Becoming Childlike: A Quick Guide to Why and How You Should

(About a 9 minute read)

I believe one of the curious facts of life is that the older you get, the more you need to become childlike.  I do not mean “childish” — not even children themselves should be too childish, although certainly we should  be reasonably tolerant when they do.  But I mean here childlike.

You need to be childlike because it seems there is something about our nature such that — if we fail at becoming childlike — we in some way die, even long before we are buried.

Or, to be more precise, the resilience we both need to bounce back from hardships and defeats, and also need to adapt, change, and grow — that resilience first becomes brittle, then broken, and we become so set in our ways, we might as well be a rock, rather than a human; a dull stone rather than a vibrant, passionate, living thing.

But what does it mean, “to become childlike”?

In this context, I think there are three key traits or qualities to being childlike that, if we cultivate each, will suffice to keep us from ossifying as we age.  Those are:

  • Imagination
  • Seriousness
  • Play

The three interact with each other so intrinsically and in so many ways that it would be foolish to try to cultivate one of them without simultaneously cultivating the others too.  Think of “childlike” as an emergent property of those three things when they work in combination with each other.  That’s to say, imagination, seriousness, and play are the parts, but childlike — childlike is something greater than the sum of the parts. Instead, it is an emergent property of the parts.

Hence, were you to merely cultivate one of them,  rather than all three at once, you would not be much closer to becoming childlike at the end of your effort than you were when you first began.

So imagination, play, and seriousness  — what do those mean in this particular context?

Let’s start with imagination.  Children have abundant powers of imagination, but many of us lose most of our powers as we grow older.  The culprit seems to be knowledge.  The more we learn how things work, the less we can imagine them working in any other way than they do.

To be sure, there’s a tree in my yard, an ordinary tree, and though I myself turned 727 months old on the 10th of July, I can still imagine that tree has purple bark and gold leaves, farts invisible hairy rainbows (though it has no anus), and speaks to me in my dreams.  But that does not mean I have a truly childlike imagination.

No, I long ago lost the capacity for that kind of imagining, just like virtually every other adult.  A child, you see, can imagine what I imagine, but then go beyond that to believe that it’s true, or at least, could somewhere, somehow, in this magical universe be true.

Me, I can no longer do that, and I would be kidding myself to say I could.  Yet — lucky for me — I still do have a certain kind of imagination.  An imagination which, however, sticks mostly within the bounds of this world.

To understand what I’m talking about here, consider Micheal “Air” Jordan.  As everyone knows, he was able to leap for such distances as seemed to most of us impossible even for an athlete.  Distances that folks tried to explain as his becoming “airborne”.

But was Jordan really defying the laws of physics?  Of course not.  He was working quite within the bounds of this universe.  It’s just that he was pushing those bounds beyond what anyone expected.  And that word, “expected”, is key here.

So very often in life we corral our imagination, not merely by genuine facts, but by merely imagined facts too — that is, by our expectations.  Instead of pushing and pushing ourselves to leap further and further, we hold back a bit; perhaps give up too soon.  But that’s not what Jordan did.

Jordan, I suspect, imagined leaping beyond anything he himself could currently do and then — instead of allowing himself to believe he couldn’t do it — tested whether he could.

So the first principal of an adult imagination is: Take great care that your expectations are well grounded in reality, not made up, and be willing to test and challenge what you think are your limits.  That way, even if you can no longer believe trees are anywhere in the universe purple and gold, you might still someday become the Nobel Prize winning scientist who genetically engineers one!  And if you can accomplish that, then just how hard will it be to next get it to fart?

Put a bit differently, learn to work within the bounds of the universe in order to accomplish what might seem to most of us out of bounds.  If magic won’t turn your tree purple and gold, maybe genetic engineering will.

So that’s how to make — in this context — optimal use of an adult imagination, but where do seriousness and play enter into this?

Seriousness is key because it allows you to work diligently and determinedly, two things necessary to accomplish most goals.  Children are not thought of as particularly serious critters, but look again!  Few adults take their work as seriously as a child at play.

