The New Age of Resignation

New Agers are Hippies who’ve given up trying to change the world.

Say what you will about the Hippies, at the very least they had a dream: they wanted to make a difference by embodying that difference; living in such a way that society had no choice but be healed through mass positive personal action that would heal the sickness away.

That didn’t happen. The Hippies were diverted, diffused and eventually absorbed into current society, their ways commercialized and stereotyped. A sad picture indeed. But, they tried, and if things had gone only slightly differently they just might have gotten their way, whatever it would have been. New Age has sprung up from the collective minds of people who are living in the post-Hippie world, a world where change through personal transformation has failed to make a discernible difference save some widely appreciated music. And it shows.

If you’re not familiar with the New Age movement, it’s basically an ideology that focuses on the attainment of personal happiness by removing undesirable influences and re-programming the mind to be content with status quo. The atmosphere is very Hippie, but the motivations and goals are vastly different. Where Hippies used their own lives as political weapons to effect societal change through mass personal transformation in order to build a better society (whew that was a mouthful), New Agers have resigned themselves to the idea that they are powerless to change society, and must instead change themselves to fit inside it.

How does the adage go? Change what you can’t accept, or, accept what you can’t change?

I’m going to leave my usual ranty exposition by the wayside because I’m too blue about all this. I really want to sympathize, but at the same time I feel contempt and derision towards these people for flat-out giving up. It’s not for me.

Cheers.

A Part of Growing Up

Apparently, I´m at a point in my life where I should be exploring, doing new things, discovering who I am and shaping who I am to be in preparation of who I will become as I grow up. I’m in an orientating phase, rounding off my teenage phase and just before my early adult phase –or something thereabouts– exactly according to the steps of human development. Or am I..?

Phases are a very popular sociological concept to explain human behavior with. We do it all the time; with pubescent kids acting out, despondency of the elderly, personal crises of middle-aged men and women, girls grouping into packs, young men going clubbing, new parent’s caution regarding their children. You can probably name more than I can. However, very similar to the way statistics work, this Phases model of sociological explanations comes into very rough territory as soon as we try to apply them to individuals. You see, phases describe tendencies, trends, likeliness –on a large scale– and then extrapolates the findings of many observations –in order to formulate models of expectations about human tendency within parameters of certain social context– which we colloquially call Phases.

Because the thing is; 14-year-olds dó tend to want tattoos, middle-aged men dó tend to buy motorcycles and twenty-somethings dó tend to explore the world and figure out what to do with their lives. Humans are often quite similar and exploring these similarities is not only useful, it is a tool for greater understanding of who we are collectively.

But, and here comes the hiccup, insisting that I –in the first person– am acting this way in accordance with a certain Phase of my life is quite an erroneous statement to make. I can certainly understand the reasoning and can attest to the fact that I am tempted to think in such ways, but there are two major problems with this line of thought: a fundamental and an implicit one both of which I will discuss further.

The fundamental reason I’ve already hinted at; Phases don’t work on an individual basis because they grossly simplify (by generalization) the intricacies and dynamics of a person’s life. A Phase is too blunt a tool for understanding a single person because the actual reasons for an individual’s state of being can vary widely and diverge greatly from the neatly set out parameters that Phases provide. Perhaps the travel is out of necessity rather than curiosity, the rowdiness due to abuse rather than hormones, the crying out of pain rather than infancy. Similar behaviors can have very different motivators and Phases are neither meant nor suited for such purposes. So when conversing with another person (or contemplating your own life), do not attempt to presuppose any knowledge about that person’s life, tendencies and especially desires simply because you are familiar with popular socio-science.

The implicit reason is an insidious one, often subconsciously invoked, and sometimes not at all. You see, applying Phases to an individual can implicitly constitute an ad hominem assault. An ad hominem argument is an argument where instead of challenging a person’s assertion, you attack the person on purely personal grounds, hoping to discredit the person and by extension that person’s argument or feelings. The sentence in this case might sound like this: “you’re only making a big deal of this because you’re a troublesome youth”. The ad hominem in that sentence is the claim that the person only holds their position or feels the way they do out of personal, selfish reasons, in this case their age and associated (with their Phase) hormonal state, rather than for any reason most people would find reasonable such as an injustice a parent has exacted.

You can demolish any personal position, any feeling in this way, not just within the realm of Phases. “socialist-because-you’re-poor”, “conservative-because-you’re-rich”, “prudish-because-you’re-unattractive,”nudist-because-you’re-a-man”. All arguments that take this form are essentially doing the same thing: reducing any position you hold to the outcome of your individual desires and interests.

