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Monthly Archives: September 2014

Busy Octobers, but also busy year, decades…  §

What is the nature of this life I’m living, of the things that I am, in one way or another, compelled do every day as this life I’m living gradually ticks away?

Is it all even real? Is it an incredible dream? Is it a nightmare?

I suppose that as you get older it begins to dawn on you that all of these things—the real, the dream, the nightmare—are one and the same. Life is just that way; then, it’s over.

I don’t know if this is the life that I want to be living or not. In order to make those kinds of determinations, you’ve got to have some data to work with, as a basis for comparison.

In other words, to know if you’re living the right life, you’d have to have lived a few others first. But you can’t. So it’s always the right life. Or it’s always the wrong one. It’s always far too real during working hours…and then, by the time it’s very, very early in the morning and you’re awake on your own, surrounded by nothing but the sounds of the soft breaths of children sleeping, it’s all imaginary, a figment of your own or some other entity’s imagination.

— § —

I would never have chosen the life that I lead as a teenager. But looking back, I would never have let that teenager choose the life that I live.

Which one is right?

I am and was both of them, and yet even I can’t tell.

— § —

So many vexing questions.

To switch profesions or to double-down on the one already at hand?

To move or to stay? And with what threshold criteria?

Am I fulfilled? What would lead me to become so?

Am I taking too many risks, or too few?

How much money is enough? What lifestyle is ultimately “the good life,” beyond which there are diminishing returns?

How will it all turn out? Am I investing in things that are destined to become valueless? Am I missing investing in things that could otherwise come to be of great value?

How is it possible to have no time to do anything, yet to get eveything done anyway?

What, in fact, is “everything?” How should this list look?

Every school of thought on every question is appealing in some way. That’s the crux of human life—it’s all too good, and too short, and then you die. No matter what your choices are, on all counts.

Grand experiments a-go-go  §

I’ve recently come to the realization that my entire life—what motivates and has motivated myself and my decisions over time—comes down to a particular variety of bloody-mindedness.

In explicit terms, my life is a kind of personal experiment, an exploration of the potential for free will within society. Everything I do is motivated in some way by the desire to see whether what “they” have said can’t properly be done for social reasons can, in fact, be done.

I’ve struggled for years to try to understand what gets me up in the morning, what it is that keeps driving me forward into all of the strange places and roles I’ve held. Others have tried to explain myself to me over the years in very culturally current ways, i.e. “Even if you don’t feel it now, you must really love the subject, otherwise you wouldn’t have stuck with the Ph.D. for this long,” and other, similar kinds of thoughts about every phase of my life.

But no. I realize now that what makes me as determined and plodding as I am is the desire to prove—to myself as much as to anyone—that it can, in fact, be done—that you can get a Ph.D. without loving the subject, that you can sell photos without being a photographer, that you can move to NYC with only $400 to your name, that you can be a good and moral person without God, that you can be a serious person without taking yourself or others seriously—that the social consensus isn’t a definitive barrier, or even right most of the time. It’s a key question, because everything else hinges on it.

Can we stop war? Can we save ourselves from global warming? Feed the poor? Colonize Mars? Someday live forever? The overwhelming and very intense consensus says “no,” very often for social reasons. As a parent, these questions are more important to me than ever, even as the choruses of “No!” seem to me to be louder than ever.

Every “no” I’ve ever received, every “Very Smart and Distinguished” person that has ever addressed me and tried to explain to me the folly of my ways—these are what get me up in the morning. So that on my death bed, I will know, once and for all, whether it’s all nonsense, whether these people knew what they were talking about or were, in fact (and as I suspect), simply scared and small—as we all are in one way or another—and which would mean that there is still a great deal of hope, hope for a great many things that are every day in society written off as impossible once again and anew.

The most important fruit of this realization is the related realization that my life will not be complete until I’m able not just to test this hypothesis, but to docuument the result in some way. A book? A series of poems? Perhaps just as an oeuvre of various and sundry works and happenings over the course of a lifetime?

No matter the ultimate case, I need to bear this in mind—and remember, before I’m on my death bed, to find satisfaction in this way, whatever it takes—or it will all have been in vain.

