief’s invariably horrific grammar, they explode in mass emails like viral outbreaks, or wind up scotch-taped to cabinetry in the staff lounge, stall doors in the restrooms, or any number of surprising locations where one would not expect a memo to lurk, such as inside the silverware drawer in the kitchen:

DO NOT PUT FORKS AND SPOONS IN THE UTENSILS DRAWER!

These officious memos help to prove the indispensability of the micromanager, and also make his or her presence known throughout the cubicle labyrinth, invoking him or her like the summoned incarnation of a corporate Zeitgeist. Without the ostentation of these memos the chiefs would seem incorporeal, because by nature of their work (which does not exist) they toil alone in their offices, leaving them only to use the restroom or drop in on a boss to make certain the chief’s responsibilities are being sufficiently handled.

This, of course, begs the question underlings have pondered since the inception of the micromanager: if we’re out here doing all the work, and all he does is come up with crazy new rules every two weeks — then what the hell is he doing in there all the time?

It is the opinion of many cubicle creatures that copious amounts of auto-eroticism transpire in the office of the chief.

Connectivity. Infrastructure. Masturbation.

IV.

The Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century put thousands of people out of work, and forced thousands more into new schools instituted to train farmers for life as factory hands. Had those day-laborers developed the sort of industrial sleight-of-hand practiced by micromanagers today, they would have been hailed as geniuses. They would perhaps have spent their working hours in the shade of apple trees, shouting perfunctory instructions to the other hands and winning their contempt, like this:

“Smith, yer gone need ter lift that hoe up t’yer shoulder to keep the furrow nice’n straight, hear?”

“Sho’ is a fine thing we got Johnson ter tellus how ter hoe ‘n sow ‘n plant ‘n scrape. I wonder where he gits his idears from.”

“I reckon those idears o’ Johnson’s come from about the same place as the manure do, but I sho’ wouldn’t mind trading up fer his salary, or fer his shady patch o’ sittin’ over thar, neither!”

That micromanagers work illusory jobs for pay does not seem inherently evil, though, as all the crucial work seems to be getting done, anyhow. Giving people something to do simply because people need something to do hardly appears like the worst thing in the world; mentally handicapped individuals have been employed in this fashion for decades, as have convicts, and even grandchildren (“Do what Nana says and sweep those leaves into a big pile on that side of the yard, and let me know when you’re done so I can show you how to sweep them back again.”). Micromanagers commit but a misdemeanor in duping dimwitted companies into paying them for inventing paltry regulations and decorating the office with memos.

In the innumerable tortures they design for the pathetic, piteous cubicle creatures, though, they betray themselves as the authors of fresh hells, their mass emails sundering the contentment and optimism of scores of people with neither shame nor care. The despair these micromanagers distribute as part of their useless, makeshift jobs horrifies the hapless cubicle creatures slowly, their gaunt faces growing more sallow and lined every day as though forced to watch imperturbable carpet bombs falling over an amusement park in crawling, relentless slow motion. Dress codes, new forms, an additional mite of data entry, an extra stop on the fifth floor to obtain a signature, the straws stack upon the quavering spines of corporate employees all the world over — hourly paid, conveniently quashed like cockroaches.

The proverbial last straw never comes for the cubicle creature, though, because each poisonous favor is only as brutal as the last, and like a cuckolding indentured servitude, they can only endure the apathy of their superiors by the anæsthetic of mindless subservience.

One is not mistaken to also detest the cubicle creature. One must consider that while their financial constraints may convince them to daily demean themselves like cowering, obsequious rodents, the shoe polishers of the world, garbage collectors, sewer scourers, bedpan changers, septic tank adventurers and other dauntless laborers of unseemly occupations go about their business with all the dignity and assurance of a British barrister, the cubicle creature having sacrificed self-love and self-respect for the sake of a dollar or two per hour above the wage that is generally paid to teenagers working in fast-food restaurants.

Marty Feldman, having left his position at Self-Abasement, Inc., re-learned how to smile and began an unlikely career in cinema. Seen here in early recovery.

V.

What course of action, then? When I reflect upon the farmhands during the Industrial Revolution, I imagine them going to work in factories with the same resignation and mental fatigue in their faces I see on those of the cubicle creatures, the bosses, and the micromanaging chiefs. This inheritance of misery cannot be tolerated.

However, the solution is not to stamp out micromanagement; that seems implausible. Micromanagers generally possess few marketable talents and so would not know what to do with themselves were it not for micromanaging. They will defend their philosophy to death. They sink in a quicksand of their own devising, and like Dr. Faustus, they do not believe that it will destroy them.

The micromanagers, themselves, appear doomed.

Readers given to martyrdom may decide to practice the Way of Nice for their respective chiefs, but should one find oneself in the position of the cubicle creature, the boss, the chief, or the sergeant, one would do best to quit the place like a spark leaving the flint.

Corporate offices transform human time and energy into cashola. That is their purpose; they have none other. Unless one could change one’s living days into enough capital to justify such a dark metamorphosis, to take a position in a corporate office is to commit oneself to a sanitarium operated by lunatics.

Most corporate fucks work jobs that they hate in order to feed, clothe, and educate their children, transfusing their very lifetime into that of their offspring. Their personal joy and appreciation for the beauties of life visibly deflate from them with every passing day, and many live in fear of termination like battered housewives clinging to abusive spouses. Self-destruction does not raise healthy children. It were better to live with dignity and pride somewhere in a rent-controlled ghetto and nourish one’s family with ramen.

As the great Al Pacino once said, “There is nothing like the sight of an amputated spirit; there is no prosthesis for that.” No, and there is no salvation for those who commit a daily suicide all their lives, either.

Beware the promise of material happiness or contentment.

Beware the myth of financial security.

Beware the fiscally ambitious and the ones who have it all.

— But most importantly, beware that part of you which dreams of winning lotteries, marrying rich, or retiring in a large, beautiful home.

It’s the part of you the rest of us have most to fear.

With remarkably tenacious optimism I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

Stumble It!

I Think, Therefore I Love You

Philosophies try to explain the purposes of — well, the purposes of everything.  Philosophies can become a hobby, a lifestyle, or an obsession if one lets them.

Many of us have little use for most philosophies, though.  We find some incompatible, others obsolete.  Existentialism for instance, although great for egocentric neo-hippies, neither nurtures nor allows faith in the common man, so society rejects it.  Zen Buddhism, likewise, does not make sense to materialistic cultures, because the contemplation of nothingness seems just as absurd to most Los Angeles businessmen as the rabid pursuit of wealth does to most Chinese peasants.  A philosophy must operate within its intended context; otherwise, it’s a painter’s hammer, a baker’s wrench, a butcher’s telescope.

