Archive for society

The One Where I Ask a Bunch of Questions I Can’t Answer

Posted in life with tags , , , , , on August 18, 2014 by cueball

I’ve been reading The Rebel by Albert Camus this week.  It is an interesting coincidence that Ferguson, MO blew up at the same time.  It has been an interesting juxtaposition to read Camus’ ideas about rebellion as a populace battles its own police department in the streets they share.  Camus’ book was meant to be a critique of fascism and communism particularly communism.  It is also a tour through many of the rebellions and revolutions of humanity starting with Cain and Abel. 

I am thoroughly enjoying it. 

With the book and what is happening in Ferguson, the concepts of power, freedom, and community have been in mind constantly.  How does the power dynamic work?  How should freedom be expressed?  What makes a community/society?

It was Tommy Tomlinson on Twitter last week who said something like, America isn’t revealed in its most famous places, it comes out in the small places no one has ever heard of like Ferguson. 

In a city like Ferguson that is two-thirds black, yet has only 5 black officers on the police force, and all the governing structure is white, except for the aldermen from “the black part of town” who has the power?  Those who govern only have power by the consent of those whom they govern.  In theory the people are ultimate holders of power.  What happens when the people withdraw that consent?  Does the group in charge have the right to use its power, i.e. guns, to keep control? Is an insurrection by the people acceptable? 

Does freedom give the people the right to an insurrection if they feel the government is not responding to their needs and wants?  Is there a way to use freedom to protest a government without one side or the other escalating the situation into violence?  Can one group’s quest for freedom impinge on the right of another group to be safe?  Ultimately, what happens when freedom and power crash into each other?

Most importantly, what makes a community?  What makes a society?  Are societies simply groups of people held together by laws alone? If a society is held together solely by laws, isn’t that like building a brick wall with nothing by the bricks?  What is the mortar that holds a society and a country together?  The Soviet Union and many of its satellite countries were made up of disparate groups that were only held together by the laws governing those countries. As soon as the Soviet Union collapsed all these countries flew apart.  There was no there, there.  They had few commonalities outside of the power of the state holding them together and as soon as they went away, so did the country.  What is it that holds our 50 states together? 

I’m full of questions, but not many answers.  I just think what is happening in Ferguson is something that could happen across America.  From the feelings of not being heard or respected by the residents, to the over militarization of a police force, to tone deaf reactions to the situation by the power structure, this could happen in almost any city in America.  I guess I’m asking why it doesn’t.

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A String Of Thoughts On Last Night

Posted in life, society with tags , , on August 14, 2014 by cueball

What is a society?

Is it simply a conglomeration of peoples who agree to live in close proximity to each other without attempting to kill each other?  Is it more than that, is it less than that?  It has to be more.  It has to be more than just a social contract that takes us out of a state of nature by keeping you from stealing my stuff or me from stealing your stuff.

In a real society, the answer to the question, am I my brother’s keeper, has to be one in the affirmative.  If your brother feels aggrieved and beset by you, you cannot respond to that with the back of your hand.  Not in a real society.  If your brother complains that he believes his anguished cries to be unheard, you cannot respond with tear gas.  Not in a real society.

There is never one thing that sets people off and sends them to the streets to protest.  We mistakenly believe in the great man and great moment way of looking at history.  The idea that history is made up of these momentous occasions in which everything changes all it once.  That is only partly true, the world does change all at once, but it is gradual.  The seeds of change are sown over time, but only spring forth once the moment when the combination of rain and sunlight are in perfect harmony. 

If people take to the streets in protest, it is not because one young man died tragically.  If people take to the streets in protest it is because they feel systematically ignored and betrayed by their government and their fellow citizens and feel this is the only way they can finally be heard.

A strange moment occurred last night.  On one channel, the police chief of a small Southern (or near Southern) community used the words “outside agitators” to describe why some of the protests in his city began and on another channel US troops were being mobilized to go fight a war in a place our government seems trapped in fighting against its own will.  The word quagmire comes to mind. 

Tear gas in the streets and troop ships flying off to foreign lands.  All this has happened before and all of this will happen again.  That is one of the depressing things about humans.  While history does bend itself towards justice, it is a very slight and slow bend.  Humans congregate towards the familiar and the comfortable.  When given two choices the human preference is for the one that causes the least amount of work and pain for the greatest amount of pleasure.  History may bend us towards justice, but only with a kick in the ass.

A society whose government enforces the law with two separate standards, a society who creates laws to protect one group over another, a society that treats one group of citizens as citizens and the other group as something less, a society whose government doesn’t accept dissent or allows itself to be questioned in any way is an unsustainable society. 

