Sunday, March 15, 2009

"I love killing slaves"

OK. Out of context, that title might sound kind of weird or creepy, but hear me out.

My kids were on the computer and the eldest said, "Dad! I'm so hungry I feel like I'm gonna barf!"

I said, "Oh, I'm sorry, Master. I forgot that I was your slave. I'm doing a terrible job."

The eldest responded, "That's right! You're fired."

"I'm a slave," I said, "You can't fire slaves. You have to kill them."

"Alright!" they both cheered.

"I mean, you have to sell them," I corrected myself.

Next thing I know, they're standing next me and the youngest shouts, "I love killing slaves!"

That makes it all better, right?

Note: No slaves were killed during the composition of this post.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Do You Have Any Idea Who I Am?

Many years ago, I drove a SuperShuttle van. One night, I picked up a grizzled old-timer and drove him to San Francisco. He was my only passenger on that run (which meant I was making like $2.50 an hour) and we got to talking. I guess he enjoyed the conversation (which focused on the ups and downs of unionism in the Reagan era), because after a while he told me, "Ya know, you got personality. A lotta guys don't got shit."

That stuck with me as did the notion that, if I had anything, it was "personality." As fate would have it, for a time I was able to make a career of said personality, eventually coming to embody, for good or ill, the corporate culture at a global staffing company.

If corporations can have celebrities, I was one. I authored the corporate blog, wrote newsletters, direct mail, and"thought pieces," and represented the organization across the social media sphere. Additionally, I hosted a weekly, organization-wide conference call known as a the "Fireside Chat," a responsibility I had inherited years before from the COO after he had taken it over from the CEO. Moreover, at annual company events and manager's meetings, I regularly served as MC/host, and, when people were publicly recognized for their accomplishments, I was the tuxedoed one handing out the awards.

In effect, I addressed both employees and a variety of external audiences more regularly than any member of senior management. Then, last week, I got laid off.

I was surprised, though not shocked. After all, announcing weekly performance stats was part of the Fireside Chat format, so I knew which way the cookie was crumbling. Naively, I had believed that my celebrity, to a certain extent, would shelter me as the layoff waves mounted, but events proved me wrong.

More jarring than the lay-off, however, was losing my status as a "personality." This loss was driven home when I received my severance letter. Although the numbers were tailored to my specific situation, the letter itself was decidedly "form." It felt strange to go from a "somebody" to an "anybody (who gets laid off by this organization)." A few days later, I was at a networking event and, though I knew a few of the attendees, it was clear that a bunch of the people there HAD NO IDEA WHO I WAS.

I'm not opposed to anonymity. Nor is the notion of "ego-loss" foreign or repellent to me. On the contrary, I see it as, if not totally ideal, undeniably inevitable, and even desirable in some circumstances. Still, I really didn't appreciate being reminded that social status and personal identity is dependent on the decisions and ongoing acknowledgment of others who do not have the maintenance of the aforementioned status and identity as their primary objective.

Image Courtesy of freeparking.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

I Seek Refuge in Darkness...

... and impending doom, but said doom is seldom forthcoming.

When I read the work of Theodor Adorno, I took it to heart. "Auschwitz" became my watchword and the measure of all things. Of course, "Auschwitz" was itself just a cipher, a stand-in for Nazi horrors which didn't seem so much to repudiate 2000 years of Western Culture, as represent it's inevitable trajectory. Auschwitz was the Apocalypse, in the original sense of Revelation. It revealed an essential truth and the baleful glare of its light robbed everything that came after of all meaning and reality.

For me, Auschwitz became a kind hammer. I used it to reject and destroy anything that seemed comforting or affirmative as naively trivial or criminally frivolous. On the other hand, works of art or fiction that were disturbing, unsettling, or even cruel were redeemed by their mimetic approximation to the Holocaust. The serene, albeit inhuman, warmth of Mark Rothko's paintings, for instance, served as a kind of metaphysical valium drawing a veil over void, while the jarring and panicked post-punk of Saccharine Trust, or the macabre austerity of Joy Division, on the other hand, held up a mirror to human brutality and froze its nauseating topography in colours drawn exclusively from the palette of the abyss.

Now, of course, I'm more apt to see this morbid focus on humanity's "darker angles" as a kind of a cop-out. I wasn't living in a death-camp or being driven from my home or seeing my children murdered before my eyes. I was a privileged kid from suburban LA who cavalierly flaunted mankind's malevolence as a badge of hipness. Acknowledging the abominable suffering of others, not just in the past but right now, today, a suffering that the people I grew up around seemed intent on avoiding, denying, or down-playing, was a step towards maturity, clarity, the truth. But lingering there, was not, is not.

The first of the Four Noble Truths states, as I understand, that "suffering is really happening." But that's just the first truth. The Truths go on to acknowledge a cause of this suffering, the possibility of suffering's cessation, and, most importantly, the way to bring suffering to an end, not just for you, but for all sentient beings.

