Put up or shut up It’s time that I put my words…

Put up or shut up

It’s time that I put my words into actions. Repeatedly, I’ve said to myself and others that its more important to pursue your own ends, to be an individual first. I’ve said that the groups you belong to come second to yourself. Remarkably, its much easier to say then do.

I’m a tall, white man. I’m a geek. I’m college educated and I’m a manager at work. I’m the Man. I’m a member of KQED (the SF public TV station), the EFF, the ACLU, and I’m registered in the green party. I’m a member of the NRA, but I don’t tote a gun. I don’t smoke and I’m a jogger. I’m a genXer and a child of young boomers. And until a few weeks ago, I was one half of a ‘couple’.

Each of those groups wants to grab a hold of my identity. The green party pamphlets, printed on triple recycled paper, come in the mail with my renewal notices from all the charity ‘membership’ organizations. My intercourses with them entice me with offers of money, pride and a sense of belonging. They shame me into their arms with sprinkles of white liberal guilt and suggestions of bad things to come without my support. I’m reminded how I should or should not live. Slight gestures dictate how I should or should not behave. Examples show me how I should or should not think.

I’m seduced into consuming this group fodder and the blame for this should is placed squarely on my own willingness to belong. That willingness is guided by insecurity and lack of confidence in myself. For wanting to belong is the opposite of being an individual. It takes courage to be an individual and you have to work at it. Lack of courage or laziness pushes you away from yourself and it becomes easier to consume others’ thoughts and behaviors then it is to invent your own.

But individuality is insidiousness as it is its aim to undermine others’ individuality. To have a thousand followers, is to be the ultimate individual. For to have followers means that you’ve created thoughts or movements that are so original and provocative that others give up their own to borrow yours. You must destroy others’ individuality to complete your own.

On the flip side of the coin: as an individual who seeks to be creative, you’re drawn to other individuals who are like-minded. Like gravity in the forming of solar systems, these individuals form groups. And of course, those groups, being groups, are hell bent on destroying the individuals in them.

Why do individuals gravitate towards each other? You cannot create anything out of a vacuum. An individual’s creativity, whether its in art or science, is shaped by the observations made around them and it is shaped by the creations that came before. In painting for example, the artist fills his canvas with particular visualizations of the natural world. To be original and therefore creative, he must paint in response to others that have painted before him. Even if he paints the opposite of what has been painted before, he can only paint in the context of what was painted before or what is being painted now. In any case, the very notion that he is a painter requires that he has joined that group of people that wield paintbrushes and who know the names of all the colors on the color wheel. There’s no such thing as the painter who is not a painter.

If you are an individual consumed with ideas, you are naturally attracted to other people that are consumed by similar ideas. Ideas, like works of art, build off each other. The group’s purpose becomes allowing the individuals to efficiently build off each others ideas. The group develops short hand ways to talk about things, making it easier to create new ideas and subsequently attracting more people to the group. This is why economists talk of demand curves and sociologist talk of power dynamics. In physics, relativity was a revolutionary idea, but, contrary to some theories of otherworldly origins of Einstein, even it was developed in the context of the thinking on physics of the day. Who could really believe in the “ether”, anyway?

In a sense, this all means that groups enable individuals to be creative. By presenting a dogma, the group allows individuals to build upon the faith or to bounce ideas off the canon. An individual’s creation can be additive or it can be made in contrast to the present way of looking at things.

So groups are good, right? Right, except they also can be destructive to the individual. The group has the ‘average’ individual. Of course, the ‘average’ group member is not a real person, but if you took an individual out of the group, at random, you would find some of the traits of the ‘average’ individual. The larger the group gets, the easier it is for any one lazy individual in the group to pretend to be average. So instead of generating their own thoughts and actions, the lazy group members starts acting and thinking like the ‘average’ group member.

Well, I’ve been getting lazy lately. I was too willing to let my identity morph into the averages of the two primary groups I belonged to. First, I’m a manager at a small company. My thoughts were consumed by 401ks, stock options and all manners of business jargon and fad-speak. This is all typical of your average businessperson. Second, I got lazy in relation to my ‘couple’ group status. Buying a house and having children consumed my thoughts. Again, these things are typical of your average middle class male provider.

Truth be told, I’m not really big on making a lot of money or on deriving meaning in life via reproduction. My laziness and group identities were pulling me away from myself.

I’m resolved now to do the following because they better define me and speak to what I think is important in life:

– I will volunteer in the community, ideally helping children or the poor (within the month)

– I will meet interesting people that are interested in ideas and learning (ongoing)

– I will recruit and groom a replacement at work (starting in October)

– I will get into a top economics PhD program in a California public school (2005-2009)

– three letters of recommendation (1 by the end of the year, the other two before next summer)

– I will take math and economics-related courses at DeAnza (one each quarter)

– I will take the GRE (early next year)

I will make progress towards these goals every day. I’ll note progress on this website. Please, loyal readers, keep me in check.

