Millennial Meditations (2/3)

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Addiction, Anxiety, and Drugs

Roll it Up, Rationalize Later

I haven’t smoked cannabis in three days; feeling tired and uneasy. A friend said, “Weed saved me from killing myself.” I believe him, but weed isn’t a solution. It’s too easy to fall back into familiar habits, especially when enforced by friends. Some say, “You’re the average of your five best friends.” Common habits and traits among my friends: weed, moderate drinking, outdoor activities, philosophical discussions, fleeting relationships, low-income/debt, creativity, confusion, soccer, and independence (yet still living with our parents).

Some say weed isn’t addictive or harmful; I disagree on both accounts. I cannot recall my initial motivation for smoking; however, my back pain was a major factor, and the mind-numbing effect had its appeal as well. After smoking, the aches subside and societal pressures melt away; I can finally relax and introspect, but as I’ve gotten older, the comedown leaves me lethargic. Also, joints and blunts still burn my throat, but no one analyzes the repercussions of habitually inhaling incendiary plant matter; rather, when doing it, the notion of harm fades away; after committing to a specific decision, rationalization is easy and utterly unimportant.

What Came First, Addiction or Nihilism?

The definition of addiction is, “The fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity.” The current scientific literature frames addiction as a neurological chemical imbalance. However, the high correlation between addiction and depression begs the question, “Which comes first?” The capacity for addiction is present in everyone, and manifests in habits; some have obvious physiological ramifications; e.g., crack and gluttony. Whereas an affinity for television and internet browsing is considered innocuous.

I believe the precursor for addiction and habit formation might stem from a desire to subvert conscious processing; diminishing the usage of system-two thinking (slow, effortful, infrequent, logical, calculating, conscious). Addiction from this perspective is a byproduct of the mind’s desire to avoid errant thoughts, entertaining a constant state of inhibition and indifference; prolonged stents of epistemological thought will produce a chemical corollary in the brain. Therefore, skeptics will find themselves at odds with their brain; esoteric thoughts run in opposition to the brain’s homeostatic processes. Fortunately, introspection allows us to analyze habits, and once analyzed, there’s an opportunity to change behavior. Not all addictions need to be changed, but keeping usage in a “healthy” range begins by identifying the status quo. 

I have lost sight of the “ends” in regards to smoking. Be wary of those who claim to use a substance purely for enjoyment.

The Nightmare Knight

When I was younger, I went to my grandma’s house and watched, “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”. Then, at night, I would descend into a deep slumber — nightmares would take shape —  then I would jolt awake, sweating profusely. Sometimes they would occur for several days, and the more frequently they occurred, the more I found myself “afraid of the dark.” 

Eventually, it dawned on me, I had a choice. Upon waking from a nightmare, I had at least three options. I could go back to sleep and attempt to avoid the nightmare; I could reenter the dream and run away; or I could go back in and destroy the creature. I chose option three. I entered the dream (or my best reconstruction), put on a suit of knight’s armor, accompanied by a sword and shield, and proceeded to slay the beast. 

I realized there’s a pivotal point in a dream when you become conscious of the dream, and can assume the form of a hero to defeat the villain. I imagine this methodology could be practiced and taught to anyone, but conquering daemons in dreams doesn’t explain how they got there. Some nightmares have obvious corollaries (e.g., you watch It by Andrés Muschietti, and then you have nightmares about clowns), but others might be derivatives of psychological phenomenon—telltale feelings are sinking, fleeing, suppression, silencing, and impotence. 

Should we avoid nightmares? no; is there wisdom in our subconscious? yes; are we suppressing fears and desires? probably. 

A deeper analysis requires a practiced introspection: a specific relationship, or, maybe a delayed decision about something valuable (e.g., going back to college). Once a topic is chosen, it’s time to sit with it; literally. Finding a quiet place to think and introspect can be a challenge, but the silence is necessary to avoid distraction. At first, it will be challenging to focus on one specific topic—the mind prefers to wander. Eventually, focus will come, and then it’s a matter of how far to crawl down the rabbit hole. While diving down, there will be a flurry of emotions—pay attention to them—stronger emotions are indicative of something worth spending a little more time with. Sometimes there won’t be any breakthroughs, and that’s fine, a practiced introspection takes time to develop. Adults are constantly harboring unresolved emotions—with unknown consequences—some get massages to relieve the tension, but the source might be psychological.

