Life does not get easier because life is not easy, no matter how much we pretend it is. The truth is that life is horrible and a part of becoming an adult is learning to deal with life, figuring out how to drive through life without falling asleep at the wheel and crashing into a billboard advertising an asinine product that nobody needs. No one is satisfied with life but we keep breathing and eating because we’re scared of what might be next. A lot of people even make up stories about what could come next to make waking up in the morning easier but no one knows what is coming next. All we can be sure of is this life, these moments right now, and yet humans always appear so sure of themselves. What do you think of that piece of irony?
Every day humans scurry about on the surface of this planet inflating the importance of every decision and stressing over every possible outcome as if we are looking up at a our god of choice and saying, “look at me, look at what I did today, I’m so fucking important!” And every day we find reasons to kill each other over which piece of land is better or whose imaginary father figure in the sky is better or whose made up group of humans is better because of this or that arbitrary genetic trait.
Every day humans seem to find a way to keep breathing in spite of the chaotic nature of the universe and THAT, I believe, is the most courageous thing about us; our courage in the face of chaos is our biggest strength as a species. In spite of all the other hungry animals on Earth, all the diseases, all the volcanic eruptions, floods, earthquakes, droughts, famines, extreme heat, extreme cold, in spite of all the things from this planet trying to kill us like a bad case of fleas human beings are still here. We are one stubborn group of primates who refuse to lay down quietly, we just keep breathing.
Life is horrible but humans do not have to be. Despite this chaotic universe trying to kill us at every opportunity we are still here in defiance of nature itself. I think that is beautiful.
Life is horrible but humans are still here despite that fact. We are here because of the inherent instinct to survive found in every animal despite the chaos of the universe. THAT is our light at the end of the tunnel, our saving grace, our chance at redemption. If nothing else, live out of spite.
Something that I’ve noticed particularly among my own generation is a tendency to think about aspects of human history in zero-sum terms from an ideological perspective. For example, assuming a person advocates for imperialistic colonization simply because he or she may be expressing some admiration for a specific head of state or a modern monarch. Another example would be assuming someone’s political ideology from one statement or admission regardless of how well acquainted you are with the person. This is fallacious because it ignores individual circumstances and stems from a pathological attitude towards how the world “should” be.
Understand that there is a distinction to be made between individual people and the culture or institution into which a person was born and the faults of a specific culture or institution does not rest solely on one individual. There are things we can learn from any human being from any past time period from the military tactic of George Washington to the political machinations of Adolf Hitler. The founders of the United States of America have plenty to teach students today from their courage in rebelling against the standing empire of the time to their political blind spots regarding institutionalized slavery in America. Human beings are complicated and human societies are complicated. Building a society cannot be done within one human life-time. The story of humanity is an amalgamation of all of our individual stories each as complicated as the next, each contributing something, and each with its own personalized agenda. A society is simply the building blocks that our fore-fathers and ancestors left behind.
Expressing anger towards Queen Elizabeth II for the negative consequences of imperialism and colonization makes as much sense as blaming the United States for the entire transatlantic slave trade.
Human history is a lot more complicated than the neat boxes that humans like to make for ourselves. Sometimes there is not one person we can blame for a particular social ill. Something what would be considered a social ill in one time period may not be considered such in another time period. Sometimes there are grey areas concerning ethics and morals. We can never point to one action by one person can condemn everything else that person ever did.
I think the best way to approach human history is apolitically and amorally. I don’t like to judge past humans for their actions (especially if we’re talking about a time centuries before my own) because our place of birth and upbringing play a significant role in the person be grow up to be. Many people like to believe themselves to be a good person regardless of what time period they had been born into, but the key question is how one defines “good.” Judging the past with a subconscious superiority complex is utopian thinking. Utopias are fallacious (and impossible).
This “black & white” thinking may be attributed to the rise of digital communications and social media where short writing and short attention spans usually dominate spaces due to the incentive towards emotional appeals and click statistics, exemplified by character limits for text postings. If I could name a single issue with digital discourse it would be lack of context. Most communication between human beings is non-verbal which means facial expressions and body language play a significant role in how we communicate with each other. From my experience, there is no way the full spectrum of non-verbal body language can be translated through digital channels.
One could also argue that the degradation of American news media goes as far back as the presidential election of 1960 with the first televised presidential debates but I digress.
