Thoughts

Fuck Your Selfie (and other thoughts)

There’s nothing cute about being obsessed with your own reflection. There is nothing endearing about obtaining your entire self worth from the opinions of others. There is nothing commendable about narcissism. I’m the furthest thing from religious, but I think pride was one of the “Seven Deadly Sins” for a reason. Yet we spend hours each week, perhaps even each day, looking at or posting self-serving images, videos, and announcements on the Internet. We reward each other for this behavior regularly with comments and “likes”…and the portion of our ever-shrinking time on this earth it costs to post them.

Although the phenomenon can hardly be called the most troubling characteristic of modern humanity, I still find it rather disconcerting. One of my favorite podcasters, Dr. Christopher Ryan, the author of a fantastic book called Sex at Dawn, recited an interesting story on an (old) podcast I listened to the other day. He described a friend who had traveled to Africa to live with a small village of hunter-gatherer/subsistence farmers. At his departure, he wanted to give a gift to the people. He took great care to select the finest ox for sale, inspecting it for all health aspects and spending a large chunk of change. However, he was devastated to receive nothing but ridicule from the villagers. “That ox is a bag of bones!” “We won’t have enough meat for the whole village, we’ll have to hunt still.” “You don’t know anything about buying meat, do you?” Seeing the friend’s disappointment, a man pulled him aside and told him not to be so offended. “This is just how we are” he explained “we can’t let you be proud of your gift, because when people get proud, they start telling people what to do and then they end up killing somebody!” Now as dramatic as this explanation may seem, take a second to really consider the man’s point and see it might not be so far from the truth. Pride can be the root of all sorts of nasty behaviors. Ryan went on to point out “this is the exact opposite of how our society works” in reference to Western, or perhaps more broadly to “civilized” culture as a whole. For generations, our society has been built on the hallmarks of “hard work” and “success” (instead perhaps on cooperation). The definitions of both these phrases are subjective, yet they are treated as defined, measurable qualities with certain sets of rules. As a result, people compete to meet these definitions and become proud of their accomplishments, especially as they triumph over others.

Though the tendency of individuals in a competitive, free-market, individualistic society to be self congratulatory is relatively long standing, it has become particularly apparent in recent popular culture. Announcing your accomplishments via small blocks of text directed at large groups of acquaintances (and/or strangers) is a part of the average person’s day now. Seventy-four percent of online adults use social networking sites* and there are now almost as many people on Facebook as there are in China.** The craze of announcing your presence to the world beyond your immediate, physical location became even more involved when people became obsessed with posting photos on social media. Vacation photos, baby photos, workout photos, yoga photos, food photos, “selfies”. Selfies. Let’s take a second to address the term. The term “selfie”, for those living under an html-based rock the last couple years is a picture a person takes of his or herself, generally with a phone camera, for no specific reason other than to share their physical appearance with their “followers” (be those friends, social media acquaintances, “fans”, or other). A recent study found the taking a lot of these photos to be linked with callous-unemotional traits in individuals such as narcissism and psychopathy***. Yet most perceive this behavior as a “normal” use of social networking sites.

I speak of this phenomenon as a participator, not an observer. I recognize the value in sharing my life and accomplishments with those not in close physical proximity to me and I too am guilty of the occasional “selfie”, albeit almost exclusively when I am in the company of my cat (because she’s just so CUTE) or have dyed my hair a shiny new color. Yet I can’t help but wonder if the competitive, self-congratulatory, “look how GREAT I’m doing” culture we’ve found ourselves knee-deep in isn’t doing more to our psyches than we realize. Is social media just dragging our species’ preexisting narcissist tendencies into the light or is it breeding a wicked new strain of egotism, like antibiotic-resistant bacteria breeding in the harsh landscapes of human bodies.

The argument for heavy social media use as a normal part of our interaction however has, in my opinion, large support from primate evolution. Humans have evolved to be highly social individuals, interacting with our peers to accomplish almost all daily tasks. It is imperative to our primate brains to consider the impression our actions leave on others. When you can no longer beat up the largest chimp in the group to gain respect, you have to prove yourself more worthy than him in other ways. That could include making it as apparent as possible that your life is important, your appearance is alluring, and your accomplishments are noteworthy. Perhaps instead of evolving to be cooperative and empathetic, we managed to take a page out of bird survival strategy and evolve to be showy. However, just because something comes naturally, does not mean it is positive. The consumption of fat-laden foods and infidelity come quite naturally for most as well.

