Thoughts of my father

Today would have been my father’s birthday. Were he still alive today he would be 86 years old. Most of the men in my family never make it that far. I’m hoping to be the first; my personal goal is 87. I don’t remember why I settled on that number, but whatever.

I have outlived him. Actually I passed that point back in July of last summer. He died at the age of 56. I’ll be turning 57 is just under a month. And for some reason I asked myself what he would think about the world of today.

My father probably wouldn’t like the world of today. I suspect he wouldn’t have made it through the G.W. Bush administration. The frustration and general stupidity of that era would have killed him. He had very little use for people who could see reality in front of their face and still miss it. He had even less use for people who could see reality and deliberately ignore it.

The Trump administration would have probably killed him within the first month. People who ignore obvious facts because some charismatic blowhard tells them to were, in his mind, the worst type of people the human race can produce. He had a rather humorous name for them: it took their genetic lineage and compared it to the excrement of a boar.

Dad, you’re probably fortunate that you haven’t seen what the world has become. Perhaps if things improve over the next year or two, your spirit may find some more peace.

New year, new blog focus

As a famous frog once said, “It looks like we’ve come to the end of another one…”

It’s a new year, and we’re still here. What the upcoming year will bring is anyone’s guess. Personally, I’m nervous about the elections late in the year. As a citizen of the United States I’m unhappy with some of the trends I see, and I’m downright terrified that so many people are very happy with these same trends. With luck I’ll go into that later.

Right now I want to talk about this blog site. Sometimes it drives me crazy. For the past few years I have tried to follow a pattern of one article a week, but can never maintain it. I have considered shutting this thing down, on several occasions. But I keep holding on to it, even though my apparent inability to regularly update it is causing me anxiety. So this year I’m not going to attempt a regular schedule. I will put up an article when I feel compelled to write about something. If that turns out to be once a week, great. But I’m skeptical. I tend to write when I have something to say, and that doesn’t always follow a timetable. That’s been the schedule I’ve effectively been following, so that won’t change. I now think that part of my problem is a lack of a consistent theme. Most content creators, even tiny ones like me, tend to focus on one topic, or a small group of closely related topics. Until now I haven’t been doing that.

One issue I have had, especially during 2023, was that I wanted to address topics that would have caused some real-world problems. Topics that, had they been breached through this online forum, would have been completely inappropriate. Sometimes they dealt with personal issues that simply shouldn’t be talked about online, other times they involved other people in my life that wanted to handle things their own way, and sometimes I was not in a state of mind that was conducive to writing. In the long run it probably doesn’t matter what my reasons were. However, some of those issues have since fallen away. One thing that has changed is that during the past year I have learned several things about myself and the world around me. My last major set of articles followed my stormy career path, and how it came to a pitiful end. That period of introspection turned over a lot of rocks.

I am considered neurodivergent. Which is to say, I see the world, and everything in it, through a lens that is very different from what most people see. For starters, I suffer from a variation of post-traumatic-stress-disorder, usually called just PTSD. It’s unlike most cases of PTSD, in that I didn’t go through a highly traumatic, dangerous, or threatening experience that through my entire world for a loop. (Though some of my experiences from my high school years might qualify.) Instead, I endured a long, sustained barrage of low-level stress issues, that over time created in me a response pattern that is in line with PTSD. Instead of facing a big and terrible experience, I faced a constant flow of small ones. Instead of my psyche being messed up by a few blows with a sledgehammer, it was worn down by a sandblaster. My time with the Library of Congress certainly provided that. I think there is a special name for this variant of PTSD, but I don’t remember it, and I don’t want to trust an internet search engine. I’ll ask my therapist when I see them later this week.

It is also very likely that I am on the autistic spectrum. I seem to be on what is considered the functional end of it (whatever that means…), but I have several of the key issues. The most apparent being that I can get over-stimulated and need to isolate myself. If I can’t, I become increasingly agitated and hard to deal with, and eventually I can’t really function at all. I suspect I’ve put Lisa through some pretty terrible phases over the past few years, especially near the end of Michael’s life. The true nature of my neurodivergency is still being determined. But whatever it is, I am a member of that demographic.

Which finally brings me to my point. At this point my late father would be absolutely seething, and thundering “Get to the point!!” Sorry, dad. But sometimes the point makes no sense unless you use beating around the bush to provide context. As a neurodivergent man in his mid-fifties, I may have some insights into this chaotic world that some people may find helpful, or at least comforting. The world can be crazy, and it doesn’t have a lot of patience for people who think differently, or view the world through a different lens. Perhaps I can help a few people with this. I’ll at least try.

That being said, this blog is likely to take on a different tone. I plan to examine some of the less comfortable aspects of neurodivergency, and how it can effect the everyday person. It can worm it’s way into life in ways that one could never imagine, and create a lot of discord. Other times it can provide a different way of looking at things that may not be obvious or apparent. I hope to look into some of these instances. Where possible I’ll use personal experience, and avoid indulging in self-pity. At any rate, it may get pretty dark in here.

