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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Comedian Philosopher Kings



I’ve never seen the denizens of the internet react to anything like they did to Robin Williams’ suicide. Misguided debates on depression aside, never before has the collective network of social media sighed so heavily at the passing of a celebrity. True, Williams’ death was sudden, shocking, and relatively unpleasant as far as deaths go, but the uniformly personal nature of everyone’s reaction lead me to think there was something more at play.

It was as if everyone I knew had just had their favorite uncle die. This man who had been coming into their homes since they were children and not only making them laugh; making their parents laugh. That’s a beautifully rare thing we lost, and a large part of what made it so personally tragic. How many things or people can you list right now that you and your parents both agreed were funny when you were 8?

I read a quote once, saying something to the effect of, “We remember the great and powerful men, but the ones that make us laugh, we truly cherish.” I may have butchered that slightly, but it’s interesting to realize how much funny people have not only influenced us as individuals, but have permeated our culture and our thinking on a fundamental level in the last few decades.

Jon Stewart is the Walter Cronkite of my generation.

If Louie C.K. keeps doing comedy until his daughters go to college, I will have a comprehensive guide to someday being a decent father.

I cried harder the day George Carlin died than the day my own grandfather died.

I think the reason these people reach so many of us on such a personal level is that the laughter allows them to more incisively and effectively address the kind of personal issues and societal problems we don’t like to talk about directly. Steven Colbert may be one of the most effective and publicly adored political commentators of the last decade, and he’s made every one of those points through satire.

When people laugh, they let their guard down, and concepts that would have moments before seemed alien or even downright threatening appear more approachable. The same goes for education. Ask any kid who grew up in the 90s what they remember about science from grade school, and I’ll bet you half of them mention a segment from Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Yet there’s an undeniable air of disdain in the old quip, “What’re you, a comedian?” When we think of early court jesters and fools, the images are generally of simpletons and savants ridiculing and demeaning themselves for their lords. Even modern stand-up comics, whose art-form has over the last 30 years moved into the mainstream, are generally fraught with self-loathing and angst, sometimes long after they achieve commercial success. This self-deprecation, I’d say, is the last crucial element to why we so readily let them into our hearts. The earnest humility of someone putting themselves on the spot for the sole purpose of making us feel good is an ultimately endearing thing.

And as the years go by and innovators raise the art-form to higher and higher levels – telling jokes about the way jokes are told – more and more people find themselves looking to funny voices for serious answers. Perhaps there will come a day when we decide that the people we want leading us should be more like those who make us laugh. It’s unlikely they’d want the job – much like Plato’s Philospher King – but maybe letting the comedians be our philosophers is a good start.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Dude Abides



As more time goes by and still nobody wants to pay me for these pieces, I post them here for you to enjoy and share with those you care about. Abide, my dudes.

***

“Sometimes there’s a man… I won’t say hero, ‘cause what’s a hero? Sometimes there’s a man… Well, he’s the man for his time and place.”

I grew up with atheist parents. Not agnostic, mind you; people who straight up believed that there is a rational explanation to every situation one encounters through the course of their life, and a logical, physical cause to everything we see around us. I was told at an early age, in no uncertain terms that there is no God.

There’s a lot of heated debate and good points on either side of that argument, but somehow I’ve just never been interested. In my life, I’ve met many people, both religious and adamantly opposed to the very principle. And in both camps, I’ve met scores of both moral and immoral people, droves of happy and unhappy people, and, all told, a precisely equal number of both the people I admire most and the people that make me most ashamed to be human. So, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve only become more resolute in my apathy as to whether or not there is a Creator, Judge, or Supreme Overseer, because belief clearly has no impact on the quality of one’s life or character.

Then one night, about 6 years ago, as I gawked gracelessly at the internet, I came across the website for the Church of the Latter-Day Dude. Steeped in about as much traditional dogma and pretention as a Grateful Dead concert, the site was obviously a joke, offering comedic renditions of old Taoist texts reimagined through Lebowski-tinted glasses, and a printable Certificate of Ordination. A lover of the Coens’ work, I was amused and decided to “ordain” myself for a laugh. And then, for whatever reason, I read the website’s few pages of “literature,” as asked, before printing out my certificate.

To this day I doubt it was their intent, but somewhere in those few paragraphs, my life changed. Somewhere in the poorly parsed, film-quote-heavy ramblings of a stoner that make up the Faith’s literary cannon was a reference to Lao-Tzu’s fundamental proverb that “The Way is The Way.”

