Archive

Author Archives: Connor

sonora

The Town

When a curious onlooker first explores an aerial view of Sonora, Northern California, Pop. 4,903, perhaps idly browsing Google Maps, one might notice the cattle pastures, wineries and pit mines tucked amongst the wildrye, blue oak encrusted hills, but when looking upon the town proper, surrounding the antique shops, bars and the plethora of churches, there remains a rather large slice of real estate devoted to cemeteries. Along the front walk to St. Patrick’s Parish ancient donors bless the mass; behind the prison, a major industry, the City Cemetery sprawls under willows, amid brambles and thyme and the most historic mausoleums; and past Cemetery Lane mossed granite tombstones lie uncared for, unowned it seems, for there’ve been no outcries when land developers move their coffins, acre by acre, to new homes. The largest by far is Mountain Shadow Cemetery, which can be seen as a great meadow overlooking downtown Sonora from all street corners, chapels and hospital windows; the knoll where this author’s father lies.

To be sure, most of Sonora is comprised of retirement communities built by the aforementioned developers which feature gates, winding roads to cul-de-sacs, clubhouses and reedy ponds with actual ducks, going by names like “Quail Hollow,” “Belleview Acres,” “Crystal Falls” and “Peaceful Valley.” This author grew up in “Phoenix Lake Estates,” which suggests an exciting new adventure in retirement filled with wine-tastings, pleasure cruises to Alaska and narrow escapes from native traders during tours of upper Cambodia: Rise from ashy office doldrums to a new life… in reality the golf course is overgrown, the nearby creek takes more of the hillside away with every spring rain, and each house, though different in design, shelters the very same old lady, the kind with cats, ornate throw-pillows and a checkbook only used to pay the boy that mows the lawn every other Sunday.

The author’s mother recently became one of their number: weeds entwine the rusted Chevrolet trailer in the side yard, the shrubs sag, and the bookshelves full of geology texts and business how-to’s collected over thirty years gather dust and random clutter in her home. She and her neighbors are an essential fixture of rural America: through the nation, a fourth of those women older than sixty-five live alone and more than half of those eighty-five and older also live quite alone. Those same women of eighty-five years, who’ve survived everything the United States can throw at them, outnumber their male counterparts two to one, and three-fourths are widowed.

la.png

The City

When one arrives in Los Angeles the first things one notices (above the apartment blocks, artist alleys, boutique shops and ethnic centers pocketed away in vale corners) are the skyscrapers, sparkly, translucent glass in heady grays, where thousands go to work in every day. Monuments to something, certainly, they can be seen from every block of town though the names atop them are corporate and impersonal, somehow timeless in that there are no dates below the names.

The Baby Boomer’s kids live here—and they visit their elders when they can—but they live for jobs in the city where there’s employment and opportunity and excitement. The kids pay their taxes into Social Security despite the common, subvocal worry that it’d be a better investment to throw it down a large hole in Siberia; they pay what they can into the 401k, the Roth IRA, their pensions, annuities, life insurance… Distracted as they are by pressing present issues like car payments and christmas presents, they forget that in the dream of retirement only half of them are present, that most of them, like those Baby Boomers, won’t have adequate savings, that student loans will likely dismiss a chance of having a pleasant fifties-suburb house to retire in, that the future still lingers, lonely, poor and long, stretched out before them and not free from work entirely.

The things killing the male retirees, heart disease and cancer, are caused, ostensibly, indirectly, by lifestyle, whether it be the excess bacon or long hours at work and stresses brought home to the family, and nowadays instead of falling away from that lifestyle, more than ever this generation expands it: emails, texts are checked first thing in the morning, most work overtime every week and technology makes the office mobile, present at dinner and bed in the form of pings and messages, LED-bright and deathless. In retirement they’ll supplement their income working at convenience stores and gift shops, as consultants and club-members, and if lucky chairmen of the board—just as Baby Boomers do today, that is, if they don’t perish from the stresses of the workplace before that time (though for this generation, those deaths will be egalitarian, gender-neutral, the life-gap disappearing with the wage-gap).

