The controversy over the Washington Redskins’ name escalated on Monday in a piece from The Onion provocatively titled “Redskins’ Kike Owner Refuses to Change Team’s Offensive Name.” The five-sentence story and its anti-Semitic language are so startling that journalists and bloggers aren’t even sure how to react.
Wow! If you’re anything like me, you’re desperate to know what some white people think and feel about what other white people are saying about this insensitive abstract symbol of this nation’s indigenous people, a shocking number of whom are currently living in pockets of Third World-level squalor and hopelessness, a grim reality which, of course, doesn’t lend itself so well to snarky, outraged retweeting — I mean, doesn’t it feel weird and icky to “like” or “+1” an article about rampant alcoholism and a life expectancy decades below the national average? — nor easily allow Myrrhkins to get on with the business of enjoying their entertainment with plausibly clear consciences — I mean, what if my white peers think less of me? — so, uh, yeah, this is a very good article for all the latest in white people’s thoughts.
And most of the harmful consequences of beliefs stem from the insistence of believers that everyone agree with them.
They think human life would be vastly improved if only everyone believed as they do, when a little history shows that trying to get everyone to believe the same thing is a recipe for unending conflict.
• The surest way of ruining a youth is to teach him to respect those who think as he does more highly than those who think differently from him.
• Ah! How reluctant I am to force my own ideas upon another! How I rejoice in any mood and secret transformation within myself which means that the ideas of another have prevailed over my own!
• Even if we were mad enough to consider all our opinions true, we should still not want them alone to exist: I cannot see why it should be desirable that truth alone should rule and be omnipotent; it is enough for me that it should possess great power. But it must be able to struggle and have great opponents, and one must be able to find relief from it from time to time in untruth – otherwise, it will become boring, powerless and tasteless to us, and make us the same.
• Whatever kind of bizarre ideal one may follow, one should not demand that it be the ideal, for one therewith takes from it its privileged character. One should have it in order to distinguish oneself, not in order to level oneself.
You should already know that I’m a fellow who takes his Halloween seriously. And so I must ask: who the fuck decided that garish purple should take the place of toxic, radioactive green as one of the official Halloween colors? You still see plenty of stores selling strings of orange lights, but green ones are an Internet-only product, it seems. Replaced by purple. What’s eerie or scary about that? Have you ever seen purple slime? Or a purple glow from a witch’s cauldron? This is just an insult. Get me a spot on Fox so I can talk about the War on Halloween, goddammit.
Oreos can be as addictive to the brain as cocaine, the authors of a scientific study have claimed.
Well, yeah, if you’re stupid enough to snort or inject them, duh. Stick to smoking them and you won’t get hooked.
I’m sorry, you’re right, the horrible results of cookie addiction are no laughing matter.
To get one’s news in such a highly mediated fashion is clearly dangerous. The ersatz dialogue which occurs on Twitter can give the misleading impression that all opposing opinions have been given a fair hearing, and thus that the dominant opinion at the end of the day must be the inherently superior one. No need to weigh the various arguments yourself, Twitter already did the work for you. Touted for its promotion of decentralized and democratic dialogue, Twitter more often enables the rapid formulation and dissemination of orthodox opinion. At the same time, if you maintain a bit of critical distance, watching the construction of conventional wisdom on Twitter can teach you plenty. You can see which arguments trump others, which positions are taken to be unassailable, what affect works best. Taken as a whole, it’s an unprecedented wealth of sociological data.
Observing Twitter in this way, one quickly notes that an addiction to outrage seems to afflict writers across the political spectrum. Opponents are castigated for being insufficiently scandalized by the atrocity of the hour, and authors of offending posts are roundly demonized and ridiculed. Silver linings are rarely sought in bad news, common ground with adversaries seldom found. The right is arguably more reliant on this Manichaean rhetoric, but the left has a strong habit too. As opinion crystallizes on Twitter, posters become increasingly uncompromising, attracted to whichever position most strongly attributes moral purity to their own side and depravity to the other. Meanwhile, anyone who would criticize an outraged writer’s moralistic tone risks appearing too callous or naïve to realize the enormity of the crime at hand—whether it’s Obama’s visit to an Amazon warehouse or a university’s experimentation with MOOCs. Outrage may look like moral bravery but, on Twitter at least, it is safe as can be.
