Category Archives: Perception

Darwinism (or DarwinIsADouche.com)

I have a love/hate relationship with Darwinism. I love the idea, application and process of evolutionary theory – one can’t, and won’t, deny the beauty and mind bending revolution of Chuck’s vision (especially taking into account the arse clenching theology of the Victorian era). Yet I hate with profound passion the ubiquity of it as a metaphor (incorrectly, more often than not) and the misplaced faith in that metaphor as an ultimate endorsement. As a metaphor it’s usually employed to prop up lazy reasoning and convenient beliefs; Darwinism intoned in the hope that through its power it will lend an argument credence, a statement validity or, more commonly, imbue some cynical societal prescription, guaranteed to cure our indulgent ills, with the power of evolution’s place in the firmament of scientific and intellectual certitude.

Again, I’m not picking a fight with Darwinism, rather the casuist plodders who employ it as a wagon of expedience for their preferred convictions. That Mr. Darwin coined the term ‘Survival of the fittest’ to describe his theory makes me want to weep and rage in equal measure. Ironically On the Origin of the Species suffers from the same problem the Bible does in the hands of their respective fundamentalists; a problem anchored in the refusal to recognise how embedded in the assumptions of the times the writers were. Darwin was a product of Victorian England, at the height of an empire that sought to benevolently conquer the world for its own good, because, obviously, the English were the pinnacle of civilisation. It was their duty as the highest representative of the human race. The believed cultural supremacy of the times is perfectly captured in the penultimate sentence of Darwin’s most famous tome: “Thus from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely the production of the higher animals, directly follows.” The arrogance and assumption, not to mention the hideous anthropomorphism of nature in its entirety, contained in that one sentence is quite staggering. But, and this is quite important, in our relativist wisdom we are quite capable of contextualising that statement within the prevalent cultural standards of Darwin’s lifetime, taking from it that if you stick monkeys in one end of a habitat, given an opportune environment, you might get Andy Warhol out the other. Which is my point – it isn’t the survival of the fittest, it is the survival of those with the most opportune mutations in that environment.

The word fittest is highly dependent on context, deeply in need of qualification. The way we use it has far too much of the smell of triumphalism about it; that those that fall are unworthy, and those who remain are right. It is putting the cart before the horse on a quite impressive scale, leading to conclusions based on a syllogism; they didn’t make it, we did, thus we are superior. A beautiful example is capitalism vs. communism, as Norman Manea wisely said, “Yet on the other shore, a self congratulatory society took the collapse of the other side as a vindication.”

Our vesting ‘Survival of the Fittest’ with power beyond its context has given us some pretty fucked up ideas of what the survival of a thing actually means, not to mention the context it survives or dies in. We have to save the ecosphere due to our biological need of it, because we’re quite important, being a higher animal, but the lower animals that can’t hack it in our climate altered wake, urban environs, polluted waters, fenced rural landscapes and zoos kinda deserve to die, coz, like, it’s survival of the fittest, right? Except for rats, as no one really likes rats. And pigeons, of course, being, as has been demonstrated, just airborne rodents… though what do we do with the fucking flying foxes? Is an actual flying rodent somehow exempt from our wrath simply because it doesn’t, y’know, fuck so much? The specious logic applied to sustain this illusionary narrative leaves us chasing our own brains round the inside of our skulls, demanding of us the unsavoury necessity of a shorter syllogism: we’re atop the food chain, thus the fittest, so we can’t be wrong. So… pandas? Fuck ’em.

We are the pinnacle of evolution, we are the duly ordained of nature; accordingly it’s our duty to show the way to the rest of the ecosphere… Hang on, I’ve heard that reasoning somewhere before… wait, wait… if a table has four legs and that thing I’ve been sitting on has four legs, then the thing I’m sitting on must be a table.

Okay, I feel better.

It’s a bit weird attributing, in a fundamental way, such high importance to being able to do some neat things with our thumbs and neo-cortex. Maybe it’s because we’ve come to see evolution as a kind of race; if we’re at the front of the pack then we must be doing well – though it’s a bit much that we’re refereeing the race we’re running in. Quid Pro Quo, Clarice… no, shit, I mean Quod Erat Demonstrandum… No I don’t… Ah, fuck it, caveat emptor, assholes.

