15 July 2013

Making Good Changes

I haven't posted on my blog in a while. That's because not much has changed for me until recently. I have read a lot of books in the past few months, and digested the better ones. But otherwise my life has coasted along the same: work, cat-maintenance, reading, little social life, no romantic adventures.

But I have made another major shift: due to worries about my health (my father has atrial fibrillation, which is heritable) I decided to quite caffeine entirely. That means no coffee, no tea, no chocolate, no sodas and no yerba mate. I tapered down rapidly last week, and went cold turkey over the weekend. I've had some headaches and short bouts of sleepiness, but it hasn't been as bad as I expected (I've quit caffeine before, and it's been grueling). I think the recent shift in my work schedule that allows me more sleep at night was a factor in making it a little easier this time.

So, in addition to no alcohol, I now do not take caffeine. Nor do I smoke cigarettes or do drugs. I supposed I could call myself "straight edge", but to me the label is tainted by associations with all those militant asshole sXe groups who used to go around beating up punks for smoking pot and drinking. I don't drink, smoke or whatever, but I don't plan to be an asshole about it —everyone has to be responsible for his/her own life and health. Instead of thinking of myself as "straight edge" I prefer to think of myself as "sweet edge". That has a nice ring to it. And contrary to what my friends will tell you, I'm well capable of being sweet.

Now that I've tackled the caffeine withdrawal, it's time to rethink the rest of my health. I get enough sleep now, thankfully. But I need to exercise more diligence with regard to my output. I am in the process of rethinking my diet, and I want to increase my activity levels.

As for food, I need to consider carefully what foods are good for me, and what aren't. I haven't come down to any strict food routines, but I do think I need to cut down/out all processed foods, sugars and starches. I need to cook my own meals. I want to try living off of vegetables, fruits, a few grains, and lean, organic, low-cruelty meat and fish. I'm even open to, but have not yet decided to, becoming a full vegetarian.

As for exercise, I don't know yet. Join a gym? Do yoga? Jog? One problem at a time. That's how I'll begin to manifest the healthy, fit man inside who aches to be seen.

11 June 2013

Orthodoxy vs. Orthopraxy

I've been reading Jonathan Haidt's illuminating, enjoyable and disconcerting book The Righteous Mind (Vintage Books, 2013), and in addition to thinking about morality, the book has prompted me to think again about religion.

Religion is more than mere assent to a set of doctrines (orthodoxy). It also encompasses a set of ritual acts and normative behaviors (orthopraxy). Some religions emphasize orthodoxy over orthopraxy, and some the opposite. In religions that emphasize orthodoxy, maintaining the right beliefs is central, and behaviors and rituals are allowed more leeway. Christian fundamentalism in the US exhibits this emphasis. Note particularly how many politicians and religious leaders have committed adultery, for instance, but have been brought back into the fold as full-fledged members because they espoused the correct beliefs. Furthermore, relatively speaking, the ritual practices of US Christian fundamentalists are pared down and more loosely structured.

Religions emphasizing orthopraxy care more about one's outward behaviors and performances than about an individual's beliefs. So long as the cohesion of the religious community is upheld, the internal wrestlings of belief and doubt are less important. Much of Islam, Catholicism and Eastern Religions fall under the orthopraxy rubric.

Now, of course, these are broad generalizations, but I think they are instructive. I was raised in an orthodoxy-style religion. Faith, or the designated set of beliefs, came first, and actions followed from that. I think that is why when I came out I had such a difficult time with religion. By accepting my homosexual nature, I was eschewing a portion of the orthodoxy. Pretty soon all the orthodoxy became questionable, and I had to leave. For years afterwards I looked around for a new orthodoxy to adhere to. But eventually I couldn't find an orthodoxy that fit me.

Had I been raised in a religion that emphasized orthopraxy, would my post-coming-out have been different?

31 May 2013

The Future

I need to plan for a future. I haven't really done so yet.

When I was young, I believed I would die sometime around 30. I had no reason to believe that - but I was pretty sure of it. Instead, I came out of the closet when I turned 31, and my whole life changed. In fact, it was almost like my old life did die, and I had a new one.

