Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lives Like Rubik's Cube

The thing that is both interesting and frustrating about life is that we all start out in a different place. Each one of us is a complicated jumble of different aspects—both good ones and bad ones. In fact, some of us even have aspects each which would otherwise be good, but are in conflict with one another.

For much of the beginning of our lives, we spend time just making the jumble worse. There are as many reasons this is true as there are people for it to be true about. Some lives become more jumbled than others, but they are all solveable—just like Rubik's Cube. Hey, no one ever said life was easy!

I'm a big believer in the singularity of truth. That is, no matter how jumbled and different we appear at first, there is a path that will lead us to the same place. Now, I don't mean we should seek to be clones—this is where the analogy breaks down. Unlike a Rubik's Cube, human lives have layers of depth. The deeper one goes, the more he should find in common with his fellow men, or else he is fundamentally flawed. We don't need to look the same on the surface, but our hearts should beat as one.

In the name of diversity, today's media has sold us on the idea that we don't need to change anything about ourselves. In effect, the masses want to believe that a jumbled Rubik's Cube is the way they were born and the way they must stay. Mainstream media and mass marketing, then, tend to generate their content accordingly. These two channels are awash with politicians and businessmen who want to make life easier for the little guy.

They mean well from their perspective, of course. Some measure of convenience in every area of life is the advantage that human civilization has over the animal kingdom. However, the other advantage we have over the animals is the ability to continuously improve. The more individuals take responsibility for solving their own small problems, the more prevalent innovation and ingenuity is.

These inventions of the human mind are valuable and can be traded for other inventions. In this way, civilization increases in total value and, subsequently, wealth. When media develops a culture where the widespread belief is that an elite few—those born without a jumbled Rubik's Cube—are responsible for all the inventions, initiative slows and civilization decreases in value.

But this is just a lie. It is true that some lives are less jumbled than others—and it has less to do with financial advantage than you may think—while others are extremely jumbled. However, there seems to be something in the human spirit that enables us to solve these puzzles the more difficult they are. Perhaps, it's that the extremely jumbled cases seem beyond hope to the aforementioned politicians and businessmen so they're on their own. Maybe it's because these jumbled individuals are more driven to work on themselves and so gain more momentum.

One thing repeats throughout history: more is created by those at a disadvantage than by a king in his throne. So how hard are you trying to solve your Cube?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ode to the Appreciator

I think many people get lost in trying to be in a band because they like music. However it isn't necessary to be in a band if you like music, only to help your favorite band succeed. Perhaps a music appreciator would find his fit in the promotion of music rather than in the creation of music.

Part of the problem with the music industry, as I understand it, is that there is a war between the developers and the promoters. (In the lingo of FITmedia, these are the musicians and "studio execs", respectively.) Most artists want both the freedom to do what they do AND the support of a major label. These major labels, however, know how to run a business, and want the freedom to shift their assets accordingly.

As such, they tend to want to micro-manage the artists in their network. As with any large-scale orchestration, it is easy to lose sight of the pieces, and treat unique entities in a generic way. When this happens, greatness—which is often unconventional—becomes undernourished and dies. They manage artists generically, and they get only generic art.

Or worse, they incite a rebellion, which they spread in the name of freedom of expression. I've always found it strange that large media companies perpetuate their own stereotype by spreading art that criticizes the very methods they use to manage their business. Even stranger is that they do not seem to learn from the critiques of their own media content.

The content itself perpetuates this as part of the culture when outside viewers see the critique and perceive the label's actions to be hypocritical though conversely successful. And so, newcomers learn about this struggle, and separate into bipartisan factions: business vs. art. The result is a cancerous spread of venomous themes, which thwarts the dreams of many would-be artists and music promoters.

Instead of destroying the asset that a major label can be to artists, or giving artists unlimited license to lyrically tear down the organization, it seems to me that another asset should be tapped: the Appreciators. More than just fans (even überfans), appreciators are driven by a desire to be productive.

They want to contribute in a big way, but the only way that is apparent is to start a band—to create media. I for one, am an appreciator of music, and toyed with the idea of starting a band several times. However, I soon realized that I would rather get paid to promote the band than to be on stage myself.

Appreciators understand their bands because they are also fans, and so they can much more effectively promote their bands to other potential fans. It is also a two-way street: the appreciators can more effectively communicate business ideas to the bands they are close to. So if a band (or artist) is a small group of developers, then there ought to be a corresponding group of promoters. How these groups interact would be influenced by a larger group of appreciators who would be close enough to give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down.

If major labels incentivize this sort of activity, they can fix the gap of animosity and waste that has been dug between the two sides, and allow the fans to lift the artists they believe in to greatness, while generating a public forum for how to be appreciated. With this information, rookie artists can learn from others' best practices and improve their content until it reaches its highest potential.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mentors and Media

Relationships are more important than media, and more powerful. There is an overwhelming amount of children's media that teaches the virtues of sharing, respecting differences in people, and generally living a fit lifestyle. The Great Ideas and endless practicable information about them are out there. So why are there so many problems?

One way of looking at it says that people simply choose to avoid information that they are uncomfortable with. Through a series of harmless personal choices to watch this or that, read that or the other, or favor entertainment over art, we each form habits or "ruts." These habits of media consumption become habits of mind which narrow the individual's field of understanding.

As I wrote in a recent post, the more the Internet enables access to information, the more that most people settle into these ruts. By giving us not only access to media, but also detailed information about its content, information technology enables us to tailor our media diets to what we feel comfortable with. But education is about new and challenging information, and therefore naturally creates discomfort.

My question is, how do people come to feel uncomfortable about certain ideas in the first place? When we are children, we are learning machines. We are curious about everything. Perhaps it is because everything is unknown and therefore uncomfortable that we seek knowledge in our youth. Once we learn a certain amount, we become comfortable with the illusion that we know enough.

If so, then how does discomfort switch from a driving force to a limiting force? The answer lies in relationships. This process begins with an individual's relationship with his parents which is the standard for all future relationships. The stability and level of encouragement found in an individual's family is then impacted by the influence of other relationships outside the home.

The more the members of the family live lives of integrity and truth, the more encouraging and stable the relationship will be. The stronger the relationship is, the more the individual will seek truth instead of comfort, and the less he will be susceptible to peer pressure and fashionable ideas. Essentially, he will be free from the influence of a great deal of cultural rip tide because he will sacrifice short term comforts to the long term peace provided by stability.

In the absence of strong, principle-based relationships, people turn inward and rely upon themselves. Like ships tossed in a storm with no sight of land, these people necessarily fear to change position, preferring the devil they know to the one they don't. Media content that challenges the correctness of an individual's position demands a change in that position. This feels risky to a person who has no perspective outside himself, and so, this information is avoided.

For a free society to flourish, people of lesser life experience need strong mentor-like relationships. Media alone—even at its most truthful—can be easily twisted, avoided, misunderstood, or ignored at the preference of the individual. Without guidance, more media, and more information about media merely tends to make it easier for a person to live in a world of his own making. And if it's not the truth, that's a problem

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"Scott Pilgrim vs. The World"

DISCLAIMER: This post contains references to events in both the movie and the books. I recommend reading and watching Scott Pilgrim before reading this post. All links are affiliate links. You have been warned.

I recently both read the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels and watched the movie. The similarities are stunning, but the differences seem pointlessly disappointing. Whenever someone tries to adapt a given medium into a movie, the tendency is to start off strong and a lot like the original, but then to take artistic license and totally change it at the end of the movie. I know part of this is shortening the story in order to fit in the new format, but filmmakers tend to use adaptation as a platform for creation.

The question is, is this a good thing or bad thing? On one hand, you're creating a new medium for the fans of the original, but on the other hand, it's a new medium for new fans. To what extent is it fair change the original story to fit a new medium for the sake of gaining new fans? Is it just that the old medium didn't appeal to people who are now becoming fans of the new medium? Some people are just turned off by the concept of graphic novels (i.e.: comic books). Others dislike the time investment of any sort of novel, and are much more inclined to watch a movie which is easier and shorter. Even a graphic novel runs long (Scott Pilgrim in particular fills six books) compared to a movie which generally fits into two hours of screen time.

