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My Apologies

First, let me say that, as a fully accredited liberal, I love my fellow men and women, all seven billion of them. I care about them, I feel their pain, I welcome them all to dinner at my place (please call first).

The tricky part of such a position, of course, is that so many of these people are hopeless boneheads. Let me explore a few areas of concern.

Religion. Let’s not talk specifics about religion; that would only end with hurt feelings. Let’s just say that all faiths have their share of crazy stuff you’re supposed to believe without question. That is precisely the problem. I distrust any system that requires me to do things without question. Do we really need all the dogma? What’s wrong with just trying to do right?

No offense, but I’m tempted to chalk it up to laziness. Doing right is a personal responsibility; you can’t palm it off on your spiritual leader, no matter how big his hairdo is. I worry when we consign all the tough thinking to someone else without asking at least a couple of questions. I suppose we do this all the time with experts of every kind. Still, shouldn’t we at least retain the veto power over an idea that seems crackpot on its face?

As it is with religion, so it is with economics. Some guy says we’ll all get rich if we give our money to rich people. Cut tax rates and the government will take in more money. When I first heard these supply side notions, I thought, “That’s too good to be true.” I still think that. Why is it that so many of my fellow citizens immediately swallowed them whole, without so much as a “Hey, wait a minute”?

This readiness not to think has got to be more than just laziness. We all hope we can find simple solutions to complex problems. We all prefer not to worry. But come on, people! We’re supposed to worry. It’s a democracy; we’re in charge. So get a grip.

Okay, I’m sorry I spoke in such a disrespectful way. As a liberal, I am not supposed to do that. I intend to apologize for this insensitivity, but first, let me discuss another disquieting problem area: reality TV. And by reality TV, I mean “reality” TV. I understand that this is a rather narrow topic, but it is emblematic of an ugly theme that permeates our culture: utter stupidity.

Reality TV. I hesitate even to mention this topic because the probability of offending people is so great. Everyone watches reality TV of some kind, be it sports or politics or these silly, scripted, poorly acted dramas in which ordinary people humiliate and degrade one another on national TV. It is the last category, though, that I am griping about here.

There are still good, honest portrayals of fiction available, even on the telly. We can witness degradation and shame just by going to the mall — without commercials, it should be noted. So why do we have to have clog up my TV with this stuff?

It may sound as if I’m a bit of an elitist, as if I think I’m better than everybody else. Well, yes I am and yes I do, but be assured that I know this and also that it is wrong to feel this way. Believe me when I say that this bitter self-knowledge is part of the pain I feel so deeply. Oh God, the pain.

All right, now for the apologies; first, let me apologize for this apology. I know they can make some people uncomfortable, and that makes me feel guilty, so I have to apologize. Sorry. Furthermore, I apologize if I have bruised your feelings in the slightest way, even if your feelings are a by-product of your own boneheadedness. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

Those on the right are not burdened in this way. They feel superior and wear it as a badge of honor, as if they actually were superior. The tragedy of such a position is that the right (where it now sits on the political spectrum) is so often wrong. Worse, they do not sense the irony of their position (that capability is a left-wing exclusive, it appears). Let me say, however, that I even care about these misguided souls (with the possible exception of Newt Gingrich). It’s part of the liberal ethos.

That is, in fact, the great liberal dilemma: we care so deeply about people we don’t really like. We suffer by caring too much, both for our fellow elitists and for the hopeless boneheads. That is our cross to bear, and I accept that. I would only ask of those boneheads: haven’t we suffered enough?

Sorry, I had to ask.

Here and There
It is a place like no other. There are no worries there, no distractions, and no interruptions of your perfect experience. Actions need only be imagined, and they come to pass. There is no stress, no doubt, no calculation; only effortlessly being in the moment, in the happiest of happy places.

That place, of course, is The Zone. It is an enchanted latitude where we enjoy instantaneous access to all of our skills, where events flow freely, and where we can do no wrong.

Ah, but would you want to live there full time, forever present in the present?

It certainly sounds attractive. Many of the most enlightened among us have set that very state of being as their life’s goal. Follow their wisdom, and you would no doubt find fulfillment. Yes, very tempting, but you go ahead; I don’t think I’m ready for it. I just couldn’t handle All One all the time.

