Don't Mistake Theater for Your Reality

I, too, have been called names. I have found myself sharing the living and thinking space of people with Cluster B personality disorders. I have seen them conjure worlds, hammer manacles, and frame possible views with their words and beliefs. And while their tutelage was hard, I learned a great lesson, which I will share: Don’t mistake theater for your reality. The actors are playing a part, the play is an entertainment, of sorts, and you get to decide when and how far to suspend your disbelief. We, the audience and the actors, are the magicians. We make the rain, the good weather, and the fruit, and we are free to poison them in the interest of a better story.

I will cast my spells, act the role I have chosen, and say my lines. In the end, when the play is over, my only sincere wish is that it has all, at least, been entertaining. If they call me the fool, the villain, or even the hero during the play, have I not succeeded? People don’t want truth. They want to care about something. In a world where meaning is hard to find, we all most want, more than anything, to matter. The Matrix is both metaphor and the unvarnished truth of our times.

Don't Mistake Theater for Your Reality

I, too, have been called names. I have found myself sharing the living and thinking space of people with Cluster B personality disorders. I have seen them conjure worlds, hammer manacles, and shape the world with their words and beliefs. And while their tutelage was hard, I learned a great lesson, which I will share: Don’t mistake theater for your reality. The actors are playing a part, the play is an entertainment, of sorts, and you get to decide when and how far to suspend your disbelief. We, the audience and the actors, are the magicians. We make the rain, the good weather, and the fruit, and we are free to poison them in the interest of a better story.

I will cast my spells, act the role I have chosen, and say my lines. In the end, when the play is over, my only sincere wish is that it has all, at least, been entertaining. If they call me the fool, the villain, or even the hero during the play, have I not succeeded? People don’t want truth. They want to care about something. In a world where meaning is hard to find, we all most want, more than anything, to matter. The Matrix is both metaphor and the unvarnished truth of our times.

Book Review: A Pillow Book by Suzanne Buffam

A book of apercus, i.e., brief comments or references that makes an entertaining or illuminating point, framed around the Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, a book apparently famous for its lists. An illustrative example:

Disheartening

Honorable mention.

Spider veins.

Wet socks.

A half-hearted massage.

No coin for a fountain.

Fine dining at the mall.

Passport pictures.

Petting zoos.

A jukebox full of jazz.

Recommended.

Work != Self-Worth

“Writers, actors, musicians—everyone who’s rejected a lot—have got to learn, early on, to separate their work from their worth as a person…

…At the same time, it’s important to learn to take honest criticism or suggestions in good faith.”

—Ben Yagoda, “Separating your work from your worth: Three Questions with Ben Yagoda.” Chip on Your Shoulder. November 27, 2019.

People love to criticize. Some of them do it as habit, to make themselves feel superior, to manipulate others, and so forth. The honest part is criticism that is truly about the thing being criticized and not about the person offering or receiving the criticism.

But, even honest criticism can be wrong. In the end, it’s always your call.

True Diversity of Perspective Means Looking Left

In the United States, the political landscape ranges from moderate right to right wing. No one is talking about socialism, which is defined by state ownership of the means of production, even though we have many institutions that have characteristics of socialism, e.g., the U.S. military, police departments, utilities, etc. It’s rare to find any critique of capitalism in any kind of mainstream media. Marxist ideas, such as the theory of surplus value, are never discussed in an accessible format. Want to talk about anarchism? You’ll get laughed out of the room in almost every instance.

Yet, there is this narrative that the default position of the world is “left” that is maintained by U.S. conservatives, where “left” is defined by the Democratic Party, a party of moderate conservatives. Among Democrats, who talks about socialism, communism or socialism? Bernie Sanders is the resident token.

And, the argument goes, since so much of the world is “left,” you really should take a look at diverse points of view to have a broad-minded outlook. You really need to read more conservative points of view.

The goal is obvious. If you engage more with conservative ideas, you are more likely to adopt them. Further, the Internet is a propaganda tool par excellence and it will slowly surface the most extreme views since they are more likely to garner attention and commentary. So, as you engage, you are pulled slowly in the direction of the more radical conservative mental landscape.

Freedom of speech and a diversity of viewpoints are cover. Are these folks reading leftist thinkers such as David Harvey, James C. Scott, etc.? Do they have anything meaningful to say about Noam Chomsky? They don’t. It shows that diversity of viewpoint is neither a goal nor a value of these folks. Ideas that don’t fit on the continuum of Democrat/Republican continue to be “News From Neptune.”

And, the default is not “left” but “right”. In any public forum on the Internet, you’ll find legions of “conservatives” promulgating and proselytizing for conservative viewpoints while under the delusion that their ideas are an “alternative” that everyone desperately needs to hear.

