Monday, 27 November 2017

The Bond Of Friendship

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Sunday, 19 November 2017

Locus Of Control

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Monday, 6 November 2017

Post-Post-Truth And The Man With The Umbrella

I am a hermit.

But I wasn't always one. In fact, I can pinpoint the day I became a hermit, seeking no pleasure but my own company. It was a fairly normal day and I was in a vacuum-sealed office space watching the artifical weather screen flash bright and happy images of the Sun and other imaginary things.

Very few people actually ever stepped out into 'the Fog', as anything outside of the vacuum sealed office spaces, the vacuum sealed living pods and the vacuum sealed government controlled entertainment lounges, was commonly called. I was one of those few people. Always excusing myself to use the restroom - because while I fancied myself a renegade going out into the Fog everyday, I still couldn't bring myself to advertise the fact to my colleagues. Pressing a scary looking bright red button, I watched the imposing ten metre door creak open outwards, letting in tainted Fog air into the 'airlock' that separated the soulless inside from the untamed outside.

That's all the Fog was. The outside. But an outside that was a smog-filled, ash-strewn vision of hell that the world had become in my time. It still wasn't poisonous or anything though - medical science had fixed that long ago - it's just that most people preferred to remain blissfully ignorant watching long forgotten images of blue skies and sunny summer mornings on their weather screens.

I watched the capricious breeze pick up pieces of rubbish and fling them this way and that. It was peaceful and relaxing. Presently though, two things happened that were somewhat out of the ordinary. One: it began to rain. Hot, acid drops the size of table tennis balls smashed against my face, stinging, and dissolved into a fine mist. Two: a man appeared in the distance.

This man, unlike me, was dressed for the weather. Not only was he wrapped up in a bright red poncho, but he also held a cavernous red umbrella over his head, hanging on to it against the suddenly gusting wind, with grim resolution.

He continued to walk in my direction, seemingly oblivious to my presence. Considering the momentousness of the events of that day, I find it curious that I don't remember the man's face at all. What I do remember is what I did next: I took a step towards the man and made an innocuous observation.

"It's raining."

You have to realize one thing. The workplace I worked in was very, very finely tuned for my and my colleagues sensibilities, as established by a government sanctioned pairing program. But the Fog was a scary place where anybody could talk to anybody else. It was very rare to actually find someone to talk to, and even rarer to chat them up, but the theoretical possibility existed. My trite observation actually bordered on recklessness.

The man with the umbrella looked up with evident consternation and without a word pulled out his handheld communicator and snapped a picture of me, turned and walked away. I looked at him neutrally as he made his way to the Verification Booth that was mandated by law to be installed on every street wider than twenty metres. The Booth on our street was only a few metres away from we were, and blinked blue and white in the grey air.

I knew just exactly what was going to happen, but something in me was different that day, and I stayed to watch the process play out. The umbrella man stepped into the glass cocoon of the Verification Booth and a helpful screen slithered out from under his feet. He pressed a button, and a flat, emotionless voice intoned that it recognized the man as affiliated to the Conservative Party.

The man pressed another button and my mug shot of exactly two minutes ago popped up on the screen listing my affiliation as a Green. Even from a short distance, I could see the man start. He would need the full spectrum of verification given that we lay on diametrically opposite ends of the spectrum. He pressed yet another button, and the familiar tring-tring of a handheld communicator being contacted filled the air.

The trings seemed to go on forever until it was silent. The man with the umbrella tried again because there was no way he could let an unverified Green's statement go. I smirked at his back, unnoticed. Something was different with me that day. This time, the sound cut-off mid-tring and the same toneless, colourless voice of the Verification Booth came back. Except it wasn't. It was just the government's anonymizer program smoothing the receiver's voice into a demographic-controlled neutral voice. The receiver would have been randomly selected by the Verification Booth, and the penalties for not responding to a Verification Call were fairly harsh.

"Is it raining?" The man with the umbrella asked. His voice too would have been neutrified for the receiver.
"Yes."

A number flashed on the screen. 60%. The Verification Booth was telling the man that there was a 60% chance that my truth would correspond to a coherent psychological state in his mind that would be his truth. This meant, of course, that there was a 40% chance his brain would explode from a cognitive break for believing a Green's statement. A bead of sweat appeared on his furrowed brow as the man, now looking mildly annoyed, pondered the odds. Maybe he had somewhere to be, something to do. I continued to smirk because I could see the gears in his head turn at glacial pace, making their way to the inevitable conclusion that was clear as day to me.

He pressed another button.
"Do you wish to begin the double blind test?" the voice of the Booth droned.

Now, here's the thing. While the first callee was randomly chosen, everything about the callee wasn't random. He or she had to be a Conservative, like the caller, and equally importantly, he or she had to be in a physical position to actually verify the statement in question. With the double blind test, a person of unknown political affiliation would instead be contacted, and the same question posed to that person. That person would of course not know anything about the caller.

"Is it raining?"
"Hold on. Let me check." The double blind callee was free to make a politically aligned verification call to hit a high probability post-truth. This particular callee was being meticulous.
"Yes," after a momentary pause.

The screen now flashed 87%. The man with the umbrella, while not quite jumping for joy, visibly relaxed and stepped out of the booth. His mind at ease, and in a psychologically coherent state suited to his political affiliation, he nodded and said -

"It is raining." And turned to offer me a spare umbrella. But I wasn't there anymore.

The same day, I quit my job, abandoned my government-allotted living space, and walked out into the Fog in search of conversation, and objectivity. I had had enough of the post-post-truth world and became a hermit.


Tuesday, 12 September 2017

The Reality Of Our Tortured Existence

While I've always had a thing for pretentious titles, this post has little to do with existential angst. Well, not directly anyway, so wipe that sad look off your face, you wannabe Sartre!

Have you ever noticed that the most mundane of things in everyday life seem to hold deep, dark secrets, hidden away in plain sight?

For example, consider the humble coffee machine foamer at work.
Poked, prodded, punched, and maybe occasionally gently pressed innumerable times in any given day, this inobtrusive gadget is a life safer for millions of sleepwalking desk jockeys. Typically packaged as an innocuous little button tucked away in one corner of the gleamy coffee machine, the Foamer watches processions of zombies struggling to coordinate their hands, legs and eyes while infusing shots of cocaine caffeine into their system, and sniggers.

Malevolently.

Have you ever heard the sound the coffee foamer makes?
Think Dante's vision of hell, with fire and brimstone and torture racks and endless suffering. Now imagine that you were one such unfortunate resident of purgatory, and to add insult to injury you - and your eternal companions, the torture racks and guillotines and coals and fire swords - have all been shrunk into a room the size of a matchbox, and put into a coffee foamer. Your wretched screams are miniaturized into the still horrific sounding riving groans that you hear when you press the harmless looking foamer switch.

Every time you're pressing that button, you're torturing someone! Now if that doesn't ruffle your feathers at all, hey, I'm a moral relativist for today, so you do you man. If that guy is in hell, even if a matchbox sized foamer version of hell, he must have done something to deserve it, so screw him? But the sound!

Now you know why I avoid foamers like hell itself. But that isn't the only thing I avoid. At my office, in certain corners of certain floors, under certain weather conditions, a certain sound emerges from everywhere at once and sinks into your very bones.

The desperate wail of a thousand souls as they're dragged, kicking and screaming, into the netherworld, is what it is.

You only seem to hear it in the corners of floors near the big glass windows when it's somewhat windy outside, but don't let that fool you! The Devil was always a clever devil, so it's as easy as pie for him to inject a little faux plausibility to cloak his devious machinations.  If somebody tells you that that heart-rending screech you hear is 'just the sound of wind rushing through gaps in the walls or the plumbing', you smile politely, because you know the truth, and make a mental note to live the good life because you don't want to be one of those faceless people sucked into hell and remembered only as a curious whistle through the pipes.

That's not all. Signs, signs, they're everywhere. The other world impinges upon this realm with urgency, and we don't see what's right in front of our eyes! Exhibit #3: the ubiquitous bum jet in toilets. As you count the seconds away on the toilet seat willing those last bits of erm.. intestinal ejecta to make their way out, an unexpected susurration tickles your unwilling ears. Unwilling, because you're in a restroom and you don't expect to hear anything other than flushing and bodily sounds.

What you hear sounds like a creaky, croaky whisper coming out of the.. bum jet. In your peripheral vision, you sense that the segmented snake that is the bum jet move just a little. You try to catch it out by swivelling towards it sharply, but there it lies, motionless as ever. You gingerly heft it, feeling a bit foolish, and get back to negotiating with your intestine to finish its job. And then you hear the sound again.

It is exactly what it sounds like. Like the voices of entities from the darkest recesses of hell that have crawled their way to the boundary that separates the living world from theirs, where the boundary is thin. All they need is a nudge and they can finally break free of the shackles of eternal torture, and they want you to do the nudging! Do not - DO NOT - consciously listen to the whispers, because you will be lost. Hum loudly to the latest Taylor Swift song, if you must, to block out the sound. If somebody ever tells you that the bum jet's eerie actions are only due to water pressure settling it down, chalk it down to oblivious naivete. You know the truth.

These aren't all the examples there are. Open your eyes and the world that you think you know will begin to yield its macabre secrets. But the question is: do you really want to know? And the other question is: can you really blame me for skipping work every other day?

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Guns

This anecdote is a political allegory. To be a little more precise, this story is political and it’s an allegory. To be even more perfectly precise, an allegory is a representation of abstract principles by characters or figures. And the political bit is.. Well, you’ll see.

Anyway, this little tale is set in a parallel world where there are many, many people - way too many people - like in our world, but we’re only interested in four. (Why not seven billion, you ask? Because I’m the author and I like these four guys.)

The first is a man that is a fox. This manfoxthing is, at the commencement of this tale, engaged. He is in what appears to be a kitchen, and he is busy looking for something. His fox-sly face twists in a brief moment of befuddlement before it clears up in delight. A-ha! He pulls out a gun and proceeds to light the stove by shooting a bullet into it. This fox thing has a name: Mr. Metaphor.

In a different place, in a different time, but still in a kitchen, there’s another man. This two-legs is a non-descript looking workhand. He’s presumably hassled at the moment as an enormous frown creases his face. A naked side of toast is perched on one outstretched palm, while the owner of the palm is occupied looking for something. Like his sly friend from one scene past, he too finds what’s he’s looking for, and what he’s looking for is a gun, more specifically a Colt. He proceeds to use the muzzle of the Colt to scoop out a healthy chunk of butter from an open glass jar, and slowly and carefully apply it to the side of toast. This man is of Greek extraction presumably, because his name is Synecdoche.

I guess you’d say that this anecdote has a running motif - that of a kitchen - and you’d be right, because the third protagonist in this political allegory (never forget!) is also standing around in a kitchen. This person though is a woman, and before the traditionalists among you exult seeing a woman in a kitchen making a sandwich, this woman is somewhat incongruous as she’s a suit, and she’s most certainly not making a sandwich. What she seems to be trying to do is reduce a perfectly whole fruit into juice. She smiles and whips out a gun from a drawer. Placing a luscious red tomato in the sink, the suit takes careful aim at it and bullets it into healthy, if somewhat gunpowdery ,juice. This woman has a name too and her name is the seductive sounding Miss. Metonymy.

That about wraps up the tale. I say just about because it’s only the fourth protagonist that hasn’t been introduced yet, and he’s a smug bastard that only smarm-talks, but he’s a crucial piece of the puzzle here. The puzzle being of course that I haven’t made a lick of sense with the three kitchen scenes so far. Right, so the fourth man is called Mr. Irony and he’s actually a woman in a man’s clothing but that’s somewhat irrelevant to a surface reading.

Mr. Irony is a visitor from an alternate universe, where many things differ from the one that Mr. Metaphor et. al. live in, but only one that is of importance to this tale. In Mr. Irony’s strange little world, guns are apparently only used as weapons. There doesn’t exist a doppelganger for Mr. Metaphor in this incredibly perverse world that would use a gun to light a stove; nor is there an alter ego for Mr. Synecdoche that’d Colt his daily bread and butter. Needless to say, there isn’t a Miss. Metonymy-like that explosive-projectiles their morning smoothies.

Mr. Irony ponders the absurdity of using guns to do what our heroes do. Aren’t they designed to be weapons to kill? You have knives that chop vegetables and blenders that squish tomatoes into mushy pulp. Who would even compare guns to knives? Every time you see a gun you’re seeing a finely tuned life-taker. Every time you see a knife, you’re seeing something that’s an everyday kitchen tool. He smirks to himself and smugly makes a mental note to chalk off this universe as yet another universe that’s immeasurably more foolish than this own.

Now back home, Mr. Irony settles down in his couch after a long day of travel and proceeds to write a long and verbose letter to the Editor calling out the absurdity of banning guns in homes without also banning knives and blenders, that are, in his considered opinion, just as lethal.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

The Great Equalizer

I occasionally have epiphanies. Maybe these aren't of the world changing variety, but hey, let's not start ranking everything by how world changing it is, mmk?


Tuesday, 4 July 2017

The Word That Means Everything And So.. Nothing At All

I'm sure most of you have had the exquisite pleasure of being accused of being immature at some point in your lives. I'm also sure that you've been left utterly baffled by the gallons of vitriol tucked away within that one innocuous little word. ('What?' you may have mentally ejaculated, puffing with indignation.)

My goal here, readers, is to convince you that your bafflement at being accused of immaturity isn't an unwarranted knee-jerk reaction to an unexpected affront. And I'm going to attempt to do that by arguing semantics - what is commonly known as the first refuge of the intellectually towering.

On the face of it, the word isn't complicated, meaning wise. Unlike the likes of that abhorrent word 'set' with its ~100 contextual meanings, Wiktionary has only one concise definition to offer for this word.

"Childish in behavior, not mature."

The rub, as that sixteenth century bard would have it, lies in the definition of the word childish. At least that's one of the rubs - maybe the first, but not the last, and I'll have to park this idiom in case it's getting a little too dirty. Anyway, here's an example to start you off.


Definition #1

"Someone who's liable to throwing tantrums is immature."

Fair? Simple? Where's all that semantic complexity you oversold, you ask. Hold your horses. Here's another definition of immaturity. (You'll have to take my word for this, but every definition that I'm going to come up with here has been paraphrased from real, true examples from the bottomless fount of human excellence that are Facebook comments. I don't lie by the way.)


Definition #2: Because I'm Definition #1 And I Cannot Possibly Be Immature?!

"Someone who doesn't express their emotions fully is immature."

Again, it might strike you that this definition is not really at odds with the first definition. DON'T BE FOOLED! It really, really is. When someone is talking about expressing their emotions fully, they really are asking for the hallowed right to tantrums. So what does immaturity really mean then?

How about - 

Definition #3

"Someone who still plays video games at the age of thirty."

I see you raise video games, and I offer you:


Definition #4: You Come For My Video Games, I Come For Your Goddamn Books!

"Books. Someone who still reads books that aren't verbatim histories are immature." 

Because the real world is complex and wonderful, and no mature members of homo sapiens would have the time for childish fantasies. Right?

The contrarian in the corner pipes up - 


Definition #5: No Dog In This Race, But I Just Want You To Lose

"Someone who has hobbies in middle age is really immature." 

Because you see, hobbies are for children and ergo, childish. Adults sex around, and end up producing babies, and are in most cases forced into tending to their output, leaving them no time for childish dallying. (This definition nicely dovetails into the biological definition of maturity, so that's a plus!) The implication of this of course is that all those bibliophiles who accuse gamers of immaturity, and all those gamers who accuse television show watchers of immaturity, and pretty much everyone who accuses anyone else of being immature based on their preferred choice of leisure activity, is really immature.

That's that right? We finally have hit upon the perfect definition of immaturity right? You naive fool, you. Because -


Definition #6: The Last Definition Still Loses

"People who hold strong opinions about things - like hobbies in middle age - are immature." 

Human beings - and their personalities, quirks and temperaments - aren't really classifiable into easy buckets. All human ideology is fundamentally on a spectrum, so if you call superstitious people immature - because only pigeons, infants and fish are superstitious - YOU'RE immature, because you know, human ideology lies on a spectrum. If you call people who're deliberately vapid immature, because they, as you see things, refuse to use their adult-sized brain for anything useful, YOU'RE immature, because you know, human ideology lies on a spectrum.


Definition #7: Because Definition #6 Is A Cocky So-And-So

The maturity of the aforementioned middle-ground is also immaturity because it's a sign of intellectual laziness. Because what kind of mature person chooses a fallacious middle ground over a reasoned out stance?


Definition #8: Recursion. The End

Perhaps, the inevitable smart Alec will respond, the true immaturity is arguing the semantics of immaturity itself. He smirks away, but I concede defeat because he's right. The meaning of the word immature has expanded to include any behaviour that's repulsive to the accuser, and since every behaviour is repulsive to some accuser (famously chronicled as LoneRanger's third law of meat and poison), every behaviour is immature.

Therefore, readers, exult. Exult, because when somebody is accusing you of being immature, THEY'RE being immature. Ha.

If blog posts had glossaries, this post has one, made up of a not-comprehensive list of definitions of immaturity that you can use for any situation in life! Forge on, O intrepid insulter.


How To Argue With People On The Internet When You Are Called Immature: A Hands-On Guide

"Only immature people play around with money!"
"You let money rot in the bank. You're immature, man!"

"Oh, you'll only date fit women? That's immature."
"Denying that humans have sexual preferences is immature."

"Arguing over politics is immaturity."
"Only kids and the mentally deficient don't care about politics."

"You still watch sitcoms after work. Grow up!"
"Not acknowledging the human need for unwinding is really immature. You aren't in class X anymore!"

"You think being an atheist is cool? It's just immature."
"If believing in a wish-granting sin-forgiving sky-fairy isn't immaturity, I don't know what is."

"Justin Bieber? Really? So immature."
"Signalling superiority by listening only to elitist classical music from two hundred years ago is immaturity itself."

"Arguing the semantics of immaturity is soooo immature."
"Ignoring the philosophical implications of ontology is dull-headed, but I'll tone that to just calling you immature."