Rights and Duties

maccup

There is a kind of tension that exists in societies, especially ones like ours in the United States, between the rights of the individual, and the duties of that individual to society as a whole. In fact, the whole history of the US can be seen as a struggle between the people who feel that individual freedom is most important, and the people who feel the needs of the group are paramount. Our laws are a balancing act between the things the state (as the embodiment of society) can demand of us, and what rights we reserve to ourselves completely. The Constitution as drawn up by the founders of the country, lays out what government can do. The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, are to set out what rights the state can’t infringe on.

So far so good.

Then comes the question of just who gets to have those rights.

The obvious answer to me is, well, everybody, but that has never been the case. Native Americans, black people, brown people, female people, young people, gay people, transgender people, convicted felons, people born outside of the country, people born in the country but whose parents are not citizens; all of these people have had their rights curtailed.

When we talk about civil rights, these are the rights we mean. The right to have the same rights as everybody else.

Last week I talked about three types of culture, honor culture, dignity culture, and victim culture.

Honor culture is very much the culture of individual rights. If someone does something that I don’t like, or that injures me, or offends me, it is my right, and indeed my duty, to get revenge. I can shout at them, insult them, fight them, or kill them, as I see fit. What’s more, anyone who stops me from doing these things is infringing on my freedom to act.

Dignity culture divides infringements on the individual rights into big things and little things. Big things the state handles; we have laws, police and courts to deal with them. Small things are handled by social norms of behavior, called manners.

Victim culture doesn’t really come into this discussion, because it ignores honor, civic structures, and manners.

Now, I feel that as long as we are guided by the basic Golden Rule of treating people in exactly the same way as you want them to treat you, we should have as many rights as possible, and as much freedom as possible. But it’s funny, you know, just how much one man’s freedom is society’s pain in the ass.

I used to live in a house about four blocks from a McDonald’s. Very convenient if you wanted a burger, or a late-night shake. But also just about the exact distance that a person walking slowly eating their McFries will walk before they finish everything up and want to get rid of their paper bag, bits of burger and other leftover rubbish. Guess where it went? Yep, over my fence, into my garden.

I’m sure the individuals who did this weren’t thinking , “I know, I’ll be a real twenty-four karat dick and dump this stuff over there.” Very likely it was, “Erm… OK. Out of sight, out of mind. It’s a free country. I pay my taxes. Somebody else can clear that up.”

Unfortunately for me, I was never given any payment by the city for having my front lawn used as a communal garbage can. OK, so every Saturday morning (Friday nights were the worst) I had to clean up a bunch of paper bags, and loose paper napkins, and quarter-filled cups of milkshake. It could have been worse. I have worked as a janitor in a youth club, so I KNOW it can be worse.

Please notice that I was never tempted to lie in wait with a double-barreled shotgun to blow the brains out of the next bastard who throws garbage onto my grass. I do not subscribe to honor culture. I did try a “Please don’t throw your leftovers here” sign, but that was simply seen as a target. Still, this was small stuff, and as a believer in dignity culture I was taught not to sweat the small stuff. So I moved.

But the problem isn’t a few bags of McGarbage on a lawn or two. If you drive along the highways in our beautiful state you will see all kind of junk by the side of the road. And public spirited organizations adopt sections of the highway and clear it up. The group, society as a whole, deals with the selfishness of the free individual. But it doesn’t stop there. The idea that clearing up after my freedom is someone else’s job is almost universal.

It isn’t the paper cups in the garden, or the bags of rubbish by the road, or the old mattress dumped in the lake. It’s the oil spill in the river, the millions of tons of carbon pumped into the sky, the slurry overflow from the farm, the beer bottle on the alley, it is the vast island of plastic rubbish floating in the Pacific Ocean.

The idiot throwing his half a chicken McNugget into my petunias thinks that manners don’t matter, because I’m not going to shoot him. The person who leaves a bag of old clothes and dirty diapers at the side of the road knows he’ll never get caught. The international petroleum corporation who floods a town in crude oil knows that whatever fine they may  have to pay, they can pass the cost on to the guy who drives the car and dumps his garbage on the roadside. The car manufacturers and the power plant conglomerates know that they will never really have to pay for adding to global warming because they can donate enough to make sure no laws are passed to infringe on their rights to make even more money.

