Monday, March 02, 2015

The Fine Line

Odd how one picks up small bits and pieces of poetry, songs, sayings, etc. from God knows where and carries them throughout life.

One of my favorites, probably from my grade school days when I was becoming aware of profundaties (and yes, "profundaties" is a word--it has to be: didn't I just use it?), is "He who knows not, and knows not he knows not, he is a fool: shun him. He who knows not and knows he knows not, he is ignorant: teach him. But he who knows and knows he knows, he is wise: follow him." Too bad more people don't adhere to this very helpful guideline. Which brought me to the subject for today's blog.

The gap between stupidity and wisdom is awesomely wide, whereas only the very thinest of lines separates stupidity from ignorance--a line so thin the two are often and easily confused. Ignorance is, by definition, simply a lack of knowledge, and can be overcome (and I can't help but observe that the core of the word "ignorance" is "ignore"). The true test of who is stupid and who is ignorant lies in their awareness that the line exists and in the willingness to cross it. Both stupidity and ignorance are, in effect, prison cells with unlocked doors. The ignorant may be unaware that they are free to leave; the stupid have no desire to. A fool operates on the principle of the old cliche "Don't bother me with facts; my mind's made up."

As a general rule of thumb, stupidity is defined not only by the absolute refusal to even consider any opinion that differs from their own, but by the frequently zealous denial of the right to have them. Ignorance is lethargy; stupidity is too often unapologetically evil.

In a recent exchange on Facebook, I quoted Polonius' advice to his son, Laertes, in Hamlet: "This above all: to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not be false to any man." It evoked the following comment: "Why don't u use English?" I responded with a modern-English interpretation of the quote, to which the same person replied: "U mean be true to urself!" Yes, that's what I mean.

I did not automatically assume the questioner was stupid, but I was both mildly shocked and saddened by her ignorance. Ignorance can be cured; stupidity is terminal. And to me, the most terrifying thing is that while the line cannot be crossed from stupidity to ignorance, there is a great danger of crossing the line in the other direction. Ignorance can too easily become stupidity.

We are a nation of ignorance seemingly sinking deeper and deeper into the quagmire with each succeeding generation. Studies and reports show how terrifyingly ignorant our general public is becoming. Ignorant parents tend to raise ignorant children. When a shocking number of teenagers read far below their grade level, when they do not comprehend basic math and science, when they cannot find China on a map, it is time for grave concern.

Alarm bells have been rung so loudly and so long that we are becoming deaf to them. The ignorant aren't quite sure what they mean, and the stupid neither know nor care.

The fact that stupidity has taken such a firm foothold is in large part due to its vociferous proponents, who confuse volume and intensity for validity. Listen, if you have the stomach and tolerance for it, to religious zealots and talk-show "pundits" and see if you can find even the hint of anything positive anywhere in their ranting. That there is nothing positive in stupidity is painfully self-evident.

Is there a lesson here? I'd hope it might be this: never, never confuse those who claim to know for those who do know. How can you tell them apart? Your mind may not always know, but your heart does.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1). 



Thursday, February 26, 2015

"This, too...."

One of the wonders of being human is that while we, among all living creatures on earth, are aware of the concepts of future and past, stretching out endlessly before and behind us, we must walk between the two on the infinitely thin tightrope of "now"...the present.

Impatience is also ingrained in our species, and we too frequently ignore our past in our hurry to get to the future. To speed up that which cannot be hurried, we have created technology, which we intended to serve us but which increasingly controls us. And as technology encroaches upon our humanity, we become more and more frustrated―and from frustration comes anger, both personal and societal. 

Societal frustration shows itself in infinite ways, both broadly as in wars and acts of terrorism, and so subtle that few are aware of them. “Popular” music is a prime example; up into the latter half of the 20th century, song lyrics told stories. Some were sad, of course, but very, very few of them could be said to be angry: fewer still espoused hatred or literally seethed with anger.

This anger increasingly permeates our entire society, like water permeates a sponge. What has happened? What has changed us? Why is everyone so angry? Why am I so angry so much of the time?