In an effort to become the best version of ourselves, we need to expose our weaknesses and shortcomings. Fear can be an amazing motivator or a debilitating hindrance. Death will come to us all, but how we resolve to act with this knowledge is left to the individual. Some will coil into a ball and wait for their reckoning—others will stand upright and become champions. 

Forecasting into the future or ruminating on past events are both distractions. Every day presents an opportunity for growth, but few seize the moment. Instead, we are wont to defer our hopes and dreams for a later date. 

Fear doesn’t need to be palpable or manifest in the form of a nightmare—fear is tacitly avoiding our true potential—it’s our mind’s way of maintaining homeostasis. In order to become the best version of ourselves, we need to introspect and overcome our defeatist thoughts.

Death’s Touch

May 18th, 2006, Castro Valley, California. My father picked me up from Canyon Middle School and informed me of my grandpa’s passing (my mom’s dad). When I stepped into the living room, I saw my mom with tears rolling down her face—utterly distraught. My grandpa suffered a heart attack while home alone—his second wife was in Korea attending to some business affairs. The whole family was shocked. Several days later, I got to see him for the last time, lying in a casket, pallid. The proceeding days were filled with turmoil regarding his estate, meanwhile, I wanted this event to be a distant memory. 

Nearly two decades have passed, and yet, its significance hasn’t wavered. For one, my grandpa was, from outward appearances, a pretty healthy individual. He exercised frequently, and maintained a slender figure. The consensus regarding his passing was “surprise” or “disbelief.” Most couldn’t grasp the reality, and I began questioning the veracity of health advice; more specifically my daily vegetable intake. 

I might end up dead and alone without probable cause — better to live fast, and die young.

The second lesson from his passing: you’ll see the worst of people when tragedy strikes. Buddhists believe, “to love someone is to prepare oneself for an even greater pain when they’re gone.” The loss of a loved one will bear the weight of collected memories, in addition to a future spent without them. Therefore, Buddhists believe you should abstain from loving others to avoid suffering from their passing; a monastery’s isolation is conducive to these ends. 

An alternative interpretation hinges upon the definition of love. Love in reference to material objects or personages is only harmful when it compromises the normal functioning of an individual. From this perspective, loving someone isn’t the problem, but rather, the irrational behavior resulting from love. The key in both instances is to avoid compromising oneself and attaching our personal satisfaction to others.

Death and birth are merely phases of existence. Most people fear death because they don’t know what to expect after. Yet we know we don’t remember anything before we were born, so why would we expect to remember anything after? Regardless of what happens after death, we should be satisfied knowing we won’t carry any baggage with us into the next phase. The true value in life is derived from the eventual cessation of existence—the seasonal changes, and every breath, allow us to enjoy impermanence. I write and strive for a long life because I want to help individuals pass through this existence in peace; removed from suffering. I no longer fear dying alone, but rather, not having lived while alive.

Guns, Birds, and Lead

I used to stare out my family room window, scouting for birds and squirrels. Then, when I saw one, I would grab my pellet gun, sprint outside and take aim at the unsuspecting creature—pointless deaths from the barrel of an impersonal machine, but better than boredom. My father told me the squirrels were thieves, and deserved death; but the birds were collateral damage from a rebellious youth. 

Wars used to be won based on marksmanship, strategy, and advances in weapons technologies. Now, the latter has usurped the others. As a species we’ve made great advances in preserving life, but it’s dwarfed by our increasingly anti-human efficiency at taking it away. So much money spent on life, and yet, we’ve forgotten how to live. Capitalism built the biggest stick, but we wield it like a child with a loaded gun.

Filling the Void

I wrote the following poem when an acquaintance ran away from my friends and I during an outing at Big Basin Redwood State Park. After struggling with mental health issues for several months, he took his life.