There are exceptions, of course. This is not to say that Scott Pilgrim is a classic in the same way, but if Peter Jackson had taken that much license with Lord of the Rings, fans of the original would've been appalled. What Tolkien fans were looking for was a visualized version of the amazing world that he created with words. The goal then was to fit Tolkien's vision into a watchable screen format without losing its original spirit. Of course, the books had existed long enough to have enough fans to support a budget that gave the filmmakers enough screen time—4 to 5 hours per film—in order to make this a reality.

Scott Pilgrim, of course, doesn't have nearly the fan base and so the question remains: why change the second half of the story so much from the original? The remarkable thing about this movie is that it so perfectly matches the graphic novel for about the first hour. After that point it starts making respectable cuts of scenes that arguably might have been unnecessary even in the novel. After some creative shuffling of the important plot points in the main body of the movie, the filmmakers made some choices that, I believe, diverged from the original story.

The most tragic thing about the movie is that the filmmakers and entirely missed the point of Nega-Scott. This concept isn't even fully developed in the novels, but even though it was subtle, it seems to me that the author was trying to say how Scott forgot his mistakes because he ran away from his dark side. In either killing or fleeing from his dark side, Scott also avoided absorbing the lessons from the experience. In the novels, Scott's training session with Kim leads him to eventually meld with Nega-Scott to become a whole person, capable of defeating Gideon and fixing his relationship with Ramona. In the movie, however, they seem to make a kind of flippant joke of the character.

All of this is not to say that the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, is not thoroughly enjoyable on its own merit. It just simply does not contain the same depth as the graphic novels.

Is it impossible to maintain the depth while condensing the story into 120 minutes, or is it just REALLY HARD to do? I don't think it's impossible, and if I'm right, then this hard work is where the value is created. Interestingly, this means that it is actually harder (and therefore more artistic) to do a great job of condensing the exact story, than it is to create a new story out of the old one.

A movie with this kind of condensed depth kicks you in chest—and leaves you wanting to know more. If you're truly a new fan, you'll go to the original material for more. There is no point in using an original story to create a disconnected movie that is easier to swallow than the original. Condensed means potent. If you want to create art, never fear scaring away those that can't handle it.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Holiday/Commercial Extravaganza

Around the holidays, a favorite moralism is that "it's not about the getting, it's about the giving." However, there is an insidious lie hidden even in this statement—not to sound paranoid. It is true to say that a focus on getting is a focus on self, and is therefore selfish or at least self-centered. The idea that giving is more in keeping with the spirit of the season is also accurate, though it is only half-true.

stuffnoonetoldme.blogspot.com
The giving of material things is an important link in the Holiday/Commercial Extravaganza. The "need" to give material things compels the purchase of material things. Unfortunately, this both requires and perpetuates the desire to get material things. Regardless of what media might try to tell us in the above mentioned adage, the reality of the situation is that if no one wanted to "get" there would be no reason to buy in order to "give."

The mass media/marketing continuum—as always—would have you believe that the simple movement of material goods not only constitutes genuine giving in-and-of itself but also strengthens the economy. Again, this is accurate, but only half-true. The spread of empty products neither constitutes genuine giving nor strengthens the economy. The majority of gift purchases are of consumer goods—especially consumer electronics, which have no lasting value.

To buy something that rapidly decreases in value and use it merely for recreational purposes is to purchase a hole in your wallet. To give the same thing to another person for the same reason is to give a hole in the wallet. Once you have something that breaks or becomes obsolete, you are compelled to replace it. It's funny what we can live without until someone gives it to us. Marketers know this, and most people know this. For that reason media has the job of making us feel alright about it. "Are you a Scrooge?"

With the difficult economic conditions we face today, preserving this bubble is becoming a more and more delicate task. On one end of the spectrum, they prop up your belief by selling you on the idea that giving stuff is a great reason to buy stuff. On the other end, they continuously decrease the lasting value of the stuff, so as to create the desire to buy more stuff. "No I'm not a Scrooge, because I have a heart."

The real secret of the Holidays is that its not about getting or giving. It's about loving! Give a person all the diamonds in the world, it doesn't guarantee you love her. Give her your presence, your kindness, your best smile... That's magic! And the same is true in all relationships—from employee/employer to family to lovers.

So the real gift is love. It can be demonstrated by the giving of material goods. It can be shown in a mere handmade card. It can be seen in your eyes, or it can be viewed when you uncover someone's eyes. Just remember this season to really think about the person you're giving to. If they know you love them, that might be only gift they need.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Groupthink in the Internet Age

"No matter how hard people tried to interact only with like thinkers, no matter how hard they worked to keep their children free from diverse views, neighbors nearly always ruined this Utopian scheme." -Oliver DeMille

One would think that in the age of the internet, where avenues for connection and communication are increasing almost daily, that the rough edges of human nature would be quickly spun smooth by deeper understanding among the populace. If there is anything one desires to know, it is written down somewhere on the internet. There are millions of blogs which cover anything a person might be interested in, and numerous mainstream social networking sites through which to find the perfect match.

Unfortunately, the ability to access limitless information does not guarantee that limitless information will be accessed. So, in fact, the opposite of what one might suppose to be true in theory, is actually true in reality. The problem is fear of change, resulting in an aversion to contrary information, stemming from an unwillingness to change oneself. When nothing changes, the illusions of stability and security is easier to believe. It is comforting to be in equilibrium, so we naturally desire to remain blissfully ignorant of information contrary to our perceived balance.

Therefore, given a library of limitless information, most people will automatically seek out information that is in accordance with what they already believe, and reject or avoid information that is contrary to their beliefs. The internet also makes this process very convenient. In the interest of speeding information to the individual on the "information superhighway" numerous strategies for previewing or filtering possible information exist. The result is that instead of a blending effect on public awareness, deep divisions are created as groups master the ability to draw new readers, viewers, players, etc.

Without real interaction, virtual interaction gives a person a "safe" way to avoid all deeper understanding. It is impossible to confront someone online. Prior to this virtual world, people physically lived together in communities. Simple fact, I know. Consider the implications of this, though. The actions or decisions we made in our lives had to take in to account our neighbors. If some charlatan tried to pass off a scam on the community, it was likely that someone who's proven himself more trustworthy would call him out. In the virtual world, however, the charlatan can effectively exclude those "naysayers" from the group altogether.

So without self-mastery or self-leadership, the individual tends to get sucked into groupthink. A charismatic leader who knows his beliefs well, can easily lead a herd to the slaughter. With self-mastery, however, the discovery of new information requires a decision to accept or reject based upon the level of truth contained therein—rather than on a momentary feeling. In order to avoid being "swept away", someone seeking self-mastery would proactively seek out challenging new information in order to make a rational decision before it is presented with emotional fervor.

Like many things worth doing, people still need a self-interested reason to do them. No one becomes passionate about challenging information overnight. The question is: what is on the other side of confusion for you? What would your life be like if you were enlightened?

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Gap

Can you imagine if FITmedia as a company were to buy the license to show certain TV shows and movies at exclusive watching parties? The shows and movies would of course be advertising free. The advertising to pay for the event would then come from the distribution of promotional, trial, coupon type deals that each affiliate would bring in their own right—either because they own a business which they are promoting, or because they have found one they can get paid to promote.

When advertising is mass marketed through static media, there is a gap created between seller and buyer; between the creators of value and the appreciators of that value. Because of this gap, even products which a person might want are perceived as being forced upon them by someone who cares little for him as an individual. We would create an environment where friends give friends a good deal on stuff they actually want or need.

If we can organize events around networking and relationships, and distribute media content that promotes conversation and teaches about relationships, the companies that approach us to give us promotional material, commercial trials, etc., will necessarily be the kind of companies we actually want to work with. These companies will be interested in relationships as well and would promote further refinement of our media content's principle-based message.

The gap created by mass advertising between businesses and people tends to promote a blurring of the hard lines of natural law in the name of diversity. Instead of seeking to base stories and build product campaigns upon the bedrock of human nature (which all people and peoples have in common), they skimp on the difficult work of identifying and standing by these principles. They prefer to spin tenuous connections between superficial facets of everyday life, then promote the false dogma with stories which make it appear true.

Technology companies always think it's a great idea to use technology to make marketing less cumbersome (for them) by grabbing little snippets of information about people, connecting it with some sort of ad, and shooting it over to them without involving any actual human emotion. Unfortunately, that just seems creepy.