The years following my coming out were about exploring that new life. And my unquestioned assumption for much of those years would be that I'd be coupled, and that my partner and I would work out the future as it approached.

But evidence now suggests I won't be partnered. I've been single for over half a decade now, and I'm not getting any younger (much less more attractive). I haven't much thought about the future. In fact, I sort of just believed, for a while, I'd die around the time I turn 65. But then I think about how I used to think I'd die around the time I turned 30, and I've exceeded that by a couple of decades already. Who knows how long this thing can go on?

So I need to start thinking about the future.

30 April 2013

Done with the Bullshit

For a long time I wondered whether I'd outlived my usefulness. Was I taking up space and resources that could go to others who would better used them?

No more.

So many other people are doing so much worse than I in the world that I no longer worry about my relative place in it. I'm no saint, but I'm no sinner either. I'm chaotic neutral, to borrow a D&D phrase, and that's just fine by me.

So fuck everyone. I'll continue to take up my few inches of space, and eat my bit of food and wear my few yards of clothing for as long as I can, and I'll drop dead whenever. Maybe I don't deserve that stuff, but I deserve it a hell of a lot more than the bulk of this population, for certain. I'm not good, but I'm for damn sure okay.

18 April 2013

Human Beings

Nothing I can write can come close to the aptness and perspicacity of Patton Oswalt's response to the Boston Marathon Bombing. If you haven't read it, please read it. If you have, maybe you'll want to re-read it as the investigation drags on, and our patience gets tested again.

I try not to think in terms of "good people" and "bad people" - there's a simple reason for this. Too often we decide who we do not like, and then label them "bad people" after the fact. That way we don't have to wrestle with the humanity of the "bad people" or consider even for a second that as human beings ourselves, we just might be "bad people", too. How many times has someone done something truly heinous – raped a schoolmate, gone on a shooting rampage, etc. – and the friends and neighbors all say, "But he was a good person!" Clearly, in this specific instance, he was not.

I try to think in terms of "good acts" and "bad acts" – and acts for me include choices and attitudes. This way I don't reduce people to simple good and bad categories, but rather assess what they do. A guy who loves his mom and buys her roses every Sunday can still be someone who rapes and murders. We call those latter actions bad.

12 April 2013

Against Being a BOQ

I see the bitter queens, and I can feel in myself that tendency, and I want to do all in my power to resist that. I have a hard fight ahead, because my own mother is a bitter woman, and I inherited some of her bitterness. I also see it often in gay men "of a certain age." Life has handed them some disappointments, and they're irascible. Even the ones who think they manifest a positive contribution in the world come across as bitter, or at least hectoring.

How do I prevent being bitter?

1. Realize I'm entirely optional to society. People may or may not want to have anything to do with me, to listen to me, to have me listen to them, etc. There's not much I can do about that except be present.

2. Realize that life is full of both triumphs and disappointments. And that's okay. Complaining is really a waste of time.

3. Know what I can control, and what I cannot. Take responsibility for what I can control, and learn to accept what I cannot control.

4. Some of the things I cannot control:
  • who finds me attractive;
  • who I find attractive;
  • what all of society does;
  • weather;
  • what's available for me to purchase at the stores;
  • how people react to me;
  • my genes;
  • anyone else's genes;
  • the behavior of others.

5. Take active steps to promote a calm, active, accepting, self-aware and mildly positive state of mind.

19 March 2013

Rape, Sexual Assault, and Human Dignity

What's it going to take to prevent more rapes and sexual assaults? Why are men doing this?

Men in the US have been socialized incorrectly when it comes to thinking about sex. They are raised to believe the world owes them a warm, wet hole to stick their dicks into. Subsequently, when such a hole isn't offered to them, they may feel free to take one by force. Because they don't see women as human beings. They just see them as bodies housing that warm wet hole.

When I was younger I used to hear that rape was not an act of sex, but an act of violence. I understand what activists were trying to say, but I think they were mistaken in their terminology. Rape is an act of sexual violence, and it stems from a great misunderstanding about sex that our society teaches its young. What should we teach our young about sex?

