Everything works… to a point

It works everytimeI spend my days and nights trying to make sense of things, things that don’t make a lot of sense, things that just seem plain wrong. What I’ve learned isn’t much but I know that just because something seems wrong, doesn’t make it wrong. Just because something seems right, doesn’t make it right. It might make it right for me, but I’m not the only person on this planet. Trying to understand the world through the lens of “what is right?” and “what is wrong?” has not been very helpful, at least not for me. I find more understanding by looking at what works and what doesn’t work. It’s a more scientific approach. Right and wrong are hard enough to define, let alone identify. That’s why we turn to our feelings or to religion or to the law to determine these things. That’s why people who can’t feel these kinds of emotions, sometimes called psychopaths, have a hard time distinguishing right from wrong. Of course not all psychopaths grow up to be serial killers, some grow up to be priests, politicians and corporate CEO’s.

Not being able to feel is not my problem. Sometimes I wish it was. Sometimes I feel way too much. Sometimes my emotions get in the way of me doing what I really want to do. At the same time, I realize that it is only because of my emotions that I am capable of doing any of the things I do. I am an emotionally driven person. This is how I work… and it works… to a point.

This is also how I view the world. As senseless as things seem sometimes I recognize that things are the way that they are because it works. Let’s face it, if it didn’t work, things would be different. The problem is that none of us are on this planet alone. What works for one person may not work for everyone. I realize that I may be oversimplifying things but at the core, this is the problem with everything. The solution is to stop doing things that don’t work for us. We can’t expect the people for whom things are working to change.

This all makes me think about my marriage which ended nine years ago. For six years it worked… well it worked well enough. There did come a point where it stopped working and even though I worked at it with all I had I still could not make it work. Once I stopped doing what I was doing the marriage disappeared and I was a much happier person. Unfortunately the divorce wasn’t quite that simple. The marriage didn’t just disappear; it was destroyed violently just not by me. I took the passive approach and went to work trying to devise the least destructive way to dissolve our marriage. I suppose my mistake was not communicating what I was doing. Perhaps if I had we could have worked together and had a more peaceful dissolution. Perhaps not. In any case it worked.

There is one more thing that I need to include in this post because I missed it in a previous post and I’ve been regretting it ever since. In writing about why we do what we do I completely missed that fact we have a conscience and a belief system. Much of what we do, we do because we believe it to be the right thing to do. Beliefs can be a powerful force. Beliefs can make things work that simply would not work without a shared belief structure. Belief can make things appear to work that really aren’t working at all. As a human, I’m a big fan of belief and consider our complex systems of beliefs to be the primary thing which separates us from the rest of the life forms on this planet. Still, beliefs can be problematic. Our beliefs are not always terribly scientific. Sometimes our beliefs are just plain wrong.

The good news is that beliefs are malleable. Beliefs can be changed. To be honest, I’m pretty stubborn about my beliefs but it’s not a very long list. It includes love, acceptance, forgiveness and honesty which are generally considered to be pretty good things. For the most part, my believes have served me well. They work… to a point. There is bound to be some friction when dealing with people that don’t share my beliefs. At this point I can do one of two things if I want things to work: I can change what I do or I can change what I believe because I don’t believe that I have the right to change another person. Actually, I just don’t believe that works.

Why do we have laws?

When I ask people this question I usually get a response along the lines of ,” Without laws we would have anarchy” to which I have to wonder if that would be so bad. It’s not like this highly regulated litigious world in which we live is paradise. Laws have not eradicated all of the problems associated with people living together. Also, law has not been a constant in human history but an invention which probably only dates back five thousand years and has changed dramatically over the course of history. There is no evidence or reason to suspect that the early, mostly egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies had a system of laws and some of these societies have still managed to survived until this day. Granted, they don’t have planes, trains or automobiles but they also don’t have war or crime.

Anyway, I’m not here to argue in favor of anarchy. I think that if we simply turned off the legal system one day that the results would be disastrous.  Laws may not be necessary but they certainly seem necessary in modern societies. I want to ask the question of why laws have become necessary, what that says about modern society and what are the benefits and consequences of having a law based culture.  Certainly this could constitute a person’s life work but it’s not my life work. I just have a few ideas that I want to get off my chest.