The answer is as simple as it is depressing: the less control we see as having over our own lives, the more helpless we feel, the more frustrated we become, and frustration shows itself most clearly through anger. Every time we pick up the phone to try to talk to a human being who might actually give a damn about us or our problem at some behemoth, faceless corporation we are reminded in no uncertain terms just how little power we really have over even something so simple as a phone call. And who, after sitting there holding the receiver listening to 10,000 blatant and insultingly condescending repetitions ("Your call is very important to us"/"Due to unexpectedly heavy traffic"/"Please stay on the line and your call will be answered by the next available representative" ) does not get the clear message, "We don't know who you are, we don't care who you are, we don't care about your pathetic little problems. All we want from you is your money."

It's difficult―nearly impossible, at times―not to despair. Our government is at a standstill. Those whose job it supposedly is to govern our democracy instead devote their energies to throwing roadblocks in front of any idea, no matter how logical and potentially beneficial, proposed by the opposition. It is nearly impossible to know what those running for election or re-election will do if elected, or how they will go about doing it. Their primary aim is to viciously attack their opponents.

Standing apart from ourselves―not easy to do―can provide a unique insight into the relativity of things. What do so many of the things we become frustrated about really mean, at base, to our lives? In retrospect, being put on hold for 45 minutes is infuriatingly frustrating, but, really, what difference does it make in the larger picture of our day to day life? Well, the answer to that is, again, that we pass through time from one nanosecond to the other, and while we're enduring those infuriating on-hold waits or struggling through the myriads of individual problems which beset us all, there is no way to escape or avoid them. 

Ten years in the past is as close as yesterday afternoon. Ten years in the future might as well be eternity.

Unhappiness with our current situation is just part of life. Gloom and doom are common themes throughout history. All evidence to the contrary, I'd like to think that this is just another segment of the history-long “phase” we're going through. Despite all the our ranting and raving and despair for the future, perhaps the single most fascinating and positive thing about human existence is that we persevere. We still hope. We still, somewhere under all that frustration and anger and discouragement, cling to the belief that things will get better. There is, somewhere in the depths of our soul, the awareness that no matter how bad things may be at any given minute, "this, too, shall pass." It is our salvation.


Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).

Monday, February 23, 2015

Idiots

I know full well that I frequently think of myself, and present myself to others, as an idiot. But I can do it; it’s my right. I don’t like it, but I can live with it.  What I cannot tolerate is other people―total strangers who have never even heard of me and have no interest in doing so except as the signatory of a check or a credit card number―automatically making that assumption. Their numbers are, unfortunately, legion. The assumption that everyone is an idiot seems, in fact, to be a fundamental tenet of nearly everyone with a product to sell or a cause to promote. 

Probably 95 percent of all advertisers and 99.6 percent of all politicians consider the American public to be severely mentally retarded. Either they treat us with infuriating condescension (“See the pretty new car? Wouldn’t you like to have it? It’s got a horn and it goes really, really fast, and everything!....No, no, don’t bother looking at the price tag or reading the teensy-weensy print at the bottom of the screen/page. It’s nothing important.”), or believe that figuratively grabbing us by the shoulders, screaming at the top of their lungs and speaking as fast as they possibly can we will be convinced and become a bobble-head doll ("Oh, yeah! Sounds wonderful! A limited time offer, you say? Wow! I don't want to lose out on such a great opportunity. I'll take it!"). And, sadly, it works far more often than it fails.

I love glancing quickly through the subject lines in my Spam folder before I hit “Delete.” My current favorite is “Update your Penis.” I assume this involved downloading an attachment. But sometimes I merely stare at the subject lines in total awe. “Film Extras Wanted!” “Make $20,000 a month!” “Cure all Diseases”!  Please! How can anyone…anyone…possibly, possibly be so stupid or gullible to fall for these scams? What do people use for brains? Have they never heard of logic? Have they never asked a question?

But the tragic, infinitely sad fact is that people DO believe this crap. Sweet little old ladies sign their life savings away eagerly at the promise of getting something for nothing, then look tearfully into the camera of the newscast telling their story and say: “How could they have done this to me?”  Well, dear, sweet lady, they did it to you because, sweet and good and kind as you are, you let them do it to you. You are, sad to say, an idiot. Harsh, I know, but true. 

If people stopped falling for these scams, the scammers would eventually go away. But I’m not holding my breath.

