The Chaos of Serendipity

So, I was driving a few weeks ago I had a thought. Now this isn’t in and of itself a particularly notable or rare phenomenon, but hey we had to start somewhere alright? I was listening to a song I hadn’t heard in years and was recalled of how I had first become ‘introduced’ to the tune (for any wondering the song was ‘In the Sun by Joseph Arthur). I had first encountered the song through ‘Scrubs’. This in turn led me to think about how perfectly timed the entrance of that show had been into my life, specifically into my psychological development. It had been humour in a humourless place. An emotional guide on how to maintain a sense of the joy in life even at the heaviest moments we experience, which is a lesson I still find invaluable to this day.  Overall, I felt incredibly lucky to have been introduced to ‘Scrubs’ exactly at the moment in my life when I had been.  I’ve always been fascinated by the random chance that seems to govern our lives, so my thoughts drifted to the largest and most unlikely of happening in my life to date. How I met my partner.

That meeting was recounted in full right here in an earlier version of this blog, however after considering the relatability of the tale and the bulk it added, I was unhappily prevailed upon by kindness to my readership to cut it.  Suffice it to say the tale involves dramatic and unlikely hospital admissions, life and death struggles with weird medical conditions and 8 hour dates in art galleries, enthralling!

So, returning to the present train of thought. I found myself enamoured with this idea of serendipity and chance. Now whilst these words do have separate meanings; chance being a largely neutral term and serendipity having an air of romance suffused into it. They are largely used to describe the same phenomenon – the unlikely or uncontrolled sequence of events. Soon I realised that another word commonly associated with this is luck, both good and bad. As I continued I found I knew many, many words we use to describe this same phenomenon and the differing emotional inflections they each had. Serendipity for love, luck for financial gain, chaos for the truly bizarre, tragedy for the truly horrid. It was apparent to me that at the centre of it all was the absurd lack of predictability in life and the universe. Which of course excited my existential sensibilities to no end.

I have pondered this train of thought on and off for some weeks now and have come to regard these names as a kind of magic, or at least a modern attempt at magic. You may or may not be familiar with the school of the occult that deals specifically with ‘true naming’. Effectively, the idea suggests that each entity or thing in the universe has a secret ‘true’ name that will give it’s knower power over that entity or thing. Simple enough for me, it certainly has flavours of several strands of religious and mythological traditions baked into it. It seems to me that by attempting to brand the chaos and serendipity of the universe we are not just pigeon holing things for the sake of ease. We are attempting to control their outcomes, or at least their recollections and later influence over our lives. By branding what is effectively a pure manifestation of the chaos at the heart of the universe as serendipity we attempt to make it more palatable, more rosy, friendly and comfortable. We store it next to our happiest moments and derive comfort from it as the years roll past. This stands in direct opposition to a more honest reading of the events as mere dumb luck or improbable chance. Such a reading would serve to make one feel insignificant or powerless against the scale of all that had to occur for that one entirely improbable occurrence to eventuate just as it did.  By allowing ourselves this kind of ‘reverse control magic’ we shield ourselves from the harshest of reality and its unknowable nature and chaos by feigning control over it. It has been pointed out to me when giving this explanation to people that the secular version of this ‘magic’ is a legitimate technique used by people suffering from anxiety to move phenomena from an external to an internal locus of psychological control in order to rationalise our experiences.

Obviously, this sensation of chaos can also be combatted with faith ‘God moves in mysterious ways’ and such. Now I will not deny those who would use this explanation their comfort. Certainly, chalking the manifold nature of life’s Chaos up to a deity has its appeal. By giving every manifestation of that chaos, good or bad to one, or many deities, it removes the requirement for the human psyche to rationally explain those unexplainable patterns, correlations and chances that are required for a life to emerge just in the fashion that it does. The fact that through history we have seen a pendulum swing from polytheism to monotheism and back without ever losing the ‘mystery’ of deific control, to me is merely further evidence that it is this inability to comprehend the nature of the universal chaos that gives rise to religion.

At the end of it all though when I look beyond faith, beyond rational traditions of magic, everything gives way to the terrifying beauty and horrible majesty of the cosmos. Chaos, serendipity, luck, chance, tragedy all of it is unknown and unknowable and to attempt to put it all together is to be driven mad. To quote Lovecraft:

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

 

 

 

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The eye of Sisyphus

He walked from the car to the door of the gym; rummaging through his bag as he did so looking for the fob. His fingers found the rounded plastic edges of the fob and he withdrew it. He pressed it against the receiver, mounted at waist height on the door frame, and he waited for the familiar click to let him know the lock had disengaged. Sisyphus always felt a rush when he sensed that click, he waited until that exact second to pull the door open – he enjoyed the display of mastery in opening the door at the exact moment it unlocked, the exact, precise, minute execution. A moment sooner and the door would pull, uselessly, against the locking mechanism. A moment later and he would have wasted a single precious second of his morning.