Whatever we call it, the path we walk in life is the path we walk, and our only real choice regards the principles by which we define that path. The Tao is the Tao, whatever you call it, or however you interpret it, and whatever your relation to it. Your only choice is how you define and therefor relate to that path. This hokey novelty religion had opened my eyes to that notion.

The fundamental principle of the Tao of Dude is that “The Dude abides.” Regardless of circumstance, resistance, and outside influence, through “Strikes and Gutters,” The Dude continues, endures and does not allow the hostile forces in our entropic universe to affect him. He is mellow, nonviolent, and largely stoic. He just wants his rug back. He Abides.

As a Dude of the Cloth, it has since been my life’s work to spread this gospel, and remind people – even in the face of ever-growing global horror – to Abide. I understand that for many of us, taking it as easy as The Dude isn’t in the cards. But that’s when I finally figured out what it is that religion does for so many people; it offers them comfort.

As a “much wiser fella than myself” once said, “‘The Dude Abides;’ I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowing he’s out there; The Dude, takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners.”

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Why I Don't Vote

This is one of several columns I wrote in an attempt to get hired by some papers and/or press syndicates over the last few months. There hasn't been much of a response, so I feel like I should post this one before it's no longer relevant. Hopefully it doesn't hurt my chances with some editor that just hasn't gotten to my email yet.

Go vote, children.

***

Every so often, I have these political arguments with my buddy, Chris. The problem is not that we don’t agree on policies or issues or even usually the character of the people running and commentating. In fact, we’re usually in solid agreement as far as what the facts of all of these situations are.

Our point of contention boils down to the following quote from Uncle Hunter, and the fact that it completely and exclusively encapsulates my opinion of our political landscape:

“The main problem in any democracy is that crowd-pleasers are generally brainless swine who can go out on a stage and whup their supporters into an orgiastic frenzy – then go back to the office and sell every one of the poor bastards down the tube for a nickel apiece.”

See, I’ve never voted in a major election. I’ve been a registered Independent voter since 2006, and I have yet to perform what I’m told is my foremost civic duty. And the reason is that I haven’t yet seen a politician run for office that I thought truly had any of my interests at heart.

Regardless of supposed party affiliation, the majority of these people have no interest in the well-being of their constituencies or any true belief in their platforms. With the emergence of modern polling practices and the advents in communication technology that took place in the latter half of the 20th century, the game changed. Since the mid-1960s, politics in this country has been a numbers game. Our governmental representation is now largely determined by the “fixers” running the two major parties and working behind the scenes in election campaigns.

The lobbyists, the special interest groups, the corporations and billionaires we all rage against for hijacking our country really have those guys more in their pocket than the politicians themselves. But the politicians will do whatever it takes to get elected, and the people telling them how to do that have figured out who among us are statistically likely to vote. They’ve figured out who they need to listen to in order to win the numbers game.

“That’s why you have to start voting now,” insists Chris, “When I was in my twenties, I thought it was pointless because I only viewed it as a ‘short game,’ too. Why should I elect these fuckers who are barely any better than the other guys? Who cares? Thing is, it’s a ‘long game.’ Voting shows them that you’re paying attention, and little by little nudges their policy in the direction of your interests. Right now the only people expressing what they want are over 50; and a lot of them are rich people and old racists.”

And the next few times are starting to seem like they might actually matter. This midterm election is poised, according to many, to determine the future of at least one of our major political parties. The next presidential election will probably determine the political leanings of our highest court for possibly up to the next twenty years. That’s ten election cycles; the set up for a long game.

The best way to begin to shape our government into one that more accurately represents its people and their hopes for the future is to take the campaign advisors and career political analysts out of the game. If there was a single election where third-party candidates who weren’t under the thumb of bipartisan political agendas won even an uncomfortable minority of congressional seats (or possibly even if they just created a Tea-Party-like media sensation, but without the nationalist lunacy), everything “experts” think they know about how politics works in this country would be out the window.

But that can only happen if we all choose for it to.

For more of Miljen's rants about the socio/political/economic status quo (in a less direct format), buy his book, Passerby, for the extremely reasonable price of $2.99

Saturday, October 4, 2014

#FuckYourself

The only real way to beat internet trolls is with large numbers of people telling them together that they are internet trolls and that we don't like them because of that.