Class, Race, Gender  §

Sorry, race and gender people, but Marx was right, at least for our society. Class is the definitive differentiator, the definitive divider.

The difference is in the ontological categories to which the universe of associated habiti in each case are assigned, and the relative universality of these.

Sure, some people imagine that one race is morally superior to another as a matter of essence, but there is also a strong, competing discourse in society that disagrees with this position; it is a matter that is deeply contested and even in cases of strong racism, deeply conscious and intentional.

The same thing goes for gender.

For class? No such consciousness exists, and no such discourse of contestation exists. Even within the social sciences, the frame of the discussion is that of “mobility,” i.e. how to “elevate” those in the lower classes so that they achieve greater parity with the upper classes.

The stratification is taken for granted, both essentialized and rendered part of a moral narrative. Of course Vivaldi is somehow “better than” DMX, a Ferrari “better than” a Ford, wine-tasting ending in tipsiness “better than” swilling beer at a bar, etc.

Whereas there is room for cross-cultural understanding in race or the discourse on power in gender, the moral universe of class appears to be universally self-evident and all pursue a rise through the ranks as a presumed good (a presumption that is, in fact, a good one, given the concentration of necessary resources in the hands of the upper classes and their access-gatekeeping function, which relies on the same morality for adjudication of desires, claims, and merit).

In short, class is predominant becuase it’s as universal as race or gender, but we can’t see it, and never have been able to see it clearly, from the bottom to the top, so it works its black and horrible magic unconsciously, unobserved.

Nobody would presume to research how we might make black people “more white” in a drive toward “light mobility,” nor women more masculine in pursuit of “masculinity mobility,” yet “upward mobility” is routinely taken for granted as a worthy pursuit, despite the fact that the upper classes and the value of their assets and their disproportionately high access to resources are in fact socially constructed, cultural artifacts and configurations, not configurations bearing some essential higher good. And conveniently, as a matter of the structural organization of our society, they are both those most able to guide the hand of social construction, and to be the gatekeepers of the socialization processes that result and that cast one into a particular cast for life.

Light and space  §

Light is everything.

It is our knowledge, our perception, our friends, our family, our time, our circumstances, energy, matter, information, the essence of our experience of being and of the world, for those of us that weren’t born blind.

Light is the most fundamental substrate of human being; it is all of existence, both phenomenologically and instrumentally, in very real ways.

Light is the primordial force of the universe, the place at which empiricism, mysticism, and self meet.

And of course light requires space in order to be these things. Without space, or if space is interrupted, light breaks down—and then so does everything else.

— § —

This is why I and so many others are drawn to photography; it feels as though you’re using the universe, being, and your own presence in the world as a fact as a kind of modeling clay.

I suspect that most photographers are also the sorts of people that love to sit down and simply look at things, big or little. A stadium full of tens of thousands of people, sure, but also the spine of a book, or the fragmented and ephemeral reflection of a window across a tabletop.

The sitters-and-lookers, the ones that everyone else is bewildered by, thinks are weird, and so on—they are the light and space people, the people who, when they see the dusk spreading across a carpeted floor in a dim room, realize that they are looking at the raw essence of being, the one truth in the human universe.

Ideology  §

Critics of Horkheimer and Adorno, or of Marxian thought in general, often essentially make a just-so argument saying that, in fact, publics are wise and make good decisions, regardless of institutional or structural knowledge-distribution practices.

This is nice, and would be nice if it were true, but everything I’ve experienced in my life tells me that it simply is not.

Every student in every class that isn’t actually from China continues to discuss China as though it were a Maoist backwater in which illiterate man-children walk about doing little but persecuting others while starving to death. Show them pictures? Point out that virtually every high-technology item in their lives comes from China? No effect.

Virtually everyone in my personal life, including current family, multiple exes, friends, acquaintances—continues to believe that fat will “clog your arteries” and “make you fat.” This despite the fact that Americans have become fatter even as they have reduced fat intake and increased carbohydrate intake. Even people from previous generations that were thin eating fat and are now fat eating none believe this. Show them trendlines that completely contradict this causal claim? Nothing.

