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A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.

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December 31, 2018

A Year’s End List Of Considerations

You are entitled to my opinion

With the changing of the year I’ve been thinking about a few things I’ve learned, not by reading books or by perusing the internet, but by simply being alive and dealing with people.  What I’m putting here isn’t a coherent philosophy or some sort of guide for living, I don’t consider myself qualified to advise others on how to conduct their lives. Rather these are things I’ve come to understand that are strictly for myself, anyone who looks at them can take them or leave them as they please.

Of course that hasn’t stopped me from spouting this stuff at other people at every opportunity, I’ve always followed the dictum that you are entitled to my opinion whether you want it or not.  Yet I am well aware that my perspectives on things sound to most people like so much random nonsense, or even nuttiness.  I contend that they are not the ravings of a loon, I have given all of these things a great deal of thought based upon longterm observations and have drawn conclusions. 

Now, I don’t want anybody to think that I’m trying to pass myself off as a paragon of virtue, like almost everybody else I do and say stupid things all the time along with plenty of things that I regret.  And absolutely for sure I do not under any circumstances aspire to be a saint, that’s a gift I do not want thank you very much.  But I do say that I try to default toward doing what’s right and what’s best, I don’t intentionally set out to do harm.  That’s why I try to understand, maybe I can do better if I do. 

You may consider all this a bunch of nonsense, if you do I’m not going to argue.  But hey, I’m quite used to being ignored and dismissed. I keep talking anyway. So now let’s see what’s on my mind.

Burl On A Tree, Great Sacandaga
Burl On A Tree, Great Sacandaga

What it means to lie.  Lying is a way of showing contempt for the person being lied to.  A liar is saying to the person being lied to, in effect, you are either powerless to hold me accountable for my lies or you are too stupid to notice, or both.  Lying can either be an expression of dominance or an attempt to establish dominance.

Think about that for a moment.  If you accept that as true then the implications are vast.  Think of all the lies you’ve heard in your life, both big ones and casual ones. Consider the motivation of each liar who made each lie. It’s always the same motivation, contempt and dominance.

I’m talking of course, about choosing to lie, not about being forced to lie.  If someone holds a gun to your head and tells you to lie, then self preservation comes first.  But think about all those times you had to lie because your employer or some other influential person told you to lie, wasn’t that merely giving you permission to display contempt for others?  Weren’t you exerting dominance on behalf of that permission giver? You were just following orders.

The vast majority of people will immediately sniff and say, I’m not like that.  Oh yes you are, and I am too.  It’s all part of being human, and the only way to avoid such behavior is to be aware of your capacity for lying.  Those who deny it tend to be the biggest liars of all.

I used to know a woman who lied to me a lot, when I caught her lying she was fond of saying that her lies to me were justified because when she was a child she was abused by the adults around her and that she had to lie to them to avoid receiving that abuse.  In effect, she was saying that because some people who once dominated her abused her, she now has every right to lie and show contempt and try to exert dominance over everyone around her.  As if that gave her permission to lie.  Of course, being a chronic liar it’s quite possible the abuse she received as a child was nowhere near as horrific as she claimed.

So many politicians and corporate executives are chronic liars.  They are broadcasting their deep contempt for us little people from whom they derive their power.  Admittedly for someone holding a public position it can be a fine line between pleasing everyone and simply lying all the time, but staying on the truthful side of that line is what political skill is all about.  It’s the foolish pretenders occupying public offices that lie with impunity, they are constantly daring the public to hold them to account. 

Personally, around the time I reached adulthood I came to understand that lying takes too much effort.  I don’t have the energy or the desire to remember all the lies I’ve told and to who I told it to.  Instead I usually say whatever is on my mind, which seems to annoy a lot of people but oh well.

Monarch Butterfly, Great Sacandaga
Monarch Butterfly, Great Sacandaga

Self contempt.  I’m convinced that our American society is suffering from a widespread epidemic of self contempt.  I say “convinced” because I can’t exactly prove it, except to say that I see it all around me, something that I readily observe and few others seem to notice. Most people i meet have it to some degree. For some the symptoms are small and subtle, while others seem to me to drip with self contempt.