Twitter, hell; it was always like that on blogs, too. That whole system of social media provides a neverending supply of cheap stimulation for adrenaline junkies, as well as a permanent stage where they can perform their manufactured outrage for an appreciative audience. One of my favorite aspects of this faux-moral performance art is when, lacking the usual visual cues of authentic real-life anger, the performer is required to simulate hizzorher vein-popping, carpet-chewing, spittle-launching fury — in text form, which obviously requires a certain amount of both mental and physical composure. It never fails to tickle my absurdist funny bone, imagining someone sitting quietly at their computer, composing a fictional representation of barely-controlled psychotic rage (with no typos or misspellings, even!), and then taking pleasure in the plaudits. What did these people do before there was a twitosphere to provide them with some semblance of meaning in their empty lives?
If there is a disease at work in the obesity epidemic, it is the disease of laziness. People want a quick fix to solve all their problems, and they don’t want to have to do anything differently… even though the things they have always done are what caused them to end up being overweight and unhappy with themselves.
The desire for a magic answer ends up creating a psychological barrier to progress. Because people want a quick, magical solution, even good medical advice is translated into bad, ineffectual behaviour.
The science of obesity is not complex, but cutting through the noise requires some common sense. If you are obese, then losing weight is simple. You need to gradually decrease the amount of food that you eat, and gradually increase the amount that you exercise, so that over time your body adapts to having less “fuel”. If you do this, you will gradually lose weight.
But there are no short cuts. There is no special food that you can eat, or exclude, and have the pounds melt away with no other change in your lifestyle. Eating organic or “additive free” food won’t help you if you eat 4,000 calories a day. There are no magic pills.
To hear the twitosphere tell it, seven out of every four people run a triathlon every week while restricting themselves to 500 calories a day, but still somehow manage to become obese by the biased standards of Western so-called medicine. Well, as in so many other areas, I find that good ol’ David Hume’s rule of thumb regarding miracles applies here: which is more likely, that basic laws of physiology suddenly cease to function in modern society, or that people tend to bullshit themselves in flattering ways to avoid facing up to uncomfortable truths? If you’ve been reading this blog longer than five minutes, I’m sure you know what my opinion of human nature is. Rare exceptions exist, I’m sure, but like it says on the label, they’re rare.
For those of you who can’t be arsed to watch the video (it’s okay, I’m right there with you most of the time), Louis goes to the doctor at 40 years old with a sore ankle. The doctor suggests doing certain stretches for half an hour each day. Louis wonders how long that will take to fix it. The doctor says, no, this is just a new thing you do now. Regular, necessary maintenance to stave off the worst of the inevitable decrepitude until death’s merciful release. Comic exaggerations aside, I’d basically agree.
Half a lifetime ago, in peak physical condition, when I did yoga, worked out (got a Soloflex for Christmas when I was sixteen, and I still use it today) and played soccer regularly, I was about 160 pounds. In community college, there was one phys ed course I took which gave you three credits for essentially having a gym membership at the school. One day, the instructor, Steve M., walked in the weight room while I was finishing some bicep curls and gave me an appraising look. “You know, Damian, I envy you,” he said while wagging his finger at me. Uh, say what? “No, seriously. You have the kind of body that you could sculpt into anything you want. A lot of people don’t have that. I couldn’t do that. You’re very lucky.” I’m not sure what he was basing that opinion on, but ah, youth, if only I had been able to fully appreciate my apparent good fortune then.