I just heard that Microsoft apparently thinks it's a good idea to use the new Kinect to take a snapshot of a person playing a game, look for anything around them that suggests some sort of product that they might want to buy, and then uses that information to tailor ads to them. Now I'm all for using technology to tailor ads to people to better deliver them information about products and services that they actually want to buy. How else are you going to know about products unless someone delivers you the information about where to get them?

However, technology companies seem to think that just because the piece of information can be delivered over a long distance to a lot of people that that is the best way to deliver the information. Like robots, they seem not to have any comprehension of how important relationships and the emotions of relationships are. Basically, they don't realize that every business is a people business.

Basically, customers are cynical that any companies actually care about them. In the age of information, what we need is not more information, but information delivered with a personal touch—and a lasting relationship. Who do you watch TV with?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Cheating on Your Project

To achieve success at anything, focus is an absolute must. If you're an artist or an entrepreneur with a great idea, chances are you tend to discover and/or attract other great ideas. This is a double-edged sword.

On one hand, you know you will never run out of ideas. This gives you the unshakeable belief that you will eventually succeed with enough effort. Never do you fear an idea that fails, because there is always another path to be taken.

On the other hand, every great project has points when it seems hopeless. Having an unlimited reserve of good ideas (and even great ideas) makes it very easy to justify cheating on your project. You know the one you swore on your life would take you to the top?

Did you mean it when you thought it? Is it really over? Is there no salvaging it? Yeah, your project is not only your brainchild, it's also your husband/wife!

First you have to court it to learn if it's right for you. Fall in love with it for sure, but also learn everything you can about it. Don't get seduced. Second, armed with passion and understanding set the commitment in stone to finish what you started!

Eventually, you will be able to see the boundaries. Then you can have intimate friends on the side. Never mix up the natures of your respective relationships (in either case). Until you see the boundaries, you need to keep friends (and intake other projects) that themselves understand, respect, and enforce those boundaries which you cannot see.

In relationships, as with projects, success does not come from hopping from one to another at the first sign of trouble. It comes from putting all your eggs in a basket you understand and love, then guarding the basket with your life. No matter the problems.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

November '10: The Month in Posts

This was a difficult month for me. A recent move left me without internet for more than two weeks! I subsequently (and shamefully) got out of the habit of writing for this blog. Fortunately, other projects are in the works which did get more of my attention during this lapse in blogging. This may actually be a blessing in disguise. Forced to take leave from my duties here, I was given a much needed break from what might have become a habitual grind. Of course, this could also be a problem (see subsequent post).

Anyway, here the the highlights from what was posted.

"Hoarders" - November 5, 2010
I recently emptied out a storage unit after two years. That's two years, during which I made maybe three trips there to get something out. So the point is, it probably could have burned down, and I would have been no worse for the wear. There are infinite, good excuses for keeping the stuff: some clothes for charity, which never quite made it there; a couple shelving units, which could come in handy; old baby stuff... oh, the memories! (read more)

Television Revolution, part 1 - November 11, 2010
The very businesses which were responsible for the financial futures of millions, rushed to get their products marketed to the masses via television commercials. This heavy reliance on sponsors shaped the content of the television medium, pushing it gradually into a mechanism that attracted (even developed) the perfect audience. Not only did it applaud the company man when it talked about work, but it applauded the consumer when it talked about play. (read more)

The Last Choice - November 26, 2010
There are times in every person's life when he or she is presented with a choice that amounts to a life-changing decision. There are many more times, when a person faces the little decisions that either expand his choices or narrow them into the big ones. There is, however, only one time when a person chooses never to make another choice. (read more)

Apathy and Complacency - November 29, 2010
Whenever a conversation turns onto the subject of the world's problems, the favorite cause is nearly always how selfish and greedy people are today. This is merely an unthinking stock answer with which few would ever consciously disagree. Certainly, greed is a problem in the world, but to assume that it is the problem shows a lack of understanding of mankind. (read more)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Apathy and Complacency

Whenever a conversation turns onto the subject of the world's problems, the favorite cause is nearly always how selfish and greedy people are today. This is merely an unthinking stock answer with which few would ever consciously disagree. Certainly, greed is a problem in the world, but to assume that it is the problem shows a lack of understanding of mankind.

Truly problematic selfishness and greed revolve around the will to hurt others for one's own gain. However, like what we might call "pure evil", it is rare among humans, who—in my understanding—are as incapable of pure evil as they are of perfect goodness. The widely publicized pirates, smugglers, and con men net relatively few "benjamins" when compared to the ocean of dollars lost to apathy and complacency.

With so many opportunities to connect, collaborate, and create, the twin sirens of apathy and complacency are the real cause of many problems. Apathy is a lack of enthusiasm or concern, and stems from the root of selfishness. However, unlike greed, which still maintains a sense of enthusiasm for personal gain, apathy lacks mobility. It then blossoms into complacency, which is a smug sense of personal accomplishment—I have enough, I'm satisfied.

It is no wonder that thinkers like Ayn Rand profess the virtues of selfishness. Compared to the shrinking prosperity caused by the lack of ambition in a populace, the mobile force of selfishness and even greed can be shown to create an upward spiral. Unfortunately, it is one based upon hostility and animosity, and is therefore plagued with cancerous relationships.

A person operating from a standpoint of selfishness tends to become frustrated by a lack of support which stems from the attitude inherent to selfishness. It is difficult to win honest support for what appears to be a selfish cause, and so these selfishly ambitious people face a choice to give up (become apathetic and complacent) or just manipulate people into going along with them (greed).

Not that I lay the blame solely on the people, but if we were neither apathetic nor complacent, there would be no motivator for the selfishly ambitious to cross the line into greed. I can't discount the existence of people who are malicious of their own accord, but most people tend toward what is easier and so resort to harming people only when no gentler opportunity presents itself. The goal is not to be greedy, the goal is to have things. In the absence of apathy, everyone would climb as high as they could, create millions of jobs, and smash all the world's problems with innovative solutions and teamwork.

The trouble is that a great many of us have been taught by school, the media, and peer culture that to be ambitious is always a sign of greed. Therefore, decent people are compelled to give up their ambitions in order to maintain their honest natures in the eyes of the world. This is a waste. Most people, if they really search their hearts, would have to admit that they have big dreams they'd like to bring to reality. These people would likely be enthusiastic about bringing a host of friends along for the ride.

If everyone could just get enthused about helping everyone else succeed, we'd all avoid greed and turn the economy around in a heart beat. But it seems a warm heart is missing.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Last Choice

There are times in every person's life when he or she is presented with a choice that amounts to a life-changing decision. There are many more times, when a person faces the little decisions that either expand his choices or narrow them into the big ones. There is, however, only one time when a person chooses never to make another choice.

This can come at any time. It can come early in life, or it can come late. I believe that it begins very early, but that the capriciousness of youth refuses to commit to the "last choice." However, life wears on us. Our responsibilities wear on us. What others expect from us and what culture imposes on us take a cumulative toll, and eventually, we become susceptible to the allure of giving up our independence.

There are three paths that can be taken here, though the third is tremendously hard for the individual to see, and even harder to explain to another. The first—and easiest—is to simply make the last choice. That is, to give in to all that is demanded of you without personally prioritizing, planning, and sacrificing. The second is to run from the choice and to do—as nearly as you can—the exact opposite of what is demanded of you. This, again, is done largely without any personal prioritizing, planning, or sacrificing because it is merely a negative reaction which is dependent on the same demands. It is not true independence.

The reason that I say the third path is hard too see and explain is that it entails a personalized mixture of these two previous paths. It is neither conformity nor non-conformity. It is also not "individualism" which I once would have called it because that word excludes all notions of teamwork, which is often necessary. The third path is simply the will to keep making choices and the desire to make the right ones, dependent only upon one's own well-defined (and continuously refined) vision of his ideal life.

It is a lot of work being present for your own life. However, if you want to have any amount of real peace and happiness, being proactive is essential. At first, it may seem like you are fighting battles left and right just to stay on the path. It may seem that you are giving up a great many opportunities for fun and pleasure. Actually, you are—at first.

However, anyone who has made the choice to keep making choices will tell you that the minor skirmishes and amusing diversions—as they become—shrink in comparison to the great things in life that can only be achieved by staying on your personalized "straight and narrow." Certainly you will need a mentor (or many) to keep you on that path. You will need to intake the right information and ever broaden your perspective. You will need to be able to let go of the past and endeavor to continuously improve. And you will have to think for yourself. It is worth it. So make THAT your last choice.

