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Category: Humans

Either Way
I’m optimistic about the future. I’m optimistic that the world will get better. I’m even optimistic about the human race.

In fact, I’m optimistic about optimism. I prefer it over pessimism not just because it feels better, but because it allows you to seize opportunities without hesitation. Optimism is like the fearless little sister of Hope, and who wouldn’t want to hang out with that cheerful clan? Pessimism, conversely, tends to choke you up at decision time. Pessimism, sadly, must spend his Christmas holidays with Uncle Downer and the whole dysfunctional Fear family.

That said, both outlooks are workable approaches to dealing with life. It is when human stupidity is introduced into the equation that things go wrong. In the case of pessimism, the result is paranoia. When you’re an optimist, stupidity will fill your mind with wishful thinking, leading you to seize opportunities that don’t exist.

Take, for example, chocolate. Can we all just admit that chocolate is candy? We eat it because it tastes so sweet and rich, not because it’s good for us. We know that. However, we also know that, if researchers tried hard enough, they could find health benefits from eating chocolate. Wishful thinking is a powerful force. There had to be something good about it, and when they found it, that was the only excuse the optimists would need to start whuffing down the bon-bons.

They’ve also “discovered” that drinking red wine will keep you fit. It helps the heart, the lungs, and protects against no less an enemy than cancer. And, let’s not forget, it makes us feel good — thereby enhancing our mental health. Beer offers that feature as well — the more of it you drink, the happier you get. Beyond that, it lowers cholesterol, provides fiber, strengthen bones, and cures insomnia. Remember all those times you passed out drunk? Of course you don’t, but the point is you slept like a baby.

There was even a time, before people started keeling over in droves from cancer of the lungs, mouth, and throat, that the health benefits of cigarettes were touted with a straight face. Relief from asthma, hay fever, bad breath, sore throats (to say nothing of the mental health benefits of feeling good) were among the many upsides of smoking. The more you inhaled the better!

This is all bullshit, of course. It’s candy, it’s booze, it’s burning vegetation, and it’s bad for us. In large amounts, they will kill us. Still, I can feel the wishful thinking struggling for attention. Any excuse, right? It wants to focus on the good news — and keep on doing what feels good.

We are led, I’m afraid, to some unpleasant conclusions. It is my belief that stupidity is an integral part of the human condition, including mine. Stupidity, when mixed with optimism, can have unhealthy, even deadly consequences. Optimism, therefore, is lethal. Q.E.D.

Pessimism is deadly too, of course, because we’re screwed no matter what we do. That’s what Uncle Downer always says, anyway.
Good and Stupid
I believe that people are essentially good. If I didn’t, I’d have trouble getting up in the morning. Experience has taught me, however, that most people are idiots. That makes me want to turn over and go back to sleep.

We’ll have to get up eventually, though. The day is out there waiting for us. And once we’ve had that first cup of coffee, it will be easier to accept that it is possible to be both good and an idiot at the same time. In fact, this might even be the central paradox of human existence, so we’ll just have to live with it.

After a second cup, we can also admit that the wise can also be idiots, and that even the best among us can turn mean-spirited. It is possible, then, that there might be times when everyone will be mean and stupid all at once.

More coffee, anyone?
I Have No Idea
I was turning over the compost the other day, and it got me thinking. Specifically, it got me thinking about thinking.

One question that cartoonists can count on getting asked is that old chesnut “Where do you get your ideas?” This question may simply be a way for people to express their honest appreciation for your work. Still, the question is a perfectly good one, and it is entitled to more than a “thank you.” It deserves an answer.

Let’s be clear that the honest answer has to be “I don’t know,” but what fun is that? The questioners want an exposition on process, at least. At most, they want a full-bullshit theory of creativity itself.

Well, I have several varieties of bullshit to offer on that subject. Most of them involve how new, often remote, connections are made, because that is what creativity is. Those connections can be among ideas or emotions or facts or input from the senses. They can reach across disciplines of thought and across time. My theories dabble in psychology, but that’s just window dressing. Mostly, they come in the form of metaphors.

Deep sea fishing is my current favorite. In this metaphor, I’m relaxing in my little boat, and I’ve got several lines trailing behind it, all trolling for some kind of nibble. I might be thinking about anything at the time or just letting the boat wander. The work has already been done — maintaining the boat, buying bait, and researching where the fish are known to hang out. All that prep work is vital to the process of getting ideas; they‘re not going to just jump out of the water and onto your drawing board.

