Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Day 528: The Value of Validation

Recent circumstances have reminded me a lot of my childhood and I have been pondering my past experiences in terms of how my dad would approach certain situations. I remember him always being the same in this respect, up until his death last year.

The point I have been mulling around in my head is centered on validation, and what the effects of it are on a child.

The memories of my dad congratulating me or saying "well done" are small in number. When I was a child my reaction was that somehow he wasn't interested, but now as I look back this feeling was simply born from the fact that every other adult in my life would congratulate me on successfully completing even the most menial of tasks. Now I cannot answer at this moment with absolute proof the question of "what came first?" (the chicken or the egg?) in terms of a child's desire for validation: does the parent create this desire or is it inherently present in our DNA. At this point it is most likely a part of our DNA, although what I have seen for myself is that our DNA is not set in stone. The development (or non-development) of the desire for validation would not spontaneously manifest simply because there is a genetic predisposition - the environment must contribute by creating events that cause the child to recognise that validation is in some way a "good thing", like a reward.

Obviously just because we feel rewarded or "good" about something doesn't mean that it is actually "good" for us. What I have come to recognise from my own childhood is that all the rewarding and congratulations that I got for every little thing I did caused me to start doing things not because I enjoyed them, but because I wanted that positive feeling of being rewarded.

So back to my memories of my dad: he did not say "well done" for the things that I apparently enjoyed doing. For example, when I was a girl I went to a horse riding school and competed in a little event. I perceived that my dad showed no interest in my little tournament - but in reality I was supposed to be doing this because I wanted to - because I enjoyed it - but my experience became more about wanting to get recognition for doing this thing that was supposed to be just about me having a good time. In this respect, the constant validation that children get creates the outcome of the child no longer doing things out of self enjoyment, but out of a desire for that positive feeling from being told how fantastic they are.

In terms of my own experience, I can now clearly see the benefit of my dad's actions. He only would congratulate me or tell me he was proud when I actually accomplished something of note, and even that was not so much a "congratulations" but more of an acknowledgement of what I had done and a reflective discussion. I have to almost laugh - it is so difficult to describe how he would talk to you and bring such clarity to a point - I feel as though my words fall short. He encouraged me to do what I enjoyed simply because I enjoyed it. He did not tell me how great I was for actually doing something, he would just say "cool" - while on the other hand every other adult kept pushing the "well done" button, not realizing that in doing so they were creating the perfect habitat for dependance to take hold, which causes the desire for validation to outweigh the point of self expression.

In recent days I have been becoming more and more aware of how so much of our interactions with each other comes from the point of validating each other. Like with every other thing, the reason for this is simple: reciprocation. If I tell people that they are great, they will most likely tell me that I am great, so fulfilling my desire for validation. If I tell other people that I value them, they are more likely to tell me that they value me, so fulfilling my desire to be appreciated. We do not do things because we enjoy them, we do things that we determine will bring us the most positive feedback. We do not act according to the principle of "do unto another as you would like to be done unto you", we do things that will most benefit our self image. Obviously your self image depends on other people validating you constantly and your self image has become one of the most important things in your life because your entire childhood was about how fantastic you were.

In reflection, a child is so susceptible to developing the desire to make their parents (or other loved ones) happy because the entire design of growing up is based on the observing and internalizing of the environment with the goal of fitting in (in a very basic sense). The child becomes happy when the parent is happy, and the child becomes happy when the parent, whom the child loves dearly and respects completely (for a while at least), tells the child that they are magnificent. I am not saying that validation is "good" or "bad" - it is simply a tool we use in our relationships, but unfortunately it has been used in such a way that causes so many children today to be more focused on making other people proud than on their own direction and enjoyment in life.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Day 527: Game of Thrones Rape