We read philosophies to explore the frontiers of human understanding, but few of them can really pertain to everyone.  One such panharmonic philosophy exists, though.  It’s a beautiful thing, clear, concise, and without the usual pompousness that garnishes most mystic proverbs.  It goes like this:

Be nice.

"Be nice," says Dalton

I.

“Be nice” is a highly volatile, extremely dangerous, violently controversial philosophy.  People have been killed for being too nice.  The Way of Nice has martyrs in every part of the world.

That superstar of martyrs who inspired a global sensation, the man who needs no introduction, Mr. Jesus, purportedly believed in being nice.  Extant records say he was a swell guy, except for one small incident when he started chucking tables around because some gamblers had mistaken a church for a casino.   Other than that, he made his career as a philosopher with, “Be nice” (except he actually said, “Love one another.”  It may be presumed that in the time of slavery, flayings, and crucifixions, this sounded less mushy).  Incidentally, Mr. Jesus called himself — not a son of the gods — but the son of the God (big G) and this tended to frustrate people.

The teachings of Mr. Jesus can easily be wired in such a way as to not short-circuit when applied to a logical mind, but many agnostics throw his ideas out with the holy water, quoting other Hebrews just as though Mr. Jesus should be responsible for every Jewish mystic from the necromancer Ezekiel to the reformed torturer Paul.  The philosophy of Mr. Jesus does not need to get complicated.  Perhaps most American Christians don’t read their Bible for the same reason most morally minded skeptics don’t: it doesn’t take eighteen-hundred and eighty-eight pages to say, “Be nice.”

Another school of the philosophy of Nice called Taoism preaches inaction (more on Taoism in “A Hurried History of Pagans and Pulpits,” here).  Tao teaches that one should do nothing (wu-wei) but even Lao Tzu, author of the Taoist holy book, finds himself advocating kind actions when he says, “Kindness in words creates confidence.  Kindness in thinking creates profoundness.  Kindness in giving creates love.”

Taoists look venerable as hell, but beneath that austere Pat Morita facade they’re just big ol’ squishybears like other nice people.  The West and East may not have Zen in common, but they do share the philosophy of the Way of Nice.

They say Lao Tzu lived to be six-hundred years old. Wu-wei, indeed. Do nothing, or break hip.

Marcus Aurelius championed the Way of Nice, too, when he wrote in his Meditations, “Adapt yourself to the things among which your lot has been cast, and love sincerely the fellow creatures with whom destiny has ordained that you shall live.”  Another Stoic philosopher, Seneca, said, “Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.”  From the Dialogues of Plato: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”  Cicero: “There is no duty more obligatory than the repayment of kindness.”  Charles Darwin: “The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.”  Albert Einstein: “The ideals which have lighted my way have been kindness, beauty, and truth.”

Why on earth do so many brilliant thinkers emphasize the importance of being nice?  These hotshots may have practiced their own forms of morality, but they weren’t known for their morality.  They made names for themselves out of their brains, not their hearts.  Some sound reason must exist for the kind treatment of our fellow beings.

Hold on a moment, though.

Supporting morality with logical premises seems counter-intuitive to many people.  Many people despise the idea that emotions have reasons underlying them.  Western society has accepted the dualistic nature of head versus heart, and for many of us, any attempt to bring reason and emotion, sense and sensibility, contemplation and compassion together is rank blasphemy.

Plenty of people insist that there are matters of the heart which cannot be settled by the brain, often the same good people who keep open minds about things like astrology, tarot cards, and soul mates.  These paladins of mindless warm fuzzies are joined in their bigotry by thousands of doctors of psychology, that mock-science built on neologism which professes to study the mind, but doles out self-help advice as medication.

. . .Well, self-help and benzodiazepines.

These detractors of logic desperately believe that reason and emotion are as oil and water.  A calamitous, deplorable divorce, this, because if there’s anything worse than a chaotic rage, crushing depression, or cataclysmic sorrow, it’s having to deal with these soul-enslaving feelings without the lucidity to counsel and compose oneself, without the presence of mind to talk oneself down, as they say.

"Head vs. Heart," by Danielle Rizzolo

II.

The separation of heart and head is more important to some than the separation of church and state.  Perhaps we have stony-faced Stoics like Aurelius and Seneca to thank for this prejudice.  Colloquially, Stoicism has meant apathy and heartlessness for seventeen centuries.  Sure, we distrust cold and calculating philosophers, yet we have the audacity to explain every pang of fear, justify every twinge of regret, and defend every feeling of personal injury — with logic and reason.

Why are you crying?” asks the doting mother.

Why so sad?” asks the concerned spouse.

Why do you feel this way?” we constantly demand of one another, to which we hilariously reply, “Because. . .!”

We’ve no problem at all demonizing logic and reason as deceitful, dubious, treacherous mishaps of evolution when we wax sentimental — until people take interest in our feelings, that is.  The moment somebody questions our guilt, regret, anxiety or fear, we analyze our feelings like doctors performing an autopsy.  We find ready reasons for each facet of our condition, gladly dissect our heart-of-hearts, and fork out the logic that led us — nay, caused us — to feel such intense feelings.

Certain young thinkers (ahem) have been lambasted by entire university classrooms, wrathful classmates red-faced and spittle-launching, for having dared suggest this heresy.  Why such passionate dissent?

— Because the heaviest weight in the world is the responsibility of self-awareness.  We’d much rather freefall through life like leaves on the wind than assume control.  If we writhe beneath the wild power of our emotions without recourse, we are absolved.  Our follies, our caprices, our sins all manifest as the results of inevitable emotional tides.  Should ever anyone prove emotions to have causal, logical roots, however — then the melodramatic masses will become as culpable as drunk drivers, and many times more shameful.

They were sober, after all.

The purity of an unrestrained emotion -- and this is one of the positive ones. Humans are the only animals which bare their teeth in exuberance.

Emotions retain their validity, though, regardless of their causal relationships in our if-this, then-that universe.  If one feels jovial and carefree because one has paid bills in advance, eaten a nice breakfast, and accomplished every task before noon, one feels no less happy for having enumerated the reasons.

However, some say that we are not truly happy unless we feel glad for no reason at all, happy-go-lucky, willy-nilly, whee!  Unbidden, unexplained emotions seem more pure to these folks.  Understandable emotions with easily surmised causes seem less lustrous, less genuine.  For this reason, our sophomoric culture clings to the love-at-first-sight cliché with the tenacity of a toddler refusing to relinquish a security blanket.

Logic is not the opposite of emotion.  Thinking is not the opposite of feeling, either.  Our feelings exist in our minds, and they correlate to our thoughts.

