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A Ferret Called Wilson

Chasing Happy, Chasing Dreams

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We are all the same People

In the UK, it was Brexit. In the US it is the Orange Fascist. In Africa, including Nigeria, Senegal and other countries, it doesn’t have a name, but it’s the same disease.

Worldwide people are becoming violently nationalist. They are closing themselves in from the rest of the world, and in fact from anything considered different or abnormal, or threatening. The Brexit (Britain + Exit, as I have learned) decision came as a result of decades of globalisation leaving the working class unemployable, abandoned and alone in their homes (From: The Long Read). OF in the United States turned out to be a strikingly similar phenomenon. People suffering from the not so slow and very steady onslaught of outsourcing that closed the factories and mines that were the sole source of income in their towns, chose a lunatic to lead the country because at least he seemed to understand their anger and frustration (From: Cracked).

Across the Atlantic, Africa has been suffering the same symptoms, but perhaps because we Westerners think that our race and society are the default, we haven’t noticed. Over the last ten or so years, African countries across the continent have been waging war on the homosexuals in their lands. It’s not that homosexuality is new, indeed it has been a part of indigenous people’s ritual and mysticism since before history had records. It seems to be that in recent years African countries have been exhibiting symptoms of nationalism, claiming that homosexuality is a Western import designed to destroy their identities as Africans. Many countries, including Nigeria, have criminalized homosexual expression (From: Chikaduah Blog).

Nationalism, it seems, is a disease that is afflicting more and more countries worldwide. Its symptoms are misplaced anger, violence, suppression of sexuality, a hatred of the West, or the “outsiders”, militancy, and draconian control of daily life. It seems that nationalism arises where people feel economically threatened by unseen forces. When we feel threatened, we turn hostile. A natural response that may have served us well many tens of thousands of years ago, this hostile reflex is maladaptive today as our greatest predators are not the roaming lions but in fact our fellow man.

Ever since I was a child I always wanted to know why? what causing that to be the way it is? Today I look at this rising tide of global nationalism and I say, why is it that so many countries exhibit such striking social upheavals, and all so close together in time? Of course it’s not the first time that nationalism has resulted in calamity as Germany and Cambodia have demonstrated in the not-so-distant past with terrible consequence; Perhaps the reasons there is a flare up today are not unrelated? I believe, though I have no research or hard facts to use as proof, that the social upheavals we are experiencing are the manifestation of a deep existential fear that has become the norm of our daily lives as more and more specialisation, digitisation, automation, outsourcing and anonymity pervade every aspect of our lives. We as human beings need to feel as if we are connected to others in a meaningful way, and we need a spirituality that connects us to something greater. The unstoppable onslaught of globalisation has eroded that part of our existence so subtly and yet so thoroughly, that we don’t even understand why we are so dissatisfied.

When I look at the world around me, I see well meaning people with solid work ethics and a honest desire to serve their communities and families and make a meaningful contribution to the world. In the global economy the way we have built it, these people are not valued any more than their ability, on an hourly, minutely, or even secondly basis, to produce a marketable product. Great hulking intangible entities called corporations decide the value of these people based on formulas, and when the numbers don’t add up, they are discarded like depreciated machinery. Of course, if work can be found, then material pleasures abound, so we are supposed to be satisfied with our share of the bargain. Increasingly, however, I find that people look at their houses, their cars, their designer clothes and accessories, their multitude of electronic gadgets and they cannot understand why they feel so empty. With nowhere to point the finger, and no hope to cure the emptiness that results from having no real connection to anything beyond one’s self, people turn to the easiest target they can find to release their anger and frustration. It’s not out of malice, but out of despair that we become so cruel.

I think that we can cure this dis-ease of nationalism. If we view it as the natural and predictable backlash to globalisation and rampant capitalism, and if we understand that its primary path of destruction is through the erosion of meaning and connection in people’s lives, then we have a formula for a cure. I believe that what we need to do is recreate an environment where cooperation, understanding and love can once again flourish. In order to do this, we must break down the barriers that prevent people from building meaningful relationships with each other. A simple concrete solution would be to undo the concrete sprawl and the automobile infrastructure that puts every citizen in a metal (and increasingly plastic) box and hurtles them through space, isolated and protected from contact with any one else. Instead, create cities and towns where people want to be, including public spaces and public transport and bike and pedestrian friendly infrastructure. We could also focus on reconnecting people with the sources of their livelihood. Local economies enable people to know the names and even the faces of those who provide them with their food, clothes and other services. Localisation is also much more stable and sustainable than globalisation for a variety of reasons.

