‘Despite all my rage…’

‘…I am still just a rat in a cage’ – Smashing Pumpkins, Bullet with Butterfly wings. 

It is still, after all these years, one of my favorite songs. Even if I don’t lace up my sixteen hole doc Martens and step into the mosh-pit anymore… Mostly because that’ll mean a week of ibuprofen and misery afterwards… also lets be completely honest, at the venerable age of thirty nine, anything that may result in hard living happens WAY after my bed time (these days).

Enter stage left, Louis CK.

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… I’ve wasted a lot of time just being angry at people I don’t know. You know its amazing how nasty we can get as people, depending on the situation. Like most people are okay… as long as they’re okay. But if you put people in certain contexts they just change. Like when I’m in my car I have a different set of values. I am the worst person I can be when I’m behind the wheel, which is when I’m at my most dangerous. When you’re driving that’s when you need to be the most compassionate and responsible of any other time of your life, because you are fucking driving a weapon among WEAPONS. And yet its the worst people get… and I am the worst. 

This one time I was driving and there was this guy a head of me and he kinda, I don’t know, sorta, drifted into my lane for a second, and this came out of my mouth, I said, ‘WORTHLESS PIECE OF SHIT’. I mean what an indictment. What kinda way is that to feel about another human being, worthless piece of shit, that’s somebodies son! 

And things I’ve said to other people, I was once driving and some guy in a pick up truck… did… I don’t know, I don’t remember even, and I yelled out my window, I said ‘hey! FUCK YOU’. Where outside of a car is that even nearly okay? If you were in an elevator, and you were like right next to a persons body and like whatever he leaned into you a little bit would you ever turn right to their face and go ‘hey, FUCK YOU’. ‘Worthless piece of shit’. No, literally zero people would ever do that. But put a couple of pieces of glass and some road between you and there is nothing you would not say to them.

‘I HOPE YOU DIE!’ I said that to a person, ‘I HOPE YOU DIE!’ Why? Because you made me, [makes slight steering wheel motion]  go like this for half a second of my life. You tested my reflexes and it worked out FINE. So now I hope your kids grow up MOTHERLESS. I mean what am I capable of? I’d like to think that I am a nice person… but I don’t know man…

-Louis CK, HBO Oh My God Comedy Special

MJ. While Louis CK is talking about Road rage, this also feels a lot like Social Media to me. Do you think Jack Dorsey sometimes stares off across the Bay towards Alcatraz island and profoundly whispers to no one in particular…

‘I have become vitriol. Destroyer of civil discourse’

Its a very weird dichotomy we have. Normal human interaction versus our not so normal human interaction. I’m not sure which one is our baseline though and which one is abnormal. Maybe the angry version of ourselves is actually who we really are when we are freed from the confines of consequence. I know its probably not quite as simplistic as a flight or fight response but sometimes it feels that the rage is the real us, and everything else is just conformance.

I suppose in the end its our actions we should be judged by and not what ideology we ascribe lip service to and how much hypocrisy we spew. Louis CK final line sticks with me,

I’d like to think that I am a nice person… but I don’t know man…

Can you be a ‘mostly’ nice person? I mean giving someone the finger in traffic can surely be mitigated by some of our more desirable social traits… like (thinks for a while).. charity! (I mean that’s okay isn’t it?)

Is it a mathematical equation? Weighted positives and negatives tallied up to reveal our rating as a human being displayed on some ethereal pivot chart or dashboard. Would we want to know our score? I don’t think I’d want to know. (Admittedly I get anxious about the possibility of an Uber driver giving me less than a five stars…) Then again I suppose it all depends if you think words like ‘nice person’ actually mean anything.

In any event the utility of rage is low. Some might argue even zero. Of course the stoics knew this ages ago…

‘How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it’ – Marcus Aurelius

… and I do believe this. And I’m trying to quit. I really am. But its hard. Like on the same sort of level for me as giving up bread. Some days are okay. Other days all you can think about is a fresh baguette.

With butter.

Oh my god. Stop it!

I suppose there exists a state of being where I no longer think about delicious bread. Or resort to odious terse vocabulary and triple digit diastolic when somebody vexes me. That day… however, is not to today.

