Monday, November 3, 2008

Street Smarts

I hate the term street smarts. It’s an attribute that is often presented as the polar opposite of book smarts, which is another term I despise. What book are we talking about? Text books? Cook books? The Anarchist Cookbook? Coloring books? The Bible? What about books depicting the street?

I find people classify book smarts as intelligence that can be measured by tests, teachers, and schools (i.e. academic success). It carries a derogatory connotation for some people, as someone who is book smart can be perceived as lacking in other forms of intelligence (such as lacking the ability to effectively communicate to someone ignorant).

There is not only one type of knowledge worth knowing, and there are important things applicable to daily life that can’t be learned in a classroom. However, the experience gleaned from formal education is required for many real-life applications, despite what street smart advocates claim. In fact, the work habits and the dedication required to finish school are often more important than any piece of information learned.

I digress… back to street smarts. The word street has become synonymous with urban rap culture. However, most people thought of as being from the street in fact spend most of their outside time on porches and sidewalks. Why not porch smarts or sidewalk smarts? In fact, not standing in the middle of the street is a sign of having street smarts, as one would get run over. This is actually what most people mean when they say street smarts; they mean common sense. We’ve all seen the buddy comedies; the rigid W.A.S.P. is paired with the street-wise brotha from the hood and together they must overcome the odds. The white guy always loosens up by the end of the movie (a reminder that it’s fiction), and the black guy at some point has to apply his knowledge of the street to get them out of a jam.

This kind of movie is a psychological pacifier to the American public at large. It’s supposed to make black people feel like white people now respect them for being cool while simultaneously making white people feel good about a white guy and black guy getting along (so they don’t have to go out and do so in real life). The very presence of these movies proves the vast difference that still exists. White people don’t mind being called uncool because they control everything.

In practical terms, what are street smarts? Is it being able to talk a hooker down from thirty to twenty? Is it being able to track down weed at 3am on a Tuesday? Is it knowing how to hotwire a car? These might be useful skills, but not only are they illegal, they can all be learned in schools and books. These activities are merely negotiation, networking, and electrical engineering (respectively) applied to criminal endeavors.

This is the basic problem with the term. It wouldn’t be so bothersome if street smarts weren’t applied mostly to minorities and those who don’t do well in school, as if it’s a suggestion that their skills are best applied to some sinister cause outside our mainstream, productive society. Sadly, there may never be any street inspired rebellions; they often don’t show up to the meetings on time.

I don’t think of myself as book smart or street smart; I’m more Wikipedia smart.

Privacy and Social Networks

The fact that employers look up a person's myspace or facebook page doesn't bother me. What bothers me is that they may not hire someone because of petty things that have nothing to do with that person's ability as a worker. Corporations are cold, soulless machines that want us to believe that the buttoned shirt and slacks cubicle existence should be enough fun to sustain anyone without the need for such indulgences as drinking, concerts or parties. Frankly, I wouldn't want to work for a company who wants to hire boring people. When I send a resume, I send a few pictures of me playing beer pong in a toga just to make my stance clear.

This all comes down to the fact that people lead fractured lives, exhibiting different personalities for when they are in public or private settings, respectively. Even private life is itself fractured among extended family and varying circles of friends. There’s a big difference for many people between how they act among distant relatives and among high school pals. This is disheartening, in a way, as it encourages the division of people into incompatible sub-cultures. I wouldn’t be surprised if entirely different dialects could be derived between polite dinner table conversation and barroom banter.

I think it would be interesting if privacy disappeared. I imagine pretty soon we would stop faking our public lives and all live our private lives openly. Once we realized what we’ve been hiding all these years is all basically the same, I can’t imagine any of us would choose to act the way we do in formal settings.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Old Man Ramblings

DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction inspired by real complaints.

