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Why Do Things?

lazy-cat[1]

Cats are amused by the concept of ambition.

The previous post may have given the impression that I’m against doing stuff, which is not the case.  I’m a major stuff-doer.  I don’t, however, think that the way to encourage people to do stuff is to systematically devalue those who don’t, leaving the disabled, the mentally ill, and the disenfranchised–people who are less able to do stuff due to circumstances beyond their control–as collateral damage.  So why do stuff?

Because you want to.  Why do you need another reason?

The article previously addressed makes a curious conflation of stuff you do and stuff you do for other people, never acknowledging the difference.  But there is a difference: You can make the former happen, but not the latter, because the latter necessarily depends on the actions of other people.  For instance, you can just get up and write, but you can’t just get up and become a New York Times bestselling author (a reward apparently bestowed only on the unworthy).

So what if you write all the time and never get published?  It’s a perfectly common occurrence.  Then, according to that article, you are not doing anything for other people–no one else’s life is a speck different than if you didn’t write–and therefore no one will love you and you have no value*.  What a capricious metric.

Which brings me to one of the oddest bits of the article:

Do the math: How much of your time is spent consuming things other people made (TV, music, video games, websites) versus making your own? Only one of those adds to your value as a human being.

That’s got to be the first time anyone’s told me to spend less time reading.

Setting aside the obvious point that Wong is telling people to stop reading his article (the best advice he offers), notice the conundrum: Creating material for consumption is good.  Consuming material other people create is bad.  Imagine the result if everyone followed Wong’s advice: Everyone would constantly be creating things that would then languish unappreciated because no one would ever spend time consuming them.  Writers already know that the market is difficult because creation exceeds demand; he would drive it to the point where there wasn’t even a single reader for each book.  And then, naturally, the writers would be worthless because no one read their works.

And that’s even before you consider how one is supposed to create something good without exposing themselves to the good things created by others.  Increased knowledge makes you a better conversationalist; doesn’t that add value to you?  And if you’re strictly comparing how much you create versus how much you consume, wouldn’t one be better off doing nothing than reading a book?  And what if your ambitions are actively harmful to other people?

Obviously the creating-value-for-others measure is worthless in practice, so let’s metaphorically throw other people out the window and try a different reason: You should do things because you want to and doing them will make you happy.

A theist like me will wax eloquent at this point about gifts, but you don’t need to believe that God made you for a certain purpose to know that doing certain things makes you happy, and that it’s a more enduring form of happiness than you get from simple diversions like a TV show.  It’s natural to be proud of something you create, for instance, whether or not anyone else ever knows about it.

But what about someone who never does anything productive and never wants to?  What if you work a dead-end job and otherwise sit around on the couch eating potato chips and watching soap operas, not because you haven’t motivated yourself enough to pursue your real ambitions, but because you honestly have no bigger ambitions?

Well, what of it?  If you’re taking advantage of others in your quest to be lazy, that’s one thing, but if you’re happy and you aren’t harming anyone, who’s to say that there’s a problem?  It’s not many people’s ideal lifestyle, but it’s not their life.

There’s no need to overthink this.  If you’re already happy, then there’s no problem.  If you aren’t happy and there are things that you could do that would make you happier, do them.  But you may well be unhappy for reasons unrelated to what you do, and if so, then beating yourself up about what you have or haven’t done is pointless.  (I hope Wong’s article hasn’t caused any depressed people to fall into a spiral of lacking the motivation to do anything and then feeling worthless because they haven’t done anything.)  Be good to other people because people have value.  Allow them to be good to you.  There doesn’t have to be anything complicated about it.

*I was pondering whether Wong would say that you have an obligation to self-publish, since you have an obligation not only to do something but to do something that affects other people.  We may never know.

Image found here.

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One Truth That Will Make You a Slightly Wiser Person

polls_BS_0646_581892_poll_xlargeI am coming out of hiatus and destroying my already-damaged wrists to weigh in on an important topic that just can’t wait: Cracked, and this one article by David Wong that everyone keeps linking to.  I’ve seen it referenced by four our five different intelligent people who ought to know better (this post quotes some conversations I’ve had about it).  It is time for everyone to stop liking it.  Let’s break it down…without numbered points, please.