When this young generation enters into retirement, moves to rural areas and begins to vote conservatively, it will be a shock to have to work, yes, but the greatest shock will be the cemeteries. There are no cemeteries in the city by the ocean, no Skyline Luxury Retirement, no antique shop selling old estate sale finds, no: they won’t save for retirement because they don’t see the future before them: it has been compartmentalized, shrouded, hidden by geography and time, not only by human mental machinations. There’s a whole life-cycle of death in life going unnoticed by those that are destined to participate in it, away from the skyscrapers, apartment blocks and universities. Out of sight, out of mind, gone with the past.

the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-sad-hill-cemetery

The Old and the New

The solution is to teach about death, to embrace it not only in rural areas, where the elderly go to die, but where the youth live, too. City-folk not only miss the reminder of the future but the lessons of the past as well: if the elderly are away in the hills, sequestered, their free time and experience go wasted when they could stand as a testament to contemporary society not only in their existence, mostly female and still working, but in their memories, recorded and passed down to their underlings and apprentices of sorts; how to not make the same mistakes, how to save for the last chapter in one’s life, how to plan for a future that will exist, not an idealist image conjured by lack of exposure to reality.

The author’s grandmother lives in Sonora, too, affectionately nicknamed Gaga. She teaches norwegian swear-words, how to push an enemy in an icy lake and get away with it, and what to put in gingerbread dough to make it strong for roofs and walls. She also teaches her grandchildren how to reach alcoholics, how to make sniffles better, how to read books often and how to entertain guests with simple revelry. When her friend Fran died from falling out a window she laughed uproariously in fits of giggles at the thought of Fran’s feet in the air like flagpoles, her knitted socks flags. Not long ago she once drove all the way to Monterey to see another friend, just to arrive right on time for the funeral, walked in, “who died?” “Oh, really? Well I guess picked a good time to get here then!” And when her son-in-law died she taught by example how to accept it, through well-placed jokes here and there, through feasts and mimosas and celebrations of the life lived, through acceptance of her own time, whereas those saddest were the families up from the city who hardly knew the man, made outsiders by their own choice, and who returned to the city never to speak of it again.

Advertisements

I love Blue Mt. Dew. That combination of raspberry, ginger and massive amounts of sugar sets my mouth watering and my mind racing pleasurably towards smooth decision-making. I find that sugared-up, whether it be a placebo or otherwise a dopamine reward, I am able to focus much longer on generally unpleasant tasks, like math homework. I know this as empirically tested fact, because I spent the last month testing it.

You see, there’s a life-hack out there which directs us to smell incense while studying to associate that smell with the subject. When we take the test, we simply expose ourselves to that smell, and voila! an instant A. I took this to the next level. For a month and a half, three times a week, I drank a bottle of Blue Mt. Dew during math class. I perched my chin on the bottle and listened to the lecture, to focus on that sweet, nectary smell. I rewarded myself with an ice-cold sip every time I got an answer right. And you know what? It worked brilliantly. It worked so well that I should revise my previous statement completely: I used to love Mt. Dew. Now I associate it with math. I’ve had so much of the stuff that I hate it on that basis alone, and it’s association with math makes me hate math too. I look at an equation now and smell ginger, like i’m having a mild epileptic attack.

But I wasn’t going to let this stop me, so I arrived early for the midterm on Friday and stopped by the student store to complete my experiment. But you know, I go to a small, poor community college, and I had bought every single Blue Mt. Dew they had. They were out, and I took the test while nursing a Coca-Cola because I had addicted myself to massive amounts of sugar.

I told this later to several people and they all said the same thing, “Connor! That’s like something out of Seinfeld! The Big Bang Theory! Friends!” I’m like, “Yeah, that’s because I’m an idiot, and these things happen to idiots.” Because you know, when smart people experiment with their bodies, it’s usually not with unhealthy chemicals and the goal of getting out of studying for a math test. What was I thinking?

Which brings me to my next point: I wasn’t. In fact, I deliberately wasn’t thinking about the possible results of my experiment. I was thinking, “Wouldn’t this be cool if it worked?” If it had worked, I would never think on it again and move on to the next thing. Previously, I’ve done things like draw portraits of my professors while they lecture, which did not help me remember their lectures. I’ve said to myself: “If someone asks you to do something, say okay, I’ll do it later, to see if you remember later to do it.” I never got any chores done. Last month, I tied my shoes by looping the lace counter-clockwise around my finger, and then this month I tied them clock-wise. Why? To see if I could change my habits. What I did not try to do was actually change habits that matter.