It has always puzzled me why almost no one else seems to notice this.  It’s like watching a crowd of people who are all bleeding from their heads and being the only person who notices the blood.  

Yeah, okay, maybe it’s misperception on my part, I’ve certainly struggled with this over the years.  But no, I’ve encountered a few people who also see this phenomenon.  I suspect that more people are capable of seeing this scary stuff but unconsciously filter it out.  Don’t blame them a bit for doing so.  i don’t like looking at it one bit.

What drives this epidemic?  Is it too much privilege, unfulfilled expectations, inadequate religion, bad early education or manipulations to keep us feeling inadequate so as to control us easier?  Is it toxic pollution or bad food?  One or all these things plus something else?  I haven’t got a clue, but I see self contempt all around me.

Plastic Owl Supposed To Scare Off Geese, Great Sacandaga
Plastic Owl Supposed To Scare Off Geese, Great Sacandaga

Chronic lying and self contempt.  I consider chronic lying to be an all too common symptom of self contempt.  It is as if the chronic liar is daring the world, perhaps demanding that the world hold him or her personally responsible for their lies.  Some chronic liars, such as third world dictators perhaps or Wall Street parasites, can lie indefinitely without ever paying the price, but most chronic liars are sooner or later held to account.  

I suppose chronic lying could be a cry for help, but who are chronic liars crying to?  A chronic liar looks down upon the entire world, he or she can only turn their contempt inward because that is the only person that matters.  That constant barrage of lies tears the chronic liar’s soul apart until that person becomes nothing but an empty shell, a mannequin robot spouting nonsense.

But here’s the thing, chronic liars are sometimes very successful.  They occupy the White House, they run the biggest corporations, they own and staff the Corporate Media. A common explanation is to call them all a bunch of psychopaths, as if they are mentally ill and not responsible for their behaviors, but I don’t buy that. (I mean, many probably are psychopaths, but that explains nothing.)

Because, you see, when chronic liars are local, like when they are one of your neighbors in your community, they have to constantly engage in personal contact with you and with other live people. That liar is going to cause a lot of anger and distrust that centers around him or her.  Eventually that anger and distrust among the neighbors will consume the chronic liar as if in the center of a whirlwind. Or more likely that liar will never become more than a marginal creature constantly running from angry people. I’ve seen it more often than I can recall.

It seems to me that what allows a chronic liar to be successful is distance from the angry judgement of others, that is, insulated from people.  That’s what is meant, for instance, when they talk about what happens to people “inside The Beltway” in Washington DC.  The insiders become insulated from judgement by us regular folks, so they only have each other to compare themselves to.

Under such conditions it is much easier to lie than to tell the truth.  There are no consequences to lying, so why bother to make the effort to discern and express the truth?  Pretty soon lying becomes a habit. And sure enough, certain persons who have always been chronic liars look at this atmosphere and show up, next thing you know they’ve taken over.  And self contempt becomes the standard in our government.

Plastic Owl Supposed To Scare Off Geese, Great Sacandaga
Partial Deer Skull, Great Sacandaga

Intelligence and cleverness.  These are two completely different and separate things.  Many people confuse the two and erroneously consider them to be the same thing, this greatly clouds their perceptions of people.  This widespread confusion never seems to be commented upon.

Intelligence can be summed up as seeing and understanding what is coming, and being able to decide how to get there.  Intelligence is knowing that if you steal money from a friend who trusts you, you will lose that friend’s trust and perhaps find yourself having to deal with fallout from the action along with losing a friend.  With intelligence you would first decide whether or not you really need money, and if you do need it find a tolerable way to acquire money, such as ask the friend for a loan and promptly pay it back or go find a job. 

Cleverness is all about devising tricks as you go along.  Cleverness is stealing money from a friend who trusts you, confident that when the friend figures out what happened you’ll talk up a good line that will convince that friend that not only was it his or her fault that you took their money but also get them to hand over more money to you.  Cleverness involves, as you can see, lies and deception.