I don’t know nothing bout this hurry everyone seems to be in. I seem to remember a time when people could wait ten seconds for change without giving the clerk a dirty look. Just the other day at the corner store, an elderly old Indian man was baggin my purchase. Dot Indian, not feather Indian. Then he takes my money and makes change. He was no spring chicken, and the whole process was slowed down by the fact there was only a small opening in this thick, vaguely cloudy glass that was put up between us. I reckon it’s bullet proof. Well anyways, the whole point of the story is these kids behind me said, plain as day for all to hear, “This old man is slow.” Two girls in shorts so high-up they have to worry about two hairstyles.

I remember Andy Rooney talking about something like this in the eighties, bout how we’re surrounded by modern convenience and robots that do most of our work and how Americans have more free time than anybody in history. We got machines to wash our dishes, machines to wash our clothes, and of course machines to make those machines. We can order a pizza, a pair of shoes, and a new car by phone or even online, I guess... not that I’d know how. Yet despite all this “progress,” we’re all in a big hurry. I don’t know what it is that people are in such a hurry for. Then again I don’t have to worry bout two hairstyles.

Of course, maybe people is just more ornery these days. More ill tempered. More… unrestrained. Maybe that’s our fault, my generation’s. We made all these machines to do jobs better, faster, more efficient. Pretty soon the world got so efficient, there ain’t no room left for some of us. Some of us are old models. We’re being phased out, as they say. Out with the old, in with the new. Then again, they don’t make em like they used to. I remember my daddy sayin them exact same words to me when I was sittin down to watch Howdy Doody in the fifties. My dad’d rant bout how kids today have no work ethic, how we were slackers. And thems were the fifties. I thank the Good Lord he never lived to see the late sixties.

Except they do make em like they used to. We’re still the same old folks. We didn’t improve or progress none. We still have drinkin problems, drug problems, too little religion, too much religion. We hurt each other, but I can’t say I’m surprised none, considerin we hurt ourselves. “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” Maybe the Good Lord need revise that little phrase to mean "do what others expect of ya." Course some people you can’t talk to bout right and wrong, say it don’t exist. Well I tell ya, if you don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong, I hope you’re one of the models bein phased out.

Aw hell, I don’t know what I’m talkin bout. There ain’t no one to blame but ourselves, really. We raised the ones who raised the ones who raise hell now, as we speak. Shootin up schools and shoppin malls like they were galleries. Course not really much space for most of these kids. Where I grew up, you couldn’t see the nearest house from your own porch. Wasn’t nothin to set up a few cans on a fence post and shoot em off. I remember I used to imagine they was Indians. Feather this time. Spose that was mighty insensitive of me, by today’s standards. But that’s what it was back then, cowboys and Indians.

We had a clear sense of right and wrong. Maybe some of what we thought was right wasn’t. No shame in admitting you was wrong. Them Indians, they got a tough deal. Isn’t much more you can say bout it, since ain’t no one offerin to give it back. Shoot, can you imagine a bunch of Indians in feathered headdresses marching up to Washington D.C., right up to the steps of Congress or maybe even the White House, and demanding Long Island be returned to them? Course Long Island is full of Jews. You’d think on account of Israel and the Holocaust and all, they’d be understandin. I’m sure them ideals of compensation, sacred land, and birth right don’t extend too far outside their own interests.

Then again, maybe they don’t need borders to define their own county. Mexicans been slowly but surely reclaiming the Southwest. Maybe we oughta let em. Maybe when they write the history books centuries from now they’ll talk bout how America really became free here and now. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if we become so free that we ain’t one big country no more. Seems like we’s already speakin different languages. We got all kinds of different cultures, not just from outside, but new ones from within. I seen a little girl in church last week pull up her shirt to fidget with something on her belly. At first I couldn’t believe it was a piercing, the kid couldn’ta been more than ten. I don’t know where we’re goin, but I know we’re goin there fast.

I hope I’m just slow. Wouldn’t mind being left behind.


I got to thinking: I really don’t like people. I can like a person. Hell, I can love a person. Yet, I hate people. There’s just something about a group of people that really upsets me. To make matters worse, I love humanity. There is something about the individual and the collective whole that I appreciate, while at the same time I am sickened by the little groups we partition ourselves into.