 

February 20, 2017

A friend of a friend walked with me,

Fresh from Sacramento, free of glee.

Unable to hear the lord’s symphony—

Consumed by existential epiphanies

 

Tricked by a false God and grand gestalt,

Metaphysics grinding to a halt.

Glass falling—cathedral pains,

No angels to ward—evil reigns.

 

Formerly—stability,

Flipped a switch—fragility.

No Great Watcher to guard at night,

A massive void engulfs the light.

 

Every decision, lacks foundation,

Skeptic of—our species creation.

Philosopher’s vomit, filling holes,

No easy answers, regarding the soul.

 

How does the world keep spinning?

There’s no Judge to stymie sinning!

Drinking, to obscure the point,

Nihilisms hitting the joint

 

Staggering through life—side-to-sight

Friend’s faces blurred, talking trite

Words mumbled, incoherent

Demons coming to take thy spirit

 

Rise and slides, out the door,

Crucifix cracks scar the floor.

Dim light paints the street,

Foreign lands beneath his feet.

 

We search for hours, unable to fail

Frantic phone calls to no avail

Police resolved to prove their worth

Mindless mazes back-and-forth

 

Rain falls, he left his jacket,

Hopefully he avoids the racket.

Isolated, feeling estranged,

Where does one go, when deranged?

 

Night takes hold of our throats,

Sick-minded—misanthropes.

Roll into the car, heading home,

What’s it feel like to be alone?

 

No clue, what to do—

Thoughts race through—

Expecting the worst—

Unable to accept the hearse.

Psychological Inspection

For the sake of this writing, happiness will refer to an optimistic daily outlook. Sad days are inevitable, but the goal is to wake up each morning eager to learn, live, and grow. 

To find happiness and contentment, time should be spent assessing the why—as opposed to the what and how. What and how are useful for definitions and objectivity, but fall short when attempting to discern latent content (manifest content is the literal subject matter of a dream—whereas latent content is the underlying meaning of these symbols). Any attempt at understanding individual motivations and happiness requires an internal socratic monologue. Putting beliefs under the microscope for examination will allow for thoughts to deconstruct and present themselves for evaluation. Once a belief has been identified, the process of chasing the belief to the root can begin, and the journey always ends in the same spot, where conscious motivations collide with subconscious unknowns. This final destination should be the goal for all valuable information. Ghandi said, “Consistency is unimportant, following the Truth is all that matters.” 

I’ve found myself at odds with my beliefs before—it isn’t a comfortable place—but the journey to a higher state is worth the effort. If we don’t inspect our foundation, everything built upon it will waver and collapse when we encounter hardships. Hardships will happen—resilience via rigorous introspection may provide a panacea.

Advances in technology have been an impediment to the introspective process. It’s easier to derive our values from others, and shape our perceptions in accordance with popular culture, but social media and web-based content leads to unrealistic expectations of how to live. Reality is never as glamorous as television would make us believe (no shit). Kanye West, despite all his wealth, crumbled under the expectations placed upon him. 

No amount of money can protect the subconscious from churning and digging up our deepest thoughts. It’s best to spend time in silence, analyzing these thoughts in isolation, and reflecting with friends and family. Returning to the point of “enlightenment” (free from psychosis and neurotic thoughts), is a prerequisite for healthy functioning. In the end, it’s left to the individual to decide what’s valuable—there’s no person or technological device (currently) with the capacity to change thoughts—medication can obscure our pains, turning childhood traumas into opaque recollections, but this is hardly a solution.

Jacques Lacan’s stress on the importance of language in conscious development cannot be understated. Symbols are the only means for communication between the conscious and subconscious—If we want to overcome traumas or deficiencies—we must start a dialogue with ourselves; possibly with a specialist.

Contentment Syllogism

If matter is finite (M), then biological life is meaningless (L).

M —> L

    M

    L

If life is meaningless (L), then living organisms subsist solipsistically (there isn’t a reason for their existence) (S) [includes all forms of life].

L —> S

    L

    S  

If organisms subsist solipsistically (S) are nurtured (N) [Biological and psychosocial], then they will grow (G).