Clever people don’t need to be intelligent, they have no use for it.  It just gets in the way of the tricks.  If you worry about the consequences of your actions, how they hurt other people and how they hurt yourself, then it becomes very difficult to pull off those clever tricks.

Intelligent people are always taking into account other people, and trying to do what’s best for as many people as they can.  It takes a good deal of planning and understanding to figure out what everybody needs and to try to deliver.  That takes quite a bit of smarts to get right.

Clever people don’t give a rat’s rear end about other people, all they want is to take care of themselves. Other people are only important to them if they can use those people for their own personal profit.  I wouldn’t exactly call that stupid... but I would call it dumb.

All too many of the most powerful people in our government and in our society at large are very, very clever people who don’t have a lick of intelligence.  We allow ourselves to be ruled by such people. This is why it is vital that we all learn the difference between the two, so we can get rid of all the clever people before they kill us with their selfishness and replace them with genuinely intelligent people.

Insect Tracings On A Dead Tree, Great Sacandaga
Insect Tracings On A Dead Tree, Great Sacandaga

Stupidity and ignorance.  There is nothing wrong with being ignorant, that is after all our natural state. We begin life in total ignorance, we usually call that innocence.  You can have ten PhDs and be the smartest most informed person in the world, but what information you know won’t even rate as a speck against all the things that you don’t know.  No matter how hard you try you can’t overcome ignorance, at best you can only make a microscopic dent in it.

Stupidity is often popularly defined as doing the same thing ov er and over and expecting different results.  Like you keep kicking dogs and getting bit, or you continue to pass out drunk at the dive bar and getting robbed.  Supposedly it’s never recognizing your mistakes and thus never making changes accordingly to prevent those mistakes from happening again.  Well that’s kinda true, but that’s a surface understanding of what it is.

Stupidity is learned. It is a set of acquired behaviors meant to avoid danger, to fit in with others, to avoid rejection, to appease scary people who have power over you, to cope with threats, to survive. Some are acquired from others and some are figured out. What makes these behaviors stupid is that they are applied inappropriately, they no longer facilitate survival.  But these things are the only things you know, so you keep doing them.

I learned this a long time ago when I had a job taking care of developmentally disabled adults, most of whom had spent much of their lives in institutions.  After a while I realized that they were not stupid, that because of circumstances they existed on another, slower level than “normal” people, a level that made it harder for them to survive on their own. Some of these folks did indeed engage in stupid behaviors, but it was not their infirmity that made them stupid, it was what they had needed to learn to survive the terrible places they had come from.  

I realized with a shock that this applied to everyone, not just to my “clients” as we were supposed to call them.  I cringe every time some snotty character sneers at someone who makes a mistake or doesn’t know something, calling that person “stupid.”  As far as I’m concerned that snot is displaying stupidity by confusing ignorance with stupidity, but that distinction would go right over their head so I say nothing.

Slender Trees, Great Sacandaga
Slender Trees, Great Sacandaga

Wanting to hurt.  A universal characteristic of humans is the desire to hurt other people.  Yes of course, you are not that sort of person that would do that, are you.  But I’ve got news for you.  You are.  You’re just denying it.

There are indeed a fair sized minority of people who spend an inordinate amount of time looking for vulnerable people that they can cause harm to, whether it is merely to humiliate them or to cause them serious harm, or even to kill them. I’ve know quite a few of them, in my opinion more than my share, and have had to learn how to neutralize them and fend them off.  Believe me, there are a lot of people like that out there. 

But the majority of people don’t think they are like that, they believe that they are above such nasty behavior.  Unfortunately, even the nicest sweetest people will succumb to the temptation to downgrade or cause harm to others for no other reason than because they can.  I’m convinced that it is part of our biology, you can smother that truth all you want but it is always there.

What I’ve observed is that those who are most in denial of this human tendency will sooner or later surprise everybody with their viciousness when the conditions to do so are just right.  They will target a vulnerable person when somebody effectively gives them permission to do so, perhaps an authority figure or a government or their TV set, or sometimes just an acquaintance.  Often those permissions are subliminal.  Such mostly nice people will attack a vulnerable person and not know why or even be aware that they are doing so. I’ve seen that a lot.