The prep work requires focus and concerted mental effort. That’s what the left hemisphere of my brain is for: accumulating data, applying logic, trying out different approaches. But that’s not where the ideas come from. They come from the ocean…once they are combined with the bait…sort of…and the hook is removed…and the idea is properly cleaned and gutted.

Okay, it’s not a perfect metaphor. But I have a back-up. It’s based, not on the ocean, but on the sky. Lightning bolts, sunbursts of realization, ideas that come “out of the blue” — those metaphors all feel right, too. I do have a little trouble tying this metaphor down to the creative process, though. There’s no place in the metaphor for the left brain activity to fit in. I could be in a plane, I guess, taking in the long view. But would I just switch to automatic pilot when it was time to relax and let the right brain take the over? That seems unwise.

So I’m open to something new — like that compost heap. In particular, I like the idea of turning over the metaphorical compost of my thoughts and observations and introducing the little bits of garbage to other bits of garbage they’ve never met. Every time you add new stuff and turn it over, new combinations become possible. Then you sit and wait for the whole thing to, you know, mature in some way.

I guess. I’m not sure where the ideas come in, unless a plant just sprouts out of the humus. But in that case, where did the seed come from? This metaphor is promising, but it’s still going to need a lot of work. Maybe I should drop it off the back of the boat and see if it gets struck by lightning.

Or something like that. Hope that answers your question.
Neatness Discounted
My Uncle Everett didn’t make much of a dent on my life. Maybe, if I had spent more time around him, his sardonic persona might have a bigger effect on my attitudes, but as it is my memory of our relationship is mostly two-dimensional. There was one small episode with him, however, that has stuck with me, though not in the way he intended.

My cousin, his son, was an avid reader of DC comics, and when we visited their house, I always took the chance to go through his extensive collection of Superman, Superboy, and Aquaman comic books. On one such occasion, I had finished reading and left the comics scattered across the bedroom floor. Uncle Everett collared me as I left the room.

“Aren’t you going to pick those up and put them away?” he asked.

“Why?” I responded. “I’m going to look at them again after lunch.”

A sarcastic half-smile crossed his face. “Yeah, and why make your bed? You’re just going to sleep in it again anyway.”

I picked up the comics and put them away, because generally speaking I was an obedient child. But I was puzzled by the sarcasm. I knew that it was meant to illustrate the silliness of my excuse, but it still didn’t make sense. “Why make your bed?” seemed like a perfectly legitimate question to me. It still does.

Not that I’m a slob. Like most kids, I was messy, but I’ve come a long way since then, and I have learned the value of keeping things tidy. Moreover, I did not serve in the U.S. Army as Uncle Everett had. I am quite sure that they don’t use gentle sarcasm to enforce their rules concerning tidiness, which is probably why the lesson stuck so well for him. I was never subject to that level of expectation, however. The need for a neat bed was never properly instilled in me.

I do, however, honor the need for order in other home venues. If you’re in the kitchen, it makes sense to keep the work spaces clear, the food stored, and everything in its assigned place. In the regular living areas it’s better to keep things in order so you don’t have to function amid the clutter. I even accept the wisdom of keeping a clean desktop (in theory at least). It’s more efficient, less frustrating, and just plain more pleasant to be in such a space (or so I have been told).

But what’s so bad about an unmade bed? Like the man said, you’re just going to sleep in it again anyway…that night and every night. Why not just leave it that way? When it’s time to hit the hay, you won’t even have to pull back the covers — much less deal with extra pillows and other bed decorations. Just flop down and get to it. And when you get up the next morning, it’s just one less thing to do.

I am happy to keep everything else shipshape. All dirty clothes go in the hamper, the top of the dresser clean and neat, and there are no piles on the nightstand. But the bed? — as long as the sheets are laundered regularly and kept tucked in at the bottom, as long as the blankets are distributed in a rough approximation of equality between the two sides, why not just leave it be?

Without knowing it, Uncle Everett gave me the courage to stand up to the madness. He did not know it at the time, but his words have freed me from the tyranny of mindless neatness. Why make your bed indeed! Strike a blow for reason, I say, and just leave it that way.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon