The Extremis Virus: Modern Annoyances of the Political Ninja

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“Our age knows nothing but reaction, and leaps from one extreme to another.” ~ Reinhold Niebuhr

I should clarify this not a nerdy post about the Iron Man 3 movie or the comic arc it spawns from. Rather my focus is on the absolutist filter so many of us choose to view the world through. This isn’t the first time I’ve commented on my particular qualms with those who refuse to see the world in its various shades of gray and instead try to boil everything down to a simple black and white, right and wrong conclusion. This fallacious narrow view of the world permeates every level of our society and the reasons for why this is unwise are just as common. So instead of rehashing the complexity of life and going to great detail on why I think we need to avoid tacking to either extreme I will instead delve into a few areas where this extreme ideology is most disturbing.

Societal norms, most notably the idea that everyone needs to progress into the next stage of life by the same path is an example of a monolithic point of view that fails to recognize alternative points of view (Say that ten times fast). I find this most prevalent when it comes to the idea of marriage and family. Once you get to a certain age, it’s almost impossible to avoid the question of when are you getting married. My problems with this stems from the fact, marriage should be something entered into after a great deal of thought and reflection. Not something just assumed as a necessary part of one’s life. Every relationship and individual is different and in some cases maybe marriage is not an ideal fit. Maybe instead of viewing marriage as definitive step into adulthood, we should view it as merely one of many option one can take on their quest to a complete life.

Political discourse is poisoned by a view un-open to compromise. Listening to a debate on any policy issue and you would think each side came from different realities. I can find definitive statements with a simple google search that swear Barack Obama is a secret muslim bent on destroying the country, and in the same search uncover a claim that he is the second-coming of Christ and will lead us to World Peace. Obviously, this is an extreme example, but the debates happening on our televisions, over the internet and in the halls of Congress can border on this level of extreme rhetoric. There are many things according to hard facts are true, but most often solutions require taking ideas from both sides of the debate and finding the middle solution. The one that doesn’t suggest dramatic adherence to the left or the right, but rather sees that most often the gray areas that exist in the world often require equally gray proposals is probably the right one.

Personal disagreements always seem to devolve into “always” and “never” scenarios.  I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else. We find ourselves in an emotional argument and we start throwing out statements like, “George Lucas always ruins movies” and “I’m never going to another Star Wars movie again.” Well, maybe that specific example just applies to me. The point is, we make definitive statements when we are emotionally charged that are not true, and only serve to create further discord. This becomes exceptionally problematic in cases where the individuals throwing these words out refuse to acknowledge when they are wrong. So next time before you find yourself saying always or never, stop and take a moment to remember that Mr. Lucas made a number of quality movies before he started ruining them.

So there you have it, a few specific example of when the notorious extremis virus infects the world we live in. Will this rampant definitive approach to life continue? Probably. However, if we all try to listen to each other’s points of view and recognize there may be some validity there, we can go a long way in limiting its existence. Or at the very least harness it into liquid form and create the world’s next big energy drink sensation: Extremis.

The Modern Progressive: Striving to Make Big Things Happen

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There are no constraints on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to our progress except those we ourselves erect.  ~Ronald Reagan 

In the constant partisan bickering that is the constant focus of the 24-hour news networks, what actually defines the two sides of the arguments gets lost. Instead, we either get a partisan-dominated view that appeals to a certain audience (I’m looking at you Fox News) or a an attempt to avoid all controversy and give credence to all ideas, even if they are blatantly false. It’s no secret I hold to a certain set of ideals ( I’m still dealing with criticism over a blog post I did comparing Republicans to the Sith). However, I like to think that coming from a background where I was free to make my own judgments on what ideology best fit my world view has given me a certain level of understanding of what motivates both sides and why I believe progressivism is a worthwhile movement.

Before I get into the nuts of bolts of why I believe progressive, liberal policymaking is good for this country I feel I should say a few things about conservatism. First, and foremost, conservative thought is not an inherently evil set of ideals bent on destroying the world. I hate to use the trite car analogy, but if the world was a car conservatism would serve as the brake. And we all need to use brakes from time to time (some more than others). Does that mean we should ride the brakes and prevent any kind of giant, monumental change? No. In fact, when entrenched conservative interests resist all change government ceases to be an effective vehicle for positive policy.

Positive change. The number one reason progressives exist. We look to make the world better by spending money on massive projects. Whether it be massive infrastructure projects to stimulate economic growth and bring our roads and sewer systems into the next century or investment in research and development that will allow us to move to a fuel and energy source that stops polluting our environment and slows down the inevitable march towards catastrophic climate change. We look to make big things happen above all else. Of course, this can lead to trouble if the consequences of this change have not been weighed or the opposition to such an act has not been properly considered.

Not only is progressivism about creating large, grandiose developments, it’s also about ensuring everyone is treated equal. Take the recent marriage equality victory in Minnesota. This is a cause that was championed by the political left, not out of some hidden agenda to undermine tradition, but to move society forward so that all people are allowed the same legal rights. In this fight, we saw that sometimes progressive thought is not just limited to those on the left, but can find champions on the other side of the aisle as well. Moving forward, even if when it’s not the politically expedient thing to do, embodies the core of this ideology.

Does this mean we all need to be progressive? Probably not. Any situation where there is only one point of view presented is wrought with the opportunity for stagnation. The conservative counter point is vital to vetting the big ideas presented by the progressive movement. However, this does not mean the currently situation in Washington and around the United States is acceptable. Opposition for the sake of discrediting someone you disagree with is irresponsible. As is looking to starve the government to a point where it only able to perform the most basic of public services. This is where I believe modern republicans have lost their way. We need to focus on proposing bold solutions to the real challenges humanity faces and stop looking to the next election cycle.

Lessons from Sandy Hook

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“Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live.” ~Robert Kennedy

The shooting at Sandy Hook elementary in Newtown, Connecticut was a tragedy. No one would argue this fact. The acts of the mentally disturbed gunman who perpetrated this act were inexcusable. The loss of 26 people, most of them children no older than 10 is something that warrants the outrage and despair the public has responded with. Sadly, this is not the first time a senseless act of violence has been carried out by a troubled individual. So while it is important to mourn this loss, it is also necessary we learn some important lessons from it.

Gun control is something that needs to be discussed in an open and honest manner. Within hours of this tragedy my Facebook feed was already lighting up with statements on both side of gun debate arguing their cases for why our current gun laws are the reason for this mess. One side claimed if teachers and other citizens were allowed to carry guns this tragedy would have been far less catastrophic. The reasons for why this is a terrible idea are worthy of a post all of its own, but I’ll just say putting guns in the hands of our educators is not the solution. The other side, (which, SPOILER ALERT, I tend to agree with) claimed this is evidence that military grade weapons are too available to the public. Regardless of your stance on this issue, it is obvious there are problems with the current gun laws in this country and something needs to be done about it.

More funding and attention needs to be placed on mental health. What often gets lost in the debate over accessible, affordable healthcare is ensuring everyone has access to quality mental care and assessment. There are so many factors leading to poor mental health, that we must be working on ways to deal with the variety of conditions and maladies existing out there. How many of these deaths could have been prevented had these individuals been identified early on and provided the therapy they so obviously need? While everyone is quick to write of the perpetrators of these acts as evil and monstrous, it is important we also try to understand what drives someone to commit such heinous acts in the first place.

The media is making a bad situation worse. I am a strong proponent of the necessity of a mass media that keeps the populace well-informed. However, every time they choose to allow a story like Sandy Hook to dominate the news cycle they reinforce the delusions many of these gunmen no doubt have. Going down in a blaze of glory is far less appealing if you know it is unlikely anyone will hear about it. Furthermore, focusing on this type of coverage feeds the dark narrative the world is falling apart. This can lead to a hopelessness among the public that causes further mental duress on an already distressed society. Rather than focus on these terrible stories, the media should spend time highlighting stories of perseverance and heroism. Something, that if they look, isn’t too hard to find.

Tragedies happen every day. While perhaps in steep contrast to my previous point, its important to remember tragedies happen all the time. There are children dying in places like China and Africa from lack of basic necessities like food and clean water. In Syria, over 37,000 people have died in their current civil war, many of whom are most likely children, according to some sources. According to Child Hunger in America, there are 16.1 million children in the United States living in poverty. Something I would call an ongoing tragedy. So while it is important to mourn the losses of Sandy Hook, it’s also important we recognize there are a great deal of tragic events going unheard. As we take the time to mourn this loss and pray for the victims be sure to remember the millions of people suffering around the world.