Ignorance, Confusion, Enlightenment

[Reposted from ctif.blogspot.com]

A story is a process, whether we're talking about the story of our lives or the story of our characters' lives. We begin with a simplistic view. We are ignorant of anything outside our perspective. As we accumulate knowledge and experiences, our eyes are opened to the complexity of the world. Complexity leads to confusion because we don't yet possess the wisdom to understand the connections between the tangible elements of our story. As we gain wisdom, the complexity becomes simplified again and we become enlightened.

If you think about it, this arc applies to everything wherein learning is involved. Ignorance is not knowing. Not only do we not know the details of life, but we don't always know there are details to be known. As the saying goes, "You don't know what you don't know." Our perspective on life is determined by our personal experiences, what's called our "field of experience." The less we learn about the rest of the world, the more we rely upon the assumption that the rest of the world is like us. What would cause us to think otherwise?

As we associate with other people and learn about them, our perspective widens to encompass the new information. The faster we learn knowledge, the more confused we can become. Our brains begin to fill with what appears to be separate, if not random pieces of information. This process is difficult, even painful, because it expands our mental capacity. This is why many choose to remain ignorant. As they say, "Ignorance is bliss." But clearly, ignorance only limits our freedom. Without a adequate view of the elements of our story (again, be it life or fiction) we cannot hope to take command of our circumstances.

Like the water lily, these "pads" of information seem separate, but are actually connected. The process of deciphering the randomness of life gives us wisdom. As we begin to understand connections between separate areas of life, we find that our story once again becomes simplified. However, this time our perspective is one of truth and unity rather than self-centered autonomy. We understand that freedom must respect boundaries, and that we live in a world with other individuals.

Rather than blunder through life selfishly, we must think our way through life selfLESSly. In this way, we become enlightened enough to see the big picture, and understand the benefits of fitting ourselves into society on purpose.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

TV Revolution, part 1

Television as we know it is going to change. Indeed, the revolution has already begun. There is no longer any need to be trapped within the confines of a broadcaster's schedule, which is, by the diverse nature of its audience, imperfect and inapplicable to many people. The current scheduling and even business model of television was developed for a society of people who worked 9-5, made a moderate income, had a degree of disposable income and free time which could be used to recreate without compromising their financial futures.

The very businesses which were responsible for the financial futures of millions, rushed to get their products marketed to the masses via television commercials. This heavy reliance on sponsors shaped the content of the television medium, pushing it gradually into a mechanism that attracted (even developed) the perfect audience. Not only did it applaud the company man when it talked about work, but it applauded the consumer when it talked about play.

Furthermore, television programming was (necessarily) scheduled in harmony with the schedules of the middle class worker. In other words, "prime time" presented the highest quality shows on television because prime time sold the most advertising. It was marketed to the people who had the most disposable income, and was designed to educate them in more exciting ways of disposing of their income. So television had the cumulative effect of destroying initiative and productivity.

Television, as a mainstream medium, does very little to cater to artists and entrepreneurs, many of whom end up "selling out" to the status quo it represents. Both settle for creating what is saleable in this market, rather than finding the market that wants what they create. Part of this is that mainstream media propagates hostility to anything radically new or different, making the process of winning people to one's views not worth the effort. The other part is a genuine lack of direction in such an environment.

As I understand the terms, by definition, an artist or entrepreneur must have a groundbreaking idea. The television business is based upon years, even decades, of carefully tracked ratings and marketing data, which have informed the refinement of the medium from its inception. To change anything is to make this mountain of data irrelevant, and so the one place that seems most likely to spread a groundbreaking idea, is the one place where it is not welcome.

Unfortunately for artists and entrepreneurs, television and other mainstream media has been very successful in establishing the way things are. Many people don't know where else to look and what other sources to trust for their understanding of the world, so they default to the opinions that are most pervasive. Therefore, this hostility is not limited to the media businesses themselves, but has planted seeds of skepticism in every person one might approach directly.

Friday, November 5, 2010

"Hoarders"

There is a show on A&E called "Hoarders," and I highly recommend watching at least of a couple episodes. It is similar to "Intervention" which is a surprisingly compassionate "reality show" about severe drug and alcohol abuse cases, which tells the addicts' stories, then provides an intervention to get them help. "Hoarders" follows a similar format, but focuses on a condition called "compulsive hoarding."

This condition could not be more literally named. In severe cases, its victims hoard so much stuff in their homes, storage areas, and even yards, that the mess becomes a very real hazard. Not only does it make most of the house inaccessible and unsightly to guests, but it poses a tripping hazard (especially on stairs), a fire hazard, and invites vermin which can easily hide in the mess.

Again, watch for yourself to get an extended understanding of the problems it poses. What interested me (and fits within the theme of this blog), is how common mild cases of hoarding are. Substance abuse can be a foreign concept for anyone who isn't an addict, but so many people in modern consumerist culture are addicted to stuff. I believe most of us (especially when we feel strapped for cash) tend to hold on to the most irrational stuff.

I recently emptied out a storage unit after two years. That's two years, during which I made maybe three trips there to get something out. So the point is, it probably could have burned down, and I would have been no worse for the wear. There are infinite, good excuses for keeping the stuff: some clothes for charity, which never quite made it there; a couple shelving units, which could come in handy; old baby stuff... oh, the memories!

Ultimately, I donated, recycled, and trashed about 90% of what I was paying to store. No, my case isn't severe. Yes, I could afford the payments. That's not the point. The point is, I accumulated stuff I didn't need which put a dent in my resources (including the time it took to unload and sort it all). It's a waste. Why do we do that?

There are two prominent reasons for hoarding, as I see it. The first is that the hoarder has an emotional attachment to the items. We all have mementos that would appear to be junk to anyone else. Every meaningful relationship or event leaves some physical trace. The problem comes when we need to hold on to so many of these, that their presence gets in the way of new memories.

The second is that the person has a scarcity mentality. Aside from the memories attached to these items, the hoarder connects an exaggerated value to each. "It might come in handy!" is an example of this. The question one ought to ask himself is this: "Do I suppose that this item will become useful enough, soon enough, to warrant my storing it?" This is especially true for large items and/or those that will degrade with time (i.e.: shelving units or cars). For smaller items, I'd add the question: "Will I be able to find this when the time comes that I need it?"

In America, anyway, most of the time, its easier to just go buy whatever you need when you need it—even a cheap used item is as close as the internet. Indeed, this is what we do, despite already having the item we need packed away somewhere. That's not to say you shouldn't accumulate assets—items that increase in value, if not usefulness with time. The point here is to learn to tell the difference before you put it into storage.

Mainstream media caters necessarily to the masses, and is sponsored by consumer products. This apparatus of the machine has a vested interest in spreading the general belief that buying stuff creates happiness. As soon as a product goes out the door (of the factory, the big box store, etc.), its company no longer feels responsible for where it ends up. Media creates sadness, so that marketing can sell happiness—that's the bottom line.

The troublesome thing is, this is not inaccurate. You do feel good when you buy stuff, hence the addiction. Like substance abuse, this belief creates baggage—literally. With such an emphasis on buying what ultimately ends up as trash, is it any wonder that some people try to squeeze every last ounce of value out of each item? Any wonder that cars sit on blocks, waiting to be repaired? Any wonder diet books and exercise equipment stack floor to ceiling, awaiting the "right time"?

It doesn't surprise me that once we buy what we don't need, and store it until it can be used or discarded properly, that we wouldn't do the same with everything that comes into the mess. Bills we mean to pay, get lost. Trash we mean to recycle, gets buried. The mantra is "buy, buy, buy, hurry, hurry, hurry!" until our living space is as cluttered and disorganized as our minds.

STOP! Take a deep breath. Get the mess off your mind, by getting it out of your house and your life. By all means, keep the memories—just lose the mementos.

Monday, November 1, 2010

October '10: The Month in Posts

As I find myself dealing with deeper issues of humanity, I think it is important to remind my readers of the role that media plays in creating and perpetuating these issues—this being a media-related blog. A lot of this months posts have dealt with personal motivations, especially where people have been duped into ignoring these motivations. Ultimately, media influences the way we think, and the solution is not as about avoiding any wrong information as it is learning to identify when something is wrong. To avoid wrong information entirely is to kill our ability to identify it—and to fall prey to it, ultimately.