Additionally, I believe there is a not-so-fine line between sharing your life with others and electronically shoving it down their throats. For example, if I could gather 50 of my closest friends and family members in one room, on one day and show them pictures from my most recent trip abroad or my new hula hoop tricks, I probably would! However, I think I’d be a lot less inclined to sit them down and demand they look at my face for no reason. “See my face? Isn’t it nice? Why don’t you all just look at it for a bit. I got new sunglasses or something.” This is how I see selfies and why I find them embarrassing and disturbing. You also probably wouldn’t show a room of 50 friends the meal you ate last Tuesday or tell them three separate times how in love you are. But you might tell them you’re moving to Chicago.

I think the take-home of all this is to maybe not spend quite so much time seeking or feeding praise. Social media can be a beautiful, convenient tool for keeping in touch with those who matter and sharing your life with them despite physical limitations. However, if this is truly the goal, feedback shouldn’t be needed and the information shared shouldn’t be shallow or mind-numbingly pervasive. Give credit where credit is due, but try not to contribute to a culture that puts people on pedestals for images that are not objective, but self designed at best and manipulative at worst. Just as they say don’t feed the trolls, don’t feed the egomaniacs. You don’t need to shit all over their choice of oxen…but please don’t like their selfies either.

P.S.
Please do check out the sources/links below, they’re interesting!

* http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/social-networking-fact-sheet/
** http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2014/10/29/almost-as-many-people-use-facebook-as-live-in-the-entire-country-of-china/
*** https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/close-encounters/201501/are-selfies-sign-narcissism-and-psychopathy

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“Hello, I’m poor.”

The past few weeks I’ve been trying (and succeeding I might add) to sell my old playstation 2 and games since I don’t really play it much anymore and it’s just taking up space at this point. In doing so I’ve had more strangers visit my apartment than I would ever normally expect. It was interesting to observe the reactions of the people when they finally managed to find my teeny tiny remodeled motel of an apartment “complex” and then my teeny tiny apartment all the way in the back. More than one of the strangers said something to the effect of “I didn’t even realize these were apartments” or “I thought this was a motel”, which is totally to be expected, I thought the same thing when I went to visit the place before signing a lease.

I didn’t think anything of it really until today, when the guy who was coming in to buy my controllers had trouble opening the door with my ill-fitted draft protector from amazon wedged awkwardly beneath it. “Sorry” I said, laughing as I fixed the cumbersome thing, “I’m poor and this helps with the electric”. Before he left, he asked why I was selling my playstation. “Well I don’t really use it much anymore and I’m poor, so…” I said, laughing again. He seemed mildly taken aback that I was so fond of referring to myself as “poor” but laughed politely and took his leave.

After the encounter I thought to myself, why am I so quick to say that? By all rational consideration, I am not poor. I work a job that pays well above minimum wage, I live in a safe area of town in an apartment by myself, I’m never hungry, etc. I’m also not ashamed of my lifestyle in any way. I find extravagance to be far more embarrassing and hope that people never assume I’m wealthy or spoiled. I think me countering with “I’m poor” is a sort of shortcut because I don’t want to give the whole answer. I don’t want to explain why I’d rather have a little extra cash than things I don’t really need, or that my apartment looks like a motel because it totally is one and I love the location and size, or why I choose not to work full-time. It’s easier for people to understand my choices if I just communicate in the most clear way that I don’t have a lot of money to throw around.

Being poor in a developing country or in blighted inner-city neighborhoods here in the US can mean spending most of your day worrying about how you’re going to eat or where you’re going to sleep. For that reason, it seems utterly insulting to compare my lifestyle to that of someone who actually struggles with poverty. Yet our culture of consumption is so strong that if a person is not actively consuming as much as they can, people start to question your choices. Amassing things and space you don’t need is a sign of happiness and wealth so by this logic, selling off possessions and taking up as little space as possible must be sign of desperation and poverty.