He strode into the gym, this early in the morning it was all but deserted. Sisyphus enjoyed training at this absurd hour. He enjoyed the struggle in it, the battle to rouse himself from slumber and assert his will against the natural order of things in order to train. Of course, Sisyphus did not need to train. Thousands of years in Tartarus rolling his boulder up the hill had refined his already masculine physique into a positive masterpiece of strength and poise. He placed his bag on the ground and began his memorised morning ritual. First; he opened the bag and withdrew the water bottle. Next, he found the towel in its aerated side pocket and stuffed its corner into the waistband of his pants. Third he took the gloves from the main compartment of the bag and placed them under the crook of one elbow as he zipped the vessel closed. He rose, headed for the water fountain and began to fill his water bottle from the chilled fountain. As the water flowed, slowly, into the bottle, Sisyphus donned the gloves and began wrapping the tails of the gloves around and around his wrists for stabilisation. As he finished the second glove, the bottle was filled to capacity and he took the bottle into his hands and replaced the cap.

The final and most important part of Sisyphus’ ritual was next. The part he savoured most. He reached into his pocket and withdrew his phone. He opened his music application and the endless possibilities of the morning finally engulfed him. Of all the magic and majesty Sisyphus had found upon his release from Tartarus, modern music was certainly the greatest. In the untold years he had toiled underneath the earth, hopelessly happy, he had not thought to ever hear music again. Early on, sometime in the first millennia of his struggle, he had despaired when it dawned on him he would never hear the mournful tones of Calliope’s lyre again. He had realised what music was to him. Was to all men through him.  A source of transcendent joy. A way to momentarily transport oneself into the place of another, the place of a creator –  a muse for the mundane man. It was this realisation buried deep in Sisyphus’ consciousness that drew he so forcefully to the modern musical masters channelled through his phone.

Having found a track that suited his mood, Sisyphus reached up and placed his headphones over his ears and hit play.

Shuffle

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ccKV1X9uyP4 2:17

“Forgive me, I’m trying to find My calling, I’m calling at night I don’t mean to be a bother, But have you seen this girl?”

The words burst into his consciousness from the speakers. Manifestations of some pure universal magic, some truly wondrous shared unconsciousness. He hangs from the bar, his heart swells as the feelings surge, unbidden, to the forefront of his consciousness. Reah turns and leaves, her parting kiss haunts his lips. Her laughter echoes in his ears as she tells him she will return. He feels intoxicated, he wants to call out to her, but doesn’t. Fear, holding his tongue. The vision fades as he heaves himself aloft once more, feeling the sinew and muscle of his back contract as he rises Sisyphus smiles. Reah’s kiss fades form his lips as he crests the pull-up and the music swells again.

Shuffle

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUEL0FbnDRI 2:09

“And there before my eyes on the glossy paper, quiet whispers of something I had lost or put aside for the longest time. The hope that I might find some kind of peace”

 Sisyphus lowered himself on his raw knuckles, his chest brushing the spongy, rubberised floor. His breath beginning to feel heavy in his breast. The slow, sad sounds seeped softly into his ears as he raised and lowered himself once more. Esper stood, illumined against the fading light of the fiery orange sunset framed exquisitely by the pillars of his manor behind her. Her eyes, clear, deep and pristine in their beauty burned in their sockets as she smiled at him once more. Love, it beat strongly in him once again. He felt it, truly viscerally – as if he were there, at that moment once more.  As she began to turn, heading into the manor the vision wavered and Sisyphus was confronted once more with the chalky, flecked matting of the gym floor rising to meet him.

Shuffle

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GuX-F08fwI 2:25

“Please don’t walk away and please tell me you’ll stay”

As the guitars swelled in his ears Sisyphus saw her, Jezabelle, her pale skin reflecting the warm rays of the morning sun back at him. Her elusive topaz eyes faintly touched by the hint of her suggestive smile. Trapped in the midst of his movement he could only let the weight of his bar press down on his shoulders as he was enveloped by the memory. Jez, shifted as he moved around her to kiss her cheek softly and whisper into her ear. The weight moved up as Sisyphus pushed away the bar and the memory away.

For all the time he had spent toiling for his freedom, thirsting for the immortality he craved so – his ghosts had lost none of their potency.

Modern Myths

Over the last few years I have become increasingly interested in the modernisation of the classical myths. The largest single force driving this movement is obviously the enormous success currently being enjoyed by the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the crossover between that material and classical mythology. However, around the periphery of this there are a number of far more interesting ‘goings on’.  We are seeing a far more proliferated movement to recapture, retell and update the ancient myths to suit our modern needs and sensibilities. It is this phenomenon of updating these texts that interests me most – certainly from the perspective of myths as living stories that evolve with each retelling and further through the lens of Joseph Campbell’s work in the space between psychology and mythology.

The classical myths have always seemed to fascinate us. From almost endless republication in one compendium or another to the more modern ‘Hollywood reboot cycle’  popular culture has never seemed to lose touch with the Greek, Norse or Arthurian mythologies. It does seem however, that as time marches endlessly onwards that we grow more open as a society to slight alterations and changes to the classic works. The initial spate of mythological films in Hollywood was far more interested in straight adaptation and imitation, rather than interpretation of the source material. Think of things like the Biblical Classics or even Ben Hur, Cleopatra or Clash of the Titans. Now clearly these films were wildly successful at the time of their initial release and for a plethora of reasons are remembered as classic films. But we simply do not see these types of straight adaptations appear in our media anymore.  Instead of wishing solely to bring the old stories to life as they were written it seems we have begun to fully engage in the process by which these myths were created and add to and reinterpret them.