We must ask more of our government then just to collect taxes and enforce property laws.  We must expect more of our fellow citizens then to drive on the right side of the road.  Everyone in a functioning society must be their brother’s keeper and government must be the main mechanism by which a society takes care of its own.  This country’s government was built to allow itself to be dragged back towards justice no matter how painful the dragging may be.  Ferguson, MO is the latest reminder of that.

Here is another reminder for your reading pleasure. 

Random Thoughts and Musings on a Monday Morning

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on August 19, 2013 by cueball

Quick Monday Thoughts

People don’t want freedom as much as they want safety.  That is why the public outcry over perceived bad guys getting away with it is always so swift and moves past due process and heads straight to punishment.  Due process isn’t there to protect the guilty it is there to protect the innocent from being railroaded by the powers that be or the ignorant of all the facts collective will of the public.  George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin, in my opinion, but neither I, nor you, nor anyone else can decide that on our own and go lynch him and claim to have followed justice because what stops someone else from deciding I am guilty of something and taking the law into their own hands and killing me.  In other words, the law saved Zimmerman from people like himself.

In a much less important story, Alex Rodriguez is fighting his PED suspension from Major League Baseball.  The reason, not that he is innocent (though he keeps making ridiculous noises claim that fallacy) but because MLB didn’t follow the due process it and the Player’s Association agreed on in the last collective bargaining agreement.  In other words, MLB can’t ban you just because they don’t like you.  That actually seems like a reasonable argument to me.

I watched the Catching Hell 30 For 30 documentary again yesterday.  The kind of ridiculous adoration for a sports team that turns people into delusional idiots left me when I was 13.  However, the documentary is a good window onto how the concept of scapegoating is more than just angry sports fans putting almost 100 years of ineptitude onto one poor bastard just so they can stay sane.  It is a good example of how humans created the idea of a scapegoat to place blame for all the bad stuff that has happened on an individual so that once that individual is cast out, all will be well again.  It doesn’t actually work that way and it especially hasn’t worked for the Cubs, they still suck.

If you spend a lot of time on Twitter or the internet in general you begin to think that no one likes anything.  You get people who pick apart Breaking Bad because it is an unrealistic look at the meth trade.  Thank you.  I really needed to know that the real world meth trade is much more mundane and yet violent and dangerous as what is depicted as fiction on a television show.  First, yes, you are right.  Second, I don’t care.

Can’t we just let something be good and enjoy it because it is good?  Why do we have to hyper-analyze every piece of pop culture?  Breaking Bad is a narratively tight insanely well written show with actors giving the performances of their lives.  Does it matter that it isn’t 100% true to the meth game?

If I have time this year, I want to write about one new television show.  I want to watch every episode and criticize and analyze it.  I don’t know what show that may be or if I can make this work, but I want to try it.  I actually did recaps for a season for a now defunct website.  I was doing it without the benefit of a DVR or show available on the internet.  That sucked.  I wonder of if I can do it now and do it better.

The Guy

Posted in sports with tags , , , on July 22, 2013 by cueball

Some athletes love to be The Guy (or The Women).  These are athletes who are not only good but good at bringing attention to themselves.  They love for the public to have their eyes on them on and off the field.  They want to be the center of everything.

The Guy in today’s sports, at least for now is Johnny Manziel.  He is in the classic mold of many of the quarterbacks in football’s history.  Go back to Paul Hornung, Joe Namath (the exemplar), Ken Stabler and you will see a lot of the same characteristics that Manziel.  It is fun to watch in a sense because those others were in the NFL when their greatest exploits came to light.  Manziel is still in college where it isn’t supposed to be about the individual it is supposed to be about the honor of Old State U and some antiquated notion of amateurism.

As much fun as it would be to wax poetically about Manziel and my dislike of the NCAA system, I am too tired to go there anymore.  What really interests me is what happens when you are no longer the guy.

Being the guy is not a phenomenon that solely resides in sports.  It appears in other areas of life as well.  Yesterday was the birthday of someone who was The Guy in his lifetime, Ernest Hemingway.  Hemingway was not only a brilliant writer, but he also understood writing as an act and an art better than most people before or since.

Hemingway also loved being The Guy of American letters.  He created this persona and public face that lives on to this day.  Near the end, however, he knew he was no longer The Guy.  He was no longer the Hemingway he cultivated for public consumption.  He was no longer the bear of a man, adventurer, and genius so he ended it with a shot gun.

That is the thing about being The Guy.  It is a hell of a lot of fun while you are The Guy.  However, if you aren’t prepared for it to end, it will end badly.  The Guy very rarely walks off into the sunset and retires to nice anonymity.  Being The Guy is too good a drug.  It never seems to let go of the ones who have enjoyed it most.