All along the line, people act like dicks, because they think they can sidestep the consequences, and besides that, they have the right to do that. To do what they want.

Thinking that you can do what you want to people, individually or as a planet, no matter what the consequences, is the act of a dick. It is doing as you will, not as you would have others do to you.

If you throw garbage onto my lawn, you are a dick. What are you if you put the whole planet at risk, because you are too lazy or too selfish to clean up after yourself?

What’s it going to be, Mr. Dick? Your lazy freedom or my right to a livable planet?

Victim Culture

Victim

 

I first came across the idea of victim culture in an article about sociology where the basic idea was that at various points in human history there have been different ways of dealing with interpersonal relations within the culture group.

One culture is the honor culture. In honor cultures, if someone offends against you by attacking you, stealing your property, or insulting you, you respond by defending yourself, often physically. You fight a duel, or ambush your attacker, or otherwise take your revenge. This is the culture of the family feud, and if you want to see examples of the honor culture in the modern world, I recommend Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance.

Another culture is the dignity culture. In dignity cultures, an offender is dealt with by social institutions, such as the law. For personal attacks there are libel or slander suits, for physical injury, there are suits for damages, and for the more serious crimes, the police investigate and the state or city prosecute. The plaintiff demands restitution, or the society as a whole demands punishment. For small infractions, well…. don’t sweat the small stuff.

The honor culture often demands violent responses for small offences. The dignity culture tends to ignore small offences (micro-aggressions) as being “beneath my dignity.”

And then there is the victim culture.

In the victim culture, any offence, no matter how small, is paraded before the wide public of the Internet in hopes of gaining sympathy for the victim and attacks against the perpetrator. Any attempt on the part of the perpetrator to defend themselves is met with escalation and increasingly violent language. This is in part due to the medium. On the Internet, people can become offensive much more quickly than they would in a face-to-face (honor culture) confrontation. Because instead of actual violence, the most they face is the threat of violence. So, safe behind their screens, they turn nasty.

In short, they act like dicks.

This is not the honor culture, because the presumed victims are not defending themselves, they are calling upon the Internet to take up their cause. It is not the dignity culture, because the presumed victims do not rely on social institutions to defend them. They go directly to the Court of Public Opinion. Please note that regardless of whether you approve of the honor culture or the dignity culture, both resolve problems. The victim culture never resolves problems. It only amplifies them.

The victim culture encourages people to act like dicks. It is the natural breeding ground for trolls. It invites people who have no actual stake in …whatever it was…  to get involved at a distance without any personal risk or responsibility.

But what’s worse, is that victim culture encourages people to take offence over anything. It invites people to look for reasons to be offended. Victim culture encourages people to set out the terms under which they will disagree with you, attack you, censure you, and insult you.

“No matter how left you think you are, if you don’t believe x, you are still a Nazi!”

“No matter how conservative you claim to be, if you believe in y, you are a tree-hugging Libtard!”

“No matter how Christian you call yourself, if you don’t go batshit crazy over z, you are a spawn of satan!”

“No matter how much you accept science, if you still believe in the religious claptrap of n, you are a thumb-sucking loony!”

I’ve seen pretty much all of these.

When I first arrived in Seattle, I got a job serving behind the counter in a small shop. There I quickly realized that there are people in the world who go around looking for something to be angry about. It can be anything. The price of a first-class stamp. The length of a girl’s skirt. The color of a boy’s hair. The color of someone’s skin. Anything. Everything. And they take these things personally. Never mind that everyone has to pay the same price for a stamp, they shouldn’t be treated this way. It’s outrageous! And so they live their lives in a constant state of outrage.

Well, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but the universe doesn’t give a crap about your outrage.

And looking for something to be offended by on the Internet is an admission that you are a dick, because you think your opinions, feelings, and needs are more important than anyone else’s, and they should pay for the effrontery of thinking, feeling, or looking different from you.

It is the attitude of the child who says you have to play by their rules or you can’t use their ball. The only thing is, they don’t actually have a ball. They just expect you to play by their rules, or they will tell the Twitterscape on you.

There are real victims out there. People who are denied human dignity and honor because of the color of their skin, the length of their skirt, the people they love, their religion, or lack of it, how much money they have. Pre-existing conditions.