So, it’s a new year, and I’m going try doing something different. Let’s turn over some of these rocks.

Update, January 3

Apparently the variation of PTSD that I appear to have is simply called C-PTSD, for “complex post-traumatic stress disorder.” I have two observations on this. First, George Carlin would have had an absolute field day with that collection of buzzwords. Second, I thought it had a fancier name, perhaps with a Latin word in it. I’m actually a tad disappointed. I guess I was overthinking things.

Troubling Futures

The year is now 2022. Or for those who prefer a broader view, 12022. But regardless of what calendar you prefer, our soggy, muddy ball of rock has completed another lap around that giant mass of compressed gas we call the Sun. That being said, what does the future hold? That depends entirely on who you ask. There is a YouTube channel I like called Beau of the Fifth Column, which recently had an interesting presentation about this.

For fans of science fiction, the year 2022 has two associations. First, it is the birth year of George Jetson. The Jetsons portrayed a future world that was full of hope, luxury, and a lot of fun technology: Flying cars that could collapse into a carrying case, domestic robots, common interplanetary travel, and so forth. When the show was created in 1962, that was how the creators saw the world in 100 years. Granted the world wasn’t perfect, and some even considered it a technological dystopia. George hated his job, much of life’s drudgery continued as always (just with fancier technologies), and corporate nastiness was as rampant as ever.

But on the whole it was an optimistic view. World hunger, economic inequality, and other social problems were either resolved or were at least no worse than they are today. And some of the fancy technology we see in the Jetsons has come to pass. For example, supercomputers the size of a wristwatch aren’t far removed from our smart phones and notebook computers. But I don’t think we will have flying, transformer-esque cars, or common interplanetary transport, by 2062. And I certainly don’t think we’ll have our various social and economic problems under control by then.

The year 2022 has another association. It is the year in which the 1973 dystopian movie Soylent Green is set. In that world, unregulated capitalism has created the largest contrast between rich and poor imaginable. Only the very wealthy can afford actual food, as even the most common vegetables cost more than a month’s wages. Most people have to survive on a concoction of algae and proteins called Soylent Green, and the proteins for the mix come from human flesh. It’s a nicely packaged form of cannibalism. This was definitely not an optimistic view of the future.

Which future vision is more likely you ask? In my opinion, neither one. The Jetsons represent a vision of the future that has become laughably naive. As much as I would like to say the world has a bright future on a scale the Jetsons portrayed, I simply can’t see it happening. But I don’t foresee a Soylent Green future either. Unfortunately, what I do see is perhaps even darker.

What I see resembles a different science fiction film, Neill Blomkamp’s 2013 film, Elysium. In that film, the world is in shambles. The environment is dying, pollution is out of control, overpopulation is a global problem, nearly every type of resource is scarce, and the list of social problems is too long to recite. But all of these problems are willfully ignored by the people who are able to do anything about them.

Those people, who were the wealthy and privileged, lived on a spectacular orbital habitat called Elysium. On Elysium, people generally lived comfortable, almost idyllic lives. Food was plentiful, the environment was well managed, and services like health care were plentiful and easy to obtain. The population of Elysium was around 200,000, but while the rest if humanity – which numbered in the billions – lived in poverty and squalor on decimated Earth.

And there was no serious attempt to change or even address this inequity. The totality of all human activity was focused on maintaining and improving Elysium. Education, infrastructure, public health, and almost any other issue you can think of was of secondary importance. The bare minimum of resources were used to keep the communities of Earth functional enough to fulfill their obligations to maintaining Elysium, with everything else going to the orbital habitat itself. Even food production favored Elysium, resulting in food shortages all over Earth. It’s not unlike what happened in Ireland during the potato famine of the 1840’s.

Many people on Earth aspired to move to Elysium, but between the draconian immigration laws, and the extreme inequity of wealth, they never got a chance. If you wanted to live on Elysium, you pretty much needed to be born there. The movie went into the details somewhat, but the gist was that if you lived anywhere other than Elysium, there really was no way to improve your life. And your wisest choice was to simply accept that and stop complaining.

At one point the main character looks into the late afternoon sky, which is usually hazy from pollution, and could see the Elysium habitat spinning in the sky. A number of people are looking wistfully at the star-shaped structure, and are miserable. Elysium was the ultimate gated community, and the people who lived there did everything they could to make sure it stayed that way. At another point someone tries to sneak aboard the habitat to get their daughter some life saving medical treatment. They were met with gunfire. If you don’t live on Elysium (i.e. are extremely wealthy), you are denied many of the necessities of life.

How is this worse than Soylent Green? In Soylent Green there was an attempt to meet the demands of growing food shortages. It was a totally disgusting solution, but it was still a solution. In Elysium no such attempt is made. Addressing the problem would require diverting resources from Elysium. It was considered better to allow millions on Earth to starve than force some of Elysium’s citizens make do with slightly less.