What children do not do is they don’t usually allow seriousness to turn into grimness.  That’s much more of an adult mistake.  “Grimness” is seriousness carved in stone — and we all know that turning to stone is precisely what we do not wish to accomplish here.  So cultivate determination, diligence, and all such related things, but not grimness.

Last we come to play.   Play means far more in this context than just doing stuff for the fun of doing stuff.  It is — above all else — and attitude.   An attitude that has several components to it.

First, play implies flexibility, experiment, and adaptation.  How often do children begin playing one game only to have it morph into another, and then into a third, seemingly on whim?  Adults tend to take “changing the rules” mid-game as cheating.  Kids clearly see it as a way of seizing opportunities to have even more fun.

So  keep loose, experiment, and adapt to new opportunities as they arise.  Yes, you spent a month, like John Irving, coming up with the perfect opening line for a novel, but look sharp! The line you just now thought of won’t work for your novel, but by god it makes a good opening for a poem!

Second, the primary goal of play as we all know is to have fun.  In fact, there’s a sense in which, for kids, that’s the only real rule: Have fun.  But adults can substitute something else for “fun”.  That is, purpose or meaning.

Ideally, you can have both.  Both purpose or meaning, and fun.  But if you had to pick between those two, it’s perfectly ok for an adult to chose purpose or meaning over fun.  Just so he or she is back home in time for dinner.

Another thing about fun.  It’s quite important to grasp that it implies being primarily driven by your own internal needs, talents, and goals.  Growing up, I was (for my age) an outstanding visual artist.  I was, for instance, drawing ships at dock in two point perspective in first grade.

Then something began happening to me that I believe happens to so many young talents.  I had the misfortune to be noticed.  And with recognition came praise.  To make a long story short, by the time I was in high school, I was doing art more for praise than for myself.  That resulted in my being at least half the time miserable because I didn’t feel my pieces were working out well enough to earn that now coveted recognition and praise.   So, in the end, I just gave up on it.

Dropped art right out of my life, and didn’t pick it up again for decades, not until I was in my mid-50s.  At that point, I was no better at it than I’d been in sixth grade, and I’m still not (I don’t practice nearly enough).  But here’s the difference — nowadays, I’m having fun at it!  And that is, once again, my primary motive for doing it.

The moral of the story is, be sure you are in it primarily for yourself in at least some key way.  That does not mean you absolutely cannot be playing at something for the sake of others, or for the sake of some higher purpose.  In fact, it’s a good thing if you do that.  But remember to make the needs of those other people, or that higher purpose, your own needs, your own purpose.  Internalize those needs or purpose!

Last, play has an element of “let’s pretend”.  This hearkens back to imagination, of course, and is pretty much covered by what I said earlier, but it should again be emphasized here.  For one thing, a good way to internalize something is to begin by pretending to embody it.

So stay flexible, experiment, adapt, have fun, and do such things as pretend you already are what you want to be — within reason, of course.

On a larger scale, imagination, seriousness, and play when well mixed together have a tendency to ignite into childlike behavior.  Into the sort of attitude towards living that will go far to prevent you from becoming ossified, turned to stone, and dead inside long before your time.

Did any of this make sense?  Did any of it help?  What do you think of the fact I wrote it all while wearing a second-hand chicken outfit with a tutu?  Questions?  Comments?

Sunstone, the World’s Most Blundering Poetry Critic, wants Your Poem — Bad!

(About a 1 minute read)

Do you enjoy composing poetry?

Are your grateful for feedback from your audience, but sometimes think your audience isn’t challenging you enough to fully help you develop as a poet?

Would it help you to grow and mature as a poet to have an honest, but admittedly non-expert, critique of your poetry to print out and burn for heat this coming winter?

Are you willing to have one of your poems published on this blog, along with just such a critique?

If that sounds like you, then I have great news!  I myself — despite Teresum’s sensible protests and despairing sighs — have decided to indulge my hand as a critic of poems.  Hopefully, a helpful one!

I’ve never done it before, and I’m not sure I really can, but I’ll give it a shot, if you will.  I promise I’ll do my best with your work — whatever “best” turns out to mean.