Social structures can take care of the most important offences. Essentially, we live in a dignity culture. But the social structures can be the offenders too. Black lives have to matter to the police or no lives matter to anyone. If we are going to change the social structures and institutions of the state to protect all of our dignities equally, we have to work together, not squabble over our personal demands for special treatment.

Victim culture only creates more victims and more dicks. It never solves anything.

Stave Church

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A week or so back I was in Norway. This was altogether fabulous, and I saw many amazing and wonderful things on the trip, which doubtless I’ll talk about at some point. Right now, though, I want to talk about a church. The Fantoft stave church in Bergen.

This is the kind of building that takes your breath away. A wonderful combination of architecture and dragon, of wood and soul, of mystery and beauty and artistry. My wife said that she had always wanted to see that church. She was not disappointed. I first saw a stave church when I was sixteen, hitchhiking through Norway with my brother. I wondered if the Fantoft church could be as striking as the one we had seen. It was. It was better. And this time I got to go inside.

The church is a wonderful combination of Nordic pagan and Christian symbolism. The guide said that the dragons carved on the roof were to keep off evil spirits. We all know better. This building is the granddaughter of a Viking long ship. It absolutely reeks warrior.

And inside the White Christ hangs on his tree.

The church was built around 1150, and even though Norway was Christian by that time, it carries with it an undercurrent of Ragnarok and Odin and the whole Northern Thing what was in part the inspiration of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The feeling of the past and the many congregations who had used the church since it was built was one I had felt in many old churches in Germany and France.

Which is kind of odd, really.

Because the church wasn’t built where it now stands. It was built in Fortun and moved to Bergen in 1883, by the man who was the American Council there. More than that, the original building was destroyed by fire in 1992.

It’s rather like the old joke about the axe used to chop off Anne Boleyn’s head; the handle has been replaced three times and the head twice but it is the original axe.

It’s something I’ve noticed in other churches, though, the building itself seems to have a spirit of place, a genius loci that is connected to the building, but not dependent on it. Even when it has been turned into a museum, it still has that awesome feeling. And it’s not just churches, of course. Castles, palaces, market halls, they all have a feeling of time and place and importance. When we went to Gdansk in Poland, almost every building we saw had been destroyed in the WWII and then rebuilt using as much of the original materials as possible. Were we looking at the original building at all? It felt like we were. Those buildings were old! And the people of Poland who reconstructed Gdansk and Warsaw rebuilt their past because they wanted that feeling to remain.

Of course, it is down to the building, not what it is used for. In other words, the architecture, the decorations, and the artwork create the sanctified mood. After all that’s why the architect built it that way; why the artists painted the frescoes and carved the statuary. That’s why replacing and restoring the artwork gives you the same feeling as the original. That’s what art is for.

I think we are like those old buildings, though, like the stave church. No matter how much we change, there is a part of us that remains us. Call it soul; call it spirit; call it self-awareness; call it what you like.

Inside, I feel the same as I always have. No matter how much my body has aged, whether or not I have had teeth replaced, and wear hearing aids; regardless of how grey my hair is, and the fact that I have a mustache, I feel like the boy I was at seventeen. Five years old, even, sometimes. Physically I am hardly the same at all. Inside I feel the same. But I know I have changed a lot. I’m afraid when I was seventeen I was a bit of an intellectual snob and could be an absolute dick at times. I also had opinions that I have thrown out. Actually, I try and get rid of opinions as much as I can. And, yes, I know, this is a kind of opinion piece, so I suppose it isn’t working.

The spirit of the building resides in its form. Not in its use or name.  

Our spirit? Kind of hard to say. Maybe each one of us is a kind of work of art. Maybe that’s what remains unchanged.

I’ll tell you one thing, though, the idiot who burned down the Fantoft Stave Church was a complete dick. Because he was trying to destroy the spirit of the building by burning it down.

Kind of like what dicks do to people. Try to tear them down. So, please, respect everyone’s inner stave church. Don’t be a dick.

 

Stave Alter

 

Honor

samurai

 

I had an interesting exchange the other day with a friend. I say exchange, because it started via text and then turned into a phone call. I hope soon to finish the discussion face to face. We are indeed “living in the Future.”

