Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What Do We Owe Ourselves? What Do We Owe Each Other?

Lately I've been thinking a lot about freedom and welfare. Freedom, meaning the ability of individuals to self determine--for good or ill--the path their life will take, irrespective of how the choices they make effect the wider community. Welfare, as I conceive it, refers to the state of general well-being of the individual, and the society at whole. In both of these definitions I assume the truth of Intersectionality theory, and the blueprint version of morality proposed by Sam Harris in his book The Moral Landscape.

The shelter I work for, Cincinnati's Drop Inn Center, is in the process of planning a public forum to discuss this issue, for the reasons I highlighted in this piece. From both the welfare and freedom perspective, our social safety net is in need of mending.

But the balance is difficult. On the one hand, it is hard to expect a person with mental illness to reach their full pre-morbid potential (or highest point on their individual moral landscape), if their judgement is clouded or harassed by mental illness. On the other hand, to what degree is it appropriate for the system at large to intervene in the lives of individuals in order to improve their well-being? Are freedom and good synonymous?

I can imagine scenarios that cut both ways. Two quick examples:

Scenario 1:

A man believes there are demons in the walls of his apartment. This causes him a lot of psychic stress. He refuses to take his medication because voices tell him not to. He is in danger of abandoning his apartment, and returning to the shelter  & legal system, or perhaps dropping out of the system altogether.

According to Ohio law, there is a point at which the court system can mandate that this man take his medication. This point would be reached if the man could be determined to be of threat to himself or others. But law in this case does not take into account the inevitable chain reaction that will set in if this man is left in the grips of his mental illness. It also doesn't take into account the overall issue of quality of life and general well being.

Scenario 2:

A woman with mild bipolar disorder has decided to manager her illness by herself, without the aid of medicine or talk therapy with a credentialed provider (a much overlooked and important element). She has peaks and valleys, and people who are tuned in to her notice her cycle pattern. Overall she does manage, however. She is not operating on a peak of well being, but who consistently is? If we find a point on the measuring stick past 'harm to self or others' that we decide is an appropriate intervention mark, what point would that be, and what would prevent us from then going 'too far'?

These are all questions that Drop Inn Center hopes will be addressed during our public forum, tentatively slated for late September, early October. There is still time to have your voice heard by the planning committee if you have any kind of thoughts, suggestions, or concerns about our project. If you would like to support Drop Inn Center in funding this and other similar events, I encourage you to donate here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

You're On Your Own, Kid

Hunter S. Thompson, Kurt Vonnegut, and Christopher Hitchens are all dead. Once Woody Allen dies, I will have no more living public figures to look towards for moral guidance.

Monday, March 26, 2012

President Obama Is A Nerd

and I like it that way:

One of my responsibilities as Commander in Chief is to keep an eye on robots. And I’m pleased to report that the robots you manufacture here seem peaceful. At least for now.
President Obama talking to the National Robotics Engineering Center at Carnegie Mellon.

discovered while perusing Bridget McKinney's 'likes' on tumblr.

“Because nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff. We don’t have to be like, ‘Oh yeah that purse is okay’ or like, ‘Yeah, I like that band’s early stuff.’ Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself-love it. When people call people nerds, mostly what they are saying is, ‘You like stuff’, which is just not a good insult at all, like ‘You are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness.’” ~ John Green

Sunday, March 25, 2012


You know that alarm that sounds in some cars when a passenger doesn't have their seat belt fastened? I need one of those for my pants zipper.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


I just finished reading The 48 Laws of Power, by Robert Greene, and am currently plowing through Christopher Hitchens' biography of Thomas Jefferson. It's a good, short book. There are few people I trust to write about the founding fathers objectively. Biographies of these guys tend to be either sycophantic or calumnious. I trusted Hitchens to do it right, and my trust was rewarded. Next I'm going to read The Magic Mountain, by Thomas Mann. I tried to read it once before a few years ago, but don't think I was ready. We'll see where I'm at now.

I'm taking a lot in these days. I just found out that the man I saw get hit by a car a few weeks ago died on the 6th. I don't have anything to say about that at this time.