Simply email me at paul_sunstone@q.com with your poem and a link to your blog or website (if you wish) so I can tell folks where to find your work.

Please Note:  I cannot promise to criticize your poem because I am such a rank amateur that I might not even understand it — so no guarantees here!  But if I do attempt a criticism, then I faithfully promise I will make every reasonable effort to be as helpful and honest as I can be.  I’ll try to look at both the positives and negatives.  And — above all else — I will shoot for giving you some nutritious food for thought.

Once again, simply email me at paul_sunstone@q.com with one of your poems and a website address.  (If the poem is somewhat obscure, it would be very helpful if you’d clue me in to what you hoped to convey with it.)

The Hidden Gears of Self-Deprecating Humor

(About a 5 minute read)

“The worst evil that you can do, psychologically, is to laugh at yourself. That means spitting in your own face.”  — Ayn Rand.

It might not be strictly true that Rand was an entirely humorous person, but what little I know of her humor makes me think she was no wit, and most likely to creatively come up with a genuinely humorous line or two roughly about as often as she bathed or changed her underwear for, apparently, both her personal hygiene and her sense of humor were best suited to being employed as weapons.

Then again, I myself am at a loss to understand her notion that self-depreciating humor “means spitting in your own face” — unless it be merely the mark of some emotional or psychological insecurities on her part.

Certainly, she had a lot to feel insecure about after having spent her entire career impressing almost no one but us Americans that she was an intelligent and insightful “philosopher”, and we Americans are about as well-respected for our philosophical skills and tastes as we are for our historical knowledge that the “pursuit of happiness” is a phrase found in our Constitution, rather than in the Declaration.

Rand would never have understood the people of my hometown, a tiny Midwestern community of about 2,000 people that was for its size and place in some few ways remarkable.

Notably it was remarkable for the taste of a sizeable percentage of us for self-deprecatory remarks.  And if you lacked an aptitude for such things, you need not fear.  Just as soon as you were found out, you’d be swamped by friendly people willing and eager to help you discover how to pull off self-depreciation by making fun of your many real and imagined flaws right to your face.

Like so many in my town, I grew up with a love for self-depreciation.  During the whole of my childhood and adolescence, my love for it was matched only once.  That was my love for Terri the first night I saw her breasts by moonlight, and even then I had a strange desire to tell her I too had something to  generously share with her that was just as perky as her nipples, only smaller and much less courageous.

I think that in order to have a taste for self-deprecatory humor, you must possess a bit of self-confidence, along with an equal measure of indifference should someone take you seriously.  At least when I was growing up, I tended to temporarily lose my self-depreciating sense of humor precisely when I would temporarily lose my confidence and indifference.

But is there anything else you must have?  I’m tempted to say, “a bit of creativity”, but I’m not sure that’s precisely correct.  I’ve known some pretty unoriginal folks who could make people roar.  What might be more important than creativity is insight into oneself and others.  Especially, I think, insight into what commonly embarrasses our noble and esteemed species of poo-flinging, fur-challenged super-apes.

In conjunction with that, I think it is arguable that self-deprecatory humor hits its mark — not merely when it pierces our egos — but when it causes us to laugh at the unlikeliness of someone being perfectly oblivious to the fact they should by nature be embarrassed to admit what they just then “admitted”.

Consider my earlier joke about having something “small and timid” for Teri.  I suppose you could say that — to the extent the joke was actually funny — it was funny because it poked fun at my lack of any massive endowment, and that hence, it was targeted at ego.  That’s probably true enough.

But I think it is most likely just as true — or even more true — that the improbability of my openly admitting such an embarrassing thing also plays a role.   It seems to me that the “perfect” joke comes across as someone inadvertently admitting  to an embarrassing fact about themselves, thus achieving an element of surprise, such as Rand herself used to achieve when she would at last take a shower.

So, if all of the above is true enough, then we now have four things to memorize about self-deprecatory humor before next Friday’s quiz.  The first two are about the joker:

1) He or she must possess a bit of self-confidence.