The subject under discussion was honor, which my friend considered to sit in opposition to expedience. And if honor means living your life according to a personal set of values, then expedience is pretty much the opposite of that: doing whatever is necessary to achieve results now. In fact, expedience pretty much means ignoring all kinds of values except success.

My friend likes to quote the film Rob Roy and say, “Honor is a gift a man gives to himself.” Which is pretty much true, in that being honorable, like being a dick or not, is voluntary. But in fact, the concept of honor is not something one gives to oneself. We give it to each other. It is a social construct. It is, if you like, a myth.

Now, because most people use the word myth to mean something made up or not factually true (i.e., a lie) I am going to explain just what I mean by that. I’m using the word myth in the context of relating to the mythos. Mythos, according to Wiktionary is “A story or set of stories relating to or having a significant truth or meaning for a particular culture, religion, society, or other group.” It is, in short, the underlying assumptions we have about our world. The Mythos are the things we believe without question; the assumptions we never discuss.

For instance, we believe that the United States is a democracy. Even saying that we believe this is to almost commit an act of heresy, because it implies that it might not be true. But it isn’t true. The underlying principles are democratic, but our electoral system frequently thwarts the wishes of the majority. And even when a candidate is elected with a clear majority of the population (As opposed to the most votes cast) they frequently ignore the wishes of the voters.

Likewise, there is the belief that the US is a Christian Country. It isn’t. It clearly isn’t because there are a lot of people who aren’t Christians, and the Constitution prohibits the establishment of any state religion.  Now it is true that the culture is based on a lot of Western Christian Traditions, but that isn’t the same thing at all. It would be like saying that the US is a nation of meat eaters. There are a lot of ‘em out there, and there is a great tradition of hamburgers around here, but no one is required to eat meat.

So that is what I mean by a Myth. Something we act as if was real, even if, upon investigation, we find out that it isn’t.

So back to honor and expediency.

One of the reasons our elections aren’t “democratic” is because of expediency. We want quick, easy to understand elections that give a result in one day. Whoever gets the most votes wins. This is called “First Past the Post.” Other democracies think this is unfair. Any country that uses proportional representation or single transferable vote think first past the post is undemocratic. But we believe in first past the post because it is part of our Mythos. So we continue to say we live in a democracy, even when politicians are elected with less than a majority of the votes, and when elected, ignore the needs and desires of the people.

It seems to me that a man of honor, elected by an unfair system, would work to change the system. Funny how rarely that happens.

And this is because Honor, like democracy, is a myth. It also doesn’t exist.

And here is the interesting thing: none of the Mythos, the underlying beliefs that we have about our country, our society, our planet, our species, none of it exists. To paraphrase Terry Pratchett, take the whole of the universe and everything it and grind it down to the finest powder. Pass that powder through the finest sieve imaginable, and not one atom of honor will you find, not one molecule of democracy. Not one atom. Because things like Honor, Democracy, Love, God, General Electric, the United States, don’t exist as atoms and molecules. Honor, charity, truth, perhaps, only exist in the mind or the heart. They are ideas, emotions. And they are a gift we give – not to ourselves – but to each other. Because it is only by agreeing to act as if these things exist are we able to live as human beings.

Honor is a gift we give to each other. As is respect.

We may or may not agree on whether the US is a democracy, or that our elections are fair, but unless we agree that democracy as an idea exists, and that one way of making it work is elections, we’re screwed. Unless we agree that some people have honor, and you can trust them, and that you should maybe not trust someone who values only expedience, we are going to find any kind of society difficult. In fact, everything that makes life worth living is a myth. It only exists because we believe in it. We want it to be real.

But here is something I think is really cool. We get to decide what we want to be real. My friend gets to choose to be honorable.  We get to agree that our country will not be a tyranny, run by a King Dick. In fact, that’s why the United States exists at all: people agreed to it. It was an act of will. It still is. Honor, honesty, generosity, loyalty, patriotism, faith. We get to have these or not. But we have to choose for them to exist. It isn’t automatic. The sun will rise tomorrow; that is a fact, made of atoms. But being honorable, that is a choice. That being the case, we really have to think long and hard about what we want our society to believe in. Honor or Expediency? Generosity or Greed? Our world, our lives and our children’s lives depend on what we choose.

I choose to be a loving man, and an honest one, because although I am made of atoms, those things are not, and I have to will them into existence.

And, just in case you are wondering, I think tomorrow I will try to not be a dick.

 

 

Don’t be a Poltroon!

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I follow @RevRichardColes on Twitter. He’s a very interesting fellow, a vicar in the Church of England, a radio presenter, and a former pop star. From what I have learned about him, he seems to be a splendid chap. In his tweet he poses an interesting question, “Who would abuse disfigured people in the street?” We know the answer: a dick. Personally, I don’t think there is any question about that. Richard, being the gentle soul he is and using the more obscure English vocabulary when he can, calls our offensive dick a poltroon.

But I read the answers to Richard’s post, and down at the bottom of the scroll I found this.

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I get the feeling that this is what’s called “Playing the Holier Than Thou Card.” A thing which C of E vicars must get a lot of. I suppose anyone who wears a dog collar is liable to get this, although, thus far, I have been lucky. Maybe because I am clearly not holier than anybody.

This raises this question: When somebody is acting like a dick, what is the correct response? Let me say at once, responding with dickish behavior is definitely not the way to go. It’s not that two wrongs don’t make a right, but that two dicks are just twice as many as one!

I do believe that calling out the person for dickish behavior is the proper thing to do. Draw their attention to what they have done by giving constructive advice such as, “Hey! Stop being a dick!” Or, if you prefer, point out that they are being rude, or that “We don’t do that kind of thing,” or if time allows, remind them that not doing as you would be done by leads us all to hell on earth. You might even want to provide the dick-in-question with a better example and go to the victim and say,” I’m sorry, but that arse-hole is just that. Don’t pay any attention to them. No one but a jerk would say such a thing.”

Or simply, shout, “Jackass!” at the offender, while offering support to the victim.

But then, isn’t what I suggested just what Richard did? Wasn’t I just a bit rude there?

But wait a minute, was what I suggested the same as what the Rev. Richard Cole did? I don’t think so. Here’s the difference.

My suggestion was directed at the person being dickish. Richard’s comment was a general comment, which was directed at the IDEA of such reprehensible behavior. What is more, by using a rather delightful old fashioned word, he tried to keep the criticism light hearted, though with a serious message. And if someone who had insulted a person with a facial disfigurement read Richard’s comment and understood it referred to him, well, that’s on him! In other words, If the shoe fits, wear it. I don’t think Richard was being rude, because he wasn’t talking to anyone in particular. It was, quite literally, a case of hating the sin, but not the sinner.

So, now do you see why I think there was a little bit of holier than thou in the second tweet? And, while we’re on the subject, being Holier Than Thou still counts as dickish.

Richard Cole’s tweet, and even more, the BBC London News item that prompted it, is an example of the kind of behavior we are seeing more and more. Out and out obnoxious, rude, dick behavior. Were it not for my many friends who are not dicks, but who go out of their way to support the dispossessed, the homeless, the disenfranchised, the victims, the refugees… were it not for them, I would despair. But these friends give me hope. They convince me that the Rev. Richard Coles and I are not wasting our time. Because for every dick who makes fun of a birthmark, for every bastard who underpays his staff, for every bigot who harangues someone for wearing a hijab, there are ten people who are not dicks. And for every ten of them, there is an anti-dick.

I want to talk about them some time soon.

In the meantime, if you catch some poltroon being a dick, call them out. And if you are a little rude about it, I won’t mind.

 

Thanks!

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I admit I have a lot to be grateful for. I live in a beautiful part of the world, with the person I love most in the world, surrounded by friends, and my two children are awesome. I’m not hungry; quite the opposite, I really need to focus on losing some weight. No one is dropping bombs on me, or using poison gas, or cruise missiles. I have a nice big car that lets me take my in-laws to the doctor and haul things for my friends as necessary. I really am lucky.

Or maybe I just worked hard for what I have. Maybe breaking free from my past and moving halfway around the world to build a new life took every bit of courage I possessed. Maybe I studied hard, took my chances, and tried hard to do my best.

But then again, I’m an Old White Guy, the playing field has never been level for me. My background is educated professional middle class. I have worked hard and done my best at every job I’ve had, but then, it was never hard for me to find work. You might say I’ve been blessed.