The sublimely ridiculous thing is that most of the stuff we do – economics, science, even much of our art – works against a fundamental tenet of sustainable evolutionary practice: they consume more than they produce – a fine case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. As Daniel Quinn observed of the folly of our cultural practices: natural selection doesn’t eliminate you immediately, it eliminates you eventually. Our problem is that we’ve got our timelines all mixed up, making us unable to see over the chronological horizon.

Survival of the fittest indeed.

So we use the shortcut of ‘survival of the fittest’ to bless arguments with the power of  Evolutionary Theory while, with deep irony, practising behaviour that only promises to make of us a case study for the next species that happens to grow thumbs. Evolutionary Theory still remains a beautiful and true description of what we see in the biological world around us, but ‘survival of the fittest’ as a metaphor sucks. It sucked then and sucks now. I quite like the idea of setting up a website dedicated to the failure of Darwinism as a metaphor: DarwinIsADouche.com, for all the Darwinarcissists out there. Though, on consideration, I’m pretty sure the server would immediately crash from the sudden surge of Dawkinites and other, less articulate Fundamentalists.

Books and What They Know

There’s a place in a bookstore, a spot where you can stand and hear the books. It’s the focal point of a multitude of lenses, the single point in the store where the projection of all their secret bookish knowledge is in perfect convergence, allowing you to receive everything. It’s hard to find this spot during the day, because all the people in the store throw off the geometry of the information flow, creating eddies around their perspectives and beliefs, futzing the reception. With all those people the bookstore becomes a strangely quieter place.

I’ve worked at various bookshops, in various countries, for a while now and what I’ve learned is that there is rarely a more beautiful thing than finding that secret spot (it forever changes as books migrate in and out of the store, altering ratios and alchemy) and sitting there. Smoking. And you just listen – listen to all the quiet tumult of books calling across the spaces to each other (because they’re not speaking to you, not yet). You can’t make anything out because it’s like those voices in your head that all go on and on at once, a susurrus of pitch and meaning that is almost impossible to decipher for more than a snatch of a second.

Maybe libraries have it, too. I don’t know. But bookstores do, the good ones. If you can find that space, that nomadic area, it will fix your head, it will cleanse your acne and it will pop that slipped disc back into your spine, afterwards bringing you cake. It will make everything okay again.

I recommend it strongly.

People claim reading as a process, a whole process, they condemn books like Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code as being unworthy of being printed, or being destructive as a thing to read. It’s laying claim to brain function rather than taste. Shoot the shitty, mediocre books down as examples of whatever stylistic aesthetic you’re devoted to, colonised by or trying to get laid with, but don’t condemn the books. They’re just words on pages, doing whatever it is that words do on pages when we’re not paying attention. And don’t condemn those that enjoy reading these lesser tomes – mock them, if it appeals, draw disparaging conclusions about their taste and cerebral proclivities as much as you like, whatever intellectual eugenics bandwagon you want to jump on, but don’t condemn them. Because the books will hear you and they’re not a forgiving bunch. Remember when you read that book? That one that your friends were reading? And you were all talking about it? And there was that bit they were all talking about, the bit that they loved above all the other bits? And you thought, Sheesh, I wasn’t all up in that, I thought it was just a bit, y’know, a space, a thing that wasn’t that great. I thought that other bit was the real deal, the crux of the whole  shebang. Well it was that great, the book was punishing you for that thing you said about Don Delillo being a literary fraud whose books should be taken out of Contemporary Fiction courses all around the world. And for calling Dan Brown a cunt. The books don’t like that. So it hid that bit from you, it warped its narrative around itself so you wouldn’t understand. Then it sniggered.

I’ve spent many nights, after finishing some overflow of work, alone, wandering around bookstores. A couple of years ago I was the buyer for a particular store, beautiful Unity. A job that means I was the filter for all the books that made it through the door from the publishing houses monthly migrations, and, after I had been doing it for a while, I had a night. This night I was staying late, catching up on a thing that was running ahead of me, and I went for a wander, looking for the spot. As I was edging around the biography table, past a display on the central support column of the store, listening intently, I had a thought.

It was all me.

Everything in that store, all the books and all their surreptitious whisperings, were me. Because I chose them.