1. You do not need sex. It is commonly thought that sex is a need that must be fulfilled. This is not true. A human being needs air, water, food, and adequate protection from the elements (i.e., clothing and/or shelter) in order to survive. Sex feels like a need because it manifests as such a strong urge. But a person can go his whole life without ever having had sex with another human being, and will still be okay.

2. The world does not owe you sex. I have often heard that people feel they deserve to have sex (or, in a related phraseology, "deserve to be loved", which implies a sexual component). This is false. No one "deserves" to have sex (or to be loved). To say I deserve sex means that someone out there in the universe is obligated to give it to me. This obligation means moral coercion. No one can be morally coerced into having sex with another human being. To believe so is repugnant. I may be worthy of sex and/or love, and I have a right to seek it, but that does not make me deserving of it.

3. Life is gruesomely unfair. Life is a messy business, and people are born with and acquire different qualities. Some people are exceptionally attractive, and some people are exceptionally unattractive. Some people have engaging personalities, and some people are offputting. Most people fall within the vast middle, i.e., they're okay in personality and appearance, but not extraordinary. However, even being okay doesn't guarantee they'll be able to have sex with another person. Usually, the person I'm attracted to is not attracted to me, and the person who wants to have sex with me doesn't interest me at all. That is the nature of life.

4. You must learn how to deal with both the titanic urges of sex, and the brutal unfairness of life. Sexual urges are strong, but opportunities to express them with other people in a dignified and respectful way are very rare. For some, they never occur. Only a few can have these opportunities frequently. It is wrong to force someone else to have sex with you, just because you want to have it with them. No one is under any obligation to have sex with you, no matter how badly you want to have it with them. Desiring strongly to have sex with another person does not confer the right to have sex with that person. In fact, one never has a 'right' to sex, only the right to seek it. Since this is the case, it is ethically incumbent on each individual to learn how to deal with his or her own sexual urges without violating the rights of other individuals. It is also ethically incumbent on each individual to learn to accept the unfairness of life, and to learn how to negotiate his or her own niche in this vastly unfair existence, and to do so with dignity and equanimity. (There are ways to do this, which I hope to address later.)

5. These lessons are not about sexual 'purity' or religious morality - they are about maintaining your human dignity. For centuries, religion has been the check on unbridled sexual pursuit. But religion frequently failed, because simply telling people "No!" is often not good enough a disincentive. Furthermore, religion based it's sexual strictures on the needs of an agricultural society, in which families need to ensure all children within a family were of the same parentage, and that the family had sufficient children to carry on the work of the farm. These values are no longer incumbent upon an overpopulated planet, and sex can be about pleasure foremost, and reproduction secondarily. Instead of purity or religious morality, sexual behavior and attitudes should be about ethics: about caring for others and about maintaining one's own dignity. Not to pursue sex with another person once that person has refused one's attentions is dignified. Accepting a "no" is dignified. Respecting another person's sexual integrity is dignified. Dignity and integrity trump sexual fulfillment, because dignity and integrity last far longer than the "afterglow" of sex.

These lessons are difficult and complex, and must be ingrained early and often. They go against the grain of US culture, and its emphasis on optimism and "winning". But these lessons are necessary to prevent people from committing rape and sexual assault. For those who didn't learn them in childhood, it is ethically incumbent upon them to learn them now.

18 March 2013

Shopping ≠ Living

I wish I had weighed the bag of pens I brought to the office this morning. I have to guess it's around 5 pounds of pens. 5 pounds of pens! Seriously. I brought them to office to get them out of my apartment, so that they'll be used by someone, and not simply be wasted sitting in a container in the closet of my home. I've neurotically bought pens like crazy for the past five years, and now I'm stopping myself. I know which pens I need to write in my journals, and I do not need to buy any more pens until those run out of ink (which, given the number of pens I've kept, is still a while in the future).

