25 December 2011

The Best of 2011

I think positive thinking, so long as it is realistic, is a better way. So I want to list the positives of 2011, before I start laying out my plans/dreams for 2012.
  • My reading this year was excellent. Not only did I get a lot of good books read in several of my particular interest areas (e.g., indigenous studies, philosophy, history, etc.), but I also finished four books I'd been putting off for years, in some cases more than a decade.
  • I asked for, and got a promotion and a raise. This is significant not only for my comfort level as a human being, but in that this was the first time I'd ever asked for a raise.
  • I got my lobe holes stretched to 0 gauge. New body modifications are planned.
  • I began a workable, effective diet and weight loss program, and lost 18 pounds. I have 30 pounds to go, but I believe I can make it.
  • Most important—in my humble opinion—I started dating again. After living reclusively since the destruction of my last relationship, going on some dates with a good person really boosted my confidence; while the dating relationship didn't last to the end of the year, my confidence did.

09 December 2011

Favorites of 2011

It's near enough to the end of 2011 that I want to go ahead and do my year-end review of favorites:

Favorite fiction: Annabel, by Kathleen Winter. The story of an intersex child growing up in rural Labrador; Winter explores not just gender, but how being different affects both the individual and the people around her. Annabel is a quietly moving novel of pain and self-discovery.

Favorite non-fiction (philosophy): Phenomenology of Perception, by Maurice Merleau-Ponty. This was a philosophy-heavy year for me. Nevertheless, this book (which I've wanted to read for over a decade) stands out as profound, fascinating, revolutionary and necessary.

Favorite non-fiction (history): The Killing of Crazy Horse, by Thomas Powers. Crazy Horse is one of my few heroes; Powers's book is a worthy supplement to the magisterial Crazy Horse: A Life by Kingsley M. Bray. Powers's especially focuses on the last few months leading up to Crazy Horse's murder.

Favorite non-fiction (religion): Why I Am a Five Percenter, by Michael Muhammad Knight. Knight's book is part memoir, part survey of Islamic thought, and part polemic for the validity of the Five Percenter path. It is impossible to summarize, but it is so well thought out and so beautifully written, I recommend it to anyone interested in either Islam or the Five Percenters.

Favorite non-fiction (self-help or other general usefulness): The Paleo Diet, by Loren Cordain, Ph.D. I've gone on and one about this one. If you want to lose weight, I recommend this book (get the 2011 edition).

Favorite album (rock): There Is a Hell, Believe Me I've Seen It. There Is a Heaven, Let's Keep It a Secret., by Bring Me the Horizon. BMTH thrash hard, and write songs that seep into your soul.

Favorite album (country): The Band Perry, by The Band Perry. These siblings are quite talented, play multiple instruments, and write songs that bridge old bluegrass to 21st century sensibilities.

Favorite album (surprise): Dancin' 'Til Sunrise: Round Dance Songs Recorded "Live", Northern Cree and Friends (Vol. 7). One of the negatives of no longer having music stores around is missing out on the joy of randomly finding something on the shelves that you wouldn't begin to think of searching for online. I came across this album at a used CD store, bought it on a whim, and I adore it. There is energy, humor and ebullition on this album. I've used songs from it in my playlists. [Hint: give "C.M.T." or "Da Might As Well" a try.]

Favorite movie (in theaters) [tie]: Hanna, A Very Harold and Kumar 3-D Christmas. Hanna is a thrilling action film with a kick-ass female lead. Harold and Kumar 3 made me laugh like an idiot. 'Nuff said.

Favorite movie (rental): Attack the Block. A British sci-fi film which starts with thugs and ends with heroes, and along the way turns an improbable circumstance into something almost believable. I recommend it for the amazing cast alone, but the story is equally excellent.