I’m aware that you never really own a book, you can never possess it beyond it’s papery body, though you sometimes think it. In that spot in a bookstore, where you stand and hear them talking, often they’re laughing at you. Laughing, in good humour, without rancour, because you think you understand. You don’t. You’re just a reader. You’re usually not even a writer (though I think they, writers, poets most of all, sometimes know; they have some conduit, some covert correspondence with the books that they can’t ever fully describe, though the trying must be part of the point, but they can’t hold it in their heads, because it’s the night sky, all full up with stars and expanse).

But I chose them, you see, all these books. All that knowledge stacked and pressed into the shelves and cupboards and displays. I was fucking Moses. I led them to this milk and honey. This whole pantheon of scholarship and erudition was an expression of me. Fucking me. That made me one of them.

I shone, for a moment, like a sun. Head back and arms held up, hard and straight.

The books were quiet, like they were allowing me that moment of incandescence, possibly feeding me a little of their energy. They were quiet, maybe drawing breath inaudibly. Then they chuckled at me, shaking their pages. Because I thought I knew. I didn’t.

But they gave me that moment. So I love them. All of them.

Violence

I think about violence fairly regularly, a possible result of various childhood and early adult experiences, though more likely it’s just the general prevalence of it. But the lens through which I view violence was definitely formed at the private high school I had to go to – a colonial attempt to emulate the English elite model that somehow transformed into a rugby obsessed, educational black hole that endorsed bullying as essential to the construction of character. I was quite small as a boy, not really growing significantly until I was sixteen, so my experience of the worst of this violence was as a weak kid who learnt it was a bad idea to try and stand up to bullies (in this sitcom bullies don’t suddenly back down when confronted, revealing themselves as cowards, they knee you in the stomach and elbow you in the back of the head). It was pretty horrible to be surrounded by this violence but to also be embraced by a context that rewarded said violence socially, if not materially, was baffling. My public school years leading up to this private highschool did nothing to prepare me for the levels of violence that were commonplace there.

One of the worst aspects of this didn’t really come home to me until my final year, when we suddenly had at our disposal the physical and social tools to perpetrate this violence ourselves. This was abhorrent to me, I couldn’t stand the thought of it – it actually made me feel ill. Yet I watched those kids who had gone through the same, or worse, shit that I had perpetrate and embrace this violence, instead of reviling it. It was their turn, I was told when I asked a couple of my friends why they did it. It took me a long time to come to terms with that reality, to actually understand in real terms how violence just begets more violence – a comfortable cliche that doesn’t do itself justice.

Our very origins are based, I think, on conception and conceit. At a fundamental cultural level violence seems to make sense to us, so it follows that we would look for its part in the birth our species. We think of ourselves, in this culture we call civilization, as the pinnacle of the human race. This conceit, that our culture represents our whole species, is massively damaging to our view of cultural phenomena like violence.

Believing our species coalesced in violence makes it easier to perpetuate it, that much is obvious, but the depth of violent conflict in our thinking and behaviour is terrifying. It finds easy expression in our political and social agendas in ways we just don’t notice, let alone question. We make war on drugs, obesity, terrorism, poverty and disease. Business is conducted as warfare (The Art of War by Sun Tzu being a standard business text). There are relationship battles, the grander battle of the sexes; we fight for the hearts and minds of the people.

In ‘Origin of the Species’ (there’s that conceit again) Darwin conceived evolution as war: “Thus from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely the production of the higher animals, directly follows.” Ignoring the ‘higher animals’ thing, nature conceived as hierarchy rather than obviously interconnected systems, the belief that we were actually produced through violence, on an evolutionary level, makes it far easier to see the cultural evolution and acceptance of violence as ‘natural’.

Violence isn’t necessarily about hitting someone, of course. We learn to exact violence in the cleverest, most intimate ways. We only have to look at the intricate use of violence in an abusive relationship – the horror of the physical violence is the crescendo; it is what enforces the continual emotional and intellectual violence of the relationship. It’s all about control and dominion. We all understand this, even if we are inarticulate in the face of it, we all understand. We’ve been made to by our very surroundings, which has a knock on effect into our internal lives. We commit violence on ourselves; constructing an inner violence that warps and betrays our internal lives, condemning our ability to relate to each other and the world around us into a search for and a shameful or embarrassed purchase of the latest aphoristic self-help book.

