Christmas Day

A great mass of paper lies on the floor next to my chair. They are bills. I’ve gone through and consolidated them all, keeping the new ones and trashing the old ones. No sense in keeping a bill from the same creditor when they send you copies every week. So now my two large stacks of bills lie scattered on the floor like the carcass of an elk ravaged by wolves in winter. But for me the ravagers were more like chihuahuas than wolves. I got my MSN 8 upgrade CD and Ilike it much better, except for one bothersome quality on the email portion but I think I can live with this nussiance. When I got home from work last night, Christmas Eve, I had sat down at the computer with a diet coke in hand and CDs playing and spent four hours going through my bills, adding bill payment items on my MSN Money Plus and trying to download a friggin patch to allow my MSN Money 2002 to work with MSN Money Plus. Freakin Microsoft. I swear that if I ever fall into a bucket of money and buy a new computer it will be Mac.

Earlier I had gone to work. We were scheduled to be open from noon till 8 -ish. The DJ was late and I filled in for him. I am horrible as a DJ. It is something that I will have to work on a lot. I would go into work early tomorrow to practice a bit but that is the big day when the library opens its doors and I will be there! The club was mostly dead and we did have some fun. I took over the bar and ended up making $50, plus Darrell gave me $200 also. So in a week I’ve made over $300 for two and a half nights of work. I shared a cab with one of the dancers and I tried to cheer her up because her husband came to pick her up but got mad and left (why?!) though she seemed used to the drill. I got home, played the super bowl on the X-box where my team won. Then I drafted and traded and signed players and am about to begin next season, where I’ve added another defensive tackle, defensive back, and a running back and quarterback.

Today I got up around noon and called home. Nobody answered. So I took a walk. It wasn’t very cold outside, but it was grey. I walked down Broadway and stopped in the street. Everything was quiet. Dead quiet. There are movies where the bomb, or a comet, or something, kills the population of the earth save for a couple of people who spend the first few scenes of the movie walking around in a deserted town. That is what it felt like. No cars. All the lights were off in windows in all the shops and in all the apartments that I walked by. I passed three other walkers who were likewise walking down the middle of the street. Street lights changed their colors to empty streets with no cars. It was a sureal experience. At first I sang some Christmas song to myself, a slow one, and I was very melancholy. The grey day, the empty streets, the knowledge that I was two thousand miles away from my family for yet another Christmas (I’ve seen my family for what… two, three Christmases since 1988?). I was getting pretty sad. But I am used to being away for Christmas and I’ve been in far more unpleasant places than Eugene, Oregon for several of them. My mind naturally went along various thoughts of various topics, songs changed in my mind, and before long I was listening in my mental stereo to the Van Halen song “Drop Dead Legs” and smiling.

I came to Lazar’s Bazzar and there was a guy looking at a poster in the window. Lazar’s is a place where you can get anything from a ski hat, a poster of Metallica, incense sticks, stickers, and other loads of crap. The poster in the window was from the Desert Storm era and it had scenes of troops in the gulf with the message “support our troops” in bold letters. The guy made mention to it and gave me his thoughts. We started to walk down the block and he continued his rambling. I answered him with “I know, it was cold and sand got everywhere, and I was glad to get back home.” It was my hint that I was there the first time around. What was interesting about the conversation (if you can call it that) wasn’t what the guy was saying, for he struck me as someone not in full grasp of his mental faculties), but the packaged gists of his sentences. He talked in soundbites. But given the widespread occurence of this, I shouldn’t be too surprised. It is interesting to debate a person’s point, whether they are a fundamentalist or a self proclaimed righteous prophet of the environment or a person who thinks that the smoking ban is un-American (I love debating those guys, very very poor logic and reasoning. I’ve not met a sound argument yet). What I am thinking of here is something like a song-list. Okay, take for instance your musical tastes. It is a general rule of thumb for me that a good indicator of a person’s ability to think creatively, widely, or intelligently, is their choice of music. The smaller the range of genre’s, the type of music, all have a telling aspect of the workings of that person’s mind. Nobody should feign surprise at this, this sort of thought is commonplace in society. How often do we make a joke at the country crowd, or the odd ravers or the spaced out hippies or the over-anxious punkers or the stuck up classicalists or the touchy feely folkers or the dumb ass rappers? Yes these are stereotypes, but stereotypes are ideas and ideas either die out or they are replicated in other brains (the meme idea) and for an idea to have a greater chance of replication there must be something there to help it along. I do not believe that you can simply add another idea to try and replace a disfavorable one. The stereotype might have only a 1% truthfulness to it, but unless you use another one with more truth to it, that 1% is as good as 80% because it isn’t being contested in its replication. Put it this way. There were purple lions on the African plains, but they were only moderately fast. They were able to live for thousands of years until another lion showed up, slightly faster than the purple ones. The same with ideas to some extent. A stereotype is a heuristic which has negative implications. Another stereotype is that all little old ladies are nice, friendly, and bake sugar cookies.

Now that I’ve gone around the bush, back to the point. Some ideas have attractive features to it and some do not. We then will stick those that are attractive to us into our mental play list. The brain is geared to move towards automatation. Think of driving a car, after a while you are able to get from home to work without any effort at all. The same with thinking about other matters of our life. The brain doesn’t care if what we are doing is driving or watching a presidential debate, it uses methods of shortcuts in value judgements (called heuristics) to speed up the decision making process. Suppose you are a progressive person who wears birkenstock sandals and eats granola for breakfast. You come across a bottle of juice which has a picture of the Earth on it. You might automatically assume it to fit into what “your” thinking of being friendly to the earth. You might assume that the glass was recycled, the juice was organic, the company a local co-op. Maybe you’re not this gullible and you study the label more closely. It says “all natural” on the label. You could assume this to mean that it was 100% juice, whereas the product actually contains 20% juice 60% water and 20% mixture of syrups and sugars, all of which are ‘natural’ products. Anyone who has ever spent time trying to be a vegetarian, particularly a vegan will understand the amazing amount of label readind and deciphering that one must do to determine if a product is indeed vegetarian. When it comes to larger issues, such as political ideas or where should your kids go to school, environmental concerns, and mortgage rates, we bring to the table our own acute bias of what we are looking for and what things appear to mean to us. To one person a football game is sexism, to another it is challenge, to another it is a strategy session (like my trying to figure out how I could shut down the quarterack who played against me in the super bowl), or a social event, or a socially defining institution, a cash cow, a diversion, an escape… or other things.

The guy that I talked to was not “normal”. I am familiar with the arguments by many against psychology. I read an interesting magazine published somewhere locally called Mind Free by an organization opposing psychology’s use of drugs. First off I’d like to state that such an opinion is needed for it is my belief and the belief of every psychologist that I’ve ever talked to that the nation is much over-drugged. But this is a typical American response. Lets sue Burger King for making me a fat bastard (because I eat there), let’s complain about psychologists prescribing too many drugs. Yet the system is greatly a pull-push system. On the one hand you have people who don’t want to investigate their problems, they want a drug (we all laugh at the stereotype of the support group or the therapist’s couch), and pharmaceutical companies tell about a marvelous pill that takes the edge off. The public demands it and the companies push it. What is being missed here by activists and those who sprout long winded sermons against psychology is that many psychologists are sympathetic to their thinking. The so-called “journal” of drug free psychology reeks of politics and not science. This is, again, not to say that there were not valid points to be made, but it is done in a much too poor of a fashion. There are far better and more credible studies out there in legitimate journals that go along with the ideas expressed in the mind free journal. And what is credibility? Aronson, in his classic book The Social Animal, wrote about our looking to cues from other people for appropriate conduct. Suppose you are standing outside of a bathroom but the words are in another language. As you stand there wondering which bathroom to go to, a distinguished looking gentleman comes out of the one on the left. You feel comfortable in your guess as to which is the men’s room. Now suppose that an unkempt, shifty-eyed guy with greasy hair and a ratty jacket came out. Would you be so sure that he was in the right one? Now there are some friends of mine who would argue that the gentleman could be a crook on wall street and the dirty guy could be just down on his luck but was a really fine guy. That is very true. But this illustrates a point that I’ve been making all along. We use shortcuts in making judgments. It is tiring for our brain to take the time out to rationalize all the possibilities concering the guy coming out of the bathroom, plus the election coverage, plus whether the juice we bought is organic or not, plus a million other concerns that cross our mind all the time. We use shortcuts because we must. The paper journal that I read could very well have some insightful investigations by its writers and could very well have some valid points concerning psychology. I read it while walking through the Whitaker neighborhood and enjoyed parts of it. However I view most of the paper rag to be a political publication and not science at all. They might change a mind or two, but they will not sway psychology nor the masses of people who demand their drugs or the companies that supply them.