“The scene was always intended to be disturbing,” says George RR Martin, “but I do regret if it has disturbed people for the wrong reasons.” In a brief response on his own blog this week, the author has addressed the recent uproar over Cersei’s shocking rape by her brother and lover Jaime on Sunday’s episode of “Game of Thrones” – a plot twist very different from the narrative in his own books. And boy did it disturb, all right.
In it, siblings Jaime and Cersei are sharing a moment with the body of their murdered son Joffrey that turns swiftly from grief to ardor to anger to, ultimately, rape. For a show that’s featured already incest, torture, amputation, rape galore and at least two monster baby births, you’d think a little brother on sister sexual assault might not have raised so many eyebrows. It’s not that the scene wasn’t unnerving; but in the context of a series that’s featured a Herod-like child massacre, within an episode that features another character bragging to a little boy, “I’m going to eat your dead mama, and I’m going to eat your dead papa,” what happened Sunday between the maimed Jaime and Cersei was not exactly an atypical event. Yet the sudden and violent turn, from a character who, okay, sure, pushed a kid out a window in the first episode but has taken a more humbling road in his subsequent narrative arc, provoked a more powerful reaction than almost anything the show has done in its entire button-pushing run. Writing in Salon Monday, Roxanne Gay called the scene “sensationalized rape” and said, “The show, and the books, reveal the disturbing and cavalier facility with which rape becomes a narrative device.” Jezebel called the scene “some despicable shit”and on Vulture, Margaret Lyons called it “a new low for the deeply violent series.” - Salon

I do not understand.

I do not understand the outrage over this rape scene when there are so many more horrific scenes in Game of Thrones alone - and that's not even talking about the events that actually happen in the world every day. Things like torture, massacres, betrayal and more happen without someone so much as batting an eyelid, but have a brother rape his sister and lover in the chapel where the fruit of their incestual relationship lies dead and suddenly everyone's moral compass goes haywire. This is a very clear indication that our morals are seriously skewed. If we find this rape more outrageous than any of the other horrifying events in the TV series - not to mention the horrifying things that happen in real life - then we are in some seriously murky moral waters. Why are we not "disturbed" by the things that happen all around us on a daily basis?

Why are we only disturbed when a fictional character, in whom we have vested some sort of emotional attachment, does something (in his fictional world) that is contrary to our idea of him?

I do not understand.

I do not understand how one scene from one fictional TV series causes more outrage in people than poverty or climate change.

I do not understand how, in just a couple of days, more energy has been put into this one fictional event on a global scale than has been been put into the genocides that take place right now in recent years.

I do not understand humanity's capacity for cruelty and even more so our capacity of deliberate ignorance of said cruelty.

I do not understand.

Day 526: Who will Fix the World?

Inequality is a burning topic among economists, especially since the release of Thomas Piketty’s recent book on the subject. Many are questioning whether this is a temporary period of runaway inequality, or whether we are on the verge of an irreversible collapse into extremes of wealth and poverty. (What would we call it? The Oligopolypse? Plutogeddon?)
But numbers alone don’t tell the full story. Culture, too, is adapting to this unequal world. We idealize the wealthy today in ways that would have been unthinkable decades ago.
With the children of today’s baby boomers scheduled to inherit $30 trillion in the next several decades, politicians and the press are hard at work flattering plutocrats of all ages by portraying them as paragons of wisdom. Here are four such portraits:

In fact, Gen. James Cartwright has not gone to jail and the above paragraph remains — as yet — a grim Washington fairy tale.  There is indeed a Justice Department investigation open against the president’s “favorite general” (as Washington scribe to the stars Bob Woodward once labeled him) for the possible leaking of information on that virus to the New York Times, but that’s all.  He remains quite active in private life, holding the Harold Brown Chair in Defense Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as a consultant to ABC News, and on the board of Raytheon, among other things. He has suffered but a single penalty so far: he was stripped of his security clearance.

The evidence of income inequality just keeps mounting. According to “Working for the Few,” a recent briefing paper from Oxfam, “In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.” - Salon

Income inequality is becoming the new hot topic - it's everywhere. The more people you talk to, the more you realise that everyone is talking about it and they are pretty pissed. The weird thing is that this never goes past angry grumbling. Sure, there are a few protests here and there - but no one is really making an effort to promote a solution. Most people don't even consider that there could be a solution - they are content to continue complaining and grumbling.