That is why people enjoy Manziel so much right now.  He is living every little kid’s dream.  He is rich, a Heisman Trophy winner, a starting quarterback in the SEC, and could give less than two fucks about the NCAA and its rules.  Hopefully, he understands that this is a special time in his life and he should get in as much as he can before it runs out.  He’ll go out and have fun and when the time runs out he will move on to the next part of life.  Or, maybe he thinks this will go on forever and that his real self is this “Johnny Football” creation.

Either way, our reactions to him will make the next 4 years of his life interesting to watch.

Too Much Time To Fill and Too Many People Trying to First and not Right

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on June 21, 2013 by cueball

We live in a blockbuster culture where because everything is the most important thing to ever happen, nothing is very important.  The internet and social media has made the world a smaller place and connected people to each other in an unprecedented fashion.  It has given many who would be isolated and alone a sort of family.  The internet has also allowed almost unlimited access to knowledge and information to everyone with access to the web.

However, the downside of this connectivity and access to information is that we lose the perspective of what actually matters.  If every fact, theory, and bit of rampant speculation is given the same weight we lose the ability to process things in their level of importance.

I’m not going to pretend that I only use the internet for scholarly pursuits.  On a daily basis most of my use of the internet is to read about soccer, basketball, beer, and random bits of pop culture information.  Those things are usually in pursuit of avoiding doing the work I need to get done like finishing writing my by September.

We consistently elevate the mundane and ridiculous to the level of the important for two reasons:  1) There is no filter and everything comes at us constantly and we have no time to decide what matters and what doesn’t, and 2) The internet is fueled by a culture of being first.  People want to be the first to get their opinion out on the new Kanye West album.  They want to be the first to tell you how Tim Tebow is going to be the Patriots starting quarterback/tight end on opening day.  To hell with being right as long you are first.

We lurch around Facebook, Tumbler, Reddit, and Twitter looking for the next slightly outrageous things someone said or did so that we can spend the next 8 hours wallowing in the indignant backlash to what happened, then in the backlash to the backlash, and finally we settle on why this really didn’t matter anyway because this much more important thing to get indignant about just happened.

I understand that most of the time, there is nothing to terribly important going on the world and the internet is a 24/7 cycle of information that needs to be fed.  I just think we have forgotten the importance of perspective.

I don’t want a world where everyone sits around navel gazing contemplating Kierkegaard and Sartre thinking about the existential meaning and weight of Leonard Cohen’s last album all the time.  Occasionally that is fine, but all the time?

I like perspective.  I like understanding that the import and long-term effects of things that happen can’t be determined in the first five minutes.

I started thinking about this post as this year’s NBA Finals moved along.  The talking heads on ESPN kept lurching from conclusion to conclusion depending on who won the game before and in this series up until the last two games the teams’ alternated winning.  That led to many hours of radio time, podcast time, words spilled on the website either burying the Heat or praising them.  After one game the Heat were going to be broken up with the whole Big 3 era a complete failure.  Then after the next game they were on the short list of the greatest team in the history of the NBA and LeBron was cementing his legacy.  This was akin to someone reading Ulysses and writing a complete book review after every chapter.  Too much time to fill and too many people wanting to be first instead of right.

This blog and this blog post are ultimately meaningless.  I know that.  A few people may read this (Thank you!) and fewer still will like it (Thank you! Thank you!).  I understand that.  I’m not saying anything new nor terribly insightful or intelligent (Okay, maybe a little intelligent).  I do hope I’m still around in 30 years and have the mental awareness to see what has become of how we use the internet.

Writer’s Block isn’t an absence if ideas. Its an absence of good ones.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on June 5, 2013 by cueball

I’ve tried two different topics for today’s post and neither works.  It might have to do with trying to write in a different place then normal.  Usually, I set at my little bar at home and type there.  Its a comfortable space facing a wall that allows me to concentrate on the words.  Today, tried writing at The Cleveland County Public Library.  I will not try this again.

As a person who loves books and loves reading, I think of libraries like churches or cathedrals.  They are holy ground that must be respected.  If you are in a library you should not only respect the ground and the books it holds, but you should also respect your fellow patrons.  Cell phones have killed this idea.

People somehow have convinced themselves that a cell phone conversation held in public at normal speaking volumes is a private conversation.  If you are going to speak in a normal voice that other people can hear while your are in public place, you have no right to expect privacy.

The other thing is, no one else cares about your crap.  Blogs, Facebook, Twitter and all other social media sites have convinced the public that others really give much of a damn about the details of their personal life.

Maybe I’m just disappointed that libraries are just places for parents to dump kids during summer afternoons for the free internet access (of course I was dumped in this library to read all day) and a place for homeless people to nap and eat.  Books and real knowledge don’t seem to matter to people anymore.