While I carry one experiments with my life, I deliberately do not think of other experiments I could be doing. What if I did my homework right after school? What if I didn’t play videogames? What if I go to bed early, get up early, and get to work and school with minutes to spare, instead of a few breathless seconds? These experiments are certainly more important, and furthermore, it’s easy to see potential outcomes. I could have less stress, better sleep, more time for productive enterprises like blogging, and hey, let’s throw a girlfriend in there for good measure.

Those changes seem hard to carry out, but they’re also pretty easy to see. But I’m ready to take this thought experiment to the next level. What experiments, changes in my life, am I really not thinking about? What paradigms do I operate on, and which are negative for me? How about I appreciate my parents more, spend less money, or not even that. How about I achieve a more holistic perspective of human nature, or a deeper peace with my choices in life?

In Seinfeld’s final episode, the show was still about nothing. Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer; they just carry on shooting the shit, while bars close around them and the camera dolleys out for good. There was an odd romanticism in it, like it was where they truly belonged, and it seems that they are still there now, like statues of ogres in Tolkien’s woods. Me, I continue to experiment, scheme, plot for a better life and listen intently to Demetri Martin but I still don’t make changes. Like sitcom characters, I relegate the real issues to the background, in favor of mental gymnastics that distract me when I am the only audience to my own life. I almost wish there was a laugh track to keep me company, to show me when to just laugh at myself, to add meaning to empty gestures.

For Russia, Christmas arrived several months early, when Ukraine ratified an agreement giving temporary autonomy to the areas of Luhansk and Donetsk and amnesty for Russian volunteers there. An eternity ago, when Russia initially annexed Crimea and supported rebels in Eastern Ukraine, this was the outcome Putin chose.

This previous spring, Russia’s aggression seemed irrational. What were they going to reasonably gain? The apparent answer: A few drops of oil and awkward access to the Black Sea, against economic sanctions that have now pushed the Ruble to dangerous lows and the ire of Nato, Europe, and the other satellites like Finland and Kazakhstan. Yet Russia continued to push when only future pain seemed certain. The question then became; how far were they willing to go? Were they going to invade Ukraine?

Full-scale invasion seemed even more ridiculous, yet Russia pushed right up to that point, (some would even admit, past it) moving whole divisions inside Ukrainian territory and opening up new fronts, like Mariupol. And furthermore, here we are, with a cease-fire that merely helps to decentralize the Ukrainian government in three years. To a casual western observer, the only plausible explanation is that Putin truly wants Ukraine on some passionate, nationalist, elemental level of his being, so much that he is willing to cut Russia off from Europe’s economy, alienate any true friends he has and swing whole swaths of his nation into poverty over rising food prices. Furthermore, it looks at first glance as if he has failed.

But this is where Baduk, or Go, comes in. (For those of you who don’t know how to play Go, learn.) Early last year The West approached Russia’s corner in Ukraine by tempting Ukraine with a membership in the EU. This was an easy opening in The East’s defenses, brought by Russia’s dependence on high extended positions – their satellites, if you will. Russia, however, was not about to let The West uproot Ukraine without any sort of repercussions. So, Russia’s next move was to gently push back by pressuring Ukraine’s then-president, Viktor Yanukovych, to clamp down on western supporters within his country, and withhold interest in an EU membership. At this point in time, it was business as usual in world politics, with different countries exerting safe, subtle pressures on their neighbors in the hopes of keeping a status quo where no one could rise as a legitimate threat to other nations.

Board 1

Above, The West, playing white, realizes that Russia’s influence over Ukraine is more important when viewed as influence over the rest of Europe. Russia’s framework up unto this point seemed off-balance, but Russia always planned to be able to exert economic pressure on Ukraine, and in doing so solidify power over the rest of its outlying stones. However, as an up-and-coming economy and one of the three possible natural gas routes from Russia to Germany, Ukraine in Russian hands is too powerful an influence on the European economy. With the marked stone, Europe has attempted to cut off this Russian influence over Ukraine, and extend into the center of a Russian moyo. Russia’s next move, to pressure Ukraine, also functions as a signal to other nations, which in turn makes a white rebuttal crucial, to make it clear to Russia’s satellites that they can escape Russia’s orbit if needed.