For a long time, I considered myself a misanthrope in the truest and most literal sense of the word. Social gatherings bore me, with their long periods of silent observation or loud music, both of which act to discourage conversation and the free exchange of ideas in favor of mindless ritual. I feel little in common with people unless we are in a calm, quiet setting where we may talk peacefully.

It’s easy to see why I might like a person. You can talk with a person, get to know them. They share the interesting things of their life experience which causes you to relate something about yourself to them which inevitably reminds the other person of something about themselves. There is an exchange of mutual experience and each of us is reminded that we are not alone (in both the physical and philosophical sense).

However, whenever I witness people, I am appalled. Groups are a paradoxical atrocity; they are the collective selfish will of a group of people. The only aim of a group is to benefit the members. There is no other reason to form a group. Even the simple formation and existence of the group designates the first trait of that group: it provides a feeling of belonging for the members. In this respect, they are harmless. However, groups rarely stop here.

Groups all seek to exclude others. Any number of criteria may be used here. It should also be noted that while a group may be open to any who wish to join, it can still engage in exclusionary tactics. For example, Christianity and Islam pride themselves on accepting any convert, but they will exclude even those who want to be in the group if they deviate from certain rules.

Besides being difficult to remain a member, a group can also create barriers of entry that cause it to be difficult to become a part of the community. Initiation rituals and hazing are the most extreme examples. It is important in a group for membership to seem meaningful, and this can be artificially achieved through difficult entry or exclusion.

The worst aspect of a group is what happens when the group achieves any kind of power. A group acts through the group’s shared id, the simplest of mindsets which can be deemed similar among all members. This is the “attitude” or ideology the group adopts. The simplistic ideology of groups derives from their need to cater to the lowest common denominator in the group; while an individual’s understanding of a topic may be complex and nuanced, it is necessary for groups to have a simple, dogmatic view of things. This dehumanizes, oversimplifies, and ultimately misrepresents the individuals of the group.

It was not until I contemplated the whole of humanity as the only true group distinction that I came to understand I lacked true misanthropy. There’s plenty of groups I do hate: Christians, Muslims, Jews, Republicans, Democrats, the NRA, PETA, etc. However, I have met many individuals from these groups whose presence I not only tolerate, but enjoy. What was it about an individual I found so compelling?

It is not that I dislike everyone who is a part of anything, I simply dislike all organizations. The human race is the only group I wish I be a part of; it excludes no one and has no agenda except continuation of the species, which is something I can support. Groucho Marx once said “I would never join a club that would have me as a member.” Well, I wouldn’t join a club where I had to become a member to feel like I belonged.

Bacon and Homosexuality

Not many people would see much similarity between the two things listed above. However, they are actually quite similar, especially to a Jew.

While I myself am not Jewish, my fiancé is, and I am more than happy to use her as my example. She grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home that was kept kosher. When I met her, she was 24 years old and had never tried bacon.

Eventually, I got her to try it. She loved it of course, because bacon is delicious. Most people would agree with this statement, and people who don’t like bacon would probably not mind me saying so. In reality, this is very similar to how homosexuality could naturally be treated, if there was not such a heavy-handed opposition to it in our culture. The only people who might be offended by my fiancé trying bacon would be Jews or maybe Muslims, but I doubt a Muslim would care what a Jew eats. So why are Christians so nosey about gays?

I don’t believe homosexuality is genetic. This belief garners strong criticism from liberals, who insist it is not a choice. Yet, I agree: homosexuality is not a choice. People do not wake up one day and decide they want to be attracted to people of the same gender any more than people decide to be attracted to the opposite.

There is in fact no natural order to this preference. Those who oppose homosexuality are quick to point out the physiological process of procreation, as if sex is merely an activity for making babies and nothing more. Never mind that this is tantamount to saying a tool such as language should only be utilized for business, but never poetry, fiction or any kind of frivolous enjoyment.

Homosexuality is a natural occurrence. Homosexuality occurs naturally in all types of animals, from fish to reptiles to birds to mammals. There's even queer insects. There is simply no denying the natural state of homosexuality. Like masturbation, it is simply another way of enjoying life that culture (primarily religion) has deemed pointless, and therefore immoral.