It's not like we can't see what's going on - we do - we just aren't that serious about changing it. A similar phenomenon is happening with climate change: we talk about it a lot and make a few token gestures to "prove we care", but nowhere near the level of commitment actually required to make substantial changes.

We keep talking about things like "the economy", "income inequality", "poverty", "global warming" and "nature" as if they are separate entities contained in separate capsules, not really part of our lives - present but not felt. This, of course, is another symptom of the human disease called "wait till something really crap happens". The behaviour of this virus seems to cause people to wait for disaster to strike before implementing changes to prevent said disaster. This disease causes people to disengage from the reality of imminent threats and retreat into a fantasy world that distracts us from said threat, inducing a sort of delusional contentedness with what we believe our lives consist of. We convince ourselves that "someone else will fix it" - but when everyone is telling themselves this lie, who is doing the fixing?

It's not enough to be angry or scared. It is not constructive to feel helpless and then give up before we really even try. The reality is that we will all be affected - not even the ridiculously wealthy can hide from the kinds of consequences looming over us. We must act in sustainable ways that will benefit our global community and natural habitat which is, of course, the Earth.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Day 525: Self Obsession and Mastery

I was pondering the stories of some of the best artists and other "masters" this morning (like Ray Charles, Johnny Cash) and what they have in common is that some tragedy befell them when they were young where they lost a sibling and each felt responsible for that. This led me to wonder why it is so much more common to have a person who has truly mastered something, or become the living expression of it so completely, when that person has experienced an event like the one above. My theory is as follows:

Most people are completely obsessed with one thing and live their entire lives within the pull of this massive force of gravity that is their obsession. That obsession is SELF - me, myself and I. Becoming very good at something - mastering a skill - is hard work and often requires that you rise above yourself and become something else - whether it is the music, the art, the job - whatever. What seems to happen with people who have experienced a really traumatic event that involves loss is that they shift their focus from themselves to someone, or something else. That shift of obsession seems to cause a change in their motivation, the force that drives them forward in life.

It is no longer the "I" that drives them, but some "other" force that allows for the opportunity for them to develop themselves and dedicate themselves completely to something outside of themselves. Let's face it - most of us never develop that kind of dedication, where we completely lose ourselves in something. Losing yourself implies that you are willing to let go of YOU and become something else - most of us are clinging on far too tightly to "Who I am" and the likes that we would never be willing to let go like that. In a sense it is the act of giving up control absolutely - that is a scary idea for most.

I am cutting this short for now. A topic that may be explored further at a later point.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Day 524: Jekyll Vs Hyde

I was looking through the photo's in the link above and found myself wondering how much of who we are and what we have done is truly good and beautiful and how much is abusive and evil.

There are moments in which we show what kind of compassion and love we are capable of, but if look at the people and world as we live now, the "bad" outweighs the "good".

We try not to see it, we try not to pay too much attention, but most people are simply nasty and cruel. We put on good faces and everything is shiny and happy around other people to keep up appearances, but when we retreat to the safety of our comfort zones our true nature starts to show. We gossip, shout, blame, judge, humiliate, manipulate, compare, lie, cheat, steal, hit, kick, belittle, deny, spite and display all sorts of other vicious behaviours. The reality is that it is very rare to meet a person who has never had a nasty or spiteful thought - and that is truly a depressing reality. The worst part is that that's not even the most depressing reality on this planet - not even close.

So many of us try so hard to not know the worst parts of ourselves and each other. We lull ourselves into a complacent and ignorant sleep where we block out any knowledge that is contrary to our belief that life is good. It is entirely possible that we know - deep within ourselves - that if we knew about the dark and horrible things that go bump in our minds and in the world that we would feel compelled to act. Or maybe we fear losing our sense of "happiness", because knowing what is really happening would cause such a bottomless pit of despair within us that we could never feel happiness again.

How often do you meet someone who says "Oh no stop! Don't tell me anymore - I don't want to know!" when you tell them of some horrific story of human cruelty? Or someone who tells you to stop sharing "depressing things" on Facebook. How about someone who tells you that spreading awareness of atrocities will cause more atrocities to happen because you are focusing on the negative when you should rather be focusing on the positive? Hah. Good one. 'Cos thinking about love and happiness will stop cruelty and starvation on the other side of the world.

If only it was so easy to change the world, to change human nature. Deluding ourselves will not make any real difference to the world - it will only make a difference to our apparent experience of life. We will be able to live in a big house with a white picket fence and say that "life is good" - and maybe it is for some - but in truth I doubt that. There is no way that you can say that life is good when there is so much going on - that and I don't meet very many people with the kind of skills it would take to truly live a life without worries or emotional baggage - we're not taught how to do that in school or college.

There was one photo called "100,000 monks praying for world peace". I think that enough time has passed to prove that prayer is ineffective. I see no peace anywhere.

The real question is: Who are we really? If we were to be the people we really want to be, would the world be different? If we knew how to stop thinking and doing such nastiness, would we actually do it? Now I am not posing whether it is possible - because it is possible - the real question is whether we would actually go through with changing ourselves into better, kinder people?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Day 523: South Africa's e-tolling Disaster

So here are quite a few sources describing the complete disaster that has been e-tolling.

The gist of it is as follows: the government proposed e-tolling as an automated tolling system with cameras tagging where your vehicle travels and then logging it on the automated system so that you get the bill in the mail and pay it online. Check the About page here. The public has basically been against e-tolling since the beginning, mainly because it is seen as a waste of time and money and because the planning and implementation of it has been ineffective. Here is the FAQ page for the biggest opposition group.

In a country (more like a world) where the cost of living keeps going up but income is stagnating this is certainly not a cost that the average household can easily bear. Johannesburg is a large city connected by numerous highways and many people living in and around Joburg have to travel on the highways to get to work and back.

Like most government services in South Africa, it is extremely difficult to get any clear answers from SANRAL regarding e-toll queries. The invoicing system is broken - there is no other word to better describe the state of dis-functionality of the accounting department.

Possibly the worst part is that the government is not being at all open to suggestions from the public. People are telling the government that they cannot pay the tolls - it is too much, they simply cannot afford it. The project was enormously expensive to install and is still hugely expensive to maintain. The government maintains that the collection of tolls will soon drastically shadow these costs - but the real question is what these future profits will be spent on. South Africa is well known as a corrupt nation and its citizens are well aware of the uses that high-up officials have of the tax monies collected. Parties, mansions, luxury vehicles, private jets - There is certainly no expectation from the people that e-toll funds will be put to good use.

More and more South Africa is becoming a nation of small private conglomerations. Communities band together to fund their own private security because the national police service is corrupt and incompetent. There are small private businesses in any city whose sole business is to deal with some government department or another on your behalf so that you don't have to. Those who can afford private healthcare will pay for it - there are even some people who will give up some other living expenses in order to be able to afford private healthcare - simply because public healthcare is more likely to kill you than cure you. Everyone who can afford private schooling will send their children there

E-Tolling is no different to any other South African government service. It was planned and implemented with no foresight. It was designed without considering the welfare of the citizens. It is more likely to benefit a small number of elite than the majority of people. Everyone working within it seems to be completely incompetent and without ethical and moral guidelines. It is ridiculously expensive. Its systems do not function properly.

Gauteng is just the first step - soon the rest of South Africa will follow.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Day 522: Oceans of Rubbish

Before Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing, sea trash was not a global headliner.
But as hundreds of objects sighted off the Australian coast as possible aircraft debris turn out to be discarded fishing equipment, cargo container parts, or plastic shopping bags, a new narrative is emerging in the hunt for the missing plane: There's more garbage out there than you think. Most of it is plastic. And marine life ingests it, with catastrophic consequences.
"This is the first time the whole world is watching, and so it's a good time for people to understand that our oceans are garbage dumps," says Kathleen Dohan, a scientist at Earth and Space Research in Seattle, Washington, who maps ocean surface currents. "This is a problem in every ocean basin."
Dohan plotted the movement of debris in a time-lapse video that shows where objects dropped into the ocean will end up in ten years. The objects migrate to regions known as garbage patches. The Pacific and Atlantic Oceans have two patches each, north and south. The Indian Ocean's garbage patch is centered roughly halfway between Africa and Australia. - National Geographic

What has become abundantly clear about our society and lifestyle of consumerism is that we have no clear solutions for all of the negative side effects of said lifestyle. We buy and buy and buy - but most of what we buy (or at least a part of most of what we buy) ends up in the trash. The policy of our society is out of sight, out of mind - causing us to have the warm, fuzzy feeling that everything is well and being taken care of, simply because the magical garbage truck comes to take all our troubles away.