2) He or she must possess a bit of indifference to what others might think about them, should someone take them seriously.

And the second two are about the joke itself:

3) The joke must successfully pierce the joker’s ego — at least ostensibly.

4) The joke must achieve surprise by seeming to be an admission to some fact one would not normally admit.

Remember,  Friday’s quiz will is worth one-sixth of your total grade, which amounts to fully nine-tenths of our current president’s brain wattage.

Comments?  Questions?  Heart-felt bids for Ayn Rand’s fertile panties to be used as mulch?  Improbable flaws you find in the post author himself?

A Priest Practically Begging to be Looked Down Upon

(About a 2 minute read)

Some years ago, I was impressed with a blog kept by an Orthodox Catholic priest.  The man would post quotes from Christian clergy and theologians of nearly any denomination, and those quotes so very often urged in the name of Christ social and economic justice.

It was refreshing to find in this age and culture a priest so concerned with the plight of the poor and disenfranchised, which after all, is one of the roots of Christianity itself.  Did not Jesus himself hang out with those sorts of people?  I came to admire the priest for going against the tide, and standing for some principles that deserved to endure.

But things changed.  The priest apparently began watching right wing media, because the quotes on his blog — the more political ones — shifted into fallacious attacks on all manner of liberal positions, from women’s rights to LGBT rights, and beyond.   “If women go to work outside the home, the country will go bankrupt paying for daycare, and the middle class will collapse” — crap no better than that.

But the apolitical quotes were worse.  Christianity, like some other religions, has a tendency to devolve into a carrot and stick religion.  I think we’re all familiar with that: “God in his love has offered you heaven (carrot) but should you refuse faith in him, he will send you to hell (stick).”   While not every religion is a carrot and stick religion, and while Christianity can be understood and affirmed in much more beautiful ways than that, the religion does have a tendency become corrupt in that manner.

Well, the priest’s selection of apolitical quotes certainly made it seem that every saint who ever lived did little more with their time than waste it composing sing-songy carrot and stick homilies.   If you knew nothing about Christianity other than what you could read of it on his blog during that stage of its existence, you could be forgiven for thinking Christianity was a sado-masochistic cult dedicated to infantilinzing people.

I think the worst of it, though, was the man had once seemed a rare individual willing to stand for something worth standing for, something worth outlasting our own age.  I do not pity people, for in pity is the stench of condescension, but he turned into a man practically begging to be looked down upon.

Late Night Thoughts: Personalities and Ecosystems, First Dates, Thinking Gods, and More (July 21, 2018)

(About a nine minute read)

It’s becoming evident to me that our personalities are in some ways like ecosystems.  One thing affects another, and if we aren’t careful when we go about improving things,  we can run into unintended consequences.

Back when I was in business, I became obsessed –there’s no other word for it — obsessed with time management and achieving or exceeding my goals.  For some years, I worked hard to improve myself along those lines, and it paid off quite well at first.

Each day, I would, while eating a quick  breakfast, review all my goals, both business and personal, both short and long-term.  By the time I got to the office, I was so focused that very little could completely distract me from what I intended to accomplish for the remainder of the day.

But I took it too far.  One day, I was sitting at a stoplight when it turned green while a pedestrian — an woman perhaps seventy or even eighty years old — was still in the crosswalk.  She was using a walker, you see, and quite a bit slower than I wished.

I didn’t honk at her, creep my car forward — nothing like that.  I had plenty of time that morning.  Besides, it had of course happened many times before that I’d had to wait on a pedestrian.

But this time I became aware, as I never had before, just how harsh were my thoughts towards her.  I was basically treating her in my head like a treat a fierce business competitor.  She was between me and what I wanted to accomplish, and with a bit of genuine shock, I realized what it really meant that I was not seeing her as fully human.

Of course, after that, I began to see other unintended ways my assiduously cultivated ability to focus my efforts had altered me.

♦♦♦

Have you noticed how felt gratitude possesses in some much smaller measure the power of unconditional love to renew us, to make us born again?