The new gloomsayers America is an empire. Call…

The new gloomsayers

America is an empire. Call it what you will, but it is an empire and we should learn to manage it. This is the point made in the cover articles in this months Atlantic Monthly. If Rome’s empire entailed the capture of territory, our’s is in the spread of freedom, capitalism and democracy. We should get good at managing this spread.

It sounds like Fareed Zakaria’s book seems to hint at how to manage our empire.

To manage anything, we need to know how to measure it. What is empire? What are its components? How do you measure its ascent or decline?

AlterNet: Strom Won’t Be Missed I think Christo…

AlterNet: Strom Won’t Be Missed

I think Christopher misses the point. Strom Thurmond is a great American as he embodies our history. He was a living reminder of our collective past and of the progress made and not made in his life time.

I’m not going to celebrate on his birthday and there shouldn’t be any statues raised in his honor, but we shouldn’t disparage the dead man. Let’s remember him to remember where we’ve been and where we still need to go.

Getting into the act You know. I have things t…

Getting into the act

You know. I have things to explore and to wonder about. I have plenty of discovering to do about meaning and purpose. I have questions of my own.

What requirements of solitude are there for curiosity?

Kids are not the answer. There once was a smart kid who said that men who look for satisfaction by breeding are of the lesser sort. Perhaps that was why he was so smart. Hew was on the road to wisdom (which, as it turns out, has many detours leading to dead-end cul-de-sacs infested with SUVs). I should listen to that kid, again, and rejoin my dreams and hopes on his road.

In the individual is found what great power that cannot be, by anybody’s attempts, shared with the audience?

Pleasure is a seductive choice. It feels so obvious; it caresses the tongue and licks the fingers as it absconds itself from the mind and enraptures the audience. Exquisite! Delightful! Ohhhh, it feels so good. But to what end! You can masturbate until the end of the world and still find no meaning it

9masturbating nor the world). Reductio ad absurdum: Man aged 26 experiences ultimate pleasure. Man dies aged 26 plus one day. Ergo, who cares about man and why didn’t he die the day before?!

My ideas are the residents of my mind and what of the world exists but in ideas?

Happiness must be the answer. Smiles all around, for it is the pursuit of most. What do you make of all the vacation resorts, amusement parks, and happy meals? Well, spend your time on the ferris wheel, eating cotton candy, popping uppers and getting Mickey’s autograph. You’ll die just the same as all the sad, hopeless types (including the big biz boys that happily sock away your Disney dollars), meaningless and devoid, an empty corpse but of a different color. (I imagine red instead of blue, but that’s taking the metaphor too far.)

For if happiness is found within, what is found without?

Truth. Search for it; get closer to it. Is this the answer? Can it be true? How will you know it is true when you find it? Who’s to decide? Your happy, pleasure seeking kids.

Why is there not only me?

Tomorrow Needless to say, the two days since Th…

Tomorrow

Needless to say, the two days since Thursday have been torture. The funny thing is that they were not much different then the two days before Thursday. I wasn’t in your physical presence any of the four days. The only difference was that you weren’t walking next to me in my minds eye. That image I’ve gotten used to over the last 5 years. It’s not easy to erase that image.

There is nothing anyone can tell me that will make sense of what has happened. That fact combined with the fact that you are convinced that this is the right course of action frustrates my senses. How can one love another and not be with them?

You are searching for your core identity. Your core never changes despite education, experience, vocation, friends, family or lovers. I understand this search as I’ve been looking for my core for a long time. Some would say that the definition of a wise man is one that is undergoing this search. You, too, have been searching for a long while…

Your core is singular reason why I love you. It’s who you are, but it seems impossible to articulate. On the other hand, I know what its not… It’s not your sex, your beauty, your politics or your love of me. These things change and they tend to come and go.

There are hints of it in your laugh and sense of humor, in your humility and self-assuredness. The first things that attracted me to you were your sense of wonderment, your curiosity and your need to explore meaning and purpose.

The door to our love remains, and always will be, open. If I misunderstand our relationship and the door is closed, it has been closed a long time and this set of events is the sixth act in a Shakespearean comedy (where it turns into tragedy). I don’t believe I misunderstand our relationship. No matter what either of us does, has done or will do, our love is meant to be forever. To me this means that at some point we’re meant to be together forever.

You know how to get a hold of me. Call me if you ever have a change of heart.

Tomorrow, I won’t be home when you come and get your stuff. While it has been torture so far, it would kill me to see you under these circumstances. I hope you understand.