As the after effects of the Sandy Hook shooting begin to fade into the past and are replaced with the next big news story, it is important we hang on to the lessons we’ve learned. The debate on gun control and mental health must not be put on the back burner. In addition, we must not allow the media to dominate the airwaves and web with tales of sensationalized violence. Tragedies happen every day. We don’t need to hear about them 24/7 on the news to remember this. Instead we should use this as an opportunity to appreciate the life we have been given and dedicate our attention and resources to activities that seek to make the world a better place for everyone. Then maybe we can replace all this distressing news with something worth reading about.

Door Number Twenty: Clean Living

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“Better keep yourself clean and bright; you are the window through which you must see the world.”
~George Benard Shaw

From an early age most of us are taught the importance of cleaning up ourselves. Whether it be the countless pleas to clean our rooms as children or the simple hygienic act of brushing one’s teeth cleanliness is a virtue emphasized by our society. Unfortunately, as we get older and find ourselves in a position where accountability falls solely on our shoulders, it is easy to allow many elements of our life to become messy and disorganized. However its important we don’t allow the dirt in our lives to devolve to a point where our surrounding begin to resemble the trash compactor on the Death Star. And if that imagery isnot convincing there are a many other benefits to maintain a clean life style.

A clean environment helps promote clarity of mind. When one’s external surroundings are messy and out-of-order it leads to a cluttered mind. Take any modern office place. They are kept clean and well-organized to promote clear thinking. In addition one has to think legendary victories like that of the Races of Man and Elves over the forces of Mordor were helped in part due to their flawless superiority in this area. And if the champions of Middle Earth think it’s a good idea, it’s probably worth investing some time into.

Cleanliness promotes self-confidence. Good hygiene is paramount to maintaining one’s self-esteem. When you look and smell better, you feel better. Furthermore, when one’s living and workplaces are maintained and kept at an optimal level of order its easier to justify hosting social events. which in turn increases your standing among others. Another notable boost to one’s confidence. Besides, would James Bond have been as nearly as effective of a 00 agent had he not maintained an immaculate image? Of course not, that award-winning confidence would have been replaced with an awkwardness more akin to James Joyce than James Bond.

Being clean is good for your health. Probably not the most revolutionary benefit of keeping clean, but arguably one of the most important. Take food preparation. Food prepared in unclean environment can lead to a number of food-borne illnesses. Furthermore, when one operates in a cluttered environment merely walking from one place to another can be hazardous to one’s well-being. Don’t believe me, just ask Lord Blackwood. So while sometimes cleaning seems like a chore, your life could depend on it.

The values of cleanliness in one’s life not only keeps the mind clear, but also promotes self-confidence and good health. While most of us probably maintain a base level of organization in our lives, by placing more focus on it, we should be able to enjoy the full extent of these benefits. In addition, by practicing this door in our individual lives we contribute to a brighter, more appealing society. Leading us away from the dystopian future of Wall-E and towards the more ideal future chronicled in the inspirational speeches of Barack Obama and the Star Trek universe.

Door Number Two: Satisfying Social Interaction

“To be social is to be forgiving.”~ Robert Frost

As an introvert, sometimes I wonder if it would be so bad to withdraw from society and live out the rest of my days in a cave somewhere. However, the reality is that for even those of us who gain our energy from being alone, having a vibrant social life is important. Which is why this is the second door we must unlock in our quest for a complete life. The social circles we belong to serve as a support network on many levels. Having a solid base of friends to confide in helps one navigate the rocky waters of life in away no amount of solitude can match. In addition, theses relationships provide a marketplace of viewpoints and ideas to draw from when making the major decisions in life. Plus, going to movies and concerts alone is highly overrated. However, as with most things in life there comes the possibility of drama and disappointment. Fortunately, there a few steps one can take to minimize these pitfalls.

Accept your friends for who they are. The worst thing we can do is to set unrealistic standards for the people in our lives. We must learn to accept both their good and bad qualities. This is especially true when it comes to our friends. If we only accept the characteristics and points of view we find favorable, our friendships are inevitably going to fall flat. Only by embracing every aspect of their personalities  will we avoid unnecessary disappointment, and be able to enjoy our friends company to its fullest.