And while people do tend to hold positions that are in harmony with their lives and in accordance with their state of affairs, allowing this line of argumentation to stand is not only fallacious, it makes any reasoned debate impossible by excluding reason and objectivity from the conversation entirely.

You might think we’ve diverged away from our original topic, and that is partly true, but only as a setup to this last paragraph explaining why the Phases-flavored style of this ad hominem argument is emotionally harder to rebuke and get over. Because how are you going to defend yourself against it? Most of these ad hominem target somewhat static aspects of a person: gender, sexual orientation, wealth, age, these are things that are manageable to discuss. But Phases cast a net so wide, and are so personal, that it can cast everything you believe and stand for into doubt before you even have time to discern it as the fallacy that they are.

Because the crux of the matter is this: even if your opinion has been formed, strengthened and even inspired by the course of your life, even if what you believed were to come solely from the most base, egocentric and lazy of places, that would not make you wrong. The correctness of an argument is not determined by reasons for which it is formulated, it lies within the form and content of the argument, regardless of its formulator. If anybody ever tries to do away with what you’re saying on the basis that you’re young/black/female/bourgeois/whatever-else and therefore feel the way you do: simply insist that their dismissal comes from a lack of character, brought on by the absence of a brain.

Cheers.

PS: Did you notice that I didn’t actually get back on-topic in that last paragraph? Did you mind?

The Benefits of Monotasking

I am so tired of hearing about multitasking. When I wrote the title of this piece even this damn word program dared to chide me, claiming there is no such things as monotasking (“silly mortal” it implied silently), the arrogant little son-of-a-coder. Well I have since added it to the internal dictionary and am poised to take the world by storm with this revolutionary old concept.

I really don’t get why people get so thrilled by the idea of doing things side-by-side, at the same time, I really don’t. While I understand the appeal of variation and efficiency, multitasking just doesn’t grab me and I’ve figured out some of the reasons why. But first, let me explain this otherworldly alternative I am proposing.

The essence of monotasking is doing things one after the other, which is not as straightforward as I make it read (normally I’d say “sound” but that would be silly here). Technically monotasking is the default way of performing tasks, so any tasks that are not multitasked are automatically monotasked. Or so one would think… Ordinary “tasking” actually does not specify the mode or manner in which the task(s) is/are performed, so it could be either multi- or mono- depending on situation and preference. Specific monotasking is far more focused than that. When one monotasks there is an explicit intent to do only a single (conscious, hardihar, smart Aleck) thing at a time.

This means no quick-check on Facebook, no staring out the window for “just a second”, this means no smoking or coffee break, no planning dinner while walking the dog. None of that. It is said that it is exceedingly hard for people to look at a flame for about fifteen seconds because our fuzzy brains get distracted and can’t hold focus much longer than that. And monotasking is the art that challenges us right there in this handicap; it forces us to truly pay attention to what we are doing.

To modern (wo)man all this might sound cumbersome and restrictive, perhaps even boring, but wait, here is the revelation that you’ve been waiting for! Monotasking reveals the extraordinary worlds behind ordinary things; the wonder in the mundane, and the tranquility in life’s chaos. Doing things with attention –with focus– slows you down, enables you to enjoy the mundane and to feel at one with yourself where normally you would be torn on all sides.

Try it now, monotasking has been shown to reduce instances of insomnia, depression, cancer, chronic flatulence and so much more. It truly is the path to a new, unified you.

Attempts at humor aside, try doing one thing at a time; not only is it harder than you think, but it’s even more rewarding than that when you manage to figure out the how.

Cheers.

Late

Yes yes I’m very late, it’s coming don’t worry.

What ARE the Odds?

“Oh my dog did you see that!?! That falling piano just knocked over the umbrella stand causing it to bop me on the bonts! What were the odds of that happening!”

“Well I’d have to say… exactly 100%.”

“Spoil sport.”

“That’s what your mum said last night.”

“What?”

“Never mind.”

 

Have you ever had anything very unlikely happen to you? You know how it goes; a bird manages to shit on exactly your head in an empty street, you get a fast-food meal with two toys inside, your friend (never you) finds fifty Euros just lying on the street et cetera. Stuff that’s so unlikely to happen to anyone you just can’t resist saying out loud: “what were the odds?” and be astonished at the apparent implausibility of the whole situation.

