Trying to Be Masculine

Currently, our society does not help raise men, it raises boys and lets the rest happen to chance.

This is because, I think, as old paradigms of masculinity were taken apart to make room for female empowerment, nothing was put back together to take their place.  Essentially, a vacuum of masculinity was left.  Yet, there has not been nearly as much effort put into filling that gap in society as has been simply letting boys remain boys.  There was no level of expectation to meet anymore and we, as a society, need to bring that back for males.

One way to do that, which appeals to me, is to bring back the concept of honor.  What if we could actually be ashamed of ourselves for our actions instead of simply being able to brush it off as “natural” or “I couldn’t control myself”? How would that change things if one could be shamed for failing at getting to a certain level of character?

“Стыд и позор” was a phrase used by my Russian teacher at times if we did poorly in class (not in making mistakes but in not trying to be better); it means “shame and disgrace.” At the time, honestly, those words meant nothing to me.  Not because they were in Russian but, because I never had learned what pride and grace were.  It meant that I could not understand the opposites of shame and disgrace either.

Why in the world would we want to bring something so archaic like honor back though?  Well, for one, rebuilding a masculine ideal to be achieved would greatly help self-esteem of boys and men; having an ideal which can be aimed at, some sort of goal, especially an ideal which knows how/when to ask for help.  Think of how many male suicides that may help to prevent.

Next, having a sense of honor for males that requires proper participation in society, has high expectations for how to act and has certain expectations that are beneficial to society (performing acts of service, for example) could potentially help to improve our community life.

Finally, one of the most interesting things that I have noticed is that some of the most empowered and strong women I have met find some of the most traditional male traits attractive: assertiveness being the one I note mostly (due to my lack thereof).  But also, a certain level of fitness, confidence, goal orientation etc.  They do not seem to find any problem with having their own goals and having a slightly more typical “masculine” partner, why do we not try to raise men of that sort?  Those that also support equality but also can be confident in themselves too?




Positive/Negative Rights

Currently we are at a crossroads in the U.S. over negative or positive rights, I think.

Negative vs. Positive rights are not necessarily ideas debated about in our politics so, we can start at what is meant by negative and positive rights:

Negative rights are those rights such as “freedom of speech,” “freedom of religion,” etc. they are those rights which prevent government/society from making rules or decisions in.  They are the “live and let live” style of rights.

Then there are positive rights.  These rights are those which require society/government to step in and DO something to promote/protect those rights.  These are the ones that tend to cause a bit more debate as to whether they “are” rights or not such as the right to clean water that is debated.  But, I will stick with it due to ease. This “right” would, if read in a positive sense, require that society step in to try to make sure “clean” water (however that is defined) is available to all individuals in that society.  One that may be of more interest to people is this un-written yet, seemingly assumed, “right to social security benefits.”

Most of the time in our politics, these differences get mixed together or confused in such a way as to obfuscate the different types of rights and goals of programs trying to work with those rights.  Most importantly, since this difference is not discussed generally, it means that our debate/separation between parties does not find common ground and ends up putting emphasis on different types of rights for different groups without ever recognizing that those different goals exist.

This muddling is what I think is helping to contribute to the rift between parties and the feeling of separation that some people feel in a general sense.  Arguably, there is a group of people who tend to think more in terms of “negative” when it comes to rights, they focus on those sorts of rights and tend to picture rights and think that programs that support that style of right should be promoted.  At least, for certain aspects.  What is really interesting is people across the political spectrum want both positive and negative rights, just in different ways (usually to suit themselves only).

Take that “right to clean water” I mentioned earlier.  Some people think that is definitely a positive right meaning policies/practices need to be put in place to make sure every individual in a society can get drink-able water for a reasonable price or free.  Definitely something someone in say, Flint, Michigan, can look forward to and consider to be important.  Or, in a larger sense, farmers in dry regions in the United States and those sorts of “water rights.”  Notice how someone in Flint wanting free water is asking for a hand-out or entitlement program but, a farmer wanting access to water in land basically unfit to farm on, is asking for a right to work on that land.  Also notice how both want a positive right in their favor and not necessarily towards the other side due to not considering negative/positive rights. Or, say  in the EPA debate, the EPA enacts rules/regulations to try to make sure waterways stay clean enough to drink out of, a very positive action towards a right to clean water but many want to push against the EPA and would rather have a “negative” right to clean water in that, there simply is nothing preventing them from water access. How about that, just sliced one thing into three separate ones all of which have potential to be at odds with each other.  What would happen if we, as a society, began to actually have a discussion which explored this slicing?

