I don’t recall how I came upon it, but I have spent far too much time mulling the various messages offered by the essay You Weren’t Meant to Have a Boss. In an effort to move on and get something productive done today, I hereby announce my intention to fob off at least a few of them on to you readers.
TONIGHT, January twoth, 2008, and each night hereafter for about eight nights, there is a free series of interactive discussions on something called "The Journey." I cannot vouch for this one way or the other, and some parts of me say that it's mega "woo woo" while other parts of me say, Cool stuff! It's a form of personal inquiry and cleansing on an emotional and cellular level, maybe, if I get it right. I have a friend who has been studying it now for quite some time and is a certified practitioner in the method and it has done wonders for her.
Happy New Year, everyone! We’ve been having a lot of fun the past several days, which culminated—after a very full day of baking for me yesterday—in a raucous, chaotic, fun New Year’s celebration. Lobo’s cell phone started pinging regularly in the late afternoon our time, with texted New Year’s wishes from friends in Belarus; it continued somewhat as the transition swept this continent, and also bled over into some phone calls. That was a pleasant, fairly sustained addition to the celebratory mood. The snolfs once again had a piñata, filled not with candy but with other treats—coupons from Lobo and me for various goods or services (like taking their turn at dishes), money, and real money (junk-silver quarters)—it resisted the onslaught longer than any of its predecessors, then provided some enormous ersatz party hats once it did succumb to the stick.
So, we had a very nice holiday celebration. Underneath much of it, however, and beginning around Thanksgiving, I’ve felt a current of change beginning within me. Those of you who’ve been around a good while know that I am not in the habit of making new year’s resolutions—my position has always been if change is needed or desired, it should be undertaken then, not left to wait for a “special” turn of some arbitrary time-marker. On the other snakey coil, if one comes up from the bottom of the pool near one of those special dates, delaying changes simply for the sake of avoidance of the date would be just as silly. Thus it is that I’m starting to shed some old, now unhelpful ways today ... consider yourself forewarned: self-indulgent rambling ahead.
Wendy has long been into frugality and voluntary simplicity, a way of living which is becoming more and more popular as the economy tanks. We see reflected in the blogs. Many people, who do not normally talk about frugality are now doing so. Two examples are Karen de Coster and J. D. Tuccille (Wendy has linked to them as well) I have also seen it in some tech blogs I read. In short, this is becoming a very popular topic.
However, as good as all the advice may be, there is something missing. Planning. It is fine to cut coupons, but we cannot since they are not offered in Costa Rica. It is also fine to turn your thermostat way down, but I do not have a thermostat. In fact, my heating and air conditioning costs are exactly zero, so this is not an area I can save in. Likewise, I can give good advice on cutting back your food costs, but it would involve living in a year-round temperate climate and growing 80% of your own food. Not applicable to many people.
That’s probably the last question y’all would expect from a candy-making snake, and particularly at this time of the year. But it’s for real—I’m thinking about undertaking a fast and would appreciate input from anyone who’s done it before.
I recently let slip that my view of the pro-freedom community as “family” had started to change. I hesitate to say more at this point, because my thinking is still in process, but other conversations here have started to weave a tapestry into which I feel somewhat comfortable with thinking out loud. And I’ve no doubt that sharing my half-spun, somewhat woolly threads will allow further exploration, to all our benefit.
Before we slip into the garden glade, I want to make it clear that this line of thinking was not my original idea: a cherished friend dropped the idea-seed into my mind, and it’s been working in there ever since. It’s my understanding that my friend prefers a measure of anonymity, so I shan’t be pointing to direct sources of this individual’s ... besides, the seed came in private conversation. Anyway, my mystery friend deserves all the credit for the idea, and I will take all the responsibility for my usual bumbling, rambling presentation of it.
Readers who have perused my recent rantings on the current economic landscape may find all that at odds with the quote that currently appears atop the sidebar: “Life should be more than just the passage of time; it should be the enjoyment of time as it passes.” While it is true that I am not enjoying the current crises, nor the prospect of what’s still to come, I do mean to do my best to turn the large shipment of lemons coming our way into lemonade, lemon meringue pie, lemon freeze, lemon chicken ... you get my point.