Board 2

 

Cue American funding to rebel groups within Ukraine, which destabilizes the country and proverbially separates it from the edge of the board. Now it’s on Russia to make sure it doesn’t lose it’s grasp on Ukraine. At this point, there is no hope in fighting it out and capturing the marked stones: America’s foray into the field has made sure that at least the eastern half of Ukraine is going to be part of the EU. Since the part that Russia had hoped to define in the future, on the second line, has just been defined, it is now imperative for Russia to get something else out of this. Russia needs to refocus on it’s principle strategy- economic influence over the larger board.

Board 3

Instead of playing it safe, letting The West have Ukraine, and re-enforcing it’s control over an already weak economy, Russia funds the separatists in Luhansk and Donetsk. In doing so, the EU is forced to take what openings it has and threaten a major invasion (in Go terms) into Russian territory, using sanctions. But the West can’t go all-out. If it severs all economic ties with Russia, it will leave itself open in the ensuing restructuring and force Russia to take something with equal or greater value- any chance of influence or territory in Russian satellite countries. Fighting with separatists is dangerous, but a practical ko battle involving dozens of points is insane. The EU is a loose organization: It can’t adequately empower it’s member states to make informed, unbiased decisions on the value of large swaths of territory. As a result, it moves slowly, safely, territoriality. However, this forces Russia to get risky, in order to form influence great enough to adequately mount attacks on tight European economic formations. Thus, above we see Russia sacrifice some of its own economic integrity in the hopes that its long-term successes in European markets will render early concessions unnecessary and slow for Europe.

Board 4

Now that there is a cease-fire in Ukraine, it looks as if in the coming years Russia will be able to easily assert control over Eastern Ukraine, or “NovoRossiya.” The West may still be able to bring it inline with the rest of Ukraine, but that would be a waste of time and resources perhaps better spent on other things. Right now, it’s true, there are other fish to fry, and everyone’s going to tenuki. But over the coming months, The West’s ability to keep moving in on Russia’s economy will crumble, as every day that goes by strengthens the EU’s addiction to Eastern natural gas. Also, sanctions are a pretty paltry gesture in the short term, and a good Go player will likewise notice cutting points in the West’s wall that Russia will try to exploit by reorganizing its oil infrastructure and trading much more with developing markets in Africa and South America. And most importantly, over the long term, Russia might attempt to undercut white’s territorial groups. Give it five or ten years, and Ukraine will be ripe to escalate yet again, after other, more valuable moves are played.

That’s the value to likening this situation to Go- it develops in abstraction, so we can see that the bigger picture extends over decades, not months, and each move must be played when the time is right, according to the direction of play. While the world’s attention is devoted to ISIS and Ebola, it may not be the best time to spend resources on fixing the complex hierarchies in Europe. Also, the above is a joseki- an almost inevitable outcome given this exact situation, where both parties have equal access to all the information available, and are both reasonably versed in current strategies. From the beginning, when one move led to another, both parties saw the possible outcomes and forced each other to choose one that didn’t have a clear winner, even though Russia assumed more risk. In Go, this is a good outcome. Less so in real life, for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people in Ukraine, the millions in Europe with uncertain access to winter warmth, and the destitute Russian citizens.

First off, apologies for being late. School also started for me and it’s likewise been a bit nuts.

Secondly, AHA! I’ve got you! As I suspected, you identified a difference between base pleasures and higher values, and you chose to define different levels (I’m going to call them that for our purposes) of what you want, irrelevant to “happiness.” You also, most damningly, mentioned important values. In short, you described a worldview, or at least, a view towards what you might think is best for your person, that is strikingly similar to Aristotle’s! AHA!

As the man to first coin the term “ethics,” he and his co-conspirators Socrates and Plato have  an indelible mark on American ideology. He also helped congeal a perceived difference between hedonism and a much more puritan ideal of a virtuous person. Classic Hedonists would not see a difference between say, a steady iv drip of heroin, passionate love-making, or completing a whittling project. Pleasure is pleasure. But to most people, I think, there are base pleasures, and higher pleasures, which is why we can here call them levels of pleasure. The highest pleasures last the longest, but are more subtle. These we would call virtues, or values.

For instance, you and I value ambition. But as you say, being too ambitious is a problem: you might pursue something to the detriment of yourself. I might be wrong, but refuse to see it, for instance. So there’s a scale on which you could be too ambitious, or too little. Perhaps “ambitious,” then, is the wrong word for it- the far right end. The left end would be sloth, and the middle, what you want, is “initiative,” and if we have a good amount of initiative in our lives, we will reap subtle rewards and be better people, and Aristotle thinks we will be happy.