Now as to the ‘normal’ component of my description of the guy. As usual ‘normal’ is given good or bad emphasis. A beautiful woman tells you that you are not normal, this is a compliment, unless she’s looking at you in an odd fashion, then it is a bad thing. Members of fringe groups (whether it is musical, political, theological, whatever) view normal as a very bad thing. It is better to be abnormal than normal, yet within their own social structure there is a very real sense of what is normal (accepted). Sitting at a coffee shop I am often amused when I overhear a group talk about the cookie cutter yuppies in town. When I watch these characters, their dress, mannerisms, and speech are nearly identical in style to each other, and also to the group that I can see standing at the street corner outside, and to the group that I pass by at a local CD shop on the way home, and to some that I meet on the bus. Conformity is everywhere, even among the characters of Jack Kerouac’s book On the Road. One doesn’t only conform with behavior and fashion, but ideas as well. Conformity is another one of those words that when it is uttered it is instantly attacked, whereas the person who is attacking it is quite clueless as to what conformity means and to the very large extent that he/she conforms in his/her life. Now back to ‘normal’. It never fails that I’ll come across a person, either on a bus or at a coffee shop or on the internet, who sprouts out in all religious seriousness that ‘normal’ is only what society rejects. This is said in such a tone and manner that it carries with it moral significance, at least to the person delivering the sermon. Truth be told, abnormal behavior is a social phenomena. It would be interesting to ask one of these persons what their definition of madness was, though I suspect that a goodly portion of them would exclaim that there is no madness at all. There are condtions where a person appears quite “odd” but is able to function in society. Then there are conditions where a person isn’t able to function in society at all. It shouldn’t need mentioning but I feel that I must, that it isn’t a strictly pass or fail criteria. One does not either function or not in society. It is a daily process, an act. Somedays things go well, somedays not. A person needs certain skills, such as decision making, responsibility, ability to judge risks, etc… to be able to live, pay for rent, show up for work, buy food instead of something else, not set fire to their home, etc… These are some of the necessary skills. If a person is talking to his self but able to function in society just the same it is passable. I’ve met several people who have conversations with themselves. It isn’t as though they are talking “to” themselves, but that their mouths are not turned off from their thoughts. Now society is defined by the actions of its inhabitants. That is that what is considered normal is defined by society itself. In large respect this might be true, there are many social aspects to the criteria in the DSM IV. This point is quickly pointed out by the prophets on the street corner. Yet they are only half right. It is benefitial for a person with clinical depression to realize that the outlook toward depression is socially generated. Consequentially, the major view toward clinical depression is that it is a “normal” part of life and for a person to just deal with it. This might be a great misunderstanding on the mind/body theory, split thanks to Descartes. I do not believe in any such notion of a split mind and body. However, the perception is that the mind is part of a spiritual ‘thing’ that is in its essence fault free and perfect and that to be “good” a person need only to contact that spiritual center within. While I believe that a spiritual approach, in its widest sense, to life has benefitial aspects to it, the notion of a spirit has given rise to mistaken perceptions of mental illness to the lay public. Another aspect of the equation is that social norms arein most regards a majority of behavior. Note that I do not make good/bad, right/wrong judgments concerning this, only that I note frequency of the occurence within the population. Maladaptive behavior can be a social phenomenon, but to claim that a behavior outside of the majority of the population’s ‘normal’ behavior as intrinsicly good because it is not normal while at the same time claiming that majority society is flawed against the backdrop of reasoning that psychological conditions are social classifications is an example of extremely short sighted and misplaced reasoning. More times than not when rhetoric along these lines come to the front they are issuants of a personal political angst than any real investigation of science or human behavior.