We understand when violence breaks out in traffic jams, sporting events, chat shows.  We condone or damn it but we certainly comprehend its mechanisms. We celebrate it if it happened on a grand enough scale, in the form of public holidays, parades, statues. Even in sermons. Regardless of its expression, we all understand it. We identify, sympathize and empathize. We get it.

The whole idea of being a victim of violence is totally fucked up by the cultural significance we give to the act, let alone how we view the practitioners of it. When an event is resolved through violence it somehow becomes validated by it, like violence has lent it some of its greater meaning: the philosophy of violence. We debate back and forth the meaning and intent, implication and inference, practice and theory. I find this a terrifying confirmation of violence’s legitimacy in our culture; that we are capable of talking about violence in such shades and with such specificity.

Where do we think it comes from? So many people believe or accept by default that humanity is inherently violent. Not just capable of violence but fundamentally violent – unstoppably and biologically violent. Which might suggest, through a sense of evolutionary destiny, that our violence is forgivable? Because, come on people, it is plainly, as anyone can tell, unarguably (I mean, look at the evidence) just in our nature. Almost any biological creature is capable of violence, humanity being a good example of that, but we take that fact and contort it into a syllogism mighty enough to rationalise itself away.

Go to this link, or this one  and have a look. Do some math. When faced with this are we forced to believe that it is beyond our will? That violence is, what? Inexorable? Inescapable? Preordained? Divine? When considering these consequences do we have to come to the conclusion that our drive to violence is inherent? Biological? God given? If we don’t accept a premise approximating that, what would that mean? Would it mean responsibility? Could we survive if we had to think of a history and present drenched in our bloody choices? If not does it mean we are forced to conceive of a future just as bloody?

If we were to take away our capacity for violence, our toleration of it, our civilization would collapse. It is necessary for our continuity, political, social and material, that someone or thing suffers and dies – not maliciously or cruelly necessary, only by barren, practical necessity. We believe we have to accept it in our world, to tolerate it, if our world is going to continue. It is the oil on the cogs of the machine that brings to our table what we believe we require.

In ancient Rome, when gathering evidence in a court case, from a slave, it was inadmissible, that is to say illegal, if the information wasn’t gathered with the use of torture. There’s a modern argument that torture is, after opining the use of torture as a yardstick of barbarity, actually okay, if the information gathered is important enough. If this paragraph seems to not make much sense, seems to contain contradictions and paradoxes, it’s for very simple reasons.

The use of violence has simply gone on too long, become too complicated. Violence, enduring and horrendous, becomes the default because, y’know, what else are we gonna do? How would you fix it, buddy? Come on genius, solve the world’s problems.

Why is it so hard to just stop?

I’ve read that a culture can’t change its belief in its fundamental principles, because once it does it ceases to be that culture and becomes something else. To aspire to forget violence, to find another way to communicate our needs and desire on the world and ourselves, would mean a change of culture. We could become something else.

When I was in Barcelona recently, with my brother, we were staying in a Hostel. We were in the main bunkroom, a room that had maybe 25 or 30 beds. On the first night there myself, my brother and a number of other people were trying to get to sleep, a venture continually thwarted by a group of 20-something English travelers who were treating the bunkroom as a staging ground for their drunken adventures. They would leave and someone would get up and turn the light out. A short while later they would come back, turn the light on, drink more, talk loudly, and then leave again. Someone would get up and turn the light out. This repeated every twenty minutes or so.

I figured this was something you just accept as the price of a cheap bed. Until midnight – then it gets really fucking annoying. I had been getting angrier and angrier, quietly fuming away on my lower bunk, my brother trying to sleep above me. The pattern of drunken visitations continued, with the added bonus of a couple of disparaging remarks about one sleeper’s big white arse sticking out. Then, at 2am, one of them made a snide comment questioning the whole room’s desire to sleep when we should have been out drinking. The sort of loud mouth, fuckwit comment only protected by the comforting, arrogant presence of a large group of drunken friends. I snapped. The slow burn of my frustration and anger launched me out of my bed with a yell of, ‘Get the fuck out of here’ and had me, before I realized it, propelled halfway across the room, dressed only in my boxer shorts, wanting to hurt someone very badly.