But happiness need not be equivalent to pleasure. As Douglas Adams said, “you cannot know the question and the answer at the same time.” Similarly, if we were truly happy, we wouldn’t really care to spend time thinking about it, would we? We would already have initiative, courage, humility, love, empathy, worldliness, knowledge, what have you, and most importantly, we would be implicitly confident enough not to know that we were these things at all. You know, if you have to question whether or not your action was right, are you doing it to be right, or are you doing it because it’s right? If you’re truly Mother Teresa, you wouldn’t think about whether or not to give food to orphans, and you wouldn’t think about how it reflects on you. When we reach Mother Teresa’s level, we will have changed as people and we will have achieved “Eudaimonia,” which is Greek-speak for something I suppose is equivalent to the Buddha’s Transcendence, except we don’t leave the Eternal Wheel, or whatever.

There are a lot of classic problems with Aristotle’s Ethics, but I’ve always liked it because it’s loose. He doesn’t actually think anyone will ever really know what they really want, but they still want it. The virtues that lead one to Eudaimonia need not be the same for everyone, depending upon the situation, and it need not be possible for everyone to reach it in their life. Aristotle actually says that the working man won’t have the time to devote himself to leading a good life, and still others will never have the opportunity to demonstrate, say, courage or selflessness, or perhaps many virtues, and they will not have the opportunity to reap the higher pleasures afforded to those who can demonstrate most virtues. In short, it’s for rich people with time on their hands.

But it’s looseness has not stopped it from defining, or perhaps discovering, what makes Americans tick on a fundamental ethical level. We all have ideal versions of ourselves that we each strive for, whether or not those versions are within reach. We all are taught virtues early in life by people who believe that those virtues will lead us to a life well lived. And we all know some people who seem more at peace than others. Maybe they don’t show it, maybe they haven’t achieved enlightenment or anything, but they are perhaps “happier” holistically than other poor souls who hurt themselves and others.

But eh, people are complicated.

I’d like to, for a moment, take a look at what we have so far, and talk about what I want from this blog, and then I’d like to ask you a quick question, Ben.

Firstly, I read through my previous posts and thought deliriously “what was I on?” before remembering that I wrote each one without really a thought towards planning or for readers. I never expected my first essays written outside the school system to read like those do. For instance, I mentioned Aristotle’s theories in two essays, and referenced him in all three extensively, but I’ve never thought of myself as a fan of Virtue Ethics. Me? I thought deontology was the way to go, all the way, in school. Also, I found myself trying to turn new phrases, like “seeing life lived was the only life to live.” I don’t think that’s going to catch on, but I’ve learned it’s really fun to play around with words and phonetics.

So I’ve learned a bit about myself, which is an amazing boost for this experiment. I thought it would take a few months, not a few weeks, to see some patterns in what I writing about. My hypothesis, and what I hoped for, hope for, is that not only will I learn something about myself, but that A)  I will have a portfolio of ideas to look back on so that I can say to myself “You’ve done something you put your mind to, Connor” and B) I will also become a better writer. Now, I think I get too carried away with mashing together themes and motifs and whatnot, and it comes out sounding like pretentious pseudo-intellectual bs.

Which it is, maybe. I dunno. Yes. Maybe I don’t give myself enough credit, maybe you’re your own toughest critic. And to a great extent, that criticism can be laid on 95% of the opinion pieces and intellectual blogs on the internet, which brings me to the other reason why I’m doing this: I hope becoming a better writer entails an ability to become a serious writer, rather than one who writes half-hour articles on 50c online newspapers. I know it’s not that simple, but perhaps if I get the writing down, the research and the critical thinking will be easier to tackle. But maybe that’s what all those terrible writers also think.

Lastly, I want to stick to this because I’m tired of second-guessing myself to the point of inaction. I know you just wrote about that aspect of procrastination, and I think there are some problems with the catch-phrase, but on the whole it strikes at a central aspect of why I sometimes don’t finish what I put my mind to. So I have to hand it to both of us that we’ve made it this far, and that we’ve already done something I find interesting. Also I read our new “about” section- great job!