I am finding the ongoing changes in and challenges to my thinking interesting, and sometimes even amusing. To be clear (and repetitive, I know), I have been a science-oriented person as far back as I can remember—wondering about how things work and how to test ideas and wanting proof for everything. I still consider myself a scientist, even though I have not worked in that realm for years ... yet the way some individuals apply scientific theories is problematic for me.
Yes, that’s where I am again ... I have lots of ideas brimming in my mind, but something doesn’t seem right about addressing any of them here right now. Not entirely sure why, but I trust my intuition, so there it is.
Anyway, over at Check Your Premises, Francois Tremblay has posted on one of the issues I’m pondering. So, while my tongue is tied, some might find his posts on The True Self, Seat of Love worth considering.
Well, Joey has offered his final thoughts in our conversation, at least for now. I for one feel some sense of relief, because the thing had started to sprawl across several blogs as well as subjects, and it was getting too large for me to keep track of it all! A few pointers to some of the participants (links are to their latest contributions to the discussion, as of this writing): FSK’s Guide to Reality; David Gross at The Picket Line; and Kent McManigal. While I have much to say on each of the topics we’ve tossed around, I have neither the time nor the inclination to try to do them all justice in this sitting. Instead, I will mention that a primary raison d’être for my part of this blog is to explore these issues; and I encourage any interested invididuals to explore the archives here and elsewhere for previous ramblings on the subjects. All I’ll offer today are some general observations in response to what I perceive to be Joey’s central themes.
Yes, I continue to dwell on the “Is all fun profitable?” idea. It occurs to me that part of the reason I have difficulty with responses like Brad Spangler’s is that it’s based on something that may be ineffable for as long as humans exist: a way to objectively define, quantify, and calculate relationships among concepts including “profit”, “fun”, “cost”, “risk”, and “happiness”. I could go off on many tangents from that observation—and I may still, in future ramblings—but for today, I will simply say that I am unconvinced that an economics-based analysis is always the best course.
Many individuals have asked me to share more about my walkabout—a two-week sabbatical from the world over the 2003 holiday season. As I’ve already written about some of the results of the trip, I suspect what they’re wanting is a different perspective, or perhaps some more personal insights. As that experience was a very personal, powerful one, I do not care to reveal more details to the world at large. However, upon gaining some perspective post-walkabout, I find that I would like to share a bit more about an unexpected but highly valuable insight from it.
I had wanted the walkabout for two reasons: as a vacation from my work and family responsibilities, which although enjoyable had begun to weigh heavily upon me; and to have sufficient time and peace for some long-overdue introspection. It wasn’t until I returned home that I realized I had given myself another, possibly even more-needed break.
That break was from the incessant cultural chatter that is virtually impossible to escape. I don’t watch television (except for rare times when I join my children while they're watching something) and don’t listen to radio. However, I do a huge amount of web browsing, and much of that requires trolling the mainstream news sources for material for Freedom News Daily. I hadn’t realized, until I returned to it, how corrosive a thing that is to me.
I began to notice more cultural corrosives after that discovery. Even a relatively benign thing like shopping exposes one to many social or cultural stereotypes and expectations, many of which are misguided or downright unhealthy. If one is at all observant of one’s fellow humans in one’s midst, that too can set off any of a number of negative responses.
So much of the world is inimical to individual liberty. So many of us who have devoted our lives to expanding freedom are little understood, and often valued even less. Sometimes that’s true even among those who would be our allies but for hubris, dogmatism, or any other self-defeating silliness. Add to that the unceasing stream of bad news from the world at large—goodbye privacy; more war, more bloodshed, and less human decency on almost every continent; more coin flushed down the bureaucrat and regulatory commodes—and it’s amazing we who cherish freedom aren’t burning out faster than we are.
But we are burning out. I’ve teetered on the precipice again, just a few short months after my soul-cleansing walkabout. I’ve seen many others making comments that suggest they, too, are walking the razor’s edge. What can be done?