07 December 2011

A Few More Books I Cannot Live Without

Last month I post a list of essential books from my library [Ten Books I Cannot Live Without (11 November 2011 Edition)]. In the post I mentioned that these lists are constantly being modified. However, without substituting books on the list, I've realized it is nevertheless incomplete. So, to make a "baker's dozen" of books, I would like to add three more essential texts:
  • Appiah, Kwame Anthony, The Ethics of Identity, (2007). Appiah is undoubtedly my favorite living philosopher, and this is his best book. His writing is profound, rational, accessible and shot through with wit. Furthermore, the implications of identity are important to me.
  • Fisher, Donald M., Lacrosse: A History of the Game, (2002). Starting with the widespread, ritual play of "the Creator's game" among the indigenous peoples of the Eastern Woodlands in North America, Fisher traces the evolution of the game via eastern Canadian and northeastern US sports enthusiasts up to the point of the creation of Major League Lacrosse. Throughout the text he pays attention the the interactions between the indigenous cultures who spawned the game, and the elite scholastic institutions who took it up and modified it, giving each group their due. As sports histories go, this is simply the best I've ever read.
  • Weinberg, Bennett Alan and Bealer, Bonnie K., The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World's Most Popular Drug, (2001). Weinberg and Bealer survey the worldwide influence of caffeine by looking at it's three most popular vehicles of consumption—coffee, tea and chocolate. They especially focus on how these grew in popularity during the age of European exploration. Also, they devote a significant portion of the book on how caffeine works on people, what other products contain it, etc.

02 December 2011

Two Faiths

A year ago I lost faith in faith. I made a formal admission to myself of agnosticism, and declared I would neither affirm nor deny the existence of God, an afterlife, a cosmic web of life, etc. My reasons were sound, but my emotional motivation came largely from my everyday reading of abuses of human beings done in the name of faith.

It has been noted that our language limits our thinking. In other words, whatever thoughts one thinks are confined by the structure and definitions found within that language. No language is perfect, so there are limitations on what we can think. Even English, with its absolutely huge vocabulary, doesn't have a word for everything. I say all that in order to propose this: I think where I have erred in the way I thought about "faith" was due to the fact that the word lacks sufficient definitional specificity. In other words, I've recently come to realize there are (at least) two kinds of faith.

One kind of faith, the faith I reacted to and rejected, is a faith of certainty. When one has this faith, regardless of what he believes, he believes it to be absolutely, unquestionably true, and that there is no unambiguity about it. In other words, a person with a certainty faith knows that his position is incontrovertible, and anyone who doesn't accept that position is at best deluded, and at worst evil and worthy of being stamped out. Whether it is faith in Christianity, Islam, market capitalism, communism, your sports team, your nation, whatever, the belief of this sort affords a certainty in one's own rightness, and the absolute wrongness of those who do not believe the same way. This faith implies a tribalism: those who agree with me about Christianity, market capitalism, Manchester United, or whatever, are part of my tribe; those who do not are not part of the tribe, and therefore not as worthy. This is a kind of faith, a faith of certainty.

The other kind of faith, the faith I forgot about, is a faith of ambiguity. This kind of faith recognizes that there are ultimate truths of Reality that we will never comprehend, and that not only is the world not divided into the dichromatic black and white that the people of certainty faith only see, it's full of gray, and beyond gray many hues, and thus quite probably colors we can't even see. That while we can count on the earth to spin a little longer, kittens to be cute, and politicians to lie, there is a whole universe out there we just cannot comprehend, and therefore make a part of our clockwork, routine world. This kind of faith rejects tribalism because it cannot be certain, and tribalism demands certainty. This kind of faith must necessarily prompt it's believer to dwell in uncertainty, in ambiguity, and in trust that the ultimate truths are vast, unknowable, and yet part of life. It is a faith of harmony, because if I have this kind of faith, regardless of my religion or philosophy, I cannot sit in judgement of anyone else, because I must first admit that I do not know it all, that faith in my case is as much about what I don't know as what I do know, and that certainty is a trap we set for ourselves to keep us divided from one another.

The faith of ambiguity says that life is a mystery, and that it is so vast, I simply do not have the time and energy to spare on tribalism, on being a jerk to others because of who they are or what they believe, and that I must be humble and tread lightly on the earth because I don't have certainty. Kindness and compassion are key to the faith of ambiguity, because when we have this faith we realize we are all caught in the uncertainty and we need compassion for our struggles, our ignorance and our imperfections.

This kind of faith I can believe in.