The first thing that comes to mind is that we have laws because, as a species, we kind of suck. We say that laws are the foundation of our civilization but the very fact that we need laws just tells me that we are not very civilized. If we accept that we need laws then we also need to swallow the bitter pill of reality and accept that we are not evolved enough to live without them. The fact is that human society has evolved far faster than human biology.

Certainly societal, as well as technological advancements, have been aided by the invention of laws but what if laws have also had the unintended consequence of hindering biological evolution. My limited understanding of evolutionary biology and natural selection tells me that over time desirable traits in a species will get replicated while undesirable traits will become muted. Is it possible that laws have allowed people to reproduce and pass along traites that if it weren’t for these laws would have been eradicated long ago? I know that is a dangerous idea and rings of Social Darwinism, but seriously, if murder was legal I’m pretty sure that the genetic trait causing someone to think killing a member of their own species is a good idea would quickly be removed from the gene pool.

Actually, that is a pretty sensitive subject for me. It’s not really something I can joke about so I will leave that to Louis C. K.

I don’t even think I could write a song about it but thankfully Soul Asylum has done that for me.

I certainly don’t need a law to tell me that murder is wrong. I have evolved past that kind of thinking as I think most people have. These laws really only apply to that class of people who are not as evolved as us. These are the people we call criminals. We need laws so that we can identify who the criminals are. That’s why I don’t understand the gun rights advocates who claim, “If we outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.” That seems like a brilliant idea! We could eliminate crime by just rounding up all the gun owners and removing them from society. Problem solved. Of course I don’t believe that criminals are a class of human singled out and removed. Besides, we already have drug laws to do that.

And then there are the laws that have nothing to do with morality, identifying right from wrong and conveying it to the masses too unevolved to figure it out on their own. There are plenty of laws which serve the whole of society and allow us to function in this modern world. Traffic laws, food safety laws, building codes and environmental protections attempt to serve the common good by creating uniformity, predictability and by reducing the potential for harm. Still, in a more perfect world we could probably handle this through education with standards, guidelines and traditions.

The real reason why we need laws is because they are essential to enforce a hierarchical system. In order for the powerful to retain power they need to the rule of law. Historically laws have been written by the rulers to benefit the rulers. Even in our modern liberal democracy laws are written by the powerful and primarily serve to preserve the hierarchy while giving the illusion of equality.

This is not to say that human and equal rights protection laws are a bad thing. I’m just saying that they are only necessary in a hierarchical society. I’m a big fan of the First Amendment, obviously, but you only need to grant freedom of speech to people who are not free.

Ahhh… there is so much more that could be said about all this and I’m sure that I will in the future. For now I am hoping you will help me out by posting your thoughts in the comment section.

Why do people work?

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As I am awake as six o’clock in the morning preparing to drive pedicab for the Saint Paul, St. Patrick’s Day Parade this question is on my mind. I’ve received Social Security for my multiple disabilities for fifteen years now. There is no expectation that I have a job and for the first six years of being sick there was no way that I could work. My job was figuring out how to live but as soon as I could do anything I started working. One benefit to this is that I qualify for a Medicaid program in Minnesota designed for employed people with disabilities. Having medical coverage is essential to me and Medicare doesn’t really cover it but that’s another story.

Obviously the need for money is why many people work. It’s the driving assumption behind efforts to raise the minimum wage. People with a job should be able to survive in this modern world. For most people their job is their primary source of income but it’s hardly the only way to get money and perhaps not even the most efficient. You certainly can make more money panhandling than you can working at McDonald’s. The idea that if you work hard you will be financially rewarded for your efforts is a myth. In this modern age, for most people, working hard is essential for survival but it is no guarantee of great wealth.