Myths have never been a single fixed quantity in the way we understand a movie or a novel to be. This is widely attributed to the majority of myths initially finding their ‘homes’ in the oral tradition, rather than being committed to the ages in the form of words. By the time the populace was advanced enough to bother writing down stories and myths there were already far too many variations of any one myth or character to claim any type of totality and completeness over one version.  Each individual author or collector of stories could choose which previous tales were cannon and which of the characters traits were going to be accentuated in their own version of the narrative and as such held a radical power to re-imagine each induvial player in mythology. This then created a feedback loop – informing future tellings of the story. It is this very same process that we find ourselves currently engaged in. The MCUs Thor is not somehow separated from the Thor of the Poetic or Prose Edda, but rather the exact same being as the ancient Thor. More disturbingly the Thor in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is the eventual fate of the Thor in his Norse Mythology compendium. The truly fascinating part of this phenomenon is the rate at which we can see iterations on our characters. When there is a major Hollywood instalment into the MCU multiple times a year, many featuring these mythological beings. We get to see many directors make changes to our public ‘cannon’ of these figures in real time over only a few short years, rather than the decades or centuries it took ancient storytellers to recast characters in their times.

Bearing all of this in mind I am drawn inexorably towards the works of Joseph Campbell – Both ‘The Hero of a Thousand Faces’ and ‘The Power of Myth’.

Campbell talks about the requirement for myths to supplement and support religion in order to stabilise the Psyche of the collective and individual consciousness. To replace lost understandings of rituals that the modern age has forgotten or left behind. Perhaps this resurgence of myths and myth telling after nearly 60 years is due to the increase in religious and philosophical turmoil. People retreating into fundamental needs for community, safety and love. Certainly, there is no small degree of appeal in this reading of the current political and cultural zeitgeist for me. To think that in a deep seated fashion our entire cultural machine ‘knows’ that we need this return to the origin of storytelling. It is the seemingly unconscious and disparate nature of this movement that lends this reading veracity in my mind. Over the last two decades independent authors and studios have seemingly without collusion or correspondence independently turned the cultural production engines to reworking, updating and reinvigorating the classic myths just as Campbell has argued was and is necessary.

In my last blog I talked extensively in terms of Apollonian and Dionysian models of masculinity these frames of reference themselves are drawn from a classicist reading of mythological personae. Initially outlined in the works of Nietzsche these archetypes have been used throughout modern philosophy as a short hand for entire swathes of human being and experience.  These terms have also been used in artistic analysis; and in that capacity they were almost completely divorced from their parent deities. However, the innate and irreducible nature of their mythological fathers abided deep within them and has now begun to seep out and assert itself once more. If there was ever an argument for the continued importance and relevance of mythology to our lives this certainly is it.

I continue to be fascinated by the realisation that we have never truly abandoned mythology – it has moved, shifted and grown with us as a species being reimagined and reinvented to suit out needs. It feels as if we are witnessing the early phases of the next change in our conceptualisation and use of mythology as a culture and I simply cannot overstate how awestruck I am at the raw humanistic power of these stories to abide and morph to fit our sociological and psychological needs as we advance as a species.

 

 

Problems in a Galaxy Far Far Away… Gallifrey!

Toxic masculinity is a concept that has been gaining increasing attention over the last few years in pop culture analysis and political commentary. With the rise in global illiberalism reaching record highs in the form of BREXIT and President Trump, the issue of Toxic masculinity seems rather central to understanding the current state of things.

Our world is currently suffering under the weight of too many men and boys having been raised to strictly follow the Apollonian virtues, and consequently an Apollonian model of masculinity. We have raised these men to seek might, and conquer every challenge that stands before them through strength, grit and determination. These ideals leave no room for men to express their emotions, no room for men to quietly contemplate how they might develop themselves more fully.  Conversely, we have routinely mocked the Dionysian man. More specifically, mocked him as a role model for the masses. We accept that some fringe, artistic and dangerous men that transgress social and gender norms bring us fantastic art and music. But we do not allow them into positions of power or true authority in our cultures. These men are too weak, too effeminate in their connection with the ‘softer’ virtues to be trusted to do what is right and ‘necessary’ should the time come. We can see this worrying trend reflected in much of our modern pop culture. We have far too few silver screen mainstays that express anything resembling a balance between these two virtue sets. We have not allowed any semblance of synthesis in these models of masculinity to be included in the collective consciousness of generations of boys and men. This is where Poe Dameron and The Doctor come in as representatives on this issue in the current pop culture zeitgeist.

The fan backlash at the most recent Star Wars film should not be news to the majority of you. At the time of writing there is a 40 per cent gulf in review scores (90 – 50 per cent) between critics and fans respectively. Similarly, when Jodie Whittaker was revealed as the 13th Doctor there was significant backlash from elements of the Doctor Who fan base. This unrest over The Doctor’s new-found femininity has reared its head once more following the recent Christmas Special. In both instances gender and diversity issues were key talking points on both sides of the debate. This isn’t the work of those much maligned MRAs or regressive men needing to hold onto patriarchal dominance of the media (ok well it might be in some cases – but here is one argument from a different perspective). It is a symptom of a much larger and much more sympathetic issue about men and masculinity in contemporary media.