Dude, and they are almost all dudes, there’s someone like you on every site on the Internet. I know your viewpoint. I’ve seen free market fundamentalism, and every variety of right-wing idea that is in common and uncommon currency. I know you’ve been baptized by conservative Jesus, but everyone doesn’t want to hear about it.

The simple fact is that there are some ideas that are simply stupid or hateful. I didn’t need to read “the other side” on issues like vaccinations, Flat earth, whether the Bible relates the true story of the creation of mankind, Aquatic Apes, and the whole host of other equally bad ideas. If you want to talk about Soros, you’re probably an anti-semite trying out arguments that are older than The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I don’t need to look at it. Have an Epstein theory? Great, keep it to yourself.

You could waste your whole life looking at these viewpoints. And, you’d be a lot dumber at the end of your effort.

Diversity of viewpoints is a great idea. You just need to look at the whole spectrum rather than pretend the Overton window is all there is and that the fringe right of allowable discourse – with its attendant racism, sexism, and other X-isms – is somehow under-represented or worth spending much time reading rationalizations in their favor. These are the default, gents, and diversity would be looking at viewpoints critiquing them, and those are found primarily by reading thinkers on the left.

Suggestions for Good Health

Blue Zones is a good place to start. However, if I were to give advice to my younger self, I’d focus on:

  • Sleep: Get a full night’s sleep and take a midday nap for a total of eight hours.
  • Food: Limit eating to four consecutive hours a day. Eat mostly plants. Drink powdered psyllium and water to stave off hunger feelings in the off hours.
  • Exercise: Walk/run for 16,000 steps a day or 8 miles, incorporating a full range of movement. Include some weight-bearing activity or physical training twice a week.
  • Social: Cultivate a social environment for flourishing among family, friends and your larger social circle. Be a positive, creative person and look for the same in others. Relentlessly prune relationships that are predominantly negative.
  • Being & Doing: Find something to do that leaves the world slightly better than you found it and promotes good sleeping, eating, exercise and social habits. The Buddhist idea of the Noble Eightfold Path is a useful model of how to be and what to do.

Theory of Obscurity – A Film About the Residents

“Through fly on the wall observations and candid interviews, this film tells the story of a group that has always played by its own set of rules. We traveled with The Residents around the US and Europe during their 40th anniversary tour as they staged their elaborate productions, shooting more than 20 performances and also capturing rare behind the scenes moments that show what it truly takes to put a dynamic show together on your own, and on a tight budget.”

Theory of Obscurity

I have previously mentioned The Residents Commercial Album on this blog.

What’s Wrong With Twitter: #TooFarLeft

“The hashtag ‘TooFarLeft’ trended on Twitter on Saturday morning, in part because of comments made Friday by former President Obama…Obama spoke at a fundraising meeting Friday evening and warned donors of the danger of the 2020 Democratic primary field moving too far to the left.”

-Marty Johnson, “‘Too Far Left’ hashtag trends on Twitter.” TheHill.com. November 16, 2019.

I don’t use Twitter. But, I read this piece and thought it might be a useful corrective. The Overton Window for political discourse in the United States runs from the moderate conservatism of your run-of-the-mill educated liberal elite to the extremist ideologies of the radical right. If this is your starting point, then it’s not terribly difficult to be “too far left” of the bounds of this framework.

But, scanning through the #toofarleft hashtag, I almost immediately had misgivings. We need to redefine the boundaries of our political conversation, if for no other reason to diversify the universe of views, foster creative solutions to problems and make the conversation more interesting. It is clear to me that this is not what is happening on Twitter.

We need more people speaking with perspectives from the Left because that is what is missing. But, identity isn’t a perspective. Identity informs a perspective.

We cannot share our lived experience. It is impossible to convey what it’s like to be a combat veteran, mother, addict or any of the other infinite aspects of our selves that inform our understanding of the world. Yet, the arguments frequently offered these days take the form of: “As an X…” You’ve immediately reduced your experience to that one thing and you’ve alienated your audience by referencing an experience they don’t share.

Or, if they do share it, chances are they already share your perspective. You’re preaching to the choir and alienated everyone else. And this is true everywhere. It doesn’t matter if you a devote Catholic against abortion talking about souls, a scientist advocating for artificial intelligence, or protesting in the Extinction Rebellion, you have to start not with yourself but with the perspective of The Other; we all do.

This is one of the central problems with social media. It erases the audience, or rather, you become your own audience, with the rest of the world listening in on your interior dialogue. Why would we want to do that to ourselves or to the world?