When I got to them, the group of three nearest to the door, I didn’t stop. I transformed my momentum into violence very efficiently, shoving one hard in the chest, propelling him out and into the corridor wall, hard. I was still talking, though I have no idea what exactly I was saying. I turned immediately and grabbed one of them (the one making all the comments) by the throat and pinned him against the wall. The third one I reached for and I think I got hold of his shirt before he broke my grip by moving backwards very quickly. My brother had jumped off his bunk and followed me, backing me up while, very wisely, trying to calm the situation down. I was inarticulate in rage. I couldn’t express to the guy I had by the throat what I wanted to because I wasn’t thinking that clearly, I just wanted to put my fist straight into his face.

I wasn’t scared. The rest of the group had backed out onto the little balcony, giving me room and abandoning their friends. I definitely wasn’t scared. I wanted one of them to swing at me. The only cap on my actions was that I hadn’t damaged anyone and I wouldn’t start a fist fight unless one of them tried to hit me. I wanted someone to swing at me so I could start swinging back, I desperately wanted a reason, something I could look back on later and say that I not only had provocation for my anger but direct cause for my violence. I wanted to hurt someone so badly I could barely contain it.

I think of what I must have looked like: I’m not small any more. I’m an inch or so shy of six foot, broad shouldered with an athletic frame. I exercise frequently and am strong. I’m balding, so I keep the bald man’s traditional skinhead haircut. I was bigger than two of the guys I attacked and wider than the other. I also have a few tattoos on my torso. I would have been scary. Seeing someone in a rage is always scary. Seeing a half naked someone who looks capable of violence charge at you and grab you or your friend by the throat is, I imagine, sobering in the extreme.

The end result was that they backed down and got out. No one threw a punch. When they came back they were quiet enough that I didn’t wake up. The next two nights were the same, very quiet and considerate. In the intervening time they didn’t make eye contact with me, even when I sought it.

I’ve told a few friends about this now, and I don’t believe I’ve coloured it too much to benefit me. Every time I’ve not only been forgiven my actions, I’ve had them approved. I had cause. It was understandable. It was so out of character that it must have been justified. I’m sure most, if not all, of these responses have been out of care for me. But I… I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’m aware that I haven’t told one particular person who would have been horrified had they been there and witnessed it.

The worst thing, and the most relevant to my thoughts on violence, is that the anger that I channeled wasn’t the anger those drunken English kids generated. I had been conflicted and confused about something for days; something I’d left behind before but had come back to prey on me, causing a very specific kind of doubt and conflict. There was real turmoil inside me, and those poor Brit bastards just brought it out.

I’m ashamed of myself. I hate violence. I hate the process and the results. Yet I perpetrated it. Worse, I let anger fuelled by personal confusion become violence against stupid but blameless targets. I manifested the lessons I had learned at school. Which makes me hate even more that there is part of me that is secretly proud of the violence I became, that I actually feel better about myself because I have had that capability confirmed.

This is the language of violence, the thing that our lives are steeped in. The distant acts of our past waiting inside us for an opportunity to present themselves – whether it is outwardly on others or what we inflict internally on ourselves. A perpetual cycle of violence and scars subsumed in the currents of our lives only to be heaved up by the tides on other shores.

I want to replace the violence, and the underlying hatred, in my life. I want to be able to feel love and exact the results of that on the world instead. But I can’t find the path. Or I can’t identify it. Yet it must be there because I’ve seen others walking it.

Hate is the process and violence the result. Replace the hate and change the result. Sounds easy enough.

—-

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

New Things

It’s funny how new things bring states and sensations that are not only hard to predict but are usually counter to the intended effect. We often say we’re seeking change just for the sake of it, throwing ourselves at something unpredictable in an effort to shake something loose inside us. But when we choose something new, be it music, a shirt, some new place or situation, the idea is to bring on a specific change – there usually being some really specific ideas involved, highly conceptualized results desired. Irony wins again! We get what we asked for instead of what we wished for: we’re quickly immersed in new, sometimes uncomfortable, and always revealing, perspectives.

I bought a fairly expensive zip-up hoodie a couple of months back, it was a concession to myself as I was feeling like shit and thought that indulging in a fashion ubiquity, one I’d been slightly guilty and embarrassed about liking, would improve my mood – I would, however briefly, be street cool. Instead it just made me feel old. Which was okay, actually. Kind of helpful, in fact. Ultimately the hoodie just made me feel exactly as cool, fashionistically speaking, as I’ve always been, which would accurately be described as un.