One of the key features of ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ that ‘right wing’ fans have condemned is the ‘continual’ humiliation of Poe Dameron. Every time Poe tries to take action, he is shown not only to be wrong, but often he makes matters worse through his attempts to ‘go in half-cocked’. Now fans have said that this represents a gender equality conspiracy, one set to destroy the traditional male ‘action-hero’ archetype and render him useless. Further, the same fans argue that destroying this particular vision of the male empowerment fantasy betrays the Star Wars brand. However, I would contend that it is a valiant attempt by director Rian Johnson to highlight the need for his Apollonian poster boy to learn the softer and more deferent virtues of the Dionysian man. It is worth noting that by the end of the film Poe has begun to see this himself. Towards the end of the third act, Poe is offered an opportunity to seize a decisive victory by a true male hero, another character similarly rounded through experience and defeat, if he is willing to recognise what he needs to do and to act against his ‘guns blazing’ instinct. This is an important step forward in our portrayals of masculinity as Star Wars is not only a mega-blockbuster film that acknowledges the value of the Dionysian virtues, but also a film that demonstrates that these virtues are best utilised in harmonious conjunction with the Apollonian virtues.

All of this however, has been learned before by another Sci-fi legend, The Doctor. Since the return of Doctor Who to television in 2005, the character has grown an enormous amount. We have borne witness to the Doctor in his most heroic Apollonian moments (think Burning Galifrey to save time) and we have seen the character come to personify charm, creativity and heart (think setting up an alternate universe version of himself just to love Rose). All of this, and a wonderful rainbow of shades in between, have blessed the successive series of The Doctor’s modern run. This is why it stings so much to see young boys lose such an important touchstone in their development. This is not to say people cannot have role models outside their own, race, gender, or religion – it merely acknowledges the well accepted fact that we identify far better with people who more closely resemble ourselves across all of these axes.  We have only just begun to see Hollywood accept the need to show more balanced male role models. To then lose The Doctor, the best example of this from within our contemporary pop culture, is most certainly a blow to the movement that calls not for additional male role models for men and boys, but rather cries out for better quality male role models is certainly a significant blow.

In 1994 the Australian Psychologist Stephen Biddulph published a book simply called ‘Manhood’.  This book was largely aimed at translating the works of Robert Bly into an Australian bloke’s context through Biddulph’s own work and experience as a psychologist. In ‘Manhood’, Biddulph talks extensively about fathering, and more explicitly the increasing phenomenon of under-fathering in young men and boys, focusing on the impact that this has on their development throughout their lives.  One of the key messages raised by Biddulph, is that young men and boys need ‘strong well-rounded male role models’ in order to flourish as complete and whole human beings. Biddulph acknowledges the integral role of mothers and female role models (teachers, aunts E.T.C.) in shaping and influencing male children, but ascribes the central role in the development of these male children to father figure/s.  In the terms of this argument it seems evident to me that Biddulph is calling for balance between the Apollonian and Dionysian elements in raising young boys and men. This is as true now as it was when he originally published ‘Manhood’, perhaps even more so.

The reactions held by the right-wing fan base to both the Star Wars and Doctor Who franchises contribute significantly to the destructive way in which we view male role models. If we do not take significant and immediate steps to rectify this imbalance we risk irreparably damaging another generation of young men through reckless and one-dimensional portrayals of masculinity in pop culture. This argument is not always articulated well, or even articulated at all, however when it is, and when it is expressed properly with respect and thought it can be the spark that lights the fire of change.

#NEWYEARNEWME

So, as we ring in 2018, I wanted to pause for a moment and reflect on the newest face of the New Year’s resolution – #newyearnewme (#NYNM). This #NYNM is likely already in your ‘most maligned bullshit of 2018’ mental pigeon hole and fairly rightly so… Only the most ‘Basic’ of humans use such a trite and saccharine method to express their deep and heartfelt desire to change, surely. But here is the rub – we all have that low and persistent desire to grow and learn and be better today than we were yesterday.

We all have that feeling, in the deepest darkest recesses of our mind that we aren’t quite as good as we could be. It is why the concept of the New Year’s resolution is so instantly accessible to most of us. Why then does this not translate well into the social media sphere? Why does #NYNM fail so completely to elicit an empathetic response in the broader social consciousness? This cognitive dissonance has been gnawing at the back of my mind for the last few days and refuses to leave.

I was thinking on this and initially I wanted to dismiss all of the #NYNM ‘resolutioners’ as being ‘weak’ for needing prompting to bring about change in their lives. I wanted to solve this problem easily by criticising them for needing the death of a year and the birth of a new one to rouse them from their complacency. But when I really examined this premise I was forced to face facts, that I too had been subject to similar apathy and sloth when faced with the requirement for my own change.

When I was depressed and obese it had been the gift of an original FitBit Flex (for Christmas) that had finally awakened within me the knowledge and desire to bring about the physical and mental changes that largely defined my life.

I have been forced to accept that the #NYNM movement and I shared similar levels of external influence in initiating our respective evolutions. That wasn’t an easy realisation to swallow, knowing that I could never again earnestly enjoy a meme of Arnie looking despairingly over a packed gym and decrying the unwashed masses of #NYNM ‘resolutioners’. But it is the right standpoint to view this issue from – for better or for worse, very few of us manage to successfully self-initiate change of a lasting nature. It is almost always the words, or gifts of a friend or family member, a new financial or domestic situation that really get our respective ‘balls’ rolling.