Unfortunately the garbage trucks are not magical. They do not have any way of dealing with our rubbish in a sustainable and permanent way. Most of our trash ends up in landfills or in the oceans.

Obviously there are ways to decrease our negative impact on the environment, but they would require significant lifestyle changes on our part - for example: not buying useless crap and not making useless crap. The manufacturers of useless crap would lose their source of income and the buyers of useless crap would lose their feel-good shopping sprees - or whatever. We could also put more focus on designing materials that are not harmful to nature (biodegradable, not dangerous if ingested, etc) - I propose, for example, that we stop all military funding and research and redirect the funding towards creating sustainable and animal friendly living solutions. Yeah, sure, easier said than done.

The reality is that the largest obstacle we face in such a proposal is our own opinions and beliefs. War is by no means a requirement for life. A clean, non-toxic environment on the other hand, is. We are on a slow path to extinction - and not only for the animals and plants we share this planet with.

We place so much of our attention on things that do not improve or enhance our lives or the lives of others, imaging if we were to redirect our attention onto endeavors that make life more pleasant, not only for humanity but for all other beings as well. There is so much that we do that truly has no purpose (smelly neutralizing underwear, for example) - we have such capacity for creativity an innovation that is being wasted. I truly hope that we do not realize this only after the damage we have done is irreversible.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Day 521: The Problem with Opinion

We have given ourselves a right to our opinions. Maybe at one time this was all right, but it is not now. We use our opinions to justify our behaviour, as if that makes it all right. Racism is born from opinion. All discrimination is born from opinion. Does that make discrimination all right? Some may say yes, some may say no. All in all, it's a pretty gray area - everyone is 'entitled' to their own opinions, including, among other things, discrimination. Essentially everything boils down to a matter of opinion.

Some people are of the opinion that the current minimum wage in a given country is justified, that it is high enough for a person to be able to survive and support their families.
Some people are of the opinion that animals do not feel pain, or that if they do, that it means less than nothing - therefore making abuse, torture, the food industry and other abuses acceptable.
Some people are of the opinion that homosexual people do not deserve to live.
Some people are of the opinion that mixed-race marriage is an abomination.
Some people are of the opinion that the best way to train an animal is to use force and violence.
Some people are of the opinion that they have no business in other peoples' opinions, even if they are abusive or cruel.
Some people are of the opinion that beating a child is the best way to teach them a lesson.
Some people are of the opinion that rape in certain situations is "OK".
Some people are of the opinion that keeping animals in small cages is educational for children and adults.
Some people are of the opinion that the ends always justify the means.
Some people are of the opinion that you should do whatever is necessary to get what you want and be happy, even if it means accepting the abuse that other people endure as a direct or indirect result.
Some people are of the opinion that global warming is a hoax.
Some people are of the opinion that 9/11 was part of a USA government conspiracy.
Some people are of the opinion that it doesn't matter what gets done to the Earth because Jesus and/or God is due to arrive any day and bring forth the apocalypse where only certain people who are "worthy" - according the the definition held within the Bible - will ascend to Heaven and everyone else will go to Hell and suffer and burn eternally for not living up to "God's" ideals.
Some people are of the opinion that life is sanctified - but only some life.
Some people are of the opinion that living in a (metaphorical or otherwise) cave absolves them from any kind of responsibility pertaining to the abuses that take place daily.
Some people are of the opinion that the things that other people do to hurt or diminish other people is justified, as long as they had "good reason" (ie opinion).

You may agree with some of the things in the list above and disagree with others. That's part of the problem. Another part of the problem is that our opinions have made everything in the world subjective, so that we cannot even look at a set of irrefutable facts with clarity and objectiveness.

Look back into your earliest memories. Where did you pick up all the opinions and belief systems you have? From your family, your environment. If you had been born in another time or another place then your opinions and beliefs would not be the same as they are now. You are who you think you are simply because someone else (many someones, to be more accurate) shaped you to be this way. Your view of the world is coloured according to whatever your opinions are. You may look at a gay couple and think "disgusting!", or you may look at them and think "they are brave to be themselves in a world like this." Why do you not simply see two people who have chosen to be in a relationship together?

When you think about people living in poverty you may think that they are lazy or you may think that they were simply unlucky - why do you not think of them in terms of whether you would want that life for yourself under any circumstances? Opinion has now become a point of distraction, you do not see what is really happening, you are too busy concentrating on what you think about all these things. You will not move yourself to a point of recognising that we need to implement practical solutions to change these situations, you will remain stuck in your opinion. Most likely you will also be too stubborn to consider anything outside of your own opinion as well. In this way you trap yourself, but also the entire world.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Day 520: Life, Loss and the Beauty of Nature

The last month or 2 have been eventful. It seems that when you have many animals there will be periods of time when the shit just hits the fan, one after the other. In the last 2 monthsthe following has happened:
  • Dog gets ear infection, discover that inner ear has hardened, preventing treatment from being effective. May cause deafness. May require surgery. Also discover cancer cells in nose.
  • Horse becomes extremely lame and both vet and physio are unable to give clear answers as to what is wrong. Lameness continues for weeks.
  • Another horse gets African Horse Sickness (because apparently the vaccines don't really work very well) and then cellulitis during recovery and then abscess in one of the many injection sites of antibiotics for cellulitis.
  • Cat loses weight drastically in a short time. Tests positive for FIV, which made him predisposed to a type of leukemia which irreversibly damaged his kidneys. Terminal. Euthanized.
  • Another cat gets abscess by tail (usually from fighting). FIV negative. Day after euthanizing above-mentioned cat.
This is not the first time one of these cycles has happened. I have had many pets for about 10 years now and I have seen this happen again and again. At the end of 2012 one cat died, one horse died and another horse colicked badly from the grief of losing his best friend.

The first thought that comes up within you is "could I have done something to prevent this?" - most of the time the answer is no, and if it is yes you will certainly never make that mistake again. Sometimes you make yourself believe that there was some magical thing you could have done to prevent one or all of these things, blaming yourself for something that you could not have prevented. The doesn't serve any purpose, it's more like an addiction to feeling a certain way and having a certain self image. 

Then comes anger. Why did this happen? Why does life have to be so cruel? And it is cruel. There is nothing majestic about nature, you see it more clearly when you are faced with supporting an animal through some kind of traumatic illness or event that happens only because they were designed with certain inherent weaknesses. The same goes with plants and insects (humans too) - look closely and you will see how aggressive and violent life is. Everything is feeding off of everything else, most often requiring that those sources of food sacrifice themselves so that the other may eat. Our food industry is no different, we place animals in horrendous conditions in the name of survival, even though it's more about money these days - for the food producers at least - for those of us who are hungry, it is about food.

When you are responsible for another life you are required to make choices for them, but often you are not the one who must live with the consequences of your choices. Do you make a choice according to what would be best for the being you are responsible for? Do you make a choice based on how much each available option will cost you financially? Do you make a choice based on what you think the animal would want, but without really placing yourself "in their shoes"?

Maybe the hardest part of all of this is that you don't really know what is best, because you don't know what food has what long term consequences. You don't know what long term consequences vaccines may or may not have. You just don't know. You cannot trust what scientists say, because that changes on a daily basis. You can't trust what your vet says, they are glorified salespersons. You can't trust what your bag of food days, the manufacturer is trying to make money. The only way you can know for sure is to investigate for yourself, but even then most of the questions have no way of being answered with our current understanding of anatomy, chemicals and such. There is no easy answer. You do what you are able to with what you have available. If you make a mistake, you learn from it. Remember that you are not the one who is paying the price - but you can only do what you can do - there is nothing more available to us than that.