♦♦♦

How to save money on a first date…

GLORIA (At Door):  Hello!  You must be Paul, yes?  Well, here I am, Gloria!

SUNSTONE: Welcome, Gloria!  I’m so pleased to meet you!  Did you have a hard time finding my place?

GLORIA:  Not at all, but I must admit, I was a bit taken back at first that you wanted to meet up at your cottage.  That’s quite unusual you know, for an online date.   But then you explained you don’t own a car.

SUNSTONE:  What convinced you to come anyway?

GLORIA:  I was reassured when you said you wouldn’t insist I came in.  Nothing personal, you know, but you can’t be too cautious on a first date.

SUNSTONE:  Thank you so much  for coming. I’ll be ready in just a moment, Gloria.  I have to make a quick phone call to animal control.  My cat has escaped and I’m sure she’s in the neighborhood somewhere.

GLORIA:  Of course please make your phone call.  I’ll wait here.   What does your cat look like, in case I spot one while I’m waiting.

SUNSTONE:  She’s got green eyes, short tawny fur, big paws, and weights about 300 lbs.  You might actually spot her:  She never goes much further when she gets loose than the first pedestrian she spots.

GLORIA:  Three..hundred…pounds?  I can see in your eyes, you’re not joking, or are you?

SUNSTONE:  Oh no, she’s quite the mountain lion.  I raised her from a kitten.

GLORIA:  Oh My God!

SUNSTONE:  You’re welcome to wait inside if you’d like.

GLORIA:  Yes, yes, I think that would be a good idea.

SUNSTONE: By the way, I have Netflix and, even though I’m not much of a cook, it won’t take long to make some of my deep-fried mac and cheese….

GLORIA: I cannot believe this is happening!

♦♦♦

A petite homeless woman knocked on my door one night last winter, the day of the first snow of the season.  She had about twenty reasonable requests of me, not more than one of them that I granted her.  Five dollars for cigarettes was all I gave.

“Uncharacteristic of me”, I thought after I’d sent her away.  But while she still was there, the thought had crossed my mind, “She might steal from me if I let her in, and turn my back”.

It wasn’t much more than a mild self-caution, but it had been enough.

♦♦♦

I have long been uncomfortable with the notion that a god — if one or more exist — thinks.  To be sure the notion is an anthropomorphism: That much is granted.  But it seems to me an especially preposterous anthropomorphism — much on the same level as believing a god had a beard.

For one thing, what we humans mean by “thought” is essentially symbolism.  That is, our thoughts bear much the same relationship to reality that a map does to its terrain.  When we think of a house, we’re not doing anything greatly different in principle from what a cartographer does when he or she places a small dot, a star, or a square on a map to represent that house.

But suppose that’s the same as what it means for a god to think.  Wouldn’t that place god at least partly outside nature — outside the natural universe — in much the same sense a map is separate from its terrain?  I think so, and that rather alarms me.  I’m not a theist, but if I were one, I would believe in a deity that was co-extensive with the natural universe, rather than in any way outside of it.

Yet my preference for a pantheistic deity is merely personal.  There’s no reason to hold that view other than for one’s own reasons.  To me, a more serious criticism of the notion that deity thinks begins with the recognition that thinking takes time.

The thought, “I’ll go to the store, buy some milk, lace it with Colorado weed, and sneak it back onto the shelf — fun, fun, fun!”, doesn’t normally present itself in our minds all at once unless we’ve previously come up with it.  Rather, it takes time for those thoughts to unfold.

But what would that mean to a deity?  Would it not mean the deity was subject to time?  Subject to past, present, and future thoughts?   Or if Einstein was correct in suggesting that time is an illusion, then for the deity to think like a human, it too much suffer from the same illusion.

Moreover, if it is the case that deity is subject to time, then doesn’t that imply the deity is at any given moment (except, perhaps during the very last moment of its existence) not omniscient, not all knowing?  For it would not know what it’s next thought would be.  And if is not all knowing, how can it completely know what it itself is?  As an example, if it was external, it would not know it — being subject to thinking within time.