But of course, to say that, you would have to believe there was someone or something doing the blessing. Fortuna. The Universe. God. Which is fine, but if you don’t believe in Lady Luck, or God, or the stars as having selected you for good fortune, what then? Is it all just random? Arbitrary?

You know what I think? I think the answer to that question really does not matter. Because it’s the wrong question. Because if you think about it, it has to be a combination of luck, effort, and social advantage. Yes, I worked hard. But if I had come from a background that did not value education and had few material possessions, it would have been much, much harder to get here. All the same, there have been times when I have been damned poor, and it took both luck and hard work to get out of that.

Because asking the question, how did I get to be here, is less important than asking, where do I go from here? What now? What is to be done? Because however you want to think about it, somehow or other I got here, and I am happy with my lot. So how do I help that spread?

It is a very human thing to want to express your gratitude by saying, “Thank God,” or “Thank my lucky stars,” Or even, “Thanks to the social structures I live in…” Though honestly I don’t think I have ever heard anyone say that. Plenty of people blame their circumstances for not doing well, but few are grateful for having been given a head start. If you are a member of a religion that celebrates such things, as most do, you will have special holidays, or church services, or festivals to give thanks. And I think this is a useful exercise. Because occasionally recognizing that we none of us make it on our own, that good luck, schools and teachers, friends and family, maybe even accident play a part in our lives that makes us who we are and helps us succeed.

Even if you don’t have much, taking a minute to recognize and even be grateful for what you do have is an excellent exercise in mindfulness.  It can help put things into perspective. It is also a good way to guard against dickishness. Because if dickishness comes, as I believe it does, from a sense of entitlement, stopping and recognizing just how much you already have and how much of that comes from others, is a good way to put the brakes on.

I am grateful that I have a wife who loves me and edits my sermons.

I am grateful that I am healthy and I can enjoy good food and a beer from time to time.

I am grateful that it doesn’t always rain in Seattle.

I am also particularly grateful that I am not surrounded by dicks. That most of the people I meet are pleasant, friendly, helpful, and kind, and that they treat me as I wish to be treated. In return, I do the same. It’s a small enough bargain, but it makes all the difference.

Just think of what happens when you are in that happy place, where you feel particularly blessed by the god or goddess of your choice, or smiled upon by the stars, or just plain happy. And then somebody acts like a jerk.

Kind of sucks, doesn’t it? So don’t be that jerk.

If giving thanks isn’t part of your belief, if you take what life gives you as pure hazard, I still suggest you take a moment and think with gratitude of what you have. Who you know. What you see and smell and taste and enjoy every day, even if it isn’t much. Take a moment to sit quietly and listen. Breath in and feel the world moving about its business around you. Breath out and let your thoughts rest. Be grateful that of all the trillions upon trillions of atoms in the room, the ones that make up you are alive.

Enjoy your day. Be mindful of all the best things in your life. And don’t be a dick.

 

 

Chipping Away at Happiness

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I was buying a cup of coffee for a friend of mine the other day, and inserted my card into the chip reader. “Oh, I hate those chips,” said my friend, “I don’t know why they can’t just stick with the swipe.” Then he muttered away for a bit about stupid chips.

Seriously? I thought. You hate the chip? You actually have a strong aversion to this little bit of technology?

Now I should say right up front that I like chip and pin cards. Because I travel to Europe fairly frequently, having to swipe my US card and wait for it to be processed was always slightly embarrassing, to tell the truth. And the failure rate with swipe cards is phenomenal.

Not so for my friend. “I only have one chip card, and I’m always having trouble with it.”

Well, admittedly for a while my chip card didn’t work in the little shop downstairs, but they got a newer reader and it works fine now. But as we sat down to drink our coffees, I wasn’t thinking about how well the technology did or didn’t work. I was thinking about having an emotional response to technology.

And we all do. The car won’t start and we swear at it. The lightbulb burns out, and it’s such a bloody nuisance. And don’t get me started about traffic.

Now, the funny thing is, all of these things, the cash cards, the lights, the cars, they all make our lives easier. It’s like they are faithful servants who have no other goal in life than to help us out. They hold our money, they light our darkness, they carry us from place to place. And as soon as they fail, we blow our top.