As enlightening and challenging as this personal realisation was – it still didn’t get to the bottom of the #NYNM problem – except in secret it had.  When I really sat down to examine the problem it hit, square in the face. #NYNM is an impossibility. My personal changes had been improvements, rectifications of deficiencies and similar, not ‘evolutions’ not a replacement of the old ‘Me’ with some new and improved ‘Me’.

#NYNM it is not something I think anyone really honestly wants, or is capable of. The traditional New Year’s resolution has been about changing one or two minor aspects of one’s life in order to live a better more complete happy existence. Conversely, the immediate connotation of #NYNM is that we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. “New Me – completely different from old me, old me is horrible and childish and completely bleh!!!!”. The idea that once you have come to such an epiphany that you could completely divorce yourself from ‘old you’ in order to achieve #NYNM is entirely without merit. More disturbingly, it shows signs of the invasion capitalistic ideals into our deepest personal spheres.

Now that was an alarming paragraph, let me explain.

The idea that we would ever want to completely do away with the entirety of our being in order to be reborn – a glorious phoenix arising from the ashes of our own demise – is truly preposterous. Anyone capable of such a thought is clearly a mostly rational actor and more than likely has a concept of self and identity through time. The idea that one could ever meaningfully engage with the concept of a philosophical ‘death’ in order to initiate change simply flies 180 degrees in the face of reason.

The contrast between the more traditional resolution mindset and the emerging trend of #NYNM shows that the cultural zeitgeist has begun to more fully adopt a mindset of disposability. Rather than taking a slow, deliberate, painful and honest assessment of our personal shortcomings, flaws and insecurities in order to engage in an equally slow, deliberate and painful program on self-betterment. We would much rather just throw out old damaged ‘IPhone 7s’ me and switch to new amazing and awesome ‘IPhone X’ me.

It is the growing influence of capitalist culture that has begot this change. This idea that the new year gives us an ‘out’ to throw away our concept of self and begin entirely anew, much as we would our smartphones, fundamentally ignores the fact that in order to feel true satisfaction in life we need to better ourselves. To iterate rather than replace, to grow rather than upgrade. More shockingly this the #NYNM idea seems to posit this theory of replacement without ever truly engaging with the harsh reality that we are building our new identity out of the same material we always have – the only material we can, to older ‘versions’ of ourselves. Without ever acknowledging that the IPhone X is really just an iteration rather than a revolution.

So, dearest readers, I implore you. Please when you see someone touting a #NYNM attitude, or god forbid an actual #, please show them some humanity and respect. Don’t just mock them in the privacy of your own home, chortling heartily at their ‘basic’ nature. Show them that what they are truly aiming at is self-improvement, not self-replacement.

Interrogations

So, over the course of the last year, whilst I have not been writing, I have not let my mind sit and go to mush. I have been devouring books. In multiple formats; both traditional, bound, fare and also audiobooks. Between the two media I have racked up in excess of 40 titles during 2017.

I’m a little proud of myself – my goal for the year was half that number.

These titles have ranged from Game of Thrones novels through to Guy DeBord and Stephan Molynuex and I am incredibly pleased with the intellectual results of this meandering. It has allowed me to develop in ways that I would not have thought possible 12 months ago. To critically analyse ideas and arguments in a manner in which I had not previously in my life.

When I was younger I was a prolific reader – primarily of pulp and high fantasy, Eddings, King, Jordan etc. This habit seemed to drop off during university as my reading became thoroughly directed towards my study – video games seemed a far more appealing abnegation activity after hours of reading heavy history textbooks. This is the first year since I started my very first tertiary qualification that I have found reading for fun to truly call to me again.

It is from this vantage that I have spied a particularly troubling phenomenon. Now I certainly will not claim to be alone or even early in this observation.  However, it has troubled me in increasing amounts as the year has progressed to see that those who I would consider intellectual peers are far less interested in diversifying their scholastic intake as they are with shoring up their ideological holdfasts’.

To expand – Earlier this year I mentioned to a work colleague – who until this time I had thought very highly of. This colleague had certainly impressed me with their ability to hold a conversation on just about every progressive subject matter – up to and including some of the more far out nutbaggy global conspiracy trains of thought – Rothschild dominance and all that. I was shocked, however, when I mentioned to this colleague that I was ½ way through Milo Yiannopoluos’ ‘Dangerous’ to be immediately inundated with pressure to explain why I had helped finance a hate campaign.

I tried to explain that rather than react to media pundit interpretations of Milo’s writings I was keen to interrogate the subject first hand in order to circumvent bias. Having been thoroughly convinced of the media bias in my country by the shameful reaction we have had to Cassie Jaye’s ‘The Red Pill’. This colleague waxed lyrical for nearly a full 10 minutes about the various logical fallacies in Milo’s work and the many ways in which he was entirely unworthy of my patronage of his literary endeavours. When I pushed this colleague as to how they were so knowledgeable about Milo’s positions and writings they began to reference several 2nd and 3rrd hand sources of response to the material.

This was the moment that my internal alarm bells kicked into high gear.

