Thursday, 14 October 2021

What openness looks like

Africa Brooke, from An Open Letter:

“YES, I could choose to carry animosity in my heart based on the pain my ancestors experienced and the injustice still taking place in many different parts of the world - but what does that do for me, my mental state, my community, and those I interact with in the present day?

“I'd rather acknowledge reality, and focus on solutions.

“I wasn't really raised to ask many questions, but in adulthood asking powerful questions (even when they are simple) is something that has become a non-negotiable - and that's what I will continue to do.

“I will continue to trust myself and question things. I will do my own research before responding purely based on emotion. I will keep myself open to having challenging conversations if I have the capacity to do so, and if I don't have the capacity to engage, I will still not shut anyone down - unless absolutely necessary.”

Full article here
I just read Ms Brooke’s article and I have nothing to add really, except that I always want to have her words nearby. To me, this is what openness toward people and experience looks and sounds like. I don’t think you could go that wrong trying to live by the words I’ve quoted here, either day to day or in the long term.

Sunday, 10 October 2021

What is your sacred space?

JBP/Stephen Crowder Bitchute link**

(Length of dialogue: approx 1 hour)

I haven’t been listening to “political things” in a while. I find the oppositional stances people take to each other on issues unhelpful when repeated constantly. Dialectical conversation can be useful, but that rarely is what actually happens: it’s just one side trying to humiliate the other. The real world is very complicated and none of us perceive it in its entirety; I don’t know why this is such a hard thing to admit.

What I particularly appreciated in this dialogue was JBP’s comment on how people are not recognizing the need for the spiritual and religious in their daily lives. He argues that it is a universal human need, not a choice. Lacking a deliberate, conscious religious practice, religion comes back through unconscious patterns. 

My friend Joe responded and added to my observations with this insightful comment I want to share and keep for my own reference:

“I agree with you and JBP about people not recognizing the need for the religious and sacred in their lives. I would go further and say people are not recognizing the religious and sacred in their lives. We still have the religious and the sacred, we have substituted things like politics and various other ideologies for what was once the domain of a more singular idea of the religious and the sacred.
“I think we have forgotten that it was our shared story - the thing that bound us together as a community - that was the main value proposition of religion. It represented the shared story that served as the social glue to define the membrane of community. Because of the current lack of a shared story, we tend to treat people who have a different map of the world as if they are less than, or unworthy.
“A media engine that feeds on attention and is willing to take on that role religion once had - of crafting the narrative of what's true and not - what's sacred and not - what's good or evil - is breath cancer. It destroys the necessary integrity we need to function at our best by straining on our focus that we are best served when we understand that community is ultimately what we need to live in and depend on to carry us forward through time.
“I could be missing something (s).”

**As a side note, it’s interesting to compare the sort of comments on the Bitchute video versus YouTube. The commenters on Bitchute sound a lot more…..angry and alienated?  I am aware that there are people out there who might think less of me for listening to Dr. Peterson (whom I know a lot about) and Mr Crowder (whom I know much less about, but he says nothing here that I find particularly startling). To my ear though, the dialogue between the two of them is inviting and reasonable. The Bitchute commenters disagree: they see the dialogue as stupid and irrelevant at best, and proof of some truth-suppressing conspiracy at worst. They have dismissed both men because they do not support the views that the commenters endorse.

The Bitchute commentary is not something I would participate in. But I found it interesting to read, once I figured out what I was reading. There are groups of people who have formed their conclusions and simply stopped paying attention to what others are saying. Of course it is impossible to pay attention to everything and everyone, but I think it’s worth some thought that when people are shut out of conversations or leave them, they are still around, somewhere. You can’t wish or censor people out of existence.

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

To be involved and exposed

“Courage… is the sine qua non of any attempt to deal with the threat of senility – courage to face the truth, and to live fully in the face of it. With courage a person can go about living in another way – a way that will give maximum chance of dying with his faculties intact. This other way is not the way of the welfare culture in which we are all immersed. It does not involve the constant search for comforts or the obsessive pursuit of health. On the contrary, it is a way of benign shabbiness and self-neglect, of risky enjoyments and bold adventures. 
“It involves constant exercise – but not of the body. Rather, exercise of the person, through relationships with others, through sacrifice, through the search for opportunities to be involved and exposed. Such, at least, is my intuition. The life of benign shabbiness is not a life of excess. Of course you should drink, smoke, eat fatty foods – but not to the point of gluttony. The purpose is to weaken the body while strengthening the mind. 
“The risks you take should not damage your will or your relationships, but only your chances of survival. Officious doctors and health fascists will assail you, telling you to correct your diet, to take better forms of exercise, to drink more water and less wine. If you pursue a life of risk-taking and defiance the thought-police will track you down, and your lifestyle will be held up to ridicule and contempt.
 “It is not that anyone intends you to live beyond your time. Rather, to use Adam Smith’s famous image, the old people’s gulag arises by an invisible hand from a false conception of human life – a conception that does not see death as a part of life, and timely death as the fruit of it.
“Each of us must decide for himself what the life of benign shabbiness requires of him. Obviously dangerous pursuits like hunting and mountaineering have a part to play. Equally important is the forthright expression of opinion, so as to win grateful friends and implacable enemies, a process that enhances both the consolations of social life, and the tensions of day-to- day living.
“ I am not sure that I could live like my friend the writer and campaigner Ayaan Hirsi Ali; but there is an adorable recklessness in her truth-directed way of life that makes each moment of it worthwhile. Going out to help others, in ways that involve danger and the threat of disease, is also a useful form of exposure. The main point, it seems to me, is to maintain a life of active risk and affection, while helping the body along the path of decay, remembering always that the value of life does not consist in its length but in its depth.”