For one thing, you actually need to acquire skills before you can exercise them like a god. If you’ve never played ping-pong, for instance, you will still suck at it in The Zone. To be good there, you first have to learn what it means to be good here, in The unZone. There is no substitute, in other words, for doing the hard, repetitive labor of figuring out what works.

Even then, once you can pronounce yourself as “good” at something, wouldn’t you want to get even better? That means more grunt work picking up skills in this mundane, uncertain world. And if you ever hope to be really good, I think the fundamental breakthroughs such a jump would require could only come through trial-and-error struggles right here in The unZone.

I confess that I would also miss the long periods of random thought that are so common in this world. I know they don’t really count as meditation, and I can’t point to anything concrete that they are good for, but I’m quite sure I couldn’t live without them. In any case, I do like staring out the window.

Furthermore, there is something unhealthy about The Zone. I can’t put my finger on what it is, but it troubles me. That shutting out of everything but the task at hand seems a little selfish somehow, and sterile. There’s no room for chance or serendipity, and I just can’t trust an accomplishment that doesn’t involve struggle.

I like being in The Zone; I wish I could go there anytime I wanted. If I could buy a ticket, I would; but the thought of getting there and never coming back scares me. I see the All One as something to ponder, to strive for, but I wouldn’t be happy being there forever. I’d just end up missing my angst-ridden life here in The unZone. Besides, if I don’t feel lousy sometimes, how can I appreciate feeling good?

So punch my ticket to The Zone, by all means, but please ... make it round-trip.
High on Austerity
You know, I kind of like austerity. Really.

There’s a stoic pleasure that comes with self-denial, a sense of control and mastery. Strip to the basics, hunker down and tough it out through sheer force of will. Yeah, like an animal. A wolverine, or a badger, or the nastiest bug you’ve ever seen. Rugged, resilient, too mean to die. Form a goddamn husk if necessary. Grrrr.

That’s the austerity high. Not fun, exactly, but when you come out the other side you feel empowered as a survivor. The rush of deferred gratification can be very gratifying indeed, and the self-righteousness you feel is way more fun than real righteousness. If you’re alone, particularly — living out of your knapsack, sleeping under bridges, depending only on yourself and letting others do likewise.

I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and I understand the austerity high. Of course, I was a young man then, with no job and no dependents; a lone wolverine. The prospect of living it now, however, is not so appealing. I’m married, I’ve got a kid, and if I have an animal identity, it’s more likely some kind of house pet.

The missus, I can say with confidence, would not be fan of the husk look. I don’t want my kid hunkering down under anything. Same with old Mr. Bronstein up the block, or the Ogilvy twins. I don’t want vets, or poor people, or middle class families, or any of my fellow citizens to feel any more pain than they need to. There is, after all, more than enough naturally occurring austerity to go around.

I certainly don’t want my government to make it worse by adding a layer of official, government-sponsored belt-tightening. In fact, I want my government to do just the opposite: soften the blow, ease the pain, smooth out the bumps. Isn’t that what we have a government for in the first place — to keep things sailing on an even keel so we can all thrive?

So please, beloved leaders — don’t fail the gut check the way the Europeans did. Just back away from that austerity panic button re-e-e-al slow, and nobody will get hurt. Which is what we all want, right?

Thank you, and good luck in the upcoming election. Be sure to spend whatever it takes to get elected.

Some people think of evil as an independent force operating in the universe, like gravity or nuclear fission. To them, it is a calculating menace abroad in our lives, actively plotting to ruin us by making bad things happen.

I don’t think so. I don’t think we need to look any further than right in front of our noses for an explanation for badness. Bad choices, bad attitudes, bad luck — these are the causes of our troubles, and nothing more.

Evil, I would suggest, is like coldness. Cold is not a force in and of itself, but simply the absence of heat. When all heat has gone, you’re down to absolute zero, and you can’t get any lower. Heat, on the other hand, essentially has no upper limit. Similarly, evil is nothing more than the absence of good, and there’s plenty of good to be had in the world.

So evil is not a dark, mysterious entity to be battled, but rather a condition (like freezing temperatures) to be avoided. To make the badness go away, try to make good choices, focus on having a good attitude, and be ready for good luck.

If you want to defeat Satan, in other words, try putting on a sweater.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee