Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Bottom

Eat your veggies. There are children in Africa who would love to have food like this

Every Parent Ever Dinner Time

A lot of things in life go completely unexamined. We have far too much to do in our busy lives, it’s much easier to just take a short cut on some things. If a handy saying SOUNDS like wisdom, that’s “good enough”. We go through life, thinking we know a lot, calling it common sense, but actually know very little.

Australia is called the LUCKY country. It’s people are lucky to live here, or so they say, and in many ways we ARE lucky. We have very low rates of illness, homelessness is rare (although unfortunately growing in recent years), we have a (somewhat) healthy democracy within which everyone has the right to free speech. That’s all well and good but it ignores big problem: poverty.

Many of my friends are probably aware of how much it annoys me when people make flippant remarks of “glass is half full”. This is one of those sayings that is so common it goes completely unchecked. On the surface it seems like wisdom, but underneath lies a dark side that, to me, is a representation of everything that is wrong in a modern wealthy society.

Glass half full economics is, in many cases, the perfect cover for shifting the blame from the rich to the poor. It takes the focus off “who has more and why” and shifts it to “who has a little and why are they complaining”. This is privilege at it’s very worst. It is widespread, rampant, and so institutionalised as to be seen in plain sight: not as a force for control but AS COMMON WISDOM.

I have been incredibly lucky. I am wealthy (to a point), I have access to care (such as psychology) that others could never afford, I have the kind of job that many would die for, and I never need to worry about how I will pay the next bill. I was lucky enough to live in a time when university was more or less free, and lucky to have passionate teachers who pushed me to attend. I was also lucky beyond belief that my father fought for me to have these opportunities. To put it another way, my glass is quite full.

It wasn’t always the case though. Many people may not realise that my family was fairly poor when I was younger. We were never homeless, but we often had to go without. It wasn’t all bad. It’s actually quite amazing what you can do in a small country town with enough land to grow food.

But it wasn’t all good either. I couldn’t say for sure, but if I had to guess, the number one issue preventing migration from poverty to wealth isn’t opportunity. There are definitely big problems in this regard, especially for remote and isolated areas, although even if these problems were to be solved an even bigger one remains regardless.

The truth is far more insidious than that. Our whole social structure is constructed to keep poor people down, and it’s an endless struggle fighting against that beast. It’s a two pronged sword, firstly overcoming the indoctrinated belief that you are not worthy of success, and secondly accepting the position of outcast if you try to change your fortunes.

Both of these problems stem from the same reasons but they effectively form two completely separate neuroses. It all comes down to what Nietzsche referred to as slave morality. It’s hard to pinpoint exact instances of this behaviour, because in many ways, especially to those who have grown up in the lower classes, it is almost indistinguishable from reality. In fact, one might say, to those living under it, SLAVE MORALITY IS REALITY.

Reality is a kind of wibbly wobbly thing. In fact, people who state things as fact and call themselves REALISTS couldn’t be further from reality. What we know as reality is in fact more truthfully, the reflection of the natural world as refracted through our moral prejudices. You see freedom fighter, I see terrorist. Essentially speaking, if you could reprogram a persons morality and stereotypes you could completely change the story of their life.

At some point in the past, so the theory goes, the cultures of the rich and poor gradually evolved. To the rich, riddled with a nagging guilt at owning most of the property, positive (but still delusional) neuroses gradually evolved to form the master morality. Master morality is all about convincing yourself that you deserve everything you have. As an example, imagine the son of wealthy parents who invested his inheritance in a risky venture, and worked hard to make that venture a success. Master morality for that man is believing that he deserves what he has because he had the courage and the determination to risk everything in order to win big, while simultaneously ignoring the fact that he was born with infinitely larger table stakes.

On the other side of the coin, slave morality evolved from the neurotic desire to have an intact sense of personal power. As a slave, there is one obvious salient point when it comes to power: you have none. Since the prospect of being powerless is perhaps the single biggest fear one can experience, slave morality evolved as a way to convince ourselves (also delusional) that, in fact, it is us with the “power” to resist the temptation of success, as opposed to being too poor to have any.

This had always been a problem for me, although I only recently found a name for it. I’d been brought up on a diet of television four hours a day. For the most part television is exactly as they say, it rots your brain. At least though it gave me one gift: it fed my subconscious on a diet of romantic heroes and epic journeys. The side effect of television being largely controlled by sociopathic inbred families is that they mostly write what they know. In their own lives master morality is so prevalent as to seem like reality.

This works to suppress the slave class for the most part. The heroes are portrayed as gods, something a “normal” person can never be. Even more so, a lot of fiction serves to reinforce the idea of the rich (batman) and powerful (superman) as protectors of the “helpless” common man. No wonder that we idolise our politicians and take their demands for obeisance as love.

As for me though all I saw was something I wanted to be. No, it’s more complicated than that, although I’ll try to summarise since that might be another story into itself. For various reasons I believe my unconscious took these heroes upon itself as it’s own persona. It saw something that I needed. I needed something to “exact revenge” against those who would bully me, and the power to protect the weak, and so my mind took from these fictions what I needed.

There was another factor at work. I was obsessed with computers and especially video games. Back in the dawn of time, in the year zero ][e, the vast majority of video games were power fantasies, inspired by the epic stories such as Lord Of The Rings and War Of The Worlds. What’s even more important, the video games portrayed YOU as the hero, and in doing so secretly trained a generation in the morality of the masters. This is perhaps why the younger generation seems so distasteful to the older generation: they LIVE BY A NEW MORAL CODE. (Not to get too far ahead of myself but this may even be a distinct shift that explains the extreme split in modern politics). For me, however, it presented a vast and complicated problem.

From a very early age, it seems so obvious now, I suffered from extreme levels of anxiety. My parents, who had the best intentions, were only doing their duty to “slave morality” and following the moral code that told us all, “We are the bottom. It is not our place to rise above our station, and it is an abomination to even imagine so.” I dreamed of greater things, of epic journeys and worldly exploration. This was simply not possible in the world I came from, and so I kept my dreams secret. They were pushed deep down to a place where they could hide, and I formed a mask of steely resolve that would define the next twenty years of my life. And in doing so, I became the slave.

Something strange happened next though, and even then I doubt I had barely the understanding as to the significance of these events to the years that would follow. For a few years my pushed down dreams had turned sour inside me, and a rage was bubbling up, almost out of control. I found myself arguing with my family at random times about random things. I guess they just couldn’t understand the things I thought. How could they? They had grown up in a different world. This conflict grew and grew until I could barely stand it any more. I made an unconscious choice: kill myself or get away. Lucky for me, I chose flight over fight. So this led to my failed attempt to run away from home. I had a bag with a few things and my skateboard, which, in spite of the amusement others had in imagining I skated towards freedom, I merely carried with me. At one point on the way I was attacked by a protective magpie, and I used the skateboard like a weapon to defend myself, heroic in the most romantic sense. I made it about fifteen kilometres before my dad found me.

It was all so long ago that I don’t even remember the order of all the events, but I guess something must have shifted in dad that day, when he saw my bed empty. Or maybe he’d been noticing something wrong for a long time. Either way, for whatever reasons, my father did something that was very unbecoming to someone of his upbringing. He fought for me.

I remember the rowdy arguments my parents would have, even to this day. I never asked but I think that time was the closest they ever came to leaving each other. Through some stroke of chance, for that time at least, my father chose my life over his marriage.

It’s important to understand the significance of these events. To my parents, brought up on their morality, I was a pariah. In many ways they still see me this way. In fact, it’s possible they will never quite understand me. I had become the worst of all things, the man who dreamed of breaking away from the chains of a normal life. Even still, in an act akin to rejecting the culture of his family and history, my father took the chance to be the heretic, and joined my side. And, somehow, we won. With what little power my father had, he pushed me as high as he could. It was somehow enough, and I escaped that world.

One might be forgiven for thinking this is where the story ends. The epic hero had overcome the dark world and escaped it and all of it’s demons. Alas, the end of one story is the beginning of another, and the demons of my childhood would return in a most unexpected way. That, however, is a story for another time.

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The Wretched

I think there’s something special about double albums. I have to admit I find myself drawn towards them, usually for reasons I don’t quite understand.

Pound for pound, most double albums have counterpart single albums that are objectively better, start to finish. The White Album vs Sgt. Pepper. The Dark Side Of The Moon vs The Wall (or Ummagumma which is an exception to itself). The Downward Spiral vs The Fragile. Appetite For Destruction vs Use Your Illusion. The single album in all these cases are critically genius. The double albums on the other hand (with the arguable exception of The Wall, and with the caveat that the White Album is critically aclaimed despite it’s randomness) are generally considered good, but hodge podge, and lacking something.

I suppose there’s a consistent reason for this. It’s quite difficult to think of twice as much content and keep it of high quality. It’s a result of the creative process. I’m definitely not the first to observe that creativity, more often than not, consists of creating reams of bullshit and selecting the diamonds amongst the turds. Presumably as a musical artist, there is only so big a pile of dung you can build in an economically feasible time, and then you need to select the best from that.

It might come as some surprise to my friends that I use this process myself. It’s not entirely true that I have the most stunningly attractive son in the world (although that IS true). Rather, for every photogenic picture I put on Facebook, there are ten others that are, less than perfection.

 

shakespear
A baby smacking themself in the head, or a gifted child reciting Shakespeare?

 

A friend of mine has a theory on art. As best as I can describe it in a single sentence: the critical aspect of art is not in the creation, but rather in the selection. By way of explanation, photographers, rather than being the quasiartists that people often brand them as, are in fact the purest form of artist.

I don’t necessarily agree with his hypothesis one hundred percent, but I do think there is some truth to it. Rather than beauty being in the eye of the beholder, it might be more accurate to say, beauty is in the eye of the SELECTOR.

Back to the double albums, I ask myself what draws me to those things. These big inelegant monstrosities. It occurred to me, as I “rewound” my phone to listen to NIN’s The Wretched for the third time in a row, that in fact I focus in on parts of those albums. It’s like a collage that a brain can be thrown against to draw out the salient unconscious thoughts, much like a modern take on Rorschach ink blots.

On the flip side of random unconscious selection however, inherent to the process of making a double album, is the inverse artistic process. Rather than selection, it becomes a question of inclusion. Tracks that otherwise wouldn’t have made the cut, under an objective analysis, become the saviour of the time-filling gods.

Would Revolution 9 have made the cut, if it had been on Seargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? Probably not. Even more so, the fluid unconscious thoughts that bring themselves to every decision we make, ARE subtly manipulated by extant circumstances. Even if R9 might have been considered on Seargant Pepper’s, the easy cop out of “there’s just no room” would have been all the ammo the superego would need to tip the scales in favour of extinction. Also are the songs of high art, like My Guitar Gently Weeps. Could it have existed on any other Beatles album, each with their highly focused musical theme? On the white album, however, it’s just another stroke of random genius, and more so, in my opinion, the most moving track on the album, and perhaps (one of) the most moving pieces of music in the electric guitar repertoire.

When I was younger, not even at the time understanding the significance, I would listen in darkness to Guns And Roses Coma over and over. Now it’s fairly obvious to me that the song reflected the disconnection and suffering that I found in my life at the time. Would such a self reflective song have found a home on the high energy rock anthem album, Appetite For Destruction?

It reflects a profound truth about all art, and the struggle within. We are our own worst critics. Self editing can be a destructive force. I found this, inversely, when one of my articles turned out to be quite popular. This piece, which to me was nonsense mind refuse, seemed to strike a chord and became my most read piece yet, fifty percent higher than my previous most read. I seriously had debated not posting that piece, which would have been a tragedy, both to my readers and my stats (not to mention my ego).

The truth is that people aren’t generally looking for perfection, even if most people would claim that ostensibly they are. As far as I can tell, what people really need, what they hunger for, is authenticity. They crave to know that the scabrous pile of retchinal vomit before them validates their own imperfect existence. There in lies the strength of the artist. The strength of the wretched.

Just a reflection
just a glimpse
just a little reminder
of all the what abouts
and all the might have
could have beens
another day
some other way
but not another reason to continue
and now you’re one of us
the wretched

Trent Reznor, The Wretched