—Roger Scruton, Dying in Time

Friday, 24 September 2021


  To consider the body as a tool of the mind, one that ought to reflect what the mind insists upon, is an unrecognizable view of human nature and is—in practice—impossible. Our bodies will never perform in precisely the manner our minds desire.”

Elizabeth Regnerous

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

The Angry Mob and the Illiberal Bureaucracy

The New Puritans is an excellent article on what happens when judgements about people are made furtively by bureaucracies and/or noisily by the mob. I have read/listened/viewed more material on this topic than I can count or recount. I have also witnessed a mob in the act of defamation, and it is one of the most shocking and vile things I have ever seen.  Still, I would say this article is a standout, and one I will share with people of all views and backgrounds. It is also, regrettably, something  on my mind as I return to a workplace which is likely to be increasingly influenced by the shadow culture of the New Puritans.

Tuesday, 10 August 2021

Stories and mobs

Whenever there is a story in the news and/or social media that is causing a lot of reaction (often vastly different reactions) I tend to avoid it until most people have moved on. I have a gut level distaste for such things, and also I feel like there is too much pressure to take one side or another, and that is something I tend to not want to do, at least not just because a lot of other people are taking sides. (My view on partisan issues: you should be able to deduce what side I am on for yourself. If you can’t, then it isn’t important to our relationship and probably none of your business.)

When I was more active on social media, it was interesting (perhaps in a perverse way) to see how stories went viral and created intensely emotional responses. More negatively, I sometimes felt like I was supposed to react to the issue as well, even if I ordinarily wouldn’t want to. This pressure (or temptation) to “join the party” is another reason I’m very, very glad to have stepped away from social media. I’m sure I’m missing out on a lot of things (so sad….not) but I also am not being entangled in mass outbursts against my better judgment. So far. 

A bit over a year ago, a video of a New York woman called Amy Cooper taken by a man called Christian Cooper was very much in the news. Since I was still on Facebook, I saw a variety of reactions, all of which were antagonistic to Ms Cooper. Women whom you could call my peers, roughly speaking, in age/culture/education, were denouncing Ms Cooper as racist, “Karen,” etc etc. Most bizarrely (to me) there were calls for women to take a sort of collective responsibility for Ms Cooper’s alleged bad behaviour toward Christian Cooper, as if I could be in any way responsible for the actions of a woman I don’t know in a situation I don’t understand. The Amy Cooper story was of course connected with the death of George Floyd and the resulting political action taken by groups and individuals in the USA.

Anyway. Today I took the time to listen to a Kmele Foster/Bari Weiss podcast looking in depth into the Amy Cooper/Christian Cooper story. They look closely at the context of the confrontation and the details of how it was reported. Ms Cooper is interviewed. (Mr Cooper did not respond to the request to participate). It is a disturbing case study of how a video of less than a minute can take on an emotional weight in the minds of strangers who don’t and can’t know the context. And arguably, don’t want to.

I’ve said before that it’s my goal to never be part of a mob in my life. This podcast reinforces that goal in my mind.

With Bari Weiss and Kmele Foster

Monday, 9 August 2021

Part 3 (Rules 7, 8, 9) : Dr Jordan Peterson’s Beyond Order with personal commentary

Preamble: see Part 1 for my explanation of what I’m doing.

About the book: Beyond Order follows JBP’s 2018 book, 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos (for a total of 24 rules between both books). Each chapter is devoted to one rule. The chapters may include discussion of self-help ideas, psychological and other scientific research, analysis of literature, popular culture, mythology and/or religion, political and social commentary and anecdotes to build on the theme. This is much like JBP’s speaking style which many know from his popular online lectures and podcasts. Part of the delight and enjoyment is watching thinking and sense making in action. 