But what does this all have to do with bacon? Well, quite frankly, homosexuality is merely a particular taste that can satiate an appetite present in all of us. It would be inaccurate to claim everyone was homosexual; it would be more accurate to assert that all humans are bisexual (in that it is technically possible for them to have sex with either gender, which it is). However, just as some people enjoy bacon, others do not, and others are told never to try it and may go their whole lives never doing so, homosexuality has its fans, indifferent observers and blind opposition.

All the arguments against homosexuality hold up for bacon: bacon is not necessary and a person can lead a long (perhaps even longer) life with a varied diet that does not include bacon. In fact, bacon isn’t good for you, even in moderation. Yahweh has even stated his dislike for both. However, the idea of outlawing bacon is ludicrous to us. Why is it acceptable to be intolerant of homosexuals?

We would all find it a great injustice is one day Jewish people fought to ban bacon (and all pork products for that matter). We would tell them no one is requiring them to have any. Their defense would likely sound something like the defense against homosexuality: “I don’t care what you do in your own home, but you bring it out on the streets and entice my children with it and we got a problem. You people put up billboards with bacon in cheese burgers, a double kosher no-no!"

The anti-homosexual side is merely petty and needs not even be addressed; suffice to say, those who oppose homosexuality or gay marriage are fools who can be led to believe anything as long as you get to them first or when they're questioning their life. However, the pro-homosexuality side is receptive to logic, but is misguided. They struggle to convince others of untruths in the name of justice; it is not that they are convincing people of lies for some evil cause. Because they lack the tools to win the debate in which they are correct, they rely upon inaccuracies for justification.

To say homosexuality is genetic is a dangerous claim. One must understand what this claim entails before realizing why it should be abandoned. For one, it assumes a lack of free will. It assumes we are hardwired at birth to do certain things. Who’s to say someone isn’t genetically a murderer, and therefore should not be held accountable for their actions? In the end, the pro-gay side seeks to somehow prove that homosexuals are out of control and can’t help their condition. This is clearly not the case, as they are in complete control and need no help besides the basic human rights they deserve.

This argument comes from a good place but leads to a bad one. Homosexuals have been subjected to dehumanizing treatment in Western Civilization since Christianity overtook paganism. “Homosexuality” in fact finds its naming origin in 19th century medical writing, where it is classed as a mental disorder. Even today, centers exist where homosexuals go (or are sent against their will) to be “fixed” or “reprogrammed.” It seems a logical step to prove that it is not something that CAN be fixed in order to prevent this kind of treatment. However, there is sufficient evidence to show one can essentially "acquire" a taste for heterosexuality, just as one can for homosexuality. It's just not as simple as being "born gay" or "born straight."

When my fiancé was born, there was nothing in her genes that dictated she would prefer men and also enjoy bacon. As she was raised, she had no exposure to bacon but was driven towards finding the love of a man. Her current situation, in which she has chosen to follow her culture’s gender role while ignoring her culture’s dietary rules, is a triumph of her freedom to determine what is best for her, personally, rather than what is best for all people at all times. This is the very definition of freedom: acknowledgement that what is best for you is not necessarily best for all, and that those different from you have every right to be that way.

Indeed, homosexuality is not something that needs to be fixed or altered. The preference for homosexuality is not a conscious choice, but it is something that the person has control over. The choice to perform a homosexual or heterosexual (or a non-sexual) act lies solely with the individual. This is not something anyone should dispute. What is disputable is whether or not they should be allowed to, but any person who is a supporter of freedom has only one choice in the matter: allowance.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Elections and Voting

When I hear analogies for the election, I can't help but visualize it. For example, as we close in on election day, it's sometimes described as a "sprint to the finish." Well clearly, in this situation, Obama has a huge advantage. Other people look at it like a war, with both sides bunkered in. In this situation... I gotta give it to Obama again because frankly, I've watched John McCain a lot and I'm pretty sure he can't even turn his head, so one flank attack and it's over. McCain is also always calling everyone "his friend," not very tough to me. In fact, I think John McCain only has a chance in a sleep off or a game of "Name That Tune, The ABBA Edition."