*** 

It's not really much of a statement to say that the internet is the single most important thing we've come up with as a species.

Or maybe it is, now that I read it out loud.  But I'll stand by it.

My point is that, as has been oft pointed out, the way in which we communicate and pool information has been permanently altered by the internet, in a way that can't be compared to any other advancement we've made except maybe the printing press. But more so than the printing press, the internet has in a single human generation created entire new languages and cultures of its own that span the globe and have fundamentally altered much older existing cultures across international boundaries.

When the generations that have never known a world without it become a significant part of our voting public in this country, everything is going to change. People who grew up on meta-humor are a little different. Kids these days by a vast majority don't give a fuck what your sexual orientation or religion are. The fact that we can communicate with people our own age around the world, and see the accomplishments of our generation in real time, and then compare that with the atrocities still being committed globally daily by our parents and leaders - IN REAL TIME - takes a lot of power away from the ignorance farmers that have kept most of the world's populations under their thumb since the last paradigm shift that was the industrial revolution.

We also now have an option to solving the world's problems that didn't exist even 30 years ago.

In the 20th Century, the conventional wisdom was that anything could be fixed if you threw enough money at it. Corporations were touted as the bright pillars of our civilized future, because they allowed groups of people to wield enormous sums of money and get shit done - the kind of money that was previously only available to nations. For the better part of a century, we built cities of skyscrapers, fleets of cars, and entire galaxies of widgets, thingies, doodads and sex toys. And then, after the golden age ended and people's thirst only grew greater, capitalism began to turn on us. The money folks started focusing on getting more money, and the Game became about the money, and while our problems in many aspects started becoming more and more symptoms of how much money was being thrown around and hoarded, the solution to these problems in many peoples eyes remained (and in many cases remains to this day) throwing more money at them.

But that doesn't have to be the future. Now we can throw people at problems. Crowdsourcing has gotten more and more attention ever since people started using it to make money (See a pattern here? We're still following the money.), but crowdsourcing is a practice that has been around literally as long as the internet. In fact, crowdsourcing created the internet. In fact, in many ways, crowdsourcing IS what the internet IS.

It's a place for people to pool ideas, and while we're still trying to find a way to work money into the equation, the internet has long run on the notion that it should be a free and universally available place to pool said ideas. The point of the internet is to take the best things we're all doing and allow everyone else in the world to contribute to one another's ideas. It lets our ideas grow beyond the limits of our individual humanity and allows us to create things as a truly seamless unit of living things.

Don't you fuckers see? The internet IS the means by which we reach our next plateau of evolution. It is the physical device by which we will transcend our individual selves and become the unified Gods so many of us are sure we can be. So where are we stuck?

Trolls. They're the reason I started writing this whole thing. I ranted at you all this time about how great the internet is because of the worst part of it. While it allows us to share all our great ideas, it also allows us to share that about ourselves that is most base, vile, and putrid.

As we've moved away more and more from face to face interactions, our sense of interpersonal decency has been one of the first and most obvious casualties. 30 years ago, if you callously walked into a bar and called everyone in it a pack of wankers, you'd get the living shit beaten out of you and the world would move on with one less asshole. These days you can find every one of those people and individually contact them through Facebook, letting them know you think they are wankers, and suffer no physical consequences.

For all the good things it has made possible, and for all the potential it has, the one unforgivable sin of the internet is that it gave everyone the impression that not only was their opinion valid, but important enough to be shared. While in some sense, all our opinions have their own inherent validity, they are not all valid in every conversation and when presented in just any context. Many people don't seem to get that.

Whereas, 30 years ago, shitty people who got off on spouting half-baked criticisms of everything around them usually found themselves lonely outcasts with no friends, now they congregate on the internet. There, not only are they free to express their awful, unhelpful, usually ignorant opinions, they can cheer one another on while masturbating furiously and weeping alone in the dark.

And whereas, in the past we could complain vaguely about the mouth-breathers that were holding society back, I think I pretty effectively just outlined how these wastes of life we know as Internet Trolls are quite literally holding our entire species back from genuinely magical achievements.

Just remember, every time you read something online, be it a piece of news, or a discussion, or a joke, that by being on the internet it originated in someone's mind, and is therefor a product of our collective mind. Whatever your disagreement with it, it is there, on the internet, for the sole purpose of being made better by crowdsourcing. So if you can make it better, either by directly acting to improve it, or (sometimes this is necessary) by pointing out its flaws IN A CONSTRUCTIVE WAY (that's the key to not being a troll), you are helping the internet help us become better as a group.