Since money is essential for survival, if money is the only reason people work then the modern job is only one step removed from slavery. If money alone will get someone to do something that they wouldn’t do for any other reason, I don’t see how that is any different than bribery. That’s how I felt the other night when I had four stippers climb into the back of my cab all waving twenty dollar bills in my face. Believe me, I really wanted to help but as I explained to them, the law only permits me to transport three adults and even more important to me than the law was that I could lose my job. They were very disappointed that no amount of money could get me to give all four of them a ride. They also didn’t want to wait for another cab to arrive. They wanted what they wanted when they wanted it and thought that money was all they needed.

It is my belief that meaningful work, far more than money, is essential for human happiness. The work we do helps us form connections with other people and gives us an opportunity to make a difference in the world. Work is what gives us purpose.  Most of the work I do I don’t get paid for at all. Writing this blog is work for which I don’t get paid. Being a parent is work for which I don’t get paid. Being a friend is work for which I don’t get paid. I get paid for performing music but not any more than it costs me to be a working musician. Driving pedicab is the only work I do which makes money but if money was my only motivation, I wouldn’t do it.

So what do you think? Would you do the work you do if you didn’t get paid? If you didn’t need the money?

Dirty dishes

I fancy myself to be an artist and a philosopher. I don’t have a degree in either art or philosophy. I’ve never made any money to speak of for my art or my philosophical thoughts but for some reason that doesn’t seem to bother me. I keep doing it because it is what I do. I guess that’s really all the justification I need. It would be nice to be taken seriously and perhaps even financially rewarded for my efforts but I find that when I place external validation as my goal, the creativity suffers. Still, I find it hard to believe that I would put myself through such hell if I wasn’t receiving some sort of validation. I pride myself on being a lazy person who only does what is absolutely necessary for survival yet I find myself doing all sorts of thing that are really very difficult for me. I must be getting something out of it.

Validation is one of the things that I get out of what I do but I’m starting to question if my motivation is actually external validation. I’m starting to think that it really comes from within me and I project it onto the world around me so as to feel less selfish.

So let me tell you a story…

I was at my friends house the other day. She informed me that she had some things to do and left me alone in her house. I have a key so there was not problem with locking up after she left. I didn’t have anywhere else to be so I looked around for something to do. My friend had recently had a party so the dishes had kind of piled up. I figured I could at least do some dishes while I was there. I like doing dishes. It’s an easy way to help and pretty hard to fuck up.

As I was washing the dishes I found myself thinking about how much I would be appreciated for doing this. I thought, what a pleasant surprise in would be for my friend to come home to find a nice clean kitchen. Certainly there would be some future reward in it for me providing such a valuable service.

Then I realized how ridiculous I was sounding. All I did was a few dishes. Even if it made things better for one day it would be completely forgotten by the next when a new pile of dirty dishes arrived. But it didn’t matter. In that moment I felt good. I didn’t even care if there was any acknowledgement of my actions. I had already given myself more validation than I probably deserved. I didn’t even do all of the dishes after all.

When my friends returned home she was pleased although by this time I had completely forgotten what I had done. When she sent me a text message which stated, “You little fairy” I thought she was referring to my sexuality. I still found it endearing but when I realized what she was really referring to I got to feel that sense of pride all over again.

And I’m pretty sure it was pride that I was feeling. I even took a pictures of my accomplishment.

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I could show you a picture of what it looked like before but I didn’t take a one of that nor would I post it because I wouldn’t want to embarrass my friend but I will show you a picture of my dirty dishes. 

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I like a clean kitchen but not enough to actually clean it. I clean when I have to. I clean when I run out of dishes or counter space. I cleaned my living room yesterday because a friend was coming over to give me a massage. There was no way she would have had room to work if I didn’t do some cleaning. My motivations are very practical; they are utilitarian. I’m sure that gives comfort to those who see me as a selfish prick and not the struggling soul on a path of enlightenment which is how I see myself.

I have no conflict with people who see me as a selfish prick. I also don’t consider enlightenment to be a higher form of being. I still think that we are all equal and we all kind of suck. The only thing that I think enlightenment offers is the understanding of how shitty we are and hopefully the insight to do better. But what do I know? I’m not there yet. 