Break. The Lakers lost. Good.

I just got off of the phone with my Dad. He had gone hunting near the old family farm. My great grandmother passed away today. I had not seen her in years, perhaps when I wasn high school or so. She was known as ‘Mamma Black’ and she was 102 years old. My conversation with my dad was good. It was bereft of any implications of misguided life or wasting one’s days. I told him that yeah I might be taking a time to get my degree, perhaps I’ll get it when I am 82, but if I die at 83 I’ll be a happy person. I asked him how many people does he know wakes up in the morning happy to see the day? Not many people that I know can say that. Yeah things sometimes get hard, but I love life, I love where I am at, I love where I am from, and and I love what I am doing. I also told him of the two compliments that I got at the Christmas party. I get these traits from my dad, the puritan work ethic, the appreciation for simpler and slower things, the desire for a crisp day out in a forest instead of in an office. I also told him of my plan to get a mustang, to buy it in Arkansas and to take off a week or two and come home and fix it up with him. I told him why, that not only did I want a mustang (and that if it did break down it wasn’t the end of the world here in Eugene as I’ve not driven in a year and a half), but that I wanted the opportunity to come home and fix it up with him and my nephew, that this would be something special. He understood and he said that he’d work on it from that end and for me to work at it from my end.

It is 8:35 pm and I am tired. It has been a lazy day. My Christmas dinner was a bag of frito chips with chili and cheese on top that I got at the gas station. I ate half of it and felt sick and laid down for thirty minutes. An hour later I was back up at the computer, ate the rest of it (I can be a really dumb guy sometimes) and finished this entry. I feel like reading, but I’ll go to sleep at the unheard of hour of pre-midnight. I must be up and at the library in plenty of time to enjoy some coffee at the Novella Cafe (they open at 7) before the library opens at 10. Tomorrow is my Christmas day and I can’t wait to wake up in the morning and see the surprise!

But in review of this terribly long and rambling entry, I should quickly finish my analogy. We tend to place thoughts into our minds that seem to fit. Like CDs in our music collection, the words of some of the songs might be offensive but who really listens to the words? Some do, but a lot of the music I’ve had contact with in the clubs the people liked because of the beat or it was the ‘in’ song at the time. So too are some thoughts and positions. A person says “that is a bad thing” because the soundbite about it easily meshes with his concept of right and wrong and his place in the world. Investigation into the subject would show dissonant properties, and the mind hates cognitive dissonance (wonderful theory on human behavior). So I believe many people to simply not investigate matters much at all. They look at the behavior of those around them, hear the little soundbites of politics, and they conform. Memes spread and a culture is born. This is in a nutshell how I believe the flakiness of the environmental movement is perpetuated here in Oregon. Were I to fly to Houston for a visit I’d tell people that I’d meet that I am an environmentalist. While walking the streets of Oregon I do not tell people I am an environmentalist because the image is one of flakiness, poor science, doomsday, hippy naked tree hugging the spirit within, and all that jazz. The lines between hippies, environmentalists, neo-luddites, peaceniks, pot activists, and others are blurred. The average non-hippy/environmentalist/anarchist/socialist/peacnik that I talk to on the street cannot tell the difference between any of them. This is not a fault of the person I am talking to, but of lack of depth by the individual groups. They share social circles, which perpetuate the same memes, the same occurences of conformity. This isn’t to say that there aren’t good and true activists here for the environment, for legalization of marijuanna, or thinkers along socialist concerns. But one must generally search them out and weed them out from the flood of flakes which abound. And given the number of concerns and stressors on one’s daily life… who wants to do this? It is easier to tune them out. Unfortunately, while one might tune out such flakes one also tunes out the few credible environmentalists who have good information and sound minds.

Memes, that is where its at. I think I’ve decided on what book to read tonight.


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