Monthly Archives: December 2016

The Insufferable Practice of Gifting

Common adages of gift-giving tend to center around the idea that nothing should be expected in return. True gifts are given to elevate the happiness of both the gifter and the giftee, not to further personal agendas. But the Darwinian concept of altruism leads me to believe this is, to put it bluntly, a lot of horseshit. Most who have taken any kind of animal behavior or evolution class may recall that instances of “altruism” in the animal world aren’t so warm and fuzzy. Most “selfless” acts of animals are indeed selfish on the genetic level, as Richard Dawkins has so thoroughly pointed out. Altruistic deeds such as sharing food or grooming a friend have been linked mostly to one of two explanations: kin selection or expectation of return on investment, so to speak.

Adult male birds of some species may forgo having their own “family” in favor of helping mom raise the next generation of chicks. This occurs because the male somehow recognizes better odds in passing on his genes by aiding the survival of his (likely half) brothers and sisters than by trolling for bitches (passing along his genes directly). Why does this happen? Maybe that bird is fugly. Maybe he’s really directionally challenged. Or maybe he’s just more of a grey-ace. Whatever the reason, his nanny-like role in this weird Brady bunch bird family is for his genes’ gain, not charity. This is referred to as kin selection.

In a different example, unrelated primates who live together in troops often groom one another or share food. Now, sometimes the primate in question happens to be one of those adventurous foodie types that like to eat bugs. In this case his grooming is of a bit more symbiotic nature, not altruistic. But in many other cases, the debris removed from the back hair of a comrade are not valued, and the job is being done as a sort of friendly service. How altruistic! Except no…well, sort of. Most biologists and behaviorists would probably agree that primates engage in these activities to strengthen social bonds and up the chance that a friend will come to their aid in the future. In short, they expect a return on their friendly investment someday. Primate friends that are always on the receiving end of these good deeds are more likely to be ignored by their so-called friends, and eventually even expelled from the group.

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“If you find anything good in there Steven, let me know. I don’t know what to get Clarice for Christmas, she has everything.”

If anywhere near thousands of people read my blog (hahaha), hundreds of those people would now be clamoring to say “well yeah, animals are selfish because they aren’t evolved like us, and don’t understand love in the dimension we humans do.” And I would say, that’s a fine argument and a notable possibility. But it’s just a possibility. I’d argue a small one at that. Let’s not pretend to be ignorant to the role so-called “gifts” play in human social record keeping. Folks in business and politics exchange money, goods, and services every day in the hopes of getting closer to a desired outcome, loosely camouflaging their contributions as “gifts.” Most people seem to accept this fact yet refuse to entertain the idea that almost all gift giving might be tainted with similar intentions of self-service. As above, so below.

To me, the question is simply whether these intentions are conscious or not. You may not think you’re giving someone a gift to strengthen a social bond and increase your chance of receiving something (either tangible or intangible) from that person later one, but it’s still entirely possible this motive is buried in your subconscious. If you’ve read anything in this blog before this post, you’re probably aware I’m not of the opinion that humans are a chosen species existing in a moral and emotional realm head and shoulders above all other life on Earth. I recognize that our cognitive capabilities have developed to a level so as to serve as our primary survival mechanism and have thus surpassed those of other species. But I do not believe we have extracted ourselves entirely from survival-oriented mental processes.

My understanding of the biological function of altruism coupled with what I would characterize as moderate to severe introversion have led me to hate the practice of gift giving. I find myself continually searching for exchange rates. If this person gave me an unexpected gift, what is an appropriate gesture to exchange for this at some point down the road? Regardless of whether or not that person “thinks” they want something in return, the imbalance of social cues that has been created in my brain becomes at best an irritant, at worst a source of stress and shame. Sure this can occur in other ways besides gift-giving. Maybe a friend has helped you through an emotional crisis, or helped you out financially and you haven’t had an opportunity to return the favor. This creates and imbalance of social exchange as well. However, nothing seems so direct and superfluous as gift-giving. The imbalance is created for silly, arbitrary reasons and the course of action to even the score is not always clear.

Occasions hardly make the situation better. Those who know me well are probably familiar with my distaste for Christmas. They may also know it arises almost entirely from the practice of giving and receiving Christmas gifts. To me, Christmas time is a social minefield of opportunities to be ambushed by surprise gifts. I take almost no joy in receiving gifts unless I have an equivalent one to give. This explanation of why I hate gifts does not even touch on my hatred of “stuff.” That’s a separate rant though. See this post from 2015 if you’d like that angle.

I don’t really have an agenda here. I’m not advocating we abolish all gift giving in the name of science. Nor am I trying to call bullshit on people who insist they just really like giving gifts and never hope to receive anything in return. If you’re one of those people, I appreciate your intentions and commend your kindness. Mostly I just find it interesting to dissect things that most people find normal but I find odd or uncomfortable and look at why this might be. Furthermore I know there are other people who feel this way. The more validity I can add to our viewpoint on the subject, the more likely people are to start listening to us when we say we don’t want gifts. However, if you’d like a concrete take-home message from this rant let it be this: the greatest gift you can give me is not giving me gifts. Happy holidays or something.