But I don’t want to count my chickens before they’re hatched. The new school year is starting soon and if I remember back to my first freshman year I had a great project going with my friend, Michael, where we were going to write episodes of a short radio show about a hobo looking for his long-lost daughter in a kafkaesque, rain-drenched city. To me, it was a way to maintain contact with him and provide a basis for an interchange of ideas between the two of us about our new experiences at our respective colleges. But as soon as we got to our respective colleges, we found that our lives didn’t have room anymore for us to sit down weekly and skype about the humorous adventures of a mutual hero. To return to the concept of procrastination, I’ve found that changing circumstances is the number one reason why my plans don’t always go through. Sometimes I plan a time for a homework assignment, and find then that that time doesn’t work out for reasons good or bad. Sometimes months devoted to one plan turn out to work better for another, and to some extent, that’s life. We can’t really predict the future, can we? So it goes.

At the same time, when I don’t get what I want, I’m unhappy. I’m unhappy in my fatalistic response to changing circumstances. I’m dissatisfied with the way life goes if you don’t change your own goals to coincide with your changing circumstances, and I don’t like it when I’m too flexible and drop any plans to ride the wave of whatever is happening through a particular time in my life. I want control, but manageable goals are a necessity. So that’s why, initially, I’d like to take this slowly and alternate weeks, so that we have a week to respond to the previous post. With that in mind, some food for thought:

What makes you happy? I mean, you’ve established that it’s a difficult concept, happiness, and that there’s no right answer. But at the same time, people older and wiser than the two of us have indeed found a variety of serviceable and fully-baked answers to your questions that many other people have supported for centuries. So I bet, as I have just learned to some extent, that if you did in fact look at the way your life works, you’d find an inner logic to what makes you happy, and a strong personal definition to what happiness is to you. What is that definition to you? I don’t care so much that it’s a hard or easy question. Furthermore, I bet if you answered that question, we could find some philosophers who have already expanded on it! Which I think is the greatest part of philosophy; that we share the human experience so closely that we come to similar conclusions about abstract concepts sometimes thousands of years apart.

When I was a kid I wanted to travel all around the world just visiting places, seeing life lived was the only life to live. I still would like to live for a very long time, just so I won’t miss anything. But that is impossible. When I grew older, I realized that traveling forever was impossible, too. I wanted to hunt rubies in the Ganges River, and live at a Buddhist temple, study each painting in the Louvre, hike across Kilimanjaro, steal food in Morocco, learn calculus in Berlin, and play soccer in Rio de Janeiro. I wanted, I think, to live as much as possible, and the only way was to live not only my own life, but a monk’s life, an artist’s life, a scientist’s life, and a street urchin’s life.

But when I grew older, I realized that traveling forever was not my life. I don’t have the resources of Larry Darrell, the riches to find enlightenment while free of the insecurities of destitution: Without a job, where and how will I sleep, eat, live? What will I do, alone in a strange country. I’m not Bruce Wayne, either. I can’t gently touch the life of crime, careful never to actually steal from someone other than myself, and throw myself into prison touting angst and the absence of a parental hand. Both Bruce Wayne and Larry Darrell can make a withdrawal if they ever get into trouble, and fall into a safety net made of cash.

That is trite of me.

I must learn to travel while standing still, perhaps. I must learn to savor each and every day, and reach enlightenment while working nine-to-five. The stapler and the keyboard are worlds enough, and time. Aristotle himself said that the common folk didn’t have time to lead a good life, but I’ll find it. Maybe it’s in my cigarette break, or in the microwave’s countdown. Three, two, one, I have it, the answer to everything. I know now what I must do- the winged chariot at my back doesn’t frighten me! I can travel the world freely in my mind!

This is what I used to say to myself when I was upset that my life wasn’t going to plan, and that I wasn’t traveling the world. I did not, however, find enlightenment in the stapler, in all seriousness. In fact, retaining simple lessons from experiences still eludes me. It is all confusing. Now I think about traveling, and I think I wouldn’t be living any life but the mute observer’s, unable to really connect with what I was seeing in others. Bruce Wayne’s wisdom is comic-book madness, I am forced to conclude, and Larry Darrell is fiction from Somerset Maugham. I think if I was a traveler I would be seeking enlightenment not in staplers, but in train tickets and tiny soap bars.