The Internet has made facts accessible, but it hasn’t made knowledge more ubiquitous.  That is what you get from actually reading.  You learn how to use facts and shape ideas by reading the good and the great do precisely those things.  Honestly, what good is a fact if you don’t use it to create an idea.

Once in high school we had a debate over which was real, a fact or a truth.  I finally came down on the side of truths being more real then facts.  Simple facts can change.  Most truths are those things that have been proven that can never change.  People often believe things that can’t be proven or unproven and that makes those things  faith not truth or fact and faith may be stronger then both of them.

Facts lead to ideas and ideas lead to truth.  That is the province of the artist and the scientist.  Truth.  That is why libraries, museums, theaters, and laboratories are important.  They are the places where facts are put together, taken apart, reassembled, questioned, and finally shaped into an idea.  Then the ideas are disassembled, reassembled, dissected, and formed into something.  Then process is repeated again and again until finally a truth emerges.  Then the artist, writer, musician, or scientist figures out a way to express that truth for everyone to see.

Sitting in this library I worry we are losing the places that teach us to respect that process and maybe more importantly respect each other.  That may be the thing that truly bothers me about cell phones in public.  It is the simple lack of respect for others.  That is the other thing public spaces are supposed to teach us.  When you are a kid your parents teach you to be quiet in a library because there are other people there.  You may not care about what they are doing, but you should respect their time and space while they are doing it mostly because you want the same courtesy.  Somewhere we have lost that simple idea.

On that Will McAvoyian note, I’ll sign off as the homeless guy snores to my right.

Try It Without A Safety Net

Posted in life with tags , , , , on May 25, 2013 by cueball

What is your goal in life?

Not enough people think about that question.  Let me change that.  Not enough people who have the time and money to think about that question, think about that question.  The opportunity to contemplate your life goals is a first world opportunity.  Most people in the world (a great many of them in this country) don’t have the time, money, or inclination to contemplate such a thought.  They are busy trying to buy food and sleep out of the rain.

However, those of us who are blessed enough to have the time and money don’t have the inclination to think about this question.  At least not consciously.  Or better yet, mindfully.

Everyone goes through the “I want to be an astronaut/doctor/athlete” phase when they are a kid.  Usually we grow out of it when we are confronted with all the work (and math) it takes to get there.  As we get older, most people have a more developed sense of what they want out of life.  Mostly, it is a vague idea of some place they want to be and an accumulation of cool things.

To me your goals in life are more complicated and involved then I want to have a cool car and live in a big house.  Those things may occur with the accomplishment of your life goals, but not always.  In this country, we are afforded the opportunity to not only say what do I want to be but who do I want to be and that to me is the essence of your life goals.

Some people are lucky.  They know what their life goals are early.  They direct themselves towards it with a beautiful drive and passion.  Then there are others (such as this writer), for whom it takes time to find your goals and understand how to accomplish them.

Maybe that is wrong.  Maybe these others always knew what it was they wanted to accomplish, but they acquiesced to the warm embrace of the safety net.  You know the safety net.  You tell someone you want to try something that is difficult, that has a high rate of failure and they respond by telling you to “Have something to fall back on.”

I have learned that if you are given something to fall back on, you will.  As humans, we tend towards the path of least resistance and most comfort.  In any of the creative endeavors the safety net is a trap.  Success is elusive and fleeting and if you have a safety net, there are times when its allure is too much to resist.  Like in those times when you are juggling credit card balances between three different cards or you have to go into the grocery store with a calculator and your exact checking and credit card balances so you get as much food as you can afford without going broke for the week.  Fun times, fun times.  That safety net looks awfully good in those moments.

This isn’t to say you should prepare yourself for the worst case of your goal falling through.  It is like hitting a golf ball over a water hazard.  If you concentrate on avoiding the water hazard, you will hit the water hazard.  The trick is knowing where the hazard is, ignoring it, and concentrating on putting the ball in the fairway.

What I guess I’ve been getting at through all of this is, if you are someone who is thinking about trying something crazy like becoming a musician, novelist, actor, painter, etc. do it.  Concentrate on the skills you need to accomplish that goal and focus on that goal.  If you don’t succeed in your primary objective the things you have learned will come in handy in what you eventually end up doing.  If you know a person who is thinking about doing those things, support them and quit telling them about safety nets.  All they hear is that you believe they will fail.

My thoughts are muddled this morning.  I think its time I started revising the book I wrote in April through Camp NANOWRIMO.  My mind keeps drifting back towards the characters and the plot and the beginning and the ending.  I can see the changes I think I’ll make.  I also just want to go spend some more time with those people.  I’ve left some incomplete and I want to make them as real and as true as possible.