How Much Change is Enough? - October 9, 2010
This is not as clear cut or universal with regards to person change. Change, in both senses, merely indicates a difference between one thing and another. In the grocery store, your change is the difference between what you owed and what you gave (a $20 bill, say). In life, your change is the difference between who you are now, and who you become through education and experience. (read more)
Winning, Losing, or Not Playing - October 13, 2010
Strangely, many performance leaders who teach win-win principles still tend to speak in sports analogies, which are always win-lose. By necessity, one team must win and one team must lose. Even a discussion of self-mastery in the individual as a key to team victory goes by way of one team winning and one team losing. (read more)
Autopilot - October 25, 2010
Have you ever arrived at work quite unaware of the journey from home? Your alarm goes off, and the next thing you know, you're punching in. You don't remember your breakfast, that drive through traffic, that train ride, etc. What is happening around us as we jostle our ways to press #9 in the great factory of our mechanical society? (read more)
On Shyness - October 27, 2010
Simply put, a shy person fears he will be worse off in some way as the result of an interaction with another person. Shyness is a symptom more commonly ascribed to introverts than to extroverts. However, withdrawal from social events is a part of the introvert's natural disposition, and they have build up their strengths around this fact. To be shy and an extrovert is a more serious problem. When they possess the fear that interactions will harm them, their very nature causes them pain. (read more)
Two Minutes Hate - October 27, 2010
No one hates people. They only hate ideas. In order to hate other people, a person must first dehumanize them in his mind. By turning them into something quite apart from (and especially beneath) himself, he regards himself as free to treat them as something other than a person—a demon or an animal, for instance. (read more)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Two Minutes Hate

No one hates people. They only hate ideas. In order to hate other people, a person must first dehumanize them in his mind. By turning them into something quite apart from (and especially beneath) himself, he regards himself as free to treat them as something other than a person—a demon or an animal, for instance.

In perhaps the most famous scene in 1984, George Orwell describes the "Two Minutes Hate." This odious piece of propaganda is specifically crafted to whip the crowd of Party Members into a mindless, furious lather. It depicts the anti-Party icon, Emmanuel Goldstein, spouting ideologies that run contrary to what the Party Members have been told to believe.

While the "hero" of the story, Winston Smith, secretly harbors a hatred against the Party, even he cannot deviate from the frenzy of the mob around him. Intense images of the massacre of Oceana's enemies in Eastasia (Oceana had always been at war with Eastasia), provoke peals of laughter and applause from the crowd. The image of advancing enemy soldiers elicit cries of hatred. The enormous face of Goldstein (the ultimate heretic) is even described as morphing into the face of a sheep.

Despite the absurd exaggeration of this scene, Orwell hits the nail on head in spirit. The periodic "Hate" is a reminder of the inhumanity and heresy of their enemies. The strength of the Party Members' hatred of people's they have mostly never met, keeps them loyal to (or at least under the influence of) the Party in Oceana. As long as the Party can maintain irrational hatred and fear, they maintain power over every aspect of the citizens' lives.

The reality of present culture is much less obvious, even to the purveyors of today's "Two Minutes Hate" (AKA: political pundits). Regardless of the name of the party they support, these pundits engage in not-so-subtle slander of their ideological opponents that bears a striking resemblance to the "Hate." The primary protocol is to dehumanize and even demonize their opponents. Upon this foundation of filth, they build themselves a reputation as political idols.

The difficulty with the real version of the "Hate" is that it is not as obviously false or objectionable as Orwell's version. In a recent article at the Center for Social Leadership, blogger Dave Wilson sums it up this way: "[Pundits] use accurate half-truths to demonize 'the others' and make them seem less than human so that they can justify hating them."

These "half-truths" are based upon the primary lie that all their opponents, without exception, are wrong and evil. From the starting point of believing in this lie, fans necessarily see the pundit's opinion as truth. Every thing he says is based upon what his fans have chosen to believe. Their mutual hatred for their ideological opponents keeps them from straying from the "straight and narrow." They each fear the other will suspect them of doubting the faith.

But speaking in terms of legitimate religion, what a pundit says cannot fall outside what is technically accurate in reality, or the whole edifice will be shaken. When the fans begin to believe unrealistic lies, the pundit becomes a cult leader. And while most people can fall into irrational partisanship, most won't cross this line. People want to be ethical, and therefore want their spokesperson to be an ethical person as well. They want an easy truth, but they don't want fantasy.

The trouble is, there is no easy truth. The real truth is always more difficult to live by than the accurate half-truths of an extreme position. It takes more energy to spin a top than to let it settle to one side or another. The scary thing is that we have to decide for ourselves (yes, each of us!) what the truth is. There is only one truth, but we all arrive at it from different starting points.

Hatred builds a wall between you and a vast source of perspective on the truth.

On Shyness

In following with my recent track of thought about introverts and extroverts, I was thinking about the concept of "shyness." When applied to human interactions, shyness is a manifestation of fear. Someone who is shy dislikes company as the result of some injury. This can be a real or imagined injury; a physical, mental, or spiritual pain; either having occurred in the past or believed fated to happen in the future. Simply put, the shy person fears he will be worse for the interaction.

This is a symptom commonly ascribed more to introverts than to extroverts. Being naturally opposed to outgoing interactions, large groups, and dynamic conversation, this is understandable. Introverts do tend to exhibit symptoms like shyness. They even commonly possess fear of injury from human interactions. So they are therefore more shy than extroverts—it is fair to say.

However, a tendency to withdraw from social events is a part of the introvert's natural disposition. It is their personal preference, and they have build up their strengths around this fact. An introvert's skill at composing a piece of music or writing a book, or even of capturing a character on screen is a direct result of their natural ability to be the proverbial "fly on the wall." What they cannot contribute to a conversation, they put down with eloquence on the page.

So to be shy is only a minor problem for an introvert. It is a fear that is almost not worth addressing, and certainly not worth beating out of them in the name of "productivity." Indeed, an introvert who is shy does not appear greatly different from an introvert who is not shy. The difference is only perceptible in their level of confidence. An unshy introvert is not afraid to ask questions for the sake of understanding, and they often enjoy a lengthy explanation.

To be shy and an extrovert is a vastly more serious problem. An extrovert's natural disposition is to talk, share, and try to involve others. When they possess the fear that interactions will harm them, their very nature causes them pain. Imagine you are a professional downhill skier, who just witnessed someone's severe injury on the slopes. You still have a passion for skiing, but now you have fear of injury. If you allow the fear to stop you, you will never achieve your full potential at your sport.

An extrovert's life is defined by social interaction. Without the ability to interact, they lack access to the source of their passions and purpose. In a way, they are cut off from their spirits. Having given in to the fear, they become like the walking dead, and simply follow orders—eagerly, but heavy-hearted.

These people possess the natural skills to be the movers and shakers. They are the ones to open doors for others. While introverts can side-step their shyness and still follow their purpose, extroverts must rush headlong through their shyness to reach their purpose. Introverts are able to express the plight of their shyness, and even to offer solutions, and ultimately this expression becomes their dream and fulfills their purpose. Extroverts who are shy can intake these expressions, and actually put the advice to good use—their dreams demand it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Autopilot

Have you ever arrived at work quite unaware of the journey from home? Your alarm goes off, and the next thing you know, you're punching in. You don't remember your breakfast, that drive through traffic, that train ride, etc. What is happening around us as we jostle our ways to press #9 in the great factory of our mechanical society?

This sensation is commonly compared to an autopilot system, by which airplanes guide themselves toward the destination without the help of a human pilot. The autopilot handles the minor course corrections which would be extremely tedious for a full-time pilot. In this way, the driver of an automobile has an internal autopilot that shields him from the tedium of habitual actions. The human autopilot tends to take over any action that is repeated on a regular basis.

This is a desirable tendency for factory owners to exploit. If they can manage to set the habit in the first place, their need to enforce the habit decreases as time wears on. It becomes virtually impossible for a person to break this sort of habit, because they are unconscious of the experience itself. This is as true of workers in the factory as it is of customers who ultimately buy the goods produced by the factory.