In the course of three and a half years of undiagnosed rheumatoid arthritis, I was getting treated mainly with steroid injections, which caused some fluid retention, and, thus, weight gain, up to around 182. After I had recovered enough flexibility and mobility thanks to medication, I converted the sturm und drang of a prolonged breakup with my ex into exercise fuel and dropped as low as 149. A few years after that, heartbroken over the deaths of two of my dogs in quick succession, lethargic and giving no fucks in general, I got as high as 207. Moderate exercise after that lowered me back into the lower 190s, and during the summer I worked as a satellite technician, I starved and sweated away more than fifteen pounds in a month and a half, back to the upper 170s. This past summer, I started the new job, one of the biggest benefits being the reliably steady schedule, which meant I could finally set up a consistent workout routine and stick to it without interruption. I quickly dropped fifteen pounds in the first month just through treadmill walking and a reduced diet — I’ll usually have a smoothie for breakfast (I especially like Bolthouse Farms), followed by two or three miles of walking, then something light for lunch, like bananas, tofurkey sandwiches, and/or more smoothies, and a regular dinner in the late afternoon. If I absolutely must snack at any point, I’ll have another piece of fruit or yet another smoothie. As I’ve added weightlifting back into the mix every other day, feeling sufficiently recovered from hernia surgery, I’ve noticed the weight dropping off more slowly, though I can obviously eat more without it turning into fat. Eventually, I’ll probably start spending some time kicking a soccer ball around the yard and practicing some old drills, to get some more aerobic exercise and get all the muscles working in concert again.
All of which is to say: my own experience tells me in no uncertain terms that if I don’t want to feel bloated and flabby, I have to make time to exercise and eat well. Barring the most incredibly fortunate genetic inheritance, or the most physically strenuous job, anyone who doesn’t want to gain weight will have to do that. Yes, that means setting aside at least six to eight hours a week to walk and lift weights. Yes, that’s time that I could be using to read and write more. Yes, yes, processed foods, lack of time, arbitrary cultural beauty standards, etc. No, it’s not fair, and no, it’s not always fun and invigorating. It is, however, what it is, and like Louis’s doctor said, it’s just a thing you have to do now. Deal with it or don’t. All that stuff my dad used to say about the necessity of discipline and cultivating good habits was right on, however bourgeois that may sound.
Faith was far more assured in the times when the spiritual saturnalia were allowed than now. The irreverence which was not dangerous then, is now intolerable. It is a bad sign for a man’s peace in his own convictions when he cannot stand turning the canvas of his life occasionally upside down, or reversing it in a mirror, as painters do with their pictures that they may judge the better concerning them. I would persuade all Jews, Mohammedans, Comtists, and freethinkers to turn high Anglicans, or better still, downright Catholics for a week in every year, and I would send people like Mr. Gladstone to attend Mr. Bradlaugh’s lectures in the forenoon, and the Grecian pantomime in the evening, two or three times every winter. I should perhaps tell them that the Grecian pantomime has nothing to do with Greek plays. They little know how much more keenly they would relish their normal opinions during the rest of the year for the little spiritual outing which I would prescribe for them, which, after all, is but another phase of the wise saying—Surtout point de zèle (above all, avoid zeal).
‘Once I have said I will do a thing, I do it’ – this mode of thinking counts a sign of possessing character. How many actions have been done, not because they were chosen as the most rational, but because when they occurred to us, they in some way tickled our vanity and ambition, so that we stuck with them and blindly carried them out! In this way they increase our belief in our own character and our good conscience, and thus in general our strength; while the choice of the most rational course keeps alive skepticism towards us and to this extent a feeling of weakness.
Why is the stability of our own identities, or even our life choices, so important? One possibility has to do with simple rationalization: Once we make a choice, we want to justify it—especially if it’s one we don’t see ourselves unmaking. In other contexts, we see this phenomenon play out all the time: We value objects more once we’ve purchased them, and hold offhand opinions far more strongly once we’ve stated them out loud. “It makes sense to me that people are motivated to believe that their current lifestyle decisions are superior to other options,” says social psychologist Eli Finkel, whose own research focuses on interpersonal relationships and conflict, “rather than an arbitrary choice draw from those options.”
Now constantly there is the sound,
quieter than rain,
of the leaves falling.
Under their loosening bright
gold, the sycamore limbs
Now the only flowers
are beeweed and aster, spray
of their white and lavender
over the brown leaves.
The calling of a crow sounds
that the life of summer falls
silent, and the nights grow.
– Wendell Berry