I don’t mean drop out in the Thoreau-esque style of living a hermit’s life—at least, not at the beginning. What I mean is to drop out and take a break from life’s pressures and challenges, in order to refocus on yourself. Many freedom activists get so caught up in the perpetual cause that they seem unable to disengage until they do flame out. That’s sad. It’s also unnecessary.
While the effort to advance liberty is a noble and highly worthy cause, it is also a never-ending effort. Too many of us seem to forget or ignore that hard reality, often at our own peril. How free are we if we enslave ourselves to the ideals of liberty? If we take on too much and therefore render ourselves less effective, we end up working against ourselves and our allies, no matter what our good intentions might be. As long as one is committed to working for that cause, one must keep in mind the necessary balance between the cause and one’s own personal liberty—and one’s well-being.
Drop out of the culture and drop out of civilization as much as possible. Drop out of activism too. Then, tune in to your own rhythms, your own needs and desires, hopes and fears. Chances are you’ll discover, much as I did, that the path you’ve been treading is not a healthy one for you—not one you intended when you set out. Only after you recognize that will it be possible for you to set it right, and re-plot your course. That will in turn help you regain your sense of purpose, and very likely your ability to enjoy your own freedom.
We all need balance and focus in our lives. Sometimes those things seem to come only after a hard lesson, such as a burnout. But there’s a difference between the burnout that incinerates the soul and the cleansing fire that instructs, “Hey, wake up! What you’re doing isn’t healthy for your head!”
For me, I can only take so much fire, whether good or bad; I found that I needed to escape, in order to see a way clear of the smoke billowing in my mind. An escape may work similar wonders for you. You may require months of solitude to regain the precious insight to your soul—or it may take you just an afternoon in a hammock. Whatever works for you—as long as it does work—is what’s important. You may discover that you want to rearrange your life and priorities; you may discover that you’ve been on the right course all along, but moving at a pace that doesn’t suit you. You’ll almost certainly discover that you have more choices than you think you do—and you’ll likely find that by consciously thinking about those choices, then making informed decisions, your enjoyment of life will return.
I don’t claim any great insights into the meaning of life, but I do think that a fundamental element driving human action is the desire to be effective. To be an effective individual, one must first know oneself. Only then can an individual choose a path that will allow him to be genuine. And only when a person is able to be so honest with himself will he be able to create authentic, fulfilling consensual relationships with others.
The world is amazingly interconnected via the internet, and becoming more so each day. The possibilities for happiness—as well as for misery and pain—are legion. As tempting as it may be to get, and remain, plugged in to all that connectivity, it is vitally important to first connect with yourself.
So, do it.
Then tune in to the best friend you can ever have—yourself.
I am perhaps the last individual in the U.S. older than 10 to have seen the first installment of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies, The Fellowship of the Ring. That wasn’t by choice, but rather of necessity. Having acquired first a TV, then a decent VCR, and now a copy of the movie, I have at last seen Jackson’s rendering of Tolkien’s tale of the nine who set out for Mount Doom, to destroy the One Ring of power.
Knowing I was unlikely to see the movie in the cinemas, I didn’t pay much attention to the hype running up to its release, nor did I read any reviews, which often contain too much information and thus are spoilers. It’s been years since I read any of the Tolkien books, although I have read them multiple times with much enjoyment. I came to The Fellowship of the Ring with few expectations, and ready to soak in Jackson’s vision of the story. While I have the inevitable quibbles about some omissions and changes, the movie delivers the essence of the story with remarkable clarity and emotional punch. What surprised me most about watching The Fellowship of the Ring was my reaction to Boromir’s death scene. It was a highly charged account in the book, one I remembered well, yet the depth of my response to its portrayal in the movie seemed inappropriate. Why had his fall affected me so?
Jackson does a truly masterful job, and actor Sean Bean, who is compelling as Boromir throughout the movie, is perhaps at his best in the death scene. But my response was not due to the superb crafting of the scene, but rather a thought I had upon first seeing it—one that returns to me every time I see it: there are few individuals I’m aware of in the pro-freedom movement who would likely be so valiant. As far as I can tell, we have at best very few sons of Boromir.