I have a few friends and acquaintances who frequently send me political and religious diatribes, usually filled with such odoriferously unbelievable garbage I grow ill from the stench. But it is a proven fact that Barack Obama, who hates America, is Osama ben Ladin’s third cousin twice removed, and that he plans to strap dynamite to his wife and small daughters and detonate them during his next speech to congress, thus destroying our entire government. Either that or he is secretly planning to impose Sharia law (just how he or anyone else may do this is not made clear) and make Islam the official and only religion of the country.  Who… who …in their right mind or with one scintilla of intelligence could conceivably in a million million years believe that crap?  And I have but to look at or listen to the latest pronouncement from political hate mongers to realize how very many people do believe it. It is, truly and sincerely, to weep.

And I fall back yet again on one of my mantras: “If 50 million people believe a stupid thing, it is still a stupid thing.” 

Which brings me back to my sense of anger, frustration and impending doom in expecting people to be what they so obviously are not—or, worse, who do not lift a finger to slow or reverse the out-of-control negativism inundating every aspect of our society. Please, feel free to prove me wrong. Please.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).




Thursday, February 19, 2015

Weather or Not

Remember that old kids' rhyme, "Whether it's cold or whether it's hot, we will have weather, whether or not"? It was one of my first encounters with wordplay, and I've always remembered it.

I love weather's unpredictability and delight in the largely futile attempts of weather forecasters to get it right. Whenever they predict heavy rain...which I love...I know I can pretty well leave my umbrella at home. I often wonder why they bother.

Living as I did so long in northern Wisconsin, in the heart of Lake Superior's snow belt, I delighted in the heavy snow most winters would bring. I didn't particularly like digging out my car--especially when, as happened not all that infrequently, the snow would be even with the top of the hood--but to sit inside and watch it fall...or, with blizzard conditions, listening to the wind shake the house while whipping the snow horizontally past the windows...was always a delight.

But I do not like excessive cold. One winter, when I was living up north, we had one entire week when the temperature never got above -26! By comparison, Chicago weather, and particularly the winters, are normally fairly tame. The city comes to a standstill on those very rare occasions when we get more than six inches of snow. Bunch o' wusses! But this winter seems to be something of an exception. Perhaps because I’m getting older. Perhaps because I’m just getting tired of the cold.

In Spring, Summer, and Fall, I enjoy looking out the window in the morning to see the clouds from the previous night's storms  breaking up and patches of blue sky appearing. I love waking to rain, wind, and a world saturated in deep, pensive grey. When I first returned to Chicago and was staying with my now-dead but still dear friend Norm in his 35th floor condo, I would be mesmerized whenever fog or low clouds would totally wrap around the building and obscure the view of the towers of the Loop in the distance. 

Perhaps because I am so given to melodrama, I have always loved thunderstorms; the more violent the better. I've told the story many times of scaring the bejeesus out of my poor mother when I was a teenager. I'd gotten out of bed during a severe storm in the middle of the night to stand at my bedroom window to watch it. I stood between the drapes and the partially open window, and my mom came in to close the window she didn't see me standing there until she pushed the drapes aside. 

For some reason, we generally are incapable of remembering weather from one year to the next. People always seem to claim the current year's weather to be the most severe—the hottest, the coldest, the driest, the wettest—in memory, though it almost never is.

I've often said that one of the main reasons I left Los Angeles after eighteen years was because I grew tired of every day being June 25th, and of being able to confidently plan a picnic six weeks in advance. Even when it did rain, Mother Nature didn't really seem to put her heart into it. Far more drizzle than drama.
I always delight in days other people consider gloomy or unpleasant. I find them restful and soothing. They're like putting on a thick down jacket on a cold day, completely enveloping and isolating me from the cares of the world. I put them on a par with the serenity of walking through a cemetery reading tombstones. (No, I am not weird, thank you. A bit strange, perhaps, but….)

So if I have my choice of not-sunny, not-stormy days, I think I’d choose grey, overcast days with slow, steady or intermittent rain. Somber days are conducive to contemplation, reflection, and thought (synonyms, I know, but each with it's own subtle differences), and weather and life have strong parallels. I suspect the proportions of sunny to stormy to grey of weather are about the same as happiness, sorrow, trauma, and joy are to human life. Perhaps to emphasize this parallel that I often paraphrase the old saying "into each life a little rain must fall" to "into each rain a little life must fall." Works for me.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).

