Thursday, June 12, 2008

This I Believe

I've been giving lots of thought lately to who I am as a person, and what percentage of that person is based on the beliefs I hold. Y'know, in a kind of "I am not this body" way of looking at things. Certainly I am this body, because without it I ain't got much, right? Lots of good thoughts, whoops! Little fall down the stairs stove my skull in, now I got no brains to think 'em! So, yeah, the physical part of "me-ness" is certainly important. But, once you get beyond that corporeal element of personal definition, things get a little dicey. Steph and I have been goin' at it lately about something that was originally just a minor tag-line to conveniently wrap up one of my recent posts; she has lately spun off a wonderful bit of self-introspection that, consequently, got me thinking about how I define myself against the backdrop of the world at large. I took a pointer from the NPR This I Believe series and coughed up a random list of 10 things that I believe in...things that, for want of a better way of saying it, make me who I am. I suspect the list could go on & on, so don't try to read anything into what I might have left off...likewise the order is (to my conscious mind, anyway) completely random, simply a list of the first ten articles I came up with. Any attempts to form a logical chain from one to the next, and therefore discover something about ME, are solely the domain of the reader, and may not have anything to do with reality. Or, they may. Who knows?

1) I believe that Jesus Nazareth was a brilliant man, humble and wise and caring, and that in the millennia since his death we have (mostly) fucked over his message beyond comprehension. In kindest terms, I think of myself as "agnostic," which, in its broadest definition, means I neither believe nor disbelieve in a "god" concept. I specifically DO NOT believe in the commonly-presented Christian all-powerful father deity, who called upon his only son to die for the sins of humankind. But, on the other hand, I also don't accept the lack of absolute proof of such a deity as proof that s/he DOESN'T exist, either. Get it? What I do believe was there once existed a man from Nazareth, whose name was Jesus, who preached peace and love and kindness to others. Whether or not he preached these things in "the name of god" is completely immaterial to me. I'm not a follower of his teachings per se, and therefore am not a "Christian," any more than I might be a "Marxist" or a "Hegelian." I just think he was a great guy, and he said a lot of things that made sense, and in whose name this bureaucracy of small-minded anti-egalitarianism has sprung up, more or less eradicating what he originally stood for.

2) I believe in the concept of karma, and that somehow the universe strives for balance and cause/effect equality. As a way of trying to balance the waffling beliefs of Item #1 above, I offer you this wishy-washy New Age guide to feel-goodedness. But, I actually do believe that a good thing I do today will be balanced (repaid?) by a good thing done to me in the future, and that bad behaviour - or even negative thoughts - are sure to revisit me, probably when I least want them to. It seems to me that many mathematical and physical equations present an x=y balance, and I wonder if some unknowable future generation won't find such a cosmic equality many years after what I used to be has become dust.

3) I believe in the mind-numbing, life-affirming power of heavy, thumping rock & roll. A girl I was once dating actually tried to get me to explain why I liked this kind of music so much, and it ended up being impossible; all I could do was turn the volume up and try to get her to hear what I was hearing. "Y'hear that? How it booms in your very soul? No?? Let me TURN IT UP A LITTLE!!!" A truly great moment in my life: standing at the back of The Palace, with Mötley Crüe bashing through Live Wire on the stage in front of me, and screaming along at the top of my lungs: "'Cause I'm alive! 'Cause I'm alive! 'CAUSE I'M ALIVE!!!" In that moment, which lasted all of 15 seconds, I never FELT more alive in my life. I guess this item doesn't have to be rock & roll necessarily; I'd love it if all people could feel this sort of life-affirming connection to music. But for me, this is the stuff that does it: Kiss, Crüe, Twisted Sister, Cheap Trick, AC/DC, and all other manner of stuff in that vein.

4) I believe in order and justice, the free will to disavow both, and the rightousness of consequences for failing to live up to them. Here's where the "rulesy-ness" part of me comes online, but perhaps this is a better way of explaining it. I believe that one cannot embrace entropy, cannot embrace the waves, and so the only bulwark AGAINST entropy is an agreed-upon set of "rules" (for want of a better word). I use rules in my classroom: come to class, turn in your homework, do your reading, study for tests. Students exercise free will by deciding to either DO or NOT DO any of those things, with a nearly infinite variance of degree of "doneness." By adhering to "the rules" of the classroom, students will enjoy positive consequences of their actions and will learn the requisite material. Those who exercise free will and avoid "the rules" often find less desirable consequences, which they define as "a failing grade." There are occasions when the consequences, frankly, ain't so bad: if you call yourself a "Christian" but never go to church, well, I somehow doubt your god is going to come knockin' with a Bill of Due. If you're caught smoking pot in a public park, you might get anything from a slap on the wrist to a little jail time. Murder someone in cold blood and you pretty much have to run for the rest of your life...and even THEN you usually get caught. Free will - and the choices we make with it - is a wonderful thing, but when the consequences are spelled out for you, you shouldn't bitch when they come callin'.

