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Monthly Archives: August 2018

A rant on assholery, selfishness, justice, and the modern West.  §

It’s been a very long time since I wrote a blog post entirely on my phone.

The last time I did it, I was on the red line of the New York subway, hurtling from the Upper West Side down to the Village in lower Manhattan, pecking thoughts out on a Palm Treo 680.

My, how things have changed. Lots of things. Okay, let’s be honest—pretty much all of the things.

— § —

Someone (sorry, I can’t remember who just now, even though it’s on the edge of consciousness) once said that you do meet assholes every now and then in life, but if all you meet are assholes, then you are the asshole.

I like this idea because it encourages self-reflection, which is one of life’s great gifts to a human being, and also because it’s pithy, and I love pithy sayings.

I’m not sure, however, that the idea actually holds true any longer. I thinks it’s very plausible that a growing percentage of people encounter nothing other than assholes most days because we are a society of assholes.

This isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. This isn’t esoteric knowledge, it’s conscious choice.

People in the West—in the United States in particular—work hard at being assholes. They take tremendous pride in it.

Half a century ago, it was predominantly men who aspired to unqualified, crass assholery, but now women have caught up and there is parity between the genders.

— § —

What’s my definition of an asshole?

I guess you could say that it’s someone who is absolutely determined to get everything that’s coming to them, and who’s equally determined to ensure that others do, too.

Someone, in other words, who may think that people are okay or even nice things to have around, but that at the end of the day is more interested in keeping score about relationships and reciprocity than they are in actually having, supporting, or showing good faith in relationships and reciprocity.

This outlook and approach to life is what we today call “justice,” or even more recently, being “woke” or a “realized self.”

In today’s America, so proud of its enlightenment, a realized self is someone that knows what’s owed to them, that smiles firmly as they collect, and that’s willing to pull out various weapons, legal, emotional, and social, to force others to make good on the debt if payment is not forthcoming. Nothing else really gets considered in the definition.

That’s mere justice, after all. And we all love justice.

Problem is, justice alone does not make a good friend or family member. In fact, thinking of justice first and foremost as someone shares anything even remotely passing for intimacy with you every day makes you—rather precisely—an asshole.

— § —

Everyone says this is right and proper—take care of yourself first and then, not far behind, of the justice claims of others. Focus on the “justice,” and sod the rest. That’s presumed to be enlightened humaning. Somehow, people have even come to imagine that all of this is ancient Eastern wisdom of some kind, all of ancient Western wisdom having already retired as mere naiveté.

Of course, everyone is also alienated, lonely, and miserable. Gosh, I wonder why.

They think they’re not getting enough justice. They redouble their efforts. They feel even more miserable. They are sure that everyone is denying them something. That they have to get better at claiming what is theirs and at “taking good care of themselves” to reach happiness, which they imagine without irony to be the natural outcome of perfect “justice.”

You know what doesn’t give two shits about “justice?” About “fairness?” Love, that’s what. Real love and real fulfillment. These things are on the other side of the planet from justice, fairness, and scorekeeping of all kinds. If you love someone, you’ll die for them, even if they don’t die for you. If you wouldn’t, then you don’t love them. And if nobody feels that way about you, it’s because you’re not all that lovable. Even if you’re the absolute master of justice.

Key thing about justice: nobody actually loves it. Remember that justice is blind. It does nothing out of love and everything as a matter of measurement. And if love and fulfillment are what you’re after, hooking up with a blind functionary that doesn’t care about anyone or anything but balancing the scales should not be your first move. So funny that this isn’t obvious to people.

— § —

Okay, I’m not going to try to dissect everything that causes the particular brand of assholery that marks our time and our civilization.

But I do have thoughts on what I think are some of the biggest instances of “wrong thinking” that contribute to its pervasiveness.

  • “I need to live for me. I only get one life. It’s healthy to live for myself.” No. No, you don’t. No, it isn’t. And if you do choose to live for you, then nobody is going to care about being around you all that much. Because you don’t care about being around them. You’re busy living for you. I suspect this comes from boomer parenting, the increasing divorce rate, industrialization, and a bunch of other stuff. A bunch of kids grew up never seeing proper parenting; they didn’t get what they needed, so they presumed that what you do is you make sure to get what you need once you’re grown up and have your own kids. As a result, the next generation of kids also doesn’t get what they need, and the cycle repeats.

  • “I deserve this. I deserve much. My being is inherently deserving.” No. No, you don’t. No, it isn’t. Where TF did this giant pile of entitlement come from? You did exactly what to exist? Nothing. Someone else conceived you. Someone else labored to bear you. Since then if you’re a great person you’ve been on an upward climb to try to do more good in the world than bad, to try to contribute more than you take, and you’re not there yet because virtually nobody is. And if you’re an average person, you’ve been on a gradual descent into worse and worse assholery since you were a pre-teen. You deserve nothing. None of us do. Whatever we get is a matter of the generosity of others, and we should be frankly grateful that others don’t march up and knock us flat more often. Seriously.

  • “It’s my job to make the world a better place.” No. No, it isn’t. Who gave you that job? Who do you think you are, Jesus? This is narcissism, pure and simple. It’s your job to chop wood and carry water and do the same for the people that ask for it, and only after they ask for it. That’s it. If you’re doing more than that, you’re a pushy asshole.

  • “If everybody tried to make the world a better place, the world would be a better place.” No. No, it wouldn’t. The more everybody tries to make the world a better place, the more we go to war, person-to-person and nation-to-nation. Why? Because everybody has a different conception of what an ideal world looks like. If everyone is working hard to make an ideal world, do you know what you get? Modern day America, full of assholes. Never, ever try to make the world a better place. Instead, try to avoid making the world a worse place. In other words, do fewer bad things, not more “good” things. In other words, be less of an asshole.

  • “It’s my job to stand up for the voiceless.” No. No, it isn’t. It’s your job to stand up for your close friends, your family, and your community, if they ask you to do so. That’s it. What happens when everyone stands up for everyone they believe isn’t being adequately heard? See above.

  • “When people care about you, they give you what you need and deserve.” No. No, they don’t. They don’t even know what you need, and caring distorts their impressions of what you deserve. They don’t accurately have the first clue, just like you don’t have the first clue, on either count. More to the point, if you’ve ever thought this, do you know what it says about you? It says that you’re narcissistic. You think the word “care” and your mind starts measuring what you’ll get if someone “really” cares about you. No wonder people aren’t giving you what you think you need and deserve—nobody likes narcissists. And thinking about measurement and entitlements as the key dimensions of caring is practically the definition of a narcissist. You’ll know you’ve stopped being an asshole when the phrase above starts sounding stilted to you and you prefer instead, “Caring means I give every last thing that I have—and doing so fulfills me.” Now that’s caring. Capiche? I know, it’s shocking.

I could go on and on. I guess I’ll stop though, because my thumbs are tired and I can’t judge length when I’m typing on a phone.

Point: Just about everyone is an asshole these days. That’s why the West is having the trouble it’s having. It’s not historical forces so much as cultural forces, and a general breakdown in social mores that once included the concept “Don’t be an asshole,” rather than embracing and valorizing pretty much every asshole-making concept there is.

Thing is—if you’re just keeping score, then who needs you? And these days, pretty much everyone is keeping score—about everything. We’re pretty sure that’s what love is—self-love and love of others, too. Call it Enlightenment poison. The infiltration of measurement into everything.

I guess in a world of infinite measurement, it was bound to be that we’d end up with infinite assholes, too.

FIN

Balance is death. Imbalance is life. That’s physics.  §

What did I used to do in summer as a kid?

I have no idea. Literally no idea. I have one or two fleeting memories—images, more like it.


© Aron Hsiao / 2000

There is a room with a north-facing window that overflows with sunlight that somehow fails to remedy darkness. There is a cedar fence. Green grass lies beyond. There are some waterslides. There is a picnic table in a canyon somewhere. I don’t know. Not much more than that.

The summers of childhood are a blank to me. I don’t have any “fond memories” of them. I don’t have any memories of them at all.

I have a feeling that all of my childhood summers passed as this one has—rapidly and imperceptibly. I have no idea what I did this summer, either. But it’s over nonetheless.

I’ve been in a bipolar emotional state about fall the last few days. I veer wildly between a deep distaste for the reality of fall’s arrival—not usual for me—and a kind of intensely sweet romantic sickness that’s bound to be let down by the banality of the actual days but that’s pleasurable nonetheless—usual for me at this time of year.

The fact that there are moments when I’m not okay with fall’s arrival this time around has something to do with the fact that I don’t know what happened over the summer. It’s vertigo, in a way—the vertigo of a disjunction in time. Time is meant to be continuous and oriented, like a bezier curve, not discontinuous and dispersed like a scatter plat of random data.

Summer is meant to be distinctly summery so that fall can be distinctly autumnal, and in the difference between the two lies the order of the universe.

When both appear the same in some way, there is trouble afoot. The sun is meant to set in one direction, not all of them. All of them is more symmetrical, yes, as are an indistinct summer and an indistinct fall, but symmetry is a warning against life.

Maybe I’ll come back to that.

— § —

Meanwhile, I’ve had writers block for a month now. Note the lack of posts. There are at least eight or nine posts typed out here in Byword that never went online because—frankly—they were crap.

They were me doing my damnedest to “write something” because I felt as though I wanted and needed to do so—but not as though I wanted and needed to write anything in particular, which is sort of how it has to go if the words are going to be worth the time spent typing them out.


© Aron Hsiao / 2004

People say “writer’s block” as though it’s this objective thing—like a Great Wall of China in your mind erected by far-fetched emperors of consciousness that are somehow distant from the life you’ve been living until you, the cognitive tourist, suddenly arrive at the wall in the midst of a the mental tour of foreign lands that writing is meant to be, etc.

But that’s nonsense.

Writer’s block is repression. Let’s not beat about the bush. Writer’s block is what happens when you don’t want to and won’t and can’t face the things that you’re thinking—that you would be thinking consciously if only you could dare to be aware, but that instead you’re thinking subconsciously with enough determination to cause the little homunculus of the self to rise up and begin to beat it back with swollen hands.

You get writer’s block when you don’t want to be where you’ve already gone, in one way or another, physical or otherwise. So you shut yourself up in the dark closet of unmarked imaginative vacancy and keep the truth outside at bay. Whilst inside, you can’t even come up with words that you know you’re looking for. You have to consult a thesaurus because your inner homely librarian, anachronistic polyester-clad bureaucrat that they are, won’t let you have any words unless you sneak them out. It’s like the underground railroad for vocabulary.

Only even when the words escape, they’re too busy fleeing for their lives and adopting new identities to come together in collective effervescence.

Have I taken this too far? (I have.)

— § —

In any case, I’ve always had a deep distaste for symmetry.

Other people see a ceramic-potted houseplant on one edge of the table and they go out of their way to move it to the center. I’m the opposite—when I walk past the table and see something in its center, I have to move that something off to one side.


© Aron Hsiao / 2003

People have asked why I only have a tattoo on one arm. Don’t I want a tattoo on the other arm so that I “feel balanced” or something?

No. No, I don’t.

I have the deep suspicion that there is an affinity between symmetry at scale and entropy—that true randomness is most likely to have a fairly even probability distribution is most likely to begin against all odds to have a kind of transcendental symmetry.

It’s strong asymmetry that actually represents order, the investment of energy into the universe. For everything to be on one side of the table or the other—that required effort. That’s unlikely. That’s life, rather than thermodynamic death.

Asymmetry is full of vitality and dynamics. Asymmetry is potential energy—negative pole and positive pole, mountain and valley. Symmetry is static and dead. A sine wave, perfectly symmetrical, is just a droning tone—which our brains have been taught by evolution to filter out, as it is informationally equivalent to silence.

Information—which is also potential—which is also life—which is also being—is not carried by sine waves. It is carried by modulation.

Symmetry is just-so. Asymmetry is evidence of will. It demands a reckoning. It brings with it the insult and the joy of the presence of another who has taken the liberty of unbalancing the world, as we all do by our very presence.

— § —

I wrote this post backward.

I’ve realized that I often do that these days, when it works. I start with something. Then, I move to the top of the paragraph and type another paragraph just above it. Then, I move above that one and type another paragraph just above it.


© Aron Hsiao / 2005

This happens continuously until at some point I realize that I’m done and then I pop down to the end (i.e. this bit that you’re reading now) and type out one last section that somehow ties it all together.

This is the sort of thing that used to drive my ex-wife nuts. All of this, actually.

Desiring asymmetry and being bothered by symmetry.

Doing essay writing mostly backward, but not even backward, because after the backward I stop and return to forward, but only for one section.

Thinking that there’s some relationship between thermodynamics, potted plants, memories of summer, and writer’s block.

And so on.

It’s why we could never get along, and why we probably wouldn’t get along still if we had to be in close quarters. She lives her life intentionally centering the plants on the table and writing things from the beginning straight through to the end. Then I come by and slide the plant to a corner of the table and return to writing by putting my finger somewhere in the middle of a random page, or by completing the ending so that I know what the beginning might be so that I can complete the ending all over again.

It’s all nonsense, I know. But at least it’s unbalanced nonsense. That’s something, at least.