I wish I could say that this was an isolated incident across this year. Sadly it was not. Several members of my intellectual exchange communities have taken great pains to ignore and implore others to ignore large swathes of the emerging fields of argument, particularly in the conservative cultural analysis space. It seems that the echo chamber effect that has been oft discussed has begun to migrate from being solely the province of the anti-intellectual class within this country and take disturbing and fascinating route within the intellectual class as well.

I cannot begin to express how scared this makes me.

Whilst I cannot claim to be well and proper OG in my antipathy for this particular issue – having spent far too many hours of the last decade blissfully connected to the hypereality of the MMORPG sphere to feel at all secure or legitimate in such a position. I can certainly say that this last year has done a very great deal to convince me that I was right to make the swap from comfortable and safe intellectual wandering to ‘transgressive’ and ‘problematic’ inquiry.

We as a society need to spend more time focusing on ideas and arguments that challenge us in real and meaningful ways. Rather than allowing ourselves to apathetically seek out news sources and public intellectuals that reflect and shape our opinions and perceptions along lines we have already set for ourselves.

We don’t all need to – by virtue of literary patronage – finance right wing nutbags touring our country and inciting civil unrest – but certainly we do need to spend time engaging personally and legitimately with all of the legitimate arguments that are being presented to us. Failure to do so will leave us as out of touch with the reality of the intellectual space that we inhabit as the Tsars of Russia in 1913.

We need to allow ourselves to be made uncomfortable by the ideas and premises of those who we wish to debate and convince. We need to allow space in our personal echo chambers for dissent and synthesis through this dissent into a greater intellectual understating of the true reality that we all inhabit.

So this is my challenge to the few of you that are still here after all of that. Go out and read, read widely and read politically. Read left and read right. Engage honestly and completely with both sides of this space. Because we are living at the edge of history in this country, things are changing in ways and through means that we have never experienced as a society or as a race. It is at this critical juncture that we have  people of robust and thorough intellectual grounding to help round out the public discourse that we are exposing the masses to.

Do not be cowed by the dissenting voices and remember always the famous Aquinian quote, “Hominem Unius Libri Timed” …..

“I fear the man of a single book”

The Weight of Scars

So I had a very vivid recollection the other evening whilst watching a new episode of ‘The Crown’ on Netflix. I promise what follows isn’t a shocking revelation of some royal heritage or similar.

In this episode, a scene takes place where rather dramatically Elizabeth’s character asks her uncle how he could forgive himself for consorting with Nazis after his abdication. The gravitas and drama with which the line was delivered pulled me right back into my angsty teenage mindset and reminded me of a conversation I had had some years ago with a parental figure of some sort.

I cannot duly recall the inciting incident – however the context would infer it was something altogether unpleasant. The conversation ran somewhat as follows;

Me: ‘Parental Figure – how do old people live with themselves?’

Parental Figure: ‘What do you mean?’

Me: ‘How do old people live with the weight of all their stupid decisions and unforgivable wrongs weighing them down?’

Parental Figure: ‘That’s rather bleak…..’

Me: ‘Not really – more just accepting of the reality that we all make mistakes and calls that end up being vastly wrong with consequences that echo throughout our lives, and I think that it would be really hard to get by feeling all of those like I do right now’

Like I said – fairly angsty teenage fair.

But it is a question I’ve never satisfactorily answered. Or rather the method of answering it emerges out of learned ‘adult’ apathy. Things an angsty teenager (myself included) counted as unforgivable sins seem positively puerile by comparison to the realisation of the gargantuan lies we live under every day in global society – insert ethical consumption under capitalism meme here.

This episode of ‘The Queen’ has catapulted this set of personal problems back into the forefront of my consciousness and all the argument I can muster within myself is the Christian tenet of forgive and forget. In this case leaning heavily on the later rather than the former half of the idea.

I don’t know about you but certainly if I cast my mind over all the bad calls I’ve made in my life – all the hurts that I can chalk up to being ‘my fault’ there are certainly a share that I don’t think I shall ever find an opportunity to resolve either due to not having resolved the underlying dispute or hurt – or not having access to the other party or object as required to truly reconcile.

So answering my own teenage self I find myself drawn to, what seems like a typically apathetic Australian response – we just do. We just try to do what we can and make the best call at the time and don’t sweat the small stuff. This doesn’t satisfy me though. Just doing – just allowing grievances or crimes to fade into the hazy obscurity of memory does not do them justice – does not do the passion of humanity and human life and love and existence true justice.

What is small enough to be small stuff? What is the line between a problem that needs fixing and a problem that will resolve itself with distance and time? None of these things are truly universally answerable of course – however my semi-aut brain will still shout to the modern ‘heavens’ and demand a sensible reply.

I have striven to live honestly – to fight the battles that ought to be fought and more challengingly to learn how to admit when I am in the wrong and need to ceed ground or a point. However somewhere in the hubbub and prioritisation of adult life the angst that drove that was lost – complacency set and began to decay the fibre of a belief as it all too often does.

I have to chalk some of this up to a problem of scale – as I have stared out into the enormity of the social and political problems of this day and age – my personal missions have become dwarfed by the relative insignificance of one life in the grand social game. However, this was not enough for the absurdist’s and it is not enough for me. I cannot, now that I have been reminded, allow the insignificance and absurdity of my personal struggle to be a free pass and I remain somewhat embarrassed to admit I let it become one.

