Negative

 

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If you are like me and trying to follow the diamond rather than the golden rule, sooner or later you find yourself with an excess of negativity. This other part of ourselves is not a comfortable place to be in, though, so we find outstandingly creative ways to either get out of it or distract ourselves from it. I acknowledge those who cannot control that negativity. I am also aware of those who prefer to wallow in it and call it everything from realism to ageism to what-not.
But in this article I want to focus on the role of the negative. For those young enough 😛 to have used photo film, you know the fascination of the negatives, the way our brain struggles and then begins to make sense of the reversed image, the play of shadow and unnatural light that coalesces into a weird beauty.
In a more real world (says who?), as I mentioned in another couple of articles, the negative is a lot more useful for survival than the positive. That’s why our brain notices it first and attempts to address it first. No matter the stark beauty of the wide open space of the savannah, that prowling big feline you see coming towards you gets noticed and dealt with so you can admire the scenery another day 
The upside to that is, of course, safety. If we succeed in reaching a safe place, the theory says we can allow that survival-oriented part of our brain to be at rest and we can concentrate on being human, including paying attention to and creating beauty. Most of us seem to have forgotten we have that switch though… does that mean we do not recognize a safe place when we see it anymore?
But there is another role of the negative, especially when we are talking about feelings. They are, of course, great motivators. Probably because of that link with survival, we usually act on the negative faster, and put a lot of effort into it. The results are… hmm, what’s a polite way of putting it? 
I will refer you to the entire range of fiction, and most of the non-fiction writing… just in case you haven’t noticed it, it ain’t pretty! For a milder version, the religious and inspirational teachings focus on teaching the brain to avoid acting in those ways, which is an acknowledgment of the way they usually pan out.
But if there is one thing our brain can do, is learn. We can learn to guide our actions, even when those actions are triggered by negative thoughts or feelings (greed, hate, jealousy and the like). I have tried to learn this with the shades of anger that are my usual negative response to life. I am in a vocation that allows me to use anger to try and change systems. I can also use it to arrange the life around me to be safe. I am not sure if anger can work at a group level (revolutions, anyone?) but at a personal level heck, yes it works! 
Don’t get me wrong, I can wallow in anger myself for a while, uncomfortable as it actually is. I can fantasize about revenge driven by anger – and I am inventive! 
In the long run though, that doesn’t matter because anger is a motivator for action, but (wait for it!) it is not the action. That has been, and is, and will be, under our control – and that’s the way I like it!

 

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Person

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For a blog like this an article on persons seems a bit superfluous, don’t you think? And yet as I find myself musing on the things that matter to me and the relationship of each to the people I interact with I find myself trying to define humanity, you know what I mean? Or rather, describe humanity. Even more precise, describe this particular human. Which begs the question: is there a way to generalize? Is there a definition of “person” or “people” that everybody will agree with? Methinks…. Not! Especially because we are, to quote a well-known phrase, “unique, just like everybody else”.

Our definition of person depends on many variables like culture, ethnicity, era, religion etc. It seems not only impossible, but downright foolish to try and unify those as we are self-evident, like time. Except that we find exceptions (fetus, child, racially different human, non-physical beings, animals, rivers….) based on the variables described above so we are anything BUT self-evident. Or we are self evident to ourselves but not so to others and vice-versa. We are usually self-evident to our own groups but even that is not fool-proof – think children and decision making

Some general ideas: we are people when we live and behave like other people (feral children and psychopaths?), we are people because we are born so (apes and corporations?), we are people because we can make decisions (in a coma and women?)… you get the gist, for every definition, for every right granted, there are exceptions and they all sound oh so logical.

What to do, what to do?

It may be that the problem lies with the words like “definition”, with our desire for things to be clear-cut, once and for all, fixed. It may lie with our brain’s perceived inability to deal with change and uncertainty – although that is highly debatable. It has to do with the complexity of our worlds where systems and laws and policies and procedures and beliefs and biases account for more and more of our very lives.

I think it’s time for fluidity. We can both be human and grow into it. We can accept a river is important enough to count as one of us. We can continue to talk about it around the dinner table not just in obscure journals: is Puppy Dog a person? How about that gorilla or that dolphin? What makes humans human? What makes humans and non-humans persons? Are aliens persons? How about robots and clones and embryos? The key word is talk. Another key word is acceptance. My little one may not think our cat is a person, but many a people might disagree with that.