This is possibly cynical, as it implies that enlightenment or even eudaimonic happiness or what have you is equally hard for the rich and the poor. Possibly it is but wishful thinking, against Aristotle’s theory that the good life was only accessible by the rich. Now, I am forced by my need for some light at the end of the tunnel, to conclude that there is a problem with the system in America that makes the pursuit of happiness unduly hard for the average American. Whether it be some dark thing within our culture or the mistakes of all-too-human lawmakers, there needs to be a thing in between me and happiness, dammit. I seem to need a reason as to why I can’t be reasonably happy, and you know what, why can’t there be a reason? That would give me a problem to solve, and regardless, I think I would be happiest trying to solve it, even if it is impossible, like making myself live for a very long time.

Awesome! It’s my weekend. I get to do whatever I want to all day, and the next day, and I want to write a blog post, play some games, peg away at a script, edit some photos, edit a short film, watch a Richard Linklater movie, do this, do that- If I had my way, I would never get up from my computer.

This is a bloody dagger of a realization to me, especially since I actually spend eight hours of my working day sitting at another desk, pretty much surfing the internet and reading. Really, I spend a sum total of sixteen hours a day between two desks. I work graveyard, and have not seen more than two hours of daylight chained together in a month! I am Jack’s bewildered lazy ass, I am Jackie Chan’s wrinkled forehead. I shudder to think what it would be like to watch at high speed my life these past few months. It would only convince me that I am totally irresponsible.

But at the same time I think it rather funny that I am languishing in this cycle now, and furthermore if I am honest with myself I will admit that I’m very lazy, and I learned to be at a very early age, be it through easy homework or a cushy middle class life. And to give myself full credit I’ve done some pretty cool things that I am proud of, but it’s too true that most of my time is spent doing very little.

What am I doing very little of? In a metaphysical sense, I spend a small percentage of my time on Earth doing things that I think make my life worth living: e.g. very Aristotelian things, like learning discipline, knowledge, and perhaps wisdom, or teaching, making the world a better place, being heroic. In short, living up to classical ideals of what a human being should be. In addition, or rather at the same time, I am also spending time actively making the human race more adaptable and flexible, by making myself more suited to success in a myriad of conditions. It seems implicit in the Singularitarian ideology that it is my ethical imperative to spend my time doing certain things, in order to better humanity, the race, and life itself; to serve a modern vision of life thriving in every conceivable medium.

There are a lot of philosophical reasons why we do things but I do think the Greeks are the foremost influence on what we think is an activity that will make our lives better. I have a vision of myself as a successful individual, with valuable knowledge and inner peace that approaches eudaimonia. It’s not a hedonistic vision, to say the least. But this is in contrast to the future myths of what the Singularity supposedly makes possible. Vast dyson spheres of life, planet ships and space trees. Nano-colonies and asteroid webs, you name it. The possibilities of the future do not include visions of the individual, and rightly so. There is no way to become famous, no way to measure yourself against others in a universe not even of billions, but trillions of life forms, where time is measured geologically, societies come and go in the blink of a god’s eye, where Life has found success, as Life measures it- in immortality.

In fifty years, when we’ve solved AI and have successfully replaced, say, fifty percent of the jobs that are worked to day with robots, as Vinod Khosla suggested to the Google co-founders, we will be facing not only furious changes in economic structures and whatnot, but also wide disconnects between what our dreams are, and what our possible futures are. You, with the dream of opening up your autobody shop- you’re going to have to accept that you can’t continue the family business. I am going to have to accept that I can’t get paid to sit around eight hours every night. If we want to be happy, it seems, Jack and I are going to have to accept that we are organs in a larger body reaching for the stars.

But what are we going to spend those sixteen hours a day doing? Sitting around, surfing the internet, occasionally doing something productive? As Sergey Brin notes, the real problem is boredom- “We need to feel like (we’re) needed, wanted and have something productive to do,” especially if we realize our potential to create a post-scarcity, ideas economy in a single lifetime. In a way, my laziness gives me a perverse hope- that’s why I find it funny, I suppose. The human race will survive because on the one hand it’s highly creative and endurant, and on the other hand it is lackadaisical and dilatory. However, I really don’t want to sit around eight hours a night getting paid. I want eudaimonia, well-being, and I have a hard time believing that I am going to go quietly into a future of abundance.