I wish more people would develop the distaste for extravagance I have and embrace the liberating experience of discovering what you actually need to be happy. Once you start viewing runaway consumption for what it is—an act of violence on the rest of the resource-consuming world for taking up far more than your fair share—it is rather hard to go back to thinking you really need a hummer or three video game consoles. I think the tiny house movement and the “hipster” popularization of thrift shopping, local food, and other money and/or resource-saving escapades are steps in the right direction, but I also think they are often taken for the wrong reasons. Fads can only take a movement so far until they get watered down into completely appearance-based phenomena and suddenly you have people paying two million dollars for designer tiny homes and several hundred for used suits. When this happens, the movement’s credibility is lost entirely and everyone goes back to hating hipsters.

So the question really becomes, how do we make being “poor” acceptable, even cool? By this I of course mean that choosing to work less, spend less, and accumulate less isn’t viewed as being poor or even as being a hipster, but as being sensible and making choices that prioritize quality of life over quantity of stuff.

Categories: About me, Culture, Lifestyle, Money, Thoughts, Waste | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

I want my childhood back

I want my childhood back. Not because it was wasted or unfulfilling. Not because it was taken from me at a young age or ruined by bad parents. I want my childhood back because it was a golden time. I want the long summer days spent outside yet not worrying about what I should be accomplishing inside. I want the late nights with friends sans alcohol and drained paychecks. I want the day that is my own, not to be hijacked by the demands of an employer or the poltergeists of worry and responsibility. Most of all I want the state of mind; the naïve selfishness that tells me my life is a journey, not a trap for the foolish.

However, if I am to be an adult let me flourish. Let me use my newfound wisdom and fervor for life to shape the world around me. Let me fill the corners of my space with my talents, knacks, quirks, and flaws. Let me stimulate instead of snuff the brilliant fire that is a human mind. Let me expand my power of choice by choosing ethically and logically, adding a new voice to an ever-expanding conversation.

If I am to be an adult, do not force me to be led. Do not force me into a mold forged by other minds. Do not tell me there is only one way to do something. Do not define me by my “success”.

You don’t know the meaning of the word.

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Since when was anything black or white?

Today I was thinking about some of the hot button issues that people seem to get so upset about nowadays. I started to notice a kind of pattern with the things people have strong opinions on: a lot of them aren’t inherently good or bad. Yet, they’re treated that way.

So, I started wondering: at what point did people decide these things were black or white? Moreover, how did inanimate objects, concepts, or ideas gain free will and choose to be benevolent or evil? If you’re not sure what I mean by this, let me take a second to explain what I’m getting at using some of the actual issues I have in mind.

Abortion. Genetically modified organisms. Drugs. Firearms. To name a few.

Aside from having the capacity to send entire groups of people into screaming matches, what do these things have in common? Well for one, they aren’t sentient beings. Meaning, they don’t have intentions or motives of their own. Abortions don’t come out at night and go on the prowl for unsuspecting women and shotguns don’t load themselves and save families from burglars. So why do people act like any of these things are inherently good or evil, destructive or constructive? To me, what these concepts and items have in common is they are all tools. Tools humans have developed over time for use by other humans. The good or evil happens when these tools are used a certain way. My current personal belief system holds that abortion is a very important tool for the early stages of an unwanted pregnancy, but a pretty shitty thing to do halfway through. It holds that GMOs are important to feeding a growing population and improving food security, but not when the rights to them are owned by one giant corporation that routinely abuses its power. It holds that drugs (especially psychedelics) can be important tools for understanding one’s own consciousness and overcoming medical hurdles, but can be a force of destruction in the hands of an addict (especially narcotics). Finally, it holds that firearms are important for both defense and recreation but not everyone is fit to own one.