Defusing Criticism

Before we get to the content, let’s look at the framing.  Wong puts great effort into stopping criticism before it starts by framing disagreement as part of the problem.  Consider the title.  “Truths that make you a better person” immediately divides the readership into two camps: People who accept the truths and are better people, and people who reject the truths and are worse people.  There’s no room for people to respectfully disagree or think his facts might not be all that factual.  They just can’t accept the truths they need.  Notice how he responds to potential criticisms:

No, your brain jumps to that conclusion so you have an excuse to write off everyone who rejects you by thinking that they’re just being shallow and selfish…

So even now, some of you reading this are feeling your brain bombard you with knee-jerk reasons to reject it.

If you disagree with anything he’s saying, that’s your malfunctioning brain bombarding you with excuses.  You couldn’t possibly reject the article because it’s a terrible article.  Wow, it’s almost like he’s afraid of criticism.

Worldview and Projection

To state the obvious: This is an opinion piece.

But it claims to be about “truths.”  Wong is framing his opinion as fact, and it’s working.  When I mentioned to someone that opinion shouldn’t be framed as truth, I got the replyBut it IS truth.”  Again, this is a way of deflecting criticism.  Opinions necessarily leave room for other opinions, but people who disagree with facts are just in denial.

And what are the facts?

The World Only Cares About What It Can Get from You…

People have needs and thus assign value to the people who meet them. These are simple mechanisms of the universe and they do not respond to our wishes…

But make no mistake: Your “job” — the useful thing you do for other people — is all you are.

I knew Ayn Rand was behind this.

Opinion as fact: This is how Wong thinks everyone treats everyone else.  Maybe he is actually that crassly self-serving, but fortunately, the rest of the world is not.  Out here we have things like human worth and unconditional love, not always achieved, but held in esteem.  And, despite Wong’s naysaying, people very often value each other just for who they are.  Drst opines:

I was put off by the “what you do, not what you are” thing in Wong’s article myself. Sometimes who you are IS what you can do for other people. If you’re an honest person the people around you may value you for that because they need someone trustworthy in their lives. The implication that you have to DO something and that’s the only way to have value to other people was way too reductive.

And I opine: You do have value.  You have immense value.  You didn’t need to do anything to earn it and you can never lose it.

Proselytizing

This article purports to be helpful; it is supposedly trying to better people by presenting them with the path they need to take.  Other people aren’t inherently worse, so it goes, they just haven’t taken those steps yet.  If that sounds like it belongs on a Chick tract, that’s because it does!  Wong is a proselyte.  He had his own moment of conversion (Alec Baldwin’s monologue, which “changed [his] life”) and now he’s trying to convert you to his religion of self-serving cynicism.

i-160e6b705aeb4b8fbc3c58878e6d668a-chick3The key difference between this and simply trying to convince someone else of your opinion is the characterization of the opposition.  People who reject your proselytizing aren’t just disagreeing, they’re bad people who deserve the misery that they’ve inflicted upon themselves*.  Notice the constant us-vs-them message:

the genius of that speech is that half of the people who watch it think that the point of the scene is “Wow, what must it be like to have such an asshole boss?” and the other half think, “Fuck yes, let’s go out and sell some goddamned real estate!”…the point is that the difference in those two attitudes — bitter vs. motivated — largely determines whether or not you’ll succeed in the world.

Look how this message comes across to Creative Writing Student, one of several people who felt they fell on the wrong side of the divide:
Am I the only one who reads them, thinks “oh god this is me”, then “I’m a stupid, useless, worthless person and I keep making excuses for stuff instead of doing them, I should kill myself because I’ll never amount to anything because I’m a worthless lump of shit?”
These are awesome people, but in Wong’s religion, they are the “sinners:” those who accept the message but feel they can’t walk the walk that the article demands of them.  These people end up feeling terrible.  That’s by design.  The article is meant to make people who do what Wong says feel like they’re awesome and winning at life…but that only works if there’s also a class of terrible people who are losing at life.