There are many implications besides those, but I think you might see the point now:  To say deity thinks like we think is at least to say that deity is limited in knowledge and perhaps subject to at least one illusion.

Then beyond all that, you would have the problem that humans have cognitive biases, are notoriously imperfect at predicting the future,  entwine thought with emotion, and can’t keep their minds off the studly guy or beautiful gal next door, etc, etc, etc.

♦♦♦

Fragment of a poem in progress:

How many souls would we need
If we needed one for each soul
Stolen or lost by us
On the way?

And what sum of souls is tallied
By thirty years without loving —
Without loving freely?

♦♦♦

Tonight, it strikes me as curious morality and wisdom are not the same thing.  I often hear people defend the practices of distant ages by saying something along the lines of, “Well, given the morals of that time and place…”.   Perhaps.  But have some things always been wise?

 ♦♦♦

In a novel written in the 1920s,  a woman is planning a dinner party she’s giving for about a dozen guests.  Carefully, very carefully, she considers each of several seating arrangements,  imagining as best she can the conversations the different arrangements will prompt.  She pays little attention to who has the honor of sitting next to who: It’s the conversations she’s focused on.  And she goes further than that.

She plans how she will prompt each guest at key moments through-out the evening with questions she’s selecting just for them.

My father was born in 1900.  In the early 50s, he noticed the conversations among his circle of friends had begun to shift away from a wide range of (probably pre-selected) topics and towards talking about the high points of the past night’s or past week’s television shows.

“The art of conversation is dying”, he told my mother, “It will be buried soon.”

♦♦♦

“There are no boring speakers.  Only bored audiences.”  — Speaker forgotten, but an English lord, circa 1890s.

One day, an old couple in their 70s came into the restaurant where I had just begun waiting tables.  It was my first day, and I didn’t yet know who the regulars were, but it didn’t matter in their case, because they very quickly told me they’d been coming to that restaurant for lunch almost every weekday for the past forty-two years — ever since the day or so after they’d gotten back in town from their honeymoon.

Before I had time to fully digest that incredible news, the woman pleasantly instructed me, “Just tell Amie” — she was the cook —  “we’ll have our usual sunny-sides-ups today.  And, young man, I’ll need the jar of salsa you’ll find on a shelf in the mini-refrigerator at your waiter station, please.”

It wasn’t until after my shift, and I had time to reflect, that it fully sank in how odd  anyone would spend forty-two years going for lunch to the very same restaurant!

As the days turned into weeks and months, they certainly did come in nearly every weekday, excepting only the weekends.  I noticed they had almost no conversation between them.  They would more or less routinely invite others — usually semi-regulars — over to their table and then they might chat lively enough.  But on those occasions when they sat alone, they were almost totally silent.

Sometimes it seems quite curious to me we get bored with the people we love the most.  After all, isn’t boredom so often a form of turning away, of withdrawing from people in practice, if perhaps not actually in principle?

♦♦♦

Was it television that did in the art of conversation during the 1950s?  Or was it the decimation during the war of the upper classes — the people mostly responsible for sustaining the art?

On the Astonishing Resemblance Between the Old Pigs and the New Pigs

(About a 7 minute read)

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” — Carl Sagan

It seems so strange how reliably we humans can be duped again and again and again by the same ancient tricks. I think it’s especially true that each generation in turn falls for the same cons as its parents once fell for. But I notice so many individuals never learn much either, but over and over become marks for, at most, marginally different scams.

Maybe more so than most things, it’s so true of politics. I’m sure you will agree with me that easily up to three-quarters and probably more political promises are broken. And, beyond promises, it’s so simple to dupe the people into supporting things that are not in their own best interests to support.

Want to start a war — even an unjust war of aggression? It’s not hard. Label some group or nation an enemy, an existential threat, tell the people they are in imminent danger of attack, and denounce any domestic opposition as fools and traitors. Nothing more is needed, but it works, and it’s so frequently used again and again almost without fail.