I mean, seriously?

We act like a dick to a machine? (Which begs the question whether you can actually be a dick to a machine.)

My father would go nuts if things didn’t work. Actually, my father complained about a lot of things. Unfortunately, he often complained to my mother if little things went wrong in the house. Often things she couldn’t do anything about. Which, when you think about it, is being a dick, for sure.

He complained about other drivers. He complained about the government. He complained about gas prices. He complained about junk mail.

To be fair, he also had a great sense of humor and enthused about things too. But he complained a lot. He certainly did not suffer fools gladly. No, he really complained about people who couldn’t do their jobs up to his standard. Including his kids.

In my experience, it is best to suffer fools gladly, because you won’t ever avoid fools, and the alternative to suffering them gladly is to be a dick. And if the fool you are suffering from happens to be your debit card, you end up being even more of a dick.

Because it is so pointless to get angry at a machine. In fact, I will go so far as to say there is a real point to NOT getting upset by machines.

As we sipped our coffee I pointed out to my friend, that getting upset over a credit card is an exercise in anger. And remember what I have said about anger: it is a burning coal you hold to throw at something else. It only harms you. In this case, by making an unnecessary black spot in your day. A moment’s passing irritation for no reason at all. First you are annoyed by your credit card. They you are pissed off because you can’t get reception on your phone. Then when you get your phone to work, the website you are looking at crashes.

By now you are fuming. And why? Talk about first-world problems! But, no, come to think about it, let’s not just push these things aside as first-world problems. This irritation can happen at any level of technology.  I’m sure cavemen bitched because their spear point broke. We do expect our things to work. But getting upset with them isn’t going to make them work better! All it is going to do is ruin a little bit of your life. A moment you could have spent being content is sent down the tubes, because you wanted it to be different.

The sun is still shining (Or not, if you live in Seattle) The coffee (Which I paid for, remember) is still hot. You are with your friendly neighborhood Art Minister discussing…. Wait a minute, are we still talking about that sodding CHIP PIN?

There are two things worth considering now. One is why these things make us angry, and the other is why this is bad for us all.

We get angry at technology, because we expect it to work. It’s the expectation that is the problem here. As long as our expectations are met, we’re happy. But if this damned chip doesn’t work when we want it to, we condemn the whole IDEA of chip cards.

Personally, I think it’s a miracle whenever modern technology works. I can buy a pair of trousers with my phone, for goodness sakes! I never expect that kind of stuff to work, but it does! How cool is that? But we do, so often, expect the world to work out for us. Why? What makes you think that you are so special? Remember how that kind of thinking leads to acting like a dick? Isn’t the expectation of having things go your way what leads to dickishness? The sense that is your right to have a working credit card?

No one has a right to expect technology to work. It should work, but you don’t have a right to it. It isn’t a matter of rights. And if your chip doesn’t work, it isn’t some Higher Power or the Technology Gods picking on you. It isn’t personal; it’s a blinking machine. But too often, like my friend who is “against” chip cards, we do take it personally.

And this idea that random events are somehow the Universe acting against us builds into a defensive, negative outlook. A worldview that looks for bad things to happen. Which means we lose opportunities to be happy.  And here is the kicker: You end up being a dick to yourself. You ruin your chances to have fun. You blight the beauty of a sunny day. (Never do that in Seattle.) And more than this, you are all set up, primed, in fact, to be a dick to someone else.

And it all comes down to expectations. In Zen they say, “There is no such thing as a good day or a bad day, if the ideas of good and bad do not exist.” And what makes a day good or bad? The desire for it to turn out a certain way, that we decide. Well, you know what? The universe ain’t listening. The day is going to do its thing and so is the chip reader. And whether you like it or not… is up to you!  You get to like the coffee, even if the chip reader doesn’t work! When your car breaks down, you get to take the bus, or walk, or ask a friend for a lift. You might even choose stay where you are! The decision to be upset is yours.

We get to choose to be angry, or selfish, or disappointed or not. And being angry, being selfish, being disappointed – these states of mind lead so often to acting like a dick. And that impacts on everyone around you. Making them angry, or upset, or disappointed.

So, wake up and smell the coffee. Don’t be a dick. Enjoy the coffee and forget about the stupid chip.

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