Links to other posts in this series (I will make links live as I write and post each blog):

Part 1 (Rules 1, 2, 3)
Part 2 (Rules 2, 3, 4)
Part 3 (Rules 7, 8, 9) you are reading it
Part 4 (Rules 10, 11, 12)

Rule 7: Work as hard as you possibly can on at least one thing and see what happens

This is a rule I have been applying more or less since early adulthood. Sometimes Dr. Peterson is able to put into words ideas that I have intuited or discovered on my own but not made explicit.

In my adolescence, and to some degree in adult life, I experienced the feeling of being "unmoored and adrift." I was/am lucky to have a stable and supportive family, so I was never adrift in all the ways it is possible to be adrift. But there was certainly loneliness, and isolation, and a degree of misery and cynicism. I first experienced it as an isolated teenager trying to complete school by correspondence. I was homeschooled as a child and there were some advantages to that when I was very young, but the advantages had run out by the time I was 12, 13, 14, 15. Out of habit, and fear, I stayed at home....and it was definitely not the right thing to do. My days became increasingly unstructured; I couldn't focus on anything except novels; I procrastinated constantly; I avoided trying anything new or taking any risks. When it became obvious that I might never finish high school with this attitude, my parents made me go back to school. I knew it was necessary at that point too, though I didn't exactly look forward to it and was lacking in many skills. However, in the space of a couple of years I had learned the necessary skills to get by, and within 5 more (university) I had built on them to where I was successful and confident in many ways, though I still had a lot to learn about life.

In university particularly, and since then in what has become my career, I can honestly say I have tried my best and that it has paid off fairly consistently. The good thing about making your best effort, is that regardless whether or not there are financial or social rewards (i.e. external rewards) you are guaranteed to at least learn something from the endeavour, and that usually has long term benefits. It's certainly better than not learning something. There is plenty to critique about my university education for example, but whatever courses I took, I can honestly say I worked very hard on all of them, and didn't make any excuses for myself. This effort mostly insulated me from the cynicism that nearly all my peers had developed by their final year, including (perhaps especially) my top-achieving, elite peers. The intrinsic rewards of hard work that I experienced made the silly games my professors and many fellow students engaged in unappealing. These silly games would re-emerge, a few decades later, as identity politics and critical theory and they are still unappealing.  However, hard work also almost always makes it easier to form happy and productive relationships with other people, regardless of differences.

Rule 8: Try to make one room in your house as beautiful as possible.

"If you learn to make something in your life truly beautiful--even one thing--then you have established a relationship with beauty." What a true and wonderful observation: well worth repeating! And the key word is "relationship." Like any relationship, a one with beauty evolves and needs to be constantly maintained: it is not like you create or find something beautiful and boom, you are set for life.

As a mother of young children, this is particularly (sometimes painfully) true. My children are naturally drawn to beauty, but of course they haven't exactly discovered how to maintain or create it. This means that (adult) decorating is usually a low priority in our house. Beauty is mostly functional right now: it means having an underlying system of order that helps prevent life from exploding around me. It means seeking out novelty in ways other than consumerism, which leads to more stuff to organize and take care of (this is an ongoing challenge for me/us). It means having patience with my daughter's attempts to decorate the house, which don't always line up with my priorities, but which are developmentally appropriate and well-intentioned.

But I still do need to make my spaces beautiful, and the reason is that it is good for my morale (and my family's). Constant tidying and cleaning and maintenance is worthwhile, but also dreary and not very emotionally satisfying. On the other hand, I undertook this summer to beautify our garden in the backyard (with my daughter's help). It is wonderful to now have a space that is actually pretty and fun and a little bit decadent. I wrote about the experience here on my other blog.

Rule 9: If old memories still upset you, write them down carefully and completely 

I chose two texts here because they show the clarity and delightfulness of Dr. Peterson's thinking so well. He connects everyday experience (“plagued by reminisces”) with action (“gather everything from the past that has been avoided”) with morality (the impossibility of avoiding your conscience) with the role of shared stories in culture (“These ideas are encapsulated and represented in the narratives, the fundamental narratives that sit at the base of our culture.”) He engages  the reader at the personal level, acknowledging their daily challenges, puts them in a moral framework, and encourages curiosity about how all of this plays out at the cultural and social level. As a reader struggling with whatever, you are immediately put at the centre of an interesting story, but also challenges to look beyond yourself and whatever dust is collecting in your navel.

I have invested quite a bit of my time and life in reading and writing stories. I’ve studied them formally. However, Jordan Peterson was the first person (other than perhaps Clarissa Estes) to state what seems like it should be obvious: we read other people’s stories, including ancient, shared stories without individual attribution, because life is complicated and it takes too long to figure everything out on your own. We have the resource of our own memories, and the resource of our ancestors’ memories, to the extent that we bother to find them out. There are other reasons to study literature, mythology, religion and other subjects, but that is the central one.