Perhaps the digital media ecosystem created by internet connectivity has done more harm than good with the ease at which we can communicate across distances. When all you see in an argument is words on a screen or a cartoonish avatar, it subconsciously diminishes the humanity of the other person in your mind and the negative emotions are less tempered by civic decency. Unfortunately I cannot see a way to go back to pre-internet discourse. In a span of just twenty years we have developed lifestyles revolving almost entirely around this new digital infrastructure (whether we’re aware of it or not) and, short of a widespread collapse of our modern technology, I cannot see a situation where the genie goes back into the bottle. There is already a generation of Americans who have spent their entire childhood plugged into the world wide web (from tablets for toddlers to mobile phones in their adolescence).
Communications—everything from roads, to rivers, to writing and the Internet—enable groups of humans to share a consensus around the solutions to the five group problems. In short, communications allow a group to coordinate, and new communications technologies allow bigger groups to coordinate. The flip side of this is that communications technologies are disruptive. In laying the foundations for a larger scale of group coordination, they disrupt the balance of consensus. New methods of communication allow new voices—whether internal or external to the group, or both—to enter the group’s consciousness. New people—new to the group—do things differently. Suddenly, the consensus on how to solve the five problems breaks down, and the group begins to lose cohesion.
Modern computing communications and our new digital media ecosystem may be causing another shift in consensus for humans on an unprecedented scale much like the invention of the printing press in the 15th century led to the Protestant Reformation and ultimately the Enlightenment period (which would lead to the 18th century revolutions that would help to shape the upcoming societies on the then-“New World”). Internet connections and the world wide web are the new printing press and, if history is any guide, the 21st century will be very tumultuous in the wake of the social upsets our new printing press is causing. Old ideological pathologies are resurfacing and finding refuge in secluded parts of digital media and the fractional nature of the ecosystem is balkanizing the discourse, cutting us off from the critical cross-examinations necessary for consensus and social cohesion.
What’s the solution?
I see only one solution to this fractionalization of discourse and it does not look promising. It requires increased self-awareness of individuals to recognize their media consumption as well as individual initiative to take more efforts upon themselves in reaching out beyond their innate biases and proclivities to make contact with their political opponents and ideological opposites. Government regulations or even self-regulations can help to better connect our media environments to coalesce people but it is ultimately on the individual to make the effort themselves in the long-term. Making an effort to seek out as many sources of information as possible – cross-checking, cross-examining, analyzing, and fact-checking for ourselves; reading as many books, newspapers, journal articles, anything we can get our hands on – that increased awareness for human history, human societies, and simply each other will go a long way toward progressing humans to a stronger understanding of each other. As in any strong personal relationship, communication and understanding is the key to strengthening our civic ties to each other. It’s not white people versus black people, white people versus latinos, Americans versus Mexicans or Canadians, North Americans versus Europeans, working class versus bourgeoisie, rich versus poor, or any other manufactured social division. If we all made an effort to bypass all of these superficial barriers, I believe there is nothing the human race cannot accomplish. By recognizing humanity more and working to actively bypass our tribal tendencies, we can literally unite our species into one planetary civilization and once again reach for the stars.
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I think reading in the morning is a good habit to cultivate. So many humans have become so accustomed to mindlessly scrolling through digital feeds of information simply waiting for a moment of high emotion to propagate to a pseudo-network of others for validation, it is juvenile and demeaning. Taking moments for yourself to read on one subject or to merely write out your own thoughts can help focus a person’s mind and orient themselves for the day.
I challenge everyone to resist the urge to look at your phone in the morning and set aside time to read a traditional, paper-bound book and/or journal your thoughts on paper. You may be surprised at the results.
Current books of focus:
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough
The Proud Highway by Hunter S. Thompson
A Christmas Memory, One Christmas, and The Thanksgiving Visitor by Truman Capote
It’s hard to believe it’s already August, time sneaks up on you like that. It feels just last week I signed my employment contract with the Questa del Rio News but it was actually seven months ago.
There was a brief time when I was contemplating a career in law. Indeed it was one of my motivations for relocating from Questa to Albuquerque in 2017. I had a vision in my head of becoming a defense attorney and advocating for Americans who lack the financial stability to ideally utilize our legal system. This brain worm infected my mind effectively enough to move me to New Mexico’s largest city and research how one gets accepted into the University of New Mexico’s law school. I bought the book LSAT for Dummies, attended a class about the feared admission test at UNM’s Continuing Education department, and was Googling financial assistance for prospective law students.