I’m not talking about Boromir’s courageous fighting, battling vainly to protect two of the hobbits from the orcs even as the orc leader shoots arrow after arrow into his body. Nor is it his unflinching stance when the leader takes aim at point-blank range that I refer to. In the scene immediately prior to the battle with the orcs, Boromir has unsuccessfully tried to take the One Ring from Frodo. Its power began weaving its spell on Boromir from first sight at the council in Rivendell, and ultimately led him to confront Frodo. When he realizes what he’s done, Boromir is horrified. He calls out an apology to Frodo, but it is too late. Frodo has gone, and the Fellowship has begun to break up. Boromir immediately recognizes that he has done wrong, and it is his attempt to set it right, to his last breath, that leaves me near tears every time I see the movie.
Some Tolkien scholars have interpreted much of the Lord of the Rings in terms of religious themes. Thus, according to some who ascribe to this view, Boromir’s actions are explained by a need for redemption, of setting things right before he dies. But Boromir can’t do that: the Ring is being carried away, unbeknownst to him, even as he fights the orcs. Indeed, his actions have set in motion a series of events that needs to happen—the Fellowship of the Ring needs to be broken up—for good to triumph over evil in Middle Earth.
Boromir’s heroism is ultimately much more simple, and noble to my mind, than that. He is human. It’s no small part of his heroism that he rises above his human flaws in the last battle of his life. Rather than sitting and thinking, or whining and playing the victim, he battles bravely, in part to counter his perceived failing of the Fellowship and his comrades.
How many libertarians would follow in his steps? I can think of a few men whom I can envision doing so, and maybe one woman (no, not me) ... but sadly, I see no more than that in my fairly wide circle of friends and acquaintances. The freedom movement seems to spawn individuals of talk and analysis rather than action. But there comes a time when talking, philosophizing, and analyzing are for naught; there comes a time when the only thing that will make a difference is taking up one’s chosen weapon, and making the best stand one can in defense of one’s principles. Many seem to pine for a John Galt to appear among us—but there are, and never will be, no such individuals. We are human, with frailties, flaws, foibles, and fears. That isn’t to be denied, nor is it to become an excuse or a copout. We can choose a nobler course.
Near the end of the movie, Frodo recalls an earlier conversation with Gandalf, after Frodo expressed the wish that “none of this” had happened to him. Gandalf replied, “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you.” With the USA PATRIOT and Homeland Security Acts pressing upon us, challenging times are here—and likely to be present for some time—for those who cherish liberty. If ever there was a time to test our mettle, it is now. We can choose not to give in to our inevitable human weaknesses, and instead choose to fight the fight of our lives for a cause we believe in. We can do as Boromir did. The question is: will we?
Do you have a mental disorder? If you answered “no” with little thought, you may need to reconsider. According to information on the National Institute of Mental Health web site, a 1993 study estimated that over 20 percent of Americans 18 and over “suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year” (emphasis mine). In the same paragraph this fact was given, it was stated that “many people suffer from more than one mental disorder at a time”.
How did “mental disorders” come to be so common? Since the first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual was published in 1952, what has been considered a “mental disorder” has ballooned. Here are some things that are currently considered “mental disorders”:
- You could have a “substance-related disorder” if you use too much marijuana, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, or a number of other substances—including many prescription medications.
- Get too much sleep? Not enough sleep? Have nightmares or sleep apnea? They’re all psychological disorders.
- Don’t desire sex much? That’s hypoactive sexual desire disorder. Don’t get aroused easily? That’s a disorder too, as is not having orgasms.
- Are you shy? Don’t like being in crowds? You could have a social phobia.
- Here’s today’s trendy diagnosis for being a nerd: Asperger syndrome.
- And we don’t want to forget the children, who can get diagnosed as having: a “feeding disorder of infancy or childhood” (essentially being a picky eater); attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; stuttering; and something called “selective mutism”—where a child who’s capable of speaking will not do so in certain situations, usually school.