Before I say this, I want to point out I am not dissuading anyone from voting. I’m not interested in anyone changing their opinion on anything because of something I say. I only state the following because I feel like it’s an opinion that is not discussed enough.

I don’t vote. I am interested in politics, but a particular principle of mine prevents me from voting for someone in the manner I have been informed is normal. I would vote for a candidate who aligned with me on the most important issues in this country, but there has not been a candidate in my lifetime who I felt represents me. That’s what democracy is, after all: the process of electing someone who represents you. Democracy is not a popularity contest, nor is it the choice of the lesser of two evils, nor is it even a responsibility for every American.

Too often, the president is chosen based on charisma. A quick look back through history will show that charisma is not exactly a qualifier for leadership. It builds a great cult of personality around a figure, who can then do some extraordinary things, but usually they end in disaster. Basing someone’s leadership on their likeability is as arbitrary as basing their leadership skills on appearance. Of course, people who vote this way don’t know much about history.

The most common reason for voting for someone, from what I gather through anecdotal research (the most dependable of all fake research), is the old “vote against” theory of democracy. In this model, the person believes they have been given a choice and that they need to avoid the bad one. This ideology relies upon a false dichotomy: adherents believe that the choice they are presented with is complete; there cannot possibly be other choices; therefore, they choose the “right” candidate as long as they don’t vote for the worst one. This just isn’t logical for selecting a leader. If we someday allow a veto vote, in which you vote to cancel a vote for someone, then this mindset will have merit.

The last refuge of the fool losing an argument is honor. Somehow, not voting is anti-American and dishonors soldiers. Telling people you don't vote seems be an invitation for comments about how people died for my vote, usually they say something sentimental about the flag and other gibberish that moves the simple minds of sheep. I love America, and I love freedom. Somehow, I doubt exercising my freedom to not vote will dishonor anything or anyone.

If I’m not going to cast a vote in favor of a candidate who can win, then why go out? The symbolism? I’m not a religious man; ritual is meaningless to me. How about I stay home and jack off in a red, white and blue hat while listening to the national anthem, I think that’s even more American. At least then I will know I accomplished something.

I mentioned a principle. I believe a person should be able to confront, scrutinize, and acknowledge with honesty everything they do. Regret is something we all must live with. If we choose to regret nothing, we betray ourselves. It is not a betrayal of morality, but of knowledge, for it is only in acknowledging what we regret that we can better guide our future actions.

The most pressing issues the United States faces today are debatable, but my opinion is that the war on drugs and the unconditional support of Israel are the two most influential policies that could be most quickly rectified. No candidate to date has aligned with me on both issues except Ron Paul, and he is so stark raving mad on every other issue that I cannot in good conscious support him.

Monday, July 21, 2008

In Memory of George Carlin

Why is it wrong to use the word “fuck,” but it’s ok to use a term like “the F word?” What is a word? I think it’s an abstract concept composed of sounds when spoken and letters when written that represent and symbolize something we recognize. So if saying “fuck” is wrong, then it must somehow be wrong to refer to the act of copulation. However, “copulation” is acceptable, though perhaps not at the dinner table. And saying “the f word,” which is merely a representation of “fuck,” is also acceptable. So in the end, we have merely danced around a specific collection of ordered letters, while still conveying the exact same ideas, of which we were all previously familiar. So what the fuck is the problem here?

The confusion does not end there. This type of language is given a paradoxical categorization in common English vernacular. When you are a child, you are told that words like fuck are “adult language.” However, the minute you are an adult and attempt to use this language, you are considered “childish” in most circles. In fact, words like “fuck” are like marijuana: only socially acceptable in college, behind closed doors with friends who are “cool,” or on the “streets.” I, on the other hand, find this language to be the spice of conversation. It’s best in small amounts, but necessary for any kind of flavor. This is why I prefer “salty language” over “dirty language;” it seems a lot easier to swallow.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...