It’s a small example, I can totally do better.

A while back I made a couple of pretty big changes, circumstantially and philosophically, in an effort to bring on the tumult of life. It was meant to disrupt and then sand blast the chaff away from my psyche and soul, leaving me raw, fresh and totally sensitive to my new surroundings. I think in my head I would be hotter too. It was meant to reveal the real me, all undimmed and radiant. It was to be dramatic: transformation through trauma. [aside: everyone was to be terribly impressed]. Instead the tumult and turbulence not only failed to manifest this being but actually subsided below normal levels, consequently bringing to the surface aspects and vantages that I’d hoped would be the chaff.

Intention seems to be blind and perspective wears cleats (it needs traction to properly leverage the kick to the nuts, you see). Plus, everyone should be aware, irony is a motherfucker.

Perspective is definitely the thing and people, annoyingly enough, are the key. People are the changing perspective that takes a static image and make it all swooshy and 3D. They keep on moving around you, looking at the same things you’re looking at, and saying stuff, fucking up the clear sight line you thought you had to the horizon. I realized, at some point (let us pretend it was long ago), that my penchant for solitude to aid clarification and enlightenment, was often just retrenching. Remove the hard stuff from your view and you don’t have to work so hard to focus around it.

I don’t mean to bash solitude, me and solitude have totally got each other’s back, it’s just that if you’re using solitude to abridge your existence rather than adapt it the time would be better spent with your hand down your pants (I don’t mean to bash masturbation… oh, wait…). I reckon, after one has taken one’s space in order to facilitate a process of inner harmonization, if that harmonization can’t take contact with people then it’s not harmony, it’s just humming with your fingers jammed knuckle deep in your ears.

By consequence choosing someone new in your life is a huge thing; the instant, unforeseeable perspective jars and quests at you, forcing knowledge both ways, through the sieve of evolving personal context. It’s said that the great thing about a new person in your life is that you get to retell all your favourite stories, reveling in the fun and drama. It seems to me that it’s the shake up they get under someone else’s gaze; these old truths, myths and legends getting a good airing so you can see which bits have rusted and fallen off. The bits that fall off tell you stuff in quiet, clunky whispers no one else can hear.

Our stories always change because the end is forever different. I love getting the chance to hear my friends tell new people stories I heard years before – spot the differences and figure out what changed and why. I used to think it was lying but it’s really the opposite of that.

So coming to know someone is ultimately renewing, allowing a triangulation of selves that promises or hints at all sorts of stuff in the past and future. It can be really disconcerting stuff, no matter how cool and exciting, but only if you venture a certain distance into that new relationship, embracing it and being willing to live with it’s redefinitions and challenges. And that’s why the gods gave us orgasms. It’s a balance thing.

Words and Lies and Truth and Stuff

Words are a sacrosanct thing to me. Which isn’t to say I’m a grammar Nazi, as such, more like a meaning fascist. Words are intent, they are promises – they’re things that bind. Little gets my panties in a twist more than hollow words, sentences and statements that lack motive force. I don’t require that all that I read or hear be true, far from it, just that it be meant. A lie is almost as interesting, on average, as a truth. What someone is willing to or needs to lie about is fascinating and incredibly revealing. The funniest people are those that mean what they’re saying. The smartest people are those that know what they mean. Boring people are those that can do neither.

I follow the things I lie about with close attention – and I don’t mean big, formulated lies that deceive people for ignoble purpose, I mean the little lies that sprint from your cortex and escape your lips before you realise because, for whatever reason, the truth isn’t tolerable at that moment. Destructive lies are horrendous things I desperately try to avoid; hardly anything will make me feel worse than lies as weapons, though one of those things is the truth as a weapon, through blasé disregard for others or blind adherence to the bullshit dictum that truth is paramount, always. But lies as self-defence, be it my own or someone else’s, that shit draws my attention immediately. It’s like bird watching, just without the anoraks. I’ve had the opportunity, recently, to come face to face with some lies I’ve been telling myself for years, the sort of lies that are told, internally (though by natural progression they made their way to the external world), so often that they became set in the paths and walls of my psyche so I could only see the cracks if I stopped and looked closely. Yank those lies out, as I did with differing levels of disgust, and suddenly your balance goes and your vision blurs because the infrastructure had grown used to their support; nothing is stable for a while. It can be pretty freaky. Lies are important, is the lesson I learned, and should be treated with respect.