Now, about the Way of Nice: if compassion has a logical cause, then Aurelius, Seneca, Plato, Cicero, Darwin, Einstein, Mr. Jesus and Lao Tzu merely exercised good sense by practicing kindness.  Many of their reasons for being nice, in fact, are displayed in their quotes, above.  It may be possible for a person to arrive at compassion accidentally, too, and this benefits the world just as well as it would if one could take moral credit for the deed, and maybe better.

One could help an old lady across the street for kindness’s sake, or merely because one couldn’t stand the sight of old-woman roadkill.  A significant difference from the old lady’s perspective seems unlikely, so what difference can it make?

The Good Samaritan, unable to abide roadkill, became the world's first street sweeper.

III.

The reader may lack a reason of his or her own to convert to the Way of Nice, though.  In fact, the reader may be at this very moment shrinking from the thought of practicing any so-called way whatsoever, thinking what a horrid, contemptible thing religion is, and that the Way of Nice smells far too much like religion to be bothered with.

Never fear though, thou valiant heathen.  A philosophy is here offered for the kindly treatment of all animals on the earth.  Therefore, onward!

See, animals are most likely to cause harm when they are in need.  They are also stupid, selfish creatures, too blind to foretell the likely consequences of their actions.  When they need something badly enough, they feel compelled, pushed, forced to act in such a way as to obtain what they think they need.

Should a fellow animal show hunger, one reduces the danger to oneself by feeding him or her.  Should a fellow animal act forlorn, one reduces the danger to oneself by befriending him or her.  Should a fellow animal wince in pain, one reduces the danger to oneself by dressing the animal’s wounds.

Animals naturally seek out a mate in their proper season.  One does well to facilitate this for one’s fellows.  This is fun, anyhow.

Animals yearn for a minimum of tenderness and affection.  One does well to pet them, to soothe them with soft words and caresses.  This feels good, anyhow.

Animals fall into desperation without a safe shelter.  One does well to make one for them.  This can both be fun and feel good.

A cornered animal will most likely attack; it behooves one, therefore, to liberate one’s fellow animals.  Marry logic to kindness so that even the stoniest of Stoics might melt a bit and see the Way of Nice for what it is: the soundest, most obvious philosophy in the world.

Or, to put it more succinctly–

Be Nice.

With earnestness and temporarily subdued sarcasm I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

Stumble It!

Books, Part of This Nutritious Breakfast

There isn’t a community in this nation which doesn’t prefer an hour at the gym to thirty minutes in a library.

Americans would admit it freely, too. If Gallup polled them, Americans would say, “Well, yeah. Wouldn’t anyone rather look like Marilyn Monroe than think like Ben Franklin? I mean, come on, that’s easy.”

These priorities are, as Robert Frost once called them, sincerely fucked-up. It’s sound reason for health-conscious people to concern themselves with their intellectual diets and exercises at least as much as their physical ones.  It’s good logic for health nuts to care about their educations as much as their caloric intake.

The dangers of an unhealthy lifestyle worry many Southern Californians, as well as other folks both domestic and foreign, but those concerns present nothing like the Faustian hellscape that is an intellectually malnourished way of life.  The mind deserves at least as much attention as we pay to our diets.

No amount of crunches will give them that, "I drive responsibly" look.

I.

The mind is easily dismissed, because the mind is hard to describe.  It’s an abstract concept.  Nevertheless, people have cause to worry about exercising their minds just as they fret over diets and exercise, because the mind and body are degrees of the same thing. Neither mind nor body means anything without the other, just like hot and cold, or far and near.  Degrees of the same.

This is not a Taoist argument about balance, though. This is a statement rooted in thousands of years of philosophy, thousands of years of brilliant thought.

These thoughts began when someone tried to find the mind. Where it was he or she could not say, and neither could anyone else. No one, in fact, has ever been able to pinpoint the mind satisfactorily, beyond the assertion that it is inextricably braided into the physical brain.

Now, if there is no known location for the mind, why not presume it made of the same energy and matter as everything else in the world? If the mind were nothing more than an effect (and cause) of physical activities of the brain and body, nothing would remain unexplained, nobody would need to wonder where the mind were located, anymore. More fun than that, though, and much more amusing, it would destroy the divide between body and mind, and anyone in search of health food would need to consider whether chamomile tea might not be healthy.

Chamomile promotes drowsiness, you know, and thereby hinders the mind’s ability to concentrate.

Chamomile, the thinker's devil weed.

Consider the relationship between physical actions and abstract ideas.

Should one decide to flip the bird, one begins by willing the fist to extend the middle finger. The question is, at what point does the incorporeal idea become flesh hard enough to physically move the finger? To answer, one must arbitrarily choose a point along the path from thought to action, and the transformation, so-called, happens too rapidly for anyone to discern a difference. It is as though the action itself contained all the desire, will, and thought that had ever been involved. Ideas and actions are, in the end, inextricable from one another.

It remains possible that our thoughts may be nothing more than the streaming recognition of all our potential actions.

For Batman once said, “Of what use is a dream, if not a blueprint for courageous action” (Batman, the feature film, 1966).

Modern science has corroborated the mind’s influence as part of the body. Harvard’s Dr. Langer successfully showed that housekeepers who merely considered their jobs differently as they went about their duties lost significant weight, as well as ten-percent of their blood pressure. Studies at the Cleveland Clinic recorded participants increasing their muscle strength by thirteen-percent in three months, not by weight training, but by simply imagining themselves doing the exercise for fifteen minutes per day, five days per week. Not to be left out, Drs. Yue and Cole of the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Iowa say, “Strength increases can be achieved without repeated muscle activation. . . The results of these experiments add to existing evidence for the neural origin of strength increases that occur before muscle hypertrophy” (J Neurophysiol. 1992 May; 67 (5): 1114-23).

If this evidence for the intimate body-mind relationship does not weigh enough, consider also: thinking has not only the power to slim us down, but also to fatten us up.  How many calories are in a Snickers bar craving?  Some.

I'm training for the Olympics.

II.

A key reason to favor intellectual exercise over physical exercise is that the earnest pursuit of reason results in the adoption of healthy practices. Active mental lives regularly lead to active physical lives, provided that one’s studies are not allowed to grow too narrow or repetitive. Students of geology or ecology soon deposit themselves on a hike outdoors. Fans of philosophy and poetry, likewise, soon learn to disdain the confines of buildings. Sociology and anthropology fanatics soon find themselves moving about society with the lithe grace of a politician.

No true student of philosophy needs to be told that natural foods nourish better than artificial or chemically treated foods, and indeed, it is likely the growing illiteracy rate among American adults that has allowed such rudimentary lapses of judgment to begin with.

