4.11.2014

Approaching 40

I'm coming up on 38. Not all that old by most standards. At this point in my life I can't say things are bad. They aren't what I'd hope them to be, but I have enough to do more than just survive. Last year around my birthday I spent a lot of time contemplating my life. I really questioned whether I'd been doing it right. I chose a life that wasn't normal, and in doing so I have no real guides to judge by. I don't have kids and never will. I don't have a "normal" career where I move up some ladder to eventual retirement. I lack all those signposts of life most people seem to have.

This year I've thought what being in my 30's has meant. Not too long ago people started saying the 40 is the new 30, or 50 is the new 40. I don't know whether this is just a pithy saying or a genuine reflection of improving medicine and technology helping us live longer. But I wonder if I can extend that thought. Have my experiences in my 30's been more like what someone used to go through in their 20's? Where once one would have graduated college, gotten married, and started a family by 30, those things took me much longer. College took me 5 years. I lived with my parents until I was 26. I didn't get married until I was 28. I didn't start a good job until I was 24, I didn't start something you could call a career until I was 30. My marriage ended when I was almost 33. Looking back, there were a lot of things I postponed for myself during that time. Now at 38 I feel like I'm doing things I should have done 10 years ago. But would it have been possible then? Probably not. Is this just me, or do many people have this experience?

I've been reading the Stoics. It's a philosophy that suits me well. I think my introversion is a natural fit to being a Stoic. Stoicism is misunderstood. The most important aspect is the idea of training yourself to experience joy in what you have, and to not worry about what you don't have. Stoicism has a lot in common with Zen Buddhism, but with more emphasis on civic involvement than on isolated contemplation. While this philosophy makes a lot of sense to me, it's always a battle to implement.

Setting aside the details, the general thing/wish/want I have at this point in my life is growth. Mostly of the educational sort. Unfortunately a master's degree or beyond is out of my financial reach, as is any kind of formal training. I have been teaching myself some new skills, including some advanced guitar repair. But, trading time on these activities against paying work isn't always easy. Is this something that should have happened in my 20's? Maybe at a time I could have stayed up until 2am everyday and not felt horrible the next day? I must be missing some of that "30 is the new 20" health technology.

I am where I am because of choices I have made. Some choices were wrong, some were right. Some were right at the time but turned out bad in the long run. I can't change any of that. I can only continue to make choices in this moment. That's another tenet of Stoicism. The past cannot be changed. The future is unknown. And right now, there are things I can control, and things I cannot. I need to focus down only on the things I can control right in this present moment. Again, never easy. But no one ever said life was easy.

2.05.2014

Stop working so hard

Here's how I look at it. Yes, I've got bills to pay and I have to eat. But every day I remind myself that what I choose to do today is paid for with hours of my life. And I have no idea how many of those are in the bank. Stress kills, and that surely puts an end to my use of those hours. Beyond not starving or freezing to death, why spend any time at all doing something you don't really want to do?

http://business.time.com/2014/02/03/10-reasons-to-stop-working-so-hard/?hpt=hp_t3

1.29.2014

Reason in 2014

If I could wish for one thing in 2014 it would be for the world to embrace reason. Why should I be shunned for asking for evidence? Haven't we had enough woo woo and "one weird trick"? It must be some innate aspect of being human to need quick fixes, to want to believe for no reason other than somehow it fits our biases, or fill some void we are to frightened to examine closely.


For example, just look at this list of apocalypses (apocalypsi?): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_dates_predicted_for_apocalyptic_events. Over and over people, for some unfathomable reason, want to believe the world is going to end. And in every case they are wrong. They will continue to be wrong. The only people on that list likely to be correct (read: have any evidence, theoretical or otherwise) are the scientists contemplating the fate of our world a very long time from now.


Facts matter. And if you don't have any, then don't expect me to automatically agree with you. Let's define facts as well. Verifiable, testable, repeatable. Observable to everyone. Widely researched and written about. Facts are not something your brother's friend's uncle told him somebody told him about. Facts are not whatever some talking head on tv says is true. Facts can be gleaned from experts, but you need to know how to judge experts. Understand their background. Jenny McCarthy is not a medical expert, she's just famous. Depak Chopra uses lots of scienc-y words and makes many references to quantum physics. He has no training at all in physics and his use of those terms is an offense to humanity. I'll even pick on someone I like. Neil deGrasse Tyson is an expert, but I wouldn't automatically believe what he told me was wrong with my car. He's an astrophysicist, not a mechanic. Just because someone has a website doesn't mean that whatever they are selling is a panacea for all your ills.


The world is grey, not black and white. Declaring something all good or all bad is almost always unfounded. GMOs are not universally evil. Eating only vegetables isn't a problem solver for everyone. The ideas of democrats or republicans are not all great or all catastrophic. The world today is far too prone to having the pendulum swing wildly from one side to the other. If you think "big pharma" is evil and greedy, you must also follow the money behind your preferred treatments. Hate Sysco? Ok, but who owns your organic producers? EVERYONE trying to sell you something should be questioned.


One thing a person relying on reason should do it not jump to conclusions or fill gaps with assumptions. If you don't have facts, if you get to a place along a line of research or discussion where you would shave to say "I don't know", that's ok. Say you don't know and continue researching. It is not reasonable to say you don't know, therefore god/aliens/fairies did it. If you really believe it was god/aliens/fairies, it would be unreasonable of you to expect everyone else to accept an explanation based solely on faith and belief. Choosing to have faith or just believe because you want to or it makes you feel better is ok, but that isn't an excuse for closed-mindedness or belligerence towards others. If you do have evidence, you have to accept that not everyone is convinced by that alone, especially if they already have other long-held beliefs. Belligerence doesn't help much here either. Getting fired up is ok, but watch out for just attacking other people.