 I have let things that could have been fixed remain problems and add anxiety and weight to my life that did not need to be there because these things and problems seemed ‘hopeless’ or ‘insignificant’.  No more, I will make angsty teenage me proud of the human I can become.

So I write this as a challenge not just to myself but to all of you.

A challenge and a reminder – to be better than apathy – to be better than obscurity. To demand resolution, to demand answers. To solve the problems that can be and stride forward to solve the bigger ones yet.

Taylor Swift and outgrowing music

So coming into the new year after a somewhat disjointed – but hugely rewarding year of my life I want to make a concerted effort to write more and write regularly. I do make what apology is pertinent for my absence this year – I promise my thinking is all the better for it though.

For longer term readers – I will put this admin point up front, my Lovecraftian short story has evolved and is now becoming somewhat more that it was originally envisioned to be, more on that hopefully soon.

With that out of the way –on to the main event.

Something light to start – Taylor Swift.

So, Taylor’s most recent album ‘Reputation’ dropped last month and to be honest I really really like it – but I don’t love it, certainly not in the way I loved ‘1989’ or loved ‘Red’ even more so  but it is a remarkably fun album to listen to and significant evolution of TS’ sound. Now some of the shift in my opinion could be chalked up to the fact that the two singles that TS released prior to the launch of the full album really suffer without the context of the rest of the album to support them and so I had a fairly low, disappointed, perception of the likely album going in. But I do not like this reasoning – it is over simple and doesn’t account for the real and palpable enjoyment I get from the album, even those singles when put in with the rest.

Of course, this caused me to sit down and do some thinking and some reflecting on the relationship I have had with lady Swift’s music throughout the last 8 or so years (No I am definitely not an OG Swiftian, I took some convincing). I remember quite vividly that I was in a really dysfunctional place the first time I ever really connected with a Swift track. ‘Mean’ off ‘Speak Now’ really reached out and grabbed me – form your own reasons for why that might have occurred based on the above inference if you wish – and for a time that was about the extent of my enjoyment of TS.

Some years later I was, once again, in somewhat of a serious funk and ‘Mean’ once again grabbed my attention – however this time I delved a little further into Taylor’s catalogue. ‘Red’ was out, and from the first to the last it absolutely grabbed me; my marriage had broken down and the sentiment expressed by Taylor as she so publicly worked through her own breakups resonated with me – it truly felt to me in a time when I had very very few people who could connect with what I was going through as if that album had something to say ‘to me’.

So, I went back and discovered I had a similar kinship with all of Taylor’s work to that point – all the way through her musical history there was a consistent willingness to jump head first into romance and feel that anguish when it inevitably blew up in spectacular – or mundane – fashion which was a trait I felt I shared with Taylor.  Over the years that enjoyment for the cathartic realisation that I was not as alone as I could feel at times was much more than a useful distraction – along with other musicians Taylor’s work truly did prove to be somewhat of a lifeline, helping me stay above the surface as I battled my more depressive tendencies.

1989 was released and I had transitioned from being a moody, retiring, indoorsy type of depressive to the Tinder type of depressive (more on that in previous writings) and so of course ‘Blank Space’ immediately stole my musical heart and the rest of the album soon followed.

After having reflected on all of this, in the light of the underwhelming response I had to ‘Reputation’, it finally dawned on me that what I was connecting with in Taylor’s earlier writings was the universal experience of loss and overcoming that loss. Taylor’s career toi this point has done an amazing job at chronicling these patterns in her life and sharing her story with the world. However, because I have become markedly better at managing the processes of grief and recovery since the last time I had been invited to form a fresh connection with Taylor’s work it was no longer integral to feel connected to her music in the way I had in the past – I had outgrown that facet of my love for Taylor Swift.

Obviously, my enjoyment of the music has abided and the nostalgia of the days angstily spent brooding to ‘Mean’ has some ephemeral lingering romance to it – but I no longer have the same visceral connection to Taylor’s work as I once did. I was reading some Liz Gilbert recently and the way she talks about creativity being an actual spiritual being that one might converse with has stuck with me and I will use it here. As I came to realise that my need for Taylor Swift to be singing about a shared experience dwindled, I had a meaningful conversation with my past and my memories of pain and the relief that her music has provided me across the years and wished them fair wind and following seas. That wonderful feeling of connectedness offered to me and so many others by Taylor had changed for me due to finally finding the strength to face (some of) my own demons. And so it is not with regret that I say I outgrew Taylor Swift but with the truest gratitude and love, not only for Taylor but for all the other people in my life who she represents, the family, friends and strangers who have provided me with the impetus to become better to reach new heights and believe in what I might accomplish if I just act a little more fearlessly.

Breaking Pt.1

Hey team – long time no see. I have been rather snowed under in my personal and professional life of late and so haven’t had a bunch of spare time to sit down and really go through my thoughts on a bunch of stuff – but I have been taking notes in my ‘ideas pad’ so there is a lot of content that I have stored up for when I get back to steadier seas. 

Anyway what follows is something I’ve been thinking about for about a year now – so I hope you enjoy. 


The Brave Bothan.