I think the only thing one can do about this is to be aware that we all have this tendency.  One should try not to behave that way toward the vulnerable, or toward the designated targets.  And when others pick you as a target, to figure out how to sidestep their nastiness.

Lichen On A Tree, Great Sacandaga
Lichen On A Tree, Great Sacandaga

Personal Responsibility.  The ability to admit one is wrong and apologize is what separates a complete person from an undeveloped incomplete or stunted person.  Roughly that corresponds to being grown up or being chronically immature.  Grownups are not afraid to own their mistakes, unformed people never have the courage to do so.

Weak people who are not fully formed, which apparently includes most of our society’s leaders, are terrified that if they apologize for anything then they will be admitting vulnerability and will be destroyed. But who will destroy them, who is capable of doing that?  A fully formed adult is perfectly capable of easily brushing off any sniveling bratty children who try to use a a sincere apology as an opening for an attack.

It is their own fear that destroys them, a fear of failure that a complete person does not have. Think about how rare the ability to apologize is among the physically mature people that you know. So many of them have never really grown up.  They live in constant fear of being “found out.”

I’m fond of saying that personal responsibility has become politically incorrect. I mean, when was the last time you heard a corporate executive or a politician of any sort admit to being wrong without being compelled to do so by a court? These are the incomplete people who lead our society.

Lake On An Island, Great Sacandaga
Lake On An Island, Great Sacandaga

Pride.  Much is said about how we should be proud of ourselves, proud of who we are, take pride in this or that etc.  And yet the dominant religion in this country has always preached that pride is something that should be avoided at all costs.  It’s on the list of the seven deadly sins. According to Wikipedia:

Pride is considered, on almost every list, the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins: the perversion of the faculties that make humans more like God—dignity and holiness. It is also thought to be the source of the other capital sins. Also known as hubris... or futility, it is identified as dangerously corrupt selfishness, the putting of one's own desires, urges, wants, and whims before the welfare of other people. 

This classic Christian definition doesn’t line up well with our individualistic society, does it.  But today we are careful to make a distinction between pride and misplaced pride, that is, between treating oneself and others with respect as opposed to treating oneself and others with no regard.  Indeed that medieval classic definition smacks of fascism, the implication appears to be that not submitting to authority is the greatest sin of all.

For me this all came up a few days ago.  To my surprise it seems that I was giving a moral lecture to a certain gentleman that I know who had become homeless... unnecessarily.  The fellow does indeed receive a decent monthly stipend from the government, or he would get it if he accepted help and got a permanent residence.  But he prefers to live on the street and sleep at the mission rather than take advantage of the help offered to him by his social worker and what he calls his “psych doctor.”

I know well that he is proud, he wants to be self sufficient, he “doesn’t want to be a bother.”  But he most certainly is a bother, to himself and to everyone he deals with.  To survive he pushes himself upon people and into places where he is not welcome.  And he puts himself at risk, there are people who prey upon him and lately his health has not been good. It’s cold out there right now.

I told him to put away his pride and humble himself, he needed to accept help.  And as I was lecturing him it occurred to me for the first time exactly why pride, or rather misplaced pride, was considered a sin, because it not only takes away from others but because it directly hurts oneself.  It was his pride that was making him live on the street at the end of December and nothing else.  I don’t think he really listened to me.  I hope the best for him.

Flowering Plant On A Rocky Shore, Great Sacandaga
Flowering Plant On A Rocky Shore, Great Sacandaga 

Well, I suppose I have more of this stuff but that’s enough.  I’d be surprised if anybody bothers to read this past the opening paragraphs, let alone all the way to the end.  As a last word I’ll say that I always avoid making New Year’s resolutions, so I’ll make this one resolution that I make every month. I plan to write more on this blog, hopefully more exciting and relevant stuff. So there, I got this stuff out of the way. 

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Posted by:Roger Green
Posted on:01/07/2019
Interesting stuff. Needs a better title. I'm linking to it anyway.

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