Monday, February 16, 2015

Envy

envy (noun): a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else's possessions, qualities, or luck

jealous (adjective): feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages

Envy, like its not-quite-synonym jealousy, is one of the less noble of human qualities. The difference between envy and jealousy is that envy is a bit broader in scope, whereas jealousy is usually concentrated on one individual.

Unfortunately, for me envy has been a chronic and severe condition as far back as I can remember, undoubtedly stemming from a deep-rooted sense of inadequacy…of not being who and what I so desperately have wanted to be; of not living up to my own expectations; of constantly being exposed to others who possess qualities (though, interestingly, seldom “things”) I wish I had. (I long ago adopted being self-deprecatory as a perverse form of defense mechanism: I’ll tell you how inferior I am before you can tell me. Not healthy, I know.)

I envy those younger, more attractive, more intelligent, more thoughtful, more talented than I. And often it goes far beyond just a casual sense of wishing to a soul-deep, chest-ache longing. I’m not sure how one can experience a sense of loss over something one has never had, but I do.

I envy those more intelligent than I. As I’ve often said, my knowledge is broad but extremely shallow. To quote the old song, “I know a little bit about a lot of things, but…” I have read a great deal, but never enough to feel qualified to have a truly meaningful discussion on the classics.

I envy those who are seemingly (though realizing “seemingly” may be the operative word) at ease in social situations involving people they do not know; who can express their enthusiasm in crowds with shouts and cheers; who can dance without thinking or caring how they look to others.

I envy those who have the time to read voraciously. I don’t read nearly as much as I used to, or as I should, partly because when I read the words of others I often feel intimidated. I have no doubt that I’m a good writer…just not good enough.

The vast bulk of the things I envy are based on the fact that I am a homosexual in a predominantly straight world that I have never understood, and  am therefore always afraid of embarrassing myself. I suspect one of the reasons…if there are reasons…I am homosexual is because I so long to be so many things I find in other men. From childhood, I’ve always been attracted to males I wish I were like. And, in the days when I was still an active part of the gay community, to be able to actually go home with someone to whom I was attracted provided an almost euphoric sense of validation. (“See, you’re not as ugly as you think you are.”) 
And having said all the above, having made a case for the emotional hazards of negative thinking, I must point out that all these unhealthy things, which could easily create serious depression, are offset by the one characteristic of which I am most proud: I never, even under the worst circumstances, allow myself to take myself too seriously.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).








Thursday, February 12, 2015

Penguins

One of my favorite stories, often repeated, is about the to-the-point book report a little girl submitted after reading a book on penguins: "This book tells me more about penguins than I need to know."  I'm afraid my blogs may occasionally elicit the same reaction.

I have always had a tendency to reveal—-well, not only reveal, but revel in—things about myself which other people logically and probably justifiably prefer to keep to themselves. That some of these things are embarrassing to talk about and may even make others a little nervous doesn't seem to slow me down.  While drawing the line at detailed accounts of the more intimate of bodily functions, almost everything else is fair game. It is not coincidental, I think, that I have divided myself into Roger and Dorien, since I've always had the ability to stand apart from myself and observe my reactions with a fascination I have no real reason to believe anyone else could share. 

I am, as I'm sure you have noticed, massively self-absorbed. You may well wonder, as I do, why and to what end? I think it's because there are so many things we all share but for some reason feel we must keep to ourselves; things we are uncomfortable talking about for one reason or another...usually because we're afraid there is something wrong with us for having such thoughts, and we don't want anyone else to know we have them. The effect of this is that, when everyone else also remains silent, it reinforces our believe that those feelings and thoughts we do not express are unique to ourselves, when in fact they are not.  I strongly suspect that many if not most of those things of which we are  unreasonably embarrassed or ashamed and consider to be ours alone are in fact far more common than we realize. We are each unique, but not as unique as we assume.

The fact is that these are largely within-ourselves things, and we must spend the vast bulk of our time and energy in an outside-ourselves world. There simply isn't time to do too much introspection.