How about something more interesting: the right to healthcare.  A relatively…..fresh topic on the minds of citizens in the U.S.  Take a look at the difference in view of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and the American Health Care Act.  Basically, one could say/assume that the ACA was a step towards a “right to health” in a more positive sense as in, entitlement program.  Whereas, probably, an American Health Care Act will be a push back against such a strong positive right and more of a negative right in that, barriers to getting healthcare/insurance will be broken down.

Essentially, who’s responsibility is it for rights: the individual’s or society’s?  That is the question that ends up happening in some of our current debates I think and no one is asking it openly so we cannot begin to actually make headway in sorting out what is the best option.  In reference to healthcare, is it the individual’s responsibility to save/invest/whatever to have insurance to pay for healthcare or is it society’s responsibility to set up some way for healthcare to be accessed for every individual?  So far, since that debate has not happened it seems that we have a bit of both and neither side works particularly well then.

I do not intend to come down on a side on this debate yet because I am currently on the fence but, an important question that could be asked is “who’s responsibility is this?” Next would be, “why them?” I think if we began to get those two questions answered clearly we might be able to start finding some solutions to many of our problems.

The Art In Craft

Craftspeople: those individuals in dialogue with the world around them.

I think art has to be re-humanized and honor brought back to skilled labor and crafts.  In short, we need to start recognizing the artwork that exists in a well built house, a well performed weld.

Have you ever stopped to watch something being built; all the separate individuals moving together towards one, single end goal and knowing their part and place in that whole.  There is a certain beauty to it which generally seems to go unrecognized because we are too busy looking at the environmental issues coming from industry.  I am not saying that the environmental side is not an issue but, what are all of those artisans going to do if those jobs are completely gotten rid of?  That is a question that does not seem to be asked often.  These people have spent years honing their skills to be able to perform their tasks efficiently; something that only writers and musicians seem to gain recognition for.

Why is this important? Not just the political reasons of individuals’ livelihoods etc.

I have a friend who likes to point out that we are “human beings, not human doings.” Generally I think they are trying to point out how, in a corporate type organization humans are expected to constantly be productive and are judged on their “productivity.”  (If I am wrong in that understanding, I am sure they will be in contact with me and I will make the proper edits.)

Generally I agree to the issue they are trying to point out but, at the same time, we are human doings. What is existence besides doing something opposed to nothingness?  Anything that we acknowledge as existing seems to be fundamentally affecting the other stuff around it in some way, that affecting I am calling dialogue because, I think, usually that influence is multi-directional.  As in, the influencing thing is also influenced by the other things around it.  Humans grow in dialogue together, we tend to call it experience.  As someone gains experience they change their opinions, attitudes, habits etc. which then will influence other people they come into contact with. For a more scientific type of example , plants grow from the ground and influence the pH of the soil around it but also their growth is influenced by the pH of that exact same soil.  I call this sort of interaction dialogue.

That dialogue seems to be an important part of existence, of being, as in human being.  So, a human in dialogue with the world they inhabit.  Art is just a very specific sort of dialogue with the world just as, I think skilled craft and labor is too.  A skilled craftsperson/laborer is in dialogue with their medium be it, wood, metal, glass etc.  All of these individuals are learning how to open dialogue between themselves and the world around them using these different things and tools this is why skilled labor and crafts need to be re-honored and brought back to the fore and reconsidered as art also.  Those individuals doing that type of work are doing the fundamental human being thing of being in dialogue with our world.  Something a lot of our current service-oriented work does not do, which is why being “productive” becomes a problem.

First, a lot of current service industries, I do not think really engage in dialogue with the world.  An individual in those industries is not really influencing things around them and then being influenced by those same things, instead they are applying rules and policies because that is what they are supposed to do, without considering context.  That is not dialogue, that is doing things for the sake of doing them.

Whereas, service areas such as, teachers, have to take into affect context in order to more effectively engage in dialogue with students and help them learn.  But, the only way we have to test this “effectiveness” is through standardized tests which do not have context, they do not have a dialogue with that student, they are simply a policy.

This type of “productivity,” applying policies without dialogue I think is an issue we are starting to notice as a community and starting to try to find ways around.  I simply propose, that to continue this line, we begin to treat skilled laborers and crafts people as the artists they are and we all start trying to pick up a craft and re-open dialogue.