1.
The lights swirled around me and the decadent scents of the carnival filled my nostrils almost to bursting. The melodic thrumming and crooning of the entertainment blocked out almost every other sound below a moderately powerful shout. The occasional whoop or excited scream broke through the haze of sound and pulled me back to reality. I sat, motionless, gazing out over the festivities; letting the charged atmosphere wash over and engulf me. But despite that sense of immersion a part of me maintains its distance. Part of me knows that these mortal delights are fleeting, temporary – only here to distract the narrow minded and I cannot allow myself to fall prey to such petty distractions; not whilst on such an important hunt.
That all too human urge to hunt had been welling in me for days, weeks even to the point where it was overwhelming, unbearable. I knew that I must satiate this urge tonight lest I fall into a melancholic pity. I scanned the the crowd below. It had an almost intelligible rhythm like a single organism, breathing and pulsing to a heartbeat that could be neither heard nor felt, but intuited if one had the mind or the stomach for such insights. 
At this point I considered the welling sense of disquiet gnawing incessantly and the back of my consciousness – that growing anxiety that could quickly dull my senses if I let it and ruin the hunt. I pushed it back, locking it behind the barrier of the task at hand, forcing myself to renew my appraisal of the crowd, to focus on finding a point that I could meaningfully engage. 
Across that undulating sea of base pleasure, noise and light that held the crowd enthralled I finally sighted my mark. Short cropped hair, dark as roasted almond flowed from her head bouncing and jostling as she followed the rhythm filling the arena. She disappeared below the surface of crowd momentarily, not being of particularly notable height, only to reappear and – despite the considerable odds against it – turned to face the stand that I was perched in. Knowing better than to give myself away by averting allowing myself to flinch I held her gaze, knowing full well that the darkness of the stand would likely mask my eyeline. Still; the anxiety in the back of my mind latched on to this moment and swelled with renewed vigour – what If she had seen me? 
My hunter’s sense forcibly culled the anxious question as my mark turned her face back to the stage – preventing further detriment to the mission. I moved, not wanting to waste time or risk my mark glancing back once more. 

 2.

I pressed my way thought the throng weaving and dancing to avoid covering myself in the stench of their collective perspiration and intoxication. My purpose was clear – my mind set, my mark sighted. Down at ground level the sensations of the carnival were amplified and a part of me acknowledged why so many people found these events entertaining. I noted this for use later and pressed on. As I round a ‘corner’ in the crowd I once again found my mark. Her dancing clear and distinct from those surrounding her and pressing each other inward towards the stage.

….. More to follow. 

I like the Dickensian and Lovecraftian model of serialised releases of a short story chapters. I don’t expect that this will be every post I make for the next little bit but I want to pepper the rest of this story out over the next couple of months, so I hope you all enjoy the GOT style wait. 

Until next time, thanks for reading. 


Change and culture

So i suppose fair warning to my ‘readership’ this piece touches on issues of gender and culture and expresses views that some members on the left might find – regressive.

– The Brave Bothan

So today something happened – Certainly a thing that I didn’t find comfortable or endearing in the slightest; but I would like to put it here to provoke thought.

Annually the organisation that I work for hold a series of training seminars to ensure that employees are up to date on what management consider to be corporate culture for the firm. For the last half a decade or so these have necessarily included a section or two on gender and gender politics both within and without the workplace.  I attended one such seminar today – and was caught in one of the most uncomfortable intellectual and moral positions I have ever been in.

A senior executive was giving a seminar on gender perspectives – with the outcome being mostly advocating for an undefined increase in awareness of cis gender perspectives, which was annoying in and of itself. During the course of this seminar the executive shared an anecdote about a consultation with foreign nationals that the firm had been involved with. It was a shelter development project for impoverished peoples as part of a government sponsored aid program.

A design consultation session had been held with all the tribal elders of the region – who due to the region’s gender politics were all male. After the completion of the consultation session the firm built the shelters to specification. The flaws were apparent only after completion of the program – these shelters lacked a kitchen…

Corporate embarrassment aside – the executive at this point made the quip that if only one single woman had been involved with the planning process this glaring oversight surely would have been rectified…. as women inherently solve these types of domestic problems…..

My heart veritably broke.

Here was a senior executive member of the firm not only committing a correlation/ causation fallacy – which is embarrassing and horrific enough in and of itself – but ostensibly under the auspices of promoting gender equality she was committing such a fallacy without realizing the ways in which she was confirming negative gender stereotypes.

I honestly didn’t know what to do – Any attempt I could have made to publicly correct her concept of gender relations and roles would have only served to diminish the overall intent of the seminar. But failure to correct such regressive and patriarchal stereotypes would be to allow those values to suffuse the outcomes of the seminar.

I was caught – trapped but the desire not only to not rock the corporate boat and undermine a senior executive – but also completely and painfully aware that by saying nothing I was allowing a whole room full of people, representing all facets of the company, to take in and perhaps internalize and unknowingly regressive stereotype.

To my shame at the time of writing I stayed silent.

Despite realizing at the time what had been said and knowing it’s impact I couldn’t muster the courage to fight for the cause the way it ought to have been. I stayed silent – not wanting to undercut, however righteously and senior executive.

The gender stereotypes we have been raised with are insidious in the way they influence our thinking – even when we think to champion the cause we are subject to our own fallibility. I believe that the human giving the brief had every intention of championing a positive case for gender equality they just fell victim to ingrained concepts of gender roles.

I elected to join this human’s committee to try and  shape the way my organisation views and interacts with concepts of gender.

But this doesn’t make me feel better about my cowardice.