This is especially true when the mind's consciousness is demanded by numerous urgent matters—the flashing lights and alarms of modern society. In fact, many of these things are designed to do just that! When politicians make a big deal out of an arguably small problem, they aren't simply being foolish. They are using slight of hand. As long as the people focus on today's most urgent issue, the politicians are free to manipulate to their advantage the more long-term, important issues without destroying voter loyalty.

The more the masses (both lower and middle classes) are on an upper class autopilot, the more predictable their behavior is to the human resource and mainstream marketing industries. In other words, the more they become like clockwork in a production machine. As this state of things increases, the owners of this production machine mentally dehumanize the "cogs." Once the cogs lose all humanity in the eyes of the ruling class, they can be subject to inhumane amounts of tyranny without the slightest sympathy from their oppressors.

The solution to this problem is prevention. This is redundant once the autopilot has been firmly set. However, no regime has ever or will ever create a perfect system of oppression in this way. Always the human heart will rebel against this, opening doors of perception just as the oppression seems to be complete. Tiny "flaws" such as this tend to spread discontent which eventually erupts upon the smallest setback.

What is the most memorable thing about your drive to work? Was it that guy that ran the red light? Or was it that surprise act of good will? Certainly we'd rather have the latter, but in either case we are brought out of autopilot by the unusual—by something the system couldn't handle.

Meditate on those things that cannot be mechanized. Find them in the world around you, put them into your daily actions. Help others to notice them. Break the autopilot's cycle.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Classes

There are three classes to our society: lower, middle, and upper. The lower class is comprised of individuals who earn their living with their hands. The middle class is made up of those who earn their living with their brains. The upper class differs from these two in that they don't "earn" their living at all—they "make" their living.

The upper class is comprised of builders in the general sense. They collectively compose and execute the major changes in civilization. Their wealth is not in bank accounts, but in assets they have built. Sometimes they fund their own ventures, and sometimes they partner with investors, but their aim is to produce value.

The middle class came out of industrialization—particularly the advent of the assembly line, which needed not only laborers but also specialists and managers to oversee the operations. They work for the owners or operate a "small" business which is an extension of their individual skill and expertise.

The lower class are also ultimately the consumers of everything produced by society. Since their work does not extend beyond their physical abilities, they rarely create value greater that what they consume. They work for the owners, and also work under the managers. By definition, they create nothing and merely operate in a reactionary mode—following orders. If they ever become proactive, they cease to be lower class.

In the early days, the middle class was not far behind the upper class. However, this may have had less to do with the height of the upper middle class and more with underdevelopment of the upper class's assets. As industrialization matured and organizations grew larger, the divide between the middle and upper became more apparent.

The system is such that the middle class's value creating ability is limited to what they personally can do. In the beginning, it would have seemed like a better deal to work a middle class job for what was a very good salary, and leave the change-making and ownership responsibilities to those who would have made barely any more for their efforts.

However, because the middle class is dependent upon the application of their personal skills, they are limited in income by the amount of time they have to ply their trade. By contrast, since the owners' wealth is not dependent upon an application of their skills—except what's needed to induce growth—the sky is the limit. As long as they increase the value of their brand, company, or organization, they increase their net-worth.

So the only thing stopping the lower classes from performing the effort to attain higher class status, is information. Proper education from the right sources—particularly, sources demonstrating the results you want in life—is then essential to rising above economic despair.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Humility and Pride

Humility and pride are connected, though not necessarily as opposites, as one might suppose. Humility is about putting others before yourself. According to the Christian worldview, this is one of the highest virtues. However, for many in today's competitive world of work, humility is seen as a weakness. Instead, pride (or even arrogance) is seen as one of the highest virtues.

In essence, pride is nothing more than the confidence which comes from a satisfaction in one's own accomplishments. Arrogance, by contrast, lacks the genuine accomplishment that is behind this good sort of pride. When pride is warranted, but is allowed to speak for itself, this demonstrates humility. So it is possible to be both proud and humble in this sense.

Furthermore, when the development of humility is treated as a goal in itself, it is possible to be proud of your humility. This is a potential stumbling block. It is one thing to be proud of your humility with the understanding that your humble nature will make a difference, and quite another to be proud of such an accomplishment for its own sake.

To know it will make a difference, is to use it as a stepping stone to the real work. To treat it as an end with no further goal, is solely to bolster one's own ego. To be perfect for perfect's sake is to have an excuse for never daring to fail. It is easy to be humble when one has no accomplishments.

Unfortunately for the soul which tries to live life to this purpose, "no accomplishments" becomes an accomplishment. It is an accomplishment that benefits no one on Earth. It is neither applauded nor recognized—even condemnation would be a recognition. The inevitable pride that comes from this accomplishment is therefore bittersweet, leaving the soul restless and frustrated.

To what purpose are you humble? Of what are you proud? What mark do you hope to leave on the universe?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Simple Yet Profound

Simple stories are for simpletons. Complex stories are for brainiacs. Both these groups are made up of individuals who have stopped learning. Simpletons—by which I mean the ignorant, rather than the mentally retarded—have a lid on their learning. "Brainiacs"—for lack of a better term—have a sort of floor on their learning. Both groups are kept within their respective circles by gravitating to greater personal preference and mental comfort.

Even those stories that are meant primarily as entertainment, necessarily inform our understanding of the world. When we partake of fictional stories, we gravitate to what we already believe, so nothing new can be learned. The trouble with such a trend is twofold. For one, it leaves a group in the middle feeling lost. For two, it destroys the ability of all three groups to understand the world and solve its problems.

Each group clings to their ideology, wishing it were possible to obliterate the ideology of the other group—or worse, existing in complete ignorance of any ideology but its own. Any refinement of expression is only a refinement of the ideology, which for the reasons I have already mentioned is not the unbiased truth.

When media creators seek to generate profitable content, they tend to serve one group or the other. This makes good business sense, and assuming they don't intend harm, is merely a response to market demand. To be a media leader, however, a creator must be more proactive.

It is a fair approach to first master an understanding of either group (and eventually both) in order to provide them what they want. This is an "easy" way to earn revenue. With this revenue, an aspiring media leader can fund the rest of his career. A surplus of funds is vital to sustaining the "anti-gravity" needed to capture an unbiased view.

In order to rise to the top of the storytelling industry, it is necessary to dig into the depths of the human condition. The consumption of "ideology-approved" stories by one or both groups will never generate the lasting impressions that truth will. Therefore, to become a leader it is further necessary to lead and strike a balance between these two groups—to be simple, yet profound.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Winning, Losing, or Not Playing

In success-oriented media, there is a lot of talk of winning and losing. I agree that organizational systems should seek to be "win-win" as opposed to "win-lose". In a win-win structure, there is some form of transaction whereupon two sides agree to a mutual exchange of value. In a win-lose structure, the goal is to use some form of force or exploitation (however subtle) to "get the better" of the other side.

Strangely, many performance leaders who teach win-win principles still tend to speak in sports analogies, which are always win-lose. By necessity, one team must win and one team must lose. Even a discussion of self-mastery in the individual as a key to team victory goes by way of one team winning and one team losing.

But how can both teams win? They can't. It is an artificial system of scarcity (there being only one trophy) which is designed to force a display of performance. It neither promotes nor rewards the different ways in which the teams are valuable, it merely applauds the victor. This may be fine for performers, but it is damaging to the psyche of creators.

All this success talk using the words "winners" and "losers" implies that to succeed is to play a game well. This is not the case.

To succeed as a creator, one must master his ability to learn about the world, then subsequently compose an expression of its truths. He cannot lose so long as he does not abandon the learning process. He cannot win, because he is not playing a game. His success cannot be called a "win" any more than exploring a jungle and drafting a map can be called such.

His art is a valuable artifact, measured in quality by a group of people who seek its usefulness. A different group may value a different map—say a topographical rather than geographical one—and would therefore require the efforts of a different creator. These two creators are not in competition, they are not playing. They are merely offering a composition of a truthful perspective to those who seek it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

You Have to Not Have to to Want to

This is an intentially confusing title, so that you have to think about it. Or rather, so that you want to think about it. Reading this blog is a voluntary act, after all. Are you picking up what I'm throwing down?

In this book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink explains how incentives to perform—"carrot and stick" rewards—tend to destroy productivity. While these incentives work well for mechanical tasks, they actually reduce the quality of performance for more cognitive tasks. Actually, the science says that most people would much rather do such work for a sense of purpose. In other words, we're looking for "spiritual" rewards rather than "material" rewards.