Smoking as Meditation

Everyone has heard about the dangers of smoking by now I am sure.  What about the benefits though?

To be clear, I’m not a smoker at all actually, but I have been around plenty and just have a wandering mind so I get ideas of this sort.

I think that smoking (cigarettes are the image I have in mind, but other drugs probably too) besides just getting the person high in some form or another can have positive benefits; not in the scientific, chemical way, I’m not worried about what causes cancer, what kills it, addictive substances and all of that.  I am interested in the way that people use smoking: as a form of meditation.  Meditation has its own set of benefits that one can look up although many have probably already heard of those benefits too.

Stop and think about it though for a minute, imagine you’re a smoker if you aren’t one already.  You are going to light up a cigarette.  You have to stop what you are doing probably or partially stop anyway, reach into your bag or pockets and get the cigarettes and lighter out, pull a single cigarette out of the carton and light it.

Getting this single cigarette lit in and of itself is a complicated process the person must know their environment in order to accomplish the task first of all, turning to avoid the wind, covering the lighter from rain, making sure nothing explosive is too close among other environmental aspects.  In meditation-speak this is called being present, or preparing to be present.  Aside from the environment you also have to stop and focus on getting that little bit of flame to it’s proper place inches in front of your face in order to get the cigarette lit and not burning yourself, tell me that isn’t a fairly complicated task.  Next, you have the lighter up to the cigarette and you have to take a nice big breathe in to get it properly lit-up and exhale…..feeling better already huh? Now repeat, deep breathe in…. and out….. and in…. out… do this for about five minutes and you will find that you are less stressed and “in the moment.” Don’t forget you’re smoking and to put the butt out before you get burned, that’s what you call a built-in timer.

That last part sounded like meditation for me, I don’t know about you.

Now that you’ve calmed down and gotten yourself more present let’s look at how society also seems to support this idea.  1).  The standard “cool-kid” idea has this meditation, being-present built into the image.  A cool kid is “cool” i.e. relaxed, seemingly happy and unperturbed. In a black jacket leaning against a wall, or at least that was roughly the image that I had when I was younger. 2). In movies what is a go-to line for needing to get out of a stressful situation or argument? “I need a cigarette” or something similar, maybe that is just the movies I watched that weren’t animated but still.  3). In these same movies, ever notice how in order to show extreme stress the person would go to try to light the cigarette and be so shaken they cannot find the lighter or something or their hands are so shaky they cannot hold the lighter up to their face or get it going or something along those lines? The last example gets us out of Hollywood.

4). Walk around a city that has smoking banned indoors and you will find the smokers out on the sidewalk standing around with a cigarette in hand.  Some just silently watching the world pass-by, some deep in thought, others talking to each other.  Notice how it is entirely okay for them to be on the sidewalk like that yet if you don’t have a cigarette in your hand there is a sense that the person is lazy, a loiterer, confused, lost or in some other way not supposed to be there or allowed to be standing on the side-walk for no reason.  Seriously, the only people on a side-walk who are allowed to not be on the way to some other point in North America are smokers, think about it.  There are other things that are beneficial in a way too with smoking. 1). These people smoking on the street start conversations with each other and 2). Its a way to get that idiot who won’t stop talking to shut-up! Not to mention smoking makes people take breaks which makes them more effective at work as studies have shown for breaks.

This first one is what I notice in university, students who are smoking and don’t know each other can start conversations with each other on neutral ground.  There is a sort of community that arises from being a member of the group called “smokers.” It’s built in networking! Built. In. Networking.  That golden rule of business and life.

Number two: when smoking it is also entirely okay for their to be a silence it seems.  Most of the time people are incredibly uncomfortable with silences in a conversation and start shifting around and looking for ways out or ways to get talking going again, yet you see people with cigarettes, it suddenly becomes entirely okay for them to be silent.  Breathe in.. breathe out… in silence, entirely acceptable in smoking circles.  This also means when you have that person who won’t ever stop talking, give them a cigarette, they have to stop talking for a few moments at least and you can avoid responding for a few more moments before they start rolling again.

Finally, this is the last one.  That addiction forces people to go take smoke-breaks.  Look up ways to be more productive in work and you know what the lists say? Take breaks, you know what you have to do when you have to get up, walk outside and smoke a cigarette? Take a break.  Not only is it a simple break, it is meditation as earlier mentioned.  Thus making you calmer and more productive.