Don’t panic

Last week in therapy I provided a response that I found rather interesting. When asked what was on my mind I responded that I’ve been focusing on the medium picture; not the big picture, not the little picture, just the medium picture. When asked to elaborate I explained that I had been busy trying to solve all the world’s problems.

“That sounds pretty big to me.” replied my therapist.

“Not when compared to the entire universe. When you do that, the world seems really, really small. It’s important to keep things in perspective.” I explained.

Of course from the perspective of the individual the world seems really, really big. The problems we are facing are gigantic and they are global. From all the research that I’ve been doing I’ve come the the conclusion that we are basically doing everything wrong and that the human race is on a headlong course for destruction.

I really do think that our entire economic system is on the verge of collapse. We really are running out of oil. We really are destroying the environment and the natural resources of the only planet we have. So many of our resources as well as our efforts are simply being wasted. The climate really is changing for the worse and it is our fault. All of our governmental systems are corrupted and broken. We are all addicted to something whether it be drugs, sex, money, power, possessions, fake food, work or even particular emotional states. It seems like all we do is point fingers and blame each other rather than look at ourselves. Everyone is spying on everyone else. We spend all this time and energy focusing on the symptoms rather than addressing the root cause. In the process we are still fighting wars and killing each other. How stupid is that?

It really is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

So why not panic?!? Isn’t it time to totally freak out?!?

I guess the best answer I have is because it doesn’t work. People are going to freak out if they are going to freak out and there is plenty of reason to do so. I’m pretty prone to freaking out myself. It just doesn’t help; at least not in the long run. The other reason is that even as bad things are, they could be worse. Even though I believe that we are doing everything wrong, it is also true that we are doing a lot of things right. Furthermore, some of the things we do wrong turn out good and some of the things we do right turn out bad. The fact is that most of us are surviving and our population is actually growing.

Some point to population growth as being the root of all our problems. That may be true but it is also proof of all our solutions. Even if you believe that overpopulation is what will inevitably do us all in, I’ve got some good new for you there too. Population growth among the countries that are causing most of the problems is actually decreasing. The sad news is that greatest population expansion is among the countries that are doing most of the suffering.

I’ve been delving into some other number as well and what I have found is that things are not quite as bad as the doomsday scenario I painted earlier. I found this empirical data mildly comforting. As a result, I’m pretty sure that the world won’t end tomorrow. We still have a chance to survive this but we need to wake up and take responsibility. If we keep on down the road that we are going, we are doomed. That is undeniable. What is also undeniable is that some things are changing for the better. It’s just very complicated and there are a lot of moving parts. I feel like we are in a situation of taking one hundred steps forward and ninety-nine steps back; but that may just be the optimist in me.

What really concerns me is that it seems like institutions, ideology, technology, philosophy, medicine, psychology and science have all evolved faster than our humanity. In essence we have abandoned our biology to built a society devoid of what makes us human. It does not serve our primitive needs but rather uses us to perpetuate itself. We now find ourselves in a society that requires us to act in inhuman ways for the sake of society.

I want to leave you with this meme that I saw the other day. It has been floating around the internet for about a year but I’m kind of slow when it comes to those kind of things.

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As with most memes our tendency is to see this and chuckle, “yup, that’s about right” and move on. That’s my typical response but this one got me thinking. It’s easy to think that nothing we do is right. It’s easy to find fault in whatever someone else does. It’s easy to say that anyone who sits around making memes clearly has too much time on their hands.

But I wanted to dig deeper, to think outside the box. I wanted to find the best solution. With a guiding principle of love and kindness I easily concluded that judging others was not the answer. but how about for the couple trying to get where they are going? I guess the real question is, “Where are we going… and why?” Society can’t tell us that. We have to figure it out on our own.

Are ideas really dangerous?

In a post I made last week I stated that “ideas are dangerous”. Even as I wrote it I had doubts about whether I actually believed it. It has been the number one question on my mind for the past week as I have been spending a lot of time reading, watching and listening to other people’s ideas. I love learning what other people think. I’m a huge fan of the Aspen Ideas Festival and TED Talks – Ideas worth spreading. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend checking them out.