When it was just the Holocaust, or just the Khmer Rouge, it was easy for us to say that a few bad apples had spoiled the harvest, but today we are seeing the same behaviors manifesting the world wide. I can only conclude that we are all the same people reacting to the same threats, even if they are only perceived subconsciously. Many people, in fact most people, still subscribe to the Story of the continuous March of Progress which tells us that our world is now, and has always been, steadily rising from the squalor to which we were born, on a path to our own engineered salvation. But once, not so long ago, we lived in a world where the default was to be loved not just by your parents, but by your entire society, to be well fed and free from both external deadlines and authoritative coercion, to spend our days in leisure and play, with full confidence that tomorrow the world would bestow upon us yet another great bounty worthy of a feast. I believe that we can once again inhabit this world. I don’t presume to say that it will be easy to find or reconstruct, but I see rays of hope shining through the despair. We are one people, and increasingly we will be harder pressed to recognized the truth of that, and I believe that in the end Truth will prevail.

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Fuck That (Reparations)

Saw a link to this essay claiming that it was going to jumpstart a movement as grand as the gay rights movement. It claims that “America will never be whole” as long as it holds this debt to the poor black man, compounded with over 435 years of interest.

Well fuck that! The entire fucking globe has shat on my kind for centuries, nay millenia! The Ancient Jews of Before Christ were bartering my kind for livestock, punishing our rapists with our hand in marriage, throwing us to the wolves to save their hairy stank asses from getting rammed instead. And Jesus didn’t exactly fix things. Modern Christians flog us endlessly for Original Sin, accuse us of murder for trying to control our own bodies, guilt us out of life and liberty with sad images of our neglected children. We are the cause of our enemies’ moral failings and we must give up our faces and our identities in order to protect them from punishment.

The fucking President of the United States is a fucking Black Motherfucking Sausage Swinger.

But who is calling for our reparations?

Do you ever notice yourself wishing that “If they would only just add that extra lane, then my commute would be so much easier!” or “If only guys would just wake up and realize that women do not like getting cat called on the street” or maybe, “If I could just stop worrying about how I look I could enjoy myself so much more”? Chances are that if you’ve caught yourself wishing once, you’ve probably done it a thousand times. Maybe you’re a problem solver, or you’re one of those people who always has a project going on, whether it’s self improvement, home improvement or society improvement. If this sounds like you, then you sound like me and we both have a problem: It’s problem solving.

The other day it occurred to me that I’ve been in therapy, or “life coaching” as my therapist likes to say, for just over a year now. I’ve come a long way and yet after every problem I solve, whether it’s me or the world, I turn the corner to discover yet another problem. And they’re always the kind of problems that “if only I could…” then everything in my life would be ok. It occurred to me that the problems will never go away and the more energy I spend on trying to solve them, the less energy I spend enjoying all the success I’ve built into my life this far. I thought to myself that maybe, just maybe, if I stop thinking of them as problems then they might just go away on their own.

I’ve never lived a life with no problems, so I don’t know if I’d recognize one if it hit me in the face. Who knows? I may not have any problems already, but if I never stop trying to solve problems, then I’ll never know.

On Humanism

Last week was a week for feminist bashing. First, a post by a member on a men’s support forum that I frequent blamed the liberated modern feminist for the shape of modern male body shame. More recently there have been a number of articles published commenting on Hillary Clinton’s impending rise to power and on the form of feminism presented by Ms Sandberg in this article. I used to think of myself as a feminist, but I think feminism is outdated, and a misnomer, for what the true meaning of the movement represents. Today, I think of myself as a humanist.

I thank my fellow bloggers, les femmes, for helping me to find words to express my standing, and I thank a a particularly genuine forum member at the support forum for the inspiration to remember my own humanity in the midst of the anger.

Humanism. It isn’t feminism because it doesn’t seek to place women on equal footing as men, or to insult men or put them down, and it isn’t masculinism or patriarchism because it doesn’t seek to maintain the long standing oppression of women. Humanism is the philosophy that all humans have value, that we are all made of flesh, that we all feel pain, we all cry, we all fear the unknown. Humanism seeks to undo the damage that centuries of body shaming and millennia of power seeking have put on our collective psyches. Humans wants peace for all humans in their own hearts, and in their relationships with each other.

After the claim was made that modern feminism is responsible for the shape and style of small penis humiliation, another man added an explanation: feminists seek to topple the patriarchy, but instead of going for the strongest males, they attack the weakest first and use the cheapest shots. This naturally results in women shaming non-alpha male types for their insufficient sex drives, small penises, lack of ambition and generally non-alpha male patriarchal personality types.