Be flexible and decisive. While we usually end up associating with those who share at least some of our interests, difficulties can arise when trying to plan things for the group at large. However, if there is someone in your social group who excels at planning fun activities, a willingness to try new things can go a long way in creating a satisfying social interaction. Furthermore, if you are spending time with a group of people who are somewhat indecisive, it is important to be willing to take charge of the situation and come up with plans of your own. While they may not be super excited by the thought of watching all three Star Wars movies (though they should be), it will at least inspire someone to come up with an acceptable alternative. Like watching all three Lord of the Rings extended editions.

Fully commit to enjoying every social interaction in your life. This is perhaps the most important piece of advice for getting the most out of one’s social life. Any activity can be entertaining if you have the right mindset. Having a positive attitude will not only help you to enjoy what might otherwise be an unpleasant situation (e.g. dancing), but will create an overall positive experience for all parties involved. In the unlikely event the activity still turns out be a huge disappointment, the friend who planned will appreciate your enthusiasm, making them more willing to get on board with any adventures you mastermind in the future (e.g. jumping in a lake at 3:00 am).

While there is always a chance for disappointment when it comes to the social realm, by taking proactive steps we can minimize most potential let downs. Valuing our friends for who they are, being open to whatever comes our way while still being willing to take charge if necessary, and embracing every situation completely will go along way in creating the satisfying social interaction vital to a complete life. Life is filled with complications. So why not keep things interesting with a bit of social interaction every once in a while? Well, unless of course you happen upon your precious. In which, case I know of some prime real estate under the Misty Mountains..

The Battle of Hesitation

“To teach how to live without certainty and yet without being paralysed by hesitation is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can do for those who study it.” ~Bertrand Russel

Confidence to act is among the greatest asset one can have in life. Without out it, the greatest leaders in history would be nothing more than men and women with great ideas and unrealized potential. On a more micro level, those who hesitate usually miss out on realizing there personal and professional aspirations. Whether it be getting that huge promotion, or ending up with the girl of your dreams, restraint often leads to failure. Just ask Mace Windu. So why then do we hesitate?

Fear is a powerful force. Deciding to invade a country, ask for a promotion, or telling someone how you feel about them have one thing in common. Uncertainty. There is no way to know how one’s actions are going to turn out. Sure you could end up on your desired path, but you could just as easily end up with a result you were hoping to avoid and this can be frightening.  As the above quote illustrates, a lack of certainty and the fear of what might happen can be paralyzing. While in most cases we can overcome this, its very existence causes us to hesitate. Which I suppose is better than having it becoming an all-consuming entity bent on destroying the universe.

Acting requires confrontation. Little can be accomplished in life without some type of confrontation. Be it more abstract concepts like ideas or the more concrete obstacles like dealing with those who disagree with our actions, there is always someone or something that must be faced down. For many of us, this is not an exciting proposition. So we hesitate, hoping if we hold off long enough the crisis will be averted. However, as someone who is a master of conflict avoidance, I can tell you, rarely does hesitation prevent things from eventually coming to a head. In fact, in many cases it just turns what would have been a small conflict into an epic battle of the ages.

Sometimes restraint is necessary. While in many cases, holding back is detrimental, sometimes the best course of action is to do nothing. This is especially true when it comes to the realm of emotion. Anger for example, can cause us to do crazy things. Sometimes rather than immediately going into attack mode when someone makes incendiary comments that steps on our ideals and beliefs, its wiser to restrain our immediate reactions and approach the situation once we have a chance to cool down. Does this mean we should always avoid acting on our emotions? No, but it does mean sometimes its wise to take a moment and consider the consequences.

In the game of life there are plenty of opportunities for hesitation. In most cases it’s the easier route to take. Doing so can protect us from fear and confrontation and prevent us from making poor decisions. While occasionally restraint is the right course of action, more often than not, it prevents us from reaching our full potential. In life, love, and politics we can not sit on the sidelines, constantly waiting for the right moment. Instead, it is imperative we seize the day lest we wake up one day looking back on a life of missed opportunities and broken dreams.