I like honesty. Someone who is honest with others and themselves – not to the point when you’re telling your workmates why it is exactly you keep the Vaseline on your nightstand, of course (please lie and tell me it’s for chapped lips, because that’s what I used it for last time I was at your place), that can just be upsetting. And honesty is not something I necessary confuse with truth; truth implies full disclosure, regardless of circumstance, while honesty can be the pieces by which the jigsaw of truth is made. Sounds trite, sure, but seriously, fuck you, sometimes I’m trite; honesty is a process by which you can reach some truth. They’re pieces of each other and thus hard to define (as I’m proving). Saying you like or dislike something is being honest, saying you like or dislike it because the neighbourhood weirdo used to insert his pinky finger up your butt while singing Yellow Submarine, is the truth. Both have their place and importance, you really just need to pick that place and it’s importance carefully because they don’t all lead to happy endings.

(Don’t worry; I don’t even know the words to Yellow Submarine).

The measure of honesty, maybe, is the person who is willing to be honest even if it impacts on their social standing. Seeing someone who’ll be honest because they recognise it as a process to reaching some truth, rather than as a shock tactic or leverage point, is an impressive and inspiring sight. They understand the ideas of social lubrication, and apply said lubrication when required, but are willing to be honest, of themselves and about others, even when it won’t necessarily serve them to be so. You can trust people like that (whether you choose to or not may say something else). I’ve met someone like that. She’s pretty awesome – and I mean awesome in the original sense rather than the surfer sense (though there is something of that in there too).

Words and what they mean are like a compass, telling you where you’re standing. I need meaningful exchanges with people before I can talk shit (which is fun, I don’t mean to knock the talking of shit) – I just need to know where everyone is. Because of all this, as one would imagine, and many could attest to, I really suck at small talk. Which I’m okay with.

Telling Truths

I’ve been tagged with a meme by a blogger who I’ve come to really enjoy reading: phoenixaeon, a gently introspective blog I’ve become increasingly attached to over time. ‘Memes’ equate to online chain letters (however inaccurately named), something I grew allergic to at primary school, but this task interested me: say ten honest things about myself and then pass on the task to seven blogging friends. I’m not going to do the latter, for various reasons, not all good, and the first… well that’s the hook. I was thinking about truth telling in this context, on and off, as I was digging trenches yesterday and it really caught my interest. Now, I could bash out any number of ‘true things’ about myself (I seriously contemplate, almost daily, the sense in wearing undies with the seams on the inside [1]) but what actual use would knowing that be to anyone in my life? Does it require revelations of a more intimate nature (unexpectedly catching glimpses of myself in mirrors often freaks me out quite seriously [2]) in order to be worthwhile? Intimate knowledge is what others have presented with this meme, yet I can’t help but ask the same question: what use is that knowledge to anyone in my life? Sure it allows people to get to know me better, but not for any good reason. If someone wants to know me better they only have to ask me questions (I take answering personal questions very seriously: honesty or nothing [3]), one way or another they’ll get a better idea of me.

I’ve told various truths about myself, in previous blog entries, that I was surprised to be comfortable with. I assume that truth telling in this capacity is what other bloggers, phoenixaen included, are partaking of: truths as a process of personal revelation, where the telling is more important than the told (my 4th to last relationship failure was a relief [4]). But, for me, the process of these truths emerging mattered deeply to the process. I’m not sure the generation of ejaculatory truth is something I’m capable of doing with any particular feeling. I wonder at the worth, for me, of telling such truths out of context. I like answering questions and having questions answered, and I like telling the truth, but delivery matters enormously. It’s not just about the money shot. Context binds truth to it’s own ends, so if you’re controlling the context you’re controlling the truth (I hate, fucking hate, post-modernist philosophising [5]). So when I control the context as much as I am now, what truths am I actually telling? What can a reader take from this? (I’m not going to tell you [6]).

I’ve always thought that truths about people are more interesting when you know something about them that they don’t. Not something they don’t know you know (that can be as dangerous as it is interesting) but something they themselves don’t know.