It might be tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

 

 

Anonymity and the power of celebrity

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I really liked this…

taken from the Daily Stoic interview with the The Stoic Emperor discussing anonymity and the power of celebrity on social media…

In Japan, during the Edo period, actors had to live in the red light district. It was considered scandalous for respectable people to interact with them. They were thought to be frivolous and contaminating. Do I think that kind of moral panic was justified? Not entirely, but actors are people that trade in illusion. They have a theatrical identity that is very powerful, though it may be built on nothing. Actors and other celebrities tend to be among the most powerful people on social media. They often have confident opinions that are based on very little information. They spend more time looking in the mirror than looking at the facts. They have direct access to millions of people. This is very interesting, and very dangerous.

MJ. I’ve made no effort to research if this anecdote is true, the Japanophile in me wants to believe (and so I do). While I try not get all misanthropic about the human race and our propensity to heap undue value on the (often inane) cerebral musings of the entertainer class… it doesn’t always work out that way for me. That’s not to say my own thoughts are any less vapid but I am comforted by my lack of adherents. After all…

‘With great power comes great responsibility’ – Ben Parker

which I don’t think is always appreciated by people peddling an agenda or exerting their ego on the world. I tend agree with the The Stoic Emperor. Rather assume anonymity and let your thoughts and words be judged on their merit rather than be colored by the cult of your personality.

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Caveat. If I do become famous and attract millions of followers… you should totally listen to me (and potentially elevated me to a position of authority). I have your best interests at heart. For realsies.

Social media

I recently tried Twitter again. FOMO. After three days I remembered why I didn’t do social media. Apparently the internet is not all pornography. But when you subtract the writhing naked humans out, all you have left seems to be the aggrandizement of self, bellicose jingoism, name-calling, carnival barking and hustlers. Social media feels a lot like walking down a movie set street of plywood facades. At least the pornographers are creating actual content.

My disquiet extends to other facets of the web. Like the news. The internet used to feel largely neutral to me. Now everything is militantly polarized in one direction or another, us versus them. Perhaps it was just subtler before. I’m not sure. I tend to doubt my heavily edited memories of past events, you know, when things were better…

I, of course, have been party to all of this. I don’t pretend to judge myself any less harshly for my complicity. Despite my all my reservations I have in the past been mean and combative for no reason.  I have gotten into robust conversations with people who domicile under bridges, perhaps even venturing under an overpass myself now and then. I have ascribed ‘likes’ to things that would likely make me suck air through my teeth if reviewed now. I have even uploaded photographs for the pure reason of fanning the flames and promoting oneupmanship. I wish I could take it all back. But I can’t.

The internet doesn’t change you, rather it likely reveals who you really are. Which is quite frightening sometimes. Despite the veneer we like to portray to the world, just underneath is a rotting substrate barely holding everything together. Turns out Google knows you better than you know yourself.

Twitter is especially traumatic for me. You tend to follow people you like and admire. Only to realize in very short period of time that these paragons that you have elevated to sainthood are largely figments of your imagination. Reality is a barely contained ego and a myriad of inane, banal thoughts that people feel they need to inflict upon the world. Its like a room where everyone has a microphone and massive sense of self importance, spewing their own brand of identity politics in 280 character bursts.

I find it all very dystopian.

Having once been collusive I now wish that I could extricate myself completely, like taking a knife to a gangrenous limb. It should be quite easy just to delete myself. After all I don’t have ten thousand followers who hang on my every words and fill up my comments section with vitriol. I can imagine those are difficult to give up. Especially when your livelihood depends on you marketing yourself, they need to buy what you’re selling.

I’ve have however realised that this medium seems to be the ONLY way to communicate with content creators whose work you like. You can send them an email, but chances, they will never get back to you. Some do write back and kudos to them*. But for the most part your admiration just gets lumped together in a folder with spam and hate mail and eventually deleted.

*Derek Sivers, Caroline Paul, Ryan Holiday and Ricardo Semler all wrote me back.

This however leads to another problematic area for me; the compliment retweet. Someone says something nice about you and you immediately flaunt it to the world as some sort of achievement. #dopamine. Basically you’re high giving yourself.  Authors are especially prone to needing this sort of affirmation it seems, especially newly minted authors. Established old hands don’t give a fuck. Or maybe they would just be retweeting all day. Whatever happened to graciously accepting a tribute?

I think the biggest issue I have though is the time it takes to manage all this hubris and shift through pages and pages of asinine drivel in search of something to make the economy of effort seem worthwhile. I’m not sure how people justify this? Momento Mori people! On your deathbed you will undoubtedly be grateful for all the time you spent languishing on social media. Seems unlikely. But maybe they just follow better people…