In my books relying on self-evidence is dangerous because it perpetuates ignorance. Even though I have been, am and will be, this second and forever…

Brain

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Storms are supposed to be rare events in the year. They are not anymore. It does not seem quite so fanciful, after the 10th storm of the summer, to believe that the entire planet has decided that humans are better off kept inside, where they cannot do so much damage. It is, of course, ironic that humans can and do make more damage when they are inside and not in direct contact with nature. It is inside that we seem to forget just how small a piece of nature we actually are. It is inside our cities, our houses, our minds that we believe ourselves stronger than nature.

This is, it seems, how we grow up. It is nurture (for want of a better word) that makes us forget nature. It is our brain, our big, biased, besotted brain that makes us forget ourselves. We are against nature even when we pay it a compliment, for we separate it from ourselves.

Brains are terribly good at doing what they are supposed to do, provided we don’t try to override the rules. Which we do, children of our age as we are. Then, the brain becomes a terrible thing of beautifully articulated destruction.

I get quite passively misanthropic at this stage, usually because I tend to use the brain in the human way and of course there is no hope. Of course there is no way to return to an idealistic and idealized noble savage existence. Of course there is no hope for humanity. How can there be, when I can see and follow the news and read between the lines in serious articles about the desperate state of – insert any subject you can think of here – and it is clear to any logical brain that hope is futile. Resistance is futile. Life itself (as far as humans are concerned) is futile – pun not intended and of quite bad taste, wouldn’t you say?

And yet hope remains, quite aside from the futility that is evident. For truly we are not meant for a life of leisure, it is terrible for our health. 🙂 When all the avenues are closed (by ourselves, of course!) our brain remembers defiance. When one cannot succeed, one eventually finds out (and grumbles about) someone else has an idea that will work. When alone we despair we find that we can sing in unison.

Even more idealistic, do you think? And yet I have seen it, time and again. The best movies we watch are about this – you know the ones I am talking about. The books we read and re-read year after year all talk about this. The revolutions that sweep through nations are all about this.

The reason hope was shut within Pandora’s box (urn, whatever) is because most of the time it is a torment for the brain. It doesn’t allow it to just gorge on sugar and infer stupidity out of mere annoyance. It pushes and prods and chases away all logic. For what is logic other than a tool, and how true that once you have a hammer everything around you seems to become a nail?

The wrench, however, is just near the plier….

Quaint

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It’s one of those words with changeable meaning. Originally it meant clever, ingeniously unusual, something to marvel at. Nowadays it is used in an almost derogatory way: obsolete, old-fashioned. Sometimes though it goes further and means simply unobtrusive, nothing to write home about, and if relating to décor, to be changed to something more modern.

Kind of like us, then 🙂

Even if the Chinese didn’t say “may you live in interesting times” it remains a favourite wish of many to do so. Craving adventure, out of ordinary events, escapism, forgetting perhaps that we also need solitude, peace, a roof over our heads sometimes, security even. Not to mention the money that must be made somehow, relationships that need sustaining, books that are too heavy to carry in a backpack.

I am one of those people, you see. Railing sometimes at the routine I am told will make my life easier. Watching jet planes tracks across the sky and wishing I was on one of them. Wanting to go with the retreating wave.

It doesn’t mean I am forgetting the above. The small pleasures, the gratitude for so many things, the safety routines can bring to everyday life. Just that sometimes I am also aware that there is more to life than just the small circle in the sand I have been marking. That’s where the envy comes for those who travel, who create, who explore.

If I remember correctly, those anti-suffrage used to say that women who go to higher education will no longer be content with the life prescribed for them. It was true, too! 🙂 Whole systems needed to be changed to accommodate those women.

So what to do when life is prescribed and I am no longer content with it? When the soul demands that the eyes witness what documentaries present? When the spirit rebels against bedtime as night dreams can’t hold a candle to daydreams? When the body aches from sitting in the office and asks to be allowed to roam at will?

Reading remains a staple, sometimes to the point of obsession, but fiction can’t hold me anymore. If I am to be stuck on the couch then I want my brain to fire on all cylinders. I can find emotion and feelings elsewhere! Music, especially live, is another good way to escape routine. Walking, while useful, is no longer enough in the weekends, so gardening will have to take its place, especially permaculture where the brain is involved as well, not just the wonder at life appearing out of seemingly nowhere.

It seems to me then that the brain is the culprit then, so it’s the brain that needs to be pleased until the time will come for an escape from the routine. And stubbornness will have to suffice, until freedom is at hand. And if there is a sacrifice… well, I assume it will be sleep!