The short answer—and a telling explanation in its own right—for why diagnostic categories and “disorders” have increased is insurance coverage. Insurers are more likely to pay claims for things that are diagnosable—hence, lots of things are now “diagnosable”. And while this is scary enough for the bureaucratic nightmares it implies, there are other—and to me, much more important—considerations.
Although I’m a psychologist, I’m not a clinical psychologist; I’m far from an expert in this area. My interest is very personal. I’m someone who many individuals have felt comfortable talking with about these, and other personal matters. It also happens that, according to the list above as well as certain psychological tests, I could be considered as having several “mental disorders”.
I put that term in quotation marks because, as the examples above suggest, the concept has become so stretched as to lose its meaning for me (and others, including some experts). Making so many things “mental disorders” encourages individuals to consider themselves victims—somehow unworthy of appreciation, or unable to achieve goals, or inferior in some other way. It also encourages dependencies—upon the largesse of the state for support; upon the diagnostic label as an excuse for failure or a copout from even trying; and upon that victim status as a tidy means of summing up what an individual is.
For me, the worst aspect of this “psychological medicalization” is the influence it can have on an individual who isn't “disordered” or ill in any way. Let me use myself as an example.
From some of my earliest memories, I can recall realizing that I was quite different from others in my family—and that they didn’t appreciate my differentness. I was a dreamer, endlessly inquisitive, and a tomboy. When I was in college, as a psychology major I had the opportunity to take various psychological tests for educational (rather than diagnostic) purposes. According to one widely used test, I scored “deviant” (meaning outside the statistical norms) for introversion, and “borderline deviant” for masculinity. A retake of the revised version of that test just a few years ago gave essentially the same result, but added the possibility of “problems with authority and authority figures”—no doubt picking up on my individualist-anarchist principles. From the list above, I could have: caffeine substance-related disorder; sleep disorder; social phobia; and if I were a child today I would be very likely be diagnosed with “selective mutism”.
That’s seven disorders, without even breaking a sweat.
Despite all those possible “disorders” I am a highly functioning, responsible adult living a fairly contented life. I have never let them influence my actions, in large part because by the time I was in college and took the first test that labeled me as “deviant”, I knew that I was different—and I knew that was a good thing. Even so, it was a difficult struggle for me to come to terms with being different. There are many others who never do, and who lack the understanding of “mental disorders” to know how meaningless that term can be.
Many individuals close to me have confided (or demonstrated) their own differentness. Some, like me, have come to value them, while simultaneously realizing the challenges they may bring. Others seem troubled by them and seek to hide, deny, or “fix” them in some way. That, to me, is the real tragedy of the bloating of “mental disorders”.
Some of the most creative individuals in our history are those who’ve danced at the edge of normality. They include Vincent van Gogh, Georgia O’Keeffe, Edvard Munch, Mozart, Syd Barrett, Cole Porter, Kurt Cobain, Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allan Poe, T.S. Eliot, and Emily Dickinson. Will today’s culture produce a powerfully haunting writer like Mark Vonnegut, or are we doomed to white-bread entertainment because those who dance at that edge feel so marginalized they don’t dare draw attention to themselves? With today’s children being forced into social situations (as a treatment for Asperger syndrome) or forcibly drugged so they stay in their seats at school, dare I even hope for a better future? It’s very hard to do so.
Several individuals I know who are “different like me” already self-censor in various ways, or have expressed concerns about his or her “disorder” (often self-diagnosed based on popular reports, rather than tests or mental health consultations—not that those are necessarily more accurate). Parents confide fears about their children’s futures while trying to force them into stultifying, safe categories.
Every time I see something like that happen, I cringe. The wonderful individuality that makes humanity so rich and fascinating shrinks a bit more. Because of a fear of being marginalized simply for being different—a fear that is sadly justified—an individual’s potential is limited. The world is dimmed for a loss, the scope of which we will never know. That’s infinitely more tragic than trying and failing.
Don’t let your unique light be needlessly sacrificed to the cult of conformity—to those who would marginalize some of the best things within us.