Thursday, August 25, 2011

Be Like the Water

I have a list of two topics, the likelihood of which i will talk to you about them is directly proportional to how well i know you, multiplied by how likely i am to ever see you again.

Or something like that.

You see, i really don't like discussing religion or politics with people. It's not that i don't have anything to say on the subjects, either, (although i am far from passionate about them) it's just that i have found that such conversations are very rarely worthwhile, for various reasons of varying importance. Here are a couple of them:

In general, people don't know how to have a civil exchange of ideas without becoming offended. Whether this is due to the inherent personal nature of the topics, the relatively thin skin of modern arguers, or the average lack of formal rhetorical training, i have no idea, but the fact remains that when you start giving reasons for why you don't believe that which your buddy does, they often take it personally. This is unfortunate and i am often just as guilty as anyone else, but i don't let it linger; people have different opinions and if i know the person cares about me, i'm not gonna think less of them for having a *gasp* different view. It makes sense, when you think about it.

The second - and in my mind, far more influential - reason is called the Illusion of Asymmetric Insight. Put simply, everyone (EVERYONE) believes that they are smarter and more insightful than their opposition. See what that means, though? It means that everyone (EVERYONE) is also wrong.

Even you.

Evolution vs. Creationism. Liberals vs. Conservatives. Keynes vs. Hayek. I really don't care, it's all the same when it comes down to it: you think you're well-informed and supremely logical in your opinion and think your opposition is a naive simpleton. Both sides are equally close-minded and arrogant in their beliefs.

It's not really anyone's fault, though; it's human nature. We're social creatures and it is beneficial to the continued existence of the group to ostracize and vilify members of any group we see as outsiders. (those familiar with the concept of the Monkey Sphere should already recognize this phenomenon) This incredibly powerful instinct is currently at odds with the popular opinion that all of humanity should just drop their disagreements and hug it out. We all want to get along and believe that everybody's equal and beautiful and all that, but it goes against a fundamental engine of self-preservation.

Religion and politics are volatile, but they're not empirical facts. No one is ever going to be able to prove that one view point is more valid than another. Hell, even the things we do consider empirical facts get turned on their heads sometimes. That's just the nature of this thing called Life.

So until the next big headline comes out, let's all just follow Wheaton's Law, huh?

Friday, August 5, 2011


A good scout notices everything. A great one also notices the absences, but even a novice would have quickly realized that a forest at night should never, ever be silent. The steady decrease in the chirrups, buzzes, rustles, and croaks took up a lot of the scout's attention and was part of the reason why the simultaneous rise of the staccato beat was nigh-imperceptible. For a while, the sound didn't register as a physical noise, but a mere unease on the edge of his perception. It tickled his thoughts, put such a subtle pall over them that it was unrecognizable until it was too late. He was within earshot of a hand drum, he froze.

The pace was measured, determined, powerful. The tempo seemed to change at random. It was unsettling. It was disorienting. It was distracting, and that angered the scout. A watcher could not lose focus, a hunter could not narrow his view, failure was death. His self-rebuke was harsh and swift when he realized that he had passed the first check point and there had been no sign of a man at his post.

He continued on, the tattoo coming from almost directly in front of him, the unnatural silence of the forest dwellers slowing his otherwise-sure footing. The first body did not surprise him, gaping slit under his jaw indicating an ignorance of the propinquity of his assassin. The second did not either, although he logged away the fact that the fallen had been slain with his own sword. The third and fourth were entangled, the former's teeth sunk firmly into the neck of the latter, whose knife was in the former's gut. The damage to the surrounding brush was extensive. The struggle must have been immense and silent to have not alerted the far perimeter guards. The drum echoed on, louder and louder, encroaching on his mind, impeding his ability to recall the names of the deceased.

Face pock-marked with shaving scars, a fiancee back home, swallowed his food half-chewed. What did we call him?

The first umbras on the trees told the scout the exact position of the main camp, the very edge of the firelight just before him. The bodies were thicker off to his left a ways, the pattern of their falls telling a tale of panicked, frightful exodus, dragged down or shot down as they fled. The growing light revealed carnage in equal measure, the increased clarity tormenting the scout with ever grislier tableaux of mauled comrades.

Edges and fringes twitched, shadows danced across the corpses, branches seemed to reach for him as the trees thinned out in proximity to the clearing. Occasionally, much of the light would be eclipsed, a lone figure interposing itself between the scout and the fire. It moved around the fire, it's undulations indistinguishable from the shadows caused by the flames themselves, its form at times nebulous for the haze and the noise and the light and the dark and the drums, oh, the drums!

The figure struck at the drum slung from its neck. The beat was inside the scout's head, his mind forced think in step with the spasmodic rhythm. Feathers and bones swished and clacked. The body of the dancer seemed to have as little structure as the roll of his vile instrument. His feet were those of a drunkard, his footing somehow remaining sure as his dance took him over dozens of corpses and corpse parts. Paint and blood dripped in parallel lines and complex designs. Were they moving? His eyes were white and spittle occasionally flew from the corners of the drummer's slack and sparsely-toothed maw.

His feelings were muddled and soporific when the first hand grasped his leg and began tugging him down toward the writhing, clutching jaws of his former friends.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Tragedy + Time = Comedy

I've been walking this earth for a quarter of a century now and i'm always happy to pass the year feeling that i've learned how to walk it a little better than the previous year. In particular, i am always trying to find new ways to increase my average level of day-to-day happiness. Depression is something i've touched on a few times in this 'blog and is, i'm sure you've all gathered, a subject near and dear to me. Defense mechanisms, life hacking, non-invasive neuro-reprogramming, lifestyle changes, psychopharmacology; there are hundreds of ways to improve one's quality of life and all of them are intriguing on some level, academically and/or personally, practically.

A few years back i was in a relationship that had taken a very hard turn, stress-wise. The demands on my energies and attentions were so strong that their grasping, needy claws began to have an opposite effect: instead of ensuring my devotion to their resolution, all they succeeded in doing was pulling away my ability to care. The constant high-pressure situation completely numbed me to all but the most severe "emergencies." I distinctly remember sitting on my front porch with my good buddy Matt and saying, "i'm sorry, but nothing's a crisis."

Over the next few years, i have stood by this assertion, turning it into a bit of a personal mantra. Whenever something negative occurs, unless it is a life-threatening event that actually requires fast decision-making, i simply do not categorize the occurrence as a crisis. At worst, it is an unfortunate obstacle or change that will be looked back upon with relief that the situation eventually resolved. The only difference between a God-awful scene you find yourself in and a funny story is time. Stand back, take a deep breath, and figure out the best way to get yourself and your loved ones out the other side. Let Time do his thing.

Assess the situation, analyze it to determine the most beneficial course of action, act. This little subroutine occurs probably thousands of times a day without you realizing it, often completely subconsciously. I simply and humbly suggest that during periods of emotional or psychological distress, that you might find it useful to realize that you're doing it and do it to the best of your abilities then let Time do the rest.