Nice Guys

24733726I’ve seen this article linked to by feminists because it addresses “Nice Guy” syndrome.  There’s a terribly toxic idea online, expressed in the terms “nice guy” and “friendzone,” that if a guy is nice enough to a girl, she owes him sex and is somehow being unfair to him if she rejects him or just wants to be friends.

To Wong’s credit, he smacks down this idea.  But look at his reasons:

Don’t say that you’re a nice guy — that’s the bare minimum. Pretty girls have guys being nice to them 36 times a day…It’s up to you, but don’t complain about how girls fall for jerks; they fall for those jerks because those jerks have other things they can offer. “But I’m a great listener!” Are you? Because you’re willing to sit quietly in exchange for the chance to be in the proximity of a pretty girl (and spend every second imagining how soft her skin must be)? Well guess what, there’s another guy in her life who also knows how to do that, and he can play the guitar.

There’s no mention that people, pretty girls included, don’t owe anyone sex for any reason, merely that nice guys lack the traits that will earn them sex**.  In other words, girls aren’t vending machines that take kindness tokens; they’re vending machines that take guitar-playing tokens.  Girls aren’t treated very well in this view, as Discombobulated points out in almost a direct quote from the article:

Apparently men are valued for what they can do, and women are valued for being Zooey Deschanel lookalikes who feel guilty every time they eat a salad.

The Just-World Fallacy

The article constantly berates you to attain skills so that you’ll be worth something and people will like you:

But the key is, I don’t want you to focus on something great that you’re going to make happen to you (“I’m going to find a girlfriend, I’m going to make lots of money …”). I want you to purely focus on giving yourself a skill that would make you ever so slightly more interesting and valuable to other people.

That’s the other part that people like, because who can disagree with the value of going out and doing things?  Except, once again, the reasoning is all wrong.  Wong says that you should develop skills because then people will like you and you’ll get a girlfriend and a good job and be happy.  Conversely, that means that any failure you experience is your own fault for not developing a skill (which, apparently, anyone can do if they “throw enough hours of repetition at it”).

“Victim-blaming” is the phrase Doad used.  Viscaria cuts to the heart of the matter:

It fits right in to the Just World Hypothesis. I’ve gotten loads of things that I wanted and that I never worked for, and there are probably some people out there who work incredibly hard every day and want some of the things I’ve just been given, and they will probably never get them. Not because they’re not putting in the effort, just because they’re not as lucky.

Pecunium points out the insidious undertone that this is the key to happiness:

[H]e is pretending this is the recipe for being happy. Not for anything else, but for being happy.

And it’s not so. It’s corrosive as all fuck. It tells people that if they don’t have some salable skill… if they don’t do something someone is willing to pay them for, they are worthless. Looking at the undertone of the piece I wonder how happy he is with his life.

Things That Don’t Happen (According to Wong)

So Wong has repeated a million times that nobody cares about anything except for what you do for them.  This isn’t how people should treat each other, it’s how, according to him, they do treat each other.  So here’s how the real world apparently works:

  • Nobody cares for their elderly relatives.  You’ve already gotten everything you’re going to get out of them.
  • Nobody spends time with a friend who is sick or having a bad day, except in the hopes of gaining reciprocation.  Of course, the reciprocation itself is only offered in hopes of gaining further reciprocation down the line.  Dizzying, isn’t it?
  • Parents don’t love their children.  After all, babies cry and poop and have absolutely no skills.  The only reason anyone has babies is as a long-term retirement plan.
  • Nobody is very fond of animals, either.  Cute, sweet-tempered animals maybe, but no one would ever devote themselves to, say, working with feral cats who need months to even approach you and may never really trust people at all.
  • Nobody donates to charity.
  • When people hang out, it’s a calculated way of evaluating one another.  The guy who doesn’t make you laugh doesn’t get invited back.
  • Resources for the handicapped don’t exist.  If they can’t get by like able-bodied people, they’re worthless and nobody cares about them.
  • tumblr_mdc9yeuVXr1qzhkvho1_500Nor for reintegrating veterans into civilian life.  It’s their own fault if they devoted their lives to learning skills that would no longer apply later on, and they’re just lazy whiners for making excuses like “I got shot.”  (No idea why the president would be hanging out with one of these guys.)
  • And, obviously, no one would ever, under any circumstances, risk their own life for someone else.