S & N

   G

If organisms grow, then they will reproduce (R) [or produce labor]. If they reproduce, then their biological functions are satisfied (F).

G —> R

R —> F

G & R

    F

If biological functions are satisfied (F), then contentment is achieved ( 😐 ).

F —> 😐

    F

    😐

Silent Mountain

Massive Mountain with jagged cliffs, fauna, and various foliage. 

Modern Man with sallow skin, suit and tie [standing at the base of the mountain].

“Why do you look so sickly?”

Man responds, “I have to work a lot in order to live happily.” 

“Are you happy?”

“Some days, but I wish I worked less and spent more time with my family. What should I do?”

A gentle breeze blows by the mountainside.

Coping

To gain a better understanding about the biological and psychological components of depression, I highly recommend “Stanford’s Robert Sapolsky on Depression.” A couple prescient points follow: 

There’s an important distinction between depression (a learned helplessness) and the everyday highs and lows of life. The loss of a parent or some significant trauma will produce similar symptoms in a healthy and depressed individual, but a healthy individual will recover from the event, whereas an individual with depression will remain melancholic. There are biological and gene specific indicators, which influence an individual’s likelihood of developing depression, but regardless of these indicators, an individual’s ability to cope with stressors (in addition to the timing of stressors; e.g., early childhood traumas can be particularly challenging) affects their propensity to develop depression. In essence, the intersection between the biology and psychology of depression can be traced to stress hormones (glucocorticoids or cortisol for short). 

As for my writing, I want to briefly discuss potential stressors resulting from technological advances in the workplace and social media. First, our technological developments and social structures have developed beyond anything our recent ancestors would recognize. In an attempt to simplify our lives with innovations, we have inadvertently created more obstacles and objectives. Smart technologies have streamlined processes and removed back-breaking work, but as we continue to automate, what happens to the physical laborers? Futurists believe laborers will be retrained for new fields, but the onus is on private institutions to provide the necessary training, and they’re reluctant to uptake the expenditure. Agriculture in particular has automated to an unprecedented degree—requiring a few employees to monitor machinery, which then distributes all of the necessary byproducts for a healthy harvest. Meanwhile, farm laborers are left with nothing to do but watch. 

Then there’s social media, which has amplified and distorted our expectations of a fulfilling life. Every application features our friends living their “best” lives, alongside advertisements which are handpicked to provide said idyllic life. Yet, most people know outward appearances on social media are unrealistic representations of an individual’s internal emotional state. Seeking gratification from experiences and purchases will consistently lead to a desire for more of the same; an unachievable contentment. However, when used responsibly, there’s potential for an optimistic outcome; e.g., a study indicated social media has decreased loneliness among american teenagers.

Following several years of user growth, the deluge of material posted to these platforms resulted in a need for content curation. A lot of the flagged content contains graphic and/or inappropriate material, which needs to be audited to determine whether it violates the terms of service. If you’re doing the job right, it chips away at you daily (I know firsthand). We aren’t programmed to view the world’s obscenities on a daily basis. The more gruesome images leave lasting impressions on the psyche—eventually calluses develop—but not before an irreconcilable darkness shrouds the viewer’s outlook. 

Technology improves processes and communication, but we lack the data to track the implications of these advances. If machines replace manual labor, what happens to our sense of accomplishment? Companies are continually optimizing, and the first thing to go is human capital; the largest percentage of the payroll. Bill Gates and Andrew Yang are discussing the efficacy of a universal basic income, but the research is sparse. Taxing robots is one of Gate’s ideas.

A Few Inches Off the Top

“The Professor and the Madman” by Simon Winchester, is a tale about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary. The “madman” is Dr. Minor, a Civil War surgeon; stricken with PTSD and haunting illusions of people sneaking into his room at night to molest and torment him. Eventually, he killed a man whom he thought was seeking revenge for a civil war sin he committed (branding an Irish deserter), and was institutionalized for the latter half of his life. To top it off—he cut his dick off because he thought his sexual urges were the root of his suffering.

Man is incapable of escaping past actions; atrocities will manifest in dreams.