What I have learned is that not all ideas are equal. Some are really good; some not so much. Some ideas are just downright stupid. Still, are any of them dangerous unto themselves? Robbing a bank is dangerous but so is shooting a manned rocket into space. Both of these dangerous acts began with an idea so perhaps it is fair to say that ideas are dangerous.  However, when I made that statement these were not the examples I was thinking about.

I wasn’t thinking about how an idea can lead to an action that is dangerous. I was actually thinking about how thinking can cause harm. I was thinking about how my ideas may conflict with other peoples ideas, or even my own ideas, and cause discomfort. Well, as unpleasant as discomfort may feel, it is not dangerous.  Experiencing discomfort can actually be very enlightening. In fact I’m hard pressed to find an example of how one can find enlightenment without discomfort or the more often used term; suffering.

Still, I did not start this blog to cause suffering, nor did I start it to find enlightenment. These are merely byproducts of documenting my journey.  As for enlightenment, while I have certainly found it, I see no evidence that it is a final destination. It is but merely a flower upon an endless path. The upside is that suffering is but a stone upon that path. Perhaps it’s the stone that you tripped on that caused you to notice the flower.

As for danger, all I can say is that life is dangerous. It’s probably a good idea to wear a helmet.

Why ask why?

I’ve been writing this blog for nearly a year. It was born out of a dream, a vision, a plan but in truth I had no idea what it would become. I just knew that there was only one way to find out. It has carried me through many changes, many ups and downs, many successes and failures to land me at a place of contentment. That was not my dream or my vision but to be honest, I never really followed my plan. The truth is I’m much better at making plans than following through on them. Still, not a bad place to wind up. Being content is not the worst thing in the world. If you are looking for a road map to contentment, then feel free to follow my example. It works.

When I chose the name for this blog I really didn’t know what it meant. I just liked the way it sounded and felt like it captured my state of mind and outlook on the world. Now, after treating it like a daily affirmation, it has taken on a more specific meaning for me. It is a call for awareness and acceptance. These are the core principles of my philosophy. They are rooted in embracing the present moment and letting go of suffering.  They allow me to see the world as it is without judgement or expectation. They have lead me to hold beliefs like, “in life all things have purpose” and “love is all you need”. They allow me to treat every experience as a gift and to benefit from the lessons they teach. They allow me to roll with the punches, to forgive and find peace.

All of these things are fine and I am grateful to have found myself in this land of tranquility. It’s pretty easy for me to look at my life today and see how much better it is than a year ago. I am finally at peace…

… but I’m not at the end so clearly there is something more.

I’ve gotten to a place where everything is okay. I’ve found balance. I am surviving. I have enough and life is good. So what am I missing?

Mutherfucker! That’s exactly how it happens. I get to the point where I have everything I need, I’m safe and comfortable yet I’m still seeking something more. That’s when the questions start.

Awareness is clearly a good thing and acceptance is without a doubt the path to contentment. The problem is that some things aren’t acceptable. Awareness without acceptance will lead to discontent. Acceptance is merely the ability to not ask why.

I’m not sure I have that ability. I’m not sure I want that ability. Our ability to ask “why” is behind every scientific discovery we have ever made. It is the driving force behind every religion. It is probably our greatest evolutionary trait and the cause of our unprecedented progress.

It is also the primary cause of our discontent.

So why as why?

Because I am aware? Because it is in my nature? Because I am not content? Because I know that there is more? Because somethings don’t make sense? Because intuition is not enough? Because the rules don’t work?

Actually the answers are infinite yet none may be satisfactory. That may be the only thing there is to accept.

Because I cannot accept injustice.

I cannot accept poverty.

I cannot accept destruction of the environment.

I cannot accept war.

I cannot accept feeling alone.

I cannot accept feeling like I have nothing to give.

I cannot accept wanting to die or my friends wanting to die.

I cannot accept denial.

I cannot accept deceit.

I cannot accept lying.

I cannot accept contentment when I am aware that life still sucks.

So… what does that mean? Only tomorrow knows.

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