I’ve almost convinced myself to pick-up the habit just for these benefits.  But I am aware of the risks associated with it and I do like my lungs, so instead of puffing them up full of smoke all of the time, maybe we should begin to allow everyone to have some alone time, a break or two and a touch of meditation.  Who knows, this may even help people quit smoking too.

Alright smokers, go ahead and light up now, I won’t prevent you any longer.

A Thought On Hope

Have you, as a human being, ever wondered how to destroy a person?  Not just killing them, but have you ever wondered how to destroy the person in the human?  Has the realization ever hit you that it is amazing how much slavery and destruction happens between human beings?  Just some thoughts.  But, these questions were brought up in a documentary I watched not too long ago.  This documentary not only answered the questions, it also told me how to prevent this from happening, how to save a person in such a situation.  Destroying a person is amazingly simple and saving someone is even simpler.

To destroy a person you only have to do these things, not in any particular order:

  1. Get rid of their name.
  2. Get rid of the sacredness/privacy of their own body, make them feel like they have no control over themselves.
  3. Rip them away from their family and their entire community.
  4. Make them feel insecure at all times.
  5. Prevent them from using their own language.
  6. Make their body or part thereof an embarrassment and source of shame.
  7. Prevent the construction of a new community.
  8. Don’t let them imagine, keep their heads out of the clouds.
  9. Crush all hope through constant vigilance and seeming impossibility of escape.
  10. In short, make them forget their identity and that they are also human.

To save a person though requires much less than that, so much less luckily.  In order to try to save a person from finally succumbing to the power that has put them in the above situation all you have to do is give them hope.  It doesn’t matter how much, just the smallest twinkle of hope can keep a person alive all the way until the simple physical limitations of their bodies take affect, but at that point they still will not have lost their identity or their hope and you can consider it a successful saving of an individual.

Hope is the fountain which gives individuals all of their power and can keep anyone going further than they ever imagined.

Life as Denial, Life as Affirmation

In order to live an honest life one must learn to deny.  Denial is the only way in which one can affirm anything in life.

One must deny everything, existence itself even in order to possibly affirm anything and start affirming their own lives.  This is an idea that Heidegger is known for focusing on and that he got right: affirming anything is denying everything else.

In order to really live though one has to learn how to reach deep down into the chasm of Nothing and Everything and drag that which they affirm out of the depths.

The great souls are those who know how to deny everything in the world in order to affirm only that which they truly want.  The great souls of history are simultaneously the great Deniers and Affirmers of life.

To even begin on the way towards truly living for oneself and creating their life as a work of art.  One has to deny everything the have ever been taught or known.  Social norms, common knowledge, uncommon knowledge they all must be denied.  Fully denied.  Only then can you reach into the swirl of Nothing and Everything and affirm that which you want in order to create and affirm your own life.

You have to even deny your senses so that you learn how to perceive only that which you care to perceive.  The life of the Ascetic is half-way performing this very denial.  They deny all of that which they feel or perceive to pull themselves away from the world, they forget an important step in this denial though: affirmation.

This is the important part of any denial, the corresponding affirmation.  In order to fully deny anything you have to affirm something else.  Deny the existences of yourself, your identity and your individuality and you are affirming the existence of the group and community. Deny the existence of others and affirm your very own life.  Deny the existence of universal truth and you affirm the existences of your very own truth.  Everyone does this affirmation and denials to some extent every day, just not to the extent needed.

Artists and scientists both partake in this affirmation and denial process.  Artists are sadly the last place where this affirmation and denial has a chance to become a true skill and that is likely to be lost soon enough.

The scientist causes more problems than they are worth though: the scientist attempts to affirm everything and deny nothing.  They try to affirm the entire world so that they can learn how it “works.”

The artists on the other hand are still able to deny everything they deem unworthy for their art, or “ugly” and affirm all of that which they deem worthy and beautiful for their art.

The artist is the one who can create anew and the artist is in everyone to the extent which they allow.  The internal artists forces itself out as much as possible in every individual, normally through their own tastes and interests, there aren’t many who don’t have some sort of preference musically or artistically or some sort of hobby.  These tastes are minor denial-affirmations, they deny other forms which are distasteful and affirm those which flow well with the individual.  This is the artist and this is a true life.

Affirm and deny, be the artist of your life.