After listening to an older person babble on about 'blacks are so violent', and 'President Obama only takes care of the blacks', I wrote the following paragraph:
I am no longer offended by racists, sexists, and homophobes. After years of hearing their narrow opinions and seeing their dull stamp on every institution in our country, I am merely bored by them. To take offense at the beliefs of this mercifully dying order is to give them too much esteem. They are vulgar people, with weak minds and fearful spirits. The sooner the last of them shuffles off this mortal coil, the sooner the rest of us can get on with it.
I intended to put it in a longer piece, but don't really think it's necessary. I want to learn more about Sally Hemmings and Emma Goldman. One of the historical figures that got a lot of mention in The 48 Laws of Power was a guy named Tallyrand. I'd like to read some more about him, too.

My wife and I watched a movie the other night called The Ledge. It was a good movie, and worked on me profoundly. I really appreciated the performances of Charlie Hunnam and Terrence Howard.

That's all. I feel bad when I don't write frequently. I wonder if it's akin to the feeling athletic types get when they're out of the gym for too long.

this is funny:

Sunday, March 11, 2012

May The Cacophany Continue

In the beginning, Sandra Fluke testified in a public forum about an issue that was meaningful to her. Rush Limbaugh, upon hearing this testimony, called Ms. Fluke a slut, a prostitute, and suggested she post sex videos of herself on the internet. Many people were furious over this. Sponsors withdrew, condemnations occurred, boycotts were proposed, and it was demanded--not for the first time--that Rush's head (metaphorically) be detached from his body. Rush apologized. When asked about the incident in another public forum, President Obama demurred, preferring to take 'the high ground': he would not deign to know from what kind of well the roots of Rush's heart were fed, nor would he talk about the politics or business aspects of the affair. He would only comment on the fatherly instincts the incident stirred in him, and say that words such as Rush used had 'no place in the public discourse'.

In defense of Rush, many of his representatives claimed a double standard: The comedian Bill Maher--who has said bad things about Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann--has given 1 million dollars to the President's Super PAC. If the president thinks what Rush said had 'no place in the public discourse', why is he accepting money from someone who makes similar statements? Rush's antagonists cried 'false analogy! Rush is the leader of a movement, Maher is just a comedian. Sandra Fluke is a private citizen, and Sarah Palin is a public figure'.

So it goes.

My position on the issue is that I'm in favor of all of it. Every part of this issue is fine with me. I applaud Sandra Fluke for speaking in a public forum about an issue that is meaningful to her, and for her handling of everything that has ensued. I am grateful to Rush for being so open about his misogyny. Some men spend their whole lives denying they have any issues at all with women. Rush relishes it. He rolls around in it. An enemy who declares themselves is a great gift. I'm typically not one to support boycotts or firings for people who make unpopular comments. I agree with Sean Hannity that such methods are ways to suppress speech. But I am okay with people calling for Rush's firing and for boycotts and sponsor withdrawals, because it's their right. I support the attempts of Rush's friends and fans to draw an analogy between Bill Maher & Rush, even though I agree that the analogy is false. I support the attempts because they are clever.

Finally, I support President Obama's public stance on the whole thing, although I disagree with him on principle that such statements as Rush made 'have no place in the public discourse'. It's the most personally offensive and generally unpopular positions that need to be most protected in a democracy. Words that don't get said tend to fester, and Rush--and people who get catharsis from Rush--don't need anything else to fester in them. Better to let it all out. Put it all on the table for everyone to see. Speech is messy and ugly, but it's less messy and ugly than the alternative. I like the chaos of democracy. I like the dirt of freedom.

Maybe Jarvis Cocker summarizes my overall position the best:

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Homelessness Is A Human Issue

My most recent piece can be found here. It's about homelessness, and appears in Cincinnati's Alternative Newspaper, Street Vibes.

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Meditation For My Birthday

"Once I thought to be human was the highest aim a man could have, but I see now that it was meant to destroy me. Today I am proud to say that I am inhuman, that I belong not to men and governments, that I have nothing to do with creeds and principles. I have nothing to do with the creaking machinery of humanity -- I belong to the earth! I say that lying on my pillow and I can feel the horns sprouting from my temples. I can see about me all those cracked forebears of mine dancing around the bed, consoling me, egging me on, lashing me with their serpent tongues, grinning and leering at me with their skulking skulls. I am inhuman! I say it with a mad, hallucinated grin, and I will keep on saying it though it rains crocodiles." ~ Henry Miller, from Tropic Of Cancer