I understand where this man is coming from. He feels inferior to the alpha-types that define what ideal modern masculinity looks like, but it is easier to blame women, outsiders, for attacking him than it is to blame his fellow men. He would like to be an alpha, but he isn’t. However, if he rejects the image of alpha as fundamentally flawed, he incites ridicule from other alpha males — the strong and empowered males that he claims women are afraid to challenge, but whom he himself also fears. Rather than accept that he fails to meet the standards he upholds, or to take the responsibility to change the things in himself that he disapproves of, he finds an outside entity which is socially weaker than he is and attacks it instead.

Thanks to the gentle words of another member on the forum, when I read these accusations I saw them for the expression of impotence that they really were, rather than the attack on myself that they felt like. I suggested that where he wrote “feminists” he might instead write “people who seek power over others” and where he wrote “alpha males” that he might instead write “those who currently have power and social approval.” I think what this man was really trying to say is that people attack the weakest representations of their enemies when they feel threatened, and that in doing so they harm those who are in fact closest to themselves, perhaps even their allies.

To be a humanist takes a wider perspective than to be a feminist. It is not enough to topple all the males, but rather, we must select from within the whole of masculinity what bits are truly harmful to us and what bits are nothing more than the imperfect and clumsy attempts of other human beings to fight for their own happiness. After all, men still are in a position of power over us. We don’t like it and we don’t want to accept it, but we can further our own goals if we acknowledge it and make allies where we can.

I am no political strategist. In fact, I am quite simple in my understanding of humans. I see the philosophy of humanism as a torch in the night. By recognizing the humanity in all of us, even those who would appear as my ideological enemies, I can make better choices, see more clearly, and feel less threatened by the violent world that I live in.

Perspective

Living in Japan has taught me many things. The most difficult lesson I am having at the moment is understanding how Japanese people can work six to seven days a week for weeks on end, and know the exact number of holidays they’ve taken year to date at any day of the year. I have two acquaintances here with whom I have discussed this point. Both were quite enlightening.

One man works for an interior renovation company as a project manager. He can easily work for three weeks without a day off, and they are mostly ten hour days. I still do not understand how this is possible. When, for example, does a person on this schedule do their laundry? This is in a country where letting your laundry pile up for more than two days is considered bad hygiene, and dryers are luxury items. When we met I learned that he loves surfing and used to live near the beach before moving for his job. His dream is to become employed by a boutique sports wear shop on the shore where he can surf every morning for an hour or two before work. To me, this sounds like a small dream, but to him it is immeasurable personal freedom.

Since we met he told me he has started to rethink his life and his priorities. He wants this job, but he does not know how to acquire it. Japanese are not particularly good at controlling their own destinies. Generally, they are a very passive people. Recently he lamented to me that he would like to quit his current job, but there are no other available options to go to. I said to him, “why don’t you just take a few ‘sick’ days without quitting?” I figured if he gets caught, he wanted to quit anyway and maybe he’ll get some unemployment or something. I feel like this was a very American suggestion. “Ah! What an idea? I never thought of that,” he says to me.  “You really gave me a new perspective!”

The second man works for a local branch of a large sports equipment company (what can I say? I like sports). He is an hourly employee, which is considered “part time” in Japan. The shop closes at seven in the evening and one night I received a message from him “Done for the day!” It was 10:30 pm. He gets one day off per week and on that day he works part time as a mechanic. I said he works too much. He said I work too little. I told him the French consider a 35-hour work week to be excessive. He said Japan is not a country where you can live working less. At this last point, my mind started spinning.

As an economist I am keenly aware of the role of boundaries in our lives. Sometimes the boundary is money, as in we have to meet our budget or else we can’t pay off our mortgage. Sometimes the boundary is very personal and very rigid, like our innate attention span. Sometimes the boundary is imposed upon us by organizations that seem more mechanical than human, like the boundary between on-the-clock and off-the-clock. Boundaries can be comforting, such as when we set a boundary for how much risk we are willing to tolerate in our lives, and then stay safely inside it. But they can also be suffocating, such as when the boss thinks that an acceptable boundary between work and personal life is having access to your social media profile, e-mail and cell phone number, but promising not to misuse them. Boundaries can also control our ability to make good decisions by changing the context of the choices that we make. Japan, I argue, has a problem with boundaries.

As a member of the modern world with access to the internet, you have undoubtedly been told that the wealth available to the average citizen of the United States is greater than that of King Louis XIV, or some other similar claim of modern affluence. Undoubtedly you were told this by some charitable organization hoping for just two dollars a month to save some children from starving, or else you were told by some authority figure who wanted to impress upon you the need to work more and play less. Perhaps when you heard this claim, you thought to yourself, “if I am so rich, then why is my life so difficult?” Indeed, this is a difficult question to answer unless you are accustomed to thinking about how boundaries influence our welfare.