There is one very telling moment during the climax of the film. Jody Foster’s character was definitely one of the “bad guys.” Early in the film, when she was questioned about the living conditions on Earth, she responded with “when one of them stands up, five of us fall down.” When she is mortally wounded during the final battle, she refuses medical treatment. She preferred to die rather than live in a world where her privileged position would change.

I think her attitude is reflective of many in our current society, and why the future looks potentially bleak. The very wealthy are doing everything they can to make sure that the status quo remains exactly the way it is. The cost to society, the environment, and anything else that doesn’t lie within their “gated community,” is of little or no importance.

The movie itself showed some excellent world building, and of creating a social situation worthy of Philip K. Dick. But it doesn’t have a convincing ending. Everything is wrapped up too quickly, and in an unconvincing way. But the social situation it portrayed was disturbingly realistic and far too plausible. I’ll probably go into this more in a later post, but suffice to say that the future I foresee resembles the one portrayed in Elysium.

All I can say is that I dearly hope I’m wrong.

What do you believe?

On January 20, Joseph Biden, was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States. Many people heaved a collective sigh of relief, while others cried out in rage. There are still people who believe the election was “stolen” from the incumbent, Donald Trump, and there are still people who believe that Trump was an illegitimate president from the beginning. And all the while, political labels are being thrown around like grenades: Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Liberal, Centrist, Libertarian, Independent. From where I’m sitting, the squabbling between the various political parties seems like a throwback to tribal style politics, where one group yells at another one until they back down in submission, or the two groups engage in open hostilities until one is standing and the other is thoroughly trounced. Up until January 6, United States politics has rarely gone to the level of violence, but if the collective mood is anything to go by, it’s going to become more common.

I must ask weather or not people from the various groups are even trying to find solutions to the nation’s problems any more. They seem more concerned with making sure their side has all of the cookies in the jar. What’s worse, it seems to all be about labels. If you’re a Democrat, the Republicans hate you are are determined to destroy you. If you’re a Conservative, Liberals have labeled you as a monster that needs to be purged from the collective conscience, and so on.

Does anyone look beyond the party labels any more? If they don’t, they should. I recently read a very interesting article by a woman named Lori Gallagher Witt called “I am a Liberal.”[1] I found this article very thought provoking, and not because of her political views. My own politics tend to lean Liberal, but like Witt I don’t always fit the classic mold. I liked was how she took various key issues and described her views on them, while actively avoiding references to one political philosophy or another. It’s at the end, when you’ve seen the totality of her views, and her overall values, that she says she’s liberal. It’s not because of one issue, or one set of events, or one particular person. It’s a summation of different views on different topics.

Given how politically divided the United States has become, I think it would be a good idea for everyone to try writing an essay like this. If we all sat down and actually thought about what we believe, and not what some political spokesman says we should believe, then we would all be in a better position to make decisions. We would also be better able to call out some of the less savory members of the government.

I tried to take the structure of Witt’s essay and come up with a series of questions that we should all ask ourselves. Notice that I specified the structure of her essay. You don’t have to agree with her politics, or belong to one school of thought or another. And you don’t have to broadcast the results all over the world the way she did (and how I plan to do). These are just the things that I believe every US citizen should have some sort of answer for. If for no other reason than to have a concrete answer when these questions arise. (And surprisingly, they often do!)

That being said, the structure of Witt’s article went something like this:

  1. What is the purpose of the government? Some say it’s to help look after members of society, while others say it’s only purpose is maintaining law and order. What do you think?
  2. Is health care a right, or a privilege? Think carefully on this one, because it’s a hotbed.
  3. Is education a right or a privilege?
  4. What is your opinion of taxes? No one likes them, some consider them a necessary evil, others consider them just part of life, and others oppose them with ever fiber of their being. Where do you fall, and more importantly, why?
  5. Do you believe that every person should have a living wage? Or are their some jobs out there that simply don’t warrant a living wage?
  6. Do you believe in the separation of church and state? This one has become surprisingly blurred in recent years, as politicians keep trying to legislate their religious beliefs into law. Spooky stuff.
  7. Do you believe that everyone should have the same core rights, regardless of race, creed or sexual orientation?
  8. How much control should the government have over day to day life? Most people dislike regulations and laws, but human behavior has so much nasty stuff in it that such things are necessary.

The essay goes into other specific issues, like sustainable energy and gun control. Those would be worth looking into as well. I can also think of some other issues that deserve discussion. But let’s just start with these. You may discover your views aren’t quite what you expected, and that your traditional opponents may not be as crazy as you thought. Sometimes liberals and conservatives what to achieve the same things. The difference lies in how they go about achieving them. I’ve found that when people actually share what they believe, instead of what their political party says to believe, they often have more in common than they originally thought. And once we can agree on goals, then we can discuss how to get there.

So I ask you, wonderful readers: what do you believe?

  1. The article has been floating around the Internet for almost two years, and for a while it was wrongly attributed to film maker Ron Howard. I suspect that at some point Howard forwarded Witt’s article to a major media outlet, and the pedigree became confused. That sort of thing is actually rather common on the Internet.

Image credit: Roosevelt Review.