Bay Area Mycology Meeting

Emerson echoes Schopenhauer and Einstein in his address, “The American Scholar”; urging philosophers to “write their own philosophy” and “consume the writings of others for leisure.” He makes an exception for the sciences and studies which require measures and extensive definitions; mycology (the study of fungi) lacks the latter. 

I attended my first mycology meeting last night, hosted by the Bay Area Mycology Society. The speaker was Michael Beug, Paul Stamets’ mentor. Upon arrival, I was awestruck by Michael Pollan’s humble presence. I asked him about the coevolution of cannabis and explained my habits—he encouraged me to take a break to reevaluate my relationship—and confessed that he was reluctantly doing the same with caffeine.  

Regarding the presentation, Dr. Beug is the last scientist one would expect to consume psilocybin. His students pushed his chemistry towards mycology, and he eventually relented to a full-blown ego-dissolution trip after several years of peer pressure. The results of his experience included withdrawal symptoms, cold sweats when near cannabis, and spiritual growth. Despite the litany of adverse post-trip effects—he ended by saying he was glad to have the experience.

Dr. Beug wants to legalize all drugs, similar to Portugal, because he believes controlling substances will lead to less problems than banning them. Denver, Oakland, and Oregon are on their way; hopefully for-profit companies treat this all-natural panacea with the respect and scientific rigor it deserves.

Maintenance

Just Keep Moving, and Avoid the Middle of the Market

Tom Rath’s, Wellbeing, highlights the short-term consequences of decisions (e.g., soda spikes the imbiber’s blood sugar; leaving them lethargic), and connects them to their longitudinal effects (habitual soda drinking adds to the waistline). In short, diet and exercise have immediate physiological and psychological benefits; and they also hinder the development of serious health issues later; and yet, despite the inherent logic of proactive treatments, the healthcare industry in the United States is geared towards reactive methodologies — creating medications to stabilize systems, and charging hundreds of thousands of dollars for open-heart surgery. Ignorance is bliss, and expensive. 

Studying diet and exercise leads to a dizzying array of convoluted/contradictory information, but Michael Pollan’s, In Defense of Food and Dr. David Agus’s, The End of Illness are excellent resources for anyone interested in learning more about healthful practices; and the prior exposes the insidious nature of the food industry.

According to Dr. Agus, a sedentary lifestyle can be as bad as smoking a pack of cigarettes. So, to stave off the effects of aging; my friend and mentor, Mark Vaz, has some sound advice, “You need to keep moving and mixing it up, I grab a tree branch and use it to do one hundred lifts, and then add in some other bodyweight activities” (he also bikes everywhere and practices mixed martial arts).

For dieting, removing “quick carbs” (e.g., chips, candy, soda and bread) from the pantry is the only guaranteed solution for curbing mindless consumption — avoid the middle of the supermarket, stick to the fresh-whole-foods on the perimeter; transition to water as the sole beverage of consumption; and watch as the pounds melt away. 

Diet and exercise should be adjusted incrementally — large changes can cause mood swings, aches, and a resultant relapse. Begin by drinking one less soda, or getting up from the desk for ten minutes to walk around; in time, healthy decisions will become commonplace; and then you’ll be marveling at the paradoxical effects of reverse aging (literally looking and feeling younger).

A Pinch Goes a Long Way

Short-sightedness and narcissism often come in pairs; 

jumbled thoughts lead us down, dark and deep despair. 

Death will come to everyone, but a gut is for the glutton

Sometimes, a pinch of pride, will save the soul from rottin’

Collectivism vs. Individualism

Libertarian’s Hero

Howard Roark, the protagonist of The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, exudes enlightenment—he’s unaffected by the qualms of the modern man. Architecture, using what the Earth provides, is his raison d’être; everything else is insignificant. 

The other characters strive to understand Roark. When his first architecture firm goes under, he declines a position at an opposing firm (producers of repeats and replicas); opting for work in a granite quarry. For him, it’s either original architecture or manual labor. His creations are designed to enhance their environment, utilizing modern innovations, and disregarding conventions. Roark is a metaphor for the limitless potential of the human spirit.