If you can't do that, realize that THERE IS AN ENTIRE INTERNET WORTH OF INFORMATION ALL AROUND THE PART THAT YOU DISAGREE WITH, some of which is bound to be saying the exact opposite, and some of which you're bound to agree with. Go find one of these places, or if you're like me, and nobody is quite saying what you want to hear said, you can go make a place for yourself to talk to whoever agrees with you about whatever you want to talk about.

But there's absolutely no excuse for seeking out information you disagree with online and then posting merely the fact that you disagree with it in an attempt to derail the conversation. If you can legitimately persuade the people having the discussion of your stance and why you disagree, that's a whole other story, and, like I said, have at it, that's what the internet's there for.

But if all you have to contribute is "This sucks, and you're all a bunch of fags," then I have only one important thing to say to you, and I want you to listen to me very carefully, because I will give you the words of a man I respect more than most of the people I've physically met in my life, and I only know about him because of the internet. He gave this message to another group like you in the late 1980s, and whether or not you agree that it still applies to that group, I want you to know that if Bill Hicks was still alive, he'd very likely want to say this to you himself:

"Kill yourself.
You are fucked and you are fucking us.
There is no way to save your soul; Kill yourself.
Seriously.
Leave, go home, and do it now.
Kill yourself."

But no, really, do it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Declaration of Redependence

To whom it may concern, or Her Royal Majesty, The Queen, I suppose:

As you may have noticed, if you paid attention to our American politics in the past few decades, there is a dire situation currently afoot in our "free" political landscape. I don't know if you guys have a word for that in England, but we like to say, "Shit is fucked up."

I know we've had our differences in the past, and there is now an established history of our nations as two separate entities with different cultures and personalities and traditions, but I believe that when I've made my case, everyone will agree that it's time the American Colonies were reincorporated into the United Kingdom, to prevent their total destruction at the hands of the politicians currently attempting to rule them. Perhaps we don't have to kill those people, and can just send them all to Florida and set them adrift, or Sarah Palin's house to watch for Russians, or something like that...

If you remember, our original list of grievances had several key points, not the least of which was our disagreement with the policies of your then-King, George III. On this first point, you've already done a great job appeasing us, as, not only have you had a pretty decent succession of mild-mannered, non-dickish kings since then, but you've done a pretty good job of neutering the actual political influence of their whole family to a point that we already just consider them rich celebrities over here, which, if I'm not mistaken, is all they are to you now as well. We can deal with this excuse for the arbitrary socio-economic heirarchy we choose to live in anyway. It's better than our plan of saying companies are people, too (more so than people).

Secondly, there's that whole row about taxation and representation. That's kind of my main point here; we're not very good at choosing our own representation, and they just took the taxes and spent them on horrible things we mostly disagreed with, so maybe this is something we should concede on, and you can just sort of figure it out for us, like you do for Scotland. They had the chance to get rid of you recently, and it seems they quite like you for what appear to be largely financial reasons. We'd like to be your other drunk, worthless, couch-crashing cousins. We make good whiskey, too, and we're easier to understand, because we talk loud.

Anyway, there's the whole life, liberty and happiness thing, but I feel like if we roll with the guys we've put in charge of our country now, none of those things are gonna be very realistic goals around here for very long. No, I think the best decision would be to let you run things. You've always been stereotypically level-headed and rational, and I hear your nannies are great at cleaning up messes. Please, just take over, fix things... maybe give us some of that socialized medicine and education you've got. We'll drive on the wrong side of the road and spell colour and aluminium funny or whatever else it is you need.

I mean, shit, you guys even managed to switch to the metric system OK, and you invented this stupid shit we're still using.

Sorry, I'm just really worn out by the incompetence I have to watch on the news every day. Just send some of those redcoated guys over, quick as you can, and I assure you a good 70% of our population will do whatever we can to help them depose the morons we put in power and establish some sort of order or plan for progress.

We just can't handle this shit any more.

Regards,
The colonists great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren's foreign friends and the children of all those people in between and some slaves and a few natives and some Spaniards and French people I guess... (it's been a pretty confusing few hundred years, sexually speaking, you understand...)

PS, bring tea, we swear we won't dump it in the ocean this time, people in Boston are just dicks.