People continue to pursue employment and to seek new employment to try to increase their financial holdings. This despite the fact that each of them readily admits that the only reason companies employ people is to skim value from their labor, i.e. if the company does not profit from the hire, then the hire will not be made, meaning that the worker is not receiving the full value of their labor in wages. They’ll all readily admit this. Then, ask them how to get rich? Get a better job.

And so on and so forth. This set of examples was chosen becuase it’s so varied. There are lots of examples from across political, economic, and cultural life.

The fact is that most people believe utter shit that’s not true most of the time, and that they will happily admit is not even logical, yet they will not change their beliefs—not for a second—and they have no explanation for this behavior.

They are not susceptible to logic and evidence, even when they admit that the logic and evidence are persuasive and conclusive. It’s a matter of “yes, I can see that this is true and that is false…but I prefer to believe the false that anyhow!”

Horkheimer and Adorno, so far as I’m concerned, were far more right than wrong, if not absolutely and entirely right in every way.

People are stupid and believe stupid shit. The truth or falsehood, or even the empirical demonstrability or lack thereof of anything you tell them, has no bearing on their belief, or—thus—on their behavior.

Quite simply, people will believe what they have to in order to get what they want—and mostly what they want is to get laid, to belong, to have no cognitive dissonance, to not have to face harsh truths, to be dominant in society rather that subjugated, and so on.

Truth isn’t a value for humans. Bread and reproduction are.

Life paths  §

Went with my wife to a party at her workplace today. It was like visiting another world from the world of work that I know. Personable, collegial, but also very genuine and quotidian, comfortable, everyday, informal and without overseriousness.

I liked it.

At the same time, it also lacked the big questions. There was nothing particularly grandiose about it. That means no exhausting overseriousness, but also none of the intellectual stimulation or stressful challenge that can make work so rewarding.

— § —

Fitness needs to be in my future. I think that over the course of my entire life, there’s never been a time when I could run a mile without stopping. This would surprise some people, because there were periods in my life when I lifted weights, cycled, and people would have sworn I was very, very fit.

Maybe I’m just not designed for running.

Or maybe becuase it’s always been both the thing that I equate with “fitness” and the thing that I absolutely could not and could never do, it’s precisely what I ought to take up.

— § —

On the other hand, I’ve also thought about taking up a martial art. It’s hard to say how serious I am about this; I imagine every man that grew up in the U.S. has thought about doing this at one time or another, if nothing else than during pre-pubescence and the puberty years.

But I’m not sure where the time would come from.

— § —

As is the case for so many other people, time, time management, and habit are some of my biggest bugaboos in life. The last in particular. It is holding me back.

There’s no particular reason why it should be, but for the fact that it’s so damned hard to change a routine once you have it.

The belief in tomorrow is also catastrophic. If only I could erase the concept from my memory—

But, of course, I can’t.

— § —

Every day is now an “incredibly big and busy day.”

Every day is also a day on which most of the things I set out to accomplish didn’t get done.

— § —

Back in the classroom, both real and virtual. It’s hard to say how I feel about it this time around. It was certainly nice to have summer semester off—the first real break I’ve had in years, particularly with a defended dissertation under my belt.

At the same time, in the middle portion of life, you never really have breaks, even when you have breaks. You always know that there are medical needs to take care of, that you’d like to have newer, safer cars and a larger house, that you’d like to be able to afford the best schools for your kids, that retirement is just a few years away and you have nothing at all prepared or planned, and so on.

Every break that you take is shought through with peril and precarity, and while “not working” relieves tensions of a variety of kinds, it also increases others.

And of course, there’s also the fact that I was still working 40+ over the period—just not in the classroom.

— § —

Minor changes to social groups or hierarchies can significantly alter the social dynamics of the entire group and significantly reshuffle membership, identity, status, and the levels of precarity of individuals within those groups.

Yes, an obvious statement, but one that isn’t often mentioned. An office gets a new boss. Or a new secretary. Or a new janitor. Suddenly, little details about office life change in ways as to cause some previously overlooked people to be promoted, and other previously climbing people to stagnate or depart.

— § —

Very nice to have school started again. The kids miss it.

Hell, I also miss it, but that period of my life—at least as a student—is over. Too bad—a part of me would love to take on a quintuple major and simply read for the rest of my life.

Oh well, it is what it is.