The pursuit of athleticism, however, hardly ever leads to intellectual pursuits. One has merely to look at the workout habits of the typical American to conclude as much: one hour on a treadmill daily, staring at a mounted television while listening to Lady Gaga on headphones, followed by three hours of television in bed to reward ourselves.

As a society, we once walked for miles on a regular basis. We used to read while we walked, too.  We did so often enough to form a cliche now long-forgotten, the careless reader blindly turning a corner, running headlong into someone important, someone attractive, or someone dangerous-looking.

“Oh! Excuse me!” the clumsy reader would say, to which the bulldozed pedestrian would reply,

“Why don’t you watch where you’re going?”

This peeve of society no longer exists to interrupt our afternoon strolls, however, because hardly anyone walks anymore — and even fewer people read. What readers and walkers do exist, certainly do not do them at once, anymore, and this is yet another example of how our intellectual divorce from the physical realm has affected our daily lives.

Abraham Lincoln's clumsy travel habits earned him the nickname, "Absent-Minded Abe," which he lamented until stumbling into John Wilkes Booth in 1865. "Why don't you watch where you're going?" Booth reportedly said.

People interested in their health had better to start a reading habit than a calisthenics regime or a dieting plan. Calisthenics have little to do with one’s quality of life outside of physical fitness. Granted, staying fit and feeling healthy present one with many important benefits, not the least of which being longevity of life, but the benefits of intellectual fitness far outstrip those of a merely athletic lifestyle.

An educated autodidact takes interest in more of the world around him or her, experiences epiphany on a regular basis, and usually gets the joke (even when the joke is not funny).  What good would it do to live for a hundred and fifty years, if all the intellectual stimulation one managed in all that time were counting reps and calories?  Physical exercise for its own sake feels good — right up to when it hurts — but also involves hours of terribly boring repetition.

Boredom is the agony of an intelligent mind beginning to atrophy, just as aches are the pain of muscles gone unused.

Dull people suffer from boredom like victims of bone cancer.  Note the torture children experience at the mall, shopping for school clothes with their mothers.  They don’t know enough to entertain themselves with what little stimulation exists for them in that environment, so the effect is like that of sensory deprivation.  One might as well blindfold them and bind their hands; they’ve absolutely no idea what to do with themselves.

We secretly replaced two of these bored athletes with two complete morons. Can you tell them apart?

The difference between a child and an adult is, the child will gladly, eagerly find a way to entertain himself or herself.  A dimwitted adult, too far gone and having lapsed into perpetual complacency, grows so comfortable with boredom that he or she can tolerate hours upon hours of commercial television programming, finding no irony in laugh tracks and APPLAUSE signs, predicting the plots of show after show, and repressing occasional surges of distaste, disgust, and boredom with the nimble dexterity of a catatonic ninja.

Stupidity is a vicious circle this way.  The dumber one becomes, the more content one is to become an even bigger idiot.  As the light goes out from behind the eyes, the person in the dark back there has a dwindling chance to figure out what makes life so generally unbearable for them.  If one believes that this ignorance is truly bliss, one is horrifically mistaken.

To return to comparing mental health to physical health, an intelligent yet obese person will need to contend with deadly health concerns — and also might suffer from nightmarish, excruciating social repercussions — but he or she will have logic to resist exacerbating these issues, at least.

An uneducated, unintelligent person (even if blessed with good looks, adequate finances, and loving friends and family) still must survive and endure the following hazards of their fatuousness: irresponsible contraction and communication of disease, increased likelihood of incarceration, hampered ability to communicate, vulnerability to cons and scams, misinformed belief systems, haphazard parenting skills, higher unemployment rate, drastically lower income, poor decision making, higher risk of mental illness, self-inflicted illness, incautiousness and injury, unchecked emotion, social ineptitude, confusion, malnutrition, bewilderment, laziness, haplessness, recklessness, and a nigh-infinite parade of other easily supposed hazards.

Sure, obesity can cause pulmonary hypertension, but stupidity can cause a lawn chair to resemble aircraft.

Cancer is cause for concern. Idiocy, is the bane of our existence.

III.

It will occur to the casual reader that since intellectual exercise seems so much more crucial to a long, healthy life than physical exercise, some logic must exist for the favoritism of Southern Californians and others for the latter.  How in the world could so many people ignore the obvious dangers of watching too much television and reading too few books?  Granted, the media does everything it can to keep people out of libraries, into strip malls and reclining armchairs, but other reasons exist.

Studying up after a long period of laziness remains many, many times more difficult than losing weight or getting ripped.  A little willpower allows access to a proper diet and calisthenics routine — but willpower alone will not help an illiterate person put the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius to use.  Rob Cooper lost three-hundred pounds in two-and-a-half years, but the ability to read influential works of literature or contemporary science journals takes years of formal education, followed by several more years of diligent bookworming.

These studies aren’t just difficult for an aspiring collegiate, though; they’re also dizzyingly excruciating for a dullard to endure.  Dieters have hunger pangs to contend with, and joggers must overcome both pain and fatigue, but neither of these agonies can match the psychological horror of limitless boredom.  Eighty percent of U.S. families did not buy or read any books last year, which means they found no joy in turning the pages of Harry Potter, Salem’s Lot, or even their Bibles or Qur’ans.  For an uninitiated thinker, completing even so accessible a text as Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is as difficult as scaling a sheer wall, and less enjoyable than staring at one.

Perhaps this accounts for the dull look in their eyes.  Maybe staring at walls is the secret addiction of idiots all the world over.

Melissa's bedroom wall has been on the N.Y. Times bestseller list for eight weeks running.

There’s also no immediate monetary profit in engaging new intellectual pursuits.  Most people need to clothe their children and put gas in their car.  They don’t have time to sit and read Chaucer unless someone will pay them for their time.  Even if college educations result in lucrative jobs, they neither put food on the table at home, nor pay for themselves, in the meantime.

This makes reading very unfashionable in places like Southern California, where a successful, meaningful life is measured in terms of material wealth.  Everyone in Southern California knows or has met a member of the modern aristocracy who accumulated the entirety of his or her wealth without even a high school diploma.  Few remark that these people may lead valueless, colorless lives fraught with confusion, disinterest, and despair.  Few question whether raising children, attending churches, or advancing careers can supplant an earnest search for one’s own meaning in life.

An intelligent, educated person with debts to pay, has debts to pay, as well as an appreciation for the horrors and beauties of the world we live in.

An unintelligent, uneducated person with money — has money.