Shedding Wool

Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged, reminded me of the incompetence of the average person. I wish people had extra time to educate themselves, but I doubt they would use it appropriately; most people prefer to complain. Too many individuals have lost sight of their personal dreams—inundated with responsibilities and bills—drugs and unhealthy habits consume all free time. When I give guidance to friends, I can tell who will rise to the challenge and overcome their demons—very few answer the call.

Dreams require an expenditure of effort to turn them into reality. Ideas are ubiquitous—creators are scant. When wise entrepreneurs confront an obstacle, they ask, “How can I benefit from this obstruction?” Every endeavor will face setbacks; grit and determination are necessary. If someone says, “I can’t do it”; find someone else. Leadership requires unshakeable morals—followers are confused by inconsistencies.

A Little Now, or A Lot Later?

Looking through the lens of the self produces value judgements — two entities of equal value will vary based on the judge’s preferences — to mitigate overtly harming others, we need to override the scripts of “self” and “other.” This doesn’t mean we should shy away from capitalist ideals in the pursuit of a collectivist utopia; the ability to freely create and compete is what allows for innovations to occur, but responsible production and green development need to be standards. 

The public sector’s role is to preserve the state and prevent private entities from harming its citizens in exchange for profits; monopolization is denounced because of the inherent conflict which arises from private entities’ penchant for efficiency. Healthcare and education are public services because they’re believed to be unalienable rights; yet the United States spends disproportionately more per capita than other developed nations, and has suboptimal outcomes; clearly, our systems have some structural issues. The closer we get to allowing individuals to pursue their desires (assuming individuals are more good than bad), the more prosperous we will be. People acting in their ideal roles — crafting and creating — will remedy the neurotic entrapments of the current working environment. 

Any organization composed of talented individuals and open communication will likely decimate their competition. Google pays their employees more than the industry standard to hinder the potential success of competitors; the Yankees are an iconic example for baseball. However, morale and the function of the collective unit can be more valuable than the raw talents of a select few individuals; basketball highlights this point via the discord resulting from a team of super stars; each vying for the spotlight and sponsorships. 

When Kevin Durant took a pay-cut to play with the Golden State Warriors, their success was expected. Drawing from the Marshmallow Study … the future success of athletes and companies is predicated on their ability to deny instant gratification. I often wonder why more athletes don’t accept a salary cut in order to participate in a winning organization; I imagine the longitudinal revenue for an individual who wins consecutive championships could outweigh the short term increases in salary; plus there’s the prestige of having several shiny rings (Kevin Durant and athletes of his caliber are outliers; successful regardless of which organization they join).

I used to believe that after an individual secures their personhood (physical, psychological, and social health), they should focus their attention on the community—a counter argument: pursue individual means of prosperity, and allow future generations to help the community; the latter argument assumes humbler people in the future. Alas, an altruism paradox persists.

On collectivism

I was in San Francisco with a couple friends the other day. We talked about the “suburban white guy” archetype, which apparently refers to individualistic white males—as opposed to a collectivistic mindset; involving shared resources. This is the second time I’ve heard the spiel, and in both instances, it was by someone who contributes less and consumes more than their fair share. The apparent irony of the situation never occurs to said friends, or, they’re fine with the inherent abuse of the situation.

Collectivism works well when everyone contributes as much as they can, and tacitly avoids excess waste and consumption; otherwise, the imbalance will result in an entropic failure of the system (e.g., the current credit system encourages people to spend money they don’t have); drugs and material possessions become more important than future success.

Western cultures have oriented themselves to idolize individuals over the collective. As a former soccer coach, I had the dissatisfaction of interacting with dozens of unique personalities; I tried, fervently, to corral and instruct the children, but I ended up empathizing with the individual who tried to herd cats.

Also, respect for one’s elders used to be the norm. Now, if there’s sufficient funds, the expectation is to kick seniors out of their homes — and place them under the care of strangers; nothing says, “thanks for raising me!” like a cold meal served from a disinterested caretaker. 