In Animal Farm, George Orwell warned of the one of the oldest, most dangerous, yet effective, tricks in anyone’s political playbook. It’s as simple as going to war, and it’s basically a bait and switch con. Portray yourself as a common person, an ally of the people, and viciously denounce the current ruling elite as oppressors. Then foment a revolution promising freedom and liberty from their oppression. When the people succeed in overthrowing the old oppressors, pull the “switch” and become the new oppressor.

Which brings us to the actual focus of what I wish to discuss: I believe a rock solid argument can be made for asserting that extreme right libertarianism easily lends itself to being used as a mask for the sort of bait and switch con George Orwell described in Animal Farm, and is therefore an inherently risky political ideology — in much the same way that Marxism is in practice

In my opinion, it’s the perfect tool for the job. And I think that’s despite — or more likely, even in part because of — the great attractiveness of the libertarian principle, “maximize individual human freedoms and liberties for everyone as much as practically possible.”

Superficially, it would seem obvious that the libertarian principle does not allow for either an oligarchy or a tyranny of one. After all, how can you possibly have either an oligarchy or a tyranny and still maximize human liberties for everyone? It just can’t be done.

But as Animal Farm teaches us, it can indeed be done if the “for everyone” becomes merely a ploy, merely smoke and mirrors, in some group’s or person’s political tool kit. And I submit, there is nothing intrinsic about extreme right libertarianism that would serve with much effect as checks on any group or individual wishing to use the ideology as a ploy to gain dominance over all.

Surely you are now thinking, “But what about other groups or individuals? Wouldn’t they be natural checks on the ambitions of other groups or individuals?” Up to a point, I agree with you. But only up to a point. So long as folks remain more or less equal in wealth and power, they can — and probably would in actual practice — serve effectively to check each other’s ambitions to dominate everyone.

Yet how often can you honestly say such a state of affairs has ever been long maintained by any society in human history — apart from small bands of egalitarian hunter/gathers? Even a fairly shallow study of history quickly reveals the trend is almost invariably towards increasing disparities of wealth and power until at some point a ruling elite emerges that — over time — becomes smaller and smaller in number until only a few or one remain who then dominate everyone. Over and over that’s been the story of humanity.

Of course, you might now think, “All of that’s nice, but it’s also beside the point, because all one really needs is a constitution full up with strong checks on balances on political power. Hah! You fool, Sunstone! Got you there for sure!”

Upon due reflection, I am sadly forced to reply, “You’re absolutely right. I cannot for the life of me think of any answer that defeats you’re point. Gods, but how I hate you and will now live out the remainder of my days bitterly wishing the hamster you kept as a kid had died even sooner!”

Just teasing! The truth is I believe it simply naive to imagine a constitution — any constitution — could long withstand being subverted if and when there arose such a great disparity of wealth that one person or a group of people could buy the government despite any attempts by much poorer people to stop them. “Well, what if the government is so weak, so powerless, that even if some person or group controlled all of it, they’d never be powerful enough to truly dominate the nation?

As an aside, you so often hear surprisingly earnest variations of that sentiment these days! “Let’s keep the government weak in order to make it powerless to enslave us.” I say “surprisingly” because it is astonishing how very little people think through to see weakness of that idea these days. I have no explanation for that. Even perfectly intelligent people do it.

Of course, the obvious thing is that if the government is truly weak, then it becomes easy to over match it, and then either with or without its apparatus go on to take the whole country — assuming only you have a great enough advantage over others in wealth and power. But even if the government has, say, a strong military and is therefore not truly weak, you are at most only set back until you can marshal enough resources to seize it one way or another, along with control of its military.

The point of all this has been to first present the notion that extreme right libertarianism is a risky investment if you are genuinely interested in both yours and others freedoms and liberties, and a ready and handy mask to hide behind if you are truly only interested in maximizing your own. Second, that it provides no effective guarantees against either tyranny or oligarchy, ultimately because it provides no checks on the historical tendency in any given society towards increasingly vast disparities in wealth and power.

Somewhat in the imagery of Animal Farm, extreme right libertarinanism is the perfect tool for the new pigs to rise up, overthrow the old pigs, only to then become just like the old pigs.