Categories: About me, Humanity, Thoughts, Waste | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Failed Submission: 10 Views of DC

So here I am on a lazy Friday morning (fuck me, right? I swear I work sometimes) trying to figure out how to squeeze a blog post out in 23 minutes before I have to go walk some dogs. Realizing I could definitely dump some of the contents of my brain onto electronic paper in 23 minutes but certainly not edit it, I go to the junk drawer of my desktop. The “writing” folder–where all good ideas go to die. It’s not that nothing in my writing folder ever gets shared, it’s just that most things I put in there are so half baked that I’d rather just start on something new than try to shape them up to be viewed by another human being. Or I’ve just read them so many times that I’ve become annoyed by my own whiny, petulant voice seeping through the words and banished them, not having the balls to delete the fruits of minutes (ok, hours) of my precious time.

But sometimes you just have to kind of laugh at yourself and throw shit out there. Not because it’s good, not because it means a lot to you, but because it still exists for some reason. In the spirit of exorcising demons from my desktop, here is an article I spent an embarrassing amount of time on, to submit to one of those goony online buzzfeed-esque listicle websites that somehow managed to count down something different about a certain state (or district) each week. After being invited to submit the article it was promptly ignored, at which point I assumed it was horrible and I was a failure at all things. I constructed the article not more than a few months after moving to the district, so hilariously I hadn’t been to a single one of these places (save for the few I hit during a middle school trip when I was 12). But now I’ve been to a decent chunk of them, and I must say I think I had the right idea. So without further ado,

**Disclaimer: I did not take, and do not own the rights to these photos. I probably shouldn’t be posting them here even. I will take them down if someone asks me to.

 

These 10 Dazzling Views Will Make You Rethink The District

Washington, DC is often known for its cutthroat professional culture and suit-clad populace. But scattered among the city’s monolith government facades and office buildings are true scenic beauties, both man-made and natural. A stroll through the capital city may offer babbling creeks amid flawless fall colors, European-style art and architecture, or waterfront landscapes with flowering trees. Some may be icons while others are hidden gems; either way, prepare to fall head over heals for America’s Rome.

 

  1. The National Cathedral

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Looking as if it were plucked from the ancient histories of Europe and dropping into our young country’s capital, the National Cathedral’s gothic architecture makes it an extraordinary sight not to be missed. The sixth largest cathedral in the world and second largest in the country boasts impressive towers, climbing spires, and mesmerizing stained glass windows.

 

  1. Top of The Monument

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Climb to the top of the world’s tallest stone structure to get a sweeping view of the National Mall and surrounding city. At over 554 feet tall, the obelisk towers over the city. In fact, it’s law in DC that no buildings can ever compete with its height. However, you can see all the way across the Potomac River to Arlington, Virginia where apartments and offices reach for the sky once more.

 

  1. The National Arboretum

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The old National Capitol Columns sit among wildflowers at the expansive and breath-taking National Arboretum. Home to hundreds of species of native and exotic plants, the Arboretum is both a restorative public garden and an important botanical research facility.

 

  1. The Capitol Rotunda

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Don’t forget to look up! The staggering beauty of the Capitol Rotunda is found in all “corners” of this impressive round room. But the undisputed treasure of The Rotunda is the ceiling. At its center, a fresco-style painting by Greek-Italian artist Constantino Brumidi, entitled The Apotheosis of Washington, depicts the nation’s first president surrounded by god-like figures in a heavenly scene.

 

  1. Georgetown/Theodore Roosevelt Island

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Georgetown, both an esteemed private university and the moniker for the area surrounding it, looks colorful and alluring from Theodore Roosevelt Island. Take the footbridge across the river to the secluded, forested island that serves as a memorial to the late president to take in this iconic vista.

 

  1. The Jefferson Memorial

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Flawless pure marble steps lead up to this striking domed monument. For many, its unmistakable architecture makes the Jefferson Memorial the most iconic emblem of DC. Reflections of its impressive façade and the trees that surround it dance across the waters of the Potomac River, which it sits directly on.

 

  1. Rock Creek Park

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Rock Creek Park, a large urban forested region that bisects the city, is a safe haven for stressed professionals and tree huggers alike. Rock Creek, the park’s namesake, babbles and flows throughout, providing scenic vistas such as this one captured at the old stone bridge.

 

  1. The Smithsonian Castle

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The very fist of the Smithsonian buildings to be constructed, the Smithsonian Castle sits tucked away behind the more well-know landmarks of the National Mall. It was artfully crafted using Seneca red sandstone from Maryland and is sure to impress even the most blasé tourists.

 

  1. Meridian Hill Park

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Meridian Hill Park, or as it’s known to many locals, Malcolm X Park, is touted as one of the best examples of neoclassical architecture in the country. The park is situated on an incline, offering staggered recreation areas and picturesque views rivaling the Italian gardens it was modeled after. Swing by on Sunday afternoon to witness drum circles that have frequented the park since the 1950s.

 

  1. The Tidal Basin

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The Tidal Basin, a partially man-made water body between the Potomac River and Washington Channel, offers some of the most impressive views in the District. Sunsets cast glorious colors across the calm waters, which stand as perfect reflection pools for the monuments that line it. Visit the Tidal Basin during the blooming of the cherry blossom trees to be blown away by the vibrant, contrasting colors (and the number of tourists!).

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