Enlightenment isn't about insisting that things suck, it's about hunkering down and dealing. Or, to quote the Beastie Boys: "Darkness isn't the opposite of light, it's the absence of light."

I want to turn on the light and, as Pigpen used to howl with his alcoholically unbridled passion: "... LEAVE IT ON!"

Friday, October 31, 2008

Humanitarian Catastrophe

Tens of thousands have been driven from refugee camps in Democratic Republic of the Congo. The camps were then looted and burned. 5 million people have died in the civil war there and, as anyone who's been paying attention knows, countless women and children have been raped, and worse (this report mentions forced incest and cannibalism, for example).

Oh, but there are some great Halloween Icons you can use on Twitter!

I'm feeling especially snide today.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

They'd do it, if they could

The other day I heard a story about experiments on monkeys that may prove beneficial to paralyzed humans. Seems that some scientists paralyzed these monkeys with drugs, stuck thin electrical wires into their brains, attached the wire to some sort of transformer which was then attached to a muscle in the monkey's wrist, and discovered that the monkey's could actually manipulate the wired wrist in this way, enabling them to play video games.

I'm more ambivalent about Man's dominion over the beasts of the field than the folks at PETA, but stories like this get me moving more swiftly in their direction. I don't have any problem with victims of paralysis volunteering for studies like this. In fact, I bet a good number of them would. But, this sort of experimentation just creeps me out. We are monkeys, for chrissakes. Would researchers perform studies like this on human slaves? Should they?

Talking with somebody about this story he said, "Well, they'd do it to us if they could." The Nietzschean notion that "life is will to power," and that domination of one species by another is the natural order of things, while not indisputable, certainly has an enduring appeal to which I admittedly have not always been immune. Still, it's not the case that predators hunt their prey of choice to extinction, or raise them for the purposes of exploitation and multi-faceted use. As far as I can tell, only humans and our alien masters do that.

Friday, October 17, 2008

John Coltrane and the Face of God

Listening to Coltrane's Settin' the Pace this morning. It's not one of his greatest hits and even the various jazz cd review books give it second tier status, but I really enjoyed it. "I See Your Face Before Me" is the lead track, an exquisite ballad that, I humbly believe, outshines the more famous "I Want to Talk About You" from Soultrane.

Still, saying this or that by Coltrane is better than this or that by Coltrane seems trivial and, frankly, beside the point (much like I found Ben Ratliff's book on Coltrane's sound). These are just opinions, after all, and vanity moreover. Who cares what you/I think about any particular work by this man? It's a mixture of hero-worship and elevation-by-association that frankly demeans the opiner by revealing a lamentable failure to listen.

I read an interview with Matisyahu once in which he pointed to the number of love songs out there as an indication of how much people are yearning for the love of God. Coltane's commitment to God makes me hear his ballads in the same way. The face he sees before him, is the face of God. The "you" he wants to talk about is You, My Lord.

Is all love the love of God? Should it be?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

the perils of anonymity

i've maintained this blog in quasi-anonymity from the get-go. i've done this in part because I lead a public life on the web and, for some reason, i thought that i would be addressing subjects here that would not sit well with my employer or my role as public representative of his company. i'm not sure that i've entered into any territory that is overly controversial or patently offensive and, in fact, i start to wonder if this anonymity is more inhibitory than liberating.

it reminds me of an experience i had on second life some time ago. I had gotten into that v-world and started blogging about its potential as a marketing platform in my worklife. then i had a tryst with another avatar and realized that it would not have been difficult for "her" to find out who i was in "real" life, since a google search for my avatar name would have led "her" straight to me. so that i could then explore the dark digital underbelly of life, i created a new avatar and set off for my adventures. oddly enough, my carefully crafted masquerade actually made me feel more shy, as foolish as that may sound, in this world and, eventually, i stopped second life-ing altogether or, if I did go in for work purposes, i used my original "public" persona.

what am I afraid of? that people will know that i advocate the legalization of most drugs, even if it means that you must acquire a license to take some of them - psychedelics in particular? my thinking is that if people can demonstrate that they can deal responsibly with this stuff, why shouldn't they take it? you can own and use a handgun but you can't even possess LSD without committing a felony? that's just not right

i also think that the war on terrorism is bullshit and a thinly veiled, when it's veiled at all, power grab by the executive branch to do whatever it wants. neo-con guru frances fukuyama effectively stated that free markets and authoritarian government are not mutually exclusive and the war on terror, as it's sometimes called, is the perfect excuse to do anything you want.

terrorism doesn't exist, as I've mentioned here before. no one self-identifies as a terrorist - it's a label you get from an enemy. declaring a war along these lines means giving yourself carte blanche to go after anyone, etc.

again, what am i afraid of? this stuff seems tame or trivial

wait, THAT's what I was afraid of!!!! OH GOD NOOOOOOO!