5) I believe that people who have power need to use at least some of it to help better the lives of those without the means to better it themselves. Power in this case can mean so many different things, from the actual political power of a presidency to the "power of the purse" and a willingness to simply send money to people who'll help others in your name. Basically, another way of saying this is to say I support a kind of loosey-goosey socialism wherein everyone recognizes that it's socially responsible to help those who need helping. (Come to think of it, that's kind of Christian too, isn't it?) I generally help with the aforementioned power of the purse: I give to causes that I feel fit my personality. I try to help (when I can) with the power of my height and/or strength: I help old ladies get stuff off of high shelves at the supermarket, or help the neighbor haul a chest freezer down into his basement. If EVERYONE would help just a little, I think it might all get done. Whatever "it" is, right?

6) I believe in the value of good friends and family. I really don't even make the distinction between those: I was born to a "family" that includes my mother, grandparents, aunt & uncle, etc. etc. I also chose a family that goes as far back as kindergarten (Eric), through high school (Chris, Susan) and college (Mike, various Lisas, Drew), and on into adulthood (Kirsten & two Stephs, Marie, Andy & Carmen). These are just the immediate examples I thought of, and of course leaves off all of Tess' family whom I now regard as my own. Money is great, but it's meaningless in the face of those family ties. Hear that, y'all? I love you. You make life worth living. Thanks...and here's to more good times. (*Clink!*)

7) I believe that everyone is entitled to an opinion, with the qualification that opinions based on knowledge and consideration are more legitimate than those which aren't. That sounds elitist and non-egalitarian, even to me. Tough shit. All I want...all I for people to think about a given situation, and then make up their own minds. Listen to your parents, your preacher, your friends & co-workers & congressmen...but then, dammit, come to your OWN CONCLUSION! That's all. If you have an opinion about something, and your only source of info for that opinion is what you heard the "president" say? Fuck it...I'm not interested. Now, if that opinion is one that's shared by your neighbor, and your butcher, and your paperboy...that's fine, you now have a quorum of sorts. But I'll always place a higher value on an opinion that's buffered by...well, by the notion that you've at least considered the alternate point of view.

8) I believe that there are battles worth fighting, but I conversely believe that nothing is ever solved by fighting, and that there is always a better way. World War II? Probably worth fighting...although what I understand of that battle is that it was a direct outgrowth of poor handling of World War I. The Iraq War? Totally could have been better handled by diplomacy. I do believe that you sometimes need to bash the school bully in the mouth...once, to make the teasing stop forever. Standing your ground is worthwhile, when there are no other options. Too often, our culture disregards the other options as disagreeable or somehow contrary to our stated "best interests," and we go in swingin'. Is that what Jesus would do?

9) I believe in the absolute abandonment of all hierarchies that put the worth or value of one person higher than another. Women should make the same amount of money as men, people of all skin colors should have the same life opportunities, and on & on. Money shouldn't be able to buy power or prestige. I believe that if you HAVE money, you can buy more THINGS with it. Gene Simmons will always have a "nicer" (read: bigger") house than I do...but put us on the same arts council together, and we should have the same say. No caste systems, no sexism or racism or valuing the hotel owner over the woman who cleans the toilets...we all matter. Equally. Let's start acting like it.

10) I believe that both selfishness and giving are commendable personal attributes, and that denying one or the other leads to a life of falsehood and irritability. I tried to cover the giving aspect in Item #5 above, but I also believe that selfishness has a place in the world. I teased Steph recently about Ayn Rand, and while I'm certainly not an advocate for her Objectivism in its "purest" form (remembering that her writings represent a knee-jerk reaction to the Soviet world into which she was born), I do believe generally in the philosophies of her biggest heroes, Henry Reardon and Howard Roark. These were men who understood that their accomplishments had value, and that they deserved a fair exchange for those accomplishments. So: do I want to give my music away? Some of it, but not all. I want to be paid by my publisher, and in general if you want my music, I'll have you buy it...but, I reserve the right to give it away at my discretion. This is always my argument FOR the bands (like Metallica) who go along with the RIAA and sue so-called "file sharers" (i.e., music thieves). Fact is, that music represents the artistic output of the groups who created it, and only they (and by default their record company) have a say in how it's distributed. It's THEIR decision to give...which is selfishness. I'm not saying you shouldn't share your food with someone who has none...I'm saying that it's unnatural to pretend an all-consuming altruism at the expense of the individual. A good balance is necessary for a happy life.

That's it! If you care to turn this into a blogging meme, feel free to consider yourself tagged.


Blogger Mike said...

i want to comment, but there is a lot of stuff here to ponder.

THanks for sharing.

9:43 PM  
Blogger Steph said...

Hey, fascinating stuff--thanks for posting. Maybe I'll take on your meme at some point, although considering my recent blog subject matter I might need some fluff-filled recoup time first.

8:43 AM  

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