Perhaps the most pervasive cause for the preference of physical health over intellectual health, though, is a social divide between jocks and geeks which prevents a natural exchange of information, information jocks desperately need about the use of books, and information plenty of geeks could use about the use of barbells.  Idiots don’t hang out with intellectuals, because educated types make them feel stupid and insecure.  This aversion suits educated conversationalists just fine, too, because they’re tired of having to explain to drunk people in basketball jerseys that comparing political figures to Hitler doesn’t facilitate a mutually beneficial discussion.

With a social disparity this extensive, it’s hard to imagine anyone over thirty spending some hard-earned Monday Night Football time learning to play chess, instead.  With great hope and trepidation, though, one must presume that it’s happened somewhere, sometime, and that it just might happen somewhere again.

Having pounded a creatine shake, a Monster energy drink, and three shots of wheatgrass, this valiant bro opened his game with a variation on the Ruy Lopez.

IV.

Today, universal health care stands out as Washington’s most ambitious undertaking in decades.  In time, the White House might be able to pull it off, too — but what about universal education?

The so-called public option for educating our citizens doesn’t even bother to hide its own shame and self-loathing, anymore.  What if one’s intellect really does matter at least as much as one’s biological health?  That would make the problem of national obesity look like a pebble beside the Himalayan catastrophe that is our national stupidity.

It’s amusing to consider that universal health care could make an effective political smoke screen, if the categorical failure of Bush’s No Child Left Behind legislation were ever to draw unwanted attention.  In the years to come, our life expectancy may exceed all expectations, affording every uneducated American an additional ten, twenty, or even thirty years of bad decision making.

Feeling fit and staying active isn’t a silly prospect; it’s an important part of being human, but a healthy physique alone does not a fulfilling, rewarding life make.  It behooves us all to balance our time in spin class with our time between the pages of something thought-provoking.  It is childish to pretend that looking good and feeling good supplants the need for imagination, contemplation, and meaningful dialogue.  Flexed guns and a washboard six-pack can’t govern anyone’s life.  They help a black v-neck tee-shirt fit more fashionably, but what has good fashion sense done for us, lately?  We’re sexy enough, for Chrissakes.

Were there research available on the subject today, it’s likely that stupidity would prove more responsible for a shitty sex life than outmoded fashion sense ever was.  Decent fucking requires a modicum of know-how.  No amount of salon time can make up for a person’s inability to locate a clitoris.

MacGyver. You can bet he never needed a paper clip and a ballpoint pen to find a clitoris.

Put your bullet-shaped helmet away, o’ legion of spandex-clad bicycle enthusiasts, and pluck up a volume of Bukowski.  He’ll keep your interest for an hour or two, I swear.  And roll up your spongy L.A. Fitness brand yoga mat, o’ acolytes of spirituality through weight-loss programs, and fetch a copy of Huston Smith.  Everything you ever wanted to know about humanity’s search for its soul is there.

It’s time to stop overpaying our athletes and underpaying our teachers, overvaluing our blockbuster hits and underestimating our modern classics.  People of great intellect aren’t having a hard time getting laid, they’re having a hard time finding other intellects.  It’s time to re-evaluate the amount of attention we pay to our physiques when we pay so little attention to our minds, and it doesn’t take a Mensa award-winner to see the American reasoning faculty drying up like a dessicated chunk of cacti on a cracked stretch of desert highway.

Evolution’s the great equalizer, though.  If there’s any truth to it at all, then it won’t take long for all the athletic ignoramuses to jog, hike, and bike straight into traffic or off of cliffs, and the rest of us will have more than enough time to take up aerobics.

With total amazement and utter stupefaction, I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

Stumble It!

True, False, Fuschia!

When it’s done well, conversation’s an art that impresses me more than anything in the world.  Humans learn all sorts of fascinating minutia while tooling around the world they inhabit, and some of them have a good sense of humor.  There’s nothing like talking with someone who can make you laugh and teach you things at the same time: gossip, trivia, history, world culture, current events, important and unimportant things, inexplicable things, and things as mundane as what happened on last night’s episode of “Whatever.”  Hell, people can even provide an intuitive guess at things they don’t know, which, after some cross-referencing with other people, usually becomes one of our educated guesses, and upon which many of us regularly depend.

In Southern California, however, we have a treasured tradition of attempting to convince one another of our ideas and opinions.  We squabble over the quickest route from A to B, and exhort one another with banners and bumper stickers (especially around election time).  Even our fucking tee-shirts bear the slogans and advertisements of our favorite points-of-view.  In popular gathering places, the usual discussion happens in every color of the rainbow a thousand times over:

“Yes, it is!”

“No!  It isn’t…”

Lou Pinella

Bears don't look like this unless they're going to maul each other. This peaceful show of aggression is a purely human trait.

All this shallow bickering should have stopped in grade school, but our social development is arrested by our earnest desire to help — at least, that’s the noble reason I’m giving for it; pride in our powers of perception fuels arguments at least some of the time.  Note also that there are excellent reasons to argue (see How to Refrain from Being a Dick for some examples) even though the bulk of arguments are bunk, but one must grow accustomed to the presence of contradictions and paradoxes in this life, and our desire to work together for the perpetuation of circular arguments seems to be one of them.  More on paradoxes later.

What reasons exist for giving up the incessant “tastes great / less filling” sort of tennis match and resuming less-combative conversation?  Read on, o’ my fellow friends of the Friday-night beer talk, and we might find a way to shut up our faces long enough to finish a watery American lager.

-Standing by One’s Opinion Is Vain

It’s a strange culture we live in.  We’re expected to be modest yet confident, friendly yet assertive, firm yet yielding, a list of directives that sounds like a good kiss.  It’s a fine balance, and in that balance we’re taught that “Your Opinion Matters!” even while all opinions are “like assholes: everyone’s got one and they all stink.”  I saw the former on a poster in a mall, I think.  My grandfather used to say the latter.  Who would you listen to first?

It’s true that everyone has opinions, though.  There’s little way around that, and if everyone has them, then one person’s idea is worth about as much as another’s, since even a so-called good idea can potentially be had by someone else.  Most people don’t argue other people’s points of view in an argument, though, and I find that extremely telling.  We’d often benefit by relating someone else’s point of view, rather than something we cooked-up ourselves, because one can’t be accused of arguing out of pride when the argument posed isn’t one’s own.  I’d be happy to give you my stepfather’s opinion of the New York Yankees, for instance, because I’m not a sports fan and there’s little danger that you’ll think me very serious about myself.

Stacks

Zillions of pros, zillions of cons -- dreamed up and written by the most erudite people on earth. I'm sorry, what were you saying?

I’d also be glad to give you Marcus Aurelius’ perspective on willpower, Anselm’s ontological proof of the existence of God, Fuller’s evidence that the world needs communism, and other trite epiphanies, but please don’t hold me accountable for relating them!  They aren’t my fault.  They were written years before I was born.

Appealing to the authority of famous smarty-pantses of the world is a notorious logical fallacy — in other words, quoting Albert Einstein doesn’t make one’s contention correct — but it’s much less vain than presuming others should accept your opinion simply because you’re so fucking cool.

It may be that one’s own opinion is most politely stated as a question, like, “I wonder if Iggy Pop isn’t better than David Bowie?” but we can’t always talk that way, so it’s important to remember the following.

-Everyone Is the Center of the Universe

Nobody can have any point of view but his or her own.  Everyone is the center of their universe.  They don’t know what your universe is like, and you don’t know theirs.  The universes may have commonalities, or they may not.  Regardless, my daily evidence suggests that I am the most important thing to myself so truly and consistently, that even my most heartfelt principles and ideals are only worth dying for because, hey, that’s my opinion.

If I allow that you humans are like me, and that you are centers of universes, too, then there’s no fucking way I’m going to convince any of you of anything (unless of course I say something you almost agree with, anyhow, or simply hadn’t thought of yet).  It’s especially difficult to convince others of something they do not readily believe since the proliferation of Grandpa’s opinions-and-assholes principle, the aforementioned proverb our culture developed to devalue any and every opinion from Kant’s Categorical Imperative to the capitalism of Carl Karcher.

"Egocentric," by Tyler Philips. The question is, does the mind's eye emit, permit, or permute?

We’re partially convinced everyone else is wrong before we even arrive upon a topic of discussion, and that’s not surprising; we were there to witness every time we were right, and we partially doubt (or forget altogether) many of the times we were wrong.  Who, after all, can argue with the center of the universe?  Besides, even if Jack were to convince Jill of a certain idea, Jill would merely be placing her own judgment of Jack’s reasoning before and above his idea in question.

One can’t accept or deny an idea as logical or illogical without presuming a presiding authority.  Parents discipline their children out of an inability to dethrone the god who refuses to recognize Dad or Mom as a sovereign leader.  Obedient children obey predicated on their own decision that doing so produces favorable results.

-Everyone’s Opinion Is Justified, and Everyone’s Reason Is Erroneous

It seems certain that all opinions have the same subjective value, but ideas backed by logic or reason have quantifiable, given parameters by which they must be measured.  In the case of the subjective, we are almost always correct and justified (we earnestly do feel that X is Y); in the case of the objective, we are almost always incorrect and unjustified from the largest perspective, because we know too abysmally little to state things as universally, absolutely true, and can only be correct in small, easily defined, easily proven and quantified matters, such as arithmetic — and even then, paradox shows that we are wrong from other perspectives.

Paul

This fool on the hill sees the world spinning 'round. It's not surprising that he's the center of the universe. The surprising thing is, you are.

To illustrate the futility of solid logic on a universal scale, consider some rudimentary arithmetic: good ol’ 1 + 1 = 2.  Given that we will use Arabic numerals and some other laws previously agreed-upon, this is going to seem standard, true, and inarguable.  The answer, however, is vulnerable to alternative interpretation due to the accepted meaning of addition, and of “1,” itself.   If one were literally added to one other, then the result should be a unification of these two separate entities.  In math alone, we agree to call this unification “2,” but linguistically, philosophically, or metaphysically the logic falls apart, because a uni-fication must result in uni, the Latin word for one.  From these points of view, anything added to anything else will result in exactly one new thing, and we happily operate in a world where these two conflicting perspectives are both true at the same time, never questioning either of them.

The desert is hot?  It’s an icebox compared to the sun.  Your OJ too sweet?  It’s entirely sour when opposed to honey, and honey’s still bland compared to a mouthful of refined sugar.  Everything’s validity or value depends on scale, context, and relativity, and for this reason everything is true, and everything is false.  Proving anything one way is the silliest thing in the world to achieve, because there are an infinite number of other perspectives, each of which may equally prove or disprove it depending on what you’d like to accomplish.

From the broadest perspective, in other words, absolute truth is as arbitrary as the selection of a crayon.  And I want a fuschia dinosaur.

The coup de grace is really brutal, though: even upon reaching a stable, static, universal truth, we find that the entire universe is in constant flux, rapid change, turmoil, decay, permitting, emitting, transforming, creating, destroying, and “moving on,” as Stephen King put it once, so that any true answer was only true for that universe at that time — and that was some time ago.

Forest Entropy

Nothing is static, everything is evolving, everything is falling apart. -Tyler Durden (Chuck Palahniuk)

-A Somewhat Oriental Alternative

My opinion is that contradiction and paradox are the bread and butter of the cosmos.  If I may be allowed to appeal to some authorities, quantum physics (and several other religions) agree with me, not to mention Ken Wilber, who looks so cool you just know he’s hip to his shit.  There’s nothing wrong with being wrong.  We’re all wrong.  I’m wrong right now; just ask all the people who stopped reading halfway through.  When people respond to a question, “Hmm, well yes and no,” I hear the warm laughter of oblivion and smile inwardly, but when I hear people insist that they know what they’re talking about, I have to laugh at myself for having absolute confidence that they should not be so confident.

Habitually trying to convince others to change their opinions is not only futile in the long run, it’s also genocide against the opinions you don’t hold.  Who wants everyone to agree with one another?  That kind of peace and harmony sounds fucking beige.  The only reason I have no contempt of those oh-so-cooperative insects, ants, is that deep down inside, I really believe they’re all arguing over the appropriate size food granules should be for carrying back to the nest.  It’s one of the interesting things about them.

There’s nothing wrong with letting the Rolling Stones be better than the Beatles, so long as the Beatles are also better than the ‘Stones.  I prefer Fitzgerald to Hemingway because I’m fairly certain that Hemingway is better.  Sometimes I wonder, perhaps I have never been very enthusiastic about sports teams because both sides of any game is a fleeting moment in a fleeting century, a single strike of the paddle in a ping-pong tournament played on a cruise ship which rounds the peninsula and disappears into the mist, forever.  Hell, sports teams don’t even have the same members game-to-game, let alone season-to-season!  People will wear the same logo on their cap from kindergarten to their own funeral, though, and some of them will be buried in it.

That, dear fellows, is what it means to try to convince people of things.  It’s insisting that the fluffy, domed cloud up there really is a turtle because that’s the way you see it, and because you’ve seen a helluvalot of clouds, by god.  My favorite part of all, though, is the hypocrisy involved in writing this piece, hypocrisy which will also be necessary to criticize or pontificate about it.  Hypocrisy is the sudden realization that one is the person whom one has chastised.  We define ourselves by standing out in contrast to others, and that makes us all identical in our hypocrisy.  How cute.

The trick, then, is to simply avoid the hypocrites who really seem passionate about their-slash-your point of view, right?  We can do that, can’t we?  Then we’ll have peace, a much more apathetic, blasé temperament all-around, and that’s something for us all to work toward.

So, until someone comes up with a better idea, I remain

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

*Note: The artist featured this week, Tyler Philips, may also be found at his design company, Circuit 26 Design.

How to Refrain From Being a Dick

“Judging people” has a very unfashionable connotation these days.  Nevertheless, it’s not only something everyone does, but an important part of life, a tool with which we sculpt our own personalities to best reflect our ideal persona.  Being “judgmental” is considered ugly and rude, but we’re constantly asked to judge whether someone else’s behavior were appropriate or not, and if we’re expected to do that, then how can judgment be ugly?  Well, it’s ugly whenever we unfairly conclude something, of course.  That’s precisely when judging the behavior of others makes us an asshole.  It therefore becomes a man to consistently check his judgment of others for inconsistencies such as hypocrisy, unfairness, or just plain ol’ meanness.

I try to catch myself when I think something uncool about another person — preferably before I say it — and this self-censorship is part of how I try to be cool to people.  However, I also feel that I owe society a little vigilance in holding my friends and neighbors accountable when I calculate their behavior to be assholey or dickish, and in mentioning similar judgments to other people when appropriate — you know, in order to spread the word: “Excuse me, but I couldn’t help but notice that what you just did makes you look like a huge asshole.  You should knock that shit off.”  Being nice to everyone all the time seems injudicious, seems to perpetuate unwanted, uncool behavior in society [see “A Hurried History of Pagans and Pulpits,” if’n you’re inclined].

Moe was such a dick, they even circumsized his hair.

The difficult part is knowing which behaviors to encourage and which to discourage, or, colloquially speaking, what makes a guy become a dick.  This week’s “In a Real World…” attempts to provide a lenient and justifiable guide to judging other people (but is really only a 10-dollar-word version of a shit list).  I apologize for electing myself to the position of Grand Inquisitor, bytheway, but we agnostics and atheists need a little guidance, too.  Besides, I didn’t come up with this stuff; it’s not my idea; it’s merely my best synthesis of things society seems to think at-large.

I.  Behaviors, Knowledge, and What People Have Commonly Known

The most important thing to understand — and this is crucial — is that nobody is or is not a dick.  People merely do, or refrain from doing, dickish things.  In order to know which activities are cool and which are uncool, we must know to what extent we may hold people accountable, for people live their lives according to what they know (or think they know) and it’s not reasonable to hold everyone accountable for not knowing everything.  It becomes our job, then, to make a reasonable list of things people can be expected to know and understand.  I won’t do this arbitrarily.  Let’s look at what people have commonly known through history, and we’ll call it common knowledge.

Makes sense to me to start from the late nineteenth century.  That’s when public schools started in the United States and institutionalized knowledge, making it “common,” so-called.  Before public schools, most people knew some folk medicine, some folk music, some recent history, how to mostly practice their religion, and the appropriate ways to perform their mostly menial jobs.  That’s most people, mind.  News came word-of-mouth, superstitions were widely believed and practiced, and one’s reputation in the community meant more then than one’s criminal record or credit score does today.  Note that rudimentary logic, reason, and rationality are not here featured, yet people somehow managed to treat their favorite same-skinned neighbors civilly.  If pretty much everyone can be expected to know how to be nice, therefore, then the question becomes: to how many people?

The Industrial Revolution needed workers who could sit down, shut up, and ask permission to urinate. Open for business.

It makes sense to me that we can expect a completely uneducated person in America to operate on a level consistent with the above knowledges.  When I’m in a particularly rural area with little technological industry (the same industries which necessitated American public schooling to begin with, you see) I do not call a man a dick for failing to understand that we civilized folk don’t use one word or another anymore, or that his neighbor is probably not going to a hell when he dies, or that going slow in the fast lane hinders my progress and wastes my precious city-boy time.  He doesn’t know the things I know, therefore I consider him cool by what I can only approximate to be a standard typical of his culture.

That’s very important, too: understanding that our culture (and its subcultures) is not the arbiter of cool will keep us from being a dick from alien perspectives.  Ethnocentric people don’t usually give a fuck about outside perspectives.  That’s why they end up getting caned in Shanghai and cussed at in Paris.  Of course, it’s also why Westerners are occasionally beheaded in the Middle East: from our perspective, religious fanatics are total dicks.

II.  The Least a Person Can Be Expected to Know

Literacy, history, the arts, science, math, and other high school subjects were not commonly understood until roughly the nineteen-forties, and even then we must confine this newfound understanding to centers of urban civilization.  Today in Southern California, however, all of these subjects are taught in public schools, and we can expect even the worst student to grok the most-basic gist of them: science says, causes have effects; math says, everything affects everything else; history says, people really like to hurt each other.  Understanding any one of these can teach someone to stop being such an asshole.

Gandhi stated simple, logical reasons for not acting like a dick. His goofy smile is a side-effect of enlightenment.

Is even this basic knowledge needed to escape being a dick, though?  That wouldn’t follow; it’s very easy to imagine a friendly ignoramus, after all.  They abound in literature as gentle giants and wizened, elderly farmers.  The knowledge base requisite to avoid being a dick must be smaller than this, and I suggest the following standards:

A. Colloquial etiquette and civility

B. Simple Logic (“if this, then that”)

A working knowledge of etiquette and niceties typical of one’s region seems a good place to start, but we’re going to need civility, too, which I’ll define as a simple deference toward one’s fellow man.  Without a little etiquette and civility, one is certain to act like a dick sooner or later (and probably sooner).

To exemplify a lack of etiquette, if someone rockets the snot out his nostril with a firm blow while in line at Starbucks, he or she is going to disgust everyone, and that’s going to hurt his or her reputation, especially if snot spatters the the top of some little kid’s head.  As for civility, double-parking makes a good for-instance: there’s nothing more dickish than for some cocknose to take up two parking stalls in a traffic-choked part of town because he’s just too busy to take ten seconds repositioning his car so that someone else can use the other space.

It can be argued that etiquette is ancillary to civility and need not be mentioned.  Upon broad examination, though, one finds that these cousins are too independently important to be combined.  Following etiquette usually keeps one from acting uncivilly, even when one’s inborn civility tends to be found wanting.  For example, my dad drops the occasional racist joke — but that doesn’t mean he double-parks in Little Saigon.  He’d never be able to live with himself.

A logical badass doesn't double-park.

The knowledge which ultimately decides how big a dick someone will be from day-to-day, though, is ultimately that of simple logic.  A man without logical aptitude is incapable of seeing that, if he shits on his next-door neighbor’s welcome mat, he’s likely to smell it through his own open window.  A person lacking basic “if this, then that” understanding may become enraged and violent at the ravings of a transient hobo, or pick a fight with someone over an ex-lover (emphasis on the prefix: ex), or fail to see that volume and repetition rarely aid one’s argument in a debate.  On the other hand, the possession of active logic can and most-often will lead to polite, friendly, and decidedly less-dickish decision making.  Logic probably won’t teach you to open doors for ladies (an arguably outdated custom, anyhow) but it may lead you to smile more, use tissues when blowing your nose, and refrain from double-parking, lest you want your paintjob keyed.

That’s all I think a person needs to know in order to keep from being a dick: civility with a dash of etiquette, and simple logic.  Nothing more.

Now, I’m not the sort to state a bunch of principles only to finish without having left a handy tip or two, so what follows is intended to aid the reader in his or her quest for coolness.  You’re welcome!

III. What You Have No Business Expecting People to Know

Some may find themselves getting carried away in their estimations of others.  This condition is rampant among certain groups of people (especially the youth, as well as many of my dearest friends) and is an understandable side-effect of the assessments all humans must naturally make of their conditions, including the actions of fellow humans in close proximity.  Many branches of knowledge are unnecessary to keep from being a dick, though, yet are consistently roped-in with the exceedingly small number of things one could rationally expect to be “common knowledge.”  A few examples follow.

The (once) popular game which made (not) knowing everything totally (un-) fashionable!

A. Fine Art, Appreciation or Execution of

Amidst the constant din of advertisement and pop-culture, it’s unrealistic to imagine anyone could form a cogent idea of what constitutes real quality in the arts, be they musical, visual, literary, or otherwise.  If you call someone a dick for enjoying the homely, modest pleasures of Taylor Swift’s melodic country tunes because, fuck, you’re surprised anyone could find pleasure in such utter simplicity, I’ve got news for you: that innocent music fan is not the asshole in this example.

B. Fashion

Don’t like her shoes?  Well, where were you to help her out when she blew sixty bucks on them?  You dick.

C. Much of What Is Taught In High School

As far as I can tell, most people spend much of high school trying to escape the slings and barbs of all the immature assholes on campus.  That, combined with a few years of disuse and intellectual decay is more than enough to obliterate many of the details gleaned from an American high-school education.  If someone forgets who fought the War of Eighteen-Twelve, it’s OK to inform them, but don’t call them an asshole.  You might just become one someday, some day very soon, in fact.

D. Philosophy, Government, Religious Studies

Almost everyone has a favorite one of these.  Each is much, much, much more closely related to the others than may appear at the outset — even across the branches — and their worshipers have a habit of accidentally becoming assholes in their righteous quest to vanquish those whom they view to be assholes.  Regardless the potential veracity of your particular passion, it’s just a few interesting ideas.  Don’t be a dick.

E. Any Knowledge One Could Pay Someone Else to Use

So, what if your friend can’t change the oil in his car?  Can you sew a fucking blanket?  Can you catch a stupid rabbit?  Good luck surviving your first natural disaster.  Asshole.

IV. How to Pinpoint, Within Reason, a Dick

The only definitive way to note dickish behavior is by observing selfish, uncool activity.  However, certain traits which often accompany a terrific want of reasoning faculty are visible even from across the street, and it behooves the reader to acquaint himself or herself with them in order to decrease the likelihood of abetting, encouraging, or becoming the victim of, an asshole.  If for you this sounds too much like judging a book by its cover, as the cliche goes, please imagine any important piece of literature, The Diary of Anne Frank, for example, with the cover of a typical dimestore romance novel, and explain to me why it doesn’t have one — the publisher would almost certainly sell more copies with all that cleavage and flowing hair, after all.

By Kurt Vonnegut

AThe Eyes

You’ve probably noticed a certain dullness in the eyes of your slower-witted neighbors.  While a lack of education alone does not make a person a dick (see above) it does increase the likelihood.  Slowness or laziness in the eyes may denote a lack of purposeful seeing and searching, a sort of disinterested passivity about life and the surrounding world.  If passive thinkers act like dicks, it’s probably not because they mean to be, it’s just that it hasn’t occurred to them to give a fuck about you.  Besides, who the hell are you, anyway?  You think you know me?  You don’t even know me!

B. Gaping Mouth, Poor Posture, Other Signs of Habitual Relaxation

It takes energy to be cool.  One may argue that in the long run it takes less energy than is needed to be a real dick, but on the battlefield of life, some people just can’t be bothered with courtesy.  This is the guy who’ll casually drop his litter on your front lawn, keep your misdelivered mail, block your car in the driveway, blab sensitive information, or “forget” to return borrowed items.  We all do stupid, inconsiderate shit like this sometimes — but some people do stupid, inconsiderate shit like this as a matter of course.  Avoid like the plague, son.

C. Failure to Produce Supporting Information On Proposed Points of View

The most remarkable aspect of the true dick is an uncanny suspension of disbelief.  A real cocksucker can hold any point of view he likes without feeling any compunction to find reason in it whatsoever.  These winners say things like, “It just is,” and, “See?  I’m right, huh.  Ask this guy.  Aren’t I right?  See!”  Ask them why they think their team is gonna go all the way this year, though, and you’ll hear more cutting-edge statistics than the WTO has compiled over the last decade.  Even this is not enough to convict them of being assholes, though.  You have to wait until they say something really offensive.  It usually takes ten minutes, half a beer, or one unit of patience less than you have — whichever system of measurement works for you.  Play it safe I say, and politely withdraw at the first sign of unsubstantiated bullshit, or you might get some on you.

*        *        *

I do hope that this little tutorial has elucidated some of the complexities involved in not being a dick.  It’s one of the most important skills to hone as a human being, and a difficult one for many people, impossible given certain situations.  Perhaps humility comes with increasing effort as one achieves more throughout one’s life, but somehow I don’t think so.  With a little consideration, anyone can act as nice as he or she would like to act.

I like the word consideration: it has the denotation of purposeful thought and the connotation of politeness, a perfect marriage between logic and civility.  Even if we’re pretty cool to one another, we can always do a little bit better, and personally, I like doing better than usual.  People like that, and people smile when they like things, and as far as I’m concerned, anything like a smile to pretty-up this overdeveloped parking lot is a good idea.  So be cool!  Be considerate.  But above all, don’t be a dick.

We friendly bastards are ever-vigilant.

Earnestly and Bemusedly Yours,

-BothEyesShut

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