Cynicism as Virtue

Finally, the skills-as-value objectivism collides with us-vs-them victim-blaming in this pinnacle of badness:

Yeah, whatever you try to build or create — be it a poem, or a new skill, or a new relationship — you will find yourself immediately surrounded by non-creators who trash it. Maybe not to your face, but they’ll do it. Your drunk friends do not want you to get sober. Your fat friends do not want you to start a fitness regimen. Your jobless friends do not want to see you embark on a career.

Unbelievably, multiple people have read to the end of that article without throwing their computers out the window.

I’ll end with a sentiment from CassandraSays:

I have a really hard time not rolling my eyes when people do that faux-jaded thing. I think it comes right after reading Rand in the development cycle of the pretentious libertarian asshole…Those people aren’t actually jaded, they’re just pretending to be because they think it makes them look cool, and because it lets them off the hook in all kinds of ways.

Ah, cynicism, a brilliant way to make acting like a dick seem virtuous.

All Doad had to say was “I don’t know if it’s worth responding to that.”  I married a wise man.

Images found here, here, here, and here.

*On that note: If you love Wong’s article and love Cracked, you have every right to do so.

**The assumption that kindness is a baseline that everyone meets is also, unfortunately, not true.

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The Real Problem with the Internet

Forget technology addiction, shortened attention spans, kids seeing porn, and whatever else old people are complaining about this week.  There is a real, serious problem with the internet, and it’s none of those.

Aberdeen’s reckoning

The problem is Halloween costumes.

Once upon a time, you could feel clever about your costume idea, because all you had to do was come up with something none of your friends had thought of.  Now, every single year, somebody in the world comes up with something absolutely brilliant, like Kurt Cobane, and everyone else just has to look at each other and admit that they’ll never be that creative.

Proposals suffer from the same problem.  Once upon a time, you could just take your girlfriend to a nice restaurant or for a walk along the beach and you were all set.  Now one guy gets every person he knows to do a lip dub and raises the bar for the entire rest of the world.

And don’t even start thinking about how many people you could have gotten to help you propose.  It’ll only depress you.

—-

Doad did a wonderful job, by the way, even sans flash mob.

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Commenting Suggestions

Don’t let your cat post for you. They never contribute anything intelligent.

I don’t have an official comments policy here and I’m not planning on introducing one anytime soon, since small blogs like mine can really only operate on a case-by-case basis (I have first-comment moderation turned on as a first line of troll defense; blame the Internet for that), but in my time as a blogger and internet denizen, I’ve learned some principles that I think people ought to follow, not just here, but everywhere.  These are, as it were, more like guidelines than actual rules–you aren’t likely to get moderated for most of these–but you should follow them anyway, because they make for stronger arguments and anyway they generally fall under the umbrella of decent human behavior.  In no particular order, I suggest that you:

  1. Don’t turn my blog into your blog.  That is, don’t show up and comment a protracted, contradictory opinion on every post.  Am I interested in people’s opinions, even if they disagree with me?  Yes!  Am I interested in encountering a tedious wankfest every time I check this blog?  No!  I’m not going to elucidate the difference between voicing your opinion and just trying to get attention, because you already know.  Move your mouse to the bottom of the screen.  See the footer?  See where it says “Blog with WordPress?”  If you click on this link, then you can start your own blog where you can voice your own opinions on any subject you like, anytime you like, with no risk of moderation.  And it’s absolutely free!
  2. Don’t sockpuppet.
  3. Don’t derail conversations into being about you.   I don’t care if the topic of conversation shifts away from the topic of the post and all kinds of fun conversations arise that way, but showing up in every post and demanding that people help you get a date or deal with your personal problems is just plain obnoxious.  In response to a particularly common one: If you are depressed and/or have other mental health issues, see a psychiatrist.  Do not talk to random people online.
  4. Don’t quote the dictionary.  Nobody interested in having a real conversation has ever referenced the authority of Merriam and Webster (unless, I suppose, the conversation is about dictionaries).
  5. Don’t make ad homines.  Setting aside that you shouldn’t because it’s mean, let’s be pragmatic: You shouldn’t because it’s a bad argument.  When you call someone fat and ugly, you’re admitting to the whole internet that your argument is worthless and you know it.  Related: Note that the plural of ad hominem is ad homines.
  6. Don’t say “I’m not racist, but…” (or “I’m not sexist…”, or “I’m not homophobic…”, or any variation).  If you weren’t racist, you wouldn’t say something that required such a preceding statement.  “No offense, but…” is also a red flag.
  7. Similarly, don’t reflexively protest “I’m not sexist!” (or racist, or homophobic) as if the term were a meaningless insult (“I’m not a poopyhead!”).  These words have meanings.  You can’t just deny that the label applies to you because you know it has bad connotations, since it might apply to you.  If someone calls you sexist–especially if you’ve repeatedly been called sexist, and if you’re aware of a pattern of speech or behavior that results in people saying that–and you don’t want to be called sexist, harness the power of cause and effect and stop doing it.
  8. Don’t call people “baby killers.”  This will not make pro-choice people feel convicted.  It will make them imagine you with steam coming out of your ears like a teakettle.
  9. Other terms to avoid: “reverse racism” (or “reverse discrimination”), “misandry,” “gay agenda,” ‘females” (as a substantive adjective), “liberal media,” “politically correct/incorrect” (I’ve already mentioned that one).  All these terms say far more about you than about who you’re criticizing.
  10. Don’t talk about your sex life or lack thereof.  No1curr.
  11. A personal bugbear: Don’t say “begging the question” unless you know what it means.
  12. If you are not a part of a marginalized group, don’t claim to understand their situation or prescribe what they should do, because seriously, you have no idea.
  13. Don’t compare someone or something to a Nazi, slavery, or the Holocaust unless it actually is a Nazi, slavery, or the Holocaust.
  14. Don’t victim blame.  From “gay people caused X natural disaster” to “she shouldn’t have been wearing that outfit” to “poor people are lazy,” this just makes you a mean, vindictive, horrible person.  Notice I’m not saying it makes you sound like a horrible person.  It means you actually are one.  Because a non-horrible person would not say that sort of thing.  Period.
  15. Finally, don’t be a know-it-all.  Nobody knows it all.

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Internet Animals

As Jordan and I are finally done with an exceptionally long week, we decided to veg out by seeing how many internet animals we could name.  The rules: They had to be real animals, they had to be on the internet, and we had to know their names off the top of our heads.

We named 18.

Additionally, we thought of a few who had names that we couldn’t remember:

Can you think of anyone we left out?  Remember, you have to know it off the top of your head.

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War Hamsters

Ladies and gentlemen, announcing my newest project: War Hamsters.

It’s an epic tale of the struggle to survive in a hostile post-apocalypic world beset with dangers.  Oh, and there are hamsters.

Go, therefore, and read it.  It updates about once a week.

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Oddity of the Week

I don’t have anything  to say this week, so here are my favorite Parry Gripp songs.

Hero Rats – Sadly, the video of this song has been taken down.

Nom nom nom nom nom nom nom – 12 million views and counting.

Doctor Who – “Listen girl to what I say/About the man from Gallifrey…”

Bun Bun Bunny Bun – Coincidentally, Olive was also that breed of rabbit.

Robot Dog Is Coming Home – My image is at 1:26.

Space Unicorn – His first drawing request video.

Dramatic Chipmunk (Hey!) – What’s sadder, that I watched it or that I was sad it was taken down?

Hamster on a Piano – This one’s mostly for the video.

This Is my Ringtone – “Everybodylookatme,everybodylookatme, everybodyeverybodyeverybodylookatme…”

Ghost Hamster – I am reminded of all the hamsters I probably mistreated as a child.

…And because I couldn’t quite get it down to 10, Cat Yawning.

—-

Parry Gripp is a jingle writer, hence his propensity for writing catchy, corny songs under two minutes long.  He turns out a new one just about every week, right on time to cheer up anyone who’s had a long day.  His website has the rather wonderful sort options “sort by date,” “sort by name,” and “sort by hamster.”

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