I think the singular test prep course at UNM was my first hurdle and what placed the first seeds of doubt in my mind regarding this potential career choice. The course was taught, not by a professor, but a lawyer (if my memory is serving me well he was a defense attorney for Bernalillo County’s Public Defender office). He may have been the most dry, uninspiring, and boring teacher under which I learned. The course was just one afternoon but his monotone voice was constantly lulling me to sleep. Perhaps it was the subject matter. If you can find me a teacher who can make test prep into an exciting learning opportunity then you should probably hire that person for your own entrepreneurial endeavors. The course took my mind from the idealistic vision I had crafted for myself back into the practical mechanisms of student life two years after I had completed my tenure as an undergraduate and it reminded me of the tedium that plagues American educational institutions. After that course I was less enthusiastic about returning to school.
For the next three years I would create a dichotomy in my mind dominated by a crossroads displaying my idealized versions of two career paths: one as a law student and one as a writer. In retrospect it was a rather silly conundrum since I was wasting time I could have been spending on either one of the two career choices. My advice to anyone placing such a dichotomous decision on themselves is to literally flip a coin. Whatever the outcome of the coin toss, you will know which choice resonates more with your desires after the reveal.
Today I like to think I’m developing a sharper eye for opportunities. I’ve moved back to the Questa area beneath the Sangre de Cristo Mountains for a specific deal on my housing that I would be an idiot to let pass by and I’m now working what might be a dream job to my high school self. In general life seems to be okay for me right now. I suppose my goal in writing this is to encourage anyone reading this who has yet to find some semblance of purpose to try setting up a long-term goal no matter what it is and aim at that for the time being. Changing your aims in the future is always a possibility but I think simply having something at which to aim your life is a good start creating a purpose for yourself.
Now I guess I just have one more thing to say.
As an ongoing effort to adopt a more positive mindset I have been cutting some metaphorical fat from my media consumption. The following video is an interview which I think may help anyone who is looking to develop some self-discipline and create an aim in life.
The word “politics” is rooted in the Greek word “politika” meaning “affairs of the cities.” I think this root definition is important to remember because it is a reminder that any kind of political organization must begin locally and communally. Politics starts with your relationships with your neighbors, your mailmen, your store clerks, your food servers, your teachers, your kids’ teachers, your co-workers, your bosses, your employees, etc. Maintaining positive (or at least neutral) relationships with the people within close proximity to us is how we maintain empathy for other people and build a healthy democratic society. News organizations can make communication within a community easier but they cannot replace individual initiatives. There must be incentives for individuals to get out and forge connections with others.
I think there are aspects of American societies that can be re-organized to be more efficient in application. Decentralization is the key to efficiency. One aspect of our infrastructure that we can start to re-structure is our food sources. Specifically, making our food distribution systems as locally sourced as possible with intentions to reduce travel times. Community gardens can be a decent first step to localization as well as encouraging more people to grow their own household food whenever possible.
I like to revisit my own values periodically with the intention to maintain a fluid idea of who I am as a person. Here is a list of philosophical values which I hold fundamental in my mind (at 31-years-old):
Equality of opportunity
I have developed a distaste for political labels such as “conservative” and “liberal” although I still have a romanticist fondness for the term “liberal.” It might be better to explain one’s beliefs in detail and let other people place you into whatever boxes they’ve created in their own minds. I suppose one important thing to know me is that I have no patience to play insipid social games with other people, I prefer to be direct and tell you whatever is on my mind. I don’t care how you think I should speak/behave/react, I will live out my one life to my preferences and no one else’s. I write more for myself than anybody else, not to please anybody but to release my punditry to the world in my own effort to make it a little less shitty than it was when I was born. Interviewing people is how I keep myself in tune with other people despite my inherently poor social skills. I feel like reporting news is what I was born to do on this planet and I hope that I help to educate the public regardless of the publication to which I am contributing.
Last week, I saw a trailer for an upcoming movie called The Tender Bar. Something clicked in me with the story and, after seeing that it was based on a memoir, I bought the memoir from Amazon the next day.
I flew through the book in a week.
It’s a true story about an east coast boy growing up without a father. While he has a strong connection with his single mother, he also yearns to learn what it means to be a good man and searches for father figures around him. The book is called The Tender Bar because the author forges a connection with a specific bar in his Long Island home-town where he’s drawn to the men who congregate there including his Uncle Charlie. The coming-of-age story culminates when the author writes of a transformative scene with his father, looking into the mirror after the near-violent altercation the author exclaims to himself, “my father is not a good man but I am not my father.”
The Tender Bar is a touching story of a young man struggling to discover the secret to manliness, the secret ultimately coming from the one place he never thought to look when he was a child.
The movie adaptation will be released through Amazon this December. Directed by George Clooney and written by JR Moehringer and William Monahan.
Autumn leaves fall from their trees, guided by winds of fate and atmospheric pressure changes, and I obsessively count each leaf through a window analogizing each leaf as one of my many failures falling from the absurdly high expectations in my mind. Autumn colors are beautiful but depressing since all I can think of is the metaphor of death as the land slowly succumbs to winter’s bite. Yet there is also comfort in the act of surviving the winter because it is a reminder of the resilience of humans, a reminder of the best of the human spirit for endurance and progress.
52, 53, 54, . . .
I’m staring out the window now simply counting the falling leaves.
56, 57, 58, . . .
The bell above the entry door jingles and my eyes avert from the window to a beautiful woman who just walked into Elevation Coffee.
A glimpse into my mind as I sat at a Taos coffee shop enjoying a day off work.
The line between good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, 1973
How can a person protect himself from the evil within himself?
I believe evil is forestalled with focused and diligent self-reflection and improvement – questioning what you think you know, delaying judgment of others, assuming with whomever you speak that they know something which you do not, and recognizing humanity wherever you find it and in whomever you find it. Regardless of how much evil you witness around you, you can still make the world a better place by setting the example within yourself. Raise your own standards and show others how to love.
How does one show love (even to a complete stranger)?
Patience, gratitude, honesty, and mercy.
It takes courage to pursue justice and it takes temperance to acquire wisdom.
Remember the past, look towards the future, and exercise kindness.
I spent five years in a university under the assumption that a college degree was all I needed for a decent life as an adult but I feel as if I gained more life experience in the work force outside of the official academia sphere. This general feeling of dissatisfaction is not uncommon among college graduates and it doesn’t help that the cost of college tuition has more than doubled in the last thirty years (Bill McCarthy, PolitiFact, 2019). 58% of Americans say that college is worth current costs and 72% of Americans are in support of free tuition at public colleges and universities (Staff Report, American Public Media-Research Lab, 2019). So about half of Americans do not think college degrees are worth their price and a super majority of Americans are in support of making colleges cheaper in some capacity. I’m with the super majority who wants cheaper college.
Thinking back on my time in American schools, it’s difficult to credit any of that time with any practical knowledge of adult life. Perhaps the biggest contribution schools made to my professional development was knowledge of how to research information and how to distinguish between different sources of information. Practical specifics like job applications, tax documents, and rental agreements I learned on my own after I left the public school system. I think this is an issue worthy of our collective attention. Schools need to place more emphasis on the practical specifics of life especially junior high & high schools. A high school student should be able to navigate the fundamentals of independent living the day that he/she graduates. Basically, high school should be what college is now.
I think there are two primary strategies for reforming American education. The first strategy is to increase funding for public schools allowing for more opportunities for a wider variety of students as well as mandating free tuition for all citizen applicants and increasing pay for teachers. Taking the emphasis off test-taking and giving each student a more hands-on approach with a more personalized curriculum. The second strategy is basically the opposite approach, to decrease funding for public education forcing schools to re-organize and reallocate their budgets and strip down their curriculums with the intention of rebuilding public schools from necessities. Whereas the former strategy is a more Keynesian approach to public education, the latter strategy is a more laissez faire approach to public education.
A separate issue with American education is not the schools themselves but the civil society in which they exist. I think a particular attitude has developed in the American consciousness around educational institutions: that the institutions are beyond criticism with the belief that a college degree is the only way to to make one’s life “successful.” While I agree that more education can only be an improvement to a person’s life, I do not believe that institutions should hold a monopoly on education; a school and an education are two different things. A good education begins with parents and/or family fostering an inquisitive mindset into children. One idea my mother drilled into me in childhood was to never be afraid to ask a question. I think this invoked a curious nature within me about what kinds of questions to ask which people. Curiosity towards the world around you as well as curiosity regarding how the world has been is necessary for an informed populace. Parents need to be more active in their children’s development and push them to ask questions, perhaps even challenge their teachers.
I do not believe that any one institution (be it educational, governmental, etc.) deserves a people’s absolute and unwavering trust. Any person is susceptible to corruption and, by extension, any institution is susceptible to corruption. It is healthy to question any decision especially if it comes from a position of authority. Wirelessly connected computers and the world wide web have increased access to information on a scale never before seen in human history but despite that, I fear humans are becoming even more ideologically reclusive. It’s as if too many choices in news media is causing people to retreat into their own comforts and biases further balkanizing the political landscape. There must be ways for communities (and the broader society) to foster curiosity and encourage people to step out of their comfort zones. My advice for now, to anyone reading this, is simply to watch less and read more.
Computers may have ruined my literary attention span. I used to devour books in my childhood but, since I discovered the World Wide Web, I’ve not been as much of a reader of books; I read a lot of news articles and journals but physical books have sadly been fading out of my life. I would like to reverse this trend.
One of my favorite things to do in a quixotic rediscovery of books is coffee shop camping – simply go in to a coffee shop with a book, order a coffee, sit at a corner table, and lose yourself in your book for a couple of hours. Obviously there are a few safety measures to take when coffee shop camping during a pandemic (bring a mask and perhaps a bottle of hand sanitizer and keep a reasonable distance from other people). If the shop is too crowded, maybe turn around, and come back another day. You may find coffee shop camping to be incredibly rewarding for your mind.
My latest literary endeavor is a secondary source of American history, The Elusive Republic: Political Economy in Jeffersonian America by Drew R. McCoy Ph.D of Clark University. At its core, it’s a book about the philosophical foundations of America’s Founding Fathers as well as that generation of people. McCoy references many familiar names such as Samuel Adams, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Adam Smith and describes common ideas from that time period revolving around Britain’s apparent corruption and a growing necessity for the colonies in America to break away from the empire. The ideal was for the colonies to become a model for “republican virtue” on the world as well as a trading source of raw, agricultural materials for the rest of the world – an ideal that I think still has merit for modern humans.
The philosophy behind the republican ideal of an agrarian republic is an interesting theory on the development of human civilizations and describes stages through which civilization advance. These philosophical “stages of civilization” are:
Whereas hunting is the most simple form of civilization and commerce is the most complex, hunting is also referred to as the “rudest” stage of civilization. The republican ideal and a prevailing theory in colonial America preached that the agricultural stage of civilization was the most ideal for liberty because it was the stage of civilization that was most conducive to the human propensity for productivity (the Protestant work ethic) and allowed for the greatest degree of happiness in individual citizens. These supposed stages of civilization was a part of an Enlightenment-era effort to apply a scientific process to human sociology.
This supposed scientific method for sociology largely comes from the French philosophe Montesquieu and his French and Scottish contemporaries including:
Claude Adrien Helvétius,
Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, Baron de l’Aulne,
Henry Home, Lord Kames,
Adam Smith FRSA.
The dilemma amongst purveyors of classic republican theory in colonial America was how to maintain virtuous simplicity throughout the republic’s cultural zeitgeist in an effort to prolong the agricultural stage of civilization, staving off the corrupting influences of the later stage of civilization. This dilemma provided republicans with a convenient justification for westward expansion to provide a surplus of land to “virtuous republicans” looking to establish homesteads for their ideal America.
Is it accurate to classify 21st century America as in a post-industrial stage of social development?
The classic republican ideal for early America revolved around financial independence for each citizen through land ownership. We have to remember that citizenship and civil rights were limited to a select group of people in 17th century America but the ideal was fairly progressive for the time considering it was a divergence from the strict gentry and titled nobility of the old European societies. The ideal was for “virtuous citizens” to become land owners and establish themselves as productive members of society through industrious farming. The antithesis of this ideal was that settlers might become disconnected from the rest of the nation and devolve into a lower stage of civilization in their isolation. The republican solution to this antithesis was to expand public infrastructure to keep frontiersmen connected to the fledgling republic’s internal markets.
Is it possible to maintain the classic, republican ideal for an agrarian republic but with a large post-industrial economic sector?
Reading about 17th century America, I’m noticing similar concerns to the issues that plague 21st century America – worries over large populations of unemployed, skepticism towards immigration and fears over emigration, concern for future generations and changing trends, etc. The predominant political debates seemed to be over the preservation of the agricultural sector versus the growth of the manufacturing sector with the democratic-republicans (Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, etc.) on one side and the federalists (Alexander Hamilton, Robert Morris, etc.) on the other; the fear being that an excessive manufacturing sector would lead to “superfluous luxuries” and ultimately “corruption in government” and “effeminacy in citizens.”
How often do we hear politicians today chastise the population on accusations of degeneracy and a lack of personal responsibility and “masculine values?” It’s funny how history tends to repeat itself.