In the political sphere, democratic socialism, the credo of Bernie Sanders (2016/2020 presidential candidate and Senator of Vermont), was labeled “communist” and “outrageous” in the land of capitalist grandeur. Senator Sanders’ insistence on sticking to his ideologies resulted in him being labeled anti-capitalist; intolerable to most progressives. The end result of the election—Sanders’ antithesis, Donald Trump.

Technology has allowed for myriad variations among individuals; especially children who are exposed to an unwavering sensory barrage from their phones. I sympathize with parents of this modern era because technology is destined for exponential expansion, and restricting it will likely negatively correlate with future success. Technology cannot be blamed—innovation is not the enemy—the burden falls on the individual; we need to unplug ourselves from our social mediums, and tune in to our immediate surroundings. 

An active and contributing citizen used to be the expectation for everyone. How did we stray so far away from these stoic values? Mass media outlets are culpable, but marketing combined with neuroscience is the overarching enemy; we need marketing education to elucidate the for-profit biases of media outlets — so citizens can raise their heads above the herd; to witness the wolves (always scan the horizon, and never get caught in the middle of a Walmart opening on Black Friday).

Unconscious Spending

From a macroscopic perspective, moral spending for every product is costly and nearly impossible. Researching the sources of all the products required to produce a single article of clothing, coffee, or smartphone would cripple any individual. The alternative: personally oversee the production of the ingredients and components, and then watch them make it. Berkeley and Oakland (sometimes SF) are great examples of cities striving for conscious spending habits, yet, several minutes into a conversation with the local residents of these refined, gentrified, cities will leave a lingering taste of equal parts naivete and idealism (I think they get their coffee served that way too). The hipster demographic might be grounded in humanitarian values, but I doubt they’ll drop their Iphones or pour-over coffees to help a citizen in need.

Globalization and outsourcing make sense from the perspective of an international governing body, but there isn’t one, so why are we allowing corporations to exploit international loopholes, at the expense of the national well-being?

Giving and Receiving

I’ve received so much from my parents, and yet, I find myself unable to return favors without trepidation. I’m irked by my behavior and I feel ungrateful, but there’s a simple explanation: selfishness. I overvalue my time. 

How many inequalities are there in my life between giving and receiving; whether it be giving a gift, or, donating time to a cause? if there is a karmic scale, which side am I on?

Gifts should be given without the expectation of receiving anything in return. 

But how much should we give? how much of our income should we donate to a religious institution, or how much should we help our significant other when they’re recovering from an injury? 

Western cultures commend altruistic individuals, but there’s undoubtedly a tipping point — when an individual’s personal affairs suffer at the expense of helping others.

There used to be a stigma around social welfare programs in the United States, but progressives are removing this stigma and coddling the disenfranchised. Socialism and capitalism are contrasting values, and while having some safety net for individuals who encounter problems is ideal, socialism left unchecked leads to authoritarianism (historically).  

Finally, there have been several studies as far back as the 80’s, which have shown a reward system response in the brain from giving and helping others — similar to consuming drugs or eating comfort foods. These reward systems might cause a pessimistic individual to question the authenticity of generous individuals. 

If someone gives because they feel better after, is it really because they want to help others, or is it conceivable that they’re doing it for themselves? if someone expects a psychological reward in exchange for their gift, and the expectation isn’t met, does a debt form between the giver and receiver?

Selfless Sam

A man named Sam came to The Space the other day (Smalltown Society’s community space; Castro Valley, CA); he lives in an RV with a family member and three dogs. Over the years he’s worked as a school bus driver, and scraped by with several instances of “bad luck.”

In theory, a purely greedy individual will amass great wealth, but they will ostracize others, because relationships require an exchange of resources (e.g., money, time, comfort); whereas an individual who exudes pure generosity will never retain their resources; every penny earned will be spent on someone or something else; sacrificing food and water for others — perishing. 

Therefore, in order for an individual to live, they must reside in between pure greed and pure generosity. Generous and compassionate men, like Sam, will never thrive in a capitalist world. He gives his money and time to others, and what does he receive in return? Rolled eyes and resentment.