In RSA Animate's video summary of Drive, Pink refers to a software company called Atlassian. Their approach to this problem is once a quarter to give employees 24 hours of free time to work on whatever they want to—complete autonomy. This greatly increases performance; more bugs are eliminated, new products created, etc. Essentially, this proposed solution is to give more free time wherein people don't "have to" do anything.

This method makes sense because, beyond satisfying basic living expenses, people want to follow their interests. A person has infinitely more energy to explore what they are interested in that what they are not. In a rigid system of obligations to a superior, a person might become interested in a certain lead, but neglect to follow it because of other more pressing duties. Autonomy gives him the resources to pursue what only he can see and fix.

Apparently, there is something in our hearts that sinks under the pressure of imposed responsibilities. Without the lightness and enthusiasm possible only in freedom, certain solutions cannot be seen and certainly cannot be executed. Our desire to pursue our own interests as we define them is essential to free living. It is surprising what we can achieve when we want to, but you have to not "have to" to "want to."

Saturday, October 9, 2010

How Much Change is Enough?

Simply stated: the right amount. From a grocery store transaction standpoint, there is one clear answer. It is neither too much nor too little. It is a balance; a FIT state. When a clerk counts back your change, there are certain bounding elements that are external to the desires of either party. Natural laws of fairness dictate that neither party get the better of the other.

However, this is not as clear cut or universal with regards to person change. Change, in both senses, merely indicates a difference between one thing and another. In the grocery store, your change is the difference between what you owed and what you gave (a $20 bill, say). In life, your change is the difference between who you are now, and who you become through education and experience. That education—or more precisely, what you gain from it—is the difference.

While I don't believe it is possible to be over-educated in general—especially when the education is broad—it is possible to take too many things to heart. In this way, an individual can needlessly toil to change himself in areas where the benefits of such a change are not worth the cost. Each individual is different from every other individual, of course, so this process must necessarily be tailored to suit each.

For example, a person who is an extrovert might find it difficult to focus on a lecture, daydreaming of more action-centered activities. They can't wait to get out in the field—for sports, sales calls, parties, or networking. They struggle to follow endless charts and graphs, even those which accurately depict the current situation and ought to equip them of their next move. Should they be trained in the art of memorizing these graphs, or should they simply be allowed to learn from trial and error?

In the opposite case—and, I believe, a more widespread problem—a person who is an introvert finds it difficult to focus at a party, desperately planning an escape. They can't wait to get away from the action—to recover themselves; to collect, categorize, and formulate an understanding. They struggle to take in the endless tidbits of information, when the real focus is merely to meet a great many people. Should they be trained in the art of networking, or should they simply be allowed the time to fully absorb each interaction?

Ultimately, the answer to the question depends upon and understanding of where you are right now, and where you want to be at some defined point in the future. Note that while the span of time between now and a dated goal varies by the goal and the person, for everyone who has a goal it is essential to commit to the date. When you set a date for well-defined goal, and begin to understand where you are right now, you can plot a course to change.

This too, varies from a learn-by-doing process to a carefully composed plan. Nevertheless, the main lesson here is that when we understand our strengths, we must utilize those strengths. For every strength in our character, we have correlating weakness. Never attempt to reach a goal by changing your inherent weaknesses. While this can be done, it is rarely worth it. Weaknesses should not be ignored—they are real obstacles—but for those boulders whose destruction risks the destruction of a correlating strength—again, it's not worth dying over.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Who? or Why?

There is a difference between the way a tradition murder mystery handles the perpetrator and the way a serial killer mystery does. A bloody topic to treat so lightly, I realize. However, murder mysteries in their core construct represent the very basics of all mysteries, however nebulous the "crime" and/or the "perpetrator" be. As J.J. Abrams remarked, "Mystery is the catalyst for imagination." And imagination is very important to creativity.

In a traditional murder mystery—or "whodunnit" mystery—the identity of the perpetrator in all its parts is kept strictly a secret. A series of clues mixed with misleading evidence teases the audience with a list of suspects. For this to happen, the audience must first meet the suspects. This must be a group of people equally capable and motivated to have carried out the act—at least at first, until suspects are eliminated by new information.

To reveal that the actually killer is not a person we had met, is to have cheated the audience out of any hope of figuring it out. Incidentally, to give the audience so much information about the killer that they do figure it out is to disappoint them. A good whodunnit delicately balances the audience's desire to solve the mystery themselves with the desire to remain challenged to the last.

By contrast, a serial killer mystery is a different animal. Unlike whodunnits, serial killer mysteries like "Se7en" aren't so much about "who?" as "why?" Typically the motivating factor for the detectives is a question of "when?"—as in "when is he going to strike again?" A story of this nature becomes a thriller as they try to determine the "why?" in order to get ahead of his plan and stop him.

"Who" a serial killer is, is a "serial killer." He is defined by his MO. In other words, the real villain of these stories is not a person at all, but the diabolical plan he is executing. In this way, the structure of a serial killer story has much in common with any conspiracy or manipulation story, regardless of the presence of impending murder. When a construct is laid for a large plan which is destined to wreak havoc (by design or because of flaws) similar methods of profiling the purpose and ideology of the perpetrator(s) is used.

Therefore, this type of story tends to open the door to deeper levels of philosophical implications. In the case of "Se7en" (affiliate link) the killer's plan is to make a demonstration of the "7 Deadly Sins" of Catholic literature. The film itself invokes Dante's Inferno (affiliate link), and makes a similarly gruesome display of sin and punishment. The irony is that the killer is acting as a sort of dark angel, delivering "God's message" through sin itself—even though I rather think the creators drop the ball at the end when assigning him the deadly sin he is guilty of.

All-in-all the point is that to be fulfilling and long-lasting, fiction must involve the viewers in the process of the story. Furthermore, it must lead them to areas of thought previously unexplored. This is the essential fascination with mysteries. Superficial mysteries of the "Clue" variety make for fun entertainment, but soon all seem alike. No matter the number and style of twists, "who" is still just an average person—boring.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Impact and Influence

A while back I wrote an article entitled Force and Fallout, which touches on the concept that an artist uses his force of will to create a great work. This impact generates a fallout-like residual effect. However, the more I think about these words, the more I find myself using them in the negative. What I mean is, these words are culturally loaded to describe unfavorable circumstances more than favorable ones.

When I was composing the article, I did feel a sense that I was not communicated my idea clearly, but lacked any other words to use. In rethinking this edifice now, it seems to me that an artist's work has more of an "impact." Related words, certainly, but with different attitudes.

"Impact" seems to express a willing movement among those on which it has an impact. For whatever reason, it invokes the image of a meteor (an otherworldly object) falling to Earth. People gather out of curiosity to marvel at the strange spectacle. Why it doesn't invoke images of death and destruction, I can't say.

Rather than fallout, a meteor would generate influence. This is perhaps the fault of a multitude of science fiction plots dealing with a similar scenario. Meteor falls to Earth, people gain strange superpowers, etc. In any case, the initial impact is sure to generate ripples which change things—even a little. Word about the spectacle spreads, and more people come to view and be changed by it.

But contrast "impact" and "influence" with the original terms of "force" and "fallout," to see a very different picture. The former are set out before a willing audience, and run their course naturally. The latter are introduced in such as way as to get beyond natural defenses, and so wreak havoc.

While both are a surprise, an "impact" is welcome, while "force" is unwelcome. Furthermore, "influence" is voluntary according the value of the impact. In other words, a meteor is only interesting for a short period of time after which it's just a rock. "Fallout" is not restricted by natural barriers because it has been forced past the audience's defensive filters—either by overwhelming them or by exploiting a weakness in them.

Many well-meaning "artists" exploit emotional channels, rely heavily on pervasive media, and/or lobby for government programs to get their message across. They want to change the world for the better. The trouble is, each person or minority group that tries to do this has a specific definition of what a better world looks like. When an idea is forced upon a populace—perfect as it may be for many—it necessary creates a fallout of animosity and other degenerative epidemics.

When people are allowed to choose, many will say "no" to perfectly good ideas. This is normal. If it's truly a good idea, they'll come around eventually.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Signs

Some people swear by the guidance of "signs." By this, of course, I am not talking about road signs. I am talking about coincidences which, in a certain context, can be thought of as an indicator of either correct or incorrect action. Sometimes these refer back to a choice that was made, and seem to define whether or not it was a good choice.