Let us take a moment to think back. Decades, indeed centuries ago, when the sun went down the world went to sleep. Even the lowliest peasant on a Midieval fief was sent home at the end of the day because the fuel to light the fields was simply not worth the expense. Come industrialization, not only did we have the ability to work long, grueling hours, but we also had the technology to make it profitable. From industrialization we moved to telecommunications. Now, even when the work day ended, our bosses could still find us in our homes and return us to work. From telecommunications we went to the current situation of live feeds and mobile computers so light and small that they fit in our pocket, and which are more powerful than the clunky desktop pieces we shared among an entire family barely twenty years ago. From the perspective of the economy, this is a massive increase in productive capacity and it is part of the reason why we are so affluent today. However, all this technology has created a difficult situation for employer and employee relationships.

Years ago, in fact only one generation ago, when you left the job, you stayed off duty until your shift started the next day. It was simply too difficult or else too cost ineffective for your boss to expect you to be productive in any capacity when you were not physically on site. Even jobs that relied on computers (or typewriters, as it were) stayed in the office since many people did not own the necessary equipment to take their work home with them. This placed a boundary on the daily productive capacity of each employee, which in turn restricted overall profits as well as individual wages. Today, however, the ability to take work home with us has reached through to almost every kind of job. Today, if we want to stop working, we have to provide a reason to stop where before the reason was clear: that it’s simply impossible to work more.

The technology that has allowed us to choose when and where we work has essentially created a conflict between employer and employee that clearly favors the employer. Now every employee must appeal for the privilege to stop working. If it is possible to work, why wouldn’t you? seems to be the logic that every company employs. Unfortunately because the power is never balanced between boss and worker, the worker loses ground. It is impossible to say to one’s boss “I simply don’t want to work this much,” without risking one’s job. The truth is that over time, technology has eroded the natural boundary between work and personal life and the individual is simply not equipped socially to reinstate it.

My friends do not work six to eight days a week because Japan is a country where it is impossible to live working less than six days a week. In fact Japan is a country where it is possible to live working every waking hour, and even some sleeping hours. That’s why my friend’s lives are so difficult. In Japan it is even more difficult to assert yourself to your superiors than it is in the western world. This is because Japan has a very well established social hierarchy and sense of obligation. The employer should take care of his employees’ every physical needs right up to subsidizing their rent and work meals, and in return the employees must dedicate their lives to their employers. It is almost as if the Samurai live on with karoshi (literally “death by over work”) replacing seppuku as the means of preserving honor.

Japan is not the only country that is slowly destroying its people through over work. Americans are well on their way there, too. To see this we need only look at the billions of dollars wasted on medicating chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, and depression. Unfortunately this outcome is inevitable. The powerful will always take advantage of the weak, and there is an inherent power imbalance in our market system. All hope is not lost, however. We may not be able to control the infrastructure of our society, or be able to tell our bosses that they are crossing the line, but we can appreciate each other on a personal level. We can love our friends and celebrate their lives — lives lived fully, and completely, with work and with play and with love and with responsibility. In doing so we will lessen the moral burden of leaving an organization that abuses us. If we know we have the support of our friends in making decisions that improve our lives holistically, then even if it means risking our jobs, we can turn around and assert our own personal boundaries on the people who seek to use us up for their profits.

It may never happen that, as a society, our right to happiness and leisure is officially recognized. Even if we do everything in our power to protect our happiness and the happiness of those we love, it may always be true that the weaker in spirit will not be protected and will further contribute to a system that consumes where it should be providing. However, even if our numbers are too small to “make a difference,” there is still enough affluence in our society that even if we were to live perpetually at the bottom rungs of the socio-economic ladder, we would still have enough to live and live happily if only we could remember to keep that happiness precious.

In the end, I suppose it is all about perspective. We have a choice between selling our souls for affluence, or building affluence out of pure spirit. It can be done. It’s scary, though. We are not taught to be alive or to be happy and many of us simply assume that if we just do the “right” things happiness will fall on us. But, no. You have to make your happy. If you take the perspective that the world exists as resources to build happiness, as compared to the perspective of you exist to “succeed” and are only entitled to whatever happiness you can fit into the margins of that success, then you will find that happiness. As an economist I am meant to study the world as it operates in the presence of scarcity, but I don’t think we live with scarcity. I think we live with abundance, if only we were brave enough to reach out and take it.

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