If you're position of belief lacks evidence, don't just bitch about it or blame "THEM" for some conspiratorial suppression. Scientists WANT to understand. They WANT to study the world. If there isn't adequate study of a certain issue, blame politicians for not providing the funding for research. Blame famous people for being ignorant of science while they use their bully pulpit to deride science. And blame the people (yes, ourselves) for not putting pressure where it's needed.


Hand in hand with reason is time. It takes time to do research, whether in a lab or online. Reasonable arguments can't be offered and rebutted in sound bites and photo memes. The internet in general is a terrible place to look for rationality. It will take a conscious effort to change that. I would ask the whole world just to slow down a bit. Shortened time scale force you to react with your cognitive biases and emotion, and that's not good. It takes time to dig in to a question, to form an argument for or against. With no time allowed, we agree with those we already agree with, and disagree with those we don't like. "Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale has had its effect.” - Jonathan Swift


Here's another reason to slow down. The world doesn't change that fast. Really, how different is the world now than it was 10 or 20 or 50 years ago? Calm down, think of how choices and actions will affect you both tomorrow and 10 years from now. I ask you also to think about how the choices we make today will affect the world 100, 1000, even 10,000 years from now. Despite all the exoplanets that have been discovered, we are still the only official intelligent technological life in the universe. We have an obligation to survive and continue to further our understanding of the universe. If we don't, we may as well turn off all the lights and go back to subsistence farming.


Despite my rant, I'm asking you to be reasonable, especially in the public square. At home, do whatever you want. But when you step in to the space of society we all share remember that there is a human being on the other side of that other computer screen. I think in some situations, particularly in the functioning of a civilization, we must sacrifice our personal conceits and whims for the benefit of all. However, as we have discussions in the public square, be forewarned that any claims made will always be subject to scrutiny. If you choose to make claims based on faith or whim alone and you are criticized or given evidence to the contrary, you may hold on to your beliefs, you may defend them as you can, but cries of censorship or hate are unfounded. Take a little more time to think about what makes us the same. There is so much hate everywhere I look these days, and it's mostly over such minor issues. We are all human beings and we have an obligation to treat each other decently even if we disagree.

1.21.2014

Book review - Quiet

Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking.



I think everyone should read this book. Introverts, ambiverts, and extroverts alike. The United Stated is a very extroverted place and extroversion is rewarded. Extroversion can be found everywhere, from Tony Robbins life coaching, to the shape of our political system, your office workplace, right down to the halls of your high school. The section on the Harvard Business School alone is an incredible insight. Sorry my extrovert friends, but you crashed the economy. High extroversion often leads to risk taking. Not necessarily bad, but in the case of gambling with other people's money and homes, yes it is.

I've known for a very long time that I am an introvert. I've always thought that it was just the way I was and I had to live with it. I've gone through my life just accepting that some things were not for me because I don't have the right personality. Author Susan Cain spends a fair amount of time sorting through the characteristics of introversion and gives a wealth of suggestions on how these traits can be turned into strengths, or at least managed. I have always liked sinking my teeth into a solitary project, the hours flying by without any notice at all. Cain has given me pause to think about how I am or am not using that in my daily life. I'd be well suited to try to find jobs and hobbies that play to the strength.

Although I've long known I was an introvert, I never really thought about how the rest of the world treated me because of that. Some people think introversion is a mental illness, or that we're anti-social. Beyond that, the whole path of success in America is slanted to extroversion. Not only am I not a natural schmoozer, it takes an enormous amount of mental energy to make myself do it when I have to. I'd much rather be the mad scientist tinkering in my lab, but the world has no place for tinkers. Cain goes to great lengths to try to bridge the extro-intro worlds, but there is definitely a part of me that wants to get in the extro world's face and yell "this is how I am, don't dismiss me!" Still working on the diplomacy thing.

The author also brings up the concept of being and HSP: Highly Sensitive Person. I've never heard this term before, but I clearly am one. 70% of introverts are HSPs. If you're sensitive to loud sounds, bright lights, strong smells, and get more emotional than most over, say, a sad movie, you are probably an HSP. Knowing this now also gives me more insight to how I react to the world around me.

This book also has informative sections on being the parent of an introvert, teaching introverts, and on learning to adopt some extrovert skills. If there's an introvert in your life, listen a little more. Be a little more patient. Still waters run deep.

10.11.2013

Fuck your god

http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/10/11/20913675-its-very-good-news-malala-didnt-win-the-nobel-peace-prize-pakistani-taliban?lite

Taliban: "If we get another chance, we will definitely kill her and that will make us feel proud," Shahid said.
The also have reportedly threatened to kill the shopkeepers in her home country if they are found selling the teenager’s new book, "I Am Malala."

I don't care what you believe. If you think it's right to kill teenage girls and oppress people, you are a... I can't even find words strong enough for this. I would like to be a pacifist, a peacemaker, capable of quiet dignity like Malala. I am not that good. Anyone who uses religion to deny basic rights and human dignity to anyone should die, and their religion should die with them. Everywhere in the world BETTER EDUCATION IMPROVES LIVES, ESPECIALLY when WOMEN ARE EDUCATED.