Comments? Questions? Cake recipes? Descriptions of new and exciting depravities? Invitations to listen to you play Bohemian Rhapsody using only a tuba?

Are Pleasure and Pain Lenses Through Which We See the World?

(About a 4 minute read)

Yesterday,  a friend showed up at my cottage — a surprise visit.  Her mood was quite good, but mine wasn’t.  I was a bit down from lack of sleep.

Normally, I take great pleasure in her visits right from the start, but it was a few minutes before I was able to do so yesterday.  During that time, I noticed how my disappointment that I didn’t feel an immediate rush of pleasure to see her colored my ability to appreciate and share in her good mood.

Now none of that was odd, except for this:  This one time, I was more aware than I usually am of how my expectations created as feeling of disappointment that in turn, for a few minutes, colored what I thought about her, how I felt about her, and how I saw her.  That’s to say, it was a little bit as if she appeared to me a different person than the one I know so well.

After she left much later on in the morning, I got to thinking about those few minutes again and consequently began wondering how much does the pleasure (or pain) we take in people affect our view of them?  I think they obviously do to some extent.

Yet the challenge here is knowing the manner and extent to which they do.  When a person sets him- or herself to figuring out what it is they don’t know, the project quickly runs up against the fact it is so very hard in most cases to gauge what we don’t know, for we would otherwise know it.  But let’s give it a try.  We can start with pain.

I suppose most of us have enough experience of pain to easily recognize that it turns us inward upon ourselves.  We easily lose much interest or appreciation for the world beyond it, and we typically become predominantly concerned with ourselves. Hard to see the beauty of hawk in flight, if your back is in agony, or to concern yourself with someone’s feelings besides your own.   In fact, we not merely become concerned with ourselves, but usually only with those aspects of ourselves that either demand our attention or have something to do with our suffering.

When seen that way, pain can be thought of as a lens through which we see the world — not precisely as it is — but as it appears through the distortions of the lens.  But can’t we say the same about pleasure?

That is a point that I myself often forget, and yet I believe, it should be every bit quite as obvious to me as that pain can be a lens.

It’s true we usually treat pleasure and pain differently — we typically seek the one and try to avoid the other.  Perhaps because we think in terms of seeking pleasure, we might be inclined to also think that pleasure draws us out, prompts us to engage the world, rather than turns us inward upon ourselves, as does pain.   But if that’s how we think, then we are misled.

To see the point more clearly, consider a beautiful man or woman walks by your window while you’re busy doing taxes.  I think most of us would feel a rush of pleasure in such circumstances, and might easily “forget” whatever else was going on besides the beautiful man or woman.

Certainly, there’s a sense here in which the desire to take pleasure in the appearance of a beautiful person draws us out, prompts us to engage the world.  But is there not also a sense in which the actual pleasure makes us less sensitive to everything else but the object of it?  Are we really being prompted to engage the world, or just that one aspect of it?

Moreover,  is there not a further sense in which we are now more concerned with ourselves — in the form of our own pleasurable feelings — than we are with the beautiful person themselves?

A couple decades ago, I happened to come across a stunningly attractive friend of mine after having not seen her for months.  I was instantly impressed with how much more beautiful she was in person than in my memories of her, and I was at once flooded with the pleasure of seeing her.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.

At least six or more minutes passed before I was suddenly jarred to realize that I not only was doing almost all the talking, but that she was showing several signs of distress right down to her tear streaked face.  But I had been looking right at her face!

Of course, I’d been so wrapped up in my feelings, I had noticed so little about her — other than what contributed to my pleasure.  But isn’t that almost precisely the same thing that we mentioned earlier about pain?  That “we not merely become concerned with ourselves, but usually only with those aspects of ourselves that either demand attention or have something to do with our suffering”?

So I think it can be reasonably said that both pain and pleasure are lenses through which we see the world (and ourselves) — not as it is — but as it appears distorted by them.  And given how we tend to all but constantly seek to avoid the one, and gain the other, I think that fact has quite a few interesting implications.

Comments?  Questions?  Depraved Rants?  Generous offers to share some fresh, tasty roadkill?