I'm dealing with my neuroses. Since moving into my home over five years ago, I've acted like I need MORE  and BETTER  stuff all the time. I've turned shopping into a recreational activity, almost physical in endurance. (I'm the only person I know who will happily WALK from Montgomery Mall to the shopping centers on Rockville Pike, often with stuff in my bag already.) I manically search for books, pens, underwear, socks, etc., like these items will save my life, or at least plug a few empty holes.

I used to say that my life has been about the search for the perfect notebook, the perfect pen and the perfect bag. But really, life cannot be about shopping. Shopping is a part of life in a consumer culture, but I cannot let it be such a big part of life. When human beings were hunter-gatherers, hunting and gathering were what shopping is now. But even as hunter-gatherers, hunting and gathering were only to facilitate life, not be the purpose of life. Even if one were very good at it.

The point is, I've let my life turn into an endless cycle of shopping, and that's not a very good idea. So, to start with, I've brought in these pens to give away. And I'm rethinking how I plan to spend my weekends. Furthermore, I have been looking at myself more closely, to determine what neuroses I need to deal with, and how to replace them with better thoughts and actions.

13 March 2013

The Liberating Power of Insignificance

Earth orbits a star that is one of 200-400 billion in the Milky Way galaxy. There are an estimated 170 billion galaxies in the observable universe. The universe has existed for over 13 billion years. The universe is expanding and increasing in entropy. It is predicted to eventually reach a state of ultimate entropy sometime after 10100 years in the future. Long before that, the Sun will expand to be a red giant star, and engulf the earth's orbit (approximately 5.4 billion years). Long before that, changes on the earth will cause all life to die out (approximately 2.3 billion years). Long before that, the human species is predicted to have died out (somewhere I read human beings are probably in the midlife of their existence). There may or may not be other sentient species to arise on Earth. It all depends on whether sentience is adaptive to changing environments. So in cosmic terms, as a species we are utterly insignificant, existing en toto for a very brief time in a very limited location.

Within this utterly insignificant species, an individual life is even more insignificant. I am one of 7 billion people on the planet. There have been billions before, and probably billions after me. I do not matter in history. I matter even less in the cosmic reach of the universe.

For some people, this would be a depressing thing to realize. I find it exhilarating. Born into religious fundamentalism, I was raised to think that my every thought and action was rife with horrifying, eternal significance. The way I spoke to another person, even the thoughts I didn't verbalize about him, could not only damn me for all eternity, but set off a chain reaction of human behaviors in others that could damn a whole slew of people. I could destroy lives for eternity through carelessness.

Please tell me how a seven-year-old child is supposed to carry this burden?

In light of such an upbringing, to discover I mean absolutely nothing in the universe is liberating. I don't have to worry so much about my actions, because whatever effects I have, they are extremely limited in time and in space. The cosmos will not be greatly affected when I fuck up.

This is the liberating power of insignificance.

12 March 2013

What I've Learned So Far*

1. Take out the supernatural shit, and the bogus body "alchemy", and Taoism has some profound things to say about the fact that everything is in a constant state of flux. A wise person learns how best to surf that flux.

2. Take out the supernatural shit, and Buddhism has some profound things to say about the nature of reality, such as the "self" is not fixed and permanent, that suffering is due to the clash between our desires and what actually occurs, and that learning to accept what actually occurs lessens suffering.

3. The ethical branch of Stoicism has some profound things to say about learning the difference between what an individual can and cannot control in life, taking responsibility for the former and accepting the latter. In a sense, it is about dignity and integrity.

4. Without letting oneself get too bogged down in metaphysical meanderings, one can learn something from Existentialism, too. Namely, existence is inherently meaningless, and an individual is responsible for creating meaning within his life. Furthermore, happiness is a by-product of the pursuit of meaning. When one tries to pursue happiness directly, he usually fails.

5. Living in a time of unprecedented access to information, with resources on the internet, and relatively inexpensive books being published, a Postmodern approach to philosophy and ethics works best. My personal philosophy may be a pastiche of thought systems, but I've worked consciously to cull the best and shape it toward a useful approach to life.

*These are my lessons for myself, and not intended as as lessons for anyone else.