 

Well here’s the thing with odds, with all statistics really, they always talk about the odds of something happening in a situation, to anyone, never to your situation, never to you. Statistics can tell you what the odds are that a bird will shit on anyone’s head within twenty-five kilometers around your house, but never what the odds are that it’ll happen to you (although there are narrative conventions that compel it to happen at the most inopportune moment, although when is there ever an opportune moment to be defecated upon by poultry but you get my meaning I trust) because statisticians work with samples of large groups of people and draw conclusions from their experiences which produce general results i.e. results that apply to anyone (general) rather than someone (particular). What this implies is that when something statistically unlikely happens to you, it does not mean the odds were only 3% (for example); no, the odds were exactly 100%. You know why? Because it happened. Because statistics do not talk about actuality (that which is the case), only about potentiality (that which can become the case) and only about anyones, not someones. They do not talk about the things that actually happen or will happen, instead they talk about what the odds are (based up readings of the past) that something will take place. It’s perhaps confusing to just leave it at that so I’m going to try and drive the point home with a full example.

 

When you take part in a study of one thousand people and are all asked about being shat upon by any type of bird, the result of that study might conclude that of those tested there is a chance of 0,3% a day (for that group of people) per person that they will be crapped upon. So everyday about 3 people will statistically come into contact with being shat upon. Now, because the group of people is quite large, we will extrapolate it to happen in the entire area at about this ratio and the statisticians publish an article that reads: “bring your umbrellas this summer, according to a recent study there is a 0,3% chance of being shat upon by birds each day in this region”. Now we switch perspective, and we go from the general (anyone) to the specific (in this case, you). You go to the beach on a sunny day, you leave your umbrella (feeling lucky are we?) at home and as if you are the butt of some cosmic joke you are promptly pelleted by an ironic sea gull. What were the odds? 0,3%? No. 100%. The odds that it could happen to anyone were 0,3%, the odds of it happening to you was 100%, because that is what happened.

 

Well I hope that clears things up.

 

Cheers.

Comedy Interlude #01

For a little change of pace, I have prepared a joke.

What do you call a group of fireflies?

wait for it…

A flash mob! *ba dum tish*

The joke has concluded.

Cheers.

A Childish Sense of Wonder

On several occasions in my life have I heard the claim that understanding how things –usually natural phenomena– work detracts from the wonder and awe we feel for those things. If we know that the sun is “just” an enormous ball of burning gas and not some mystical being up in the skies; we don’t feel impressed anymore. And this is a bad thing.

Now I’ve always sympathized with this kind of thinking because I recognize and share a lot of the aversion to reductionism –to reducing something to the sum of its parts– because I too have special feelings associated with a lot of things. The sun gives me warmth and light, the trees provide me with shade, fruits and direction; there are feelings that don’t belong in a scientific reading of the world but are a major part of how we experience it. So I understand this discomfort to thinking about things in a realistic, scientific and sterile way.

However, there is a problem with this “childish sense of wonder” and it lies in the “childish” part of the phrase. Essentially: we don’t live in a child’s world. We’re adults (or approaching that designation… I think) and the better we understand this world we live in the better prepared we are going to be for whatever it throws our way and for everything we try to do within it. Knowledge is power. Insisting that we hold on to a childish way of looking at the world –engorged in oblivious awe– is among the worst ways of tackling reality you can imagine short of making things up (oh wait). And the more we engage in our physical reality and leave the fanciful stories behind the better we can be for the world and ourselves. Yes knowledge can also inspire destruction, but ignorance even more so.

The odds are good that by now you’re itching to get to the end of this text to write a comment and tell me off about how I’m completely wrong and missing the point and obviously lacking the blood-pumping organ we call heart. Hold your horses though Skippy, because here comes the turn of phrase that will probably have you spin right around in relief. I wrote before (go check if you want) that there is a problem with a “childish sense of wonder”, but that the problem is with the “childish” part… and thus not with the rest. How can this be you ask as if on queue? Well, not only children can experience awe, and not only a lack of knowledge inspires modesty in the face of reality. I argue quite the contrary; that a better knowledge of what the dickens is going on actually increases and deepens the amazement, excitement and awe that can be felt when looking at areas like biology, physics, geography, cosmology, ourselves and everything else.

Take the sun again for instance. I briefly mentioned that the sun is like a big ball of burning gas, but that statement was almost completely false. The working of the sun is something far more complex than I can approach comprehending at this point in time. And every layer I were to peel off would reveal a more complex, more mystifying reality about how it works and came to be.

Comprehension does not dull experience; it takes it in wholly fresh directions. Clinging to outdated ideas will only serve to strip you of your wits. I wish there were more to say on this topic but I’m out of words so instead of dillydallying I’ll leave it at that. I’ve got phenomena to observe, son.

Cheers.

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