And then there is the basic human resistance to making waves. We all want to fit in, to be accepted. And as a result we learn to keep things to ourselves. So perhaps I flatter myself by thinking that by airing out my closet, as it were, you might recognize in it similar items you have in your own, and might be a bit freer in not only acknowledging them but not feeling quite so alone in having them.

Because each human is an individual, every society, culture, race, and ethnic group establishes its own set of standards and generally-agreed-upon perimeters within which its members are expected to stay. These standards are, at their base, pretty similar, and nearly every one stems from the prime imperative: survival of the species. One of the problems is, however, that times and challenges change while the standards, once established, do not. What were very logical rules when the standards were set up—many of them spelled out, for Christians and Jews, in the Old Testament of the Bible—have long ago lost their reason for being. The Jewish proscription against eating pork, for example, was a logical response to the real dangers of trichinosis in a time of no refrigeration. The dangers guarded against have almost ceased to exist, but the traditions remain long after the need for them has vanished. 

Cultural/social standards and rules tend to be based more on our psyche than on physical dictates, and a great many rules are imposed by religion and ethnicity. To this day, Americans are saddled with a puritanical past, which is probably most strongly evident in our puzzling and contradictory attitudes toward sexuality. The oft-quoted definition of puritanism as "the deep, abiding fear that somewhere, someone might be having fun" is deeply ingrained. We are both titillated and, depending on our degree of self-repression, repelled by any sex act not engaged in exclusively for the purpose of procreation. It is not "proper" to talk of such things.

So we find ourselves in an imaginary box wherein arbitrary limits are placed on what is "proper" to be mentioned to others and what should be repressed. I just enjoy reminding people that it's okay to step beyond the box every now and then, just for the fun of doing it.


Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).

Monday, February 09, 2015

Grand Delusions

Being human comes with enough problems—many of our own making—without allowing hubris to extend the range of those problems to include assumed/implied responsibility for things over which we have absolutely not the remotest influence or control. This hubris is, in fact, a form of delusional theism. I, alas, tend to be prone to it. 

Toddlers and very young children naturally assume they are omnipotent and the center of the universe, since for the first few years of their lives, they don't really have any reason to think otherwise. All that really matters is themselves and what they want. Most are soon dissuaded from this notion by the harshness of reality, but some few manage to cling to them and survive. Again, I am one, and the jury is still out as to whether this is a curse or a blessing.

As one for whom large areas of emotional development more or less ground to a halt at around age five, I have always sincerely felt, down somewhere in the core of my being, that I am indeed the center of the universe. But with grand delusions comes grand responsibilities. Therefore, when something—anything—goes wrong, I can't escape the feeling that I must somehow be responsible for it. And as I became more and more aware of the world around me, this assumption has extended far beyond what directly effects my daily life. My theistic delusions have expanded to encompass just about everything that happens, anywhere, any time.

I've frequently addressed, in these blogs, the universal—and exponentially increasing—frustration caused by the sense—the knowledge—of lack of control over our own lives and destiny. That control has been usurped by the very technology and bureaucracies we humans created to serve us and make our lives easier. Unfortunately, as we became more and more dependent on these technologies, they, like Frankenstein’s monster, have gotten totally out of control. Things we designed to embrace us have tightened their hold to the point where we cannot breath, and we cannot escape. 

Oddly, I do not feel responsible for either technology or bureaucracy; only for their effects, over which I, like everyone else, am maddeningly powerless. Surely someone who is the center of the universe should be able to do something.

Conversely and perversely, while I'm happy to feel responsible for all that's wrong in the world, I am incapable of taking credit for all that goes well...for all the acts of love and kindness and self sacrifice and nobility that occur every day. And why is that, you may ask—as I have? Simple: because (and again here we have strong echoes of arrested emotional development) love and kindness and self sacrifice and nobility are the way the world should be, with no intervention from anyone. Always. That it is not, when I so want and expect it to be, must somehow be my fault.

I guess it all boils down to this: considering all the trouble and unhappiness and problems there are in the world—and not counting those which we create for ourselves as individuals—surely someone must be responsible. As center of the universe, why not me?


Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).