Take notice that not only do these beliefs lie somewhere in the middle between something being inherently “good” or “bad”, but that I used the phrase “current personal beliefs”. I used the word current because my beliefs can, and should, change when I receive new information. The problem I see with so many activists and opinionated people, even ones I agree with, is that they pick a standpoint and then refuse to let in any new information or viewpoints on the subject. Not only is this completely unscientific, it’s just downright ineffective. When you decide, perhaps based on some burning conviction in your heart, that something is a certain way and nothing will ever change, all communication breaks down. Pretending there are only two sides to an issue and yours is the correct one is an insult to intelligent, freethinking, skeptical people everywhere. Only presenting data that supports the most extreme of your views is just going to make people question your research abilities. Deciding something is either completely bad or good and then setting out to convince everyone of this extremely narrow view has little to no impact. Yet so often do I see issues completely polarized, it’s no wonder people can’t agree on any of this shit.

So please, can we just stop treating issues like they are as easy to answer as the questions “do you want chocolate cake?” or “would you like a swift kick to the vagina?” If we could all just take a second and be honest with ourselves that the thing we are fighting about might be situation-dependent, might be a little more complicated than we’re making it out to be, and might lie somewhere in a damn GREY AREA, I think we’d all get along a lot better. Instead of latching on to a cookie-cutter “pro” or “anti” standpoint, why not try taking a minute (or even a few!) to do your own research, read actual scientific, philosophical, and ethical arguments and create your own opinion that reflects your individual judgments about the different components of a complex issue? Although this is not an obligation, I consider it mandatory to be part of a serious discussion and really to be opinionated on something at all. Although I can’t enforce this, just be aware that if you choose to remain mostly ignorant on a subject, refusing to consider alternate viewpoints while screaming from your spot in the black or white camp, I will judge you, I will not take you seriously, and I will kill you—oh whoops, went a little Liam Neeson there for a minute. I meant to say write you off. I will totally write you off.

Categories: Philosophy, Thoughts | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On Not Being a Dick

A post with this title could easily be one sentence or an entire book to rival the page count of Atlas Shrugged.

The fact that there’s so much debate surrounding how not to be a dick is pretty amazing, considering most people are pretty apt at discerning who is a dick in a crowded bar.

I’d like to believe most people strive not to be dicks, so with that in mind lets take a look at some simple ways to avoid it.

Personally, I believe not being a dick can be broken down into a handful of categories:

1. Don’t be a dick to other people.

The golden rule, right? This one is pretty straightforward yet people mess it up all the time. I’m not going to go very far into this here but how about if something you do physically or emotionally hurts someone else, try your hardest no to do that thing because it’s dickish, ok? Ok.

2. Don’t be a dick to other beings.

I think we’re far past the point in history where we think animals don’t feel pain, suffering, fear, etc. I’m aware of the circle of life and that some animals eat other animals or use them for beneficial purposes that may not be so beneficial to the later animal. But how about we just try to minimize the degree to which we make other beings suffer? Perhaps by not cramming them in cages roughly the size of their bodies for their entire lives or chaining them to a tree in our backyard and never feeding them. Just a thought.

3. Don’t be a dick to the environment.

I honestly kind of hate the phrase “the environment” because it gives the impression it is something existing outside the context of human civilization. I use it however because it’s easy, useful, and recognizable. “The environment” however would be better served if we all just admitted that the entire planet is “the environment” and it happens to be the only one we live on. It also so happens that the earth does not care whether we as a species live or die, so although I do love trees, birds, and other nice things like that I mostly care about our prolonged existence on this planet. I like this one and Mars looks kind of shitty to be honest.

4. Don’t be a dick to yourself.

This one can get dicey because when you start telling someone never to be hard on his or herself you start leading them to believe they shit gold. I think people need to judge their own actions and change where appropriate and no I do not believe everyone is a unique, beautiful, and special butterfly. I do however believe that judging yourself based on the ridiculous standards society outlines and generally hating yourself can lead to unhappiness not just for you but for those around you. So stop being unnecessarily dickish to yourself.

I tend to stick to these principles when I’m trying to decide what to do with my obnoxiously self-aware being and also when people ask me why I do something the way I do.

For example,

“why are you mostly vegetarian?”

“Well inquisitive someone, I’m fairly certain eating conventionally-produced meat is being a pretty big dick to both the environment and sentient beings!”

Nifty, right?

Categories: Humanity, Philosophy, Thoughts | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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