More often, however, people are fixated on signs that foretell something about a coming choice, or the results of a present choice. Part of this is fear. We try to externalize a decision we don't want to make. Therefore, we attach the decision to some arbitrary coincidence and call it "the will of God," etc.

The other part, is wisely differing to the "still small voice" within. Most of the time, difficult choices have a logical answer. The problem arises when emotions get involved. I should note here that emotions have their own brand of "logic," and must be considered as part of the decision.

When emotions are attached to a decision, fear clouds judgement. Our tendency is to make haste to relieve the tension by going with the loudest choice—the emotional one. Usually, we already know this is the wrong the choice, or there would be no indecision in the first place. What we need is something to crystalize the right choice, so it can withstand the flurry of noisy fears.

It is actually impossible to externalize a personal decision using anything other than another thinking person. In the absence of a qualified mentor, we look to signs to give us the extra push we need. I often flip a coin to make menial decisions—ones where I don't think I care about the outcome, but need to make some choice.

The interesting thing about this custom of coin-flipping is that it reveals the truly internal nature of such a process of decision making. Next time you try this, pay attention to your own feelings. I've been divided between two choices, flipped a coin (to externalize the decision), then felt I'd rather do the opposite choice. The coin's landing (the sign) doesn't control you, it merely reveals the choice you knew was right in the first place.

Use signs wisely. Don't follow blindly, but let them reveal the path.

Friday, October 1, 2010

September '10: The Month in Posts

Now is the time of the month when I have tasked myself to reexamining my previous posts. Both to weed out the bad and incomplete and to select the best of the best. This month has been on of the most difficult months for me to select the best from the rest. I don't mean to toot my own horn, but I am humbly proud of the compositions that have flowed through me. All that I can say with confidence is that I'm getting really good at capturing my own thoughts in writing—whether or not I am communicating clearly to others, and whether or not I am correct, remains to be seen.

Composition and Execution, part 1 - September 5, 2010
In my last post, I arrived at the conclusion that the fundamental difference between what I call "creators" and "performers" is in their focus on either composition or execution, respectively. I think it will be valuable to further explore the implications of this conclusion for a variety of societal roles. (read more)

Parental Guidance - September 7, 2010
"Parental Guidance" implies the parents' involvement. It is not meant to serve merely as a gauge of whether or not a child is allowed to watch something. It is as foolish to keep difficult media from a child who may learn lessons from it, as it is to blindly hand any media to a child regardless of the content's rating or the child's preparedness. Media is not a babysitter! (read more)

Initiative and Ambition - September 15, 2010
There is a myth that creative people don't like to take initiative. In today's execution-focused, performance-based world of work, initiative is seen mostly as an interpersonal quality which sets a leader apart from the rest. In reality, creative people simply have a less visible form of initiative. Because they compose a work as their primary form of productive action, initiative isn't seen by outsiders until the work is completed. And even then, it isn't appreciated on its own merit, but dismissed as "you have to start somewhere." (read more)

"Revenge of the Introvert" - September 28, 2010
The success culture in the United States is extremely biased toward performance, or "the playing of a prescribed game." This entails some manner of competition between people or teams, and focuses heavily on sales and marketing. All-in-all this requires skills native predominantly to the extravert. This means that a great number of introverts are being forced or are forcing themselves into roles (particularly at work) that are "counter-dispositional." Either that, or they settle for mediocrity at work, keeping their passions as hobbies. (read more)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Spiritual" Economy

Most adults in relatively free economic countries have a sixth sense about the value of money. The reason is less magical than it may at first appear. The closer a person is involved with the "making" of money (i.e.: generating value in trade for capital), the more they "feel" the worth of a unit of currency.

For example, if a person makes $10 an hour performing some skilled labor, then he understands $1 as being worth the strain of 6 minutes of work. Therefore, when a person is deciding to buy or not to buy, they are subconsciously considering whether it is worth the equivalent labor.

In this way, the value of goods is commonly understood throughout the world (despite varying currency rates). This is very important, but simply works by the same rules as conscious economic choices—insofar as no one is trying to abuse the customer's ignorance. However, value escapes its material bonds and grows exponentially when it is transfered into an act of charity.

When a person feels the strain each dollar represents, he naturally desires to keep it to himself. When he denies himself this gratification and instead sacrifices the dollar(s) to another person, then something magical happens. He hands over the money and transfers its value along with it, however, when he expects nothing in return, he is left with a duplicate of its value in his soul.

Furthermore, he is seen by others as a giver and is marked by value equivalent to the gift. This has a multiplying effect, because each person who appreciates the giving of the one gift attaches this value to the giver. Therefore, one $10 gift appreciated by ten people who heard about it makes the giver feel like he gave a $100 gift. So whatever high feeling the initial gift gave the giver, the spread of the story multiplies.

To top it off, when the receiver of a gift appreciates the gift, he is likely to return the favor whenever he can (in whatever form). The emotional impression made on him is likely to prompt a disproportionately large return. This, in turn, constitutes a gift—and the cycle compounds.

As abstract as this might sound, I have a real-life example. Several years ago, I was leaving my apartment on a mission to buy a pint of ice cream—about $4. Because it was a house divided into four apartments, there was only one other unit on the top floor besides mine. As I prepared to decent the stairs, I noticed a $10 bill lying on the floor.

I'll admit, my first thought was "free ice cream!" but I recovered myself. It didn't belong to me, so it must have belonged to my neighbor. I simply slipped it part way under the door, and went on my way—feeling pleased with myself.

To make a long story short, my neighbor found out that I had put it there, though I never learned for certain that it had belonged to her. Nevertheless, the dynamic between us noticeably shifted—particularly because she hadn't had much apparent experience with good-willed people in her life.

It is difficult to put a price on such "spiritual" qualities as good-will, but if one can equate money to the strain of acquiring it, then the ease that came over our neighborly contact was worth more than $1000. And really, it cost me nothing.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Dystopian Machine

The following is a personal examination of dystopian concepts that I wrote as part of an attempt to understand the world of a story I am writing. I am certain to be somewhat mistaken in my observations, and therefore, this is to be taken as a topic for discussion, but not necessary an essay on asserted facts. Nevertheless, I hope my reasoning is structurally sound, and would appreciate any feedback by those more informed than I am.

The machine of society, and by extension its apparatus, has been created for the specific purpose of organizing society. The eternal argument is to whom ought go the benefits of such an organized society. The debate has such a wide range as to include "everyone" and "one top person."

The former ranges in another dimension from Socialism and Communism to Libertarianism and Anarchy. The latter does not range much in actual practice, but includes a variety of titles from "Emperor" to "Dictator." There are many things wrong with such extremes. By definition, Socialism and Communism keep people "down" in the name of equality, unfortunately, someone has to be the oppressor, and usually becomes a "Dictator." Libertarianism and Anarchy cast off any notion of oppression, but create such ignorant individualism as to allow the strongest to become an oppressor, or "Dictator."

Either way, extremes end up producing a two-class system based upon some kind of coercion. A person or small group of people who have "absolute power" tend to corner the market—as it were—on happiness as well. The masses, supposed to be "secure," seethe with frustration and jealousy at their inability to advance. As a result, the elites impose more force upon the "unruly" people while giving themselves more freedom from the people.

And so, the ultimate goal of those who seek to mechanize society is to create a taught system that responds instantaneously to the will of the pilot(s). In order for this to happen, such a system must be "bled" of all turbulence in the order of individual preferences. These preferences come in two varieties: one has an interest in the system as a whole (and is therefore a problem to the machine) and the other merely has an interest in one's self.

This second variety includes the only "individual rights" that such a system allows. These are on the order of physical freedoms (what one does with one's own body or with a consenting partner). Freedoms on the order of the mental (such as political transparency, freedom of movement—across boundaries, etc.) and freedoms on the order of the philosophical (which open questions about the justice of such a system) are eventually strictly prohibited.

When each person cares only about himself, he becomes a predictable mechanism. He can be manipulated with "carrot and stick" rewards, and need not falter due to relational or other human considerations. He can then be pushed, abused, and used up without any worry of someone coming to his aid—because he is alone by his own design. Furthermore, this is seen as his own fault, because anyone who looks as his situation sees only the physical considerations—never the underlying causes of his faulty thinking.