The act of telling the truth can be one of subtle deception – the little omissions that unbalance a story or confession make the truth told a lame creature, lacking in it’s natural power. These are the truths most of us tell, I think. Not necessarily out of a desire to deceive but rather of a desire to protect ourselves. It’s like a peace offering, an enticement: treat this truth well and more perfectly formed ones will follow. Look for what is absent in a person’s truth and you might see what they really want to tell you (I used to look down my friend’s top when we play-fought [7]).

Personally I opt for white noise; tell a lot of truth and you can effectively bury the relevance of it in an avalanche of information. The point of the avalanche is not concealment, per se, it’s a weeding process of sorts. Only those who are listening will glean important information, putting together larger images – truth as a jigsaw puzzle. (I often place my words in the anecdotal mouths of others [8]).

Knowledge, truth and meaning, three interactive concepts that warp each other with their variable gravities, are deeply malleable things (I like being smart but I envy the clever [9]). I was talking with a friend of mine the other day about capabilities: psychological studies have revealed that the hallmark of true incompetence is the inability to question one’s competence. It simply never occurs to some people that they’re terrible at what they’re doing. That can be frustrating when encountered, but it occurs to me that the more dangerous prospect is someone who is exceedingly competent at something yet, also, never questions that competence; there’s an obsessive potential there that could crush all before it. At least the incompetent fall over.

The essential quality for knowledge, truth, meaning and competency is doubt. Doubt is the element that gives dimension to a concept, it makes you move your head to better see the side of a thing, to better understand how much you can’t see. Doubt slows you down and makes you better appreciate whatever quality and quantity of truth you’re lucky enough to encounter.

(Three of these ten truths are lies [10]).

Possibly a little smart arse-ish at the end there?

Me vs Poetry

I always reckoned that, if it came down to it, I could totally take poetry out. I mean, seriously, as much as one can respect poetry’s mind, poise and philosophies, it has to be observed that it wears glasses and is a little weedy. So I figure I’d totally kick it’s ass.

Which, sadly, in a fight or flight kind of way, is a normal response to a thing that one fundamentally doesn’t understand. Which I don’t, though I’ve tried. Just kind of figured it was one of those things… my wiring or something.

Anyway, recently I’ve ventured into the domain of poetry under the scrupulous and benevolent gaze of One Who Knows and have been surprised at the delight of it. The impact and the strength of it. I certainly couldn’t claim any particular knowledge or understanding, having only read from two particular authors, but I seem to have been talked through the door and into a comfy chair. There’s a power to it I wasn’t expecting, a concentration by way of dilution that leverages meaning, both personal and from the poet, through no intention of my own. While I remain baffled, I’m suddenly curious about it in ways I never was and couldn’t fake.

Poetry doesn’t box, it does one of those weird martial arts from the elevated, remote mountainous regions of Asia, where Mums & Dads pass on to their children the secret of extracting, using just their left earlobe and breathing techniques, people’s appendix through their elbow. I have a friend who spent many years learning a thing called Zen Do Kai – it’s one of those martial arts that takes the most violent parts of other martial arts and, through a process of dehydration and using the hot wash cycle, concentrates them into an evolutionary beast that would terrify anyone with the brain kinetics fast enough to appreciate what just happened to them. This friend of mine, Broad of Shoulder, used to come around and say things like, ‘Dude, I’ve gotta show you this move, it’s awesome. Try and punch me really hard in the face.” And, after some false starts and argument, I would. Because I’m stupid. The next thing I knew I would be face down on the carpet with his foot on the back of my neck and my right arm at a distinctly uncomfortable angle, wondering what the fuck just happened.

Poetry has a result like that.  In that you end up on the ground, staring at the ceiling, wondering how the fuck you ended up there. There are two basic forms of martial arts, as I understand: hard forms and soft forms. Hard forms are all about the application of force, direct and precise, while soft forms are about the redistribution of the force, the redirection and absorption of it. The soft form is strangely intimate. Poetry is kind of like that, a soft form. It’s pretty cool. And totally preferable to Broad of Shoulder’s process. I mean, staring at the ceiling unexpectedly can be fun but the process of getting there really makes a difference.

So I’ll get back to you about that ass kicking.