My response to a misguided Facebook video (and the subsequent silly statements by the President).

I wrote this posting originally in response to a video that I saw on Facebook (see above), shared by someone I know.  The letter reproduced in it pushed my buttons rather firmly, as someone who loves the ideas of America, rather than loving symbols or songs, flags or anthems.  I had long held off on posting it, though, because I thought maybe I was overreacting, and in any case, I’d written “The Idolatry of the American Flag,” which covered much of the same ground.  However, given the President’s absurd remarks about the NFL, and the many well-intentioned but foolish people following the above-quoted gentleman down the mindless patriotism rabbit hole, I decided it was worth saying everything again. Continue reading “My response to a misguided Facebook video (and the subsequent silly statements by the President).”

Depression Can Be Powerful

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

-Kris Kristofferson

 

There’s a curious phenomenon I’ve sometimes noticed, wherein I find myself not exactly welcoming bouts of depression, but feeling as if they are normal for me—more truly me than other states of being.  There’s a dark familiarity that’s difficult to explain, along with a sense that my mind is in some ways clearer, saner, when depressed than it is at other times.  Certainly, my concentration often improves when I’m depressed.  I’m less easily distracted, whether by good things or bad things; it’s a curious phenomenon.

It’s vastly preferable to anxiety, but I’ve mostly gotten past that over time—having lost one’s career, one’s health, and one’s family, and having spent a few years in Florida State Prison, will tend to make other social concerns seem petty and trivial by comparison.  Similarly, fear of pain, and even of death, can be significantly blunted after having gone through enough grief—when one has felt physical and emotional agony that has led one not merely to lose one’s fear of death, but to wish for it, many things lose their ability to intimidate.  The greatest fear can then be simply that the pain will continue, that this life will not end.  But even that loses its urgency over time, and the pain becomes familiar.

This doesn’t seem to be a universal occurrence, as the many heartbreaking cases of PTSD make clear, but it’s also surely not unique to me.  There’s no doubt an accumulation of various life events, interacting with the baseline neurology and physiology of the individual, that leads to some people being hardened by circumstance, and others being eroded or destroyed by it.  Which one of these is so in one’s own case can, of course, be difficult to tell, even from within.  Even if we accept as a truism Nietzsche’s claim that “that which does not kill us makes us stronger,” it is no doubt a fact that some things simply kill us slowly.

Anyway, it’s just an interesting fact that often when I’m depressed, I feel sharper, more clear-headed.  There’s some data indicating that those with a history of depression are more realistic in their assessment of their own abilities, and of reality in general, than people not prone to depression.  I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating.  It’s not that depressed people are more pessimistic in general—though when in the grip of a full-fledged episode, many undoubtedly are—but that they simply evaluate reality more objectively, more accurately, more scientifically.

It may be that taking the blinders of comforting illusion away leads to a truer and more potent understanding of reality, even if it can sometimes nudge one towards despair.  Darwin’s “Devil’s Chaplain” has a sometimes-horrifying sermon to deliver on the “clumsy, wasteful, blundering low and horridly cruel works of nature!” but even such a nature has grandeur and beauty.  Its beauty may be all the greater because it does not exist in reference to mere human concerns; rather, our concerns are subordinate to and contingent upon it, and are altogether trivial.

It’s not that the universe wants to destroy us, as Neil deGrasse Tyson has been heard to say in a playful tone (for if the universe really wished to destroy us, we would be destroyed); rather, it’s that the universe does not care about us one way or the other.

There is freedom in this, but as with all freedom, there is responsibility, and the recognition that one’s fate is in one’s own hands, to save or damn oneself and, possibly, the Earth.

Another benefit of the feeling of depression—no doubt part and parcel of the force that eliminates some forms of fear—is the urgency it takes away from mere happenstance.

The Tao Te Ching says that, if you accept death with your whole heart, you will hold nothing back from life (or words to that effect).  I’m not sure that’s always true; sometimes accepting death can simply lead to apathy.  But apathy can be a form of freedom, too.  As long as it’s a position not born of denial, but rather of acceptance, it seems a morally defensible stance, if not one that I want to embrace.

Having accepted that one will inevitably lose everything can be freeing.  This is especially so if one has already lost nearly everything that one ever placed real value upon, and come out the other side and realized that one has lived through it—and that one could do so again.  One comes to the realization that one is not deeply or profoundly afraid of losing anything, nor even of losing everything.  “Damaged people are dangerous; they know they can survive.”

I would take this one step farther.  Not only do damaged people know they can survive; they know that ultimately they will not survive, nor will anyone else.  Far from being crippling, this knowledge can be the removal of an onerous burden.  Knowledge that we are ephemeral makes life more precious than if it were eternal, but it also takes a lot of the pressure off.  The circumstances of one day, or even one life, are just not all that crucial in the scheme of things.  It’s okay if you fuck up from time to time.  Indeed, it’s okay if you’ve fucked up your entire life.  It’s not a permanent mistake.

That’s some of the freedom, the familiarity, and the perverse comfort that depression sometimes brings me.  It has its costs and its miseries—more or less by definition—but it has power, too.

The Idolatry of the American Flag (read by me)

Given the brouhaha over the President’s denigration of football players who kneel during the national anthem, and the players’ and owners’ (generally) mature and measured responses, I thought I would try my hand at reading my own article about a related subject.

The audio is here:

The plea bargain system is a sadistic game of extortion

First Published October 3, 2015.

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Imagine the following scenario:

You are being held hostage  by a group of armed men and women.  You know they are a very large and well-financed group, and that escape is nearly impossible.  Representatives of this organization–a few of whom even claim to be working to protect you–give you the following choice:  You may agree to be their prisoner for a specific amount of time, perhaps a few months, perhaps a few years.  You will also be giving up most or all of your material possessions, agreeing to proclaim publicly that you have done some terrible deed to earn this captivity–thus destroying your good reputation, if you have one–and even relinquishing some of your human rights.  The alternative is to agree to play a twisted, sadistic, and highly rigged game, one which you have very little chance of winning; even your own so-called allies assure you of this fact.  They tell you bluntly that the game is stacked horrifically against you, and that your ruin will be sought assiduously by your opponents, using all of their considerable resources.  If you lose, they will keep you prisoner for a far longer period of time than you had been offered–perhaps even for the rest of your natural life, and your imprisonment will entail risks to your health and the risk of death–and you will lose all that you would have agreed to give up anyway.  The choice is yours. Continue reading “The plea bargain system is a sadistic game of extortion”

Diabetes For Beginners – Part 2

First published on robertelessar.com on February 23, 2012

Welcome to Part 2 of my “freshman lecture” on Diabetes.

Now we get to Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Interestingly enough, although this is “Type 2”, it is in fact by far the Number 1 form of Diabetes numerically, with 90 to 95% of Diabetics falling into Type 2…and that number is likely, if anything, to become larger. Continue reading “Diabetes For Beginners – Part 2”

What Are Black Holes?

Originally posted February 23, 2012

A very old friend of mine—that is, one I’ve known a long time, he’s no older than I am, and I hope I don’t yet count as “very” old—suggested that I write an article about what exactly black holes are. So, I thought about it, for all of about two seconds, and realized that black holes would be a great topic for a general science article. Continue reading “What Are Black Holes?”